play: schools are for children, not children for schools

Some years ago, the TES carried an article about a primary school that taught its pupils how to knit. I learned to knit at school. My mum dutifully used my first attempt – a cotton dishcloth – for months despite its resemblance to a fishing net with an annoying tendency to ensnare kitchen utensils. The reason I was taught knitting was primarily in order to be able to knit. But the thrust of the TES article wasn’t about the usefulness of knitting. It was that it improved the children’s maths. It seemed that at some point since the introduction of mass education in England the relationship between schools and the real world had changed. The point of schools was no longer to provide children with knowledge (like maths) that will help them tackle real-world problems (like knitting), but vice versa – the point of useful real-world skills was now to support performance in school.

school readiness

I was reminded of the knitting article earlier this year, when Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief inspector of Ofsted, suggested to inspectors that not all early years settings are preparing children adequately for school. In a comment to the BBC he added;

More than two-thirds of our poorest children – and in some of our poorest communities that goes up to eight children out of 10 – go to school unprepared,” he said. “That means they can’t hold a pen, they have poor language and communication skills, they don’t recognise simple numbers, they can’t use the toilet independently and so on.”

His comments prompted an open letter to the Telegraph complaining that Sir Michael’s instruction to inspectors to assess nurseries mainly in terms of preparation for school “betrays an abject (and even wilful) misunderstanding of the nature of early childhood experience.” One of the signatories was Sue Cowley, who recently blogged about the importance of play. Her post, like Sir Michael’s original comments, generated a good deal of discussion.

Old Andrew responded promptly. He comments “This leads me to my one opinion on early years teaching methods: OFSTED are right to judge them by outcomes rather than acting as the “play police” and seeking to enforce play-based learning“.

The two bloggers have homed in on different issues. Sue Cowley is concerned about the shift in focus from childhood experience to ‘school-readiness’; Old Andrew is relieved that Ofsted inspectors are longer expected to ‘enforce play-based learning’. The online debate has also shifted from the original question implicit in Sir Michael’s comments and in the response in the letter to the Telegraph i.e. what is the purpose of nurseries and pre-schools? to a question posed by Old Andrew; “Is there any actual empirical evidence on the importance of play? All the “evidence” seems to be theoretical.”

empirical evidence

Responses from early years teachers to questions about evidence for the benefits of play are often along the lines of “I have the evidence of my own eyes”, which hasn’t satisfied the sceptics. Whether you think it’s a satisfactory answer or not depends on the importance you attach to direct observation.

The problem with direct observation is that it’s dependent on perception, which is notoriously unreliable. David Didau has blogged about some perceptual flaws here. He also mentions some of the cognitive errors that occur when people draw conclusions from observations. The scientific method has been developed largely to counteract the flaws in our perception and reasoning. But it doesn’t follow that direct observation is completely unreliable. Indeed, direct observation is the cornerstone of empirical evidence.

Here’s an example. Let’s say I’ve noticed that every time I use a particular brand of soap, my hands sting and turn bright red. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to conclude that I have an allergic response to an ingredient in the soap – but I wouldn’t know that for sure. There could be many causes for my red, stinging hands; the soap might be purely coincidental. The conclusions about causes I could draw solely from my direct observations would be pretty speculative.

But the direct observations themselves – identifying the brand of soap and what happened to my hands – would be a lot more reliable. It’s possible that I could have got the brand of soap wrong and could have imagined what happened to my hands, but those errors are much less likely than the errors involved in drawing conclusions about causality. I could easily increase the reliability of my direct observations by involving an independent observer. If a hundred independent observers all agreed that a particular brand of soap was associated with my and/or other people’s hands turning bright red, those observations wouldn’t be 100% watertight but they would be considered to be fairly reliable and might prompt the soap manufacturer to investigate further. Increasing the reliability of my conclusion about the causal relationship – that the soap caused an allergic reaction – would be more challenging.

is play another Brain Gym?

