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Play-based activities in "Life Curriculum" and the development of children's competence

Lo-Hsun Lee

Abstract

During the initial learning period of the Nine-Year Joint Curriculum in Taiwan, three learning areas, namely the social studies, art and humanities, science and technology, are integrated into a single "Life Curriculum." As

children are transitioning from the play-oriented early childhood education to first grade in primary education, consideration should be given to establishing a connection and a gradual progression from the early childhood curriculum. A historical literature review shows that understanding the importance of play to children does not only help children in improving their cognitive, social and emotional development, establishing their behavior and attitude, it also is effective in building up their artistic and scientific skills. That is the reason the play-based instruction becomes one of the most importance instructional activities in the initial learning period. This research considers various aspects of play-based instruction. It involves cooperation between the research team and three first grade teachers. With "Life Curriculum Competence Indicators," the teacher team creates the first draft of the play-based instruction curriculum after many discussions. The team then observes the actual game playing indoors and outdoors. With the observations, the teachers reflected on the pros and cons of the play-based instruction as well as the children behaviors. Through more discussions, the instructional design is revised. Lastly

through reviewing the children drawing sheets, researchers' observations, and videotapes of the instructions, the various children behaviors during the play activities are analyzed. play-based instruction designs were completed. From September 2003 through June 2004, eight

Research background and objectives During the initial learning period 1st and 2nd gradeof the Nine-Year Joint Curriculum in Taiwan, which has started since 2001, three learning areas, namely the social studies, art and humanities, science and technology, are integrated into a single "Life Curriculum." Similar as the other learning areas, based on Nine-Year Joint Curriculum Guidelines, the goal of "Life Curriculum" is to cultivate students' key competence in place of academic-oriented learning. In order to change the traditional learning style, which most of the learning is conducted by teachers, this study attempts to enrich "Life Curriculum" by adopted play-based activities. More specifically, through games, exploration, dramatic-play, or role-play, this study helps first grade children gain the comprehensive study of the subjects, form the concepts, and take actions on the one hand; it establishes a connection between play-oriented early childhood curriculum and first grade curriculum on the other hand. Children can experience the human relationships, deal with their emotions, and express themselves in variety of ways more than traditional learning style. The key competence which is emphasized in the Nine-Year Joint Curriculum can also be promoted and strengthened. While play is viewed as children's life and is one of their important learning ways, it can be incorporated into school learning in joyous and pleased atmosphere. It is believed that with play, children's learning interest and the results of their study turn out good. The purposes of this study are as follows: 1. To design the play-based activities with first grade teachers and explore their understanding of "Life Curriculum" as well as their beliefs and practical knowledge on play-based activity. 2. To describe children's performance in the play-based activities to understand their competence in terms of cognitive, social, emotional and sensory-motor aspects.

Perspectives and theoretical framework 1. The importance of play In adults' views, play is often considered as amusement, killing time or diverting oneself from boredom. According to a Chinese old saying, "diligent in learning but neglects playing," let people misunderstand the value of play. It is believed, only hard-working leads to successful results and personal value. With adults' expectation, the time and opportunity that children engaged in play are reduced. In fact, play is one of the best ways people gain knowledge and skills (Smith, 1985). Another show from the study on play of different fields, play is a very `decent thing' for children, and has benefit to children's physical and psychological development. For example, in Kaplan-Sanoff, Brewster, Stillwell, and Bergen's (1988) study, they pointed out that play can stimulate and promote children's physical/motor development. Piaget (1962) considered that the levels of children's intellectual development will be showed in a full of imagined and symbolizing play. Besides, while incorporated old knowledge and new experience within the play, children can build up new knowledge. Their thinking and learning skills can be advanced at the same time. Within play, Smilansky (1968) emphasized that play involves some strong social factors that reflect children's imitating the real life experiences, the

ability of language communication and perspective-taking. In their interactions with others, children tend to know more about themselves, others, and their living world. From educational view, play can increase positive interactions between teacher and children (Busse, Ree & Gutride, 1970; Singer & Singer, 1974; Wade, 1985). It also offers the chance to prepare children's positive learning attitude for future study, help children to master the environment, and escalate children's readiness for learning. 2. relevant research of play in the curriculum activity

