How Do You Find Balance Between The “Creative World” And The “Real World?”

Our students are like other children their age. They love everything from unicorns to transformers, and speak often about Pokemon, My Little Pony, princesses, dinosaurs, and even Minecraft. When we think about interest-based learning, it would be easy to choose any of these topics, and dig deeper … but how deep could we get? I am not suggesting that we ignore these interests, or even stop children from discussing them in a Kindergarten classroom, but when it comes to inquiry-based and play-based learning, maybe these are not the topics to extend.

I was further reminded of this today when I woke up this morning to a lovely email from a parent. This mother discussed how much her child has grown this year, and the difference she’s noticed in her child’s maturity. Now her child speaks about “being mindful,” respecting the environment, noticing litter, and commenting about the impact that litter can have on the health of animals. This email made me think about my first reading of the updated Kindergarten Program Document, and some questions I had regarding a chart in it on “traditional planning” versus the “inquiry-based approach.”

I wondered if “inquiry-based approaches” could still include some topics under “traditional planning,” like dinosaurs, as I knew that in the past, I attempted to go deeper with them. This year, my teaching partner, Paula, and I even further explored this thinking when we quickly saw an interest in dinosaurs, and we wondered what else was possible. We felt optimistic when students shared a strong prior knowledge on this topic.

While there was a little bit of research and some initial discussions with groups of students in class, this inquiry topic quickly died, as it was hard to push beyond the concrete.

Students shared what they knew, and learned a few more facts, but applying this knowledge in a meaningful way proved challenging. While some dinosaur play has continued throughout the year, it never goes beyond play: with maybe a few connections to social skills, oral language, math (measurement or counting), and possibly some reading or writing. This kind of imaginative play has a place in the classroom, and can be very valuable for kids, but as we work with groups of students to develop critical thinking skills, questioning skills, problem solving skills, and plans for action, are these really the best topic choices? I think that this is when learning has to be “real.”

I actually thought a lot about this yesterday morning when I received an email from a colleague (and friend) moments before the bell. This teacher noticed that a branch was breaking on one of the younger trees in our school yard. Our students love to swing from this tree, and while they can’t reach this particular branch, they could definitely break other ones. This teacher wondered if the Kindergarten Team could talk to the students about not swinging from these branches. She was around to plant these trees, has seen them grow up, and wants to have/see them for many more years to come. I totally understand. We could have told the students to just “stop swinging from the branches,” but instead, we presented the problem to them and asked for their help in solving it.

These tree branch solutions dominated our outdoor learning time yesterday.

In retrospect, it’s these kinds of experiences that result in deeper learning. This teacher’s concern allowed students to problem solve, own the problem, and own the solution. I think this will change how they play outside, how they view the trees in the forest, and how they talk to others about the use of these trees. When we’re outside in the morning, some classes of older students also come out for phys-ed or D.P.A. (Daily Physical Activity). They often play with our students in the forest. I wonder if Friday’s conversation and call to action will change how all of these students use the trees and the discussions that they have about them. Even some teachers in the staffroom were talking positively about the signs on the trees. While students spelled most words using letter-sounds, the use of these sounds coupled by picture cues made their message clear, and both students and adults, are taking notice of it. 

Looking back at the chart from the Kindergarten Program Document, I’m given an even better appreciation for the content on the right. I’m also reminded that as Kindergarten educators, we have many jobs to do. I think that one of our responsibilities is to expose children to meaningful topics that can provide concrete learning experiences while also allowing for deeper learning. Will students always articulate these interests first? Maybe not. But if we provide children with diverse learning opportunities, will some of their interests change and connect with topics beyond the creative world that so many of them know and love? How do we help students extend their interests while not ignoring the ones that already exist? I think of the mom that wrote me this morning. Her child now talks about something else beyond stuffed animals, cats, and princesses. There’s something to be said for that. What do you think?


2 thoughts on “How Do You Find Balance Between The “Creative World” And The “Real World?”

  1. I enjoyed reading this reflection, since I’ve thought about this too, and completely agree with you…..pretty hard to create inquiry when we cannot provide ‘real’ opportunities to engage and explore!!

    • Thanks Sue! I think that these real opportunities are so important, and allow students to go beyond what they already know and apply their learning in different ways. Creative play still has a place in the classroom, but I think that inquiry topics need to go beyond the imaginative.


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