Case Study: The case for play in KS1

Reimagining teaching and learning in KS1 as a result of what we have learnt during lockdown

Key Stage One Teacher, School 21

I knew that moving from teaching Reception to Year 1 in the middle of a pandemic would challenge my own personal teaching practice. Indeed, COVID-19 revealed to me the immediate need to evaluate our entire approach to teaching and learning in Key Stage 1. In particular, it prompted me to re-imagine the place of purposeful play. In this blog I will outline the pedagogical theory underpinning the power of play, how we approached it in the School 21 classroom, and what we learned.  

Children’s individual lived experiences of the pandemic have widely differed during both school closures. For some students, being at home has provided them with greater freedom and more time to explore, play, and gain independence in their own learning. Others have been deprived of a safe, consistent place to learn, play and socialise with peers. Whatever their circumstances, children have experienced a period of constant readjustment. The need to support children’s wellbeing, as well as their learning needs, is more evident than ever.

Play in KS1 is a powerful way to nurture the children’s well-being whilst also laying the foundations for a holistic education for all children. 

Why play?

Differences between pedagogy in the early years and the National Curriculum in KS1 mean that often child-initiated learning and play is left at the KS1 door. Reception teachers are required to support and nurture the three prime areas of learning (communication and language; physical development; personal, social and emotional) through planned and purposeful play (DfE, 2017). Whereas KS1 teachers are faced with mounting pressures to meet fixed objectives that result in more teacher-led learning. 

However, Sir Kevan Collins, recently appointed Education Recovery Commissioner, talked specifically about 2020-21’s Year 1 cohort’s need for play to support their ‘oral, social and emotional development’. Recent national guidance from Scotland has also stated that ‘transition will likely be smoother for the child if play remains and continues as the main vehicle for their early learning in Primary 1 and beyond’ (Scottish Government, 2020). In addition, Research also tells us that play is central to the development of children in the early years (age 0-8). 

  • Play enables children to make sense of the world and take control. It allows children to set their own goals and gives them time to express themselves through art, dance, music. It allows them to act out concerns and talk with trusted adults and peers in a supportive environment (Fisher, 2020).
  • Children enjoy play. It is highly motivating and encourages greater concentration and perseverance (White et al. 2017) and high levels of involvement (Laevers, 2000) – all of which research suggests are reliable indicators of academic success (McClelland et al., 2013).
  • Purposeful play is flexible and rich with opportunities. Children can explore science, maths, literacy, geography, architecture, art…all whilst developing key skills such as initiative, resilience, collaboration, oracy and creativity. Teachers have the time to interact and work with smaller groups. 

What did we do?

Reflecting on the evidence base for play based learning and the fact that the current Year 1 cohort had missed essential Reception experiences, we decided to radically change our teaching and learning provision in Year 1; we set up Continuous Provision for the first time at School 21. Continuous Provision means: Purposeful play organised through permanent areas of the classroom, including resources, that children can independently and creatively engage with during dedicated time but also throughout other periods of learning. 

What does that look like?

  • Permanent areas set up in the classroom with carefully planned resources and activities for children to engage in: construction, small world, role play, enquiry, maths, reading, writing and art.
  • Dedicated, prolonged time in the day for children to independently engage and explore the different areas. This involved shortening more traditional inputs for English, Maths, Shared Reading and Science in order to dedicate one hour in the morning and afternoon each day to Continuous Provision.
  • Resources and activities for Continuous Provision given the same value as other more ‘traditional’ input planning. 
  • Continuation of strong pedagogy and practice from the Reception year including observations, adult interactions, questioning and formative assessment. 
  • A pedagogy based around the Characteristics of Effective Learning i.e. Playing and exploring; Active Learning and Creating and Thinking Critically (DfE, 2017). 


What have we seen?

Next steps

To develop this further we will:

  • Develop our outside provision to respond to another prolonged period of being inside. Many children will have missed out on a lot of physical activities this year. 
  • Think about how play can be used as a powerful teaching and learning tool beyond Year 1 at School 21. 
  • Build upon our successes from the Autumn term and plan carefully for progressions and enhancements to our provision in Spring/Summer. 

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