FOR some children, the dramatic play corner looks like a library, for others it's a cafe, reception or kitchen.
Kindergarten students at St Francis Xavier's (SFX) Primary at Belmont have been turning the space into whatever their imaginations desire as part of the Successful Foundations project, which emphasises the value of children learning through play.
Catholic Schools Office education officer Kim Moroney co-developed the project, which has been trialled at or adopted by 19 schools, to make the transition from preschool to primary school smoother.
"We've got to make sure we don't have an approach where they're coming from play being recognised as crucially important to an environment where there is no play," she said.
"There's going to be change, but we need continuity and this is how children learn best, especially in those early years.
"There is so much research now, it's like an avalanche of research... play ignites the brain.
"Play has a context not just for literacy and numeracy but for social skills, problem solving, collaboration, those learning dispositions."
The project involves setting up five spaces or "provocations", comprising dramatic play space, maps in my world, blocks and boxes, sharing stories and outdoor play.
All have pens and paper for writing and drawing.
Students are encouraged to engage in "self determined" play for the first hour every day for the first five weeks of school.
Teachers don't intervene, but stand back and observe how children interact, collaborate and problem solve, which can be difficult when teaching.
"It's not free play all day and do whatever you feel like, it's play for learning and wellbeing and it's thoughtful and intentional and meaningful," Ms Moroney said.
"Play is a window that shows us what children can do. We get to know children through play, by just stepping back and watching and listening to know their capabilities, their interests, their needs.
"It's a window for us to make connection and build relationship, which is everything."
The children are also asked to reflect on their play. She said over time the play evolves and can become more complex.
She has seen children playing they are opening koala hospitals and building homes with solar panels.
Ms Moroney said the more teachers understood their students and what they knew, the more they could differentiate and plan learning for them.
"Rather than that industrial model of everybody doing the same thing at the same time, why would you do that when children may already know that?" she said.
A child may be reluctant to write their name on paper, for example, but may be able to in sand.
SFX teacher Sarah Dormand agreed, saying play was more useful than the Best Start Assessment, which is one hour with an adult in a clinical setting.
"It should not be 'now you're playing, now you're learning', you can play and learn at the same time."
Ms Moroney said the project had proved beneficial when teachers and students were separated during lockdown.
"Teachers knew children through their personalities, their capabilities, their interests," she said.
"It helped teachers understand each individual to help them with being away from school.
"Families were aware play is crucially important. They weren't thinking they weren't learning because they were not sitting down with a piece of paper and worksheet."
She said it also helped students to feel safe when they returned. Spaces with soapy water became car washes, Barbies were bathed and cakes of soap made into superheroes using sticks.
"It gives children an opportunity to make sense of the world," she said. "Sometimes what's going on around us can feel chaotic and like we have no control. Through play it helps children reason and understand and they can imagine, they can explore and wonder."
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