Based on the Kindergarten Curriculum Standard (1987), play is included and integrated in the six learning areas. Therefore, there are rich researches in this period. However, as children enter into elementary school, their burden of subject matters learning increases, the time for play then decreases. The related researches in Taiwan turn more attention to children's drama than play at this stage, for example, Kao (1984), Hu (1986), Lin (1994), and Tien's study (2000). In other words, there are lake of vividness and pluralism in curriculum and instruction in helping children's learning and exploration. 3. Competence Indicators of "Life Curriculum" and play-based activity

In "Life Curriculum," there are 53 Competence Indicators. Nine out of the 53, which include social studies, science and technology, and art and humanity, can be reached through play-based activities. Simultaneously, these Indicators can also be the basis for designing play-based activities (Ministry of Education, 2000). 4. Play-based teaching in "Life Curriculum"

Since 1999, Ministry of Education began to run the Nine-Year Joint Curriculum as an experiment in more than one hundred and ninety elementary and junior high schools. "School-based Curriculum" was designed by each school. The achievement was very considerable, for example, Huwshan description--the practice of school-based curriculum (Chen, 2000), the record of Nine-Year Joint Curriculum in Erh-Chung elementary school (Erh-Chung elementary school, 2001), the small melon shoot under the sunshine--the achievement of Bih-Tang Elementary School (Chen, 2000), become excellence--Kao-Yu Elementary School's experience on school-based curriculum (Chien, 2001), etc. They all displayed the vigor of educators' fully. However, most of these results came out before the announcement of Nine-Year Joint Curriculum Guidelines; they appeared as "Integrated Curriculum" without Competence Indicators. In teaching practice, the fully of the learning area spirit was limited. Moreover, there made less design for "Life Curriculum," only Lu-Chiang elementary school (2001) had finished four volumes of students' texts and worksheets which based on Competence Indicators. Unfortunately, without teachers' manual, it was difficult to find out the overall picture about play-based activity.

Methods 1. The way to carry on the study: Based on the textbooks of "Life Curriculum" that adopted by the elementary school, the research team and three first grade teachers cooperated in designing the play-based activities with "Life Curriculum Competence Indicators" from September 2003 to June 2004. The research team then observed the actual game playing indoors and outdoors. Teachers' reflections on the activities

and children' behaviors were discussed, and the activity plan was revised through the following discussion. 2. Data collection: Observation: The research team entered into three classrooms to observe the on-going play-based activities. Teachers' actions, children's reactions, and the interactions among children were recorded by field notes and videotaping. 2 Group meetings: The research team and teachers met before the school began to decide the adoption of appropriate curriculum activities and the time to carry on the teaching. Teachers created the first draft of the play-based activity plan. The draft was discussed and revised by the research team and teachers. After the observation of the actual teaching, the new version of the draft was done. 3 Children's drawing sheets: Children reflected what they had learned and how they felt about the play by writing and drawing on the sheets after each play-based activity. 4 Interviews: At the end of each semester, the teachers were interviewed individually in terms to their beliefs, teaching practice and reflections on play-based activities. Several free talks with children in order to know more about their perspectives on play were conducted too.

