You can learn a lot by observing the level of involvement that children show in their play

PIP Master Chefs

Observing the level of involvement that children show in their play can tell you much about their emotional well-being, and about the effectiveness of your provision, says Anne O’Connor

Seb (age three years four months) is at playgroup. There are a couple of sand trays grouped together and lots of familiar containers and utensils available. Nearby are some hollow blocks that the children are using as pretend ovens.

Seb is very talkative, initiating and directing the play until later when an older, very experienced child comes along. Seb shows previous knowledge of cooking and baking as he checks if the cakes are ready and warns the others that the ovens are hot. He shows high levels of involvement and well developed social skills as he confidently engages with the other children.

1 Although the children are well supervised, there is no direct adult involvement and the children are directing their own play.

It is the ready accessibility of the equipment and materials that has enabled the children to take control of their play. Seb had earlier carried the hollow blocks closer to the sand to create the ‘ovens’.

Having more than one sand tray allows children to transport the sand from one to the other and opens up play possibilities as children organise the space between the two. Similarly, there are familiar containers and utensils in the sand and these are ‘open-ended’ enough to support the children’s imaginative play.

As well as the usual plastic pots and jugs, there are also trays and things from home, such as foil containers. These might well have helped to trigger the ideas of cooking or baking, but could equally have been employed in a variety of other imaginative uses. The tea trays in particular are a focus for collaborative play and problem-solving as the children transfer their ‘baking’ around the space and into the ovens.

2 It is clear from all the photographs that this is a child who is very involved in the play.

By looking at his facial expressions we can see interest, concern and enquiry as well as pleasure and satisfaction. He is displaying high levels of engagement, and at times leads the play by involving others and by telling the story of what is happening.

Observing children’s levels of involvement is a valuable way of assessing a child’s emotional wellbeing, as well as their interaction with the activity and the processes involved in their learning. A child who is anxious, unhappy, agitated or in discomfort is unlikely to show such high levels of involvement. But it is worth remembering that it is possible to be very involved with something while appearing to do very little.

A child watching and listening to Seb for a sustained period and occasionally handing him something is likely to be processing information and learning at a high level also. A useful tool for assessing children’s levels of involvement and well-being is the Leuven Involvement Scale, devised by Ferre Laevers at the Centre for Experiential Education in Belgium.

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Article written by Anne O’Connor and published in Nursery World ©

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