Play has been an essential avenue for expression. Play has a strong importance in the contributions made to young childrens’ cognitive and socioemotional development (Coplan & Arbeau, 2009). With the many theoretical backing of how play has been an important purview for the development of children, there has been a strong emphasis on play being an integral part of a childs development. However, with the importance of play being set, the local government has grown to accept play and the importance of play integrated in the curriculum. This can be reflected well with the strong emphasis set by the government. In the 2012 National Day Rally, Prime Minister Lee has mentioned that play in the early years is an integral part of the childs learning. He further adds, preschool education will prepare students to enter Primary One. With the strong contextualized inputs of how play is so important, we look to see how play, can be used to evaluate the childs learning. There has been a variety of rubrics on how play can evaluate a child in their various domains. But in the Singapore context, will such rubrics be able to be applied? With the rigours set by parents to ready their child for the formal education in Primary schools, will play be a good tool for parents to trust that their child is developing? Through this research, we aim to find out whether play is a useful tool to evaluate childrens learning and the implications in Singapore.
Singapore Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong mentions in his National Day Rally of 2012, that pre-school is to equip kids certain skills which are developmentally appropriate. It is not meant for parents to begin to add the load with the expectations that they should be ready for primary education. It is good for young children to play and to learn through play. Vygotsky (1962) as stated in Child Development also considered play to be an excellent setting for cognitive development. Play can be defined as an activity for enjoyment and recreation. As such, play in the early years can be defined as a source of expression through the various mediums with an environment that allows them to discover, explore and most importantly enjoy themselves.
Play has been emphasized since 2012 by the government. Furthermore following the governments emphasis, the Ministry came out with a framework that works to encourage further the induction of play in the early years. The Nurturing Early Learners is a framework that is used as a guide and support for pre-school educators to provide optimal programmes to best serve the needs for children (Ministry of Education, 2012). This includes goals that children should be able to work towards to prepare them for primary school. With the support of the government and the emphasis to be displayed so strongly, however, there have been a slight different practice in the centres on the grounds. Some centres may have a printed curriculum that solely relies on a play-based curriculum. While some centres reflects a well-balanced curriculum mixing worksheets and play for them to evaluate the childrens learning. As such, this research aims to study how teachers use play as a form of evaluating kindergarten children to be ready for primary school.
The research assesses the views of teachers in particular, the kindergarten teachers on their views and how their practices differ. After careful considerations of the learning goals as reflected in the NEL framework, we have found that play is encouraged. However, from the experiences in the field and through the various observations, formal and informal, we have noticed that there are a some centres which practices does not reflect the NEL Framework. Moreover, we have also seen that many teachers who have been encouraged through their studies to encourage playhave not practiced the addition of play. As such, we designed the research in a way that we would be able to identify whether the teachers were restricted due to the leaders, or whether the constant stress by parents to prepare their children for primary education is the main cause. As such, the research will delve deep to see if through play, children will be able to be ready for primary school.
Our research was targeted to a group of teachers who were have been in the field for atleast a year or have had prior experience with the preschool and the framework. In addition the target surveyors were preschool educators who have been delivering and/ conducting lessons for kindergarten students. We had in mind that teachers who have been conducting lessons and working alongside the kindergarten students will be able to follow through and understand the needs of parents. The needs of parents include the school readiness. As such, we had aimed our research towards the particular group of teachers who have taken kindergarteners. In addition, they would know the learning and development needs for the kindergarten children. This is important to our research as we tackle on the issue of whether play can be used as an effective assessment for children.
Our particpants were also from a diverse range with different teaching backgrounds, different levels of education, and also their differing experiencing also allows us to regulate our survey. Minimally we had targettted primarily with atleast 2 years experience. However, we found that some centres had kindergarten teachers who were fairly new in the field. In addition, we had also targeted teachers from different centres of different dynamics. This allowed us to weigh out the different socio-economic individual needs and demands.
