What Can We Learn From Play?

Lately I've been seeing a push for extra recess and/or play time in early childhood classrooms. I'm thrilled! Yet, I've also see teachers wondering how they will "fit it all in" and what academics they will have to give up in order to fit in "play".

Yes, it can be hard to lose instructional time. At a recent staff meeting at my school some of the teachers were disgruntled because they lose 20 minutes of the Language Arts block every Monday for our weekly Wakin' & Shakin' assembly. I love my principal to death - his reply? "Guys, its 20 minutes..." the implication being that 20 minutes here or there shouldn't matter if the rest of the time you're providing quality instruction! My district mandates 90 minutes of Language Arts, 60 minutes of Math and we have 40 minutes of PE or Music daily. Add in 30 minutes for lunch (breakfast is before school) and that's only 220 minutes out of 405! That's 185 minutes for everything else - like recess and play! (I integrate my Social Studies and Science Standards into my Language Arts and Math blocks.) 
But honestly, I see the most growth and learning not when I'm teaching a lesson and trying to keep the attention of a whole group of squirmy kiddos who get distracted by their shoelaces, the lint on the carpet, or licking their hands from palm to fingertips (eww!). I see the most growth and learning when they're playing. So, I decided to share with you what we learned this week in play, it's way more than I could have ever taught them in 100 lessons!

Dramatic Play Center:
We have our Ikea Market Stall up still - this was introduced in December when we transformed Dramatic Play Center into a Gingerbread Bakery. The kids absolutely loved it, so its going to stick around a while. It's just a run of the mill restaurant now, with a very eclectic menu. My students have had to learn to negotiate who gets to wear which apron, who gets to use the cash register and who gets to write down orders. They've gone through 2 notepads so far, and they've gone from vague scribbles, to random letters to now attempting to copy words off of our wooden food blocks. They're starting to identify coins now, and will attempt to count out change. You're still likely to get more money back than you came with, but it just proves they've learned generosity!
These boys decided to have a smorgasbord of food at our dining table. They were pouring tea and declaring things "Delicious!" They had a conversation about healthy foods - note the broccoli and pineapple included on their plates! One little guy decided to be the cook. He has some articulation issues, but the whole class understood when he called out "Order up!" It was the loudest thing he'd ever said! Putting himself into the role of chef allowed him to forget his speech difficulties! Oh, and the little girl who stutters? She doesn't stutter when taking your order, or informing you that what you want isn't available....she'll cheerfully tell you they're out of something but quickly suggest a replacement item instead lol!

Sand & Water Center:
We had fake snow, penguins and gems in our table. The gems had letters and numbers written on them with a Sharpie. After they exclaimed about finding "treasure" they quickly identified the letters they knew, including turning the N sideways to make a Z and the M upside down to make a W! One little girl went on a mission to find all of the number gems and line them up. She got sidetracked by a little boy who decided to make a mountain and hide all of the penguins in it.He was so excited about the "cubes" and tested to see what they were made of by knocking them against various things in the classroom. They're plastic, not glass or real ice, he finally decided!
They made it "snow" several times, and yes, that glitter did get EVERYWHERE. But part of that center is sweeping up, so they got some gross motor practice with brushes and dustpans. They discussed how penguins lay eggs, and that these penguins must live in Antarctica because there's snow. They made families out of the different figures and engaged in pretend play where the mommies would go off to find fish, leaving the daddies at home with the babies.This led to some real-life connections - some of our mommies work, and then the kids get watched by daddies, sometimes both parents work and the kids go to a daycare, sometimes the mommy stays home while daddy works. There were lots of different scenarios, but as one boy put it "They still love us!"

Building Center:
I got out the Magnatiles for the first time this week. They quickly learned that a one sided structure isn't very stable. This came crashing down moments after I snapped the picture! They learned to wait their turn and make sure the other child's piece was securely in place before trying to position their own, otherwise it would crash. They learned to use triangles to make squares, and to invert triangles to make the roof. They learned that if you built it up, you could remove a piece at the bottom to make a "doorway" and as long as the other sides bore the weight it was okay.
 Math Center:
I brought out Penguin Sledding "Plinko" board. I have "Price Is Right" flashbacks when using it lol! To play, one person gets the white cubes, the other the blue. You slide your penguin on the board and wherever it lands, that's how many cubes you add to your tower. This was great for comparing numbers and early addition skills. I heard one little boy crow about how he had "the same amount!" as his partner. They quickly learned to predict who was going to win - if one landed on 5 and the other on 1 they knew it would be very hard to make up that difference. We started talking about "how many more" one tower had than the other - a hard topic when I taught 1st grade! With the towers right in front of them, my kiddos got it quickly - identifying that one had "2 more cubes!" than the other.

