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A qualitative approach has been adopted for the study. In order to gather information on the subject matter under discussion, apart from the desk research, interviews will be conducted to get the views, perceptions and opinions of the selected nine primary school teachers in senior infant classes within Dublin. 1. 1 Background Information Play is widely recognized as a major route to learning, especially in children’s early years. According to French (2007), play has been identified as one of the key contexts for children’s early learning and development.

The ideological, helicopter and educational principles generated by the works of Rousseau, Dewey, Before, Interiors, Isaacs, Boycotts, Burner and others is viewed as a base on which play and learning is centered on (Bruce, 2010; Nutrition, Slough, & Sessile, 2008). It is argued that play is a Kyoto a child’s learning and development. As reported by Adjust (2007), the inclusion of play is a key component of the unique nature of early childhood education. Children are viewed as active, inquisitive and playful; therefore it seems natural to have play-based learning as performing a vital role in early childhood education.

The underlying assumption is that,- play forms the basis of childhood development (Bruce, 2010; Frost, 1992; Forgery & Gull, 1992). Research also indicates that children learn best in an environment that allows them to explore, discover and play (Beaver et al. , 2001; Adjust, 2007; Samuelsson , 2006). Because of this, early childhood education curricula frameworks have incorporated play as a means Of learning for children (Haddam & Unesco, 2002; Carlson Lowlander & Praising Samuelsson, 2003; Lindbergh, 2003; Samuelsson & Carlson, 2008).

Although there is a general understanding that learning through play is the main emphasis in early childhood education settings, recent research studies pertaining to the role, purpose and value of play in early childhood education and care curriculum continue to be debated upon (Murphy, 2006; Hayes, 2007; Wood & Outfield, 1996). The insistence on the use of play-based learning in early childhood education in Ireland is well documented as evident from the curricula documents (Hayes, 1 993, AAA).

Therefore, it is for this reason that Hayes has observed that the Irish early childhood education system is underpinned by the tradition of child-centered approaches that employ play- eased learning. However, literature review ( Dungy, 2008; Hayes, 1 993) and research studies (Murphy, 2004; COED, 2006) on the Irish early childhood education suggest that learning that is based on play especially in infant classes is under threat. The perceived situation is that, the teachers are either underlining or simply not using the play-based approaches due to various reasons.

Therefore, this research study is aimed at finding out the views, opinions and perceptions of the teachers on the theory’ and practice of play as a means of learning for children in a practical classroom situation. The Enron infant class in the context of Ireland will be the focus of this study. 1. 2 Research Questions The following will form the research questions: 1. 2. 1 Main Question Is the practice of play-based learning approach in Irish senior infant classes under threat with regards to the application of theory to practice based on the views, opinions and perceptions Of primary school teachers? 1. 2. 2 Sub Questions What are the understandings of the theories of play as a means of learning by primary school teachers in Irish senior infant classes? What are Irish primary school teachers’ perspectives in practice on the legislations between their understandings of the theories of play as a means of learning and classroom practices in senior infant classes? Are Irish primary school teachers in senior infant class faced with any constraints in classroom practices on using play as a learning tool?

What role should teachers take to enhance and support play as a means of learning in senior infant classes? 1. 3 Research Objectives The following are the research objectives split into the main and the specific objectives. 1 . 3. 1 Main Research Objective The main aim of this research study is to explore and ascertain whether the reactive of play as a vehicle for learning in Irish senior infant classes is being threatened with regards to the application of theory to practice based on the views and perspectives of primary school teachers. . 3. 2 Specific Research Objectives To explore the importance of play for young children as a means of learning from the perspectives of teachers. To identify, if any, the constraints faced by early childhood practitioners in the implementation of play in the classroom based on their theoretical views, with a particular focus on senior infant class, and suggest possible remedies. To identify the different ways in which senior infant class teachers can enhance play in the classroom settings. Scope of the Study The research study on the views, opinions and perceptions of early childhood educators on the theoretical and practical understandings of the importance of pleased learning will be restricted to Irish primary school teachers in senior infant classes. Since it is a small scale qualitative research survey, only nine teachers from selected primary schools within Dublin will be used as respondents. Rationale for the Proposed Study In Ireland, early childhood education covers the period from birth to six years.

