The Adult’s Part in Physically Active Play

The most important function of adults is to supply suitable safe material and equipment and supervise carefully from a distance.

Most children will not attempt something they are not ready to do. If they do they tend to limit their efforts to a degree which minimizes how far they will fall. What they cannot do is see when equipment is not safe, or is not put together properly. While the adult is doing this checking it is important that the children are told what she is doing and why. It will be a long time before the lesson goes home but it is never too early to start. Even quite young babies will attract their mother’s attention if they notice pram straps not properly fastened or cot sides not lifted.

It is always sad but very common to visit nursery groups – of any and every kind – and find the adult on’ outside duty’ looking cold, miserable and bored. It is sad because she is missing a lot by not looking closer at the children to see what they are really doing, how they are using their bodies and what progress they have made. It is also dangerous because it is during supervision of this half-switched-off nature that the accidents happen. We prevent accidents by being in the right place at the right time rather than by restricting the children. We extend their play by seeing where it is leading and providing the next piece of equipment rather than actively taking part in it.

For adults who are inexperienced, a check list or observation list may add point and interest to their supervision. For adults who really hate being outside perhaps an honest swap with someone else might be better. If the weather is really cold perhaps a short spell outside for all the adults would be better than one person doing all the outside work for a whole session.

Summary leads to good health.

Leads to competence and confidence.

Is gready enjoyed by children.

Is easiest to provide for outside.

Indoor provision has to be carefully thought out where outdoor space is restricted or when the weather is poor.

In its late stages involves imaginative and social play.

Both provides for the child’s present ability and leads on to the next stage.

Not all children respond to the same equipment. In the nursery group the needs of different ages and stages must be considered.

Should be safe in itself and in conjunction with the children’s use of it.

If it is carefully designed to be versatile children can alter it themselves to suit their game and stage of development.

Must be designed and presented so that children pursuing other activities are not damaged or inhibited by children using it.

Must be carefully planned.

Should be adequate for the material provided.

Should suit the needs of the children who use it.

Should be safe and sheltered but not a visual prison.

Can be made interesting even if there is not enough money to buy much large equipment.

Most children enjoy gardening as an activity in itself.

Will inevitably be the responsibility of adults. Their care should be regarded as an opportunity for training children in this.

Every group or home can foster interest in living things even if ladybirds and worms are the only available specimens.

We must impress on children that we only keep non-domestic animate objects for a short time -they must be returned to their natural habitat.

Is to provide a safe, satisfying environment.

Is to encourage rather than direct.

Is to offer a tactful helping hand as a support to morale rather than physical assistance.

Creative activities are difficult to differentiate from every other type of play. Creating, experimenting and learning go hand in hand and result in deeper understanding of materials and increasing skills as time goes by. Adults who are new to working in the field of education of young children are likely to come across more unsubstantiated rules of’ Do this’,’ Don’t do that’ in this area than in any other. A personal contribution to this list of rules would be, ‘ Do take the widest possible view of the value of creative activities. Do not take anything for granted. Watch what the children are really doing, what they are really gaining at any stage and then each individual adult can decide what is right for each individual child.’

Creative activities involve shape perception, spatial relationships, colours and shades of colours, classifying, grading, textures, weights, consistencies, techniques, tool and materials, emotion, imagination, knowledge and personal preferences. Each child, as both an individual and as a representative of a certain stage in development, needs and uses creative experience in a different way from his neighbour who may be using exactly the same materials in superficially the same kind of way.

Many of the other materials children use, such as paint and paper, lead to an irreversible end product and the material cannot be used again. Because of the permanent nature of these end products it is fatally easy to consider and make judgements about them long after the child has gone home – to judge them: in fact, without even having seen the child doing them. A child may spend a whole morning building a superb layout with bricks. It is exciting to look at, efficiently functional in design, carried out with speed, confidence and skill and goes through several related phases all involving knowledge and imagination – and at the end ot the morning we tell him to put it all back in the brick box. On his way back from the brick box he may spend two minutes sloshing paint on paper with whatever brush and colour happens to be nearest. Of the other we have a permanent record which could be taken home to show mummy, put in a folder or hung up on the wall. The dichotomy of opinion that exists largely relates to the use and presentation of these consumable creative materials simply because they produce an end product which can be compared and evaluated stage by stage and child by child. Even then this evaluation tends to be subjective rather than objective telling us as much about the interpreter as about the child.