Last week, we added another component to our online classroom. Based on some parent feedback from a survey that we conducted last month, we decided to create another small group option that would also align with our Kindergarten Document‘s pedagogy, and our belief, in the value of play-based learning. From this thinking, the Virtual Playdate was born.
As many of my blog readers know, my teaching partner, Paula, and I strive to be very visible thinkers and learners. We try to put ourselves out there: to our parent and school community, but also to the educational community at large. When deciding on this playdate addition, and then designing the invitation, we tried to make our intentions clear. But as we were reflecting this morning, Paula and I realized something:
while we were visible in sharing our plan, and what parents wanted out of this new experience, we were less visible in sharing our goals.
So what do we want out of these playdates? More independent learners, thinkers, and problem solvers.
In our school classroom, kids spend their day playing. We both believe that there’s a lot of value, for both kids and adults, involved in …
- choosing what to play and how to play it (true free play).
- extending learning during play, and figuring out how to connect play with past learning.
- having the opportunity to use open-ended materials in creative ways.
- problem solving when learning is more challenging or does not go as anticipated.
- embracing the process of learning: showing and talking about the thinking that happens at the different stages, and being open when things do not go as planned.
- embracing the quiet as well as the noise.
Paula and I love a “quiet hum” in our classroom, and while we never stop children from talking, we also try to support children in being aware of the volume of their voices, so that those that like and need quiet, can also have what they need.
Since we have a long block of play in class (usually 3-4 hours of uninterrupted time), we don’t worry about talking with kids right away. While a few children benefit from some initial support to get started, we also like to give kids time to settle. On their own. In a space. With materials. A plan. And an opportunity to tinker. This way, we can see what direction the children want to go before asking questions that might misinterpret or redirect their thoughts and plans. What they think matters.
While we’re no longer in a school classroom, our playdates provide a virtual one. In this virtual classroom, kids are playing alone, but alongside others. Yes, with a 30 minute small group time, and another class meeting coming right afterwards, we are more limited in our observation time. I’ve really noticed — especially in myself — the need to ask questions and talk right away. During my reflection with Paula today, I realized something important: our kids weren’t talking a lot in this playdate, but most of them were deeply engaged in independent play. This is what we want. This has value.
While we could stop and ask some questions, provide next steps, and make links to literacy and/or math, we could also watch and see:
- how do the children start play on their own?
- what are their plans?
- how does one plan evolve into another one?
- with time, do they start asking each other questions? Do they reply to questions from others?
- how might material choices impact on the length of this focused play? What materials work best?
We know that parents can become concerned if we ask kids a question and they don’t respond, but we’re not worried. This just shows how deeply engaged the children are in the play … and in many ways, this was our intention all along.
If we had more than just a couple of weeks of school left, we might consider how to extend these playdates beyond 30 minutes. Then maybe we could give online what we have in the classroom: that settling time to get immersed in play and socialize, more authentically, with each other. It happens. But probably beyond the 30 minute mark in most cases. As the summertime quickly approaches though, and COVID restrictions are still in place, maybe our support of independent play will help both parents and kids. And if we can support this independence, we can also facilitate the social and academic links that come from play: a merging of what parents desired and what we envisioned. How do you make your intentions visible? What might be the value in doing so? Maybe sometimes, like us, you might realize that you were less visible than you thought.
I love your independent play/play date idea and my partner and I are planning to try a similar thing next week. We have had lots of different kinds of virtual meetings with our kids (small group “circle” time, science experiments, crafts, reading conferences) but what we haven’t tried is supporting open-ended play in a synchronous setting. I am planning to have them select the type of materials they want to play with and then organize them from there (building, drawing/paper creations, toys such as stuffed animals, dolls, action figures). Do you have any tips for us? I’m having trouble figuring out how to “start” the group….
Thanks for the comment, Kim! Excited to hear that you’re giving this a try next week. We really encouraged the use of paper and art/drawing/writing supplies or building materials, as these are a little more open-ended, so might also allow for some communication between the kids. We try to connect with kids and find out what they’re playing with. Sometimes we encourage children to ask each other about what they’re doing. This sometimes spurs conversation. It’s hard, but we try to sit back and be comfortable with a bit of quiet time and some independent play at first. Sometimes seeing what kids are doing can also help with questioning and connecting. Hope this helps!