Play, relationships and learning in schools

On Wednesday evening Froebel Trust held their inaugural lecture at RIBA in London with Professor Paul Ramchandani speaking about play, relationships and learning. Ramchandani is the LEGO Professor of Play in Education, Development and Learning at Cambridge University where he leads a research team investigating the role of play in children’s development. He also works as a Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist in the NHS.

At a time where the Department for Education and Ofsted are under pressure to address widespread concerns about children’s mental health and wellbeing in schools, it was interesting to hear from an expert whose focus was on identifying evidence of what kinds of interventions actually work.  He undertakes “serious research about play”. He spoke of how children who experience a difficult start in life are not condemned to a difficult life – but how their chances and opportunities are significantly narrowed. He referred to research which showed that ‘guided play’ was a more successful route to learning for children; more effective than the traditional classroom practice of ‘didactic instruction’.

There appears to be ever more articles in the media at the moment about schools with zero tolerance behaviour policies, the increase in use of seclusion/ isolation rooms in schools and the growth of exclusions in England. Articles such as “Teachers warn zero tolerance discipline is feeding mental health crisis“, The Telegraph, March 2018.

A slide used by Professor Ramchandani during his lecture.

Professor Ramchandani was clear – positive early intervention in the very first months of a child’s life had the most significant impact on a child’s wellbeing, their resilience, their adult life and ability to self regulate. It is the quality of those early interactions (play) with our parents/ carers which seems to determine our ability to cope in the classroom and in the community as we get older.

Ramchandani pondered how his and others’ academic research could influence policy makers and begin to influence practice in our schools. His research and work would suggest that no behaviour policy – no new Ofsted criteria – would or could significantly increase pupils’ wellbeing in our schools. But perhaps more thought and value for play in our curriculum and developing better relationships in our schools (amongst children and adults) could go a long way to improving pupil outcomes and learning.

Professor Ramchandani’s work is currently focused on ‘Parental playfulness and the development of play in children’s lives’. You can find out more about his work at PEDAL.

You can also read the Children’s Commissioner’s August 2018 report on Playing Out – the importance to children of play and physical activity.

Details of other events and conferences organised by the Froebel Trust are published on their website.

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