Friday, November 8, 2013

Noticing Learning Opportunities During Play

The more I explore play based learning, the more I see how the other parts of the curriculum can be covered during their play...not to mention the practice they get in developing the 21st Century Skills they need to be successful in life such as being a team player, problem solving, conflict resolution, collaboration, decision making, communication, and responsibility.  It makes me realize that when play is taken away, the opportunities to truly practice those life-long learning skills in real situations is also taken away!  Below I have many examples of how learning takes place during play!

They create plans during exploration time. They have been learning that to be successful, you need a plan, focus and persistence.  They are working toward creating plans that consist of a picture representation of what they will create, labels, lists of materials needed and directions to follow.  We have just started creating plans this week and I think they are off to a good start. Here are a few examples of their plans. 

They can also work together as a team on a plan. One child draws the plan as they discuss it. Another creates a list of materials needed. Another can write the directions. Below is a picture representation that a team of three worked on after a Lock Down Drill to create a castle using 3-D shapes.  They showed me after it was finished how it worked. They rolled a heavy wooden sphere off of the turret. It fell on an intruder that was trying to break in.  They collaborated and problem soved until it worked!  It worked brilliantly!

Here is a list of materials and a list of responsibilities one team created when planning to build a zoo.

I was amazed at how organized they were! They started out by collecting materials, including paper for the sky and a bright orange gourd to use as a sun.  They created trees, play areas for the animals using rocks, ramps for them to slide is still a work in progress!  Below, you can see them collecting materials in one place and creating the trees for their zoo.

This picture shows them adding the sky and the sun. 

 I will add a picture of their zoo to this post after they finish it. 

They also used writing to show me they are loyal to my favorite college football team, the Michigan State Spartans!

I am amazed at how much writing and learning experiences happen during during play!  Here are some more examples of things that have been going on as we played!

We let our praying mantis go!  They loved how he blended in with his surroundings! A great example of camouflage that caused a great discussion as they observed it.


Our playground was taken over by thousands of ladybugs! They were all over our play equipment and us! When we came back inside I noticed a bunch of the kids had tightly closed fists so I brought out our insect viewer and had them put them in so we could observe them. 

I set them up with materials to help them explore them further if they choose. 

One small group opened up a book fair like the one our school had a few weeks ago!

Some researched things on their own that they were interested in.

One group opened up a restaurant. 

Some relaxed with a good book. 

Some documented what they noticed about pumpkins. 

They worked those fine motor skills creating sculptures with clay. I love the mermaid one friend created!

Some chose to practice Numeracy skills.  

I am having so much fun observing and taking part in the things that they are doing!  I love seeing their brains at work while they play and explore!  Our pumpkin exploration is still in progress! I will write about how our investigation is going next week!


  1. Thank you for the pictures! I am placed into a ELKP classroom as a teacher candidate and if you have any suggestions of ideas that you would like sharing that would be great....keep up the good work!

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words Karen!
      Darla Myers

  2. Darla,
    I love how they are creating plans for their learning. Can you tell me how you introduced the "plan making" with your class. Also, how long do you have them work on their planning? Finally, do you have them verbally tell you their plans first so that if more than one child wants to work in certain areas you could encourage a "team" plan? Also, do you limit the number of students that can work on the same plan? (What do you do when too many children want to work with the blocks, for example? I would love to try this with my students, but I am struggling with these questions.

    1. Hi Chris!
      I am so sorry it has taken so long to reply! I modeled how to make a plan for quite a while. We started out just making pictures and labeling them. Now they have a form that has a place for what their project is, what materials they need, and their design. Having them start out verbally is a good idea. Usually they congregate in a space and start talking and then they plan together. I have been modeling whole group how to make a plan as we have planned projects together. For example, they wanted to create a bakery in our home living area, so we created a plan whole group using the same form they use. I used their input to draw the design. We all came up with a list of materials to gather. It really makes them organize their thoughts. If you see my post about their masquerade masks, you will see how closely they followed their plans. I am convinced that if they had not made a plan first, they would have just thrown glitter and feathers all over their masks. I have had to limit the number of kids in each area. I only have enough blocks for two structures so only two kids or teams can be in that area. Same with legos, K'nex, and 3-D shapes. Before we start, I tell them to think of a plan and a back up plan in case the area they want to go to is full. The plans are just sketches, labels and lists of materials so they do not take too much time. I do have a few kids who fight me on making plans. And a few places only need a verbal or mental plan. This is the first time I have tried this so I am still figuring it all out myself. Do I make the kids all make plans? Can some just tell me their plan? Still not sure! Let me know how it goes for you! You may be able to help me out!
      Darla Myers