Thursday, May 8, 2014

Don't Miss the Moment: Play!

This year we have been so fortunate to be able to share our learning experiences with educators across Ontario. Cheryl and I have met so many fabulous educators looking to figure out what Full Day Kindergarten is all about.

One question or wondering that surfaces in many of our presentations is about the balance of child led and teacher directed much is too much? How much is not enough? How do we do it all?

This is something that my partner Cheryl and I have reflected on quite deeply. We absolutely value child initiated play and quite often take their lead in learning. However, we also know that there is value in direct or guided instruction to explore specific skills that children need academically (e.g., reading instruction).

While reflecting...we wonder ourselves...
Where do you learn the most about children.... in your small group at a table in the room or in the deep play that children enter during learning centres?

Where you are in your journey will be reflected in your thoughts on the above wondering. There is value, importance, and learning in both places. But...which gives you more insight? Which provides a picture of the whole child most clearly?

Balance is essential in supporting a strong program for young children. Learning occurs in a variety of contexts within the FDK classroom. It will take place independently, alongside peers, in collaboration with an educator, in play, informally in small groups, and in intentionally planned groups.

Where problems arise, in my opinion, is when one way of learning is valued more or emphasized over others.

I remember listening to Lilian Katz speak and talk about the different between intellectual and academic skills. She reminded us that both have a place and value in the educational system. Children absolutely need to learn how to read, write, and do basic math facts. However, it is our value and perception of how important these skills are, how they are taught/practiced that define our teaching practices and image of the child.

There are so many moments that I reflect on and wonder, if I missed that moment how would that have impacted our program? We will always miss "moments" but when we spend too much time in scheduled small groups - there are many moments that will be missed in the context of play.

It is impossible to choose the best moments, but I wanted to share just a few of the powerful instances that have come through play in our learning environment this year...

Creating a mailbox for our learning buddies to write letters back and forth. Working with an expert to create a blueprint, determine measurements, and to construct it using tools.

Sled Inquiry: Children created sleds of different shapes and sizes using recyclable materials. They investigated theories about how fast they would travel, even adding oil to see if it would make them travel faster.

Geoboards, Elastics, and Light: The children created so much and projected their images onto the walls. The children made letters, numbers, shapes, and mazes. Open provocations allow for children to decide the possibilities and direction of their play.

Dance Studio: The children continue to enjoy the dance studio that is always open in the classroom. Dance is a positive way to exert energy and allows many children to self regulate. The children use their literacy skills to select new songs and playlists as well. Dance promotes gross motor development, balance, and coordination.

Loose Parts Art: Providing different and unique loose parts encourages children to be creative, to think outside of the box, and to create pieces of art that can easily to altered or "tweaked". Many of the children photographed their creations and added captions bringing literacy into their creative process.

Patterns in Art: Patterns come up so often in play, art, and the outdoors. Traditionally, patterning has been taught in isolation for a short period of time and using a variety of pre-made materials (e.g., small coloured bears).  Children see patterns in their daily interactions, they create them artistically, and once exposed to them begin to see them everywhere.

Exploring "World Records" in Kindergarten - These boys spent days building and rebuilding to create and measure their highest tower.

Practice and the Arts: The concept of practice often comes through in play in our room. Naturally, the movie Frozen has come up many times this year as well. These students created, practiced, and performed a musical production of Frozen on the stage for their peers. 

Music and Math: Exploring numbers in music came up when we were fortunate to have a musician in our classroom over the period of a few months. Together with the musician the children composed a song about counting. They brought the arts in when they illustrated watercolour pictures to represent the verses of the song. The illustrations now make up the number line in our classroom.

Literacy and School Community: Our custodian connects with the children on occasion writing letters on our whiteboard. The children will spend time trying to read and decode what is written. It is a really genuine opportunity for the children to engage with literacy.

Math and Games: Ramps have been a huge inquiry in our classroom this year. While creating ramps, they sometimes assign points to the different difficulties. Playing individually or in teams, the children will try to make their wheel travel from one end of the ramp to the other. If successful they will add "points" to their score. Their mental math skills and ability to add numbers has greatly improved. Further, they supported each other in adding when needed teaching each other strategies for adding numbers together.

What does the balance look like in our room? We try really hard to balance some short periods of intentional small group instruction for children based on their needs. We support children in informal small groups in play and we observe/enter child initiated play.

We strive to take turns supporting children in all of these contexts as well. We both teach literacy and math small groups each week - which we plan the week before together based on children's needs. We look at our profiles to think carefully about children we may want to intentionally support in the context of their play and we use the information that we gather to provide inspiration and ideas for provocations.

Balance...I have learned that balance is the key. We are so far from "perfecting" this model. We often feel like we are not doing enough of ANY of the above, but I think that feeling will never go away! often and enjoy it. You can learn so much and uncover so much by simply playing.


  1. Thanks for sharing Tracy.
    My DECE and I are at about the same place in our journey. We find our biggest challenge is finding time to meet with the small groups for focused instruction as the play is so rich for our looking into the whole child. During play we are able to capture lots of literacy, math and science, not to mention the arts and social behaviours.
    We try our best to capture there thinking and snippets of their work through documenting individually and small groups.
    As you said we still feel we are not capturing it all - but we do interact lots through their play.