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Saturday, September 24, 2016

Learning Through Play: It's More Than You Think

We play a lot in our classroom, for many reasons. First of all, it is through play that kids learn their social skills and 21st Century Learning Skills. Are these as important as academics? Absolutely, if not more. You can be the smartest person in the world, but if you can't work with others, collaborate on a project, problem solve, get along, are a responsible person, use critical and creative thinking skills, or focus on a task, you will never be successful. Ultimately, these 21st Century Skills are what employers want and are needed to be successful in all areas of life. Every single one of these skills are used when kids play together. No play, no development of these skills. Period. I strongly feel the lack of open ended play in children's lives is the reason so many children are having trouble succeeding in the older grades. They can't problem solve, handle disappointment, focus on a task to completion, work with others, etc. So, in our room we play and put much focus on developing these skills. 

To make sure they are also getting the academics they need, I have whole group and small group reading, writing, and math lessons. I make sure the needed skills are introduced so that they can use and apply them to their play.  I also set up the environment with much thought as to how they can authentically and meaningfully use these skills. 

In our "Look Closer" area, the kids are slowing down, looking closely, noticing new things, and looking at books about what is set out for them to explore.  They are learning how to use and take care of tools such as microscopes and magnifying glasses. They are also learning how to wait their turn patiently! 


They knew I went to beach recently so I put things from the ocean in this area. I am hoping they will merge science and math here as they notice patterns in the shells, coral, and sea life!



One friend was so proud that she made an AB patten with starfish and sand dollars!


Writing materials are set out so that they can do observational drawings which are more scientific, and as they learn how to use their "kid writing," document what they notice. Below a couple friends labels their drawings "yellow rocks" and "snail' by writing sounds they hear or seeing the needed words in books.




In the math area I start out setting out manipulatives and have let them freely explore them. Without direction, they started exploring, patterns which is the base of all math...


Sorting and categorizing which is both a math and science skill...


The concept of length and measurement...




And counting and one to one correspondence...


Writing materials are also set out in the math area for them to make their thinking visible. I often let them share their documentation writing and photos of what they did/noticed from any area of our room with the class. When they do this they are taking on the role of teacher as they show and discuss what they noticed, discovered or created. When they take on this role, they inspire the others!


This friend below was the inspiration for our classes obsession with all things patterns! She was the first to make one so I let her share. Because of her inspiration, most others have learned how to create and extend simple patterns.


Our building/architecture area has been a wonderful area to learn how to collaborate and work on a project with others. They love to tell me they used "team work" to create something! This is also an area that teaches how to be responsible and do our job, as it is not fun to clean up, put away and organize! It takes teamwork to get it done! Lots of math and science will show up as they play in this area as the year goes on. Right now, they are loving to build tall towers. 


Imagine the creative thinking and problem solving that happen here! Also dealing with disappointment when their structure falls down! They used to get mad! Now they have learned to be persistent, (another 21st Century Learning Skill), try again and problem solve! 



 

Writing materials are available here also to draw and write about what they created!



We have another area dedicated to literacy. Here there are books in our library and a table set up with materials that encourage the learning of a specific skill. Right now it is set up with materials to explore letters/sounds through names. It will also help them learn to read their friends names!



Here is some of what they did here earlier in the year.


We also have a table with writing materials. A couple friends brought in books they made at home and have inspired others to make books. They are mostly pictures right now, but writing will start showing up as it becomes easier for them. They were inspired by "Super Hero ABC" to invent their own super hero books. 


Of coarse we also have our art studio. Here is where they get to develope and use Creative Thinking Skills. This area also works our fine motor muscles and spacial awareness.



Sometimes we use everyday happenings to learn. We found this caterpillar on the playground. They took it to our room and immediately a group started looking closer and documenting what they noticed. They realized the caterpillar had a pattern! They got to share their discovery with the class and show the pattern.


Kids naturally love to learn when it's done in authentic, meaningful situation. They don't just practice what they learn, they apply what they learn...which is the point of learning.


