Monday 16 August 2010

The art of play

Warning - pic heavy post ahead!!

I've mentioned before that we ascribe to a theory of "learning through play" here at chez 'And So I Sew'.

Put simply, this means that the girls are encouraged to make, create, explore and discover through open-ended play experiences.

That is, they are (largely) given toys or items that have no one set way of using them, but rather can be used in a multitude of ways based on the extent of the girls' imagination.
This is aside from those that encourage role play - such as their home corner with kitchen stove and the like.

I try to learn as much as I can about how to help the girls learn in a play-based way and came across this book at the library.

This book is an absolute winner as far as I am concerned.
In it the author explores the relationship between work, play and love for children as well as adults.

I knew it was my kind of book when early on I read this:
"Play, then, is the dominant and directing mode of learning during this age period (2-6 years), and children learn best through self-centred learning experiences.

We also don't push alpha-numeric learning - so no charts filled with numbers and letters.
That's not to say there are not puzzles with the alphabet on them and cards with characters to count - the older two girls are madly into all things letters and numbers and when they ask - their questions are always answered.

But we don't push it.
It's at their pace, self-directed.

I know I could have them doing basic math by now but that's not what we want for them, there's plenty of time ahead for that.

To again quote David Elkind's book "Certainly young children can learn letters and even sight-read a few words. But this is work and should make up only a small part of an overall hands-on, self-directed early childhood curriculum."

We are also very lucky to have the girls in a kindergarten that teaches according to Reggio Emilia principles - so it supports the type of learning we want for them.
(A Google search will bring up lots of references if you want to read more about this.)

Our older two girls will continue to go to kindergarten next year rather than starting school.

This was a decision we deliberated over and we decided that while they are certainly more than ready to start school next year, it's not just about now, it's about when they are 13 and 14 and 15 years old and could be up to 14 months younger than their peers.

If in a composite class where they are in the younger group, this age gap could stretch out as far as 3 years.
We felt that they were going to be better off in the long term being among the older children in the class (we have found that it is likely there will be a number of children who will be older than them anyway), rather than younger and maybe having to work a lot harder to keep up.

(Fabulous vintage swap cards mounted and framed for Miss G for her birthday by our friend Blogless Judy!)

This means I will have the pleasure of their company for three days a week next year as well as the 4 days they are home this year. For this reason I felt it was important to have space in the house where they could go to create what they want, when they want to.

So out went the old bookcase and a table that was really a dumping ground, and in came the new children's creating space.

I got the table and stools from Ikea, they are called Sansad and with a personal storage area under each stool where they can keep their treasure, the girls love them.

I also picked up a Trofast drawer tower and drawers and in this there are things like coloured paper of various sizes, pieces of fabric and ribbons, pipe cleaners, sequins and beads, flowers, large blank drawing books, envelopes and stickers.

In the highest red tub are the things that require a little more supervision such as paints and beaded bracelet/necklace sets for threading.
The lower red tub is filled with puzzles.

The bookshelf contains magnetic storyboards, more puzzles, exercise books and threading beads and the things they are most excited about - their own stapler and sticky-tape dispenser.

There is a magnetic board on the wall with a string underneath it where they can peg up or display using a magnet, their many artworks, drawings and puppets and cards.
Or to hang things they find interesting such as coloured leaves or things they find outside.

Under the magnetic board we got an Asker rail and three ceramic pots where the pencils,scissors, pens and crayons are stored. This is from Ikea's kitchen range, I pinched this idea from a friend.

Now each morning (and afternoon, and evening) the girls can be found at their own table making things, doing fuzzy felts, playing with magnetic storyboards, putting puzzles together or enjoying playdough.

It's their own space and they can come and go as they please, and they are responsible for tidying it up at the end of the day too.

It's been a huge hit, they have taken real ownership of this space, and if you are going to have small children at home with you for an extended period I urge you to set up a small space just for them, I am sure it will be appreciated.


Liz said...

Good decision Karen, to keep them home another year. There are lots of years of schooling ahead but they will never have these years at home again.....

cherri said...

You have gone to tremendous effort to encourage play and learning in a fun environment and your children really have no idea how lucky they are!

We are building a cubby house ATM and DH and the kids are designing the inside. A place for kitchen play, a place for arts/crafts, special storage areas. Of the latter the kids have decided on a Mister Maker (ABC) doodle draw extravaganza! It should be fun once complete.

