The role and status of play within two different approaches to early years education.

It is strongly believed that play has a crucial impact on children’s learning and cognitive, emotional and physical development (Howard, and Alderson, 2011). The importance of play takes part in many countries’ early years’ educational curriculum (Bertram and Pascal, 2002). While some countries’ curriculum put the children’s play in the centre of their learning, others suggest it is a part of curriculum. In this research, curriculum style in two different countries and its effect of children’s play will be discussed.
To start with the United Kingdom, importance of play was constitutionally confirmed in 1991 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (United Nations, 1989 cited in Powell, 2009). In the Convention, Article 31 enables children’s right to play by saying that “Every child and young person has the right to rest, play and leisure” (Powell, 2009). Similarly, play is accepted in the education system with laws because of its benefits in learning, social and intellectual development in Turkey (Çabuk and Haktanır, 2010).
When comparing the two countries’ curriculum; England and Turkey have similarities as well as differences in the early years’ educational foundation stage.
One example of the similarity is the Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage in England which defines six basic principles: personal, social and emotional development; communication, language and literacy; mathematical development; knowledge and understanding of the world; physical development; creative development (Bertram and Pascal, 2002). Also, Early Childhood Curriculum in Turkey emphasizes creativity, mathematics, learning experience, problem solving and play, social relationship (Erden, 2010).
Additionally, the child-oriented method is applied for children’s play in kindergartens in Turkey and England, which mainly supports children’s independency or freedom to choose and direct their own play (Erden, 2010; Kwon, 2002). However, children are not really directing their own play because teachers are also making weekly plans for children’s play in order to support their learning process both in Turkey and England (Kwon, 2002; Erden, 2010). So this would suggest the element of freedom is being impeded by the interference of the educator.
It is believed that there is a problem of curriculum in England. Whereas some of the foundation schools want to organise a subject-divided play curriculum, others particularly in traditional English pre-schools’ child-directed and free-play institutions are more reliant to original curriculum (Kwon, 2010).
Only the curriculum found in England pays private importance to “early literacy and numeracy” (Bertram and Pascal, 2002). On the other hand, curriculum in Turkey explicitly mentions it but it does not officially compel to develop it. Moreover, there are various rules arising in England to protect children’s safety and rights. Both of the countries’ teachers in the early years centres need to be checked for their criminal record in order to provide the children without any further potential risk (Bertram and Pascal, 2002).
However, some of the rules are sometimes catered to prevent children’s socialization and hinder their peer relationship (Blatchford et al, 2002). For example, the national survey found that lunch time is diminished in 1995-1996 compared to what it was in 1990-1995 (Pellegrini & Blatchford, 2000 cited in Pellegrini & Blatchford, 2002). Not only was lunch break time diminished but also free play time and walking around the school were also reduced due to safety constraints such as negative peer behaviours, aggression through friends and antisocial behaviours in school.
Although the main problem is that this situation makes them aggressive and antisocial, not having a good time with their peers at school is more significant to pinpoint, because it is in school that they have the opportunity to socially interact, to cooperate, to develop friendships and have self-confidence. Evidently, children who had opportunity to play games in the first year at school are estimated to have gained more self-competence (Pellegrini & Blatchford, 2002).
Children’s safety policy also mirrored parents’ behaviour or rules that they apply to their children. For example, Smith (1982) supports the opinion that playground promotes children’s relations with their peers, however, children’s play outside is known as risky in both the UK and United States of America because of safety reasons. (Gleave, 2010).
In contrast, Turkey has adopted a completely different approach regarding early education policy than England. For instance, children can easily go out and play with their peers in the small cities but if the city is too big and industrialised such as Istanbul and Izmir, then children are not permitted to go out and play on the street. As a result, children’s playmates are generally from their neighbourhood.
When children are playing on the street, sometimes parents do not even control or supervise them during their play; they are staying at home without any worries. Conversely, children in England can not go out alone to play outside because parents are so worried about their safety. Moreover, children often have playmates from their schools, since going to school is their only opportunity to socialize in England (Gleave, 2010).
