Monday, January 29, 2018

It's More Than Just Fun

The kids love it!

They have so much fun with this!

In conversations with teachers and reading online blogs and comments, these phrases come up over and over again, as the reason for planning a classroom activity, or the evaluation of how it went? “Oh, you tried that art activity on Pinterest, how did it go?” “The kids loved it – it was so much fun!”
Of course it was fun, they’re kids. They’re naturally wired to have fun. If we give them an activity and they don’t have fun, that’s what we need to worry about. The bigger issue of planning and evaluating classroom activities shouldn’t be whether they’re “fun” or whether the kids “love it”. It should be how we observe the learning and development taking place. We shouldn’t be planning for “fun”, we should be planning to meet developmental objectives and to engage the children’s interests.

“I don’t have to plan. I just put the materials out and see what they do with them.”

Every time we enter a classroom, choose a material, place it in a certain way on a table, floor, or shelf, we’re planning. Teachers in play-based, discovery learning environments sometimes shy away from this, out of fear of imposing their own ideas on the children’s play. But the social interaction that happens between any group of people, especially adults and children involves planning. Which materials did you choose to put on your classroom shelves? Are they stored in baskets, boxes, or something else? How many are there of each? When you saw that art activity on Pinterest, or in a neighboring classroom, it sparked an idea for you that was probably more than just “this is fun”. What did you think/hope/wonder that your kids would do with these same materials?

Planning a play based curriculum can sometimes feel overwhelming, as we balance what it means to “teach” and what it means for children to explore and discover. It’s true that in a play-based program, we aren’t teaching children to do specific tasks according to our directions. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t teaching. Our jobs as teachers are to observe where the children’s play is going and facilitate it, scaffold interactions between children and the materials and between children and each other, and to provide the opportunities for learning to take place.

Intentional teaching involves teachers having planning and purpose in the environment, activities, and interactions that we create, nurture, and encourage. When we choose activities, we need to ask ourselves, “What will the children do with this? That doesn’t mean we’re requiring or expecting them to do one specific thing, but we’re considering all the possibilities of what might happen. And how that ties back to learning and development?  We need to ask ourselves what experiences am I giving children that will spark problem solving? Collaboration? Innovation? Creativity?

And yes, it will still be fun, and the kids will love it. But it will be much more than that too.

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