by Kylen Glassmann
How often do children hear the word “no”? In a world of structure, rules, and routines, they are told “no” a lot. However, when we allow children to go with their interests, try out their version of problem solving, and take the lead in their own world, beautiful things can happen. It is a good reminder that children are often their own best teachers and by taking a step back, we allow them to learn and grow in a very meaningful way.
Saying “yes” is a big part of what we do here at All Seasons Preschool, and it can make all the difference for a young child entering a school environment for the first time. I have been reminded of this lately as the Autumn room grows more and more independent, cooperative, and creative. A few dominant play themes have become a classwide “obsession” and I have really enjoyed watching these interests blossom into more than I could have imagined, because we’ve embraced their ideas and said, “yes!”
First, the fire-station! “Firetruck, firetruck! I want to ride on a firetruck!” These words will forever haunt me, as I have spent too many evenings singing them in my not-so-deep sleep. However, they will also always remind me of some of my favorite memories from this year. Who would’ve thought that 16 three, four, and five-year-olds could get together and build a firetruck out of big blocks, decide where each block should be placed, who is the fire-chief, who is the driver, and where the truck is going, with little to no help from their teachers! Talk about problem solving, teamwork, and collaboration. Soon, the children were requesting boots, hats, coats, fire hoses, and of course, the fire truck song! This little idea blossomed into a full-blown fire station that has taken over our loft area for the better part of a month! Before we knew it, the kids were testing their literacy skills while they helped to make signs for the station, they were practicing problem solving while they delegated roles and shared the materials, and my favorite, they began letting their imaginations take over as they used the materials in very creative ways! They are still coming up with new things to add to the fire-station and it seems their ideas are endless; this is preschool play at its finest!
Next, hockey! It wouldn’t be a Minnesota winter without talk of hockey – hockey jerseys, hockey games, skating, and the Minnesota Wild! It wasn’t long before themes of playing hockey were coming out in the children’s’ play. One day, we noticed two children hitting a small triangular block around with some of the longer thin blocks, and said they were playing hockey. Hockey is not a quiet sport and things quickly became too noisy for the classroom. Rather than saying, “That’s too loud, please choose something else to play,” we told the kids that we would move the play to a more appropriate space – the square! It didn’t take long before everyone was curious about the exciting activity happening outside the classroom, and again, we said, yes – come on out and join in the action! Soon enough, the entire Autumn Room was taking part in the game. The children grabbed chairs for arena seats, used two larger chairs as the goals, and one child even took on the role of coach/referee, asking children on the ice to take a seat and instructing others that it was their turn. “I’m the guy who has people sit down so other people can play!” she happily exclaimed. Then, another child asked, “What about the zamboni?” This sparked everyone’s imagination and curiosity. The next thing we knew several children were calling for “timeout,” as another crowd of kids came in with some wooden “zamboni blocks.” It didn’t end here – the children played for 30 minutes (only stopping because it was time to see the grandmas and grandpas), and their imaginations kept going. We had ice dancers, timeouts, penalty shots, and a very excited crowd! They cheered for each other, watched out for each other, and respected everyone’s ideas. Again, they took the lead and we watched as they collaborated, solved problems, and had so much fun! We will probably hear children asking to play hockey in the square until the end of the year, hoping that we say yes!
We can’t always say yes, of course – children need structure and limits just as much as autonomy. However, it’s a nice reminder, when it’s appropriate, to let them take the reins and enjoy watching what they come up with. This is how they learn, and after all, they are the experts in how to play.