What intrigued me about the early years’ teachers responses was their reliance on direct observation as empirical evidence for the importance of play. Most professionals, if called upon to do so, can come up with some peer-reviewed research that supports the methods they use, even if it means delving into dusty textbooks they haven’t used for years. I could see Old Andrew’s point; if play is so important, why isn’t there a vast research literature on it? There are three characteristics of play that would explain both the apparent paucity of research and the teachers’ emphasis on direct observation.

First, play is a characteristic typical of most young mammals, and young humans play a lot. At one level, asking what empirical evidence there is for its importance is a pointless question – a bit like asking for evidence for the importance of learning or growth. Play, like learning and growth, is simply a facet of development.

Second, play, like most other mammalian characteristics, is readily observable – although you might need to do a bit of dissection to spot some of the anatomical ones. Traditionally, play has been seen as involving three types of skill; locomotor, object control and social interaction. But you don’t need a formal peer-reviewed study to tell you that. A few hours’ observation of a group of young children would be sufficient. A few hours’ observation would also reveal all the features of play Sue Cowley lists in her blog post.

Third, also readily apparent through direct observation is what children learn during play; the child who chooses to play with the shape-sorter every day until they can get all the shapes in the right holes first time, the one who can’t speak a word of English but is fluent after a few months despite little direct tuition, the one who initially won’t speak to anyone but blossoms into a mini-socialite through play. Early years teachers watch children learning through play every day, so it’s not surprising they don’t see the need to rely on research to tell them about its importance.

The features of play and what children can learn from it are not contentious; the observations of thousands of parents, teachers, psychologists, psychiatrists and anthropologists are largely in agreement over what play looks like and what children learn from it. This would explain why there appears to be little research on the importance of play; it’s self-evidently important to children themselves, as an integral part of human development and as a way of learning. In addition, much of the early research into play was carried out in the inter-war years. Try finding that online. Or even via your local library. Old Andrew’s reluctance to accept early years teachers’ direct observations as evidence might stem from his admission that he doesn’t “really have much insight into what small children are like.”

play-based education

The context of Old Andrew’s original question was Michael Wilshaw’s comments on school readiness and the response in the Telegraph letter. A recent guest post on his blog is critical of play-based learning, suggesting it causes problems for teachers higher up the food chain. Although Old Andrew says he’d like to see evidence for the importance of play in any context, what we’re actually talking about here is the importance of play in the education system.

Direct observation can tell us what play looks like and what children learn from it. What it can’t tell us about is the impact of play on development, GCSE results or adult life. For that, we’d need a more complex research design than just watching and/or recording before-and-after abilities. Some research has been carried out on the impact of play. Although there doesn’t appear to be a correlation between how much young mammals play and their abilities as adults, not playing does appear to impair responsiveness and effective social interaction. And we do know some things about the outcomes of the more complex play seen in children (e.g. Smith & Pellegrini, 2013).

Smith & Pellegrini agree that a prevailing “play ethos” has tended to exaggerate the evidence for the essential role of play (p.4) and that appears to be Old Andrew’s chief objection to the play advocates’ claims. Sue Cowley’s list describes play as ‘vital’, ‘crucial’ and ‘essential’. I can see how her choice of wording might give the impression to anyone looking for empirical evidence in the research literature that research findings relating to the importance of play in development, learning or education were more robust than they are. I can also see why someone observing the direct outcomes of play on a daily basis would see play as ‘vital’, ‘crucial’ and ‘essential’.

I agree with Old Andrew that Ofsted shouldn’t be enforcing play-based learning, or for that matter, telling teachers how to teach. There’s no point in training professionals and then telling them how to do their job. I also agree that if grand claims are being made for play-based learning or if it’s causing problems later on, we need some robust research or some expectation management, or both.

Having said that, it’s worth noting that for the best part of a century nursery and infant teachers have sung the praises of play-based learning. What’s easily overlooked by those who teach older children is the challenge facing early years teachers. They are expected to make ‘school-ready’ children who, in some cases and for whatever reason, have started nurseries, pre-schools and reception classes with little speech, who don’t understand a word of English, who can’t remember instructions, who have problems with dexterity, mobility and bowel and bladder control, or who find the school environment bewildering and frightening. Sometimes, the only way early years teachers can get children to engage or learn anything at all is through play. Early years teachers, as Sue Cowley points out, are usually advocates of highly structured, teacher-directed play. What’s more, they can see children learning from play in real time in front of them. The key question is not “what’s the empirical evidence for the importance of play?” but rather “if children play by default, are highly motivated to play and learn quickly from it, where’s the evidence for a better alternative?”

