As the New Year begins, I am excited and challenged about the direction Nepean Tutoring will take in 2015. While I am writing this post, I am sitting in a plane in Cambodia, Siem Reap, ready for takeoff to the beaches on the Southern Coast of this beautiful country. I visit here often to assist in education projects for both impoverished children on the fringe of the city and young adults who are attempting to carve out a career in a country whose progress from the horrific civil war and genocide some thirty years ago has gone largely unnoticed by first world governments. For this reason there is a weak formal National Curriculum which leaves its population in a low pedagogical cycle. The politics surrounding this situation are not important to this article, but the observations I have noticed in terms of informal learning, despite the weak formal system here, continue to challenge me as a teacher/tutor.

The notion of play has been a repeated theme in Nepean Tutoring posts this past year. It is a culture of thinking that has been adopted by different philosophies, observations from children at play in various indigenous cultures and an intuitive recognition that we are not always “getting it right” in our current formal system. Play should conjure images of children sitting together working out how to play a game or running around outdoors and negotiating natural and man-made environments in order to enjoy themselves.

More often we forget the rich learning that takes place in all these situations. Learning can and must be fun, or at the least purposeful, to hold meaning and develop thinking processes. It is through play that we connect with babies and our youngest children and acknowledge their individual intentions to interact more meaningfully with their world. Play is the pursuit of every pre-schooler’s day where they acquire the ability to make choices, develop problem solving skills and play is the medium that develops all five senses which becomes integral to the success of further learning as a child enters the formal system. There has been a lot of work in recent times that focuses on the notion of multi-sensory learning and play is the source by which these experiences are developed in children they are immersed in activities involving their five senses.

When they begin school, it has been traditional practice to expect children to take a monumental leap from their world of play and creativity to that of a formal learning environment. This is such a sudden shift from the creativity and individual autonomy that their world of play provides. For many children, this shift is overwhelming and confusing and can develop a sense of learned helplessness where they are unable to absorb or engage in the formal setting. Their ability to achieve success in the classroom can be compromised unless the notion that all children require learning that uses all their senses using teaching and learning tasks that involve play and creativity.   They required structured and unstructured play experiences to transition them more smoothly into formal learning situations when they are ready to take that leap in their own learning journey.

My observations in Cambodia reinforces this thinking. There is nothing more refreshing than watching young children in this third world environment discover, communicate and create meaning through the action of play. There is no technology for most of these children and few commercially acquired toys, but their ability to create games and play cooperatively and meaningfully does indeed challenge my understanding of the way children learn. The simplicity of their play, the confidence they develop in their creative pursuits with little to inspire them but their environment, the use of simple tools and materials to make things and their inherent ability to problem solve in the context of play brings a readiness to their formal learning that all educators need to consider in their understanding of the way children learn best. It not only fosters creativity, but also curiosity, perseverance and resilience that are necessary prerequisites for successful learners.