Let's play in the past
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Let’s play in the past

by Play in the Past's Nicola

July 04, 2024

Have you ever seen a six year old try to use a rotary phone for the first time? They might hold the handset upside down, with the curly cord facing up, they might even try and swipe it. It is a wonder-full experience to behold, full of curiosity, intrigue and wonder. 


For early years students, the concept of ‘history’ can be tricky to understand. The idea of the past is an abstract one because it is yesterday, and last week but it’s also 100 years ago. As an experienced classroom teacher, I saw students struggle with this concept and knew they needed to hold history in their hands and play with it, in order for it to make sense to them. Many early years educators will agree that play is the best way for children to learn about the world around them. This is why I created my business Play in the Past. 


Play in the Past offers play based history in service/school visits and resources to early years children throughout Perth. 


Our bank of vintage resources is HUGE! Everyone participating in our visits, from Kindy to Year 3,  is allowed (and encouraged) to touch, explore and play with each item. During our immersive experience, I deliver a short explicit lesson to model vocabulary and comparative thinking. 


Children sort and order real life telephones on a tangible timeline. They are able to physically see, feel, hear and even smell changes over time. We consider the materials used to create items, how the design has changed (hello flip phones!) as well as their size and function. 


The session is delivered using high impact teaching strategies cultivated from a decade of teaching experience. Students engage in rapid responses, use actions and collaborate, before heading off to ‘play in the past’. 


Organised by concept, students then rotate through a selection of real world items from the past: a typewriter, cameras, telephones, kitchenware, toys, books, cassette tapes, CDs and vinyl records. Yes, CDs are now considered vintage!


As an alternative, educators can also hire the Hands on History Collection. This is a selection of vintage items, from a range of concepts, delivered to your centre to be used in a manner which is tailored to your context and the learning interests of the children in your care. Imagine creating a provocation in your classroom where your students can touch, feel and play with items from the past. 


When I was teaching in Year One, I knew that my students needed hands-on experiences. The issue was having access to the appropriate resources. 


Vintage items are so valuable for learning but they can be expensive to purchase (goodbye budget), difficult to source, bulky to store and there’s always the possibility of items getting broken by enthusiastic hands. Also, if you have a typewriter in your classroom all year round, you will know when the novelty wears off (about 3 weeks in) and there is a greater chance of damage or misuse. 


These are significant factors that prevent educators from purchasing their own vintage collections. Having the items delivered to your centre for a short period of time (two to three weeks) allows you to maximise their impact alongside your history programme and your children’s interests.


Play in the Past offers educators and learners access to hands-on and play- based resources to enhance the magic of exploring the past, without the risk and expense of buying your own.  


In today’s smart device driven world, children are bombarded with images. 10 years ago, looking at photographs or showing a video in your history lesson was highly engaging, but today, it isn’t the most effective tool for learning. Children thrive when we offer meaningful play based experiences for them to understand the world they live in. 


With access to quality vintage resources, educators are able to offer rich learning experiences to their students. One teacher claimed that her “students would get more from this incursion than our entire inquiry project.” 


Even without having access to a bank of resources, there are lots of ways that early childhood educators can engage children with ‘hands on history’; 


  • History Day: Children dress up as someone from the past, play old fashioned games, make butter and damper to eat later in the day and write in cursive with ink/ chalk.
  • Class Museum: ask children to bring in family artifacts to be displayed in the classroom. This can also be a great news item each week and perfect for Grandparents’ Day. 
  • Contact your local museum or History Society to hire their equipment: If you’re in Perth, Wanneroo Museum and The Royal West Australian Historical Society have great collections. 


When a child holds the rotary phone in their hands for the first time, then role plays a conversation with the pizza delivery guy, they are truly being immersed in history. By creating the opportunity for learner centred, hands on and play based experiences, we give them a gift of playing in the past. 


Visit Play in the Past to learn more

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