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Results A. The content of play-based activities 1. The designing of play-based activities Totally, eight play-based activities were created by the teachers and research team. They were "it's nice to know you," "traffic light," "autumn leaves," "building house together," "spring garden," "sandbag throwing," "good guest, good host," and "shadow play of paper dolls." All of the play activities were integrated in two or three learning areas of "Life Curriculum." Each activity was discussed and revised before the real teaching, and reviewed after it, both the teachers and research team reflected on the pros and cons of the play-based activity as well as children's behaviors. The way to carry on the activity included role-play, body movement, outdoors exploration, the creativity of visual arts, visiting classmate's house, and dramatic play. In every discussion, the correspondence between Competence Indicators and learning objectives were checked. Since teachers were not very familiar with Competence Indicators, they had a hard time to find out the appropriate ones and needed more time to discuss with the research team. Besides, some of the Competence Indicators of "Life Curriculum" were similar with other learning areas, so they were carried on as an integrated curriculum. After several discussions and observation, the specialty of the play-based activity was summed up as follows: (1) Children have interest and will participate in voluntarily. (2) With teachers' guidance, the play-based activity can reach the learning objectives effectively. (3) The process of the play is full of fun, novel, stimulating, and is unpredictability. (4) The play often goes on by way of contest, children make their own rules. (5) The playing method is often renewed and increasing its complexity.

(6) Through the play, children can reach the goals of cognition, skill and affection. (7) Children will obtain different competence through different nature of play. (8) The types of play go on in the way of manipulating, body movement, singing, role-playing, games, etc. 2. Teacher's teaching style: In each activity, three teachers had different teaching styles based on their beliefs and practical knowledge on play, personality, and teaching experience. 3. Places: Except the classroom, the places employed in the play included basement, integrative classroom, park, and children's house in accordance with the real needs. 4. Time: Usually, the play lasted for 40-50 minutes, not included the preparation and practicing time beforehand. Children who indulged in the play often asked "one more time" after the class. 5. Play things: Children needed to make many play things to go with the nature of the play. Their products also showed children's creativity and sensory-motor skills. 6. Parents' participation: Parents' support and involvement was one of the successful factors for the play-based activities. 7. Evaluation: It included children's performance, drawing sheets, interviews, self-evaluation, group-evaluation, and parent-evaluation.

B. The perspectives of play-based activity 1. Children's saying: Most of them expressed, "it's fun," "very interesting," "I can play with friends," "can play with toys," etc. 2. Teachers' sayings: They believed that play-based activity will draw more children's attention and interest than the other learning style. Children feel happy and excited in play. With teacher's guidance, the play has its goals to achieve; children learn more and complex than their own play which only stays on their instinct. Moreover, in small group play, children have plenty of opportunities to learn the appropriate ways to get along with peers. 3. The research team's saying: With teachers' guidance and happy atmosphere, children review and learn the relevant knowledge, concepts and skills at the same time. They can also manifest variety of competence in the course of play. In short, during the play-based activity, knowledge goes out of the books, and competence comes into children's life.

C. Children's competence through play-based activities 1. Research team's observation: We summed up the competence and attitude that most children represented, such as self-confidence, absorbed, compromising, helping, sharing, cooperation, respecting, sympathy, perspective-taking, curiosity, thinking, exploration, imagination, creativity, reflection, problem-solving, making play things, following the rules, not afraid of setback, willing to try again, etc. At different nature of play-based activity, with plenty of ways to carry on, they showed different competence.

2. Teacher's observation: Teachers put forward parts with their deeper impression to the competence that children represented. They felt satisfied at children's group discussion, oral expression, interpersonal relationships, forming of the rules, innovative playing methods, and strong willingness in exploration. 3. Children's drawing sheets: At the beginning of the first grade, children were unable to write down their seeing, thinking or feeling with the limited Chinese characters. They drew pictures instead. From the pictures and sentences they wrote later, they showed more about their reflections on how they felt, what they learned, or what they made in play-based activity. However, not everyone could express as fluently as possible, the individual differences existed among children and classes.

