Looking Beyond the Obvious

Often times people will look at children during play and think “oh they are only playing.” For a child, play is not just play it is WORK! Through play, children are gaining hands-on knowledge of how things work and how they can manipulate materials in ways to suit their purpose. What do you see when children are building with blocks, playing with sand and simple tools, or even using natural materials in their play? Although it may seem as though the children are simply stacking blocks, creating lines and designs in sand, or manipulating natural materials they are doing a lot more than meets the eye. What may look like a simple task, play has great meaning and significance to a child. We need to look beyond the obvious and take a deeper look at the skills that children are developing during play. When we take the time to sit and observe children, listen to them as they talk about and act out their thoughts (either independently or with their peers or teachers) and even engage with them as they play, we can gain great insight into the learning that is taking place. This in turn will help us to provide opportunities that will further their learning and build upon existing knowledge.
During play children are building upon a number of different developmental areas. Take a look at the following three sets of photos and try to look beyond the obvious.

Set #1

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My Interpretation:
The “obvious”: A.A and C.M are using wooden blocks to build a structure.
Looking Beyond the Obvious: Although it looks as though A.A and C.M are simply building a structure of some sort, a deeper look reveals that they are actually building an understanding of developmental concepts of math, science, language, social, emotional and physical development. While building A.A and C.M are exploring balance, weight, stability, size, spatial awareness, problem solving, trial and error, planning, vocabulary, self-expression, fine and large motor control, body awareness, and much more.

Set #2

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My Interpretation:
The “obvious”: A.K is using her finger and a thin wooden dowel to make designs in black sand.
Looking Beyond the Obvious: A deeper look reveals that A.K is enhancing her fine motor control and is building an understanding of pre-literacy and pre-writing. Since letters, shapes and many other things in our environment are made up of different types of lines, this seemingly simple exercise is extremely beneficial to a child. “By repeating a single line, children discover they can print vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines. They also discover ways to extend, cross and space their lines. They find when lines connect they can form shapes. By combining lines and shapes children begin creating complex structures such as letters, alphabets, patterns and designs, trees and plants, buildings, boats, machines and vehicles.” (www.smith.edu/twal/)

Set #3

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My Interpretation:
The “obvious”: A.A, I.I, A.K, A.R, and C.M are taping flower petals and leaves to a piece of black Bristol board.
Looking Beyond the Obvious: Having sat with the children during this group experience of creating flower fairies, I was able to witness relationships forming. The children were engaging in communicative turn taking with the one another as the experience unfolded. It was amazing to witness the joy and excitement that the children were experiencing with each other. This experience also provided the children with the opportunity to take make choices, express their creativity, demonstrate respect for the work of their peers and take on leadership roles.

One of the guiding principles of the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education is collaboration. Therefore, after taking a deeper look at the photos and gaining a deeper understanding of the learning that was taking place, I would now like to ask you, as parents and fellow educators, to provide some ideas of how we can build upon the skills mentioned above within our classroom and school environment.

Written By: Rosanna Tantalo; Acorn School Teacher

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