Walk into Black Dolphin Cove, the Harbour Village’s immersive learning space, and you could mistakenly think it’s a “cute playroom” with its wide array of wooden kitchen toys that is “a bit of a mess” with children scribbling away on cardboard boxes in another corner, while still more children are trying to get what looks like slime off their hands in another corner. Get past the initial perception you have of this “cute mess” and you uncover amazing learning opportunities for our youngest learners at The Harbour School.
I’ll like to share with you two stories of how learning took place through play at the Black Dolphin Cove in the last week.
The science unit this term is on matter and Prep students were introduced to new vocabulary on the three states of matter, ‘solids’, ‘liquids’ and ‘gases’. In our first story, we see two students experimenting with cornflour “slime”. This is simply a mix of water and cornflour. There is no recipe. The children experiment with different amounts of the two ingredients and talked about the different textures. At one point, when they mixed approximately two-parts corn flour to one-part water, the resulting texture became quite exciting to them. Student A, who at the beginning of the academic year spoke only a few English words, is mesmerized and exclaimed, “It is solid for 5 (seconds) and then liquid! So funny! Look, 1-2-3-4-5, gone!” Student B chimes in excitedly with, “Mine too, mine melting!” To use that vocabulary to describe their experience is an example of they had truly understood the meaning of these new words. Students A and B as well as other Prep students who were ‘playing’ with the slime and discussing their play with their friends are effectively utilising and extending their vocabulary in this very simple set up.
In our second story, we see Student C walk into the Harbour Village’s still-evolving “Makerspace Junior”. It is, essentially, a station stocked with household castaways such as cardboard boxes, empty bottles, bottle caps, plastic trays, paper and masking tape. Student C picked up an empty box and asks, “What is this?”. A simple response of, “I’m not sure too. What do you think it might be?” got her giggling. Realising this box could be anything, Student C decides to make a house. “But I want to have stairs in my house, I want to go up. I can’t go up here,” she wondered out loud. She almost stopped in her effort, but when prompted with, “How might you do that?”, she decided to rummage through the recycling bin and got another box to attach on top. She thought aloud again, “But what if it rains, then we’ll get wet”. By now, she needed no prompting. She went to the recycling bin herself, found a small plastic tray which she realised was too small to be the roof. She mumbled the problem to herself and then found a larger tray. After solving the roof issue, she then decided she needed people in her house. So she counted out four toilet rolls, one for each member of the family and drew faces on them. Happily, she starts playing with the new toys she had created and discovered a problem - the family could not fit under the plastic roof. She figured out she had to extend the height of the roof and found a way to do it. Throughout this entire process, Student C spent thirty minutes concentrating on this one project which was entirely led by her. She measured, experimented with size and shape and through experimentation, developed the beginnings of understanding the design process which requires constant improvement and problem-solving.
What you have probably noticed from the stories is that play-based learning is not about the Black Dolphin Cove. It is actually about creating the opportunities for our children to explore, design and be challenged. As parents and teachers, we need to be aware of asking the right questions, extending their interactions and most importantly giving our children space to grow. Space to develop their own interests and consolidate their experiences, like Students A and B, space to fail as well as discover their own ability to solve problems, like Student C.
So next time your child wants to play with that cardboard box or has decided to dunk his hand into the cake batter ... you are definitely allowed to think “Oh my goodness, what a mess!” or better yet, embrace it as a wonderful learning opportunity filled with endless possibilities. So, go on, have a play!