Category Archives: Play

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Planning a Grocery Store

We have an active pretend area in our classroom and decided it was time to encourage children to think together about how themes might be expanded. Every day children choose between home and family themes like cooking dinner or caring for babies, setting up a restaurant to going out to eat, or opening a doctor’s office. What else would be fun to pretend about together?

After some false starts, we all agreed on shopping at a grocery store. So the next question was, “What do you need to shop in a grocery store?”

Children quickly agreed that we’d need a cash register and money. But one child added a new element. She said that “the register has to be near the thing that moves”. When we asked “what thing that moves?” ideas like these developed:

• The register is on one end and the food moves to the register
• You have to turn it on – we need a switch
• The part that moves is black
• There’s a stick you have to use to keep the food apart
• We’d need many many bags
• The bags are on a hook that can hold lots of bags
• We need that machine with knobs and buttons for money – the bank so we can get money (atm machine)

Rather than rush the process, we returned to the conversation on multiple days so that we could judge what was still important to the children. It became clear we needed to build a conveyor belt. But how could we do it and what would we need?

• I have tools at home that I can bring in so we can build it
• We need a piece that’s black about this big (children showed the necessary size with their arms)
• It should be this high (showing height)
• To make it move it has to go around like this (showing the movement of a handle) – yes we need a handle!
• We need the switch to turn on and off to make it go
• The atm machine needs 5 knobs – blue, green, black, red, and purple
• The money can go through the slot

After looking at the children’s list of ideas, a parent who is a carpenter built us the conveyor belt you see in the photos below. When children first saw it, they recognized many of the features they described realized. Every day we’ve had many shoppers arranging their produce on the belt, and thinking together about how conveyor belts work! It has been exciting for teachers to see such young children come together to share their common experiences in the grocery, and then plan, problem solve, and design their own tools and space so successfully.

Use this Grocery Store to see some videos of the conveyor belt in action:

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Loose Parts at Learning Circle Preschool

Recently we had our first whole school “loose parts day” and it was a huge success.

The article “Loose Parts: What Does This Mean”, from Penn State Extension defines loose parts as follows:

“Loose parts are materials that can be moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, taken apart, and put back together in multiple ways. They are open-ended materials that encourage concrete experiences, problem solving, imagination and creativity in children. There is no specific set of directions regarding how to use loose parts materials- it is up to the child how the materials are used.”

Loose parts are everywhere around our school every day – the variety of blocks, scarves and other props at pretend, natural materials at science and in construction areas like stones, pine cones, popsicle or other sticks, shells, are examples. We also create at collage with a variety of recyclable materials that children can combine in their own unique ways often.

It was our request that families bring in recyclables that led to our whole school experience with loose parts. We had so many bags of donations, it was clear we had enough for a whole school project!

We gave children time and space to freely explore the wide variety of materials we had collected (a few children from each classroom used our “Welcome Room” together) and we took note of the ideas that emerged.

Why is this kind of play so important? Children have always used found materials – either in nature or other areas of their environment – to interact with their world, invent and discover. This is entertaining and fun, but also leads to problem-solving, creative thinking, and, if other children are around, collaboration. There are multiple ways to use these materials, and each idea can potentially connect with or build on the next. There is no right or wrong approach as children organize, pattern, sort, or construct together. The materials offer rich sensory experiences, and many opportunities to discover more about the properties of materials and how things work. The possibilities are endless!

Here are some of the ideas children shared together:

• I can see you through the tubes!
• It’s binoculars
• It’s a telescope
• These tubes fit inside each other
• Look how long it is
• This is starting to look like the letter A!
• Water can go through these pipes…this hole here is where the water goes in
• This is an egg factory
Chickens and people are inside
If the egg hatches it becomes a chick
• These are lighthouses
• Let’s put all this small stuff in the box…we’ll fill the box
• It makes music when it’s full
• A drum
• A boat
• A volcano
• A rainbow parking garage

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We hope you’ll enjoy the photos here of children creating. And remember in this holiday season that the best gifts you can give are open-ended like these loose parts – in fact, packaging and boxes may offer some of the best opportunities for play and learning!

Links to more information on loose parts in early childhood education:

http://extension.psu.edu/youth/betterkidcare/early-care/our-resources/tip-pages/tips/loose-parts-what-does-this-mean

http://www.communityplaythings.com/resources/articles/2015/loose-parts

http://www.lesley.edu/children-and-play-in-early-childhood/

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Blocks and Construction Play

Whenever family members ask about good toys for children, one of the first that comes to mind is blocks.

Unit blocks – blocks that come in several sizes and shapes that are proportional – offer tremendous learning opportunities. As they play, children solve problems and develop motor skills. They measure, sort, compare, think about shapes, and develop spatial skills. In order to successfully realize their ideas, children develop the capacity to plan and to use their past experiences to inform their building designs. Children learn to practice and persist as they cope with design challenges. They explore scientific principles and physics as they experience the challenges building their structures pose, whether it’s making a long bridge, creating a window opening, or building higher.

Even taking blocks off the shelf and cleaning up offers opportunities for learning. When children match a picture of a block to the block itself at cleanup, they are “reading the blocks” – using an abstract representation of the block to know where to put it. This is an important prerequisite to reading words.

Many children are also developing stories and pretend skills as they build. The buildings may be part of a city, or may represent a neighborhood where children live. There may be people who live and work in the buildings that are constructed. Children may explore jobs people do, road or pipe works, and relate their block play to their life experiences.

