April 9, 2012

“It’s more than play.” That’s something we find ourselves saying frequently, especially when we take visitors on tours through the center and visit a classroom. On the surface, it appears as if the children are “just playing.” But look a little deeper and even the casual observer can see that there is real learning going on.

That’s what it was like the other day when I spent some time in Reed’s classroom during choice time. Reed and two classmates had chosen the dramatic play area (which might have been called “housekeeping” when we were in preschool). The girls were donning hats, jackets and boas in an imaginary game that only they could describe, Reed found a pair of plastic pliers and set about trying to pick things up.

Now that doesn’t sound very remarkable, except that Reed’s teachers have been working with him to improve his fine motor skills – skills that are essential for him to have in top notch shape by kindergarten. Of course they didn’t instruct him to spend his morning learning those skills, but they made sure there were plenty of things for him to manipulate in dramatic play, where they know Reed loves to play.

Reed used his pliers to try to pick up a homemade tambourine, a couple of plastic plates glued together with beads inside. Once, twice, three, four and five times he tried to secure this item with the pliers, and finally, on that fifth try, he picked it up and moved it over to a shelf a few feet away. That’s the kind of try-till-I-get-it attitude that our teachers work so hard to instill in all of our young learners.

Happy with the new location of the tambourine, Reed moved on to the coat rack, where he put on a chef’s jacket and worked very hard to button it. After a short interaction with his classmates he switched the jacket for a kimono and tied the sash. He seemed to prefer his own outfit, hung up the dress up clothes and found a small square tablecloth that he carefully unfolded and placed in the center of the table. When his friend moved it a smidge, he replaced it right in the center of the table.

Choice time wrapped up and Reed busily helped with cleanup. In 30 minutes he had worked very hard on learning fine motor control, stretched his imagination to careers and countries, practiced geometry and negotiated the sharing of limited space and objects with his classmates. If you ask Reed, he’d tell you he was “just playing.” Little does he know, he’s learning by leaps and bounds.