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    Creative Pedagogical Approaches to Children’s Development Through Play and Creativity

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    Our fundamental role of supporting children’s development is accomplished through relationships and actions, which are shaped by pedagogical content knowledge, the beliefs, attitudes and values of individuals and the cultural context in which we work. I intend to investigate the theories on which we base these actions and explore pedagogical approaches that support learning and development in relation to play and creativity as well as their effect on wellbeing. I will reflect on the impact these have on my role and I will consider how I can use this knowledge to develop my practice going forward.

    I work within a local authority nursery attached to a school in a village setting where the headteacher has a management role. Our policies and procedures are prescribed by the local council, based on Scottish national standards. Our pedagogical framing and strategies are shaped by an overarching child-centred ethos, interjected with a playful pedagogy using ‘guided interactions’ (Rogoff, 2003:285) to assist practitioners to use professional judgement to balance our provision with child-led and curricular expectations.

    Examining pedagogy allows us to find common themes by which we can create an approach that relates best to our circumstances. Through this investigation, I defined pedagogy as an evolving process of teaching and learning supported through theory, knowledge and experience, built on positive relationships and facilitated through strategies to discover a child’s potential and promote their development through activities in which they are fully engaged (Siraj-Blatchford et al. 2002; Learning and Teaching Scotland, 2005:9; Stephen, 2010:15; Moyles et al. 2002:5). In constructing a pedagogical approach, it is essential that practitioners continuously build their knowledge and understanding of child development, how children learn and how best to take advantage of children’s natural curiosity, to enhance opportunities for learning (Anning and Edwards, 2010:10).

    I have a strong belief that society should be built around a sense of respect and fairness where everyone has their basic needs met. My life experiences and instinctive drive to create a fairer society has strongly influenced my pedagogical perspective (Appendix 1). Making links to Thompson’s Personal-Cultural-Structural Model (2005:36-38), I have considered the factors of equality and human rights and how I can improve social justice on a personal level through connections with people. This journey has led me to base my pedagogical perspective on the importance of relationships (Appendix 2). Booker (2007:14) suggests learning is the result of child/adult and child/child relationships and includes families and communities.

    Papatheodorou reflects that this learning is found in the social learning theories of the ‘zone of proximal development’ ‘and scaffolding’ (Vygotsky, 2002; Bruner and Haste, 1987 both cited in Papatheodorou, 2009:4). ‘The Dance of the Nappy’ (Connected Baby, 2016), illustrates the significance of relationships through the connection between the mother and baby and produced a moment of clarity in determining my pedagogical path. While there is controversy around the idea of loving relationships which may cross professional and ethical boundaries (Loreman, 2011:1), building nurturing relationships as a basis for an early years pedagogical approach is highlighted throughout Scottish policy documents (Scottish Government, 2017:10; Education Scotland, 2020). This allows practitioners to build the types of relationships required by children to develop dispositions for learning.

    Following a career change in 2015, I have studied continuously to increase my knowledge of childhood practice. While my values, beliefs and attitudes have been developed from my life experiences over time but more recently, professional reading and research (particularly about the philosophy of Dewey (1859-1952)), continues to inform my pedagogy allowing me to identify valuable links between theory and practice. Understanding how play and pedagogy interact through social connections (Rogers and Evans, 2006:53) changed my perception of the importance of valuing children as agents, active in their own learning (Gray and MacBlane, 2012:19) and continues to improve techniques for listening and capturing children’s voices (Clark. McQuail and Moss, 2003:35).

    The common themes of putting the child at the centre, found in the philosophies of the early pioneers and post developmental theories (Pound, 2014; Nolan and Kilderry, 2010) have influenced my pedagogical perspective by teaching me that I should not dismiss ideas as being irrelevant before I have applied some critical analysis and professional discussion to my decisions.

    The political influence exerted through legislation, policy and curricular expectations influence the broader day to day tasks which are central to my role. While these documents guide how we work with children, they allow scope for professional judgement in applying pedagogical approaches suited to the individual culture and community needs (Education Scotland, 2016:25). In my setting, this is accomplished through the promotion of curiosity and creativity in play, which has produced opportunities for learning beyond the expectations of adult intentions.

    Play describes activities chosen by children which utilises their natural curiosity to make discoveries about their place and purpose in the world (Brooker and Woodhead, 2013:2; Else, 2014:25). Creativity enhances children’s play experiences through self-expression and imagination developing new ideas and supporting children to acquire skills and knowledge (Bruce, 2011:8). Play and creativity connect where children have access to enabling environments, supported by adults who not only value play but are knowledgeable in applying pedagogical strategies allowing time and space to think, experiment and create (Walsh, 2017:57; Dockett, 2011:35). Emerging evidence proposes that the nature of play is to be spontaneous and promoting “what if” thinking that improves brain architecture. This is significant to the development of emotional and physical health and wellbeing as well as supporting executive function and social competence (Lester and Russell, 2008:45; Issacs, 1971 as cited in Trowsdale and Duffy, 2018:124).

