So why do we spend so much of our time playing? Couldn't I spend a little more time teaching my 3 and 4 year olds how to read? How to add and subtract? How to write? I could, and while I think those things are important, and I want to encourage the children to develop those skills, I also think there is a lot more to being a child.
Children need to have a say in what they do. If you think about it, there is very little they are in charge of. Adults usually decide what food children will eat, and when it is offered, what clothes they'll wear, when it's time for bed/cleanup/to go somewhere, etc. etc. etc. Smart adults, people who get kids, know that when we allow children to have power over some decisions in their lives, they're happier, and better able to accept the times when adults really do have to have the final say.
Play provides children with the opportunity to lead, to choose what they want to do, and who to do it with. They work on social skills as well as physical skills, and are most definitely learning! In this week's blog, I'd like to offer some ideas and photographs about our outside play time.
Of course we need swings and slides and climbing things, and balls to kick or throw!
At this time of year we also need to find ways to stay cool while we play, so we have a lot of water play. I watched these two children as they patiently collected the drips of water from my mister, and then threw it in the air. Obviously they needed more water play, so I got out some tubes and containers, and added a couple of inches of water to the water table.
Much inventing followed! The children tried putting various parts together, and pouring water through the tubes. Notice all the cooperative play going on, as well as the experimenting with how the loose parts can work. These kiddos are being scientists - they're making hypothesis about how things will work, trying them out, and then modifying their creations based on what they discover.
I added pvc pipes to the water play one day, when I realized the tubes would connect with some empty bottles I had. (Yup, I'm a scientist too!) The opening to pour water in is in the center upright - and the boys on the right put an upturned bottle on it (blocking it thoroughly), added an upturned funnel (why be conventional?!), then carefully poured water into the bottom of the funnel. Obviously no water went into the tube, but they were fascinated with it spilling out, and kept this up for a long time.
Of course, there is also a lot of cooperation involved in playing with the parachute! The children have to spread out around the perimeter, and we all have to do our actions together to make it rise, fall, and for us to scoot under.
We also love to play the musical instruments outside. This is partly because too much loud noise makes me crazy (and if you've ever heard a group of preschoolers "playing music", you know why this is a problem), so I prefer to have this outside where the sound can dissipate easily.
Art activities are easily taken outside! There's no need to worry about spilled paint or water when we're outside, and it provides a calm outlet for the children who are ready for some quiet time.
Block play also translates to the outdoors easily. Can't afford fancy unit blocks? Me neither. These blocks are scraps of wood that I've rescued here and there, and store in a milk crate beneath the playground. The odd shapes and sizes provide a building challenge - not a bad thing! - and lend themselves to all kinds of pretending.
My son is interested in woodworking, and experimented with free form cutting recently - resulting in some very interesting shapes, which can be put back together like a crazy puzzle. (Think spacial reasoning skills.)
Are any of your kiddos "block heads"? Mine are! This is a favorite game. We've also focused a lot on shapes this week, and the children noticed that these were like the cube heads we saw in an animated block video earlier in the week.
Sometimes the children need places to be alone, or with just one friend, places for quiet reflection....
...Sometimes they need lots of action and many friends to be with.
Our outside play time is special, and full to the brim with learning! Is this time well spent? I believe it is!