Playful Directions

Mrs. Forst's Pre-Kindergarten Blog


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North West City

Last week, a handful of the students transformed into architects and spent several days creating a city landscape in our block center. The city included parking lots, a school, an airport, a zoo, and of course lots of buildings! Each day, the students added more features to the city such as walls (to keep the animals from escaping), bridges, and more road signs.  They also designed maps for their city in case it ever needs to be repaired or remodeled. Then, this week, one of the students proclaimed that it should be called North West City. Each day, the city expands and develops into a more intricate design.

The students have worked together to problem solve when the buildings have fallen apart, where to put new structures, and what to do when they ran out of blocks. The collaboration and synergy has been effortless and is proof that that our once young, wide-eyed students are now confident and ready for kindergarten.


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Oh, the Squishiness of STEM


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The light table is open!

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What if two friends want to play different things?

A common problem in Pre-K occurs when two children wish to play together, but they both want to play a different “game” or “story”.  We often hear that “She/He doesn’t want to play with me!” when the real problem is that she or he doesn’t want to play one child’s story.    It takes many experiences to realize wanting to play separate games is not the same as exclusion (a #1 No, No).

Here is a story from one of our Morning Messages that we used to demonstrate the common problem.  I’ve also included the solutions our thoughtful young friends devised:

Once upon a time, two friends were playing in the loft.  Sally wanted to play kittens but Harold wanted to play something else.  Now they are arguing.  What should they do?

  • They should talk and figure out which one to play first. -Re
  • They should think of a solution and start playing what they want to play. -So
  • They should play one game and then the other. – El
  • They should talk to each other. -Ra
  • They should make the ideas together. – O
  • Play something else. -Sa
  • They should use their imagination and decide what they should play and then play together. – Ca
  • They should think like Tucker Turtle and think of a thing they should do. – Cl
  • Tucker Turtle goes to the park. -A

And in other parts of the room……

Working together on a BIG project.

Working together on a BIG project.

Even large projects are possible if you remember to build it one block at a time.
Even large projects are possible if you remember to build it one block at a time.

And so the entire block area was blockaded from the rest of the room.
And so the entire block area was blockaded from the rest of the room.


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Friends Work Together

Our study of friends has brought up many questions.  It has been illuminating to hear the solutions that the children provide. Working together is one of the struggles we  encounter often in Pre-Kindergarten.   When the children are sitting in a group discussing possible solutions to this quandary, they quickly come up with logical, kind ideas.  However, in practice, emotions are sometimes too high to allow children to process solutions on the spot.  For this reason, we intentionally provide the class with opportunities to practice working as a small group to solve a challenge.

Below you will find a video of three children designing a way to reunite a family of pandas.  Within this clip you’ll find our children practicing a wide range of essential life skills (focus, perspective taking, communicating, making connections, and critical thinking) as well as other executive functions (planning, organizing, impulse and emotional control, and working memory).

The most exciting part for me was watching as they persisted with a challenge even in the face of failure.  Twice, their idea completely collapsed   Not once did they give up.


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This is your pilot speaking…

This week, the students began experimenting with the big blocks and what could be created while playing with them. At first, they were used to make buildings of various sizes and shapes, but that interest quickly waned. It wasn’t until they realized how much fun it was to sit/stand on the blocks that real excitement began. It was then that our airplane was born.

Props were quickly found so that some students could pretend they were the pilot (or multiple co-pilots) while some students started designing props that the passengers might need. It was quickly designated that pilots were those that wore headphones (or pirate hats) and passengers were anyone who could fit on the blocks behind them. One child even made a TV and a remote out of paper so that she would have something to do on the flight. Only the best for our passengers!

Next came the pilot’s instructions. It was vital for the passengers to know what they could and could not do while on the plane. Perhaps it mostly involved things they were not allowed to do, including wearing hats, but it was imperative that the passengers listened to each instruction carefully and followed them without question.

Soon enough, we were in the air and snacks/drinks were dispensed to all, despite the previous instructions not to eat or drink during the flight. However, the trip was short lived. Before we knew it, we were landing at our destination and grabbing our luggage from underneath the plane. The pilots politely bid the passengers farewell and then began preparing for their future flights.

If only flying were really this easy…


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On Growing a Symbologist

Since we introduced the Imagination Playground, our classroom block building has had renewed life.  Not only are the children interested, once again, in the wooden components, but their buildings have gained much complexity compared to buildings from the beginning of the year.  The detail included in each design and the creativity when representing objects from life has grown exponentially.

As children grow, we witness much development in their ability to represent the world symbolically in play.  As adults we take it for granted that a pretend banana is obviously not a real banana, but can represent the real thing.  A very young child has to adapt to this new concept.  Infants and toddlers will put their toys in their mouths, squish them, smell them, even break them, exploring the differences between this symbolic version of something they are normally familiar with.  With more experience, they realize that, no it is not a real banana, but they can act as if it is and treat it in a similar manner.  This is actually a huge leap in abstract thought.  One of the most commonly mentioned instances of this abstract thinking is using a toy phone to “talk” to someone else.  Take it one step further and a child will extrapolate this new reality to include even more abstract play like using a block, shoe, or other seemingly random object as a “phone”.

Flash forward a few years and witness a Pre-K student playing in the block area.  They already know that they can use unrelated items to symbolize known tools, objects, and experiences.  As they build, they are stretching their understanding as they create a myriad of structures from barns, to roads, to rocket ships.  The growth we witness here is in the complexity with which they are able to make the connections.  We also begin to see more readily how they expand this knowledge to include abstract symbols that represent our language, otherwise known as letters.

The construction above was made in late August.  Notice how it makes use of the flat planes of the wood to create lines and curves that enclose a space.  This particular design was a road.  It took motor planning and fore-thought, along with good old-fashioned experimentation, to find just the right blocks to complete the circuit.  Although it represents a road, the blocks are still used in such a way that they are basically standing in for something just as flat, straight, and connected.  It is a symbolic representation of a road, but my early Pre-K students were not quite ready to branch out beyond the basic perimeters defined by the materials they were using.

Now let’s take a look at a more recent construction. The intricacy of their designs illustrates their newfound abilities to stretch their imagination even further.  No longer do the attributes of the materials predefine the creative  representations.

When she began this project, she was not inspired by the shapes of the pieces to create a symbol.  It happened the other way around.  She wished to create a computer, carefully auditioned a variety of pieces, and finished off her symbolic creation with her own drawn version of a screen and keyboard.

This may seem to be the same thing, but the brain connections needed differ greatly.  In the example of the road designed in the fall, the child began by removing pieces from the shelf. He then noticed that they could be lined up together in neat, straight lines.  It was only after he had begun his construction did he realize that it could represent a road.  The materials came first, then the symbol.  In the computer example from much later in the school year, she began with a plan to design a computer.  Next she chose materials to fit her needs.

I mentioned earlier that this corresponds to how children begin to recognize letters as symbols that can represent our spoken language.  Early drawings seem to adults to have no connection to symbols of daily life or planning of any sort.  It is the joy of the material, be it marker, pen, crayon, or chalk, that drives the creation.  Random seeming wavy lines on paper are not meant to be anything.  They are done purely for the fun and power of seeing how the materials work.  We look for meaning, young children look for joy.  As they grow in their ability to conceptualize their world, their use of the materials to represent what’s around them increases.  Letters, words, and sentences are a branch from this long line of learning that they have been working on since birth.  Moving into letter approximations (things that look kind of like letters, but aren’t), random letter strings, initial sounds written to represent entire words, and writing almost all of the letter sounds that can be heard in each word grows from their practice of accepting the symbology of our world.