Hello, and welcome to the last in my third series of Advocates For Play. A series of blog interviews with play promoters around the world...
Introducing Bobbi Crocker, of Bobbi's Explorers, a small early years setting here in Bristol. Thank you for sharing your perspective on play.
Please introduce yourself, and your family.
Hi! I’m Bobbi. I run a childminding setting in Bristol, where I live with my 15-month old daughter, partner, and black cat. I work Tuesday to Thursday, looking after three children aged 10-months to 18-months. We spend our mornings being wild in the nearby forests, and our afternoons inside playing.
Before I had my daughter I lived in London, where I worked in a forest school nursery and led sessions for under-5’s in play, music and art. I have an MA in Early Years Education and a BA in Acting. My partner and I met through acting at the Bristol Old Vic theatre when we were 17. He now works at Sustrans walking and cycling charity as a graphic designer.
Can you share some of your own experiences of play as a child? Do you have an earliest play memory, or a story to share about play that was particularly meaningful?
What I remember from my play as a child is that I had a fantastic play partner, my childhood best friend. We were always in some secret nook of the playground making potions and recipes, climbing trees and being generally mischievous. I also remember being so incredibly involved in imaginative play; I used to spend hours and hours with playmobil or pretending I was different people doing made-up activities.
Can you tell us about how you came to be an advocate for play? In what capacity does play feature in your life?
I initially came to be an advocate for play through theatre workshops. When devising theatre, the most magical moments come out of playing with others and having that permission to play, which isn’t common in adulthood. One of the things I love most about working with children is that you can be so playful with them and that they are so playful and creative.
When I was working for a franchise company, I loved working with the children and learning more about child development, but I began to feel an unsease about how play was controlled and led. I was interested in the more organic moments, and what was happening to the child at those times. Through my master’s degree I engaged with play in it’s child-chosen form and all the rich benefits that come out of that. I became an advocate for child-centred play and saw all those benefits first hand from my time as a forest school teacher.
I am surrounded by play in my life! When with my daughter, most of our time is time at play. And when educating, I am playing, observing play, preparing the environment for play, or preparing the children for outside play. Or I’m preparing food, but often they play with that as well!
How would you describe your play philosophy?
I emphasise play as a process rather than a product activity. Definitions of play are limitless, but by placing the child at the centre, by encouraging children’s own discovery in play, their learning and development is kept in the foreground, and their own capabilities and own potential in choice of exploration is respected.
Though play is ostensibly at the root of learning, in my opinion, the EYFS (the government-mandated early years curriculum) falls short. It lacks explanations of how play pedagogy can be implemented, and fails to sufficiently recognise the importance of exploration in play. Instead it emphasises play as needing to be purposeful, relying heavily on the importance of school readiness over meaning-making. I prefer approaches that are found in international perspectives such as Reggio Emilia and Te Whāriki, with their emphasis on self-respect, prestige, power, and strength, formed by their image of the rich, competent child. I love the Montessori mantra of ‘follow the child’ and adhere to the prepared environment ideology. I would say that inside, my play philosophy is quite Montessori inspired. Outside, though, it’s all about the forest school! The emphasis on child-centred play, exploration, holistic growth, risk-taking and autonomy engenders the deepest and most meaningful play.
Who or what has influenced your perspective on play? Are there any books, blogs, Instagram accounts that you would recommend?
Educating Ella - wonderful for home ed and SEND
Millie's Garden - for outdoor play
How do you facilitate child led, open ended play within your home or setting?
I prepare the environment following interests from observation. Children can select anything from the shelves and explore resources however they choose. I don’t step in unless something is dangerous. Children are free to experiment.
Can you share a top tip for encouraging children to play independently?
Resource rotation. For my young cohort I rotate weekly to keep things fresh, interesting and appealing. Older children won’t need things rotated so frequently but it’s still a great idea when you notice interest waning.
Prepared environment. Attractive, organised layout of resources with resets throughout the day.
Following interests. Noticing children’s interests and providing more to support that interest.
Stepping back. Modelling, being involved, active and truly present, but then slowly stepping back and allowing the child to become absorbed independently.
Being close by. Some of the most sustained and involved independent play happens when I’m preparing lunch or having a quick tidy or clean up of something in the kitchen (our house is semi open plan). I’m near enough that they can feel and hear my presence but far enough that my presence doesn’t take them out of their play.
Saying less. Narrating and chatting is useful sometimes but sometimes saying less or ideally nothing is great for independent play. That way the child is able to focus on the thing they are doing, uninterrupted.
What type of play are the children in your home or setting really engaged in right now?
Posting! Inside the children love to post. Posting through holes or slits, posting objects in bags, posting books, posting, posting, posting!
Outside the children are really engaged in mud right now. Lots of foot and hand sploshing, stick-banging and mark-making. They also love finding bouncy things outside like trees or branches and bouncing them.
If you had to pick just three toys or play resources to encourage child led, open ended play, what would you choose?
Mud, sticks, and bowls or buckets.
Our balance board has inspired a lot of play too! Sneaky fourth!
If you could make one wish for your child, or for the children of today, what would it be?
That they are allowed the time to play for as long as they like.
If you would like to find out more about Bobbi's early years setting, you can find her on Instagram here.
If you would like to contribute to my next Advocates For Play Series, scheduled to publish on the blog this coming April, please send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org
This blog post contains affiliate links. If you do click through, Bean and I will receive a small amount of commission which will contribute to new books and resources for her home education. You can, however, find all of these resources elsewhere, including other online retailers, second hand selling pages and your local library.