I was an early years teacher for most of my career (Letters, 16 January). One afternoon our new head who was very target-orientated came into my classroom and stopped dead. “What are they doing?” she asked, clearly horrified. What she saw was that all the classroom furniture had been moved and the chairs were lined up in pairs in the middle of the room. The children were milling about and there seemed little control or purpose.
What I saw and had helped them create was a role-play area based on a visit to an airport. We had a check-in desk where the children showed their passports, which they had made complete with photo, name and address. We had menus handwritten by the children, we had the flight crew examining a world map to decide where to go, we had cabin crew counting the number of seats and telling the check-in desk how many vacancies they had. All of this involved planning, cooperation, discussion and a shared purpose. Each child was engaged and each was eager to have a turn at the different roles.
Did they get a lot out of this? Of course they did. They wanted to learn because it was relevant to them, not something imposed from somewhere else. Early years education can look messy, everyone is not sitting down at a desk, there is movement within the classroom, but that is how it should be. Children have to have opportunities to investigate and explore their world and the way to do that is through play.
• The educationists complaining about Ofsted’s Bold Beginnings report complain that focusing on literacy and mathematics provides less opportunity for play. But mathematics, at least, can be a focus for play. My granddaughters aged seven and five are fascinated by mathematics, and sometimes choose to play around with numbers rather than with their dolls and dinosaurs. In A Mathematician’s Apology, GH Hardy wrote: “The fact is there are few more ‘popular’ subjects than mathematics … There are masses of chess players in every civilised country … and a chess problem is simply an exercise in pure mathematics. ”
• Join the debate – email firstname.lastname@example.org
• Read more Guardian letters – click here to visit gu.com/letters