Sunday, May 12, 2013

Field Experiences: Explore Your Community!

For months the children had been bringing "restaurant" play into the dramatic play area. They would periodically pretend they were at a restaurant. Some children had many experiences in visiting restaurants, however many of our children had little context in which to join in the play.

Upon having conversations with the children, we came to understand that most of them had experiences at McDonalds or Tim Hortons but many had not been to a restaurant with waiters.

While looking through their discussions we decided as a team to find somewhere that we could experience and investigate in more depth with the children. We have a Kings Buffet within walking distance of the school. After calling and having a conversation with management, they kindly welcomed us to visit, investigate, ask questions, and eat!

We had many conversations leading up the visit to the restaurant. A couple of students had been there and shared their knowledge of what a buffet was and how we would use it. We talked about how we would have to carefully carry our plates, how we would get the food from the buffet, and what to do when we are finished eating.

When we arrived, the children were able to tour the restaurant before we were seated. They were fascinated by the Koi fish in the lobby and the Chinese Lions (since we had explored Chinese Lion dancing).

We debated as educators bringing clipboards so that the children could sketch in the environment. However, due to time constraints we chose to bring iPads for the children, parents, and educators to document and photograph the experience.

Lilian Katz and many advocates for project approach to teaching encourage field site visits. This was our first attempt at this going off site of the school. This week we are going to Stratford, Ontario to a dance studio as part of of Dance Project. We are preparing questions as "experts" to deepen our understandings and will bring materials for the children to sketch as we will have more time to explore and investigate.

When we returned to school, we printed and posted many of the pictures from our time at Kings Buffet. The dramatic play flourished and is much more in depth with the new experience that the children had. They use the pictures to "order" their food. The children have taken on more clear roles: waiter/waitress, chef, server, cashier, customer. They understand the different roles in a restaurant and what they mean.

Every aspect of the curriculum comes to life in this area and when interacting with the children there are so many opportunities to genuinely challenge/extend their thinking.

Last week I was a customer at Kings Buffet and in 10 minutes there was more learning than I was able to capture! One student was the waitress, she used a pad and pencil to record my order "6 sooshi, milk, french fries". She used her knowledge of letters, sounds, and numbers to record my order and to later process my "receipt".

The chef is a student who needs support in developing her understanding of numbers. I intentionally requested a certain number of sushi. When the sushi was delivered there were only 4 on the plate. I reminded the waitress that I had asked for 6 and together they determined that they would need 2 more.

The chefs through the week truly became "artists" using the play dough. They would roll, twist, and shape the play dough to make different types of food that were ordered.

We have found so much success with having play dough in the dramatic play area that we have decided to keep it in that area permanently. The children are using the play dough and the tools more genuinely. They use forks and knives to texture the play dough, rolling pins to stretch it out and scissors to cut it when needed. They can make many different types of food and in different quantities.

We find that using plastic food can be restrictive to what is set out. Currently we have a combination of plastic foods and play dough. We also found through the year that play dough was used to bake and create food (even when not in dramatic play area) and the children were always wanting to carry it across the room to this area.

Last but not least, we have experimented with different scents and textures in the play dough. This week we added chicken stock and seasoning salt to the play dough for the restaurant. In the past we have created chocolate, gingerbread, herbs, and other spices to change the scent of the play dough. Such a simple and great way to change the play dough and inspire different types of play!


  1. Tracy,you give your students so much more than "an education" (to use the narrow definition of meeting curriculum expectations).
    With trips to the restaurant, and to the dance studio, you give them life experiences, rich memories, and scaffold their learning to expand on those experiences. I am so excited about FDK, and reading your blog is no small part of that.
    Recently at a workshop some teachers/DECE's were talking about the use of natural materials in the classroom, such as rock, small stones and glass gems, sticks, acorns, and such. Some expressed a concern about these objects going into the mouth. I hadn't thought of it until right then, but I realized that the only objects routinely being mouthed are all plastic: play food and cutlery, plastic building blocks and attribute blocks, water table tools (funnels, scoops and cups). So it is interesting to me to read your "noticings" about the play food. I wonder if you've noticed anything similar about plastic vs. natural materials.

  2. Absolutely. I think being concerned over natural materials going into the mouth is interesting...wouldn't these things be outside? Would those classes then never go outside? Yikes! Change is hard sometimes and trying new things or taking risks as adults is a scary process.

    We definitely find that plastic food is a restrictive material - there are certainly benefits to it as well (exposure to different looking types of foods, great discussions around food or food groups can come up too).

    Currently we have both which is interesting to observe, though the children tend to be more drawn to the playdough as it is mold-able and can become whatever they want it to be. Some children eat the playdough too!

    I never get too hung up on those worries, unless there is a student who I am particularly worried about choking etc. Hope that helps Laurel - thanks for the kind words as always, you continue to inspire me daily!