The opportunity to learn through play is one of the greatest gifts I am able to offer to children each day. Observing how children transform their play into something much more meaningful is one of the greatest gifts the children provide me.
Extensive learning happens with natural materials, such as river rocks, which are found in our yard. This material and all of its properties can expand the way children think together. This story demonstrates how children gain understanding of how a simple rock can be so meaningful in the way we learn through play and the relationships we build.
Keegan, 2 years 10 months, lines up his rocks along a board on the picnic table. As he places them on the table he counts “1,2,3,4,5…”, sometimes moving and rearranging them. As the play continues he again counts, and transfers all the rocks one by one to the middle of the table. Grace is watching Keegan intently and slowly approaches him, listening to all he says. Now Keegan is naming the rocks while moving them, “Mom, Dad, Tess, Duck”. This is Keegan’s family.
Three-year-old Grace sits across from Keegan and he instantly notices her rock. “Mom?” he questions as he points to the rock in her hand. Her eyes light up and she replies, “I miss my mom. This rock is soft like her. I’m holding it safe and I will give it to her when she picks me up.” Grace’s eyes then fill with tears at the thought of her mom, who she misses very much. Grace always looks for special rocks to give her mom and places such tokens carefully in her cubby for safe keeping until she can present them to her. Keegan picks up his “mom” rock that is
representing her in his lineup. He shows it to Grace and then puts in back in line. “My mom here,” he says.
“Rocks lined together, I have more from there,” Ava, age 3, points to the grass where she had been collecting rocks. “Want some?” Ava is simply wanting to be a part of the fun. Her ability to enter into other children’s established play is flawless. Her ease and confidence shines and the genuine way she wants to be with her new friends is apparent in all she does. Keegan offers her a rock from his line. “Friend rock, for Ava.” My heart melts at his offering, Keegan is so aware of the kind and gentle friend that Ava is and doesn’t hesitate to share a rock to make her feel welcome in the play.
Five-year-old Halle’s thoughts….
“I think Keegan is soooo cute! He is using his rocks to play family, you know, like with them all. Mom & Dad, kids and pets. But I don’t think he has any dogs?” Halle questions Keegan as she helps hold his rocks safe. “Those kids are building a fire for camping with rocks, like the one we made last time. But Keegan needs his family rocks so I’m going to help him save them here. Sometimes they’re a family, sometimes a campfire.” She just shrugs her shoulders displaying complete acceptance of each child’s view of the rocks.
Building relationships using materials can set a strong foundation for children to grow and support each other. These materials can represent many different things to children. Offering children opportunities to make discoveries through play is fundamental in building their confidence to learn and their ability to communicate their thoughts, feelings and ideas to others.
I learn much from research: ideas about socialization, thoughts on ways to contribute to and further play, as well as ways to scaffold and bridge play ideas for children. This research, along with my own personal research, reminds me to listen…listen with my eyes wide open, with my heart on my sleeve and with my ideas readily available to become part of the play. Without research, continued professional development and sincere love for these moments I may not have seen this through the “lens” I needed. It’s easy to move through a day and miss these moments. Yet living with our guiding principles and with fresh thinking I see them clearly every day.
Submitted By: Christine Barrett, Compass ELC Bowmanville Program, Preschool Educator
To read previously posted Compass ELC Blogs, please click HERE.