Friday, April 24, 2015

Problem Solving in Action

I've been reading and hearing a lot lately about 21st century skills and what we want kids to learn in schools these days. At the top of the list is problem-solving. We want kids to develop skills to confront problems and work out solutions.

However, kids usually don't develop these skills by only learning facts, completing worksheets, or taking tests. They learn these skills by experimenting and investigating. By playing with different types of materials. By DOING.

Recently I watched a boy work through a problem in his building activity. One end of his structure was shorter than the other. He worked through ideas until he found a solution.

Blocks and other types of play-based activities are available in many preschool classrooms. But many classrooms in elementary school (even kindergarten classrooms) don't have these. Experiential, hands-on learning has been replaced with other academic pursuits. 

I love using blocks and other manipulatives in different ways. Presenting a challenge and watching kids figure out what to do can yield lots of learning. 

I'm finishing up my university studies and looking for what's next. Seeing my friend explore and experiment has confirmed that I want to include that "playing" into my classroom - whatever age I teach. I can see preschoolers or kindergartners or first graders investigating how to solve problems and learning so much in the process. 

I'm not sure yet where I'll be or how this will play out. But I cannot wait to see what these future learning investigators will uncover.

How have you seen problem-solving in action? 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Loud Doll Play

Dolls in bunk beds
The other day in my church kindergarten class, I said something that I haven't said before. At least I cannot remember saying it before.

"Boys, the doll play is too loud."

A group of boys were playing with the dolls in lots of different ways. And things kept getting louder and louder until it was too loud.

As I reflected later and laughed at saying this, I realized that this statement reflects a lot of our expectations in the classroom.

1. Materials should be flexible and able to be used in different ways. The dolls have been used in lots of ways before. But these boys were exploring different ways to use the dolls. After all, we don't often have the dolls sleeping in bunk beds.

2. Imagination and new ideas (the kids' usually but mine sometimes) are crucial in learning. I walked over to the play at one moment. The plastic placemats were folded and lying on the table. The boys were pushing the dolls' faces into the placemats. "Tell me what is happening," I said (extremely curious and a little concerned). "The babies are eating cheese," they explained.

3. Choice is important. The boys dominated play with the dolls on this particular day. Other times, the girls are using the dolls and boys are elsewhere. Sometimes boys and girls work together. Other times they are completely separate (at their own choice). Some children play independently; others are moving to wherever a group congregates. Interest and preference leads kids to choose what to do.

4. Who you are doesn't limit what you can do. Boys and girls all use dolls, tools, cars, pencils, books, paint, and puzzles equally. All the kids move to dramatic play activities, art activities, construction activities.

5. Each person is responsible for his or her actions. I don't mind loud. I don't mind messy. But if a child snips paper and creates a lot of scraps, that child is responsible for cleaning up those scraps. If play gets too loud, the kids are responsible for adjusting play or changing play to modify the sound level (and not disturb others in and outside the classroom).

The doll play settled down. Still a little rowdy. Still a little loud (but not too loud). And, eventually, quieted to reading books together.

Reading together

That's why I love being in an early childhood classroom. Things are fluid. Things are always moving. And I am always learning new ways to use familiar stuff.

Sometimes I think I learn as much (or more) than they do.