Going back to the curriculum found in Turkey, it is observed that there is a lack of professionals in the field (Derman and Başal, 2010). For example, children’s safety can only be protected when the number of staff suffices. The number of teachers in kindergarten in Turkey has increased (Derman and Başal, 2010); 26 children have just one teacher in classrooms now (OECD, 2009 cited in Kılıç et al, 2010).
For this reason, it is difficult to provide a safety environment for each teacher when they have this amount of children in their classrooms. Another significant point regarding the decreased amount of teacher is in order to cultivate every child’s emotional and physical needs. When most of the children want to play with the same teacher, then this will create chaos in the nurseries or kindergartens.
How to play with children, how to behave with them is very vital for children’s development but caregivers and teachers in pre-schools do not have enough education to know the importance of child-centered play or they may not exactly know what child-directive play is. The researcher found that although there is a growing attention that teachers’ education should be at least undergraduate level in the England and in Turkey, unfortunately there are still teachers which are under-qualified in both countries (Kapçı and Guler, 2009).
Socio-economic status and laws also affect children in regards to the availability of their play materials and pre-school education in general in Turkey. Although, government is supporting the increase in the schooling rate with private financial support and projects (Kapçı and Guler, 1999), according to Derman and Başal (2010 cited in Kılıc et al, 2010) the schooling rate was 7.3% between 1994 and 1995; however, this amount is sharply increased to 33% in 2010. The other children who can not enrol into pre-school education probably have difficulty to attend early year education programs. Moreover, the compulsory age of schooling is 7 in Turkey (Kılıç et al, 2010).
When the children do not have the chance to be raised in a healthy social environment (such as finding a friend to play with), then they may not develop in the same manner as children who are in the nursery or kindergartens. In addition, they may not achieve the developmental progress which should be done through play. In contrast, England has higher amount of school enrolment rate and it is compulsory after the age of 5 (Bertram and Pascal, 2002). Children’s access to nurseries and other early year schools are also encouraged by media and sending invitation letter (Bertram and Pascal, 2002).
The cultural diversity is another important point when we want to compare two countries that have different cultural backgrounds and values. The growing globalization effect in England makes the diversities more increased (Kalogeraki, 2009). In this situation children’s play type and friend preferences can be under the influence of their play behaviours in the friend group of Early Years Schools. England emphasizes equality of opportunity and respect for diversity in the very early years of education (Bertram and Pascal, 2002) however; curriculum in Turkey does not exactly mention this.
When cultural differences in the curriculum were expected through this research, there was not much evidence found throughout the course of the whole research. Even though, England is known as an individualistic culture that focuses on the children’s independency in the playground, Turkey is known as a collectivistic culture but still focuses on the freedom and child-centered play method simultaneously (Kalogerika, 2009; Yaman et al, 2010).
Both of the countries’ curriculums highlighted the importance of the parents’ involvement in children’s learning process (Erden, 2010; Bertram and Pascal, 2002).
The last point is having a big distance between children and their teacher because, it is legally not permitted to hug and kiss the children in the early years schools. As professionals everybody needs to be careful about children’s right in England. On the other hand, when the children could not meet their emotional needs in Turkey, parents complain to the Ministry of Education Office or Schools’ headmasters. This aspect is entirely different in both countries. It is submitted that the child’s emotional needs need to be catered when the children choose to feel so.
When the children are growing up, there is much concern about paedophilia (Howard and Alderson, 2011). Should a paedophilic incident happen in a child’s life, then they are more inclined in being inhibited on trusting other people during the rest of the life. As the study conducted in the UK revealed, the rate of trust to other people is only 28% for individuals who are living and have been raised in the UK (Gleave, 2010). On the other hand, the people who live in Turkey can trust and adapt to new social groups on a faster rate.
Both of the countries have advantages and disadvantages in their curriculum. The important point is finding the balance between England and Turkey. To do this, the cross-cultural studies need to be developed and discussed further in order to produce a more coherent and efficient early education system that can best respond to both the needs of individual cultures and also, on a more universal scale.


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