construction play with preschoolers

A Lovely Day of Construction Play

When we engage in sensory play, we build the small muscles in our hands as we grip and grasp toys, we experiment with cause and effect as we figure out what happens if we throw a handful of sand at our friend or dump it on the floor, and we practice communication skills as we tell about what we’re doing.

And sometimes, the sensory toys we explore are an opportunity to work on conflict resolution as we navigate peer interactions and work on sharing a limited space with friends. When this type of thing comes up, we get to develop problem solving techniques and build social skills too.

sensory play with preschoolers

Foreman builds a house for his trucks.

When a new item is added to a sensory table, a few things can happen. We could completely lose interest, having played as much as we wanted to play in that particular material. We could be totally engaged, losing all interest in doing other activities provided. We could be slightly intrigued and spend a few minutes checking it out and then move on. Ideally, there’s a middle ground where the new addition brings just enough but not too much excitement.

sensory play for preschoolers

Rocket Constructs a Garage for the Cars

Today, as we play in our sensory sand table full of construction trucks, we notice that there are new magnet blocks added to the sand and we ask questions like: “Where did you get these blocks from?” and “How do they stick together?” As we talk with our teacher in this way, we show what we know about the world and build conversation and vocabulary skills.

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art, collaboration, fine motor, peer communication, preschool, sensory play

When We Go With the Flow

I’m sitting for circle time, it’s going well. We’re doing our bell ringing and our greeting. We sing some songs and read a book. And then the children let me know they are ready to do something else. Before I can tell them what I had brought for them, they requested to use the playdough and asked for the little animals we’ve been using.

sensory play with preschoolers

Dr. Kitty uses a napkin ring to create a house for her rabbit and frog toys.

So we got out the playdough and had a fabulous time sitting together and building houses. Foreman cut pretend pizza pieces and offered them to all of his friends. Many stories were told and myriad conflicts navigated. Was this what I thought we’d do today? Nope. Was it valuable and full of great learning? Yep.

Sensory play with preschoolers

Totto makes footprints in purple playdough with a plastic hedgehog.

Even our toddler sibling friend was into it: he smashed dough and copied what the older children were doing. He spent longer at this activity than any of our other friends, in fact!

painting with preschoolers

Georgia works on her refrigerator painting.

I also had provided a big canvas board for us to paint on together, which is something we’ve been practicing for a few weeks. I thought this would last a short time and that then we’d move on to something else. Instead, what happened was that Georgia and Dr. Kitty decided to do their own paintings on separate paper after they worked on the collaborative piece. They explored the new watercolor pans that I brought and did some problem solving about how to fit both papers at the same table.

What I thought we would be doing today didn’t really happen. And what did happen was beautiful and full of wonderful wonderings, excellent fine motor control development, and great peer-to-peer conversations. This is something I’ve been toying with the last few months, and I am still finding my way to how best to follow some semblance of a plan and also go with the flow and provide materials that are engaging for the children. I’ll keep you posted on how it’s going.

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fall, fine motor, gross motor, meditation, painting, preschool, sensory play

A Day of Bell Meditation, Painting, Sensory Play and Tree Climbing

Listening closely to notice when we can no longer hear the bell ringing. This is how we start each morning together.

Listening closely to notice when we can no longer hear the bell ringing. We begin each day with this ritual.

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Painting is a great way to build fine motor control and practice making creative choices. As I paint, I talk with my teacher and my friends about what I am making.

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While at the sensory table, I practice scooping and pouring, which helps me build independence. When I show my friend my technique of scraping off the extra masa flour, I imitate adult roles and build communication skills.

Climbing trees at the end of the day gives me a chance to build gross motor control and confidence.

Climbing trees at the end of the day gives me a chance to build gross motor control and confidence.

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Snippets of a Fall Day

When we spend time together at the sensory table using new scissor scoops, we work on building the small muscles in our hands, practice communication and social/emotional skills as we imagine and direct play and we develop problem solving skills. Today, our table was full of pieces of yarn and we pretended to make cupcakes with the yarn. Each of us made creative choices as we decided which colors would be the cake and which would be the icing. Dr. Kitty wanted to make a purple cupcake with pink sparkle icing. Professor Worm wanted an all color cupcake (that involved plunging hands deep into the yarn and lifting as much as possible out of the table at once). And Rocket chose to imitate his friend’s cupcake by piling the yarn high in the silicone cupcake cup, which shows that he is observing his peers’ play and applying it to his own interactions with materials.
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Continuing our exploration of ways to use hammers, we explored making plant imprints today. We demonstrated that we knew how to safely use the hammers (recall), asked for the goggles before beginning our work (imitating adult roles) and discovered that it was more interesting for us to pound the leaves without the paper towels on top of the leaves (cause and effect). As we worked, we talked about smashing, we called out to our friends to “watch this” and we hypothesized about which kinds of leaves would be the most fun to smash. Once we found that the fresh leaves from the herb garden were making the best marks on our paper, some of us decided it was more fun to eat the leaves than to smash them!IMG_3017

Once we moved on to the free play portion of our morning together, one friend found an oyster shell and began to use it as a cell phone. Our teacher found it very funny that we called it a “shell phone”. We incorporated the shell phone play into the dramatic play game: Dr. Kitty (the kid in the game) used the phone to call Lightening (the mom in the game) and said, “I am ON THE PHONE, I am on a call. Come here right now, I need to talk to you, find another shell phone so we can talk for real.” While Badger walked and babbled to her grandma about what she was doing today.

IMG_3059All of the things our teacher thought we would be talking about today did not come up, and what we did talk about was infinitely more interesting and insightful. I think I hear my shell phone ringing, catch you later!