The provision is diverse and fragmented, spreading across the child care and education sectors (COED, 2006). Whereas those children below 3 years are being provided for in different and diverse child care facilities, those from 4 years and above are found in the primary school system in what is called infant classes. Infant classes that are taught by qualified primary school teachers are divided into junior (4 year-olds) and senior infant (5 years-olds) (Government of Ireland, 1999).

The Irish early childhood education system is believed to be strongly grounded in the principles and philosophy of child-centered models that utilize play-based learning approaches (Hayes, AAA). Play is viewed as a key pedagogical means in early childhood education (Adjust, 2007; Frost, 1992). Because of this, early childhood education curricula frameworks have incorporated play as a means of learning for children (Wood & Bennett, 1997). Research studies indicates that children learn best in an environment that allows them to explore, discover and play, observes Samuelsson and Johansson (2006).

However, recent research highlights a continuous debate on the role, value and purpose of play in early childhood education curricula frameworks (Wood , 2005; Murphy, 2006). Also research findings suggest that early childhood educators face a number of constraints in the use of play in the classroom, especially in reception classes (London, 2001 It is also believed that the Irish early childhood education system in infant classes is faced with similar challenges with regards to the use of play-based learning approaches by teachers.

It is perceived that teachers either neutralized or simply do not use the play-based learning approaches due to a number of factors ( Dungy, 2008; Murphy, 2006; COED, 2006) 4 Therefore, based on the above issues, this research study will explore the efferent views, opinions and perceptions of the teachers on the theories of play as a learning tool and classroom practices especially with a focus on senior infant class. 1. Research Significance First of all, the findings from this research study will contribute to an understanding of whether senior infant class teachers are aware of the importance and the benefits of play-based learning and to what extent this approach is utilized in classrooms. A second contribution will be that, since it is perceived that Irish primary school teachers in senior infant classes are aced with dilemmas with regards to the use of play-based learning approaches, the study will therefore shed light on those possible challenges.

A further contribution will be able to bring out the views and opinions of teachers On how best this approach can be enhanced or supported in senior infant classes. Therefore the research findings to be obtained from this study will be of major significance to a number of stake-holders in the early childhood education system. 1. 7 Research Dissertation Structure The research dissertation structure consists of six (6) chapters. The first heaper on the background to the research study. The second chapter (Chapter 2) is dedicated to literature review and the theoretical framework.

The third chapter (Chapter 3) outlines and discusses the research methodology. It explains the approach adopted in order to provide answers to the research questions. It also covers issues of ethics and research limitations. The fourth chapter (Chapter 4) focuses on the presentation of the research findings. The fifth chapter (Chapter 5) gives the discussion, and finally the sixth chapter (Chapter 6), is the conclusion, recommendations, future research and implications for reactive based on the discussion in the main body of the report. CHAPTER TWO LITERATURE REVIEW AND THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK 2. 0 Introduction This chapter presents the literature review based on the different perspectives of the scholars and researchers alike on the subject of the use of play in early childhood education settings. The definition and importance of play for children will be covered first. Thereafter, the chapter Will briefly discuss the child-centered model. The Irish context in relation to the promotion of early childhood education through play in its curricula will follow.

This is with a view to provide a picture of the system since the research study is based on the Irish context. The remaining part covers the discussion of the topic on the mismatch between theory and practice (the rhetoric-practice debate) in the early childhood education settings as practiced by teachers. Finally, the chapter will explore ways in which class teachers can support play-based learning in their classroom situations. 2. 1 Defining Play Although play is commonly seen as childhood activity, locating a definition can be a daunting task, observed Samuelsson and Johansson (2006).

Vickers ND Sandburg (2006, p. 37) highlight this challenge as follows, “One difficulty that exists when it comes to a definition of play is that there is no common conception about what play is”. Equally, Sutton-Smith (1997) contends that play is an inherently and deliberately ambiguous concept Most of the researchers agree to the fact that, putting a definition on play is very difficult (Nanning & Edwards, 2006; Fisher, 2002; Hughes, 2009; Kalmia, 2006; Moles, 1989; pillager & Boyd, 1993).