I’m all in favour of evidence-based practice, but I’m concerned that direct observation might be being prematurely ruled out. I’m also concerned that the debate appears to have shifted from the original one about preparation for school vs the erosion of childhood. This brings us back to the priorities of the school that taught knitting in order to improve children’s maths. Children obviously need to learn for their own benefit and for that of the community as a whole, but we need to remember that in a democracy school is for children, not children for school.

bibliography

Pellegrini, A & Smith PK (2005). The Nature of Play: Great Apes and Humans. Guilford Press.
Smith, PK & Pellegrini, A (2013). Learning through play. In Tremblay RE, Boivin M, Peters (eds). Encyclopedia of Early Childhood Development [online]. Montreal, Quebec: Centre of Excellence for Early Childhood Developmentand Strategic Knowledge Cluster on Early Child Development 1-6. Available at http://www.child-encyclopedia.com/documents/Smith-PellegriniANGxp2.pdf Accessed 11.8.2014.

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23 thoughts on “play: schools are for children, not children for schools

  1. As always a nice post, well argued and for me persuasive. Captures the essence of the thing and reconciles the various views somewhat.

    The thing that I would probably take issue with would be the following sentence.

    “Children obviously need to learn for their own benefit and for that of the community as a whole, but we need to remember that in a democracy school is for children, not children for school.”

    Like it or not we live in a capitalist democracy (i use the terms capitalist and democracy loosely). We may not like it that children are for school, but sadly I think it is the case. I see therefore that the pressure is for efficiency within state education. Maybe there are more efficient, albeit less human/humane ways of educating the future workforce.

    • I see your point about the capitalist democracy. But it’s not just that I don’t like the idea of children being for school, I think it’s immoral, unethical and counterproductive. Because the education system educates human beings in all their natural variation, there’s an inevitable trade-off between economic efficiency and educational effectiveness. The most economically efficient systems lose out on effectiveness at educating – as schools involving one teacher teaching an entire school via rote learning discovered.

      We might not have the sort of society we want, and we need to be realistic about that, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep the sort of society we want as a point of reference all the time.

  2. Yes, I think the tension here may well be between deciding what we want for our children and deciding what we want for society. I no longer see it as coming down to evidence alone as to whether play-based or a more formal structure works best for teaching and learning. A definition needs to be made first as to what we consider learning to entail, what we *want* children to learn and how and when we *want* them to learn it. These are value judgements and may differ if we consider what is best (value judgement, again) for the child and what is best (ditto) for society. Can we assume that these are the same goal? If they are then you might bring forward evidence that the goal is best served by one approach or another. If they are not, it first needs to be decided which is the greater good and then evidence brought to bear as to how this is best served. Although, in practice, it might be the constitution of a balance of ‘goods’ that we need to decide upon.

    • Thanks for commenting Ruth. I agree. The balance of ‘goods’ is at the heart of the matter. It’s all too easy to get bogged down in debates about the detail when actually the point of disagreement is more fundamental and often unexpressed.

  3. Some good points here. Unfortunately, there are some pretty major holes. I am not dismissive of direct observation as a source of evidence, but you cannot make particularly strong claims from it. In particular this argument from you seems very odd:

    “I can also see why someone observing the direct outcomes of play on a daily basis would see play as ‘vital’, ‘crucial’ and ‘essential’.”

    Those three words all imply that there is no alternative. This is not possible to observe from watching play, no matter how enriching the play was and how apparent its benefits were. You would have to observe what happened when children *didn’t* play and particularly what happened when they engaged in less playful activities aimed at achieving those same effects. No doubt direct observation can establish quickly some apparent benefits of play, but it is precisely the use of those words you quote that implied that more than direct observation of children playing was involved.

