For weeks now, our students haven’t used many of the pretend kitchen supplies. Nobody’s even mentioned them. That was, until yesterday, when one child decided that she wanted to have a tea party and pulled out some items to use. Shortly after her tea party started, we started to get ready to head outside for our Outdoor Learning time. Since she, understandably, did not want to clean up, we suggested that she pack up her tea party and bring it outside. She loved the idea and decided to do just that. What intrigued me though was the number of students that joined in on her tea party outside. Some even decided to use the snow as the “tea.”
All of a sudden there was an interest in the kitchen materials that haven’t sparked an interest in weeks. Today then, we decided to pack up some more food items and plates to bring outside with us. We thought that we would also bring out some colourful water to paint the snow, but it turned out that much of this water was used in other creative ways.
This play amazed me for many reasons.
- Up until this point, students only “dumped” these food items. Now, they were using them in creative and cooperative ways. They were actually engaging in dramatic play.
- Students were starting to work together. Overall, they were sharing the food items, making “meals” as a team, and even interacting with each other.
- Students engaged in this dramatic play for longer periods of time. Even when they did use the food in the classroom, they usually only used it for a couple of minutes and then moved to something else. Today, most of the students stayed here for at least 20-25 minutes, and extended the play throughout the process.
I can’t help but wonder, why the difference?
- Could it be because there are more items in the classroom and fewer ones outside, so the students are less distracted by what to choose next?
- Could it be because of the spray bottles and the snow? Did these additions make some “old toys” seem new again?
- Could it be because of this interest in a tea party? Did this interest cause other children to find a new reason to play with the food?
- Could it be because more children were involved in the play? Did the various conversations allow the students to extend the play for longer?
- Could it be because students are calmer outside? Does this create better interactions with each other and a better use of the materials?
What do you think? Now I’m curious to bring different learning materials outside and see what happens. How will the play change? What impact will this have on learning?
I like your wonderings, Aviva. One thing I have observed with children (my own and in various classes) is that as soon as you go to put an ignored item away or put it in a donation box it becomes the favourite toy. This sounds a little like that. I think you are on to something when you note the amount of materials inside. Your students are at a different place developmentally than they were when you first introduced those items – you note yourself how differently they engage with them now. They are probably more developmentally ready now to use them in the way that you saw today. That shouldn’t negate the experiences they had previously dumping them; that, too, is a developmental engagement.
I think their new interest and use is a combination of those two things: they are now ready to play with them in this way and you have (or your little sleuth did) reintroduced them to the materials when they were ready to play.
I highly encourage taking materials outside too. Too many people underestimate the power of environment and taking it outside leads to so many discoveries, experimentations and creative thinking.
I wonder what they will ask to take outside next? It should be interesting!
Thanks for the comment, Kristi! These are all great points. I think that there are many reasons at play. It is very interesting to see how some inside learning materials are used outside. I loved all of the creative ways that the students engaged with these kitchen supplies these past few days: the spray bottle for ketchup, mustard, and even spaghetti sauce — not to mention the snow tea — amazed and delighted me. We’ll definitely be encouraging students to suggest other materials to come outside. The environment is different, and it changes the play. This was really quite amazing to watch!
I’d be curious to know what others have experienced with regards to this. Outdoor learning is very remarkable!
Have you considered having students help plan the materials to be taken out? You could do this by placing an empty bin out in the classroom ahead of time and asking students to contribute items that they would like to use outside (need to be vetted, of course…there are some things that wouldn’t hold up to the conditions). Then you and your teaching partner could see what they are thinking of and thoughtfully add items that would enhance their play. Might be interesting.
Thanks for the idea, Kristi! Right now, as the students are playing/exploring in the classroom, we see what they’re using, and then sometimes they indicate to us, items that they’d like to bring outside. This is also something that tends to be discussed during the transitional time before we head outside. We do have many students that like the idea of just filling an empty bucket, so I’m guessing that everything might be dumped into a bucket like this one. Maybe though, this is something that we could initially do together, and then slowly transition to students doing on their own … like the gradual release of responsibility model. Hmmm … I like this! I think our students will too. Thanks!