Embracing Play Pedagogy: Transforming Education at Douglas Park School

Longworth Education has embarked on a journey to show of Play Pedagogy from Aotearoa New Zealand on the world stage. Play Pedagogy is a way of integrating children’s play experiences with curricular learning, giving akonga (students) the flexibility to find their own solutions to both new and existing problems.

School Snapshot

School Information
  • Location: Masterton
  • Current School Roll: 349
  • Urban primary kura/school
  • Mainstream (Year 0-6)
Physical Environment

We are a newer build/renovation and have primarily modern-learning classroom environments

Embracing Play Pedagogy: Transforming Education at Douglas Park School

We are a gorgeous cross section of society.  Previously a decile 5, we are right in the middle of the new equity index range.  We have four teaching teams in the school, housed inside four flexible learning environments.  Our buildings are old, but our spaces and practice are fresh and modern.

At Douglas Park School, a transformative journey towards play pedagogy and developmentally responsive practices has been underway for the past seven years. What began as an initiative in the New Entrant/Year 1 teaching team quickly spread throughout the school, making a positive impact on children’s learning outcomes. This article explores the experiences, challenges, and achievements of the school in implementing play-based learning, highlighting the benefits for both students and teachers.

Embracing Play Pedagogy: Transforming Education at Douglas Park School

Smoother Transitions and Nurturing Soft Skills
The adoption of play pedagogy has yielded numerous benefits for the children at Douglas Park School. One notable improvement is the smoother transition experienced by students entering school. The play-based environment fosters the growth of essential soft skills, such as collaboration, agency, critical thinking, and creativity. Through play, students develop a stronger sense of self and accountability for their own learning. Moreover, play has become a vehicle for building strong relationships between teachers and students, fostering a sense of psychological safety within the classroom.

Expanding Learning Opportunities
By incorporating play into the curriculum, Douglas Park School has provided children with opportunities for success beyond traditional academic subjects. Play-based learning nurtures crucial skills like critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity, which complement students’ development in reading, writing, and mathematics. Additionally, all students have the chance to explore their passions and become leaders or experts in their areas of interest. This multifaceted approach to learning empowers students to see themselves as learners in various capacities, boosting their confidence and overall enjoyment of school.

Positive Impact on Teachers and Practices
The implementation of play pedagogy has brought renewed joy to the teachers at Douglas Park School. Although the journey has had its challenges, teachers have embraced the shift in thinking and practice. They have undergone upskilling, learning to let go and work collaboratively. Engaging in ongoing discussions about academic and play-based learning impacts has been crucial. By using students’ strengths, passions, and interests as a guide, teachers have achieved “buy-in,” increased engagement, and heightened motivation among students.

Overcoming Challenges
The journey towards effective play-based learning has not been without its challenges. Finding the right balance between play learning and group learning has required careful consideration. Douglas Park School has worked on supplementing group learning within play learning through invitations and environmental modifications. The school has also navigated the tension between teacher-driven activities and student choice, acknowledging the importance of explicit teaching while allowing for student agency.

Achieving a Balanced Pedagogy
Contrary to the notion that play-based learning conflicts with literacy and numeracy instruction, Douglas Park School has successfully integrated both approaches. Academic group learning remains an integral part of the curriculum, ensuring high expectations and tracking progress. Play experiences often incorporate literacy and numeracy, reinforcing prior learning and engaging students in accelerated progress. Through collaborative learning, students teach and support each other in various academic skills during play.

Addressing Concerns and Ensuring Progress
While literacy and numeracy achievement levels at Douglas Park School reflect typical development rates, the school actively addresses any concerns. Regular communication with parents during learning conversations ensures transparency and identifies areas for improvement. Teachers collect and analyze achievement data, providing additional support as needed. Professional development programs, such as BSLA training and culturally responsive practices in mathematics, contribute to enhanced literacy and numeracy outcomes.

Looking Ahead
As Douglas Park School moves forward, it aims to continually adapt its environment to meet the evolving needs of learners. The induction of new staff members will prioritize Longworth training, reinforcing the importance of play pedagogy. The implementation of tools like the Play-Based Learning Observation Tool (PBLOT) will help measure the efficacy of play-based practices. The school recognizes the dynamic nature of finding the right balance