As a professional trainer of other early educators one of my duties has been to train others on the importance of three things.
- The Classroom Environment
- Observation--Techniques and Recording
The classroom environment is in fact the textbooks of the ECE classroom. Play is a child's study and observation, the metric of measurement of what is being learned. Learning in early childhood is a series of observation, processing, asking questions in a series of ever growing cycles. Play is a child's way of practicing, processing, and understanding the things they are learning about the world. Here is an example.
When I was a graduate student I observed in the three year old room. During center time (a time when children are divided into smaller groups and play either alone or with others depending on the activity.). I was observing Abby. Abby opted to go into the housekeeping area. When she got there Jimmy was at the stove pretending to make bacon and eggs. She dressed in heels, a dress, a boa, a big floppy hat, and sunglasses. She told Jimmy I am going out and will see you later. She went to the snack area and ate, went to talk with the teacher, sat down and drew a picture, then went over to watch a couple of children playing in the block area. She then approached the housekeeping area with a very loudly said, "Honey, I'm home." After more than 20 years I still love this story. It shows exactly what I am talking about. Abby showed her understanding of her Mom leaving the house and coming home. She probably still wondered where her Mom went when she left the house. But, she took the things she understood about her Mom getting ready and leaving the house, along with coming home. She created her own aspect of running errands and then using the statement her Mom used when she returned home as she entered the center again. I later told her Mom the story and she laughed saying that is exactly how she does it, at home , she never leaves the house without her heels because being 4'7" meant she needed the extra height to navigate easier in the world.
In this time of play Abby took the time to explore what it meant to leave the house and run errands. She took what she had observed her Mom doing and acted it out in order to understand more about the world around her. Her teacher asked her an open ended question to help her dig a little deeper into her explorations. "Does your Mom ever bring things home when she runs errands?" Anna thought for a moment and said, "groceries". But, the look on her face suggested she had more thinking to do. The early childhood classroom is set up to help children to continue the process of thought.
One of the things I find most interesting in this process is listening to children as they play especially as they play alone. Because they often think out loud. Their biology has not yet progressed to the point that thought is internal, they literally think out loud. Teachers move around the room listening to children's "thought-speak" and ask ope-ended questions to get kids to think more and deeper about their observations. This is why play is so important for young children. It is not just about entertainment for them. It is about using an environment they can manipulate and control to work through their observations of the world around them. Allowing them to build the foundation upon which all of their other learning is based upon. Learning about themselves, what they are able to do. Learning about what Dad does when he cooks. What Mom does when she runs errands. What Grandpa does out in the shed with his tools. How to walk a line, jump, throw, make friends, put their coats on by themselves and the many other things a child needs to know how to do in order to develop into a fully functioning person. So, the next time you hear a parent say I love the center, but all they do is play all day. Please understand and share your knowledge that it is exactly what young children need!
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