Playful Learning In Kindergarten




No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.
Aesop

When colleagues ask me what is most important ingredient for learning I answer  "Kindness Patience and Time". I want to say something more profound but that really that is what I ask myself at the end of each day along with How did it go, what needs tweaking, what worked and so what's next? The more I reflect on my practice I realize that children need me to treat them with kindness, I need to find patience to listen, step aside and observe, that time is a critical element in allowing them to learn and grow, especially in a play based program. 

This past year my professional learning action project was to better understand about the growing anxiety in young children. Naturally, play continues to be a large piece of children's childhood including play in preschool and primary classrooms and so I read countless journal posts on the topic. While I was reading about playful learning this past year, I was surprised that the research suggested that there has been a drop by about eight hours a week in the amount of time children play, over the past two years. This is juxtaposed with an increase of children from all backgrounds entering school with underdeveloped play abilities as well as a decline in emotional and cognitive self regulation in some young children. 

This loss of opportunity to build self regulation through play experiences has created a need for teachers to be purposeful about building self regulation through school experiences for both emotional and cognitive self regulation. It also makes me wonder how this contributes to the increase in anxiety we are seeing in young children. I read recently that it is the number one health problem for young children.

Self regulation has been a big interest for the last five years as public schools respond to a notable decline in self regulation while adding Full Day Kindergarten programs. Teachers are looking for definitions, programs and resources to teach self regulation.  Instead I believe we should identify those factors which provide experiences which in turn develops self regulation.

I began by observing preschool teacher's interactions with students as their programs are both play based and responsive. I noticed four key elements: there was a consistent calm, warmth and gentleness when teachers interacted with the children; the flow of the day was predictable and responsive to the children's stamina; the learning environment was organized and responsive to the children's learning; most of the children's time was spent in open ended play. The more open ended, playful, organized and responsive the environment was the more the children were self regulating. In these classrooms the teachers provided affection, meaningful praise and were sensitive to children's needs. When talking with teachers they referenced specific strategies selected to support specific students. Teachers working together used shared language and strategies with the vulnerable children. These programs also included opportunities for self directed play outdoors where the environment offered natural and open ended play materials like sticks, stones, plants, bugs, dirt and water.

I expect that transferring some or all of these elements to Kindergarten classrooms should continue to support growth of self regulation in children. This decision helped me in my planning for not only my practice, but also the consulting work that I do for school teams.

This summer I returned to work as a educational consultant for vulnerable 4, 5 and 6 year olds in a summer program. I was determined that these elements would be used. In our planning we were intentional in which frameworks were chosen and the sequence for the daily flow. We learned as much as we could about the children and then chose strategies to support them and move their learning forward. On the last day of inservice we planned the physical environment beginning with an empty room and being very intentional about what materials would enrich their learning and support self regulation. We used sticky notes to represent the furniture and learning centres which made it easy to move the furniture around the room. When it was time to bring in additional resources we used what we knew about the children and emergent curriculum to guide our decisions.

We combined these elements with experienced preschool teachers to provide a rich, play based and responsive learning environment. The children began last Monday and each day when I debriefed with the team, we framed our conversations around the four elements as we learned more about the children. By Friday the teachers were beginning to work as a team, the children were learning to predict the flow of the day and the learning environment was amazingly responsive to the children!!!

Liz

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