I think of a ‘Lesson’ as a planned activity with an expected outcome – structured and defined. An adult led activity with a predefined goal that upon completion is either right or wrong. Any activity that requires me to constantly ‘correct’ or ‘redirect’ what a child is doing with the supplies is not a learning activity – it is an obedience activity with the goal of conformity to rules and following directions.
Learning through play is all about exploration, experimentation and observation. Unstructured play offers opportunities for learning without a predefined result – no right or wrong conclusion – no pass or fail. I consider the majority of our activities to be unstructured. ‘Planned’ activities are generally just activities that require some type of advance preparation rather than a specific outcome.
Last week I introduced the infants and toddlers to a new sensory bin.
You might think that the bin has a Valentine theme but that was not intentional. I wanted the flower petals and the dollar store only had red ones in stock. If they had had other colors I would have used more than one color. The foam hearts were chosen for their texture not their color or shape.
The various pieces of green wool were also added for their texture – I have many different colors and types of wool but these ones were left over from another craft and already cut into small pieces so I used them. The metal trays, paint brushes and water were ‘extra’ textures outside the bin.
Throughout the activity I didn’t instruct the children but I did describe and comment on what they did. The baby insisted on sitting in a chair;
Normally the smaller children just use these chairs when they are sitting at the little table because it is difficult for them to reach items on the table when they are sitting on the floor. The sensory bin was on the floor so it was easier to access without the chair but he wanted to sit in it. His preferred activity didn’t involve the bin anyway. He enjoyed using the water to paint his hair;
That’s still a sensory activity using the supplies provided. It also helps to develop motor skills and coordination.
Some painted individual hearts;
And arranged them – sorted by colour – on a tray. Wet foam pieces stick to the metal trays but dry ones slide off;
Others enjoyed a more physical approach diving into the bin – stirring, tossing, and squishing the items at the same time as another child was meticulously balancing the white hearts around the edge of the bin;
And the baby moved on to pushing the hearts and petals through the little hole in the top of his paint container and down into the water.
All of them are learning and developing new skills. The learning outcome is not their ability to copy what I asked them do. It is their demonstration of what they have discovered and how they put it to use.
We’ll use this bin again in the coming week(s) and I’ll add some other items too. Maybe the children will continue to pursue these same activities. Maybe additional equipment will enable them to expand on these activities. Maybe they will try something completely new. I’ll make the introduction but we’ll have to wait and see what the outcome will be.