It was a typical afternoon in the program. The children arrived from school, enjoyed snack, and played outside. Next, we gathered together as a community to share information and stories before starting our afternoon play and exploration session.
Children in our program enjoy choosing their own work. As educators we work in collaboration with some children on projects, investigations, and games while other children work independently. This particular day, I was walking around the classroom, talking to many of the children, and checking in to see how they were progressing on their chosen area of exploration.
I noticed one child working at the two large tables that comprise our maker space. This area of the classroom features a wide variety of large and small-recycled materials, tape, glue, hot glue, paint, etc. I walked over, said hello, and asked the child what they were working on. The child said the creation was a “Kitty House.”
I waited to see if the child wanted to share more. A little time passed. The child remained focused on their work and then shared that the “Kitty House” was for a cherished stuffed cat they wanted to bring after school to play with, therefore Kitty needed a home.
As the week moved forward, the original “Kitty House” evolved into an elaborate structure that featured many rooms and intricate details. Inspired by this work, other children became interested in creating homes for their stuffed animals. Soon new houses were being created for stuffed frogs, dogs, snakes, and tigers.
As I observed the Kitty House project grow I wondered what, if any, were the implications for our learning community?
The Kitty House project offered many opportunities for the children to create together. The child who started the project started collaborating with other children. New construction techniques were proposed and explored and the possibilities of materials expanded. The work encouraged children of all ages to come together and new friendships were formed.
The desire to create a home for a cherished stuffed animal, encouraged children who usually avoided the maker space, to learn about the possibilities of the materials and how to utilize different tools for construction. Skills the children will employ going forward in the exploration of new interests within the program.
The “Kitty House” became a platform for cooperative play among the children for months after the initial work began.
What are the possibilities for better understanding our practice that came from the work on the “Kitty House?”
Observing as the project started with one child and then flourished within the learning community reminded me how important it is to provide a thoughtfully prepared environment, a space where children are free to create and explore. Having materials, space and support ready for children to act on their interests is a key to extended learning.
The “Kitty House” is a good example of a project that requires educators to be flexible and ready to adapt to the children’s interests. Within two days of the original construction, ten more children were creating different versions of an animal house for their creatures. The amount of materials and space required for the work increased dramatically. This required the educators to quickly implement changes to our space to accommodate the children’s growing interest.
Documentation, telling the story of the “Kitty House” to parents and the other members of the learning community is important. The interest of one child transformed into a long-term project. When and how the educators were going to record the project and it’s evolution were important factors to consider.
I discovered as the “Kitty House Project” continued that parents were hearing stories about the work and that many children were asking their parents for glue guns, cardboard and other materials so they could create at home. The parents also shared their surprise at the depth of thought and work the children were employing into the creation of their animal homes.
This is where the connection between our philosophy of practice and the real world application of our work with children comes together. The stories the children share in documentation, and the stories they share with family, demonstrate the process of learning and a personal journey with education.
Witnessing the outcomes of child directed learning is beneficial to all members of the learning community. Projects like the “Kitty House” help the program share what a living active place of learning looks like and the value play provides to children and the community.
What types of projects and investigations have inspired the work of children in your program this year?