Imaginary Play at school – essential learning or lazy teaching?

Posted on May 14 2018

It’s hard not to be a little jealous of the life of a young child at times, with their enviable innocence and the freedom to not just have free time, but to use it for things that bring pure happiness without the stresses and strains of everyday adult life.
And this free time is more often than not dedicated to play, whether in a structured format through toys such as games, jigsaws and colouring, or more free style as in imaginary play.
Whilst imaginary play is a huge part of a child’s early years usually up until the latter end of primary education, it actually forms an important part of the school Reception year curriculum, helping to bridge the gap between the pre-school environment and the more defined educational primary setting. But is this year of seemingly unstructured achievement a necessary grounding for future educational attainment, or is it just an easy way of looking after a large group of young children in a classroom environment?
Go back a generation and school life began at the age of 4 with the child sat at a desk learning. There were elements of play but this usually formed part of a project or defined play time. Go forward a generation and the Reception year is almost in total contrast, with the play element forming the greater part of the curriculum as opposed to structured time behind a desk with pencil and paper. The thinking behind this is that the relationships with differing people and new friends are beneficial as children share knowledge, start to problem solve and think logically, assess and many more key skills that will help them not just to learn, but also help them in adult life also. At the same time, imaginary play brings up areas for discussion, and lets a teacher assess skills without a child feeling under pressure or singled out. Imaginary play also helps children adjust to the new and often formidable classroom setting.
In an era where employability opportunities are less in quantity but more demanding in terms of interview, the social skills learnt via imaginary play should not be underestimated. Sharing, being patient, having polite interaction with respect are all essential skills, so why not teach them at a place of education?
Imaginary play may well connote an image of children freely interacting with toys, but it is likely that going back in time when toys didn’t exist, children would naturally partake in some kind of play by instinct. In other words, imaginary play has always been a necessary part of the growing up process since time began. As such, doing it in the school setting is a great way of combining natural processes under the supervision of a trained educational professional, making it easy to conclude that it is a beneficial part of a Reception child’s curricular activity.

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