As I walked around the room looking at the children’s engagement in different projects, I noticed a child working intently at one table. I asked what they were working on today? The child said, “they were making an apple bed” for the stuffed kitty that was lying on the table watching the work progress.
Part of my practice as an educator is moving throughout the learning space and engaging in conversation with different children. During our conversation, I check in with the children and see if they need any materials or assistance with the work they have chosen. Frequently our conversations are brief, as the children are focused on their work and their interactions with other children. During these interactions I am also looking for an opportunity to observe a child or a group of children, as they work on an exploration that invites further investigation.
The apple bed was constructed out of two full-page apple drawings on red and yellow construction paper. Both apple drawings were cut out and glued together to create the colorful apple bed.
Next, the child drew a different design on a new sheet of paper. A modern looking design featuring a circular looking square that filled the entire sheet of paper.
When the child started to create a new shape on different paper, I wanted to ask many questions about this next phase of the work, but I thought asking would interfere with the spontaneity of the choices the child was making, so I sat back and watched.
When the modern drawing was finished, the child filled the design with color by experimenting with color mixing. As I watched the child told me, “that if you mix yellow and orange you get brown.”
My patience was rewarded as the child started to share some information about the modern drawing. In my adult mind, the wait for more information and insight seemed to take forever, but this was a meaningful engaged time for the child as they thought about, experimented, and created the object they had envisioned.
After the mixed color was added to the modern design, the child used scissors to cut out the curvy shape that was finally revealed to be a blanket. When the blanket was complete, rectangular pink nametags were cut out and attached to the bottom of the apple bed. One of the tags featured the name of the kitten and the other two tags were left blank.
Kitty, the child, and some friends used the remainder of the day to play with the apple bed and other building materials. Often children use blocks, Magna-Tiles, Knex, and other building materials to create the stages for their dramatic play. This child chose to incorporate the apple bed into their dramatic play and build around it with other available materials.
The next day, the child who created the apple bed, continued to work on projects related to cats. The child drew a cat on paper with Crayola markers. Then the child cut out the cat and attached a leash made of long pink string so the cat could tag along as the child went for a walk. When I asked what type of cat it was the child said, “it can be a dog or a cat.”
Oops! I assumed it was a cat because it looked like a cat to me, and the child had been interested in playing with their toy cat the day before. The children are always experimenting and evolving their play, so one area of play they are interested in today may change or evolve the next day. This is why as educators we observe, ask questions, and listen instead of offering our interpretation. The child knows their work and ideas intimately, I missed an opportunity to inquire and learn more with the child by my interpretation.
The apple bed is one example of children using simple and recycled materials to create and extend their imagination and play. This type of play occurs everyday afterschool, with different children creating different props individually and in groups as they explore and enjoy the characters, animals, and scenarios they are attracted to. The children are given the time, space, and materials to play and create as an alternative to the more structured environment they experience during the school day. This is the essence of the school of applied knowledge, a place filled with possibilities, creativity, and the freedom to choose your own adventure.