    The other big hole is towards the end:

    ” The key question is not “what’s the empirical evidence for the importance of play?” but rather “if children play by default, are highly motivated to play and learn quickly from it, where’s the evidence for a better alternative?””

    Apart from the obvious attempt to shift the burden of proof, where has it been established that children learn *quickly* from play? This is simply begging the question about the effectiveness of play as a way to learn. And, of course, while I won’t deny the other two points about play, they are no kind of argument. There are plenty of things that children do by default and are highly motivated to do that we might wish to discourage. In fact, at a young age surely a lot of education and parenting is about precisely that, i.e. getting them to do more than what they do by default or most want to do?

    Finally, I think you are right to raise the more general philosophical question of what children do in their early years. Perhaps learning and being ready for school shouldn’t be the priority. Perhaps it does encroach on childhood. But, of course, you then have to ask why go to nursery at all? If we want to give children more childhood, wouldn’t the obvious thing to do be to leave them with their families for longer? Without the educational aims in early years, does early years provision have much point? Is it meant to be baby-sitting or a social club for toddlers? An orphanage for children with parents? While people happily deploy these arguments in order to disparage formal teaching at a young age, they work just as well against informal teaching. Without the educational aim, it is hard to know why the state should take responsibility for children’s play, beyond a general feeling that the parents can’t be trusted.

    • Thanks for the positive feedback.

      Alternatives to play

      I can see why it would be interesting to find out if there were alternatives. But I can’t see why we’d need to do that unless play-based learning was demonstrably causing problems. If Sue Cowley had said that eating food was ‘vital’, ‘crucial’ and ‘essential’ for development and learning, people would be looking sideways at anyone who responded “this implies there’s no alternative”. We have developed alternative forms of nutrition, but they have drawbacks so for obvious reasons we tend to use them only in extremis.

      You appear to be under the impression that early years teachers focus on play only because that’s what they’ve been led to believe is what they should do. The main reason play-based approaches are used so widely in early years, and have been used for so long, is that alternatives have been tried and don’t work. Try getting a small child to sit still and listen for more than a few minutes. Try getting a small child to sit still for any length of time. Try getting a three-year old engaged in an activity they don’t understand and can’t do. Try getting a large group of them doing that. Those things are near-impossible not because children have been badly parented or poorly taught, but because they are young. They don’t have the same control over their bodies that older children do, or the same attention span. That’s why I would use the words ‘vital’, ‘crucial’ and ‘essential’ in describing play-based learning and I strongly suspect that’s why Sue Cowley used them.

      Observing “some apparent benefits of play”

      I’m not sure what you think happens in nurseries and pre-schools. Some might allow the children to wander round doing what they feel like, but that’s a recipe for disaster in a large group of little ones. Most (and I’m not just relying on my experience in saying that) use a structured approach to play. The children might be aware only that they are ‘playing’ but the things they are playing with and what they do in play are teaching them a great deal. You can watch a child encounter a piece of equipment they’ve never encountered before and in a few minutes master it. Schedule the sequence of equipment carefully and children can make considerable progress. To me, that’s not observing ‘some apparent benefits of play’, it’s shaping and tracking the child’s learning just as you would do with your students.

      Burden of proof

      I wasn’t attempting to shift the burden of proof, I was shifting it quite explicitly. You’ve told me in the past that I should exercise the principle of charity. And that if I think someone’s claims are wrong I should present evidence to demonstrate that. I’m giving you the opportunity to be consistent. Personally, I think the burden of proof should be on whoever is making the claims, and as far as I’m aware the only claims that early years teachers are making are for the benefits of play in young children’s development and learning. They watch that happening on a daily basis. They keep records showing what children have learned and if there are concerns about that, the children can be assessed independently to make sure the teachers aren’t cooking the books. Because not everything that happens in early years settings is play-based, teachers can see how well alternative approaches work. Research suggests that not playing can lead to problems, so I think there’s a fair body of evidence supporting play-based learning for young children.

      “Where has it been established that children learn *quickly* from play?”

