Well, I finally experienced a snippet of what this play based learning might be about. My difficulty as a teacher is trying to figure out where I fit into this play – I’ve been observing, asking questions, commenting and steering, but it has all seemed rather contrived. I’ve felt like reverting to old style teaching, by saying, “right, time for maths” basically asking them to stop what they were doing to come and do something that ‘teacher needs them to do’, then they can go back to the fun stuff!
Well, I was trying to figure out a fun, physical, boy targeted way of learning digit formation. So I armed them with paper cups, paintbrushes and a 1-10 number line. I showed them how they could paint with water on the hot asphalt on the court. They had great fun for about 5 minutes, then I felt they were beginning to lose interest. At this point, one of them spilled his water. Part of me wanted to berate him and tell him to fill his cup up again and be more careful, but I hung fire and instead, we talked about the pattern it made and the fact you couldn’t see his numbers anymore. This developed into all 4 of them spilling their water on purpose and making patterns.
To cut a long story short, this turned into pouring water down a gutter that ran next to the court, then trying to float their pirate ships in it. They were annoyed, because the water kept going down the drain and they couldn’t keep it flowing. One suggested they build a wall at the end of the gutter. So I said ‘yes, see what you can find to build the wall’. They came out with various things to try and one brought out the tub of play dough we’d made the day before. He tried to use the whole tub, but the water flowed under it, so I said they could use the play dough if they wanted. Between the four of them, they built a wall, testing it several times as they went. Eventually success, resulting in a big pool of water to float their ships in, with lots of talking. One even picked up the transparent play dough tub, pushed it into the water and said ‘look, you can see underwater’.
My role in all of this was to say yes, and speak words of encouragement, and observe. I took photos as they went, then after morning tea, they chose a photo to stick in their book and write a caption for. With very little encouragement, all 4 boys ‘wrote’ (still emergent), and received huge praise for doing so, one even saying ‘I’m going to keep writing so I can be a good writer’! The motivation and engagement in this activity off the back of the exploratory and problem solving play that morning was astounding.
Next focus – try to continue to replicate this and figure out how to get a smooth link to curriculum coverage. Off the back of this pirate interest, we are having a pirate themed week next week, so I shall see how much of the 3Rs I can sneak in!!