Saturday, 16 August 2014

Play Is Learning

This summer I was fortunate enough to attend the week long Reggio Summer (What is the Reggio Emilia approach?) Intensive course hosted by Rosalba Bortolotti of Acorn School, and facilitated by Louise Jupp and Diane Kashin, along with some very inspiring educators. What made this experience so unique for me, was getting the chance to play (explore, investigate, mess about) with a variety of natural and loose materials.

When children are fully engaged in their play, their activity and learning is integrated across developmental domains. They seek out challenges that can be accomplished ... Through play, children learn trust, empathy, and social skills.

Pascal, Every Child, pp. 8-9

 Creative expressions using natural materials found during outdoor exploration walk

Exploring and investigating light, on the light table and overhead projector using various materials 

Creative expressions with sand, mirrors, and natural materials

As teachers, we often observe, listen, and pay close attention to the interactions that children have with each other, as well as with the materials they are using. But to actually start manipulating the materials, and allowing oneself to explore, investigate, and mess about (Messing About) through play as children do, is very powerful. For myself, faced with so many open ended materials, I felt a bit overwhelmed, I wasn't sure where to start, or even what I wanted to do? During my thinking, I started touching and handling some of the materials, and then the creativity and ideas came out. Allowing choice, time, and offering multi-sensory experiences, creates powerful learning! This experience with play, allowed me to reflect on the type of learner I am. It also gave me more insight in understanding my students better in order to be able to support and extend their learning further.

One of the pivotal moments for me during the course, was when we had the opportunity to attend the Seneca College Newnham Campus Lab School and mess about at the Exhibit Tour - Cultivate the Scientist in Every Child: The Philosophy of David and Frances Hawkins

  A few of the open ended materials at the Hawkins exhibit

Our task was to collaborate and use any materials we desired to create a marble run. At first I was a bit disappointed. I didn't want to play, I wanted to observe children using the materials, to be given information etc. But I was enlightened by this experience yet again. There were a lot of open ended materials but working in collaboration changed the way I approached this learning invitation. I didn't feel as overwhelmed since my partners and I discussed and verbally outlined a plan of what we wanted to construct. We were also invited to draw our design to help us plan, but similarly to some of my students, I realized it's very difficult for some learners to draw something if they can't see it, or did not have time to first explore, investigate, and experiment with the materials to see how they work. 

Building the marble run was slow going at first. We decided we wanted the marble to travel from a high point, but we didn't quite know how to make that happen? We tried various tubes, boxes, even a tree stump, placing a tube horizontally on it. But through various investigations, we realized we needed to stabilize the tube to keep it from rolling off the log. Once we accomplished that, one of the group members wanted to try and make the marble travel from an even higher place. So now we were faced with finding another base, and another tub that would connect to the tube we already had on the stump. Once we figured that out through some trial and error, we decided to test out our structure and see how well the marble traveled from the top of our design. With each test trial our motivation grew to making the needed angle changes and lining up the tubes in order for our marble to connect and travel down the second tub down to the ground. I was so excited I was becoming really loud and jumping up and down a lot. Once we had success with that part of the marble run, we needed to figure out where we wanted our marble to go? So after some discussions, we decided to wanted to create an angle for the marble to travel around then to land in a small basket. We searched for various angled objects, and found two angled block pieces. We placed them together then tested again. There were many test trials. We realized we needed to make our angle softer so that the marble wouldn't travel so fast out of the tube and not make it around the angled blocks. But finally when we tested our design and it worked, we were so happy we finally got it to work! Here we were, grown adults hysterical over the success of a marble falling into a basket! 

Marble run creation using open ended materials

But let me tell you how great it felt to see something work as you envisioned after many failures. This to me was an everlasting experience. I can understand so much more the importance of purposeful play and its ability to connect experiences to learning. 

“Play nourishes every aspect of children’s development – it forms the foundation of intellectual, social, physical, and emotional skills necessary for success in school and in life. Play “paves the way for learning”.

Canadian Council on Learning (Early Childhood Learning Knowledge Centre), “Let the Children Play: Nature’s Answer to Early Learning”, Lessons in Learning (Ottawa: CCL, 2006), p. 2

Below is a short video of our marble run success taken by Laurel Fynes (this kindergarten life).

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