      It has been established by any person who has ever worked with young children. A constant challenge is that they often learn so quickly you can’t keep up with them. One day you are delighted that your baby has learned to walk. A week later they have figured out how to climb on a work surface to open the cupboard with the biscuits in it. Go do an observation at a nursery.

      “In fact, at a young age surely a lot of education and parenting is about precisely that, i.e. getting them to do more than what they do by default or most want to do?”

      Yes indeed. And generations of canny parents and teachers have figured out that the way to do that is by turning it into a game. Eating greens, putting away the toys and going to bed all tend to work better if they become play. Tom Sawyer’s fence.

      “Why go to nursery at all?”

      Because many parents need to work. Because looking after young children is exhausting and parents are only too grateful to share the task. Because many families can’t/don’t give their children experiences they’d benefit from.

      “Without the educational aims in early years, does early years provision have much point?”

      I don’t think anyone is suggesting that early years provision shouldn’t have educational aims. But educational aims are not synonymous with ‘school-readiness’. Nor is education synonymous with school. The education system can get very self-referential if it’s not careful. I’ve lost count of the number of teachers who have solemnly told me that if children can’t cope in school, they won’t be able to cope in the ‘real world’. In my experience, school bears little resemblance to the world outside, apart from what goes on in the playground or in call centres. But some teachers don’t know that because they have no experience of any other working environment.

      When I started teaching, reception teachers used to moan about five year-olds who who couldn’t sit still, hold pencils or use the toilet, but they saw it as part of their job to get those children ‘school-ready’. Largely because of the ill-informed expectations of politicians, the age at which children are expected to be ‘school-ready’ has been lowered. Already, the policy-makers’ expectations have come up against children’s biological development. You can’t expect a four year-old to be able to do the same things as a five year-old. Assuming that you can overcome developmental barriers by introducing formal education earlier and earlier is going to be counterproductive.

      We know a good deal about young children’s biological development but that evidence doesn’t seem to inform decisions about educational policy.

  4. Children are classed as being in ‘childcare’ until the age of 5, e.g. in government documents/statistics (surprisingly, perhaps, this includes children in a Reception class who are not yet 5). Statutory education does not begin until the term after a child turns 5, which for summer born children can be at the start of Year One.

    Our annual questionnaire for parents tends to show that most use their 15 hours free entitlement at preschool because they value the chance for their children to socialise, to build confidence, to play, to do creative (often messy) activities such as painting, and to enjoy themselves. There is also obviously the ‘childcare’ aspect which allows them to work. We do of course also have educational aims (as per the EYFS) and we are inspected (at no notice) by Ofsted to ensure we meet these. Other benefits of attending an early years setting include the early identification of SEN, identifying potential issues with hearing or sight, and sharing useful child development information with parents.

    Many of the voluntary run preschools we have within the sector today began life as ‘playgroups’, often run by local parents or sometimes faith groups. Hope that helps clarify things a little.

  5. Perhaps one other reason for the state being responsible for children’s education from a relatively young age is that it allows parents to return to/commence work. This enables otherwise economically inactive parents to make a positive contribution to the economy thus covering the cost of the education either partly or fully.

    A very interesting discussion, I hope other comments are forthcoming.

    • Interesting point.

      Legally, parents are responsible for ensuring that their children are educated and local authorities are responsible for ensuring that suitable educational provision is available for any parents who request it – usually by applying for a school place. The state is not responsible for education and in my view it should stay that way, because distributed responsibility is at less risk of catastrophic failure.

      One of the reasons why education was made compulsory in the first place, and why it was later made free at the point of use is because it’s difficult to do an accurate cost-benefit analysis for education. The long-term benefits for the community as a whole, including multinational corporations that use offshore tax havens, are enormous and I see no reason why parents should be expected to bear the burden of cost either financially or in kind.

  6. “I can see why it would be interesting to find out if there were alternatives. But I can’t see why we’d need to do that unless play-based learning was demonstrably causing problems.”

