Friday, October 3, 2014

Self-Guided Play All Day!

What does self-guided play mean in a toddler cohort?

It means providing materials that are engaging to the senses - materials that invite children to look, touch, smell, listen, and taste in ways they discover themselves.  I love natural materials, bright colors, and simplicity, and I look closely to see what interests each child the most and try to stock our room with materials that meet those interests.

It means arranging materials in a way that is open to interpretation.  When I set out materials in the morning, before the children arrive, I check my expectations.  I can create provocations to try to elicit a certain type of exploration, and if it sparks something totally different in the children, then I'll follow their interest rather than what I had in mind.

It means sometimes we play together, and sometimes we play separately.  At times, toddler-aged children enjoy playing and engaging with each other directly.  Other times, they enjoy playing side-by-side, being near each other but not directly interacting.  Often, they enjoy playing apart from one another, with lots of space around them.  My job is not to force the children to play together, but to support how they wish to play in each moment - which can also mean helping the girls negotiate when one person wants to play with a friend who wants to play by herself.

It means being open to some serious silliness!  Sometimes, a toddler just needs to be upside down (or sideways, or quacking like a duck, or singing the letters "H-I-J-K" for 20 minutes).  One of my favorite parts about hanging out with toddlers all day is that they are developing their senses of humor - they love to be funny!  I remain open to the comedy that comes my way during the day, and if I'm invited to be upside down as well, you can bet you'll see me upside down!
It means offering language to help the children process their play.  All the toddlers in Cohort 9 are in rich stages of language development.  Some are speaking more than others, but each of them is listening closely to the language around her and taking in what is said.  I spend a lot of my day watching the children play and making observations out loud: "You poured all the beads into the bowl," "Those dominoes feel cold in your hand!" "You picked up two crayons.  I wonder how you will draw with them."  I try to keep my observations open and without judgement and based only on what I see they children do, not what I think of their play or what emotions I think they are feeling.

It means allowing children space to make discoveries.  The toddlers are all capable, curious people, who are building skills, vocabulary and abilities every day.  I am so excited for them, because it is indeed wonderful to learn new words and skills.  I know that each child is learning at her own pace, by her own curiosity, and doesn't need to be pushed, so I don't ask for words to be repeated or skills to be practiced. I watch closely as play leads to new discoveries.

It means allowing a game to take as long as it takes.  Sometimes that means we do the same thing over and over (and over).  Sometimes the baby doll and the toy mouse need to approach each other 50 times and then run away.  It might be tempting for me to bring the giraffe or the bunny into the game, or to direct the child's attention to the blocks that are also sitting out.  Those actions would be to entertain my own brain, not to follow the child's interest, so instead I watch the baby and the mouse and support what the child wants to do.

I feel so lucky to be the observer of play in Cohort 9.  Every day these girls are learning so much, and it is so meaningful that their learning and exploration is self motivated.  My job is then to support and help the children to scaffold upon that learning and exploration.

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