I think what your doing is great. I too encourage alpha/numeric skills but dont push it. As long as my children enter school with a familiarity and basic understaing of numbers and letters I think they will be fine.

I was speaking to my DD's (next year) school teacher and she reinforced what I felt is true. You can teach kids to read/write early on, but by the time they are in grade 2 or so they have all caught up with each other anyway. That's why I am happy to let my children play as they wish ATM, let them use their imagination and focus on alpha/numeric learning once they are in school.

I think that what I can teach my children, in the precious few years they are home with me is how to be a good and social person. I teach them to share, respect others, speak clearly and negotiate with each other through squabbles.

They have many years ahead of them of structured play so I like to let them have open-ended playtime at home with me for now.

Gee that was long!

anyhow...the room looks great and I would have been wrapt with a stapler and tape dispenser at that age too!

Take care


cherri said...

p.s. -love the secret chair hiding spots!

Pilgrim said...

wow, lucky girls! makes me sad we don't have a space like that - even for my creating! haha

Margaret said...

We have a craft table set up for our 3 year old. She loves it and often just goes to her table and plays for ages. but we are a crafty table and it isn't unusual to see Dad at his model desk, mum at her machine and Tori at her craft table.

Miss Amy said...

VERY nice! and I love that you are keeping the girls home an extra year. I started Ruth this year when she was 4, she is keeping up, but some days I think she is slightly behind the other kids maturity wise, such as she is clever, much more so than the other kids (according to the teacher) but I think she lacks the maturity to understand she has to SHOW that to the teachers so she isnt bored with the easy stuff anymore.

Andrea said...

An awesome post Karen. As an early childhood teacher who tries to teach as much as I can in a child centered way it is so refreshing to read your post. Your children are truely blessed to have such a wonderful space and it will encourage creativity. You have inspired me to get thinking about having better creative spaces for my kids. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Love this post!

I'm in the process of figuring how to set up the kid's playroom in the new house, and this has given me some great ideas, thank you so much!

I wonder, does it make a difference that you have girls, rather than boys?

I can see already that my ratbag 20 month old daughter has an innate ability to sit and draw for hours on end, and yet my placid, gentle 5 year old son just does not have as much interest. Having said that, the day I lent him my stapler - well, he thought he had gone to heaven.

Again, great post. Loved it.

Seaweed and Raine said...

Thanks for the ideas! :) I am a primary teacher by trade - but finding things that Jellyfish (The toddler)would like to do has been interesting. He is interested in all those kinds of things already, so your ideas of how to set out a little nook (for him) are brilliant. I agree that children at large do better in the classroom when they are a little older - boys particularly. All the best for the next 18 months of "play"! :)

Tanya said...

you're so fun!

Little Munchkins said...

That is an amazing post Karen. I agree with you, and that is why Munchkinster started school a year after most of his friends (though he could have gone the same year as them), and I am keeping Munchkin back too.

I love what you have done with their creativity area, and those chairs are such a great idea.

Charity said...

LOVE the play area! I'm sure it will be fully enjoyed by your girls - fabulous!

Sally said...

Oh I so agree with you about self-directed learning. There is plenty of time in this world for letters and numbers. Far more important is learning to learn. I want my children to enjoy learning - to see that it can happen in lots of different ways and in different contexts. It is important to acknowledge that my children's interests are different to mine - and as such what they want to learn about and discover will not necessarily be what I see as a priority. (Sometimes I feel that parents that are pushing their kids to count and know the alaphabet are just treating the children a bit like trained seals - ready to show off with a 'performance' of how clever they are.)
We're in the process of converting our dining room into a playroom now. Walls are painted... just need to paint the skirting boards and then we'll be off to ikea for some storage solutions.

Becky said...

This is such a great post, your girls are very lucky :)

When we moved I put both my children in the one bedroom so the other room could be the playroom.

Our crafts are not so involved at the moment but it never stops amazing me how many different things a simple cardboard tube can be. Today it has been a lighthouse, telescope and trumpet.

When the boy gets older they will be able to have a setup similar to yours and I really am looking forward to the hours of fun we will be able to have then!

Christie - Childhood 101 said...

There is so much goodness in this post - play, Reggio, starting ages, all such important areas of early education. I love the Sansad table and chairs and had not seen them before, they are perfect for the creative corner which we are currently creating in Immy's playroom. I guess a trip to Ikea is in order!