This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about how kids communicate their thinking and learning. My teaching partner, Paula, and I are strong advocates for play-based learning. We believe in the value of “free play,” and really do try to give kids ownership over the classroom and their learning. Since the idea of truly free play tends to cause adults stress, I think that Paula and I are even more aware of how we support academic skills through play. If you listen to our videos and read through our Instagram posts, you’ll see that we’re constantly encouraging kids to write notes and make signs. Books are everywhere! Kids are often reading and discussing texts as they eat and while they play. Mathematical problem solving makes its way into our building and creative spaces, as well as our outdoor play. We try to name math thinking and learning through play, and encourage kids to use math language, much as this child did yesterday. We know that the development of these academic skills are important, but I think, even without consciously realizing it, we feel the need to defend our choices. We feel the need to defend play.
I’ve heard the word “different” used to describe our program before, and while I don’t think that this word always has a negative context, I can’t help but think of my grandmother, who always used different to describe something that wasn’t her favourite. I tell myself that I’m okay with us being “different,” especially if this difference brings with it student success, as we’ve certainly seen over the years. This doesn’t mean that everyone has to be just like us or we need to be like others. There are many ways to meet the same goals. But sometimes “different” makes me feel sad, and wish that I saw this word in a more positive light. Maybe we try to reduce this difference by making sure that academics are often front and centre of the learning that we share each day and the conversations that we have with kids. It was through some recent discussions with students though that had me wondering about how we support the 100 languages of children, not just the more traditional options.
It started with the further contributions to our Box City. A couple of weeks ago, we started to create the town of Dundas in our classroom. This project slowly evolved, moved to an even bigger table, and more recently, included the changing seasons of the town.
As kids worked on this city, Paula and I spoke a lot to the children about what they were doing, what they were making, and why they were making these choices. These artistic choices actually have them communicating what they know about the seasons, about electricity, and about our community. Does writing really make it richer, or is just as much shared through art?
I had similar thoughts when a couple of children used plasticine, and later the whiteboard, to retell the story of Plastic Planet. Despite encouraging some reading and writing connected to this — something that I almost do naturally now — I thought about how much these kids shared about the environment through their creations and their conversations. Is this communication equally as powerful as other options?
An Earlier Experience On The Same Topic
In Ontario, we have a Program Document that supports the 100 languages of children by even including The Arts as part of the Demonstrating Literacy and Mathematics Behaviours Frame. Paula and I know this, so is it sometimes okay that reading and writing don’t become our go to extension? It’s hard to change an approach, and I’m certainly not suggesting that we downplay the importance of academic learning, but academics can be supported in so many different ways. As the calendar year comes to an end, I keep thinking about “play” as my one word goal for the year. Maybe I can stay focused on this goal, by also thinking about the different ways that kids communicate, and the rich learning that can come from truly following the lead of the child. How do you do this? What might this look like in different grades? I’m not sure how I’m going to reduce my initial inclination to always push reading, writing, and math connections, but maybe doing so, will have me spending more time observing and talking with kids. I think that they might be the key to this change in me.