Monday, July 9, 2007
My husband and I were relaxing in the living room last night (he was surfing and I was reading Water for Elephants...can't put it down). Curly, our four year old, came in and sat down to a puzzle of the alphabet we haven't pulled out in awhile. I thought nothing of it and dove back into my book until I noticed him singing the alphabet song to help him figure out where to put the letter K. After hearing him sing, I had to stop and watch him. He was using song as a strategy to help him solve a problem(that makes me so happy). Then, I watched him play with the M and the W (we have talked about how each flips to make the other). He pulled the M from its place, flipped it and tried to fit it in the W's place (it didn't work) and then tried to do the same with W. He then finished the puzzle. It felt like he was playing with the puzzle.
I can tell you that we sat down to that puzzle many a morning this year spending time together for 5 mins or so before we both left for school. We piled the letters up after dumping them, talked about family member's names that begin with certain letters and even matched them to an abc poster. It was our time. Not so much of a teaching time but more of an exploring time. I tried to let Curly take the lead and have him decide how to "play " with the letters (there were of course those days when I was hurrying him through the play so I could get to all the things I had to do at work that day).
Nonetheless, this made me think about play in my classroom. What exactly is play? What does it look like in the classroom? I started thinking about my own room. The only kind of (structured) play going on is "play with books." The kids settle in and then find books to read, explore or talk about with friends (this happens for the first 25 mins of the day). It ends up looking like "play." I mean if someone walked into the room he or she might think the kids were goofing around or "off task," but I actually set this time aside purposely so they can "play" with books. This year, I noticed one student would go right to her favorite bean bag and find books to read alone. Another student would wait until his buddies arrived and then they (a group of 4 or so boys) would sit around the non-fiction baskets and talk and read then talk, laugh and read. Another student would go back to the same book (National Geographic's World Atlas) and sit browsing continents and countries. There was always a group of girls singing song books like The Lady with the Alligator Purse. And then there was the student who was trying to get everyone off task. I would often sit with this student and read with him.
Now that I am looking back, it seems like he just needed to be taught how to play. Just like Curly used strategies to play with the puzzle, I think some kids need strategies for playing with books. I am anxious to talk to my students about different ways they "play" with books. I know they will have many ideas for one another and maybe it will open doors for those not sure about how to play.