With an increased number of international students undertaking higher education courses (degrees), Australian universities are challenged to prepare international students with the necessary understandings, knowledge and skills to effectively participate in the workplace. For many students, understanding Early Childhood Education in Australia is a new way of viewing teaching and learning from their own cultural perspective. In order to facilitate successful engagement during pre-service teacher practicums (placements) and in response to concerns raised by mentor teachers in the workplace, a pilot program was run at Deakin University in 2015 for students to undertake before placement. The program focused on ‘play’ as an innovative model of teaching. This paper situates itself as part of a wider study Improving work placement for international students, their mentors and other stakeholders. It draws on narrative reflection, classroom observation, questionnaire and interview data from the early childhood strand within the Master of Teaching course at Deakin University. Using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis the data was analysed and coded into two emerging themes: building confidence and competency skills and connecting to the early childhood context. Generalisations cannot be made to other educational institutions or context however; the findings reveal that ‘play’ can be used as a powerful tool to empower students to make connection with early childhood settings. It is hoped that the findings may provide a platform for further dialogue with other universities regarding how best we can prepare international education students at Australian universities for their practicum experience.
Keywords: Play as a tool, early childhood teaching, higher education