One of the most authentic ways to reach preschoolers is to offer an invitation to play. This is because preschoolers learn through play. Last week I set up this spring themed invitation to play, and as always, my preschoolers used the given materials far beyond what I was expecting.
When I was growing up, my mother, who is an exceptional cook, would make a stir fried rice. She would open the fridge and pull out all the miscellaneous vegetables that were left over from the week. The kind of veggies you have left in the fridge the day before you need to go grocery shopping. A little of this, as little of that, and she would dice it all and add it to some leftover rice, making what she called “everything but the kitchen sink rice.”
My siblings and I loved it.
I was actually very intentional about what I wanted to offer in this invitation to play.
The problem was, the morning in preschool that were we to do it, I opened up my craft closet and preschool shelves to find that I didn’t have what I needed to create the vision in my head.
So, I scoured the house for anything that looked “springy”. The above photo is what I ended up with. Like my mother who used the odds and ends vegetables to make a wonderful meal for her family, I kind of think of this as an “everything but the kitchen sink” invitation to play.
Materials for This Invitation to Play
Here are the materials I ended up using:
- cupcake liners
- plastic shot glasses in bright colors
- pom poms
- painted egg carton pieces
- dyed lollipop sticks
- plastic bowls
- acrylic flowers table scatter
Basically, what makes these “loose parts” come together for a spring invitation to play is the fact that they all share a color scheme, which is very inviting after a long and dreary colored winter.
But you might be wondering what on earth kids can learn from a collection of assorted materials like those above. Learning through play is a very real thing, and takes on different forms, so let me share with your what my preschoolers learned while they were hard at work in their play.
Learning Through Play
Like I mentioned, I love invitations to play because the preschoolers take the lead in what they, as individuals, would like to learn. So as I work with them, as I kneel down beside each preschooler and talk and play alongside them, I teach and expand on different concepts for each preschooler. It is like their own individualized learning plan. (IEP).
This student filled plastic cups with table scatter and poured them from one into another, working on his fine motor skills. He was also learning about quantity and capacity as he discovered there was a limit to how many acrylic flowers he could fit into the cups.
This student used the materials to create a “bug”. “These are the sticks on its head,” she told me, referring to the antenna. She then named off different bugs she knows. Click on this post for more bugs and butterflies activities!
This student make a monster truck, and retold stories and experiences he has had with big trucks. We also discussed books we had read about monster trucks. Believe it or not, using these random materials for play was a way for this student to practice emergent literacy skills.
And, this student used the cupcake liners to make herself a hat. She was very careful to balance it on her head, making sure not to move too quickly and make it fall. This strengthens her balancing skills and core strength, which are important in preparing her for formal writing.
Ah! This student made a “spy glass”! She experimented with layering different colors of cups, realizing that different combinations turned her sight different colors. Color theory in practice!
This student sorted the pom poms by colors into the egg carton. All orange in the first. (Notice how she is holding back a green pom pom in her left hand. She was saving the green for the middle egg spot). This is an indication of her sorting skills, which are part of the algebraic strand of math. It’s activities like sorting that prepare preschoolers to look for and notice patterns in math, developing their analytical thinking skills.
This student made cupcakes and lemonade for herself and two friends. This demonstrates her understanding of one to one correspondence in counting, a foundational skill for math success.
Play is the Work of Children
There is a quote that is circulated among early childhood educators that goes something like this:
Play is chidlren’s work.
The exact origin seems to be unknown. Some attribute it to Maria Montessori while others attribute it to Jean Piaget. Regardless, it holds very true.
While at first glance all the photos in this post look like the children are “just playing,” it is also evident that children’s play is equivalent to work.
Hard work practicing what they know and enjoy. Hard work using what they already know to try new things. To experiment. To manipulate. Taking risks and creating.
And invitation to play does not have to be an elaborate set-up of materials. (Although it should be intentional). It is evident that my “everything but the kitchen sink” spring theme invitation to play was effective and a natural way for my preschoolers to explore.
I’m Sarah, an educator turned stay-at-home-mama of five! I’m the owner and creator of Stay At Home Educator, a website about intentional teaching and purposeful learning in the early childhood years. I’ve taught a range of levels, from preschool to college and a little bit of everything in between. Right now my focus is teaching my children and running a preschool from my home. Credentials include: Bachelors in Art, Masters in Curriculum and Instruction.