However, it is not the intention of this paper to go into the detailed theoretical perspectives of the definition of play. In simpler terms, play, commonly referred to as the work of children, is seen as an activity that is central in the lives of children. It consists of those activities performed for self-amusement that have behavioral, social and psychosomatic rewards (Beaver, 1999). It is child directed, and the rewards come from within the individual child.

As children grow and develop, also their ability to 6 engage in play behavior evolves from simple to more complex. By the time they reach pre-school age, they are able to engage in a level of play that can greatly promote their learning if carefully implemented (Bedroom & Leone, 003; Christensen & Kelly, 2003; Essay, 2010; Remember, 2006; Hyde, 2004). 2. 2 The Benefits of Play for Children From infancy, children use play to promote their own learning; they do not have to be persuaded into playing (Alaskan, 2011; Lester & Russell 2008).

Through play, children are able to learn and develop in many different ways. Play provides children with the opportunity to interact with others, both adults and children, at an appropriate level. This in itself helps children acquire the necessary skills for getting on with others and becoming part of the group (Beaver, 1999; Beaver et al. 2001; Contract, 2009). Research indicates that children learn best in an environment that allows them to explore, discover and play. Illustrating this point, Samuelsson and Johansson (2006, p. 3), write: Children learn best when they are captured by something that occupies their involvement in such a way that the surrounding world ceases to exist-the child focuses on something he/she would like to solve or to know more about. Play is an important part of a child’s holistic development. It is closely tied to the development of the socio-emotional, con dative, language and hysterical behaviors (Forgery&GulIo, 1992). Wood (2004) has alluded to the fact that, – play enhances language development, social competence, creativity, imagination, and thinking skills.

In addition, Frost (1992) believes that, “Play is the chief vehicle for the development of imagination and intelligence, language, social skills, and perceptual-motor abilities in infants and young children” (p. 48). In this regard, one would argue to say that through play, children develop and refine motor skills, experience the joy of mastery, and build self-esteem. According to Jean Pigged, play helps in the placement of symbolic thought, language and literacy, and logical- mathematical thinking (Van Horn et al. , 1993).

Play is seen to be at the centre Of cognitive, social-moral and a 7 sense of self development. Solaria (2003) also acknowledged the importance of play as a tool for developing children’s holistic development. 2. 3 A Brief Overview of Play-based and Child-centered Approaches According to Brenna (2012, p. 161 “The term ‘play-based approach’ or ‘play- based curriculum’ is used to describe an approach to EXEC that recognizes that children learn through play and build on their play experiences to remote further learning. ” It is argued that this approach responds to children’s abilities, interests and negotiations.

The approach places the child at the centre of learning (Canella&Viruru, 1 997). It is believed that the play- based curriculum over the years has been drawn from the works of Jean Piglet’s theory of cognitive development, and later on the works of Visigoths socio-cultural theory (Langford, 2010; Brenna, 2012). In the children’s approach curriculum, the main aim is for the child to learn how to learn, “to acquire the skills of synthesis and analysis, of evaluation and generalization, f communication and reception of ideas and knowledge” (Ross, 2000, p. 138).

According to Bernstein (2000), the learning that takes place in the child- centered classroom is mainly done through a continuous active discovery and experiential activity on behalf of the learner. 2. 4 Theories about Children’s Play There are several educational innovators across Europe (see Appendix A: Instrumental Theories of Play) and in other parts of the world that exerted a long term impact on early childhood education thinking (Nutrition, et al. , 2008). Although their exact ideas differed in one way or the other, they still hared a commitment to what would now be called a more child-centered approach.

Frederica Forbore (1782-1852) and Maria Interiors (1870-1952) in the context of play According to London (2001 these novo innovators did not value children’s play in itself, but they wished to use the potential of play for the educational purposes. London further points out that, Forbore and Interiors are sometimes misleadingly seen as people who elevated play into the prime means for children to learn. It is 8 argued that neither of the novo developed learning materials, and supported the educational philosophy of promotion of play itself.