D. Teachers' reflection: Generally, most of the teachers seldom have time to think after their teaching. In this study, three teachers were invited to do the reflection and shared with the research team. 1. Teacher's team cooperation: Since they formed a group, teachers stated that they could share, discuss, and support with each other in the teaching beforehand and afterwards, they experienced the benefit of the team cooperation, and felt that their teaching competence strengthened. 2. Teaching reflection: When looking at the absorbed and excited children in the play, teachers all agreed that children learned fast and obtained good results. One of the teacher said that sometimes children were not attentive; it might be the problem of curriculum designed. She claimed, "If looked back to my teaching, it was really so, not enough to attract children sometimes." 3. The views to play-based activity: Basically, teachers learned to think how to explore deeply and widely through play, so children could have rich experience and learning. Nevertheless, they proposed of time shortage. For example, they needed longer time to plan the play-based activity exquisitely; children need longer time to practice some skills, make play things or rehearse the dramatic play. The priority order of the whole theme activity should be adjusted, so that children would not confuse with the procedures or concepts that might influence their performance. 4. The views to Competence Indicators: Teachers stated that this part was the most difficult to grasp at the beginning of this study. While designed each play-based activity, they often drew back in the face of Competence Indictors with matched teaching objectives. After several discussions with the research team, they felt much better and could grasp the spirit of the Indictors gradually. 5. The views to "Life Curriculum": Based on their teaching experience, teachers questioned the meaning of "Life Curriculum," that combines three learning areas. Through frequent discussions, observing others teaching and experiment teaching in their own class, the accumulated experience increased their confidence and independence of teaching. However, they suggested that the learning areas of "Life Curriculum" should be adjusted again and combined with other similar learning area. Otherwise, music, for example, would turn to be a supporting role. Children's competence in music learning would become simplified and melt lightly.

References Busse, T., Ree, M., & Gutride, M. (1970). Environmentally enriched classrooms and the play behavior of Negro preschool children. Urban Education, 5, 128-140. Chen, C. F. (2000). The small melon shoot under the sunshine--the achievement of Bih-Tang Elementary School. Cha-I County: Bih-Tang Elementary School. Chen, K. M. (2000). Huwshan description--the practice of school-based curriculum. Taipei: Jen-Lin. Chien, Y. L. edited (2001). Move to excellence--Kao-Yu Elementary School's experience on school-based curriculum. Taipei: Liang-Ging. Erh-Chung elementary school (2001). The record of Erh-Chung elementary school. Hsin-Chu County: Erh-Chung elementary school. Hu, P. L. (1986). Drama and behavior. Taipei: Yun-Liu. Kao, J. W. (1984). Many tries on children's drama. Elementary School World, 55, 2-3. Kaplan-Sanoff, M., Brewster, A., Stillwell, J., & Bergen, D. (1988). The relationship of play to physical/ motor development and to children with special needs. In D. Bergen (Eds.), Play as medium for learning and development: A handbook of theory and practice. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Kindergarten Curriculum Standard (1987). Ministry of Education. Taipei: Cheng-Chung. Lin. M. G. (1994). The beginning of the creative children's drama. Taipei: Psychology. Lu-Chiang elementary school (2001). The experimental materials "Life Curriculum". Taipei County: Lu-Chiang elementary school. Nine-Year Joint Curriculum Guidelines (2000). Ministry of Education. Taipei: Ministry of Education. Piaget, J. (1962). Play, dreams, and imitation in childhood. New York: W. W. Norton. Singer, J., & Singer, D. (1974). Fostering imaginative play in preschool children: Effects of television viewing and direct adult modeling. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association. New Orleans. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. 089 873). Smith, L. A. H. (1985). To understand and to help: The life and work of Susan Isaacs. Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses. Tien, Q. Y. (2000). Footprint of growing up: Preliminary experiment of the "Life Theater." Unpublished master thesis, National PingTong Normal Teachers College. Wade, C. (1985). Effects of teacher training on teachers and children in playground settings. In When Children Play, Frost J. & Sunderlin, S. (Eds.) ,Washington DC: Association for Childhood Education International.

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