How often we focus on the product of children’s work! It’s important to reflect on what children have done, to discuss our intentions and outcomes, and to plan for the future, but what about the children’s interactions during the process of creating?
I’ve heard it said that teachers often use “play time” for getting chores done, or pulling groups for “academic” lessons. I get it, we are busy and have a lot to get accomplished. I’d like to put in a plug for the value in watching children in the process of play. We can learn so much from standing back and observing:
- Our input into situations that come up is more helpful when we have seen the whole picture of interactions.
- We have an opportunity to short-circuit potential difficulties by catching trigger situations and “sportscast” what we are watching to ease the tension.
- We can ask questions of children designed to authentically help us understand their thinking.
- We can see the effectiveness of the environment we have created for facilitating complex play scenarios.
- We can gather data about children’s thinking and intellectual development that might otherwise be lost.
- We have much more appreciation for the product when it is completed and can reflect on the challenges faced by designers.
- We can better plan for future learning opportunities.
- We have specific examples to share with parents.
As a teacher of young children I found that the richest learning time for me as a teacher was during “free play.” I invite you to spend some time engaged in deep observation of children at play and reflect on its value if the idea is new. And if your classroom does not have materials for free play? That’s a good place to start!