Monday, February 9, 2015

Figuring It Out..

For anyone who knows me or has seen my Saturday morning Facebook posts.. I am a Goodwill-aholic. I am there picking up odds and ends almost weekly, each time pushing a cart full of items that would confuse almost any onlooker.  I tell stories of what the children did with the last haul. I'm sure part of the employees think I am a crazy hoarder and the other half thinks I'm some sort of eclectic preschool lady.. I think I am a bit of both. Just call me crazy eclectic-preschool lady.  Each week as the cashier rings me up she asks " What are you going to do with this?" My answer is always the same. "I don't know, the kids will figure it out."  I often bring her photos of what they did, if anything, in hopes that she will see I'm not totally crazy.

When I bring items into the classroom I try to present them in a way that does not reveal how they are to be used. Most of the learning happens as the children work to figure out the materials and how they can be used for play.  I call this the 'figuring it out' process.

The materials are noticed and used as tools for play, art, or often times overlooked for days or weeks only to be found as if they were treasure.   While observing this process I learn so much about the children, how they think and how they see the world.

 Are they out of the box thinkers, testers, experimenters, scientists, inventors,  leaders, observers, onlookers, active players, passive players? What skills have they mastered, What do they still struggle with?

This process also allows me to learn so much about how to work alongside these children. Knowing their thought process helps me provide more materials and challenges to our environment.

  "Children, and even babies, inherently use many of the same strategies employed in the scientific method — a systematic process of forming hypotheses and testing them based on observed evidence." -Laura Schulz PhD

After a weekend of thrifting I added several interesting items to the classroom. One of the items was some sort of game. I had no idea how to play the game and still to this day do not. I was not interested in the game itself, I was more interested in the many ways the children would use the parts of the game. 

The new material was almost immediately spotted and the investigation began from there. Inside of a cylinder tube were two balls with long elastic strings attached. After extensively observing interactions between children and "stuff" I have noticed a pattern. Three phases, if you will.. 

Phase One: Discovery- Placing the materials in the classroom in a way that does not dictate its use is important for supporting the children's ability to "discover" them and all of their possibilities.

Phase Two: Curiosity- Constructing questions & hypothesis "What is this?", "How does it work?", " How can I use it in my play?"  " I think this could be used to..."

Phase Three: Investigation- Now the experimenting and testing out of one's ideas happens. The " DOING." This phase can answer many of the questions presented in phase two, but at times it may add additional questions. This extends the experiment and deepens its value, encouraging the children to construct more and more knowledge.

The more uninterrupted time the children have to explore these opened ended loose parts, the more dynamic the play becomes. Handling the balls, squeezing, bouncing, tossing, and catching them developed a relationship between the children and the material. They gathered information about the capabilities of the ball and it's elastic strings, ideas were shared and theories tested. 

"While learning from a teacher may help children get to a specific answer more quickly, it also makes them less likely to discover new information about a problem and to create a new and unexpected solution."- Schulz 

A challenge is born! The children, still "figuring it out," decided to take the balls outside. After testing its elasticity indoors, they attached the velcro straps to the balance ropes and began using it for a sort of sling shot. As this play developed, a game emerged, buckets were stacked and each player was tasked with using the balls to knock over the buckets. Children who typically care about being first, or best, or the winner suddenly became children who celebrated the winnings of their peers, who compromised as the "rules"of the game were created, and who relished in the joy of pure creative play. 

Leaning back to take aim    

By providing open ended materials and allowing children to discover their uses, you are fostering a child's creativity, and natural sense of curiosity, building relationships, and supporting their natural NEED to be an active part of their own learning. 

I often think about how much learning is lost when we "over-teach." If I was to pull out the parts, read the directions and tell the children the "RIGHT"  way it was intended to be used..would learning happen? Yes, but imagine the learning and creativity they would have missed out on. Right now, at this time in their lives the "RIGHT" way is not as important than the process of figuring out the MANY ways something can be used. 

Through this child lead experiment learning was abundant. The children learned about trajectory, force, buoyancy, weight, angles, speed, gravity and exercised their large muscles, social emotional skills and gained self pride. 

Let them "Figure it out".

Other Supporting Evidence 


  1. Love the pictures! Loose parts in my classrooms and on the playground has completely changed the play in my school making it a richer, more meaningful environment for the children.

  2. Thank you Jen, I agree the change in the way the children play and interact is dramatic!