It's easy to get caught up in the unusual or the coolest new gadgets. I know in early childhood, we are often looking for a new idea or activity or resource. We want to have fun new experiences for the kids to do. We want the tools that will help us as teachers or the kids as learners.
But sometimes the ordinary stuff brings as much joy as any cutting edge item.
Recently I set up a center for challenge games. Fun games or challenges that could be done with paper plates, straws, plastic cups, and tissue paper squares. (All of these things were readily available and already on hand.) I had a page with some game ideas. (I'll write about those later.) But things didn't just stay with the suggested challenges.
After playing and experimenting for a while, a boy wanted to set up the cups "like bowling." He set the cups in a triangle arrangement. I think his plan was to use a paper plate as a bowling ball, sliding it to knock over the cups.
I said, "I wonder if I can get this straw in a cup." I tossed the straw like a dart.
And my kids were hooked. They tried to toss the straw into cups like I did. I figured that they would try it and move onto other ideas - like before.
But they really got into this particular activity. After tossing for a few turns, the boy said, "Now we're trying to get it into this one." He pointed to the closest cup. They took turns tossing until someone landed a straw into that cup.
"Now this one," someone said, pointing to another one. And the tossing began again.
They played with this game for quite a while...longer than many other things they do regularly in the classroom. The challenge was difficult enough that they had to try several times. But rewarding enough that they didn't get frustrated or tire of trying.
One of my quietest girls, the one that will draw alone or watch others play, really got into the game. She interacted with the boy, tried again and again to land a straw in a cup (succeeding as much as the others), and talked more than I've ever seen/heard.
A few things that I observed--
- Truly engaging activities do not require fancy equipment or elaborate plans. Plastic cups and straws...simple tossing into a target...many minutes of engagement.
- Often the best ideas are a collaboration between children and adult. The idea to arrange the cups was theirs. The tossing of the straw was mine. The resulting game of specific targets was theirs. Give and take between adult and child is important for learning and exploration.
- Flexibility is important. The resulting game was not planned (by them or me). Being open to using materials in a different, unplanned way encourages the most learning and play.
- Think about what they like and provide ways for them to do it. My boys like to be a little rowdy. They like different. (And who doesn't like throwing stuff?)
- Accept their choices. I offered the idea of tossing the straws. But I was ready to move to something else if they weren't interested. "I wonder...." can be a great phrase that encourages exploration and yet doesn't impose ideas.
Mostly I was fascinated that cups and straws could be so interesting for such a long time.
Maybe the most interesting things for play are just sitting in the closet, waiting to meet the imaginations and creativity of boys and girls.