Thursday, April 28, 2011

How A Play-Based Curriculum Works

I thought I was done writing about the collection of bits and pieces we've been playing with this week (which I've already done here and here), but the children won't let me. The more familiar they've become with the stuff, the more creatively they're using it, finding new breadth and depth with the materials themselves and with the ways these materials can interact artistically, scientifically, mathematically, socially, physically, dramatically, and literacy-ly. (Hey, I'm not claiming to be Faulkner or Joyce, but they made up words too!)

I did refresh the materials a bit, adding some new things to make up for the items that had been subtracted when the Pre-K class used our invented toilet paper tube-yoghurt drink bottle construction technique to make sword props for their upcoming play (the short one in the picture is, in fact, a light saber). 

For instance, there were a couple boxes of wooden "pick up sticks" the kids hadn't seen before, which were almost instantly put to use spelling names.

I like the way Sylvia came up with the technique of using a bit of string, from the can of string that had for the past two days sat virtually untouched amongst the other stuff, to form the curves of her "S," an idea adopted by Violet.

Isak followed suit by writing his name as well, making sure to include the "silent H" that he has added to his name this year.

"H" is Isak's "favorite letter," and has been a source of bonding between he, Sarah and me (Thomas) since we all now share a silent H in our names.

The string and cord also became the centerpiece of Dennis' artistic and scientific endeavors. I noticed him standing with a wad of the string in his hand while carefully unfurling it onto the ground. I thought it was a "mere" experiment until he said, "It's a dinosaur! It's a T-Rex!" Upon further inspection, sure enough I could see it, with the head there at the top, the tail curling out near the bottom. Whether he set out to make a dinosaur or simply "discovered" one when he was through arranging the string is really immaterial as he then continued working on it, adding wine bottle corks for the teeth.

When he added a bit of orange string around the teeth, he said, "This is the head." I answered, "We know what color dinosaur bones were because we've seen them, but no body knows what color their skin was. Maybe T-Rex's were orange." It was the kind of tangental comment that I've learned to make from working with children. The orange string sparked a connection for me between this moment and something I'd read long ago about the color of dinosaurs and, like the kids do at circle time, I shared my random thought.

The way Dennis continued looking at it, walking around it, seeing it from different angles, told me he wasn't finished. His dad Terry was our parent-teacher at the nearby art table so I pulled him away for a minute so he could watch what was going on.

As I explained what had lead up to this moment, Dennis began arranging foam packing material and large yoghurt containers atop the string.

When he was done, he looked up at us and said, "I made it's skin!" Oh boy! He'd taken off on my comment and built a dinosaur from the bones outward. Was it a piece of art or a scientific exploration? 

At one point the area of loose parts got rowdy as three boys invented a game that involved taking turns climbing into the now empty foam packing material box, while those on the outside beat on it, a game right on the edge of being out of control. Sylvia's mom Toby did a masterful job of managing the play so that we didn't have to break out the first aid kit, gave them time to explore their bodies and those of others within the context of the game, which at one point involved two boys at a time squeezed into the one boy box, then helped them wrap it up because as fun as this game was, it was also the kind of thing that tends to make the area entirely "un-playable" for the rest of the kids who aren't in a wrestling mood.

As the group play moved on to the sensory table and into the loft, this re-opened the space for quieter play, more mathematical play. Finding new ways to use the pick-up sticks, for instance . . .

. . . or assembling the parts from an old marble run game purposefully picked out of the box of wood scraps.

If you look closely, you'll see she formed circles out of 1/4 circle arcs.

While others used circles to form new shapes.

Once finished, he counted each row of the equilateral triangle, noting that there was one fewer specimen cup in each subsequent row as he moved up toward the point.

Each day in preschool is a revelation. The whole world is right there, everything we need to learn, contained within those loose parts that others might call junk.

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Floor Pie said...

This was fun! It was interesting to see how the different kids worked with the materials to make letters. Isak rejected the string and made his "S" out of sticks, insisting that the letters should be made from the same materials. Sylvia was just the opposite...she insisted that "S" isn't made of straight lines, and would probably have abandoned the whole project if we hadn't figured out the string thing.

Unknown said...

love it!

Unknown said...

Thank you, Tom, for posting this. I follow your blog daily and I am currently enrolled in an early childhood education program. This is so helpful to me.

Unknown said...

Awesome! I just read a question geared toward parents of tots, "What made you choose the preschool your child is attending?" The #1 answer was " based learning". :)

Mullin Avenue Workshop said...

I've really enjoyed your posts this week on play with found materials.

The children just really found so many ways to use these materials, and this was a good reminder on providing openended materials for our children.

I enjoyed seeing the pick up sticks, and was reminded that I used to use popsicle/craft sticks with my children for years as pickup sticks, and for "drawing". This is something I'll now do again.

Such good, creative things happening at your center!

Father of Four said...

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I have just started bloging about fatherhood.

John S.

jenny @ let the children play said...

Spot on post Tom! Do you know we are discovering that the longer we leave "stuff" out for the kids to play with, and resist the urge to change things all the time, the more creative their play becomes and the more engaged they become with what they are doing. They keep revisiting what they have done before, and building on it or changing it completely. We are learning that us adults feel the need to change things around more than we should.

Ruth Churchill Dower said...

Thanks for posting this Tom, its great to read, and so important for the children to have their learning made visible to us adults like this.

I really liked Jenny's comment above as well - how much we can learn from resisting the urge (or the political drivers) to clear up before we've even started. Could do with exercising this at home more as well!

Thanks again and hope you're all well over there in the west :) Ruth