Monday, December 07, 2015

Learning Piles

You can count on it happening several times every school year: the kids just start heaping everything they can lay their hands ahold into a pile. Last week, the three-year-olds filled in a deep hole the kindergarteners have been working on in the sand pit.

I've heard other teachers, half jokingly, refer to them as "learning piles," these accumulations of moveable items culled from a loose parts playground

Sometimes they start off with "Let's build a space ship . . . " or some such thing, but as the game progresses it becomes about what else can we put in the pile. The pile in these photos is a small, tidy one compared to the ones the older kids make that include shipping pallets, old tires, tree branches, house gutters, and, sometimes, even the tables and chairs. There have been times when the project wasn't complete until everything that can be moved, has been moved.

These are never solo projects. Typically, there's a lot of teamwork involved, especially with the heavy things. Indeed, they are meaningful, emergent, child-led projects, these learning piles, that at one level offend my adult sense of both purpose and aesthetics. In fact, I sometimes wonder if this is why this exact process emerges year after year in play-based preschools around the globe: because the adults would never think of doing this in a million years and when one of these piles is being created, we tend to just stay out of the way. The only time we pile things up like this is in preparation for throwing the junk out.

But this is an opposite instinct at work. I've come to think of them as impromptu monuments to the urge to create cooperatively. And when the children stand back and admire their work, the look of accomplishment in their faces is inspiring.

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