Often, the most difficult part to conquer for teachers new to the process of “emergent”, “intentional”, “child based” curriculum is where or how to begin.
You need to begin with observations of the children. Watch them play. Provide them with provocations; interesting materials that will cause wonder including things to put together and take apart, good literature including non-fiction, nature items and art materials.
Then watch and listen. Talk to the children. What are they playing? What are they talking about?
My class this year seemed to be playing with beds. Beds! I do not know why, but a huge group of children during the longest free playtime would create beds out of blocks and cover them with baby blankets. It started for the babies and then the children started lying in them. I showed them a box of old tablecloths that I keep in the dramatic play center and they were thrilled. Soon we had at least five or six beds covering the floor each day with people in them. Sometimes the children were sick, sometimes they were “just in bed”. Sometime they got all dressed up in gowns and beautiful shoes just to get into bed.
This went on for a week, with most of the class involved, so at circle time one day I asked them about beds. I told them I had noticed them playing beds and making beds and that they seemed so interested in them. I asked them what they thought about when they thought about beds. What do you know about beds? They listed many activities-none of which were sleep-that can be done on a bed from pillow fighting to jumping. They also listed many kinds of beds from bunk to princess. When we finally got into sleeping, we got into a discussion of whether or not everyone slept?, and if everyone slept at the same time?
Then we started brainstorming questions about sleeping and beds. Are beds the same all around the world? We add to this chart often as questions arise, as the children think more about this topic, and not always at circle time. It is hard for the entire group to sit for a long time, so I usually take a few questions and comments and then tell them that I will write down any other thoughts they have during playtime.
Then I collected the resources that I could for further exploration to see if their interest continued. I found any books at our school on the topic and went to the library to collect more on sleep, beds and animals and sleep. I knew that a beloved fairy tale that included beds as an integral part of its storyline is The Three Bears. These literature experiences are not answering any of the questions we formulated above, but as we start our research, they are giving us some good critical thinking experiences as we compare and contrast the different versions of The Three Bears that the children started bringing in from home.
To build upon their interest of making the beds in the classroom with blocks and other non keepable materials, I created a center where they could create a bed. It has tongue depressors, popsicle sticks, batting, felt, fabric, cardboard, various wood pieces, a few kinds of glue and other decorations. The children have been enthralled. The first day, almost the entire class wanted to be at this area all at once. One child came up with the idea of making bunk beds and the trend caught on.
My vision of how they would have used the sticks as a base covering the cardboard and making a foot and head board, was never attempted. I am so glad I truly refrained from our natural tendency to model in any way, so I could really see and appreciate the creativity that abounded with no adult direction. A few children started their second beds today or came back to add on to the bed he/she began yesterday.
The idea isn’t disappearing, this group, and as a whole, is very interested in beds and bedtime and sleeping. So now, my real work begins. I have to continue to monitor this interest to see what they’d like to learn, and help them learn HOW to learn it. What environments can I create to help them foster this interest? What experiences can I expose them to that will answer some questions, but create new ones?
Give it a try. Watch. Watch them play.
And keep playing yourselfJ