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.|
|Exploring "World Records" in Kindergarten - These boys spent days building and rebuilding to create and measure their highest tower.|
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! Play...play often and enjoy it. You can learn so much and uncover so much by simply playing.