At Flinders, we have a strong culture of play and play based learning built on contemporary early childhood theory. But not everything we do at Flinders is play based; there are a number of aspects of our program that are work based, outcomes based, and task oriented. Regular experiences such as cooking and gardening cannot be considered play in the sense of early childhood theory; these experiences are not exclusively ‘pleasurable, self motivated, process oriented, symbolic, active and voluntary’ (Lennie Barblett, Why Play Based Learning?). They have clear guidelines and boundaries which are defined by educators, and are only available for certain periods of time. Children work collaboratively with an educator towards a particular goal and the product is as important as the process.
The integration of these kinds of work based experiences within a play based program gives children an opportunity to learn new and important skills and processes, to be involved in different kinds of tasks, and to develop different kinds of community relationships. The task oriented nature of the experiences leads to explicit teaching opportunities relating to health and hygiene practices, safety, turn taking and cooperation. The guidelines for participation in this kind of experience are clear; children know that this is not a time for play but a time for work, and whilst it is fun and we do gain a significant sense of satisfaction from the process, participation is dependent on working within certain guidelines. As these guidelines are generally related to personal and group safety, health and hygiene, they are non-negotiable.
All of this sounds very serious, and not really all that fun. But children are capable and competent, willing and able to take on these kinds of social and personal responsibilities. Children recognise that, through work, they are contributing to the health and wellbeing of their community. They are growing food, caring for the environment, preparing meals. Their role is one that is important, celebrated, appreciated and respected. They, in turn, respect the work completed by others. Above all, children have the right to choose whether or not to be involved in the community work, and this freedom to choose is integral to promoting a positive understanding of work. The willingness to be involved makes working within the guidelines of the experience worthwhile.
Community work also enables children an opportunity to learn important life skills, relating to health, hygiene and safety as described above, but also relating to self care practices, sustainability, interdependence and independence. Specific learning areas are also targeted, such as literacy, numeracy and science. Community work offers children a holistic learning opportunity that effectively complements the Flinders philosophy of play.