Play Pedagogy Research Partnership with Monash University

Preshil began working in partnership with Monash University in 2015 when the Director of Early Learning at that time, Dr Rebecca Lewis, was undertaking a PhD about the role of the teacher in play based programs. The collaboration centred on Conceptual PlayLab research, and Professor Marilyn Fleer’s Conceptual PlayWorld model which was part of the ARC (Australian Research Council) Project. The PlayWorld model focuses on creative and purposeful ways for young children to learn STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) concepts through play and imagination. The collaborative research aims to support teachers to encourage girls to develop a love of, and hands on involvement with, STEM. The partnership with Monash continued until 2018, when the last joint PlayWorld project between Preshil and Monash wound up. Since that time, Preshil has continued to develop a PlayWorlds program which reflects the school’s long tradition of play based teaching and learning.

The below videos were created for the Conceptual PlayWorlds for Educators Facebook page. They were opportunities for Preshil staff to share their expertise in response to queries that educators were sharing on how to get started. They cover four different themes: Choosing a story, transitions, play problems and teachers in role.

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PlayWorlds at Preshil

Preshil has always understood the importance of play in developing the imagination, and in the development of critical and abstract thinking. The value inherent in children’s play is surpassed by every child’s enjoyment of playing. This is why times for play are not relegated to recess times, but have always been included in our program as a tool for teaching from the Kindergarten through to our Elevens (grade 6). All play is purposeful, and children are inherently motivated to play. Play-based learning, in all its guises, acknowledges this.

Since 2019 Preshil has continued its commitment to innovative play pedagogy and the ongoing professional development of staff, in partnership with Dr Rebecca Lewis, now an educational consultant. While the involvement of Monash acted as a catalyst, Preshil has developed PlayWorlds as a central element of the learning program in the early years within our International Baccaluareate Primary Years Programme (PYP), for children from our Kindergarten through to Year 2. Preshil continues to invest in the professional development of staff in play pedagogy. Having always understood the importance of play in children’s learning, we strive for excellence in this area of pedagogy and are leaders in this field, offering professional development to other PYP educators.

Preshil continues in its tradition of forward thinking progressive education by being part of innovative world leading research focused on intentional teaching in play-based programs through the Conceptual PlayWorlds model. Furthermore, Preshil is now taking this current research and making links with the longstanding traditions of play, developed by Margaret Lyttle and known as Playmaking which has endured for our children since the 1930s.

PlayWorlds in Action

Children and teachers establish a shared imaginative space for play, inspired by a story or work of literature. The children get to know the central characters, and develop a strong empathy with them through reading, listening, questioning, and imagining. From this strong base, the children, and teachers, adopt characters from the story, or their real life experience, and begin to play together as play partners. Preshil teachers use this model as a way to create imaginary worlds to play and learn together.

From within this space, a problem is posed which the children must resolve. Their empathy for the characters they discover and inhabit drives their motivation to work together to solve the problem and help their story book friends. The conceptual knowledge and skills required to solve the problem then become the focus of the intentional teaching. Preshil teachers find it an engaging way to teach and an engaging way for children to learn.

Kindergarten 3 & 4 year olds

Transdisciplinary Theme: Who We Are, Identity, Belonging and Community

PYP conceptual lens of  Function, Perspective, Connection, Responsibility

Inspired by Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are

The problem posed was how to navigate to the island where the wild things live. The children met the wild things and their community who were different from the kindergarten community. The children developed questions about how they were different from the wild things, and how they were the same. The children explored how we communicate through voice, gesture and expression as a means of connecting to one another, and how connection builds communities. To get back to their friends, the wild things, and to share what they learned about communities,  the children needed to use the language of location, maps and symbols and create the map to follow for their reunion.

This playworld allowed teachers to plan for opportunities for the children to consider features of their own kindergarten community by exploring how it differed from another community. It also allowed for exploration and consolidation of positional language, and map making and reading.

Foundation Year (Prep)

Transdisciplinary Theme: Who We Are, Humans are Made up of Systems

PYP conceptual lens of Connection, Function and Perspective with the related concept of Systems Thinking

Inspired by Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach. 

The problem posed was that James was so very lonely, and so the children wanted to create a friend for him. The children wrote letters to James and wondered what qualities a friend has. The children flew in the giant peach to visit many characters who could help them design and build a [robot] friend for James. Together with the teachers, and guided by Leonardo da Vinci and Dr Cerebellum the brain scientist, the children explored the concept of connection through systems thinking, built a robot, and then used Scratch Jr to program the robot friend for a meeting with James. 

This PlayWorld allowed teachers to plan opportunities for children to learn about STEM, in particular systems of the human body, technology, engineering, coding, measurement, design, letter writing, and the characteristics of a friend as referenced against the PYP Learner Profile attributes.

Year 1 and 2

Conceived and Delivered during Remote Learning

Transdisciplinary Theme: Sharing the Planet, All Living Things have a Relationship

PYP conceptual lens of Function, Perspective, Connection, Responsibility

Inspired by Hugh Lofting’s The Story of Doctor Dolittle.

The children were faced with the problem of returning all the animals living with the Doctor, at Puddleby-on-the-Marsh, to their own habitat and community. The  children learned to talk with the animals to understand their needs through Polynesia the Parrot. They also sought the help of  Charles Darwin, Dr Doolittle, an iguana from the Galapagos Islands, and Sir David Attenborough. The children chose an animal of interest, then researched about their animal, and their biome and community. The children traveled in their boat to return the animals to their correct biome and community. 

This PlayWorld provided opportunities for children to learn about ecology particularly population and communities, and interactions and symbiosis. The children explored the features of  both land habitats and underwater habitats. The children also explored the connection between habitat and adaptation.