Tag Archives: Unstructured play

Unstructured Art

I dislike product crafts.

Product crafts require you to follow step by step instructions to recreate something that was designed by someone else.  Product crafts require absolutely no imagination or innovation.

Like a paint/color by number, or assembling pieces according to a pattern product crafts can be completed incorrectly.

Art has no right or wrong. It is all about the process of creating something — freedom of expression.

I always have arts and craft supplies available for the children to use.  There are various types of paper, crayons and other drawing implements, as well as a variety of odds and ends and some glue and/or tape.  The children have access to all these things during free play time and like all types of unstructured play the emphasis is on exploration and experimentation.

Sometimes the children create the same piece of artwork over and over again.  Even when there are other options available they continue to use the same familiar tools to create the same type of picture as they have many times before.  It is all part of the process of mastering a technique and they will move on to something else when they are ready to.

Occasionally I schedule a craft activity time for the whole group.  This is usually done so that I can introduce a new item or tool to the children, or provide an opportunity for using supplies that require direct supervision.  Even for these planned art activities there is always an element of individuality.

Our most recent group art activity involved paint, glue, and various paper products.  Given the supplies and instructed to ‘Make Something’ the results are as unique as the children themselves.

Musical Intelligence

Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences captivates me. During my work on my CBA portfolio I was thrilled to have the opportunity to research and write a paper on this fascinating theory.  Had this theory been around when I was a child I imagine people would have said that I excelled in musical and naturalistic intelligences – but they would have been wrong.

Music in particular is very difficult for me.  I thoroughly enjoyed many years of piano lessons and hours of daily practice.  I sang in youth group and church choirs.  I played the flute in the school band and as a duet with my mother at the piano.  I played the piano to accompany a good friend – who was a phenomenal singer – as she competed in numerous talent competitions.  I distinctly remember receiving many positive comments and praise for my musical accomplishments but, I have a confession….I do not really comprehend musical concepts.

I have absolutely no sense of rhythm.  I cannot dance or even clap along with the beat. In a group – I’m the one looking around and trying desperately to coordinate my actions to the movements of everyone else.  I can read music and with much practice I can usually play what is written but if it isn’t written on the paper I cannot make it up.

No, I am definitely not musically inclined but, I love music.  Music, and nature fuel my true intelligence – intrapersonal intelligence – self reflection and understanding of my own strengths, weaknesses and emotions.  It is through solitary exploration of music and nature that I can begin to understand me and where I fit in the world.  My likes and dislikes and how I truly feel.

It is not the ‘performance’ of music that I enjoy it is the practice – the hours of private perseverance it takes to learn something that initially makes little sense to me.  Like nature, music instils a sense of awe and wonder that drives my desire to learn.  Performing for an audience is stressful, overwhelming – the emphasis is on playing a piece ‘correctly’ as it is written – the way others expect it to be.  Only when I am alone, practicing, do I truly ‘play’ and enjoy music.

I am inspired and amazed by others who can create or modify a piece of music with seemingly little effort.  My son is one of those people.  He uses printed music but doesn’t rely on it the way I do.  He took guitar lessons for three years and has taught himself to play the ukulele and piano too.  Handed a mandolin and a chord book he was able to play a simple song in only a few minutes.  Knowing that I have grown tired of the materialism of Christmas he decided to play a song for me instead of buying me a gift this year.  He chose to learn “The Gift”; a Garth Brooks song he knew was one of my favourites.  It was a song that he was not familiar with and had no sheet music for but he listened to a recorded version of the song until he had learned the basic melody and then he added bits and pieces to create his own arrangement.  It was beautiful.

I’m not sure if his musical abilities are a result of any special musical intelligence.  As a young child he showed no more musical interest or aptitude than any other child I knew.  However, I do believe that his musical skills flourished as a result of his intrinsic motivation to learn and the methods that were used to teach him.  He was not taught through drills and lessons that focus on right and wrong – play it the way it is written or you’ll fail the test.  But rather, have fun, make it up as you go along, try something different, experiment….play with it.

There is always music in my childcare home.  There are many instruments available for the children to use.  Sometimes there is a CD played quietly in the background – the genre varies greatly.  The children sing, dance and create music freely throughout the day. Some days are really loud and others may not describe it as music.  Sometimes there are impromptu jam sessions and the children try really hard to collaborate and cooperate.  We’ve had a few child initiated episodes of ‘Daycare Idol’ but our musical goals are always the same — be creative and have fun.  Our music is as individual as we are.

Rhythm in the Yard

I am constantly evaluating the learning environment as I observe the children at play.  I make notes of things I’d like to add, remove or modify.  Sometimes I can make the necessary changes easily, other times they take longer.

Bringing elements of music and rhythm to the outdoor play space has been one of my goals.  It started a few years ago when my husband ‘rescued’ two large barrels made of heavy cardboard with a tin base.  We lay these barrels on the deck and the children used them as animal dens, train sheds or other type of shelter that suited their interests.

When not in use these barrels were stored upside down in a sheltered area on the side of the deck to prolong their life.  It was here that it began when one of the children discovered the sound that could be made when they banged on the tin end of the barrel.

Over time the cardboard barrels disintegrated but we kept the end caps – painted them, and attached them to the fence.  Playing these ‘drums’ has been a favourite activity for the children.

Since then I have added some other outdoor sound items like the wind chimes and the windmill which when the wind is right makes a unique sound as it flaps against the cedars.

The children have been busy creating instruments of their own.  With sticks, pails, tubes and more the combinations are as endless as their imaginations.

I was particularly impressed when they experimented with adding various amounts of gravel to this flexible tube and adjusted the placement to achieve an assortment of  different sounds.

One thing is certain – the yard is never quiet.

Discoveries

I have far more toys than our play space could contain so I rotate the toys in and out of the room regularly.  I generally don’t tell the children about the changes because the ‘Hey, look what I found’ reactions are one of the highlights of my day.

Certainly it is noticeable when I put away the blocks and put the train set in the basket instead or replace the farm animals with some from the jungle.  However, some of the changes are more subtle – the square I found at the hardware store and placed in the tool belt or the empty container from yesterday’s snack that is now on the shelf in the housekeeping area.

More interesting than the children’s initial reaction is the way the new discovery can change an old game.  Such was the case this week when the children found the new book.  Actually, it is not that new – the weekly planner book was donated by one of the parents and has been sitting on the shelf with the cookbooks and photo album for a couple weeks already but no one had noticed it.

When they did, everything changed.  It is amazing how one small item can have such a major impact on the group.  Cooking and serving food is a popular dramatic play activity here and often involves packing lunches and heading off to school/work – an activity they are all familiar with.

With the addition of the new book there was no “I want it first” or “when is it my turn” like there sometimes is when a new ‘one-of-a-kind’ item is added.  Instead, it was as if the entire group of eight children suddenly had the same idea.  With a ten year difference between the oldest and the youngest this is an amazing occurrence.

The book was the resource that connected all the intricate details of their new restaurant.  Some children quickly donned dress-up clothes and phoned to make dining reservations.  Others began planning the menu and cooking meals.

Along the way there were several imaginary incidents – a broken pipe, a kitchen fire.  A quick change restaurant patron was suddenly a plumber or a firefighter.  They even had an organized escape plan to get everyone out of the restaurant safely!

All I did was add a book and sit back to wait and watch.  The best days are the ones when they don’t really need me at all.