(Recipe here)

Looks compelling, no? What you are looking at is a giant blob of homemade green play dough, outfitted with white golf tees, 1/4 inch carriage bolts and matching nuts, and bursting inside with googly eyes.  We have experimented with giant quantities of play dough in the past (all thanks to inspiration from Denita Dinger…check out her blog: Play Counts!) and we decided to do it again.  Last time around, the sneaky Captain Quigley the Pirate hid the play dough with buried treasure and left us a treasure map to find it.  This time, I simply told the crew, “I found a giant blob of green stuff this morning when I came downstairs, and I wonder if you’d like to help me figure out what it is.”  You can imagine the excitement that followed.

You see, our morning breakfast time is our version of “circle time”.  It is the time of day when we check in with each other.  Who is here? How is everyone feeling? What plans do we have for the day?  Two kids want to play monkey?  Okay.  Three kids want to build a tower to the ceiling?  Okay.  What support can I give?  What children are going to play together?  How do we resolve feelings of exclusion?  How can we support each other’s learning?  How can we anticipate challenges and problem solve on the outset?  We do occasionally have conversations about days of the week, the weather, the letters in our name, and spend some time counting objects for the sake of having some formal cognitive discussions.  However, I believe so deeply in the developmental appropriateness of play-based learning that I look for ways to extend naturally occurring play to deepen cognitive connections rather than superimpose my own curricular agenda on young children.  I rely on an entirely emergent curriculum, so the kiddos have complete say over what happens and what themes we explore as a group.  I function as observer, extender, supporter, and general “make-it-happen-er”.

So when do we hear more about the giant glob?? 

Enter the glob.  One of the hallmarks of an emergent, play-based program is the absence of an end-product.  I use the children’s interests to generate an “offering” — compelling and thoughtfully arranged materials designed to spark wonder, curiosity, and creativity.  Based on observations from the children’s interaction with these materials, I extend the experience through questions, additional material resources, or prolonged time with a material with the goal of deepening and enriching the experience.   After further reflection, I can provide other experiences that help support the child’s explorations.  Offer – Observe – Extend – Reflect.   Emergent Curriculum.

Um, Glob?

Yes, I know. Back to the glob.  In today’s offering, I selected materials that I knew would be instantly compelling.  I have a crew that is passionately dramatic. And by that, I mean that from the moment they arrive in the morning to the moment they leave in the afternoon they are engaged in some sort of dramatic play.  I have the most success at transitions if I can enter the script and direct it towards the table for snack or steer it in a general “cleaning up” direction rather than disrespect the learning process embedded in the script by ending the play when it is time for a transition.  So, when we typically engage in sensory play, it is an extension of the script that is already running.  The dough becomes a birthday cake or food for a monkey.  I was curious what they would do provided materials that, in my mind, were clearly intended to be pieces of creatures.

I can always count on a sophisticated level of play if I step out of the way.  There is nothing quite so limiting as a specific end goal. (“Okay, now we are going to dig through this dough and use the pieces we find to make creatures.”)  Instead, if I consider the experience I have in mind as an offering, I can’t help but be amazed at where their incredible minds go!

Without further ado, photographic evidence of the amazing crew and the giant blob of green play dough.

Immediately after pulling a clump of dough out for herself, this child set aside all of the “extras” and asked for the rolling pin and cookie cutters.

Two children took turns creating cakes and singing happy birthday to one another.  This is a great example of how the developmental domains are so interrelated and develop organically through child-directed play!  This type of play works the socio-emotional core through exercising the body’s executive functions of inhibitory control (waiting for my turn to blow out candles) and perspective taking (you would enjoy a turn too and you are a different age than me), while stretching the physical development through fine motor skill work required to place the candles and shape the cakes, and tone the cognitive muscles (think of the high-level symbolic thought necessary to represent age with candles).  And we though they were just playing!

I assumed the kids would thread the nuts on the bolts. This child had a different idea. She discovered that the bolts fit precisely on the tees, and spent almost the whole time arranging bolts on tees. Also, notice the intricate pattern on her dough. After she was done with the dough, she and a friend worked for a long time matching up more nuts and bolts — an example of how one idea extends into another.

This child was the picture of joy – continually amazed at what he found as he slowly picked apart a clump of dough.

This child spent her time (when she wasn’t creating birthday cakes!) working her hand muscles. She would grab the biggest chunk she could manage, and press it between her fingers. When she was done, this has squeezed out of her fingers, to which she said: “Look! A tree!”

This child worked diligently to comb methodically through a chunk of dough to separate all of the “extras” out. She made a pile of eyes and tees, and proceeded to create a masterpiece.

I love this picture. I offered to get each child set up with their own tray, but they refused. “Nope. We can use the same tray.” For these two, learning is such a social experience, and connection with friends is evident in all they does.

We did end up with some creatures!

Thanks for reading, and let me know what you think!