How can we build on the unstructured play that happens outdoors to create questions and contexts for learning? From zip lines to coding

We need to continue to build our understanding of play.  Specifically, how does the spontaneous play that happens when we allow for choice and provide time and materials lead to rich learning in our programs? How do we notice, support and extend this learning?

We know that outdoor play is essential for children. It is promoted in the Ontario Kindergarten curriculum as being an important part of the program.

In the Kindergarten program, learning in the outdoors is included as part of the instructional day, and the educators play an active role, engaging with children in an inquiry stance as they play, explore, and learn together outside the classroom.

Ontario Kindergarten Program, p. 33

An understanding of the importance of unstructured, free play outdoors is supported by research. A study from the University of Colorado shows that children who experienced more undirected free play showed signs of stronger executive function, a strong predictor of success in school.

But how do we move forward with this and build on what happens naturally? We do not need to come up with constantly revolving, beautifully arranged provocations. What we do need to do, and what Reggio educators support us in thinking about, is to be keen observers of children’s play, to wonder about the thinking behind it, to be curious as teacher researchers about the learning and to reflect on our documentation to consider how to extend the it.

During the 2018 Canadian Study Tour to Reggio Emilia, I had the incredible opportunity to visit the Diana School. During our debrief, the atelierista spoke of ‘relaunching of the learning’ through the creation of ‘learning contexts’. It is not about creating activities. It is about creating thoughtful opportunities for learning based on children’s thinking. Continue reading “How can we build on the unstructured play that happens outdoors to create questions and contexts for learning? From zip lines to coding”


Can We Be Mindful of Dominant Discourses as We Plan Each Day for Children?

What do we choose to do within our programs on a daily basis? How are we guided in our choices of planning, our interactions with children? What influences our decisions?

Many of us are guided by curriculum, whether it is a school curriculum, a childcare program, a framework, a guideline. We are also, however, guided by the current philosophies and dominant discourses. How do these discourses influence our thinking and impact our practice? Are we mindfully aware of them? On the Canadian Study tour to Reggio Emilia 2018, Karyn Callaghan encouraged us to view the study tour as an act of resistance to the dominant discourses in education. Awareness is important.

Before adopting practices into our everyday interactions and choices we make for children, we need to ask ourself what assumptions underlie our decisions and why we are making the choices that we are making. Continue reading “Can We Be Mindful of Dominant Discourses as We Plan Each Day for Children?”

How do we allow for the joy of ‘dizzy play’ in our programs and why should we?

Those of us who spend our days in the company of young children need not search far for understanding of this term. Whether you laugh along with it or whether it makes you leave the room for a break, we all know it. There is nothing quite as joyful as the silly, laughing, tumbling energy of young children and, as with anywhere else, in a classroom, it spreads. One child begins and before long the entire group is rolling around, tumbling or even doing cartwheels, all in full laughter and trying to get them back attentive and calm is a task only befitting the bravest of souls.

The early learning frameworks of two provinces in Canada that I was reading recently qualify this type of play with a name: Dizzy Play.

“Children’s play sometimes erupts suddenly in loud, boisterous, physical bursts. This kind of play is exhilarating and infectious, creating communities through shared laughter. Children love to twirl until they are too dizzy to stand up, laugh with others over nothing in particular, babble nonsense words in a riotous conversation, put their pants on their head or their jacket on their legs and perform for their friends. They revel in their power to turn the world upside down, playfully confident that they can restore it.”

Early Learning and Child Care: English Curriculum Framework for New Brunswick, 2007, p.29 .

Continue reading “How do we allow for the joy of ‘dizzy play’ in our programs and why should we?”

How do we negotiate learning with children?

The idea of intentional or purposeful play is one that has received a lot of attention in our Ontario context. As educators, there is a pressure to be accountable, to ourselves, to parents, to administrators.  What are the children in our care learning?  Is all play purposeful? How do we account for the learning that is happening in children’s play?

I’d like to thank fellow educator and blogger Aviva Dunsiger, whose comments and thought-provoking questions inspired this post and whose own post Calling into Question Purposeful Play on purposeful play began an interesting conversation   In commenting on The Beauty and Chaos of Free Play, she asked:

How do you find that your focused materials, discussion, and documentation varies from your free play ones? Continue reading “How do we negotiate learning with children?”

If I ‘home-stage’ my provocation, will it lead to better learning?

This is an idea that has been in my mind for the past year, percolating and trying to become a fully formed question. I am entranced by the manifestation that the idea of environment as a third teacher has taken in the form of beautiful activities set out at centres. I am inspired by the beauty of the many such centres available for viewing on the internet. I am captivated by the power of aesthetics and the idea of creating something that will entice children to explore, to create and to think with the materials laid out in a manner that inspires, attracts, and engages.

There is evident in many of these provocations a belief in listening to children and involving them in the learning, a desire to allow for their exploration and creativity and a desire to implement an approach of inquiry and emergent curriculum. I see the deep thoughtfulness of the educators as they respond to the children’s learning.

And yet I wonder…

What is the impact of creating such beautiful arrangements on learning?  Will my presentation of materials make a difference in the learning?

Continue reading “If I ‘home-stage’ my provocation, will it lead to better learning?”