    This is one of those arguments that it is hard to believe anyone would accept. Play-based learning has been forced on teachers by law and justified by some pretty absurd arguments. Why should that go unquestioned? I’m not suggesting that some alternatives be enforced instead, or we find a new orthodoxy, but the idea that we should only question orthodoxy when it is “demonstrably causing problems” seems absurd to me when no such test was required to enforce the orthodoxy in the first place. This seems to amount to saying “those with power can exercise it arbitrarily, and we can only question their decisions after we have demonstrated that they caused problems”.

    “You appear to be under the impression that early years teachers focus on play only because that’s what they’ve been led to believe is what they should do. The main reason play-based approaches are used so widely in early years, and have been used for so long, is that alternatives have been tried and don’t work.”

    We know that’s not the case. Look at the literature on play-based learning from 15 years or so and you’d know that the play-based theorists complained that nobody wanted to change practices to play-based ones. Besides which, you seem to have forgotten that this argument is about play-based methods being enforced. If the alternatives simply weren’t practical enforcement wouldn’t be necessary.

    “I wasn’t attempting to shift the burden of proof, I was shifting it quite explicitly.”

    This is pedantry. I call it an “attempt” not because I believe you aren’t explicitly doing it, but because it is not something anyone rational would accept. This is about an ideology that is widely accepted and enforced in law. Of course, the burden of proof should be on those who hold it and enforce it, not on sceptics.

    “Personally, I think the burden of proof should be on whoever is making the claims, and as far as I’m aware the only claims that early years teachers are making are for the benefits of play in young children’s development and learning.”

    I’ll stop here. For a moment I thought you wanted a serious debate, but that’s a reframing of the debate too far. You know that it is not that simple, your original article mentioned the idea there was an existing “play ethos” that led to exaggerated claims about the benefits of play. My post quite explicitly talked about those who wanted play-based learning enforced. This is what you need to be addressing. Not “do early years practitioners think play has benefits?”, but “is the enforcement and ideology of play-based learning justified by the evidence?” You are dodging this issue.

    • “Play-based learning has been forced on teachers by law and justified by some pretty absurd arguments.”

      Play-based learning in nurseries pre-dates the EYF statutory guidance by about a century and it’s ‘forced’ on teachers only as part of a range of approaches. Were there any EY settings not using play-based learning prior to 2012?

      Do you object to government telling teachers how to teach or to play-based learning in EY settings or both? I object to the former. I don’t understand why the latter is a problem.

      “Look at the literature on play-based learning from 15 years or so and you’d know that the play-based theorists complained that nobody wanted to change practices to play-based ones.”

      Can you give me some links? Nursery/infant teachers were using play-based learning when I was 4, and that was a long time ago.

      “this argument is about play-based methods being enforced.”

      I thought this argument was about play being essential in children’s development and learning. Not quite the same thing.

      “Of course, the burden of proof should be on those who hold it and enforce it, not on sceptics.”

      So why have you told me in the past that I should apply the principle of charity and that someone should be assumed to be right unless I can provide evidence that shows they are wrong?

      “My post quite explicitly talked about those who wanted play-based learning enforced.”

      My post wasn’t about your post. It was about your question “Is there any actual empirical evidence on the importance of play? All the “evidence” seems to be theoretical.”

      • Seriously? You are now denying that we were debating what we were debating? You claim only to have been responding to my request for factual information from several weeks ago. What did your argument about the burden of proof actually apply to?

  7. At least two paragraphs of your post entitled ‘Play’ are about the empirical evidence for the benefits of play. That’s why my post was about too. And what you said your ‘original question about evidence’ was.

    As for the burden of proof; I recently worked through Daisy Christodoulou’s model of cognition step-by-step because I wasn’t clear about some parts of it. You told me that if in doubt I should adopt the principle of charity rather than consider the possibility Daisy might be wrong, and that if I disagreed with her I should provide evidence to show that she was wrong. You were very explicit about the sort of evidence you wanted to see and you weren’t very happy about what I offered.

    In this case, I was giving you the opportunity to apply principles you’ve advocated previously.

