Learning Opportunites through Play

Day Sky and Night Sky

In our school it is essential that children spend a considerable part of the day learning through play. We believe playing is an absolute necessity that children have. In allowing and promoting play throughout the classroom, the children are far more engaged, relaxed, and happy - which allows the children to be themselves. When children are in their authentic state of self, they can truly learn and develop emotionally, cognitively, and socially. Additionally, when children are playing and being themselves, the adults around them can observe their level of knowledge and stage of their emotional, cognitive, and social development.

A recent child-led and play-based project emerged in the Day Sky and Night Sky Classrooms. The children in this room love to cook. They use real and pretend foods, play dough, sand, dirt, sticks, rocks, loose parts, and anything else their imagination can turn into a meal!

It is truly amazing to see a child being so resourceful and imaginative by transforming anything available to them to carry out their ideas. When a child has the space and freedom to think and create their own ideas, they will naturally develop skills that will serve throughout life, such as: focus, determination, willingness to learn, and self initiation. This is not only true of children, but all ages of people. When someone feels that own part of something, they willingly work harder to realize their vision because they feel a sense of owndership.

As the children cook (or engage in any form of play), it allows vast opportunities for the teachers to infuse academic work into their play. Social and emotional development happens naturally from open ended play. The teachers richen the experience by first asking questions:

"How do you make that type of food?"

"What are the ingredients?"

"Where does that food come from?"

They are endless questions that can led to the science of foods, different forms of cooking, raw vs cooked foods, cultural eating/cooking, geography, etc. One this day, as the teachers questioned the group, the answers helped the teachers realize that the children did not have a true understanding of the words "recipe" and "ingredient". This project could have taken a number of different paths but the teachers chose to explore the meaning of these 2 words.

The children were then promoted to write these words while discussing letter sounds. The teachers are also continually discussing what these words mean and are asking the children to create simple recipes they commonly pretend to make.

The following developmental/academic skills were incorporated and/or naturally occurred as part of this child-led, play-based project:

Literacy: Writing the words "recipe" and "ingredient" and many other words included in recipe lists that extended from this project

Mathematics/Fine Motor Skills: As the children "cook", they often have to count how many plates/bowls are available and then make the correct amount of "food" to fill them. This reinforces one to one correspondence, addition, and number sequencing.

Collaboration/Language: The children had to communicate with each other what they were cooking, make decisions on who was cook which items, and decide on recipes.

Cognitive Thinking: The children used loose parts to create their "foods" and build knowledge to understand the differences and similarities between foods that are ingredients vs recipes. The children also had to create recipes.

Social/Sense of Self: Taking turns, helping each other, working on a collaborative project with their peers.

Parental Support: Anytime a parent takes the time to do an activity with their child - especially an activity that is an extension of school work - the child receives the message that their work  and learning is important and valuable. Please extend this project at home by discussing these terms at home! Let your child help you make a fruit salad (or any simple meal) by helping to create a recipe by selecting all the ingredients. You could also discuss a meal you plan to make and have your child help you make the recipe list for the grocery store. Feel free to take pictures of this process and to bring from home so they can share it with their class!

Legos, Legos, LEGOS

This week, the children have been working with Legos. Legos are considered an open-ended material, meaning their transformational possibilities are nearly endless when a child’s creativity and imagination are applied. Because they have no pre-determined purpose or shape with a specific resemblance, they do not place parameters or limitations on what the child can create with them. Therefore, they make a perfect addition to a play-based and child-led environment.

We took the Legos to the light table, giving the children a different perspective of the blocks and allowing them to see how the presence of light impacts and intensifies color. Among the comments the students made, we heard them say that they were building “a truck” and “a train.” In the photos, you will notice the students lining up the Legos and stacking them to create different things.

Inside the classroom, the children shifted from their original technique of lining up the Legos to stacking them instead. In doing so, they explored factors like height and the physical, strategic process of stacking objects. The grasping, reaching and carefully placing involved in stacking and lining up the blocks engaged muscles in the children’s hands and arms, improving their fine motor skills.

During this time, we also sorted the colors and counted how many bricks were in front of the students. Some of the children even began counting the circles on top of the Legos. Sorting the blocks allowed the children to practice color recognition, classification and categorization. Counting the blocks reinforced mathematical skills such as number recognition and addition.

Along with the cognitive skills practiced in this activity, the children also built upon their social skills. They worked together as a team in conceptualizing and implementing the construction of their trucks, trains and other creations. In doing so, they learned to share resources and how to create one cohesive plan from the many thoughts and ideas of different-minded individuals.