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Thursday, July 31, 2014

It looks like they are "just playing"

 In my last blog, I discussed why play is so vitally important in an early childhood classroom. I went over a couple of different interest areas, and the skill sets they offer. What looks to you like "just playing" is actually young children learning many different skills!


                                                Toys and Games

We discussed blocks, dramatic play and art areas, now let's talk about toys and games. "Table Toys" as many preschool teachers call them include a variety of things, manipulatives like Unifix cubes, buttons, links, geo boards and magnetic shapes are all open ended materials that children use to explore math concepts such as patterns, shapes and relationships between different materials. Patterns are a big deal in early childhood, because patterns are everywhere and one of the basic concepts of all math, from algebra to geometry and even higher maths such as trigonometry! By having a variety of different items children can use, they can copy, extend or even make their own patterns. Not to mention the great fine motor practice, which strengthen little hands and fingers for writing. 


Strengthening literacy concepts and language acquisition are just a couple of things that are happening when children are putting together puzzles, trying to see which key fits into which lock, or building with Legos. Talking with the children and introducing new descriptive words such as shiny, smooth, rough, curved and pointed are enhancing those literacy and language skills, even more math!

Using puzzles and games that feature plants and animals is an opportunity to talk about life science. When children sort a collection of plastic animals, they are learning classification skills, such as where the animals live--the farm, the zoo, or the ocean. Sorting by size and using words like "big, bigger, biggest" and "first, next and last" helps teach size concepts.

When playing games, children learn about people and how they live. The teacher facilitates this by encouraging them to work cooperatively and solve problems together. Giving children authentic, appropriate and positive feedback when they take turns and share helps build social skills.

We turned our library into a bat cave!
The Library

The library should be filled with soft furniture, many different types of books, and in my classroom, stuffed animals and puppets. This is a great place to get away from the active interest areas and relax. My listening center and writing center are included in the library area, and in this area children develop the motivation and skills necessary to read and write. It's so amazing to hear them retell stories they hear read to them to their friends! Pointing put comparative words such as "enormous pumpkin" and "teeny-tiny woman" promotes the math skill of measurement, and stressing words like "tomorrow" "in a little while" and "long ago" emphasizes time concepts- which is a very abstract concept for little ones to grasp!

I like to showcase books that correspond to our theme. I add and change letter books, picture books, and non- fiction books to my library area regularly to make sure I keep interest levels high. I love non-fiction books that help children learn about plants, animals, healthy foods, healthy bodies and weather and they are a regular part of my library. I also like to keep books all around the room, such as cookbooks in dramatic play and construction books in the block area.

I include many books books about people from different places, different jobs, even in different languages (one favorite is Yo? Yes!) Books that help children deal with feelings and emotions are also a staple in the library, and around the room. 

The Science/Discovery Area

One of my favorite areas in the classroom is the science and discovery area. Many preschool teachers get hung up on magnets as the major science items in a preschool class. Magnets are great,but there are so many more opportunities in this interest area!  Young children are curious, and this area allows for exploration with all the senses. Planting seeds and then keeping a daily chart on the growth promotes observation, writing and literacy skills.  Looking at fingerprints under a magnifying glass, or using a stamp pad to make fingerprints and compare them incorporates body awareness, art, and asking questions to get more information. Looking through prisms teaches the color spectrum and light concepts. Making "goop" or snow shows how things change from one thing to another and is messy fun too! 
Watching caterpillars transform into butterflies is one of my top science and discovery activities! It is a long term learning experience that teaches the butterfly life cycle, not to mention patience! 

Take the science outside- look at tree trunks, leaves, (safe) insects, dig in the dirt- the possibilities are endless!

So you can see how "just playing" is opening doorways to knowledge, strengthening skills across all domains, cognitive, physical and emotional. It really is an amazing thing- this play. Why would anyone want to stifle that?

Links to great ideas!

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