Since only 2 people could play the Penguin Sledding game at a time, the other children at the center played with various manipulatives. This little guy carefully sorted all of our Teddy Bear manipulatives by color, then started working on size. He was perfectly happy working solo on this, and it absorbed all of his attention for the entirety of center time.
Others chose our magnetic 2d foam shapes. This little girl decided to figure out how many shapes she could create by combining other shapes. Look at the variety she came up with! The pride that she felt at the end was evident all over her face!

Play Dough Center:
I added a Snowman cookie cutter to our center, which led to all kinds of excitement. The kids learned how to estimate how much play dough they needed to fit the whole cookie cutter. They learned to negotiate with the other kids for small amounts of other colors. They learned to take small pinches and roll them into balls for the "buttons" They figured out that cutting a small triangle of orange made a pretty good carrot nose. They learned if they rolled the dough too thin the snowman would tear when they tried to move it. They had great conversations about melting snow (when they were packing up the center they pretended the snow was melting as they placed the snowman back in the container) and why it was only raining outside instead of snowing. They sang the "5 Little Snowman" song we learned during Calendar Time and tried to remember all of the words and act it out. 

Art Center:
Art Center was rather simple this week - scraps of paper (boy, do they get enthusiastic over construction paper!), scissors, glue and crayons. Again the letters came out - any time they have a writing instrument in their hands, they practice letters almost instinctively (it happens on the playground when they have a stick and dirt too!) Whole stories were told as they were drawing. Little tongues were poking out as they struggled to manipulate our craft scissors to get the perfect shape. Form, color and composition were all explored as they created various pictures, some 3d as they glued pieces together.

Block Center:
Block center saw some pretty extensive buildings this week. this was the start of one. It was scrapped and started over several times as the little girl tried to get it just right. She learned perseverance, and the value of planning. She learned about balance and stability and that you probably should make sure no one is sitting behind your block tower just in case it falls over (he was fine!) She learned that if a rock is under the carpet, it's going to be really hard to build a stable creation, because the foundation is the most important part! She compared her tower to different classmates - it was taller than our shortest friend, but not as tall as our tallest student!

We did get some recess time this week, although due to the cold and rain it wasn't as much as usual. They learned that when the teacher gets cold its time to go inside. If they complain of cold they get their jacket zipped up and told to run around for warmth. They learned to blow on their fingers to keep them warm, and that pulling their arms in their sleeves can keep them warm, but also make it hard to run! They learned the metal gets really cold and can sting their hands if they're hanging on the monkey bars. They learned that the kickball goes really fast down the slope of the sidewalk. they learned that just because someone doesn't want to play doesn't mean they're not your friend. They learned that sticks come in many shapes, and some of them look like letters! They found L, F, T, V, and Y sticks this week. They learned that the pecans that were so abundant in the Fall are hard to find now. After a thorough search they only scavenged 2 whereas one day in October we found 400+:
I didn't get pictures of the other centers - sometimes life happens that way. I got so engrossed watching a trio doing a floor puzzle on Friday that not only did I not take a single picture, Center Time ended up running 15 minutes over! Sometimes it's important to put the camera and clipboard down and just be the willing audience for a one-man puppet show. Some days I'm so busy changing out the cds for listening center and refilling paint for the Art Easel that I don't get a chance to take a breath much less a picture.. that's okay, they're learning anyways!
Through all of their center time, they learned socialization skills that will last a lifetime. They practiced leadership skills, taking turns, talking out problems and resolving issues BEFORE coming to an adult. They counted, added, subtracted, did geometry, drew, wrote, colored, jumped, skipped, climbed, hopped, talked and most of all LAUGHED. They expressed excitement and curiosity and best of all,

2 Rustle Up A Response!:

Anonymous said... Reply to comment

This is such a refreshing post. The emphasiis on the standards and "academics" of kindergarten and how to meet all the demands is worrying me. We are forgetting the important skills and habits of learning that play strengthens. How exciting to see pictures of your classroom with a dramatic play center and blocks which have unfortunately disappeared from many classrooms. I'd love to see more discussion about play in kindergarten and how we can best advocate for its importance for our young learners.

Anonymous said... Reply to comment

Doesn't it warm your heart to hear children laughing. When they are having fun they don't realize how much they are learning. Having to sit and do seat work comes much to soon for children. Thank you for sharing.

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