    The creative process encourages a sense of mastery and builds resilience which is closely linked to wellbeing (Duffy, 2006:38). Recognition that children learn through playful interactions perhaps justifies the central position play-based learning has. However, Broadhead et al. (2010 cited in Brooker and Woodhead, 2013:38) warn that the debate around ‘play as pedagogy’ is complex and presents positive and negative opportunities. Understanding how children learn facilitates a blending of knowledge with strategies to create an effective pedagogy that meets the needs of children and the expectation of curriculum drivers.

    Dewey (1859-1952), suggested children learn best by being actively involved in investigating new experiences for themselves. He promoted the idea of child-lead practice, where the curriculum is be based on children’s interest (Leach and Moon, 2008:3). He believed this motivated children to learn across curriculum areas and introduced the ‘project approach’ to facilitate this (Pound, 2014:27-30). This method closely relates to the practice of creating children’s learning walls that we see currently. Additionally, this child-centred approach, also supported by Froebel (1782-1852) and McMillian (1860-1931), encourages active learning (Brock, 2014:17-18) which forms the core pedagogy approach used in Scottish early years settings today (Care Inspectorate, 2016; Scottish Government, 2016; Scottish Govenrment, 2020).

    Dewy advocated democracy in the classroom where children exercise their autonomy to shape their learning through the choices they make (Stephen, 2010:25; Cecchin, 2013:67). At the time this was controversial (Johnston and Nahmad-Williams, 2009:21) but is now viewed as the autonomy and learner agency promoted within current early years guidelines (Education Scotland, 2020b). The theories provide a broad base of knowledge which are valuable and often enhance each other to build foundations of information needed for the dynamic pedagogical interactions used every day.

    Pedagogy of play can be a challenge for adults. Wood (2013:99), noted that practitioners were often unclear about their role in children’s play. This is not surprising when we look at the varying approaches to the adult role in teaching. Pestalozzi (1801) supported a structured programme while Rousseau (1792) favoured a more hands-off approach to learning by experience alone. Vygotsky (1962,1978) took a central position stating that we learn through our interactions with the environment and more knowledgeable others (Murray, 2015:1716-1717).

    This idea was evolved further by Bruner et al (1958 as cited in Nutkins, McDonald, Stephen, 2013:29) with the theory of ‘Scaffolding’ which he described as assisting children to assimilate simple ideas into more complex thinking (Booker and Woodhead, 2013:18). Recent research has concluded that pedagogy which balances child-initiated and adult-initiated activities were most effective (Siraj-Blatchford et al. 2004:723). All of these concepts have a place in a pedagogy of play where individual circumstances of children may require more or less structure but will always require flexibility and creativity in finding the right balance.

    Imagination is the ability to bring an idea from our mind’s eye into reality which Robinson (National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education, (NACCCE), 1999:8), suggested is the key to creativity. There is no greater opportunity to inspire creative thinking than in the early years before it is set aside for more adult-directed pursuits (Trowsdale and Duffy, 2018:123). When we understand what creativity is (Appendix 3), we recognise it ubiquitously. Creativity reaches beyond the subject boundaries and aspects of development to provide opportunities for even the youngest of children to begin to acquire skills for adapting to an evolving world which they will live.

    Beetlestone (1998:95-96) was the first to guide our understanding of the development of creativity through the ‘Three Tiers of Creativity’ which Crompton used at the basis for her Continuum of Creativity in which she included additional elements that allowed it to be more easily aligned with education (Compton, 2007 as cited in Johnston and Nahmad-Williams, 2009:38-40) and including creativity which relates closely to everyday creativity described in Crafts’ (2002:44). Little C’, where choices made and problems solved, are the small new valuable aspects of everyday life.

    While children have an inner drive to be creative, practitioners are aware that it requires a nurturing environment to develop (NACCCE, 1999:11). Duffy (2006:4) and Bruce (2011:22-27) agree that the impact of the role of the adult and the environment, cannot be underestimated. The pedagogy implemented within creativity is often hidden where we see children take the lead in exploring their ideas, while the adult stands back. (Cremin, Burnard and Craft, 2006:116). The six features of a creative pedagogical stance set out specific strategies which practitioners can employ to promote learner’s belief in their ability. They apply multi-modal teaching methods while encouraging ownership, problem-solving and questioning within enabling environments, which allow children to take risks (Cremin and Barnes. 2010:362-364). This makes connections to the concept of possibility thinking, which Craft (2002:111-115) states, is fundamental to creativity.

    Also, she explains how children partner previous knowledge, imagination and possibility thinking to build new ideas, thereby linking creativity with cognitive development (ibid). As children’s ideas become more complex, they may require adult-directed support, but they also need time and space to become immersed in their play (Bruce. 2011:81). Being utterly absorbed in their activities can lead to a level of creativity described by Csikszentmihalyi (1979 as cited in Nutkins, McDonald and Stephens, 2013:242) as a state of flow where the end product may not have been the pre-determined goal. Creativity is an important aspect of children’s learning and development and its position central to the pedagogical approach in the Scottish curriculum (Education Scotland, 2020b). This leads me to believe that it must be foregrounded within planning and included as a constant area of improvement for the provision of resources and development of staff where we need to value creativity in ourselves to be able to inspire creativity in others.

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