However, through the course of our research, we found that if we had wanted to tackle the school readiness, we would have to involve primary 1 teachers on how they receive the children. As such, we had then diverted our research towards play being a tool of assessment instead of worksheets.
Data collection methods
Our research was targeted to firstly attain the understanding of the teachers and how they viewed play in the early years. In the initial stage of the research we targeted solely kindergarten teachers. This allowed us to understand how they viewed play for kindergarteners. The survey was a simple way of understanding how generally play and worksheets is used in the preschool setting for the kindergarten children in their learning.
Following the survey we had an interview with teachers to understand deeper as to how they felt play has been in the local curriculum and also how they view play for children. We also used the interview as a form of getting the grounds view of educators on how they felt leaders used play in the curriculum as well. The interview was held in an informal manner with the intention that the teacher would be comfortable to share more freely their views.
After the interview, we had an observation to observe the differences of whether the practices as compared to the theory and what the teachers said were well reflected. The purpose of having an observation, informal and formal was for us to view how teachers carried out lessons. The inclusion of play, free play and how their practices were reflecting the theories. Through the observation we were able to derive if there was a lack in the practice of teachers or whether teachers were just not practicing as much as they vocalize the inclusion of play in their lessons. Through the various observations we had noted that there have been many teachers who would claim that play is integral for the childs learning. However, as an assessment, we wanted to see if teachers used play to assess the abilities of children.
The research process followed sequentially as firstly we had to get the rough groundings after informal observations made. As such, we carried out the survey to target a wider coverage of teachers in the field about their views. After the survey was done, we had then interviewed and thereafter, following the interview held the observation. The sequence in which it was done was to allow us to have a clearer view on the process and gradually understand deeper on the teachers views and the practices thereafter.
The interviews targeted was to gain a deeper understand from the survey of the respective teachers. The interviews aimed at the teachers who had already completed the survey was able to give us a deeper understanding on how they viewed their curriculum, the practices of their leaders and their own practices in play. With the open ended and semi-structured guide, the interview was prepared so that the foundation of the inquiry for each person would be able to be conceived. (Patton, 2002). With the use of the open ended questions, the teachers were given the opportunity to answer and share more to allow us to understand what play was to them. Moreover, the use of examples that were contextualized were to give teachers a scenario in which they may have faced and how they have managed such experiences. This will allow us to understand how they have or will manage such incidences where play is involved to have a clearer understanding of how they can use play as an assessment and how they would encourage play.
Data analysis methods
Data was first collated and the contents were analysed for similar patterns and regularity. As defined by Merriam (1988), content alanysis is the systematic procedure to describe the content of communication. Notes were then taken to identify the similarities with the data that was collected. It was also noted that there may be some credible sources while some may not be credible. Upon further evaluation of our questions of the survey, we had also noted that there were parts which could have been clearer so as to accentuate the answer. With the data collected, we had marked and categorized the answers which were credible. Credibility was also a key part of the data analysis as Guba and Lincoln (1981) spells, how there will be answers with much higher credibility than others. Thirdly, after noting the credibility, we had magnified the key issues and uniqueness of the data. The data was further categorized and marked out for uniqueness that it bear.
From the survey, we had colour coded similar answers and views and also we picked out what was sufficient, outstanding and also data which was significantly outstanding. As the questions were open-ended there were a variety of data. From the variety, we noted down key ideas and noted them down.
From the interview, we had also identified that there were some answers which were similar in views but however the form of which it was mentioned would have made differential views. As such, the answers from the interviews were scrutinized. As the interview was recorded, we had to transcribe it. However, with the informal setting, the answers given had a fair bit of slangs and also excerpts of lingo and fillers.
Having used 3 different forms of data collection, there were fairly different aspects of how play has been involved and used. Using different forms of retrieving information allowed us to understand more than just from our views, our observations or just the words of our participants. Moreover, with the differences in styles, background and also the experience of the participants, we were able to get a range of views from different aspects. As such, we triangulated between a survey, an interview and a observation. This allowed the research to be of credible sources and one that weighed out the different views and not just the opinionated view of a group of people.