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This Lovely Week

The new playdough tools are still a hit, Super D likes to make bacon by creating a grid of lines with what the children call the “bumpy roller”. Working with dough allows the children to build fine motor control and while we play side by side, we practice telling about what we know and develop conversational skills.
IMG_2909Sometimes, an idea gleaned from Pinterest or a book seems like it will be great fun and ends up not being anything like I thought it would be. In this nature spray activity, I thought that the leaves and natural objects on the paper would leave white outlines when we sprayed liquid watercolors over them. It didn’t happen that way. What DID happen was that the children got some good practice using a spray bottle, they showed me that they know they can change the way the spray comes out if they turn the end of the nozzle and they had a great time spraying me and each other with the paint!IMG_2920 IMG_2924 As we played outside, Professor Worm and Dr. Kitty decided that they were circus performers and so were testing out what was possible with the hula hoops. This kind of open-ended play is a great way to help children develop problem solving and communication skills.IMG_2953The polka-dot slime made a reappearance on Wednesday. While my friend was reluctant to touch it, he enthusiastically named the color of each pompom as it slowly dripped from my hand.

IMG_2974 A pirate ship playhouse is a powerful thing, my friends. Even the toddlers got into the game and shouts of “ahoy” resounded in the yard on Wednesday.IMG_2991 We tried something new this week and experimented with pounding nails and using a hand drill. This was a very popular activity and helped the children to strengthen the small muscles in their hands and practice following verbal instructions.IMG_2993

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Dough Dee Dough, What’s Up with Play Dough

If you look over the photographs of my last ten or so weeks of teaching, you’ll notice a lot of different kinds of dough showing up. We’ve been exploring what is possible with play dough and deciding which kinds of dough we prefer for which tasks. Some days, the dough holds the children’s attention for over thirty minutes. Other days it is interesting for ten minutes and then a dramatic play game erupts under the table. Still other times, I don’t put it out and the children ask for it. We’ve used all sorts of accessories with our dough this Spring/Summer session and I thought you all might like to see what we’ve been up to.

Poking items into dough builds fine motor control.

Poking items into dough builds fine motor control.

We’d been using beads and skewers stuck into sheets of Styrofoam as small muscle skills practice and the foam was getting too messy to have in a house with a newly mobile infant. So, we switched to sticking the skewers into a lump of play dough. This quickly turned into pushing the beads into the dough itself. Picking up beads and poking them into soft dough was a great way to build control over our finger muscles and to work on talking about what we notice.

Using tools allows us to practice imitating adult roles and to show what we know about the world.

Using tools allows us to practice imitating adult roles and to show what we know about the world.

The following class, I put out the dough and some tools and the children ask for the beads. Super D cuts a grid into his dough with a “pizza cutter” tool and says, “I made a grid”. He then pushes beads into the grid and describes that he’s making a garden and planting food. He spends twenty minutes exploring what is possible in combining the cutter tool, the grid lines and the beads. As he works, he tells his friends what he is doing.

I say that this is so much more than sensory play or fine motor development. These children are imitating adult roles, using real tools and developing vocabulary and communication skills. As they play with this dough, they’re working on asking for what they want, developing problem solving skills and learning how to engage with peers in a group setting. This is valuable opportunity ripe with possibilities for all kinds of learning!

Different dough provides a different set of problems to solve and explore.

Different dough provides a different set of problems to solve and explore.

Another day, we explore making connections between sticks with yarn. The play dough acts as an anchor for our sticks. We notice that this dough is sticky and hard to use. We notice that the sticks eventually lean over to the side if we pull too hard on the yarn. Some of us choose to make radial patterns in the dough using the sticks. Others engage in lengthy storytelling involving dough clams that clamp to the yarn power lines.

Coming back to an activity many times gives us a chance to explore ideas from many perspectives.

Coming back to an activity many times gives us a chance to explore ideas from many perspectives.

We return to the dough and sticks and yarn invitation for several weeks in a row and the storytelling continues. Even the infant siblings get involved and try out the dough. A little brother just learning to stand pulls up next to Dr. Kitty and watches her carefully wind yarn around a group of sticks for fifteen minutes! One child makes set of stick limbs with dough joints and asks his mom to show the homeschool reviewer the photo I email to her.

Observing cause and effect is a happy side effect of dough play.

Observing cause and effect is a happy side effect of dough play.

There is so much problem solving happening in this kind of play, and it isn’t just the creative decision making kind of problem solving. This is science we are doing as we notice that pulling thread tightly around the tops of sticks draws the sticks closer together. This is math we’re doing as we select sticks that are all the same size. This is communication skill that we practice as we describe what happens when the dough sticks to the mat and slides off the table.

Pinching pieces of dough builds the small muscles in our hands.

Pinching pieces of dough builds the small muscles in our hands.

A fresh batch of ten colors arrives and we get to practice making choices. As we sit and talk together about which color is our favorite, we have a chance to practice listening to our friends and telling what we know about colors. Pinching off little pieces of the dough helps us to build the muscles that we will need to be able to learn to write.

Once we begin to show interest in letters, we can use dough to practice making the shapes that form letters.

Once we begin to show interest in letters, we can use dough to practice making the shapes that form letters.

One of the great things about play dough in a multi-age classroom is that it is something that children can sit together and work on even if their interests and abilities are very different. In draws the teachers and assistants to the table too, gets them playing and making instead of only watching and describing. In the image above, Dr. Kitty explores how to “write” her friend’s name with dough. When she finishes, she says, “I made your name cause I love you!”.

We aren’t just having a simple sensory exploration, we’re building relationships and learning how to live together, side by side, loving each other in as many ways as there are play dough recipes.

 

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