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The 3rd ECEC Research Conference "Child Care that Improves the Quality of Play"

Japanese Chinese
Hosting the Third ECEC Research Conference

The third ECEC Research Conference sponsored by Child Research Net (CRN) was held in Shinjuku on Saturday, February 15, 2014. Researchers of early childhood education and child care professionals gathered to discuss "Child Care that Improves the Quality of Play" and related subjects.

Session 1 Keynote Address and Panel Discussion

Session 1 began with a keynote speech delivered by Professor Takako Kawabe of the University of the Sacred Heart. The panel discussion that followed included Professor Kawabe, Sakakihara Yoichi, CRN Director and Professor, Graduate School, Ochanomizu University; Nobuko Kamigaichi, Professor, Jumonji University; and Hirotomo Omameuda, Associate Professor, Tamagawa University.

Teachers who understand and support each individual child

Professor Kawabe noted that children develop an interest in something when they become absorbed on their own while playing, and emphasized the necessity of such experience for development and the importance of play-centered early childhood education. She stressed that teacher support is also necessary to heighten interest and enjoyment in play, that is, to increase the quality of play. Concrete examples of teacher support underscored the importance of incorporating novelty in play to encourage playful participation.

Based on her own experience as a teacher, Professor Kawabe proposed ways to adapt teacher support to the needs of each child and particular situation, which include helping out children who have difficulty making friends and watching over children as they become absorbed in play with friends. She also raised the issue of "Guided play," pointing out that it has much in common with the support to enhance the quality of play, and offered suggestions.

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Keeping a childcare record builds skills that support play

The ensuing panel discussion responded to issues that Professor Kawabe had raised in her keynote address. A range of views were exchanged on such issues as what the teacher should keep in mind when proposing play materials and the importance of the teacher choosing the play in implementing the theory of Guided play.

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What methods can help teachers acquire the knowhow to support children's play? This question, which was posed by CRN Director Sakakihara, became a major focus of lively discussion. All the panelists agreed that keeping a childcare record was a key practice for teachers. When keeping this record, Professor Kawabe urged teachers to adopt a viewpoint that considered the relationship with the children rather than merely listing what happened during the day, namely, writing down goals for the day, comparisons with what was actually accomplished, and the children's reactions. Professor Omameuda proposed creating an episodic record that would report what the teacher felt and discovered in interactions with the children and a record that would document the group play of children from a comprehensive perspective. Professor Kamigaichi suggested that each kindergarten and day-care center should draw up methods for assessment and record-keeping in line with the curriculum and principles of childcare that are set forth in the Course of study for Kindergarten and the National Guidelines for Care and Education at Day Nursery.

Session 2 Workshop

In the Session 2 Workshop, eight childcare professionals spoke frankly on the topic "Impediments to Realizing Playful Learning in Child Care" in a discussion that went beyond the usual frameworks of public and private facilities and differences between kindergartens, day-care centers, and Early Childhood Education and Care centers (nintei kodomo en). Discussion was first held in two separate groups: the kindergarten group and the day-care group with Professor Omameuda and Mihoko Hashimura, editor of Benesse Newsletter, "Thinking about the Future of Infant Education," serving as respective facilitators. This was then followed by an overall discussion with the combined groups.

Young teachers, in both kindergarten and day-care centers, need more experience in play

Both the kindergarten group and day-care group noted that young teachers showed some difficulty regarding play. In fact, all childcare facilities, regardless of type, reported an increase in teachers who seem not to have played much as children and to lack experience in play. Although they have read childcare materials and studied the subject, they do not know the aims of childcare, such as knowing what children should derive from play, because they have not experienced it themselves. One proposed solution to impart the fun and joy of play called for both experienced teachers and their younger counterparts to learn about play together.

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At the same time, the discussions also highlighted large differences between kindergarten and day-care centers in terms of time and space. Staff of day-care centers commented that it was difficult to find the time to discuss matters pertaining to the children and play because even when their own work was over, the facility was still open. They also noted that engaging in sustained play was also difficult because play and living spaces are not separate, which means that activities, such as playing with blocks, etc., have to be interrupted to clear the space for mealtime. In contrast, the kindergarten group expressed no such views. Given that the current situation cannot be easily resolved, this will require further discussion from the perspective of government policy as well.

Session 3 Free Discussion

Session 3 featured free discussion that included all the panelists and childcare professionals of the previous sessions, Mariko Ichimi, Senior Researcher, National Institute for Educational Policy Research, Yoriko Isobe, Advisor, Benesse Educational Research and Development Institute (BERD), and Director Sakakihara serving as the moderator. Bringing up issues that were raised in Sessions 1 and 2, the discussion addressed specific measures to improve play-centered childcare and extend its social significance.

What can directors do to enhance playful learning?

How to develop childcare professionals who will stimulate rich learning experiences? The free discussion started off with a discussion of this question which was raised in the workshop. One participant (senior teacher, private kindergarten, Edogawa Ward, Tokyo) stressed the importance of team childcare as a way for teachers to learn from one another, a view that drew wide support. Another participant (director, public day-care center, Kita Ward, Tokyo) proposed pairing experienced and young teachers to promote information exchange and thereby reinforce team childcare.

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What should directors of childcare facilities do to enhance playful learning? Participants expressed a number of views that included creating an atmosphere of free expression and mutual support for teachers (director, public kindergarten, Taito Ward, Tokyo); ensuring an environment in which teachers can always interact with the children with a smile (director, private day-care center, Yamagata Prefecture); and creating a facility with a well-defined mission that respects the individuality of each teacher (Professor Omameuda).

The discussion extended to information targeting parents and the community. Ideas included regularly posting photographs and comments on the homepage to better inform parents of the facility's childcare policies and stance (director, public day-care center, Taito Ward, Tokyo) and cases in which the directors networked with local organizations to promote further understanding of the significance and role of public kindergartens in the community (Professor Kawabe).

Conclusion

The program brought together researchers of early childhood education and childcare professionals who care for and interact with children on a daily basis and provided an opportunity to discuss and exchange views on children's play. In addition to bringing up a variety of issues, solutions were proposed that promise to more fully incorporate play into learning, and the discussions yielded fruitful suggestions for the role of play in childcare. The ECEC Research Conference will continue its research on learning and childcare in FY2014. We look forward to further research contributions and stimulating discussion in the future.

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