By Kisha Reid
The other day two of the boys in my group spent the majority of the day in the mud kitchen, They filled pots and pans with natural loose parts, packed in dirt, rocks, and water into muffin tins and worked long and hard planning a party complete with a very well decorated cake. They used kettles to fill cups with mud mixed water and laid out found pieces of felt on wood stumps as placemats for guests.
After spending the day setting up they collected paint chips and set off to cut up tickets. "What color do you want?" they asked as they cut tickets off of the color reel.
As an educator, I am able to observe this play, see what each child is getting out of it, visualize their thinking, their process and ultimately their learning. I understand the value in the children's own natural intrinsic motivation.
As I observe children in the "Zone" I watch as they solve problems on the spot, share ideas and consider the ideas of others, collaborate on completing a task, use past knowledge to take themselves further in their thinking and understanding, in effect stretching their own learning. It's like their mind is set free and their vision is clear.
If I am watching from a, what I call, "outside of the bubble" position I can see the rich learning present in this type of organic play. I can see the whole picture and all of it's moving parts. I can see children who have a deep understanding of numbers, fractions, equal parts, volume, one to one correspondence, language, vocabulary, and an understanding of how tools work. Not to mention the scientific understanding that is gained from manipulating natural loose parts, mixing mediums, and hands-on experiences with the Earths treasures. I see children who display impulse control, respect for others, turn taking, critical thinking, problem-solving, and the ability to create an imaginative story line based largely on past experience.
Now, what do I do with what I see, do I take it and plan a "CAKE MAKING DAY?" no, I allow the children to own the idea, it's theirs.. they own it. I will not hijack their play to make it fit into my mold of where it should go. I will not steer it in any direction, I will not rob them of the right to create their own play, by creating it for them.
If they evolve to the point of wanting to make this "pretend" party into a "real" party I will be there to support them as they write the list of what they need, I will take them to the store and shop for their needs, I will provide them with all the time in the world to experiment with this idea and again.. get out of their way and allow it to unfold, allow the natural learning to take place, to allow the children to own their process.