Only in the last two years as a lead learner have I served in a building that houses prek children. To my surprise, these classrooms are structured quite differently than classrooms in the rest of the building. I knew prek staff were accountable to federal and state guidelines, but there is so much more going on in these classrooms. I believe most people view a prek classroom as a place to play, eat, and take naps. Yes, our four year olds take a long nap. Yes, they have two meals and snacks at regularly scheduled times each day. And…yes…they play…A LOT. At first glance, their play looks like…well…play! I learned quickly that play in a prek classroom consists of way more than meets the eye. I learned that slowing down, listening, and observing could tell me so much about kids, their interactions, and the intentions of their teachers.
Play Equates to Learning
Children engaged in play are in the act of learning. They are hearing new vocabulary, practicing their communicating skills, problem solving, and making connections with others. When kids sustain uninterrupted play, they are learning to engage themselves, instilling independence and confidence. Even more powerful are the choices prek children are given. Teachers do not tell them where to play or which materials to use; rather the children are free to choose where they feel will fit them best at that moment. If their area is full, they have learned to accept that and move on to a second choice. How powerful is THAT? How many times do we see tantrums and meltdowns over a child not getting their first choice? We tend to allow so much freedom when they are not of school age, and when they enter school we begin slowly taking away their choices. WHY?
Teachers are NOT Just Supervising
When I enter preschool classrooms in my school, it is often hard to find the teacher and the paraprofessional! I say this because most times they are engaged in play or activities with children. They are normally in the floor, at a table, or in a center with children around them. I often here them saying things such as, “Why did you choose this to build your tower?”, “Tell me about what you are making.”, or “Would you like to come over and do this with me?” Both adults in the room are constantly engaging in conversation with kids by asking open ended questions, commenting on what kids say, validating kids’ thinking, etc. The interaction is very purposeful in nature. To a visitor popping in, this would look much like casual conversation, playing with kids, or just plain supervision. If a deeper look is taken, so much more intention is there.
We can all learn from a preschool classroom! Much of what happens each and every day in the five classrooms within my school, should be happening daily in all of our classrooms. Consider the following questions for reflection within your building, structure, grade level, and content. How can we add a little touch of preschool?
- Do kids have choice in what they want to do at some point of the school day?
- How often do kids get the opportunity to engage in “play”? (yes, secondary teachers, I am asking you as well!)
- Do you listen, question, and observe as a major part of your assessing FOR learning?
- How often are kids creating, building, or tearing down? Can you provide more opportunities for this?
- When do you take opportunities to engage along WITH kids, participating in activities WITH them?
I firmly believe we can all improve our learning environments by considering these questions with honesty and open minds. I believe that a commitment to improving our environments in this manner will, in fact, lead to a more innovative school culture. We are preparing kids for jobs and careers that do not even exist in our current reality. Shouldn’t we be allowing more time for choice, voice, and creativity? It provides a solid start for our preschool kids, and when I imagine what would happen if we continued, I get chills. I have no doubt that kids would blow our minds with what they could do. Let’s commit to implement a little preschool in ALL classrooms. Are you with me?