Category Archives: Play

Play, Projects and Curriculum

At LCP, we believe that children learn best in a playful joyful environment having a wide variety of opportunities for hands on, concrete learning and engagement with materials that are personally meaningful to the children.

We teacher’s experience and knowledge of development guides curriculum, and the curriculum is different from year to year, reflecting the diversity of interests, learning styles, strengths and challenges of the particular children in the group. We seek to prepare a rich and stimulating environment with many possibilities and open-ended materials. We then observe and listen carefully to the children, and make classroom decisions in partnership with the children.

Teachers are also partners in learning with the children, and model the curiosity, research and documentation skills, ability to ask questions, and engagement over time, that are features of deep learning. Diverse experiences, learning styles, and interests are all valued as children and teachers cooperate together to create a “community of learners”.

Documentation of children’s work, of plants or other elements from nature, of classroom collections are at both child and adult level whenever possible. Why do we document? As children and teachers get to know each other, ideas for curriculum unfold and develop. Curriculum includes everything that happens in our program – from finding a cubby for the first time, exploring a new space, getting to know new people, learning a new skill, to investigating a theme or project together. Documentation gives us a way to organize our thinking about what happens, gives us something to show the children to trigger memories and conversation about our time together, and gives us a way to share experiences with parents, who are looking for a “window” into their child’s experience and are often looking for ways to deepen their understanding of learning and teaching in early childhood.

We keep this documentation available over extended periods of time, so that children can share memories of common experiences, deepen their understandings, share perspectives, and re-visit experiences.

There are unlimited paths that can be taken to develop skills. It’s important that we join children “where they are” to establish trust, and to assure that children know they will be listened to and appreciated for their unique qualities and contributions, and so that we can encourage each child as they “learn how to learn”.

Projects can provide a structure through which children can share perspectives on a common theme and learn together. Projects include opportunities to discuss, revisit ideas or common experiences, research an area of interest, develop skills, develop theories or solve an intellectual problem. They can last a day or several months, and may involve the whole class or a small group of children who share a common interest.

Projects typically are begun by teachers based on observations of the children’s interests, and have three parts:
1. First, there is discussion. Children talk about what they already know, what they are interested in, and may identify questions they would like to answer about the topic.
2. The second phase of the project may include activities, opportunities to research the topic, opportunities to talk with “experts” or participate in presentations about the topic.
3. Projects typically end with a culminating event or product that brings closure to the shared experience. This could be a presentation for family, making a book or participating in a performance, or deciding how to share information about the project to another class or to other teachers. Children typically help decide the best way to represent their new knowledge about the topic, and participate in evaluating the experience as well as their participation.

Project questions might include:
What do we know already?
What would we like to find out?
How will we find out?
How will we document or show what we are learning?
How can we share our new knowledge and our work with others?
How did it go? How do we feel about our work?

What projects will develop in our classrooms this year? We are in our first few weeks of school but already have beginnings.

Project Beginnings about our Gardens, Plants, and Seeds
As children investigated our playground gardens his fall, they discovered the wide variety of seeds and are beginning to think more about how plants change and grow. We found seeds together outdoors, planted seeds indoors to watch for changes, look for seeds as we cook with vegetables through our early sprouts curriculum, and recently opened a pumpkin to see and feel what’s inside.

Teachers imagine that this beginning may develop into an on-going investigation of seasonal changes on the playground.

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Volcano Project in the Nuthatch Class
Many children expressed a strong interest in volcanoes in the nuthatch class and teachers followed their lead, offering opportunities for children to draw what they know, research books and photos, and opportunities to create three dimensional volcanoes.

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Ocean Project in the Chickadee Class
After reading a classroom book called An Ocean of Animals children directly asked for more time to talk about “the deep deep ocean”. Teachers asked children to describe more about what they were interested in, and created a board with their questions. Then teachers asked “what would we do?” Children asked to draw, paint, create ocean scenes representing the variety of zones they are interested in, and make a variety of animals out of clay. The documentation of this planning process is posted in the classroom so that children can continue to express their interests as we begin.

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Water Project in the Goldfinch Class
Children asked the question, “Where does water come from?” on a rainy day. This led to beginning discussions of water and rain. After drawing their theories, teachers introduced a book called All the Water in the World.

In another discussion, one child asked about the word absorption and children shared their ideas. Follow up investigations have been on-going in the water table, where a variety of materials have been available to explore absorption. Children also used liquid watercolors on paper towels as an extension of this investigation.

Conversations about water then led some children to questions about sinking and floating, an investigation at the water table currently in process.

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First keyboards

Before the Thanksgiving break, children began exploring My First Keyboard Book by Sam Taplin. This book has scales and songs composed using color dots, and each key has the corresponding color on it. We noticed many children playing these books with a lot of interest and concentration.

We made the keyboards available for the children to play upon returning from the break. Children were spending more and more time playing these songs, so during a meeting time, teachers invited the class to compose a song.

We teachers displayed drawing tools that matched the colors of the keys along with paper that had both lines and open space. We then asked if anyone had an idea for the song, and many children started saying colors. After teachers recorded the colors requested, the class was asked to listen to how their song sounded. Teachers played the notes from the colors drawn, and this lead to conversations about high and low sounds.

We then asked the children if hearing the song made them think of anything. Some children responded that they thought of scales, so we drew stairs. Others responded that they thought of the ABC’s, so we made some letters to illustrate the song.

We invited the children to compose their own songs if they were interested. There were many different approaches to their song writing. Some children decided to play a few songs from the book before writing their own, while others chose to start their own idea right away. When writing, children would sometimes start by using colors to draw their notes and then illustrate a picture to go along with it. Others would start with a picture idea and then compose a song while thinking about their picture. A few children decided to find a song from the book they really liked and copied it onto their own piece of paper. Some even thought of songs that were not in the book and transcribed their own versions onto paper.

The children eagerly participated in this project, and some have composed multiple songs. Many have proudly played their own pieces for peers and teachers. Some even sung along as they played using their own invented lyrics or those of a familiar song. The focus these children have demonstrated while reading and playing the songs from the book and their own creations has been inspiring! Teachers are working on laminating each child’s first compositions so they can continue to play their own songs and each other’s songs. We will also support this interest by having pianists available for children to listen to and look at on the iPad.

A photo gallery of the children’s exploration of the keyboards is below, followed by some videos of their keyboard 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/

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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