Tuesday, April 26, 2011

How To Play

I more or less put in regular work hours last week during our spring break, digging around in the corners of our storage spaces, purging a little, but mostly being reminded of all the stuff I have "some of," but not quite enough to make a project out of it.

For instance, the area I think of as "collage materials" was housing about 20 of those little white triangle table looking thingies that prevent delivery pizza box lids from dropping down into the hot cheese, the last vestiges of a birthday party from 3-4 years ago. In one container I found about two cups' worth of broken beaded necklaces, and in another about the same quantity of screws and other miscellaneous small machine parts. There was a box containing two fists' full of tiny plastic pegs left over from some game or other from which the rest of the pieces had gone missing over a decade ago.

In fact there were lots of collections of puzzle and game parts: not "enough" of anything, but too much of everything to just throw out. 

Since we were coming off spring break, I figured our short and medium range "play arcs" (I don't know what else to call them, but I suspect anyone with experience in a play-based curriculum will know what I mean) had abruptly ended with the time off and we'd be starting new ones anyway. So without having anything from the kids to give me my lead, what better time to cut up some cardboard, break out the glue, and let them do what they need to do?

I uncovered other things in the storage room as well, like several bars of Ivory Soap (a mild, natural soap that floats on water for those of you reading this from distant shores). I don't recall having bought them. In fact, they're just one of those things that have always been in there, too potentially useful to throw out, but not enough to really do anything . . . But, what the heck am I doing here, curating the stuff? I was thinking of just dumping them in the box I'd labeled "free" to set out for the families to search through on Monday, when I came across a stash of old children's clothing, much of it my daughter's old things, that I'd brought in several years ago to add to our "mess emergency clothing change" stash, but never got around to it.

Perfect, that could be in our sensory table, a kind of old fashioned hand washing, clothes washing station.

Right away, one of the parents said, "I don't think my kids have ever seen a bar of soap." We got to introduce words like "wringing," and teach skills like hanging the clothes up to dry.

It wasn't the most popular thing we've ever done in the sensory table, but, you know, it's not an entirely unpleasant thing to have the classroom smell of soap for a morning. I hope the clothes really are dry enough this morning because I suspect this is the kind of thing for which the Pre-3 class will go nuts.

And then there were several pockets of larger things squirreled away and not exactly forgotten, but having waited far too long for their "time to come." A partial road and track play set for instance, missing it's vehicles and, I think, a few pieces because I'd never been able to get it to go together as a complete circuit.

Or these yoghurt drink containers a grandmother washed and donated several years ago . . .

. . . or this foam packing material, with it's odd cut-out shapes . . .

. . . or the collection of picture frame corner samples I'd scored from a framing shop that was throwing them out to make room for this season's selection.

And then there were things of which we had an over-abundance.

This would be what we played with in the block area, these disconnected things that I labeled a "new play set" as the kids walked into the room.

When they started playing with all this junk, it was mostly with one thing at a time. They weren't fooled by my "framing." Like trying to build the track . . .

. . . or building with just the containers . . .

. . . or sticking with just the foam . . .

. . . but once that was exhausted, they started making connections . . .

Notice not just the invented construction technique, but also the
 "love rats" peeking through their foam windows and the balls
arranged in the egg container.

. . . moving beyond the frustration of things being apparently "incomplete" and completing them, learning from one another, and starting whole new play arcs.

That, my friends, is how to play.

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Mullin Avenue Workshop said...

Teacher Tom,
This is an interesting post, for so many reasons!
First, how alike we early childhood educators are in seeing value in all sorts of found odds and ends, and squirrling them away for the future.

Also for your spending your spring break going through the stored things, and not throwing out, but finding use for them.I think it shows your love of your work!

And as well for the creative uses you found to put the odds and ends to.

It's interesting as well to see the children explore the materials, first in a simple way, and then in ever increasingly complex play.


Mullin Avenue Workshop said...

There was so much in your post to savour, I forgot I wanted to mention the ivory soap. Such a good idea to wash clothes.

There is a woman, Lisa Murphy (The Ooey Gooey Lady), who has a few good recipes for using Ivory soap, one is for making a clean mud, very fun to play in. I've never particularly enjoyed the smell of Ivory soap, but some like it, and it is good for the senses.

Miles Bubbett said...

Hello Teacher Tom!
I wonder how often we limit our children because we give them certain things for certain activities. We constantly tell them "This belongs with that," or "Use this tool to fix that," and sometime I think we can learn so much more if we provide them materials and then let them go at it. Your list of random bits and pieces became a whole new world to your kids. A place where no limits are really attached, and the sky is the limit. That is how to play! I'm a student from EDM 310 at the University of South Alabama, and I really would like to thank you for taking the time to post your thoughts and ideas. I'm learning tons of things!
Thank you!

Cynthia said...

Hey Teacher Tom!

I just started to read your blog, and am currently finishing my schooling in ECE, but am working in English/French Kindergarten class. We just finished a science go thrrough, and we had a science experiment with Ivory, in which we compared diferent bars of soap (float/sink) cut them open, and tried to solve the mystery as to why Ivory is the only soap that floats. After explaining why, we went over to the kitchen and microwaved a bar for about two minutes. One of the kids' favorite experiment!


Juliet Robertson said...

Woah! check out those fab picture frames! There's something I'd never thought of. Must go and speak to the frame shop near here. THANKS!

Play for Life said...

You' gotta love a bit o' stuff don't ya!
Donna :) :)

Teacher Tom said...

@Juliet . . . If you can catch a frame shop as they're trading out their display, they'll probably give you the lot. I probably got 100 corners like these in one fell swoop. A cool aspect of them is that they have velcro on the back, which was how they were hung on the walls, so they kind of stick to the carpet.

Father of Four said...

Great post….all to often we forget as adults that it is all about play, and what children learn through their experience with materials that are limitless. We have a wonderful group here in Florida called the reuseable resource center that collects materials left over from company’s production lines to be used by teachers and parents to encourage creativity. http://www.reusecenterbrevard.org/page/page/1853249.htm it is a great center, they also offer trainings to help early childhood educators to remember the importance of play in the early childhood setting. This is especially important with all the pushes to “insure” children are ready for kindergarten and all the testing the school system here it putting the children through upon entering kindergarten.