During each day at TPH, there are numerous chunks of time for free play. Free play is a time for the children to play uninterrupted with objects of their choosing. The school environment is set up in a way that promotes this type of open-ended play. It is also a time to take notice of what the children are working on, what skills they are building, and how they are interacting with each other. This means that Elissa and I observe the children during this time without involving ourselves in the play, unless the children invite us to.
One day a couple of weeks ago, we came in from playing outside and the preschoolers immediately dove into free play. I was in the kitchen for a few minutes and walked into the front room to find some intricate shared explorations occurring.
I went over and sat next to G first. I waited until he looked up at me and then I asked him if he wanted to tell me about what he had built.While pointing at different areas of his structure, this is what he said:
G: "This is a garbage truck. This is the back. This is where the cans are. There's something sticky that helps it from not falling off on the highway."Then JH came over and sat down on the other side of the "garbage truck."
JH: "Can I help?"
JH: "G said yeah."
Bee: "G said yeah, you can help. That feels good."
G and JH worked on the "garbage truck" for a couple minutes more and then both moved onto other activities.
I then went over to the corner of the room, where I found IO, IR, EB, and MR working on a large, multi-level, multi-object structure. I waited until IR looked up at me to say something.
Bee: "I wonder what you're working on."
IR: "This is a castle."
IO: "Nobody sleeps in the castle. They just sleep right here. It's their bed." She pointed at a rectangular block that was covered with smaller multi-colored wooden blocks.
EB: Pointing at the blocks, "There is the princess and there is the queen." She then pointed at the green garbage cans that were placed upside down and said, "These are the guards."
Bee: "I notice the letters in front of the tree stumps."
IR: "The one with the 'K' is the king, the one with the 'Q' is the queen, and the one with the 'P' is the princess."
Bee: "I notice you placed all of the alphabet puzzle letters in a circle."
IR: "These are the chairs where they sit."
EB: "Where they do their homework. They play around and do their games."
IO: "And where they put their lipstick on and put their dresses on and their high heels too!"
EB: While placing a wooden monkey onto a block, she said, "This is where the baby princess sleeps."
After IO, IR, and EB finished telling me about the castle, IO went through the large alphabet blocks and sounded out how to spell 'castle.' She placed the letters at the front of the castle, to make sure others knew what IR, EB, MR, and she had built!
Near the edge of the castle, TS and TB were lining up the Citiblocks end-to-end, so that they were upright on their long edges. They curved the Citiblocks between the two tables and were continuing to add to their line underneath the table by the wall. TB looked up at me and smiled. I asked, "What are you working on?"
TB: "This is a spider and we are building it."
TS: "It's a spider."
TB: "And we're working on it. And it's big."
They then continued to place a few more blocks end-to-end carefully, finishing underneath a chair that was close to the wall.
By allowing the preschoolers to have time for uninterrupted, open-ended free play, they can create anything that their imaginations allow them to. They can build garbage trucks, instead of playing with ones already made. They can create an entire castle and its surroundings with blocks, wooden animals, and puzzles. They can make a 15-foot snake out of small wooden rectangular blocks. They get to experience working alone and collaborating on various projects, which strengthen fine-motor and gross-motor skills. The possibilities are endless when we provide them the environment and time to explore freely.