The children were playing outside. I noticed a group of boys running in a pack and stopping frequently to yell and point sticks at each other. Their actions made me curious. As the boys moved closer to my position, I could hear them uttering strange words. Still curious, I asked the boys what game they were playing. I was told the words were spells from Harry Potter. Their play involved saying the names of different spells and casting spells on each other.
Our school playground is a busy public space. In addition to the children in our care, other children are happily playing with friends and family. The noise and activity level is high. On the playground, our main practice is to observe what is happening as the children play. Our secondary practice is being available when the children require our assistance with a social interaction, first aid, greeting parents, and so on. The imaginative play of the spell casters was dramatic and caught my eye. My observation created a wondering if the children might be interested in exploring more about Harry Potter.
The busyness of a public school playground can make insightful observation a challenge. We often cannot hear what the children are saying and opportunities for capturing the essence of their play are missed in a sea of sound and motion.
When I inquired about their new interest, the children said their play started by reading a Harry Potter book about casting spells. Many of the older children read and love Harry Potter. With further inquiry, I discovered one child was reading the book and sharing the spells with friends. The introduction of the spell-casting book would become the fuel for our next project.
I was thinking Harry Potter and spells could be a topic of further exploration, but I wanted to observe the children more and see what transpired during their play for a few more days.
The high action spell casting continued. The children searched the playground and discovered new sticks to create more wands. When it was time to go inside, the children established secret hiding spots to conceal their wands until the next play opportunity.
When educators observe children and stay in the moment, their actions and words give us clues about their interests and provide the direction our explorations will go.
The next day, I asked the children if they would be interesting in making some custom wands. The answer was a resounding yes! Next, we collected the materials needed to make wands. Our collection of materials featured wooden dowels of different thickness, to create the base for the wands. Multiple colors of tempera were employed to paint a base coat on the dowels
The children crafted different designs for their wands. Some children painted a solid color over the entire dowel, and added splashes of color overtop. Other children divided their dowel into thirds or fourths or tenths and added stripes of color to each section. We left the wands out to dry and planned to paint more details the following day.
I enjoyed observing the children plan out and create an individualized version of a wand. The personal nature of the wands in the books inspired the children to create a wand that reflected their personality.
The following day, as the children were painting, there was discussion over what a real wand looks like. Only certain colors were deemed acceptable, but in reality all of the children made the work their own, picking colors they liked versus colors the conversation agreed would be the acceptable choice.
The children were eager to play with their wands as they created them. After the paint dried, the children played with the wands for most of the day.
Another robust spell casting session complete, the children were eager to add more decorative details to their wands. Using glittery beads, sequins, electrical tape, feathers, plastic lanyard, pompoms, and hot glue guns the children accentuating their wands.
Each child employed a different approach to adding decoration. Some worked fast, so play with the wands could begin sooner. Other children examined and experimented with the materials carefully, to transform the painted dowel into the wand they envisioned.
The entire wand creation process lasted three days. The children worked together in small groups sharing ideas and helping each other. Then it was time to play!
I am never sure how long a new interest will continue to engage the children. Some projects are short and intense and other work lasts longer and evolves into something larger than we imagine. The important aspect is that the children’s interests drive the work and the educators come along for the journey.
For the past two weeks, the children have been running, hiding, and casting spells on the playground every time we go outside. There is a large group of participants and the group is growing as new children fashion wands to join the spell casting experience.
We are a month in and the spell casting is still a popular choice for many children. The play is going strong and the wands are being used daily. The wands are not only beautiful but also durable, holding up to the adventures of Harry and friends. I am enjoying observing the children happy and engaged with something they envisioned and created.
The fun of spell casting will eventually go, but the memories we created as we worked together on a common interest will never fade. New ideas and projects filled with possibilities are coming soon and I can't wait to get started.
What I learned from this experience…
The noise of the school age environment can be a deterrent for some educators. Practicing mindfulness in these moments can help us see and hear what the children are experiencing and are interested in. Our presence in these moments gives us clues for projects that are engaging for the children.
In school age care, we do not need to have a teacher created curriculum. We have the opportunity to follow the children and create work together. Being responsive to the children’s interests is our guidepost to the present and future of our work together.
We have a daily opportunity to work alongside the children and experience together their interests and ideas. We can be passive about this opportunity or we can go on an adventure to the unknown and see what happens.