One of the most important experiences we try to encourage in Pre-K is teamwork. All young children start out convinced that they are the only ones on the planet that have an opinion or idea worth pursuing. As they get older, they begin to realize that others’ ideas are not necessarily the same as their own.
Young children frequently play near one another, even engage in similar activities, but do not work together. This is called associative play. They may or may not be using the same toys or equipment, but they are in the same space. Commonly, they don’t even notice that the other person is present. You’ve seen the debacles that can occur when two children’s plans for one toy intersect. For children at this stage, we support them by providing an ample amount of toys to choose from. When an argument ensues, we help the children voice their desires. We literally ask each child what he or she wants. Once both children have stated what they want, we either find that the problem is solved (they actually want different things) or we work with them to find a solution.
As the children grow, associative play develops into more intricate and involved cooperative play. This play looks more like what we remember as children. A pair or group of children work together to design a plot and a goal. For instance, they might decide that they are on a dragon hunt. They might plan where they will look, which tools they will use and where the dragon is hiding. In our class, we call this “sharing the story”. We encourage the children to allow each child involved to have some part in the story creation. At times, a group will have one person who prefers to make up the entire tale themselves and direct everyone else. This is developmentally appropriate as they are only beginning to see that other people have opinions and feelings. However, we frequently remind them that individuals always get to choose what they wish to play. If I am telling Katie that she has to be the bad witch, she does not have to agree. She can either choose to be something else or she can choose to play in a different group. I do not have the right to insist that she do what I want. This can be a bit painful for some children when they realize that they can’t control the universe, but that is why we are here, to guide them through it.
While in P.E. earlier this week, the class created a new venue using the Imagination Playground. When I arrived to pick them up, I was ushered into our new, fancy shoe store. There were displays of “shoes” and a register area to check out your purchases. Workers would measure your feet and choose a shoe to fit your needs. Some of the shoes were fancy and some were for hiking. Now, I just need to get some tape, paper, and pens over there so they can make price tags and labels!
Our fuzzy little robot friends have been cause for much experimentation this week. The children have been building structures to house them, race them, and test their abilities. After some attempts at allowing the Zhu Zhus to roll on the carpet, it was decided that smooth surfaces are easiest for them to maneuver on. Luckily, we have some large flat blocks that make a perfect floor. The arch shaped blocks made a great bunker for the robots to “sleep” in until they were ready to be on the move. A few attempts at ramps were also adjusted until the children found a way to butt the pieces together in a such a way that the Zhu Zhus’ wheels didn’t get stuck.
“He goes down the slide and through the door and into his playground”
A separate experiment involved speed. Three children were taking turns placing a Zhu Zhu on the top of a ramp. They then tried pushing the various buttons in turn to see what would happen when they let go. Usually, it made a noise and then rolled quickly down the ramp. Sometimes it fell off the side and sometimes it made it to the bottom and pushed the “blocking” block out of the way. Interestingly, one of the Zhu Zhus had a second speed. One of the children discovered if she pressed the back button in a special way, it made the Zhu Zhu go very, very slowly down the ramp. Then they tried to replicate the results with a different robot, but it didn’t work. After much frustration and many attempts, I thought they would give up the process with the second Zhu Zhu, but I was pleasantly surprised that their hope and interest did not flag.
“I pressed my fingers like that [uses three fingers to press the back button of the robot], and made it go slow.”
“This one doesn’t go slow.”
“Let me show you.” [She pushes down in same manner and it goes fast, down the ramp. She flips it over, inspects the underside and tries again.]
Although the second Zhu Zhu never did “learn” how to go slow, the experimentation, cooperation, and willingness to meet a challenge was very exciting to see.
On Friday, we used all of our block resources to create fanciful castles. Two groups of students worked as teams to design the structures. Before beginning, we talked about the concept of a moat and what it might have been used for long ago. This led to a discussion about drawbridges, gates, and how one might get into a castle.
The group building in the block area began their building with the outer wall. They used many arch blocks to form the face of the castle. They had a difficult time deciding whether the moat should go on the mirror facing side or the opposing side of the wall. Together they realized that if they put it on the mirror side, they would have more room to build their outer walls.
One of the children was worried that the people who live in the castle would not have any flowers or grass to play in. She arranged a green silk as a garden to solve this problem. The blocks that are holding it down are sidewalks around the edge.
The other group of students were building on the main carpet. Their design differed greatly from the one above. For this structure, all four partners helped carry many blocks over, but then each built their own sections. The different “rooms” went together after they were built. It was interesting to watch this more obvious associative play. While they shared materials, it was not until it was finished that they began to share the same story. This castle sports two drawbridges, one area referred to by the designer as a bedroom, but by another child as a prison, and two main living areas. Most interesting to me was to see how they easily connected all of their independent buildings together without any fuss over space or duplicate structures.