Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Their Own Way To Play Together

It's been some time since we had a class so full of avid builders. For the past few years, in particular, the area we try to set aside for block play has been largely used for dramatic play by our 3-5's class, often centered around something a bored adult created for them. Of course, I've had lots of classes who, over the course of the day, managed to move every block from the shelves onto the floor, creating a challenge for clean up time, but this class actually making things with them, rather than simply using the empty shelves as a pre-made "house." 

I don't think I value one sort of play over another. Play is play and children must be free to choose, but I've been wondering for several years now where the builders have gone and whether there is something about me or our environment or the community of families that is attracted to our school that encourages some sorts of play over others, and in particular dramatic play over constructive play.

I don't think it has to do with the actual building blocks we have, the raw material of this sort of play. We have your basic unit blocks, cardboard blocks, large wooden blocks, large foam blocks, smaller hand sized blocks, alphabet blocks, Legos/Duplos, and various other sets commonly sold in the catalogs. I sometimes wish our space was a little larger. It could be possible that kids are finding it too confined for elaborate team building projects, but it takes up nearly a third of our indoor space as it is, and is often entirely abandoned, as the kids crowd themselves into other parts of the room with no complaints. I've made a study of myself in this regard over the past few years and if it's something I'm doing, it's too subtle for me. It could have something to do with the fact that this building space also doubles as our circle time rug, and that we share the space with two other classes, requiring us to dismantle our constructions each day. Maybe if we could just "let it run," we'd see more involved and involving play in this area. I've been contemplating all of this and more.

This year, however, it's just happening, every day, with structures going up and evolving. I attribute this exclusively to the mix of kids in the room since I've really done very little to change things other than speculate about them.

It's been years since we've had so much action in the area. One of the things I've missed the most about intensive block play, is that when it's working, it tends to be an inclusive activity, one in which it's always possible to include one more. It's not something that has much of a chance of happening in our Pre-3 class, which is more likely to be all about building it up only to knock it down. Block play, at bottom, to work like this, needs an unspoken consensus that the urge to knock it down will be curtailed until it's time to clean up, an inspiring level of cooperation and self-control, especially since I know how strong is the urge to hurl oneself into the ramparts.

Another thing I've missed about a classroom in which there is a critical mass of "builders" is that one can pretty much toss any old thing out there and the kids will use it to construct, just as the kids in more recent years have used almost any old thing to "play a story." Last week we were using a collection of baby wipe boxes (collected before my time by a former Woodland Park teacher), mid-sized cardboard boxes (most of which came with a recent order to school supplies), and what we call "rainbow people," a manipulatives set that was sent to us by our supplier by accident, then told to treat as a gift as the cost of return postage made it not worth the expense. 

The wipe boxes look a bit like large Legos, but they don't snap together, much to the frustration of some of the kids, and it takes some thought and planning to build anything other than a simple tower, a structure that falls on its own once it reaches about the height of a child's nose. Most of the building, then, becomes horizontal, although the addition of the larger cardboard boxes allowed for a bit more vertical building than usual. 

Of course, the fact that the wipe boxes have lids that open, makes them a good place for sorting the rainbow people . . .

. . . and the fact that the cardboard boxes open, make them a good place for sorting the baby wipe boxes . . .

. . . as well as a good place to sort the kids themselves . . .

Honestly, I wish I could say I did this or that to encourage this level of day-after-day intensive, inclusive constructive play, but other than to make the space and materials available, I've done nothing different than what I did last year and the year before that when these same materials spent their days abandoned on the floor, more in the way than anything else.

It shall remain a mystery, I suppose, like most things that have to do with humans and our innate capacity to reach out to one another and engage in projects, cooperating, extending, negotiating, and creating. I'll keep thinking about it, but I'll also just enjoy this group and be glad that, perhaps in spite of me, they've found their own way to play together.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Last school year and the year before that I taught a blockbuilding class to homeschool students. Most of my students were in the 5-7 year old age range, although I did have some 8-10 and a few 12-14 year old boys (in a sculpture class who spotted the tubs of blocks and begged to use them). One thing that I think inspired building and constructing were a variety of blocks, books, and props which were rotated. I had plastic animals, Beanie Babies, and mirrors for props. I had unit blocks, Kapla style plank blocks, wooden one inch cubes, Roylco Straws and Connectors, and dominoes. I think looking at interesting architectural structures in non-ficition and fiction stories sparked a lot of interest. At one point we even viewed the video of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapsing in 1936. So perhaps if you had some architecturally themed story time books like: Iggy Peck Architect, Roxaboxen, A House is a House for Me, Roberto the Insect Architect, 13 Buildings Children Should Know you might stimulate some interest in those off years, as well as in the years kids gravitate to the building center. I also take a lot of photos of student creations to record the temporary nature of block structures. I do know that when you can leave them up it can become an ongoing project, but sadly...most of us have to clean up and put blocks away daily.