Sunday, April 27, 2008

house keeping and the power of play

yesterday i attended the morning sessions of a conference on early childhood. i went last year and continue to be impressed at the speakers and resources this organization brings together. it gives me so much hope for my community that there is an organization like this working out there.

the opening speaker gave us numbers. he told us the number of words a 3 year old hears in a middle class household, compared to the number of words a 3 year old hears in a low-income household. then he broke down those words into the percent of positive words a 3 year old hears in a middle class household vs the amount of negative words, and he did the same for the low-income households. (i of course wrote these down and then left my notes in my car, which on this early Sunday morning seems like a lot of work to go get. So I'll post the numbers/facts/figures tomorrow. today is just anecdotal.)

it was stunning to see how many more negative words are said in a low-income household than positive words. yet truthfully the numbers didn't surprise anyone in the room. when i am in kindergarten for free choice time i am always awed by the house keeping center. there are days i'd like to sit and just listen to the drama in house keeping because it gives me such insight into the worlds of my kiddos.

on wednesday i was in a classroom for housekeeping when i witnessed a 'domestic dispute'. one little girl called the cops on the play phone and then reported to the pretend father and son, "they said just get 'em", at which point the father and son grabbed plastic knives from the play dough center and began to have a knife-fight in the kitchen. when the knives were taken away and the boys were redirected they first tried to argue "the police told us to!" and then "if we're good can we get the knives back?"

when they'd finally forgotten about the knives the pretend father told everyone in the house hold to "GET IN THE CAR! YOU'RE GOING TO COLLEGE" he pointed at one girl, "I'M TAKING YOU TO HIGH SCHOOL AND YOU'RE GOIN' SHOPPING BECAUSE THAT'S ALL YOU DO!! SIT DOWN AND PUT YOUR SEAT BELTS ON. I SAID PUT YOUR SEAT BELTS ON OR I'M NOT GETTING ANYONE MCDONALDS. PUT 'EM ON NOW."

i guess its good to know that his family is pretty firm about the seat belt rule.

the next session i attended was on play. i've always been fascinated on the power of play in school and am now thinking that next year i may do my teacher research on play in the housekeeping center in kindergarten. (more on this later).

the speaker presented her fascinating research from her phd project. for one part of her study she read a story to different groups of children. some of the groups were told at the end of the story, "wow! wouldn't it be fun to build a house for the kids in the story! you could put up walls and doors and give the kids a place to play..." and lots more detailed suggestions about what the kids could do. she then video taped the children working together on building elaborate structures for the story.

the other groups were told, "now you have to go build a house for the kids in the story. you have to put in tall walls and doors and give the kids a place to play..." the exact same "suggestions" the first groups were given, except instead of suggestions they were direct instructions. she video taped those groups as well.

the difference in the groups was stunning. the play groups created elaborate, creative structures and pleasantly debated and shared their ideas for the house. the structured groups ended up in fights as the kids argued over what they were suppose to do and whose idea was best. the structured groups structure were not nearly as creative, but then again she had to stop most of those groups early because fights broke out.

she gave them a post-assessment to see if there was carry-over from the original lesson. the creative groups showed powerful carry-over in skills of working together and building with blocks, and created more elaborate structures than before. the structured groups showed little to no carry-over from their first task.

i was riveted by this research.

when i taught first grade i devoted the last 20 minutes of my day (or how ever many minutes the children earned in our behavior management plan) to a free choice period where they could access any learning materials we use during the school day. the fun indoor recess games were off limits, but they were welcome to play in the science center, explore with the math manipulatives, read books, write letters, or create structures from card board boxes in the art center. i took notes on what they did, and through their choices led them to 'guided learning' on their current interests. it was my absolute favorite part of the day, but a time when i shut the door and never really told anyone what we did during those 20 minutes. free choice is kindergarten stuff, isn't it? i thought, though i knew full well that the measurement skills my kiddos learned during free choice stuck with them longer than what i taught them in math.

now that i have this research i feel a little more secure in my 20 minute free choice time. if i ever go back into the classroom at least i'll be able to back up my plan with research.

i learned so much more on the power of play and am still mulling ideas over in my mind for next year's research project. more to come on that, i'm sure.

sadly i needed to leave the conference early, but i believe my principal won an award from the organization. i'm so excited she received this honor.

i work at such an incredible place.

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