Transitioning from play-based kindergarten to a more rigid Grade 1 environment is a critical period for every child’s social and academic development. Between the ages of 5 to 8, children’s cognitive development proceeds at a fast rate, and their learning capacity, memory span, and speed of cognitive processing all grow rapidly. During this period of life, play is considered a vital vehicle for children’s growth and maturation.
Highlighting the important transition from play based kindergarten to Grade 1, this research paper examines play in Ontario Grade 1 classrooms. While developmentally appropriate practices (DAP) such as play-based learning have become cornerstones within the implementation of the recent Ontario Full-Day Early Learning – Kindergarten Program, it is also critical to be mindful of what have been described as abrupt changes in pedagogical approaches as children enter Grade 1. The importance of play in developing children’s social skills, emotional adjustment, and cognition does not conclude when they leave kindergarten. According to Hartmann and Rollett (1994), “the sudden curtailment of play… hampers creativity and may in the long run, cause an impaired identity formation” (p. 196). The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children classify early childhood as up to 8 years old, yet there is not adequate space, time, or materials for play in the majority of Grade 1 classrooms.
Teacher beliefs have an effect on classroom practices (Charlesworth, Hart, Burts, & Hernandez, 1991; Martin, Yim, & Baldwin, 1997; Smith & Shepard, 1988; Stipek, Daniels, Galluzzo, & Milburn, 1992), so further understanding of teachers’ beliefs about DAP and play in the Grade 1 classroom may reveal certain gaps between theory and practice. A deeper understanding of factors that inhibit or promote Ontario Grade 1 teachers’ use of play within the classroom has the potential to be useful for teachers, parents, administrators, researchers, policy makers in Ontario, and the broader international educational community.
If the principles of play-based learning are to be successfully extended into the primary years, potential barriers preventing play must first be identified and addressed.
The research questions of the study were the following:
1. What factors motivate or discourage Grade 1 teachers to implement play?
2. What are the perceived factors that inhibit or promote Grade 1 teachers’ use of play within their classrooms?
The study identified a lack of time, insufficient funding, the school environment, inadequate professional development regarding play, and pressure to meet curriculum standards were factors that limited teachers’ ability to carry out play in the Grade 1 classroom. This research furthers understanding about the shift in pedagogy between kindergarten and Grade 1. It supports claims that the elementary grades are a difficult place not to only engage in early childhood education, but also to consistently apply DAP. Developmentally appropriate practices such as play need to be included with greater frequency in Ontario Grade 1 classrooms, and educators need to be given the tools and knowledge to empower children and integrate playful learning opportunities into their classroom practices. If the principles of play-based learning are to be successfully extended into the early primary years in Ontario, barriers preventing play must first be addressed.