SPICES of Play was an important concept discussed by educators in Guyana who participated in the National Symposium on Play-Based Pedagogy, hosted by the Ministry of Education on Tuesday, 16th November 2021, at the Pegasus Hotel in Kingston.
Play-based researchers and professionals who have spent decades in the education sector shared, through presentations and workshops, empirical research and good practices to raise awareness on the importance of providing play experiences for promoting children’s Social, Physical, Intellectual, Creative, Emotional and Spiritual (SPICES) development. These professionals included Ms. Quenita Walrond-Lewis, Ministry of Education; Dr. Michelle Semple-McBean, Dr. Lidon Lashley and Ms. Godryne Wintz, University of Guyana; Professor Jaipaul Roopnarine Syracuse University, USA; Professor James Johnson, Pennsylvania State University, USA; and Professor Michael Patte. Bloomsburg University, USA.
These presentations and workshops were follow-on to the Opening Session which brought remarkable reflective and inspiring remarks from the Honourable Minister of Education, Dr. Priya Manickchand; Assistant Chief Education Officer (Literacy), Ms. Samantha Williams; Vice-Chancellor of the University of Guyana, Professor Paloma Mohamed, UNICEF Resident Representative of Guyana and Suriname, Dr. Nicholas Pron; and on behalf of the universities from the USA, Guyanese-born Professor Jaipaul Roopnarine.
Director of the National Centre of Educational Resource Development, Ministry of Education, Ms. Quenita Walrond-Lewis opened the presentations with convincing evidence about the arguments surrounding “for and against play versus academic based early childhood programming”. Ms. Walrond-Lewis contended, as supported by the literature, that there are alternatives to the two ends of the spectrum. Ones that can find the contextually appropriate "right balance" of the two to yield both the benefits of play, and those yielded from more structured approaches. The work of professor emerita of early childhood education, Dr Katz was shared to demonstrate the relevance of active learning and the intellectual approach. Ms. Walrond-Lewis offered that the backdrop for this was the historical play based origins of Nursery education in Guyana and the pendulum swing to heavy academic programming, and a re-shifting of the needle in an attempt to find our "right" balance.
The presentation on “Play-based Pedagogy in Guyanese Early Childhood Settings with insights on Inclusive Education” by Dr. Michelle Semple-McBean and Dr. Lidon Lashley highlighted that play education, such as socio-dramatic, is a necessary and main ingredient in the developmental process during the early childhood years. By sharing findings from their empirical research, recognised gaps in Guyana’s play-based pedagogy were identified and suggested culturally relevant practices were put forward. Specifically, Dr. Semple-McBean encouraged the participants to calculatedly participate in play, in an effort to enable children to explore their interest and satisfy their emerging needs. She emphasised that it is the duty of every teacher in Guyana to respectfully and sensitively offer children play opportunities that are intentionally provocative, intellectually demanding, and of a quality that intensifies curiosity, so that children could move beyond their present developmental trajectory.
Professor Jaipaul Roopnarine offered evidence to suggest that there is a good deal of emphasis on the benefits of child-child play and play pedagogy for children’s cognitive and social development. Focusing more broadly on countries in Caribbean, Professor Roopnarine explained that an ignored issue surrounding play is the link between mother-child and father-child play and children’s early literacy and social skills. Using parenting models and early literacy frameworks as guides, his presentation provided an analysis of beliefs about play and the associations between mothers’ and fathers’ play with children, book-reading, and storytelling and children’s early literacy skills in Guyana and other Caribbean countries.
Editor of the International Journal of Play, Professor James Johnson, engaged participants about the grown of the journal which is now recognized world-wide as a leading scholarly research-based publication devoted to the study of play and to the study of the uses of play.Professor Johnson also shared how analyses of the content of the journal are reported and discussed. Professor Johnson was joined by Professor Michael Patte to offer stimulating hands-on experiences for “Playing with Loose Parts”. This interactive session enabled participants to develop and strengthen intentional play-based teaching practices, identify and evaluate play leadership strategies, analyze ways in which play is used as a tool for understanding the world, and advance the belief that play is an essential aspect of whole child/person development across the lifespan.
The concept of “Nature-Deficit Disorder” was introduced to the participants by Ms. Godryne Wintz. According to Ms. Wintz, growing up in a technologically advanced and structured world, many children are losing their connection with the natural environment. As a result, children’s social, psychological, academic and physical health which is positively impacted by daily contact with nature is severely compromised. Through her presentation, participants were able to revisit their childhood play experiences and explore some practical ways of reconnecting children with nature.
The symposium concluded with a timely presentation about “Inclusive Play-based Pedagogy for Children with Special Education Needs and/or Disabilities (SEND)”. During this presentation Dr. Lidon Lashley emphasised that Inclusive Play-Based Pedagogy is valuable and presents significant opportunities to enhance the learning experiences and socialisation of children with SEND. Dr. Lashley was able to demonstrate that when teachers strategically and deliberately offer tailored intervention during children’s play encounters, the learning experiences and socialisation of all children are enhanced. He recommended that inclusive play-based pedagogy is the way to achieve the enhanced learning and socialisation experiences.
Overall, the Symposium offered a formal space for presenting evidence-based advocacy; interrogating pedagogical issues relating to play; exploring best practices globally, regionally, and locally; identifying suitable country-specific strategies to have informed review of the curriculum; and creating the space for consensus-building on the way forward so that children in Guyana can be exposed to culturally appropriate activities for reaching optimum development milestones.