Results and discussion
From the research done, it was found that many teachers are able to guide on the prinicipal that play is important. We also understand that a majority of the teachers we surveyed felt that play should be given in a higher percentage as much time than worksheets. However, delving deeper, we found that there were other underlying issues such as the centre curriculum restrictions and parents expectation on being able to do rote learning
Firstly, the principal that teachers are able to deliver a play inculcated lesson, as from the survey is no doubt, manageable for the teachers. In addition, many of the teachers surveyed and those interviewed had stated that play is clearly being a manageable task for them to incorporate with the lessons. However, the challenge that comes from the parents and the top-down, are hindering forces in how play can be brought into the curriculum. When we go deeper to see how the curriculum restrictions differ from the various organizations. This is still rampant with the abundance of centres in Singapore. However, we also found from the research that there are some centres who have play in their curriculum. With the added approach instilled in the curriculum, centre leaders show no hindrance. However, for centres which do not follow as close as the framework goes, there are still some centres that may not be using play in their curriculum as much. Standing out from our research, we saw how the use of worksheets however have been rather a driving force for how the society deems as successful.
From the survey that was given, we noted that Teacher C, an educator from MindChamps for over 10 year, states that although play will be included, it will only be a small portion of 25% of her lesson. This serves the purpose of just capturing the audiences attention. She also adds that the end product of children would be that they need worksheets to perform. This is due to the practicality of how the sytem has been. Although she would advocate for play, I believe that her experience in the field has led her to say that worksheets would prove to be more practical. However on the contrary, the younger teachers, such as Teacher D, would have a majority or the time and lesson spent with play. Teacher M supports play and also thinks that it allows for children to manipulate and engage with their peers. This is a holistic lesson which includes motor skills, numeracy or manipulation and at the same time develops the childs socio-emotional development. With 16 out of 17 of the particpants who attempted the survey, a very large majority who advocate for play, we can draw the conclusion that play is constantly and will continually be advocated by teachers.
In lieu of the second issue we noticed, parents expectations was one issue that we had in mind. However, we were unable to draw any findings regarding it, we understand that from the informal observations made, many parents view the readiness of their child when they are able to see personal works displaying the key components of language, literacy and numeracy in the child. Although our research was not aimed towards that aspect, we also find that in the practicality of the education system, where primary school relies on worksheets more than play. According to Participant O, the framework that allows for play, the NEL Framework, having been prepared by the governing body that covers preschool, to an extent, and primary school, there should be a good gap for them to be able bridge as experts. Participant B also mentions that the framework guides teachers to build the requisites of a 21st century readiness in children. In addition, from our observation made, formal and informal, we noted that there are a number of centres who use worksheets as a reflection of the childs work. From an informal observation made it was noted that a particular centre, which has a strong emphasis on play had their teachers use worksheets to reflect the needed skills for parents.
This research was limited in a few ways. Firstly, the research was limited in its outreach. Our survey was able to reach to 17 teachers, however, we were limited to just 2 who agreed and allowed us to interview and only 1 allowed for us to observe. With such low figures, the general idea will not be able to take a broad view as compared to other teachers, centres and their practices. In addition, the survey which was given out seemed to have been unclear for all teachers to attempt. This can be reflected by Teacher E’s one-word answer to an open ended question. Thus her statement was not as reliable and we were limited to just her answer. To add, Teacher Y had also shared similar view on her answer as she mentioned, “What do you mean by formal education? Academic-based?” to the question about the current practices such as NEL framework readies children for formal education. The structure of the question was unclear and hence, the answers given may not have been reliable as the other participants. In addition to the survey, it was noted that a year of experience can make the difference of a teacher. Lillian Katz (1972) mentions the 4 stages of a teachers development. This plays a key role whether the teachers who have participated in the survey were in their survival stage where they feel inadequate, the consolidation stage which can range between the second and third year and also the renewal stage ranging from the third to fourth year. As such, in the survey, the stages of development would have played a part in the teachers efforts and views towards play.