There are many opportunities to develop social skills as children build as well. A bigger structure or thematic plan is possible when children work together, but to do so requires talking together, planning, sharing ideas, negotiating, taking turns, and generally learning to take the perspective of others.

Many different kinds of construction toys, including unit blocks, encourage children to create and solve problems. Because open-ended materials like blocks can be used and combined in so many ways, children are invited to expand their capacity for divergent thinking.

Free exploratory play with blocks and construction toys is important, but is not the only way that these materials can be used. More experienced children may benefit from following a plan to build, or by solving a problem with blocks posed by a teacher.

Constructing with blocks gives children opportunities to learn as young children learn best – through physical activity with concrete materials in their environment, on themes that are personally meaningful, and in an integrated way.

Enjoy the collection of constructions shown by these photos!

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Let's act out the story!

Using Music to Enhance a Literacy Experience

In every classroom, we’ve been reading and retelling folktales, and one of the favorites has been The 3 Little Pigs. We decided to use an afternoon music group to see if the children would be interested in creating a sound script that could liven up their story, and, maybe, encourage some of the children to ask to act out the story.

We started by reading the story together (using a favorite version that clearly implies some sounds and actions) and talking about the various characters and what they do. Then, children used a variety of body sounds and percussion instruments to represent the important actions:

• Building a house of straw – ch ch ch ch with seed and other gentle shakers
• Building a house of sticks – tapping rhythm sticks and hands
• Building a house of bricks – loud slow thumping on the carpet (bricks are heavy and it’s hard work) with a large low drum
• Knocking at the door – knocking on the floor while tongue clicking
• Running away – quick patching in a running pattern
• Falling in a pot of hot water – splish splash

Children agreed that a wolf has a low voice, and the pigs had higher voices so everyone acted accordingly, and we told the story with sounds while a teacher narrated (read the book).

The chickadee class has been retelling the story spontaneously ever since. Not all the children were in the first music group experience, but now everyone uses the same sound effects for their play. Children choose roles now, and some are the audience and musicians, watching with the narrator as the story is acted out. Whenever the book is chosen at reading times, a crowd comes over and requests for the chance to act out the story are often made. And we’ve been watching as many children build “houses” in the block area, create pretend games, and tell stories.

Giving children opportunities to put stories into action (have a play) and use their growing pretend skills adds enthusiasm and excitement to our shared readings of familiar stories. A play gives structure and action to the parts of a story or book that we teachers would like children to be able to identify – titles, authors, characters, narrators, etc. in a way that is engaging and meaningful for just about everyone.

Music helps represent the characters and actions in a way that is both clear and memorable to the actors. In working together and taking a part, children come to realize that there are times when working together leads to a different, and sometimes more interesting, result than working alone. They also begin to understand that practicing improves the result, and that it is often worthwhile to try more than once and develop ideas and skills together. But one of the best by-products of these experiences is that children create and take ownership of the play with all its parts on their own and discover they can accomplish great things – in their pretend, in their own stories, and with stories that everyone knows and loves.

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Decorating a box to make a boat

Thoughts on How Children Grow and Learn

We’ve now had two opportunities to think together about Priscilla Sloane’s recent presentation on Brain Development and Sensory Learning. A few parents joined a “drop-in” discussion one early morning, and others joined our monthly evening discussion that was part of our November Board meeting. Here are some of the “big ideas” we’ve been thinking about together:

  • Early experiences have an impact on physical development and on brain development.
  • Sensory and motor learning create a link to language, social skills, and emotional development. For example:
    • A child must be able to lift his or her head to take in facial expressions and establish eye contact – both part of early language development
  • It’s important to connect children’s current behavior with their developmental history. For example:
    • A child who tires easily, is always leaning or can’t sit at the table, may have low muscle tone
    • A child who moves too quickly or is always running may have been an early walker and had less time engaged in weight -bearing activities earlier in development. Using speed can compensate for having less control.

Children think and learn through physical activity. They need many varied opportunities to take action in their environment, experiencing a full range of tactile and sensory experiences. Children need opportunities to use open-ended materials over time that can be used in diverse and increasingly complex ways. These materials require children to problem-solve and create their own meaningful experiences, so that play ideas come from each child’s imagination and not from an external source.

We can encourage children through both our interactions and through the materials and activities we offer:

  • Model “give and take” in conversations, so that children listen as well as talk, use eye contact, experience conversations where they both give and receive full attention
  • Encourage games that require taking turns and eye contact
  • Resist the temptation to “rush” into paper work or abstract learning too early. Children need a full range of tactile/sensory experiences to develop physically. For example:
    • Offer materials that require finger work and strength – playdough, putty, clay, crayons (more than markers that require very little pressure), sand, fingerpaint, pipettes, tongs, etc.
    • Use vertical surfaces for play whenever possible to support muscle development
  • Encourage open-ended interactions with natural materials outdoors
  • Encourage pretend play and other child-organized play
  • Think about the amount of time children are spending with ipads or other technology. Using these materials too much takes time and interest away from more foundational activities.

As we approach the holiday season, it’s a good time to think about how you can best support active, hands-on learning. Remember that “less can be more” – simple open-ended materials often offer the best play value. TRUCE (Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children’s Entertainment) has posted a useful “Toys, Play, and Young Children Action Guide” that gives a great overview of the value of play, some good toy options, and what parents can do to support their children’s optimal growth and development. Check out the guide here and look over other resources that TRUCE has on their website too. For example, you’ll find “Family Play Plans” that have a collection of simple ideas for family activities with basic materials like cardboard boxes, playdough, mud, chalk, or water:

TRUCE Toy Action Guide

TRUCE website

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