We know children learn through play. Adults learn through play too, if we still remember how to be playful! If you have a hobby, you know exactly what I'm talking about. Children are natural explorers, eagerly discovering the world around them.
Over the last 20 years of working with children, I've found that most children are fascinated by the bugs and crawling things they can find in the playground. I've even taken groups of children to the zoo, only to have someone spot a roly poly, and for all the attention to be on that! On this particular week I thought I'd add magnifying glasses and notebooks to the outside environment, not with a teacher-driven agenda, but just so the children could explore and learn with them if they chose to.
You may be thinking that your budget doesn't run to magnifying glasses and notebooks. These magnifying glasses came in a 3 pack from the dollar store. The quality isn't fantastic of course, but it is perfectly adequate for learning how a magnifying glass works, and
I made the notebooks myself. I took half sheets of colored copy paper and half sheets of regular copy paper, folded and stapled them. The colored sheet made a nice looking cover, and the white pages were for whatever the children wanted to draw/write in them.
I think every child to ever pick up a magnifying glass tries it out like this at least once - pushed up on their eye. Do I date myself too much if I say it makes me think of Colonel Clink? Does anyone get the reference?
Looking at these pictures, you can clearly see there was a social aspect to this learning too, as children copied the actions of their friends. Stick a pencil over your ear? Cool! Look for critters together? Yes! Talk about what you are doing, seeing, learning? But of course!
What do you think? Were the children "playing" or "learning?" Without any prompting from me they spent hours observing the tiny details of the playground, and drawing and writing about what they saw. Some of the writing looked like scribbles, some were strings of apparently random letters, and yet others were carefully sounded out words like rlepoe (roly poly).
I believe this is the best way for our youngest children to learn. When given a rich learning environment, and the time and tools to explore and learn, children are really good at doing what they've done for millennia: play TO learn.