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Theories and philosophical approaches which influence play

Margaret McMillan

According to Wikipedia, Margaret McMillan was born in July 1860 and die on 27 March 1931. She was a nursery school pioneer and lobbied for the 1906 Provision of School Meals Act. Working in deprived districts of London, notably Bradford and Deptford, she agitated for reforms to improve the health of young children, wrote several books on nursery education, and pioneered a play-centered approach that has only latterly found wide acceptance.

In 1908 McMillan and her sister opened England’s first school clinic at Bow followed by the Deptford Clinic in 1910. A Night Camp where slum children could wash and wear clean nightclothes followed.

McMillan believed that children learn best through first-hand involvement and active learning is the most beneficial for them. She valued parents and the never-ending influence they have on their children’s learning. McMillan also felt that children need to have access to a wide range of materials and be able to explore them freely.

According to Linda Pound in her book – How children learn – pages 23 -24, in 1911 Margaret McMillan opened a small center which included a night camp aiming to improve the health of children. Girls between the ages of 6 to 14 were able to sleep in the churchyard and by 1914, the number of places available had trebled and boys were being included.

The beginnings of an open-air baby camp catering for 29 young children had been set up and by 1917 the Rachel McMillan Nursery School had been set established with 100 places for children.

Linda Pound says, in the nursery, children had no examinations to sit and no formal structure to the day but had time to play, run free in open spaces, feel the sun and the wind, and explore nature.

The work of the McMillan’s brought about the establishment of the school medical service and the school meals service.

Linda Pounds believes, McMillan’s put on the nursery school being an open-air institution influenced how nurseries were built throughout the first half of the twentieth century. Nurseries have routines of regular meals as well as sleep times and times for children to run and play.

Forest School

Forest School is an outdoor education programme run by trained leaders. Sessions happen entirely outdoors, whatever the weather. Children are encouraged to play, explore, and learn in a forest or natural environment. Adult supervision is meant to assist rather than lead.

The Forest Schools concept originated in Scandinavia. The approach was widely adopted in Denmark in the 1980’s as a solution to the lack of indoor facilities for pre-school children.

Forest School was introduced to the UK in 1993 by a group of nursery nurses from Bridgewater College, Somerset. They had visited a Danish Forest School and were so impressed with the ethos and approach that they were keen to develop their own programme.

All theorists talk of the importance of children being allowed to explore the world with appropriate support. Interestingly, many were themselves significantly influenced by the great outdoors. Most important theorists for Forest Schools: Friedrich Froebel; John Dewey; Maria Montessori; Jean Piaget; Lev Vygotsky; John Bowlby; Erik Erikson; Howard Gardner.

Forest School can: Improve emotional and social skills; Promote co-operative and group working; Enable participants to evaluate risk learn how to stay safe; Develop physical abilities; Encourage participants to take care of themselves and others; Appreciation and respect for wildlife and wild places; Broaden knowledge and understanding of the natural world.

Forest school offers an excellent opportunity for play and exploration, however, practical tasks linked to the national curriculum and EYFS are designed to enhance children’s development are what drives the forest school initiative. Many of the activities within forest schools are child-led, and the activities will follow the direction in which children choose to take them. They may decide to work independently, working on developing their own problem-solving skills and creativity, or they may join up with other children and work within teams. This is excellent for children’s social development, as they will learn how to collaborate within a team, and how to share their ideas, and to listen to others.

Maria Montessori

According to Wikipedia, Maria Tecla Artemisia Montessori was born on August 31, 1870, and died on May 6, 1952. She was an Italian physician and educator best known for the philosophy of education that bears her name, and her writing on scientific pedagogy. At an early age, Montessori broke gender barriers and expectations when she enrolled in classes at an all-boys technical school, with hopes of becoming an engineer. She was a single mother.

On the website, we can read that in 1901 Montessori began her own studies of education philosophy and anthropology, teaching students. In this period, the development of Rome meant that children were left at home as their parents worked.

“The Montessori Method of education, developed by Dr. Maria Montessori, is a child-centered educational approach based on scientific observations of children from birth to adulthood. Dr. Montessori’s Method has been time-tested, with over 100 years of success in diverse cultures throughout the world. It is a view of the child as one who is naturally eager for knowledge and capable of initiating learning in a supportive, thoughtfully prepared learning environment. It is an approach that values the human spirit and the development of the whole child—physical, social, emotional, cognitive”.

In the book – Excerpt from Early Childhood Education Today, by G.S. Morrison – pages 140-143, the Montessori teacher demonstrates key behaviours to implement this child-centered approach: Make children the center of; Encourage children to learn; Observe children; Prepare the learning environment; Respect each child; Introduce learning materials.

According to Montessori (2013) – Montessori method, The Montessori Method is a method of education that highlights personality and individuality in knowledge. It is a holistic method emphasizing all parts of development, somewhat than on attaining specific pieces of information.

Reggio Emilia

The Reggio Emilia approach is an educational philosophy engrossed in preschool and primary education. It is a constructivist methodology. This theory is based on principles of respect, responsibility, and community through study and finding through a self-guided programme.

The goal of the Reggio approach is to teach how to use these figurative languages in everyday life. It was developed after World War II by psychologist Loris Malaguzzi and parents in the village called Reggio Emilia in Italy.

“It is known for its pre-school education for a variety of reasons. Firstly, the system of pre-school education is very collaborative, with parents and practitioners working together to meet children’s interests and needs. Adults play an important role when working with children”

According to an everyday story website, Reggio Emilia's approach is usually applied to preschools and early childhood settings, but this approach can be adapted to the home as well.

According to the same website above, Reggio Emilia's approach believes children are skilled at building their own learning, and children procedure an understanding of themselves and their place in the world through their interactions with others. The approach also believes children are great communicators and the environment is the third teacher. The teacher is the mentor and guide.

“The environment is set out so as to encourage children’s creativity and there are zones where children can experience a range of different resources. This approach to pre-school education is child-centered and views children are capable of directing their own learning. It also stresses the importance of adults listening to children and being partners in their play.”


TASSONI, Peny. Early Years Educator for the work-based learner. Cache Level 3

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