11 comments:

  1. Your classroom is beautiful and I love your ideas. Our district is finally embracing playful learning, would you mind sharing your schedule and inquiry plan templates with me? Thank you. Jamelyn

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  2. Can you tell me what the black boards with the paint brushes and water are? Are they chalkboards? Thanks for your blog, it's inspiring! jerri

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    1. Thank you!! They are chalkboards with a cup of water and a small paint brush to write names with water. A piece of felt is used to dry the boards. -Darla

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  3. I couldn't say enough how very lucky each child is that gets to be in your classroom ! You set the beginning of the entire future on how they think and solve and mostly important how patient and kind you are sets for a child at that age how they feel about themselves and how to treat others.Ive always believed at that age how they are treated and spoke to is how they feel about themselves and let alone one 5 year old at home can be challenging and you manage an entire room full all day 8 hours a day 5 days a week! You truly do a job that is easily by others expected or ignored and definitely not thanked enough!! So blessed evin has you this year, an you truly are a amazing teacher!

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    1. This is one of the most beautiful things anyone has ever said to me. It literally brought tears to my eyes. Thank you so much for your kind words. They encourage me and rejuvenate me. I can't thank you enough! I'm so glad I get to connect with your wonderful family again!

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  4. You have an amazing classroom! There is so much love and careful preparation in all the details. One question: when you put writing materials in each area, do the children naturally use them? Or do you talk about the writing materials in each area and suggest how they might be used? I'm curious because I do not find my pre-K students using the writing materials in the dramatic play or block/construction areas. I am wondering if a lesson and modeling are in order, or if they just aren't at the same developmental level as your kinders. Thanks!

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    1. Thank you Liz! It depends on the group! This year when I set out the writing materials, one of the kids grabbed a clipboard in the block area and did the most amazing documentation of what he built! Once I let him share it with the class and I pointed out how amazing his detail was, the others all started using the materials at the other areas! But last year, it was like pulling teeth to get them to use the writing materials at all so I had to rely more on a writing block for them to learn their writing skills. Sorry it took me so long to respond! I hope you are having an amazing year!
      Sincerely,
      Darla Myers

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  5. Everything you do looks amazing and the space you have to work in is super, your very lucky. How do you come up with the themes that you do with the children, are they purely child led? If so how do you plan for this to ensure the curriculum is covered? Do you do plans in advance? Also how long does it take to set up the activities/areas?
    So many questions, I am sorry, but your blogs are so thought provoking.

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    1. Thank you! I start out the year getting to know each other and working on building a community that can work and learn together so mostly 21st Century Skills. While this is going on, I spend a lot of time listening and observing. This year I noticed super hero and sound were huge interests so at some point in the year I now we will use these interests to dig deeper. To start learning about the inquiry process, I always start with colors, nature, Fall, etc. and set up experiences for them to explore. If they show a huge interest in one of these, I will go ahead and ask them questions and dig deeper to find out what about it they love. This year it led to an eagle inquiry so I never know where they may go with it! Sometimes it leads into a color/shade inquiry or a tree inquiry. These are just to get them into the mindset of wondering, asking questions, and investigating, so I am the one picking ideas at this time. After that, I listen and observe more. By January they are usually ready to dive into a full scale inquiry and project so I save their biggest interests for the 2nd half of the year. It takes a while to set up the experiences at first, but then I don't switch them all out at the same time. Sometimes I just change a few materials or write a new challenge using the same materials. I may change a center or two that I notice has not been visited in a while. My plans have to be very flexible as sometimes the children take an inquiry in a different direction than I planned. I usually brainstorm all the possibilities on a web map, then get started. As they narrow their interest, I can make more definite plans. I hope this wasn't too confusing! If you have any more questions, feel free to ask and I will try not to take as long as I did this time!
      Sincerely,
      Darla Myers

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  6. You're blog is amazing and I am so glad I came across it. Can I ask you a question? Do you do small groups? And how do you get observe all the children if they are all over the classroom? Do you have center management? Please let me know if you have an e-mail ... you're teaching is so great.

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    1. Thank you so much! I still do some small group work. We have a literacy lab where all the small group literacy work such as guided reading for the whole class is done in 30 minutes so that helps a lot! The kids manage the centers but a lot of time is spent at the beginning of the year teaching them how to take care of the materials and clean them up first. I do not get to observe all of the children each day. I pick a few areas and observe and guide when needed and then write down what I notice or what the next steps will be. My email is dmyerspa@gmail.com if you ever want to get a hold of me!
      Sincerely,
      Darla Myers

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