George Lucas Educational Foundation

Play Based Learning in a remote community

Play Based Learning in a remote community

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As a teacher in a remote Indigenous Community in Australia I work with children who typically are in the 'hard to teach' category. Our kids don't speak English at home, live in poverty, experience little or no positive discipline at home and generally experience a high rate of trauma and abuse. These are the kids who are known for classroom behaviours such as hitting, biting, swearing at teachers and each other, running around, destroying classrooms, not focussing, not learning, being years behind their mainstream peers and generally providing a nightmare environment for teachers to work in. This is not an unusual picture of remote teaching.

I'd like to present a different picture for you, however. Each morning my class lines up outside our room, they enter the room and sit down waiting for the day to start. We mark the roll, put on our uniforms (which are not sent home as we'd never see them again) talk about the date, construct our daily sentences, have a mini-lesson on the learning intentions for the day and then we start to play.

You see, we use a play based pedagogy in our early years classroom. 3 year levels work in the same room each day. They write, they read, they interact positively and they learn. We use a pedagogy devised by Kathy Walker which involves students having free access to around 8 learning centres designed to engage children in creating, role playing, tinkering, painting, building and problem solving. Each centre has relevant books, environmental print and writing materials and children are encouraged to record the results of their play. The role of the teacher during these sessions is to facilitate. I do not lead children too much in their endeavours, but rather tap into their interests and engage with them at the point in the learning that they are working at. It is a lovely, organic way of teaching and learning and one that brings me great joy. My students have learnt self regulation, concentration, positive interactions and sharing and that their risk taking can lead to positive outcomes.

Of course, we engage in explicit teaching throughout the rest of the day but this free and calming start to our school days helps to set us up for great success. I have watched this group of little people go from totally crazy, unskilled creatures to engaged, happy and contributing students.

See pictures of my classroom in my blog post

I feel lucky to have a found a way of classroom teaching that speaks to my most authentic self and get up every day knowing that I am making a positive difference in the life of my students.

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Lisa Dabbs's picture
Lisa Dabbs
Educational Consultant. Author. Speaker. Blogger.

Jocelyn, so exciting to see your enthusiasm! I love how you shared the details of how you start your day. I recently wrote post here at Edutopia, that reminds me a lot of the kind of things you do to start your morning:

The kind of positive energy and conversations you are stirring up as you do these activities is so important to your students. Surely they must radiate this back to you, everyday. Thank so much for sharing!

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

More play please!

I love that you shared BOTH realities of your kids' lives. Are you familiar with David Sobel's work around nature and play? ( David's books could really help you take your amazing work to the next level. Thanks so much for sharing it- I can't wait to hear more.

Becky Fisher's picture
Becky Fisher
Education Consultant

I love the idea of "teacher as facilitator" especially when it comes to learning through play. One of my favorite quotes is the one from Mr. Rogers where he states that "play is the work of childhood". It can make the learning that much more accessible for students who are not used to structure in their day. It's a great way to transition from home life to school life. I used the Kodaly methodology in my classroom, that teaches students how to read, sing, and play music through old folk tunes and the play that went alongside them (think Ring around the Rosie). Students loved learning, and because of this play methodology, they were practicing at home and in the playground, and not even realizing it.

Thanks for sharing! Can't wait to hear more :)

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

Well, since you used the exact words "teacher as facilitator," I'm bound by the rules of shameless self-promotion to link to my book, Facilitating Authentic Learning ( It's about teachers moving into the role of coach as opposed to primary driver of all learning. The title says 6-12, but I've heard from elementary folks that they've found it useful as well.

/end shameless self promotion

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