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Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Not just any "play"

I am often asked what children "learn" when at our centres.  And too often we Early Childhood Educators answer with "children learn through play".  This statement we make is not untrue.....we know that through play children learn many things.  

But it's not just any play.

The kind of play that facilitates curiosity and discovery and adds knowledge to a child's world is play that is intentional and engaging.

To get this type of play requires two things 
1) Educators who bring their knowledge of child development, their keen observations skills and their ability to facilitate conversation with children to deepen their thinking.
2) An environment that fosters curiosity, that has open ended materials that can be used in multiple ways, that allows for independent, autonomous functioning of the children as well as social competence.

This all seems like a lot of ECE speak..... let me illustrate this with an example.  

This example took place in 5-10 minutes, mid-morning at Terra Nova Children's Centre.

To set the scene:  An Educator had set the table with a variety of plastic and real insects (dead real ones), some magnifying glasses, paper, markers and pencils.  We call this a provocation.  This Educator had observed the children had a keen interest in insects and was offering them an opportunity to study them more closely and then challenging them to draw what they were observing. 

This is what R did with this opportunity

1. First she studied the caterpillar.  She put it on her paper and very carefully began to draw

2.First the body

3.Then the head and antennae and the "back antennae" which we both agreed were very interesting.

4.Then "all those legs"....we did some counting of "all those legs"

5. Finally all the legs were drawn

6. R looked carefully, using her scientific tool, to see if her caterpillar was accurate

7.  R then began to write letters across the top of her paper, carefully making a line and then writing on top of the line.  When asked she said she was writing "notes" about the caterpillar.

8.  She switched to a pencil to make some letters from her name.

And then took her drawing and put it in her cubby.  
Just one more thing to take home.  
And yet so extraordinary!

I hope you can see how much learning was in this brief time with one child in one centre..... literacy, numeracy, math, science, art, fine-motor practice, pre-reading skills... R showed us she is a careful observer and is skilled at translating what she sees on to paper and making sense of it, an important cognitive milestone.  R is also showing her curiosity about letters and writing...all of this done from R's own initiative, on her schedule and fueled by her own curiosity..... thanks to the opportunity offered by the Educator.

A play-full few minutes but so rich in learning.

Imagine this moment, or one like it,  happening hundreds of times a day across all our centres...THIS is learning through play.

Do you have other questions we could try to answer?  

What more do you want to know about our work with your children? 

PS  please excuse R's green hands - she had just been over in the art studio playing with goop....