Where The Children Lead Us

Posted December 21, 2021

Where The Children Lead Us

By Amber Scheibel

As teachers, we often come up with great ideas, projects or units of learning that we want to introduce to the children. Sometimes those ideas fly and other times they don’t, so we just move on and try again. But sometimes it’s the children who come up with the ideas or inspiration.

Our exploration of ramps began with the children’s fascination with rolling down the hill outside. Every day, no matter what area of our outdoor space we visited, they would start by running to the top of the hill at our playground and rolling down. One day a few children discovered they could push logs up the hill and watch them roll down. Sometimes the logs rolled fast, and other times, if they were not positioned correctly on their sides, they got stuck. Another day they decided to try rolling UP the hill. This proved much more difficult and led to a discussion about ramps and inclines vs. declines. We recognized their enthusiasm and saw that this was a great way to introduce early mathematical concepts into their learning, so we decided to expand on their interest.

We explored the outdoors looking for more ramps in nature and things that we could roll down them. We found hills, a slide in the woods, old tubes, rain gutters, fallen trees, flat pieces of wood… there were ramps everywhere! We found objects of different sizes and shapes, different textures and weights, and we experimented by sliding them down ramps positioned at different angles. Did the weight affect how fast or slow it rolled or slid down? Did certain shapes roll faster than other shapes? Did the object or the ramp need to be adjusted so that the object would roll down? After our outdoor experiments, we took the learning into our classroom where my co-worker, Brigid, set up ramps for the children to find and test. This led to them to building their own. The students were learning problem solving, spatial reasoning, distance calculation and prediction, cause and effect… so many math and science concepts through activities inspired by their free play.

This was a fulfilling experience for everyone. We enjoyed searching for and setting up challenges, and the children loved the activities. But none of this would have happened if we had just stuck with our original, teacher-led plan. By remaining flexible and letting the kids drive the direction of the class, we were able to let the ideas blossom organically, follow their interests, and have a lot of fun, too.

The Importance of Play

Posted December 7, 2021

The Importance of Play

By Tracy Riekenberg

Whenever I meet new people, I tell them about this job that I love so dearly. I say I’m an early childhood educator and I work at a play-based preschool. More often than not, the person I am talking to will say something like, “So the kids JUST play all day??”

Yes, our students at All Seasons play. But there is no JUST about it.

The key to understanding a play-based preschool is to first understand that play is the way young children learn. When children are playing, they are working out their place in the world. They are practicing skills that they will need as they grow. Language and communication, motor skills, self-help skills, problem solving, taking turns, as well as “academic” skills like patterning, counting, reading, and more are all practiced when children are playing. When the children are playing, they are engaging in these lessons at their level, at their pace, and with their own motivation.

Recently in the Spring Room, we saw how children were learning through play in our dramatic play area. We set up the space as a pizza parlour, where children could take orders for pizzas, make the pizzas, deliver the pizzas, and then at the end of playtime put everything away so it is ready for the next children. During the order taking, we saw children practicing communication skills. “What kind of pizza would you like?” they would ask, and then respond with, “Coming right up!” When they made the pizza, they had to think about and remember what the customer ordered and find the correct toppings. At clean up time, children practiced sorting skills to put all the toppings of the pizza back in the correct spots in the container. All this happened amidst giggles, fun, and play. The children who engaged in the pizza parlour dramatic play learned skills in a meaningful way and children and teachers delighted in watching it happen.

So, yes, children at All Seasons play. But they are doing much more than JUST playing. We teachers are intentionally planning activities that engage children in learning through play. It’s not a free-for-all, nor is it lackadaisical in intention. We at All Season highly revere Mister Rogers, and we try to emulate his advice:

Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning.”