    • I did indeed talk about the evidence. But the question of “burden of proof” is not a question about the evidence, it’s a question about the argument. If you are addressing a different argument then nothing you say about burden of proof, or whether the evidence meets it, is remotely relevant.

      With regard to evidence and your posts about Daisy’s book, you didn’t simply lack evidence, you lacked an argument. You were unable to identify anything Daisy had got wrong, regardless of whether you had evidence for such a claim or not.

      • This argument seems worth having if there is dissatisfaction with early years education in the UK. In that situation one would want to investigate, define what unwanted consequences are seen as arising from the style of education, check that they are real consequences, arising from following the curriculum and not from failing to do so adequately, and find a form of education which, if it is possible, would produce the desired outcomes without jeopardising the advantages of the present system and the well-being of the children.

        Quite a lot of questions, none of which can be answered by a quick visit to a few nurseries across the channel.
        http://www.theguardian.com/education/2013/apr/22/childcare-minister-elizabeth-truss-nurseries

        One very important question, which will strike a chord with many practitioners, would be whether the EYFS as it stands can be implemented adequately in all situations under the conditions that prevail – nursery salaries, staff ratios, training and resourcing. It might be found that play-based learning is desirable but expensive, in which case questions about the value placed on early years education would arise.

        It seems as if there are moves to change the focus of early years education from supporting child development to supporting ‘school-readiness’. It needs to be decided if this is what is wanted by society and whether the means proposed are realistic. Presumably early years practitioners would be consulted in decisions made due to their hands-on experience. Academics could also be approached for the evidence from studies. It would be good if we could do our best to remove party politics from the issue of care and education of our youngest children. Aah – sounds like a select committee. Not a perfect solution – too often the findings get quietly diluted – but it could be a start.

      • You asked for evidence for the importance of play. I said the evidence could be found in the direct observations of early years teachers.

        You had previously told me that the burden of proof lay with the person questioning what someone had proposed.

        What’s wrong with the early years teachers’ argument?

  8. “You asked for evidence for the importance of play. I said the evidence could be found in the direct observations of early years teachers.”

    Haven’t we already established that this does not establish whether the same benefits can be acquired elsewhere, which is a key aspect of importance?

    “You had previously told me that the burden of proof lay with the person questioning what someone had proposed.”

    I don’t believe I did.

    • In a comment on this post https://logicalincrementalism.wordpress.com/2014/06/30/seven-myths-about-education-the-myths/ you said;

      “There’s also something called the principle of charity. You should interpret what somebody says in order for their argument to be as strong as possible.”

      You have also said a previous comment here “You were unable to identify anything Daisy had got wrong, regardless of whether you had evidence for such a claim or not.”

      To me it looks as if you are saying that someone making a claim should be given the benefit of the doubt if their argument or wording are unclear. And that their claims should be assumed to be right unless anything they have said can be identified as wrong.

      What’s wrong with the early years teachers’ argument that play is important in development and learning?

      • I’m just baffled now. The principle of charity is about interpretation. You interpret somebody’s argument to be the strongest possible argument, rather than interpret it in ways that make it easier to argue against.

        It does not mean that, in the absence of evidence, you accept people’s claims are correct. It is also unconnected to the trivial idea that, if there is nothing you disagree with or have any rational reason to doubt in what somebody says, then you should agree with it.

      • The early years teachers are saying “I have empirical evidence for the importance of play via my own direct observations.”

        Is there anything wrong with their argument? Or their evidence?

  9. “The early years teachers are saying “I have empirical evidence for the importance of play via my own direct observations.” Is there anything wrong with their argument? Or their evidence?””

    Really depends on whether this is still part of my argument (or Sue Cowley’s claims) or not doesn’t it? I would use the word “important” to imply necessity and expect empirical evidence of importance to be more the watching something work to one’s satisfaction. So, if we are still talking about this in the context of my argument then, yes, I think there is something wrong with their claim.

  10. Now I’m baffled. Doesn’t this hinge on how you use the word “important” and how other people use it? And the criterion you use for evidence and the one others use?

    I’m wondering if much of the debate you and I have had is simply about using different definitions and having different criteria.

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