It’s Not Just Play

It’s been quite some time since I’ve written a blog post.  As it turns out owning and operating a daycare, being pregnant, and having a baby all take up quite a bit of time and energy-who knew?! I do however enjoy writing, and one of the goals that I originally set for myself when opening my business, was to help inform and educate others of the importance of the educational philosophies that shape our days here.

Owning a business, a daycare, was not the path I sought for myself five years ago. I am an early childhood teacher by training and through seven years of college, hundreds of hours observing and teaching young children in classrooms, I never imagined that life would take me down a path that did not lead directly to a kindergarten or first grade classroom. Yet, here I am feeling more and more like I am right where I am supposed to be. In my home, teaching young children, and using educational philosophies that I wholeheartedly believe in – something I would be unable to do in a traditional classroom setting.

My message is fairly simple (though you might not know it based on the length of this post)—-play. Children NEED play. It is necessary to their cognitive, social, emotional, and physical selves that they have plenty of time throughout the day to be immersed in play. Whether that means completely open-ended play, or an activity that leads to open-minded and open-ended play, it is imperative that they play. It has been long established what play does for the development of a child, yet we continue to move in the opposite direction.  We have serious conversations about the state of our education system, yet we seem to turn a blind eye to what children really need to thrive.  We have a play deficit in this country, and we have been seeing the negative impact of that for quite some time. Academic agendas are being pushed on children from 18 months and up, and it is having a harmful effect on their entire being.  That is why I do what I do.

My daily goal is to create an environment in which children are learning important and basic life skills, academic skills, physical skills, social skills, and emotional coping skills.  There is purpose in everything we do and objectives that we try to meet which will ultimately match up with what they are going to need to learn to be “kindergarten ready”, but I don’t need worksheets to meet those goals. They learn all of this through play, and if done correctly they will hopefully grow to love and enjoy learning.  I engage them in in-depth project based learning, which is rooted in their current interests, I also pursue meeting learning objectives by doing something as simple as laying out materials for them, and seeing where they go with it.  And throughout all of this play we have discussions about colors, and shapes, and what letter sound something begins with. They learn everything they will need to know, but they also learn so much more,  and simultaneously they are happy, involved, and excited about their learning.  I work very hard to help them learn how to love learning.

Our activity yesterday is the perfect example of how academic, physical, social, and emotional objectives were met and exceeded through our play:

I recently noticed that the children in my care have been picking up sticks and other objects and swinging them around in the air, as well as swinging them to bang them on something.  Obviously this is a behavior that I have tried to stop.  However, wanting to swing, throw and hit objects with other objects absolutely has a place in the world, so this led me to thinking about how we could safely meet the need to swing and hit an object while at the same time having a discussion about safety and the proper times and places to do that type of activity.  Those were my initial aspirations with this activity.  Yet, as usually happens, the kids ended up showing me how such a simple activity could become an even more enriching learning experience.

As I filled the balloons one of the girls asked if we could paint them because we already had our paint outside.  I said “sure, what a great addition to our activity!”.  They each painted several balloons and I asked them if they would like me to paint letters onto the rest of the balloons that way I could say “Okay, now we’re going to hit the balloon that has the T on it”, and so on.  They loved that idea and told me which letters they would like painted on the balloons by making the letter shapes with their fingers (which they thought was hilarious, and I thought was fantastic).  I then strung up most of the balloons in the tree and let them each choose a stick.  Before I let them start swinging we sat down and talked about the importance of being aware of your surroundings when doing something like this, and that this was an acceptable time to swing a stick because I was there supervising, but that it is not okay to do it outside of this activity.  I told them they need to look around make sure that before they swing they are completely sure that no one is standing near them.  They did just that.  They checked all around them before swinging and when one child was swinging the other children made sure to keep a very safe distance.  They ended up hitting the balloons with the letters that I called out to them and when we were finished with the balloons in the tree we took a few over to the blacktop to play.  They asked questions like “how high do I have to throw it for it to pop”, and “what will happen if I just roll it?”.  We experimented with all of those scenarios and they were able to get answers to questions that I had not considered would be asked when thinking of this activity.

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So to get to the point—

My initial objectives:

  • Teach the kids about appropriate times to swing and hit an object
  • Teach the kids to more aware of their surroundings as they do something that could potentially harm another person
  • Work on hand-eye coordination
  • Work on gross motor skills
  • Have Fun

Their actual achievements through open-minded play:

  • Learned about appropriate times to swing and hit an object
  • Learned to be more aware of their surroundings as they do something that could potentially harm another person
  • Caring that the baby may be too close and might have water splashed on her from the balloon
  • Worked on hand-eye coordination
  • Worked on gross muscle skills
  • Had Fun
  • Observed and discussed what happens when you hit a water filled balloon with a stick vs. rolling, dropping, or throwing a water filled balloon
  • Utilized fine motor skills by painting with brushes on an object they have never painted on before
  • Utilized fine motor skills and cognitive recognition of letters of the alphabet using their fingers
  • Recalled letter sounds and shapes by hearing me say the sound of the letter and then hitting the balloon that had that letter painted on it
  • Had questions asked and answered via scientific inquiry as to what would happen the balloon and why if we rolled vs dropped vs threw
  • Continued learning about the importance of being generous, taking turns and sharing with one another (as one child wanted to break all of the balloons but realized that her friends wanted to be able to participate too)

None of those objectives would have been met if my only goal was to have them learn the symbols of the alphabet, or if I felt that rote counting was of the utmost importance. They learned more through this one play based activity than I could have hoped, and that is why I am begging you to let your children play and surround them with people who encourage their excitement and love to explore and engage in the world around them.

Keep an eye out because there is plenty more to come as I make it a point to blog more often about the things I am passionate about!