Empowering children by providing a safe space for play, exploration, and learning is one of the main tasks for educators from early learning through to graduation. Facilitating and creating opportunities for play in early learning is an important step in creating confident and empowered students. In this blog, Toorak College Early Learning Teacher Rowena Thorne explores how play can help empower students and encourage self-discovery.

The role of play in student empowerment

Jean Piaget's famous words, "play is the work of children," serve as a guiding principle that advocates for children, play, and the significance of their activities. Embracing this idea creates a space where children can explore and inquire, fostering positive learning dispositions in the process.

As early childhood educators at Toorak College, we firmly believe in the effectiveness of play as a primary learning tool for children. Play is an innate and instinctive phenomenon for children—it's their realm, a source of delight, and a means of understanding themselves, others, and the world. The optimal conditions for play involve a child-focused environment, allowing uninterrupted exploration.

In our Early Learning Centre, the celebration of play has evolved over the years. Upon reflection, we've observed the natural and organic development of this process, leading to a significant teaching revelation—the gift of empowerment. As children step into our Early Learning Centre, we empower them through play to develop their sense of self, understanding of others, and connection to the world around them. Inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach, we recognise our children as capable and resourceful learners, encouraging them to explore their surroundings and make independent discoveries.

The Reggio Emilia Approach in Early Childhood Education

The Reggio Emilia approach is an educational philosophy that encourages student-centred learning, where children learn through independent exploration, discovery, and free play. The idea behind the concept is to build empowered children who are confident, capable, and resilient community members. ‘The celebration of play’ was a concept created and shared among a community of our young learners. Through this process, educators noticed that children developed various skills, but it was their sense of wellbeing that flourished most significantly.

An inclusive and holistic environment recognises all children as capable members of our community who are encouraged to express their individuality, including having a say in the decision-making when it comes to how they learn.

How we scaffold play in our Early Learning Centre

At Toorak College, there are many ways we incorporate play, student voice and self-expression into the everyday lives of our students. The social and emotional learning benefits from these activities reach far beyond the classroom and help children become confident and empowered learners.

Daily morning meetings

It is important to come together and slow the flow of the day. Our Early Learning group comes together each morning to welcome and acknowledge each other. When starting our day together, students may freely share their thoughts and discuss the plan for the day ahead.

Sharing stories

In our Early Learning Center, we encourage students to share stories and this way help them feel part of the group. This welcomes the spontaneous learning moments for children where they learn not only to share but also to listen. This process develops throughout the year. Usually, educators intentionally guide group discussions to encourage children to share where they played, and educators add by introducing the dispositions required to achieve their play.

Learning ownership and independence

We aim to create a learning environment where children are inspired and take ownership of their play and autonomy. They learn to celebrate their work and the work of others. Children’s work inspires others, allowing them to take on the role of the teacher and the opportunity to scaffold their peers’ learning. As a result, we see children become deep thinkers in the process, recognising the importance of their ideas, play and work.

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