“Play is a child’s work.” – Jean Piaget
Last week we began a science study of squirrels in our classroom. Squirrels are a piece of our county curriculum and we are required to teach about these animals connected with winter. I integrated this science unit into our language arts time and we read several books about squirrels (comparing fiction to nonfiction), created vocabulary boards with key words, put up a squirrel feeder and binoculars in our window to observe the squirrels, danced to squirrel songs and created a squirrel habitat in our science center. It is through observing children playing in our habitat that I am seeing just how much they are learning. I provided branches, leaves, acorns, moss and several plastic and stuffed squirrels and stood back and watched as the play began.
The children made a drey (squirrel nest in a tree, in case you don’t know that term – I didn’t until this study), and a den (squirrel nest that is in a hole in a tree). Observing the children play I hear key vocabulary words used correctly, witness scientifically accurate construction of the dreys and dens (correcting each other if anything is not as depicted in our books), see them using different books we’ve read as references in building the nests and replicating what they see the squirrels doing in the pictures as well as what we’ve observed them doing outside. I watch them as the mother squirrel prepares her nest for her babies and then nurses them – using the larger stuffed squirrel as the mom and the smaller plastic squirrels as the babies. I watch them make the squirrels chase each other, scampering up and down the tree, gathering acorns and hiding them in their nests – declaring that winter is coming soon so we have to store lots of acorns. They have mastered the county objectives – plus much, much more. They have experienced squirrel life through imaginative play. They have turned into strong observers of squirrels outside so they can replicate it in their play. They have truly become squirrel experts – through play. Would this have happened with only a read aloud, or a squirrel worksheet? No.
Don’t say they can’t play. Let them play. It’s how they learn.
How are you facilitating and encouraging playful learning in your classroom?