“Hmmmm, what can I put out that’s exciting today? I know, Billy was talking about robots yesterday. Oh, and we have some new googly eyes, and I remember seeing some large nuts and bolts. With playdough this could be fantastic!”
As an early childhood educator this is where most of my ideas for engaging play experiences in day care comes from – the children. When studying, educators are taught all we need to know about children’s play. In fact, I remember an entire semester being devoted to it. Not to mention it being engrained in almost every other subject. Milestones, regulations, play theories, social and emotional development, language development, gross and fine motor skills are all also in the back of our minds when deciding what to provide the children. However, when it comes to really knowing how to set up an engaging play experience which is going to spark children’s learning I have found that knowing my children’s interests and abilities is most important. In short, children have to want to play with the experience being provided. To ensure this, other factors also come in to account. Is there enough space for them to explore these resources? Is there enough time so that they can really go deep in to learning? Are there enough materials for one or a small group of children to play harmoniously? Finally, what exactly is the objective for learning?
So, how do we bring this all together? Especially in a day-care setting where multiple children will be playing with the experience over extended periods. Here are some examples of play experiences tried and tested on the job by curious minds and busy hands.
Four spots are set up with mounds of playdough (I have found four to be the magic number for activities set up at tables, not too many, not too few, just right). In the middle of the table the children will find a container with a few sections to separate and set up the resources attractively. This is inviting, respectful to the experience and allows the children to see the materials available and access them easily. The children can also find educators have got creative and set up some examples of what could be made using the materials arranging. This is the fun part!
When following a current interest which a number of children may share, thinking exactly what you want the children to learn is most important. For example, perhaps airplanes are a keen topic of conversation. This could be presented in a number of ways. Firstly, the children could simply have play airplanes with paper and pencils, focusing on the features, e.g. wings, wheels, long body or windows. Alternatively, an entire airport area with blocks, an airport play set, people and airplanes would have a focus on the socio-dramatic aspect of this interest. The children could fly airplanes together, carry passengers around the world, build airports and discuss their own experiences.
Literacy and Numeracy
One further great thing about providing play experiences in daycare is seeing the children achieve a particular skill or concept you had planned. Perhaps even greater is seeing children who don’t normally interact with experiences, such as counting or letters, show knowledge you didn’t even know they had. This is all due to the way in which experiences are presented. Literacy and numeracy can be integrated in any experiences, here are some creative examples sure to invite the children in to learning.
Numbers Car Park
Use the base of a cardboard box found around the house, or simply stick tape on a small table. Create spaces for each car to park and number them as high or low as you want. Then place matching number stickers on some cars. Next, watch the learning unfold! This can also be done with planes, trucks or boats.
One favourite activity which is always sure to be full during play time is simply a basket of rocks (purchased cheap from the two-dollar shop) with the alphabet written on them. These rocks can be used in so many ways. Placed with letter cards they can turn into a matching game where the children can attempt to make their own name. add paper and pencils they can provide examples for writing and mark making. Placed with construction trucks they provide a great addition to a construction experience, giving opportunity for new learning.
Choosing and presenting these activities becomes second nature after a while, but it’s not just one person coming up with these experiences on a daily basis. It is a team effort between educators, children and also families. The home environment plays a huge role in how children interact with the experiences educators provide. We love when parents approach educators and say, “We went to the zoo on the weekend and Jake particularly loved the elephants! He asked if you guys could learn more and about them”. From this we could go so many places!
A huge amount of thought goes in to what children play with at daycare. The time spent planning, gathering resources and preparing play spaces is all completely worth it in the end to see the looks of concentration and wonder from the children.
This article was written by Avril Mahony, early childhood educator and writer for The Baby Vine (www.babyvine.com.au).
About Baby Vine
The Baby Vine is an educational parenting information community that puts the focus back on the everyday parent by supporting them in every aspect of their lives.
The site was started by mum-of-two Flick, who wanted to place an emphasis on meaningful, useful and worthwhile content that parents can not only relate to, but gain from. Our digital parenting magazine offers researched articles from experts, developmental play ideas, personal stories, fun videos and amazing giveaways all work together to share everyday parenting experiences in all their variety. Check it out here: www.babyvine.com.au