However, what they aimed for was to support training, self -discipline, orderliness and good habits. The materials were supposed to be used in a particular sequence and in a carefully structured educational environmental situation. The new element of their approach was that children were believed to learn best through self-directed activity that was supported by intrinsic motivation (Nanning, Culled, & Fleer, 2008; Nanning & Edwards, Bibb). More importantly, both innovators broke away from the perception that children needed to be driven by adult instructions and rote learning. Non Dewey (1859-1952) The works of John Dewey which emphasized the ways children act as co- constructors Of their learning became popular in the USA around the 20th century. Dewey saw the children as being active agents in shaping of their learning experiences and environments (Wood &Attifield, 1996). Rudolph Steiner (1861-1925) Steiner belief was based on community education and the importance of maintaining good relationships between the teacher and the children (Tattoos, 2007).

His quest was also on good diet and proper rest for the children. The teachers were encouraged to have an eye on the children as they interacted. The children with special needs were also encouraged to take part in the community education and to feel being part of the other children. Margaret McMillan (1860-1931 ) McMillan came up with the idea of a nursery environment in which the outdoors was as important than indoor learning. She was concerned with the wellbeing of the children who lived in poverty.

Like Interiors, she was also influenced by the works of Segueing ( Indo, 2001 McMillan is said to have made a direct link from the home-based learning of privileged children to the more detailed positive nursery environment for the less privileged. Her concern was on diet, lack of fresh air and lively physical exercises that 9 blighted the chances of poor children. With her sister Rachel, they set a camp for improving the health of girls aged six to fourteen years from slums areas in Deported, South London. Later on, this idea was extended to the younger children.

This open air nursery allowed children to move freely. It was equipped with real tools which children were using (London, 2001; Tattoos, 2007). Susan Isaacs (1885-1948) It is argued that Isaacs was different from those innovators mentioned above. She was very influenced by Anna Freud and Melanie Klein, both of whom ere practicing psychoanalysts. However, Isaacs moved on from this view and became involved in education. She valued children’s play because she was of the view that it was important for creating imaginative meaning and had intellectual value.

According to Isaacs, these were the starting point in the movement towards discovery, reasoning and thought (Hayes, 1 993; London, 2001; Nutrition et al. , 2008). Nevertheless, she accepted that fact that symbolic and fantasy play was a release for children’s feelings. Isaacs is said to have not believed that play was the only way in which children discovered ND learned. She strongly felt that it had a very important role in bringing a balance in children’s emotions especially in the early childhood education ( Indo, 2001 Chris They and schemas The idea of schemas as proposed by Pigged was further explored by Chris They.

She applied this idea to observation of children’s play and her practical ideas have since acted as a guide on how adults can support play(Brenna, 2012). 2. 5 The Irish Context in the Promotion of Learning through Play in Early Childhood Education Play as a means of learning has been evident in the early childhood education system in Ireland. The curriculum documents as will be shown in the following discussion clearly recognize the role of play. They also place the child at the centre as being unique and requiring a child-centered approach for a holistic development to occur. 0 2. 5. 1 Access and Provision for the Infant Classes The provision of early childhood education and care services in Ireland, which is provided by both public and private sectors, is diverse and fragmented and spreads across the child care and education sectors (Hayes, Flattery, & Korean, 1997; COED, 2006). With regards to children aged 3-6 years, all the 5 ear-olds and just over half of the 4 year-olds attend infant classes that are found within the primary school systems (Government of Ireland, 1 999; Hayes, Bibb).

The infant classes are divided into junior (4 year-olds) and the senior infant (5 years-olds) that normally operates from 09:00 to 14:00 hours 2. 5. 2 Curricula used in Infant Classes The new Primary School Curriculum 1999 (Ireland & National Council for Curriculum and Assessment 1999) that is used in primary schools, covers ages 4 to 12 years. Therefore, the infant classes utilities the same curriculum. In this document, the focus is on the child as an active learner, with each object area encouraging active leaning processes (Hayes & Bradley, 2008; Murphy, 2006).

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