“PLAY IS THE WORK OF THE CHILD” – How to support home learning in the Early Years? Case Study – Danielle Hardwick, Early Years Teacher at ICS London

02 Dec 2022

“Play is the work of the child”

“Play is the work of the child”. This oft-quoted statement is by Maria Montessori, one of the most influential educators of the last century and it stands the test of time. As years pass we understand more and more about the importance, nuance, and depth of children’s play.
In my early years’ classes, I follow a play-based approach. Students have access to pencils and paper but what I do with them is influenced by student interests. We might be writing letters to a Gruffalo or a recipe for a friend’s birthday cake. This week we replicated the London Underground, creating ticket machines and signs for the trains. When my students are writing because they want to, taking inspiration from the environment around them, I know I’m doing my job right. Worksheets are nowhere in sight. When students understand the ‘why’ of what they’re learning, engagement and investment are there.

We continue this method when we consider our recommendations for home learning. For many, home learning might sound like homework, but the philosophy behind it is very different. Gone are the traditional drills and memorization tasks, replaced by those things designed to promote a love of learning for learning’s sake. As our students grow through the years with us, the goal is to support them to be agents of their own learning, stepping into the world as curious, knowledgeable, and thoughtful people.

So how do you know when learning is learning? For me the biggest tell is engagement. Is your child excited and interested in what they’re doing? Are they engaging with you? Consider the time of day you have your best chats with your child. What are they talking about? What do they care about? Therein lies the key to engagement. Not all children come out of the school doors ready to download the ins and outs of their day. Some need time to rest and reset. Others come out ready to spill everything all at once before they find their pause moment, but either way, an engaged audience is the key to unlocking deeper learning.

In ICS London, we use the Seesaw app to support parents in engaging with their child’s learning. Throughout the week we share photos and videos of student learning in class. As the terms develop, a story unfolds of each child’s learning journey. It’s a blend of teacher-driven and student-led inquiries, with teachers skillfully weaving big learning into student interest. One of the most effective ways to strengthen student learning is for parents to share these captured moments with their child and then support students to make connections with what’s going on at home. A unit of Inquiry into living things might be a good opportunity to plant seeds at home in the kitchen, for example, but it can be much simpler. Slicing open a pepper before dinner could lead to a rich conversation about seeds and how things grow. A trip to the supermarket might be an opportunity for your child to ‘write’ their own shopping list, or a walk to the park could become a number hunt when you see they’re investigating numbers at school. Some empty bottles and spoons in the bath before bedtime might inspire some deep thinking about capacity and cause and effect. It might not look like learning, it might just look like fun, but fun is your child hard at work, building a sense of the deep intricacies of our big world.


ICS London