Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Learning Through Play

As an educator and a parent, I know about the value of play. Research abounds on the amount of learning that goes on through play, not to mention the benefits to health, creativity, and social skills. And believe it or not, early childhood education and development extends up to second grade, so there is still plenty of need for play in the early elementary years.

Knowing all of this, I still find it hard to just let my children play during the school day. When we do play, I try to add more structure-- to ensure it is educational. I feel like this is especially important because First Sprout would not do any school work whatsoever is she were left to her own devices. There's a huge discrepancy between what I know we are supposed to be covering in our home school curriculum and what we can reasonably accomplish.

Today for example, the sprouts were excited to play with a new Mega Blocks set that they had just been given. We already had a lot of the basic sets, but the new one added some roads and emergency vehicles (ambulance, police car, and fire trucks, oh my!) to the mix. They were really enjoying building a city, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to "guide" their play a bit. I thought: "We have been talking about communities and community helpers, so let's expand this play opportunity as a way to discuss the components of a city. And hey-- let's introduce some literacy by creating signs for our buildings! It'll be so educational!"

My idea worked, sort of. We talked a lot about the things we need in a community: places to get food, places to live, places to find help, places to work, places to play. I had grand ideas of building the hospital, the police station, and the fire station to go with our community helpers theme. But the sprouts were far more interested in other places: apartments, houses, playgrounds, restaurants, grocery stores, and car washes. I decided to roll with it because I realized that those are the places they know. That's what community means to them. (I don't know about the car wash though. We maybe go once a year. It apparently made an impact!)

The idea to make signs didn't go quite as I intended either. They basically voted me as the official sign maker, so they were "reading" the signs but not producing any of their own writing. The lone exception is the swing Second Sprout drew for her playground sign. Part of me feels glad that we managed to extend the activity a little bit, but another part feels bad that we didn't extend it enough.

As I was pondering all of these thoughts, I did take a few minutes to snap some pictures of the sprouts at work play.

Our roadway ramps were re-purposed as slides for the playground.

Ariel admires the view from "the best apartments in town." First Sprout informed me that "people could live there for free as long as they were kind to each other."

Building the restaurant proved more exciting than building the super market next door. Going to a restaurant is an adventure, but going to the super market is a chore.

Second Sprout built the car wash with two doors so more than one car could get cleaned at a time.
I truly love watching them play and observing their thought processes while they do it. I know that I learned a lot from our conversations today, and their sense of priorities was eye-opening. I definitely feel like I know a lot more about what community means to them.

But there is still that lingering sense of doubt. Will they learn enough this way? Do they need more structure? How can I support and extend their learning further? How should I handle it when my plans fizzle?

For now, I think I'll hit the pause button on my inner critic and get back to the fun.

Happy Playing!

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