When unfettered play leads to meaningful learning.
There are multiple modalities that arrive at teaching and learning, but one facet remains universally intriguing to a child—play. At Woodland, children have dedicated playtime to express their creativity and exercise both their mind and body. Felicity Ackers, Woodland School's director of early childhood, applies the Reggio-Emilia philosophy to teaching and learning and can attest to the abundant power of play in a developing brain--whether it's in her preschool/prekindergarten classroom or with other grade levels or elsewhere on campus.
There is Wisdom in Play
"A couple weeks ago, I spent some time in our K-8 after school program," said Felicity. Similar to her Reggio-inspired early childhood classroom, student play unfolded to present itself as meaningful learning. Here is a selection of Felicity's recorded observations:
Ingenuity, Innovation, Collaboration
Play can manifest in spectacular ways. "Three first grade students built a water system in Woodland's after school program," noted Felicity. Their play resulted in an example of ingenuity, innovation, and collaboration at work. The students described their engineering project: "We are building a water system for the worms since there is no more rain. The water will sink into the sand and will keep it soft like a sponge to help the worms survive." A natural progression of their work, the students then became entrepreneurs in their own right, establishing a process to fund their water system and find more help. "We are also collecting cool rocks to sell so we can buy cool stuff and get assistants to help us build the water system faster."
"Another student was playing independently and taking her time to draw with sidewalk chalk.," Felicity noted. In no time, her imagination and creativity unleashed, she created a two-dimensional world frozen in time. When asked about her work, the student then shared a story to accompany her artwork.
Asked how these skills acquired through play also impact learning in the classroom, Felicity answers: "Play is the wonder and marvel that builds the curriculum, an organic 'process' that stems from allowing the child to be the protagonist of their lives," said Felicity.
The benefits of play include:
- Building relationships and developing social skills with others from a young age
- Building a strong emotional and physical bond
- Developing empathy
- Always offering a place of the possible, where they can imagine and grow
"Children are capable of so much, more than one might give them credit for," Felicity continues, "and this is really evident in observing how they play. Sticks and stones turn into elaborate engineering projects and chalk into scenes from their own stories."
When asked more about how she views the role of the teacher, she discusses: "We are advocates for children. We see potential in all our students and clear the path so that the voice of the child can come forward uniquely. Children are able to go out into the community, explore, experience, build, create and be productive citizens," says Felicity.
How Student Initiative Ignites the Learning Process
Woodland's early childhood center (preschool/prekindergarten) defines itself as Reggio-inspired, a place where children bring forth their creativity in a play-based environment. This hands-on learning is a dotted line to the project-based emphasis found at other grade levels at Woodland. Students here take ownership in the learning process. They learn how to think instead of what to think by immersing themselves in an environment that is stimulating and inspiring and not bound to the classroom or the constraints of the school day. Whether through play or another environment that emphasizes a student-first culture, students are liberated to express their creativity and ingenuity. What comes along with that is pride in the product that they manage to manifest. And they do so in really spectacular ways.
About the Authors
Felicity has 23 years of experience in early childhood education and 19 years of service at Woodland School. Her teaching philosophy involves creating a nurturing environment tailored to each child's individual academic and social-emotional needs. She encourages students to develop communication and fine and gross motor skills through play and self-directed activities. To unleash the power of imagination, creativity, and wonder, Ms. Ackers incorporates stories, arts/crafts, and role-playing into the classroom. She is looking forward to witnessing children thrive and transition to Kindergarten with Woodland's Reggio-inspired Early Childhood Program.
Bethany is an experienced digital marketer who employs content strategy and data-driven decisions to launch effective marketing campaigns. Prior to Woodland, Bethany worked on the agency side helping clients around the globe find creative ways to achieve their marketing and communication goals through web technology. She has presented both nationally and internationally on web strategy and best practices.