making messes joyfully

A student’s request of “Can I paint?” this morning sparked this beautiful play experience, as we brought out finger paint for the first time.

Several students were interested in trying out this new medium, and tried out various different techniques (fingerprints, handprints, swiping to make lines and doodles) on their paper. However, after a few minutes, they were all ready to move on to something new. The student pictured here, however, finger painted for more than 25 minutes, and would have happily kept at it all morning!

I was so intrigued to watch this young artist explore this new medium with such joy; it was such a privilege to watch this beautiful sensory experience unfold.

This student continued to apply more paint to her hands and spread it, slap it, and swipe it across the paper. This special finger paint paper has a slightly glossy finish to allow a gliding motion while applying paint, and really adds to the sensory experience as your hands can easily drift across the page. The student told me that she was going to cover every part of the white paper with paint, and continued to smear more in all of the bare edges. After watching for a while, I asked if she minded if I join in (I had to get my hands dirty too; she made it look so fun!) and she happily agreed.

As we painted, we continued to talk about the methods and colours we were using. The student shared that she paints a lot at home too, but uses paint brushes. It was clear to me that she did not mind the mess one bit; she now had paint halfway up both of her arms and covering every part of her hands and fingers. As she continued to apply more paint and glide it across the paper, she commented that it felt ‘slippery.’ I continued to sit in awe of the wonderful learning and play-based exploration taking place.

What struck me about this experience was how freeing it is to know that you are allowed to get dirty and make messes. My EA and I did not require this student to keep the paint only on the paper (as some got on the table) or try to keep it on her hands (as it spread up her arms); she was given full freedom to explore this messy play as she pleased. This made me stop and ponder how often adults try to regulate children’s play to minimize mess and inconvenience.

I then began to question why this messy play so intrigued this child, but had only briefly held the attention of others. There are certainly many possible reasons for this, but the two that I find most thought-provoking are:

  1. That some children like the sensory experience of being messy, while others find it uncomfortable and unpleasant (I can be this way myself; I don’t like the feeling of having sticky/dirty hands, especially if I know I don’t have a means to clean them). How can we continue to offer rich sensory experiences for children who don’t find this pleasant?
  2. That, perhaps, children don’t engage deeply with messy play because they are not used to being afforded this style of play. I wonder how many adults (unintentionally) squash children’s interest to get messy by constantly sending the message that mess is negative. Even I am guilty of this in my classroom at times. As adults, we often find the mess inconvenient or annoying to clean up, but we miss the learning or intentions that children had while creating the mess. I’ve noticed that children don’t usually make a mess simply to make a mess or be “naughty;” they are usually engaged in some play or exploration that led to the mess. How can we be more mindful of the learning implications involved in ‘making a mess’? How can we allow messy play that is meaningful and rich?

In closing, this experience has prompted me to reflect on ways that messy play can live in my classroom so that it is engaging and authentic for children’s learning, while not being totally wild and out-of-control (we still have to keep some semblance of routines and make a mess within reason; this doesn’t mean letting children run rampant like the Kindergarteners from the TV show “Recess”).

I am currently planning to have a “Messy Family Day” this spring, so families and children can engage in messy activities outside together (think mud pie making, tie dyeing clothing, and Jackson Pollock inspired painting). It is also equally important for adults to have an outlet to play and be messy.

Another idea I have to incorporate messy play more this year is to utilize our class set of Muddy Buddies more, especially as we play outside more due to COVID protocols this year. (Muddy Buddies are a brand of outdoor apparel that is like a raincoat-onesie; it covers you from head to toe and is great for jumping in mud puddles or messy art activities – check them out here). Now I just need to get an adult version for me and my EA! Puddle jumping and outdoor painting, here we come!

How do you honour messy play in your classroom? How do you feel about “mess”?

Until next time,

-KKF

planting myself

I have recently been trying to ‘plant myself’ during free play time in my classroom; rather than flitting to various areas of the classroom as children play, I sit down at one spot and try to stay there for the duration of free play time.

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I have noticed a few things when I employ this strategy:

  • children are drawn to an area when I am sitting in it
  • the class, as a whole (even the children not sitting with me directly), seems more calm, engaged, and grounded
  • I am better able to support and scaffold each individual child’s learning when I focus on one area of the room, rather than all of the areas at once
  • it allows my EA to engage with other children so more students are getting adult interactions
  • often, the area I am sitting will end up drawing a large majority of the students in my class (not all of them stay for the duration, but many students will check in for a period of time) –> this leads to more engagement with others
  • children are able to spend longer periods of time at one centre when an adult can support and extend their play
  • I feel more productive, efficient, and relaxed as a result

In planting myself, I believe this sets the tone for the entire class. When children see me sitting in one spot for an extended period of time, they are encouraged to do the same. This shows children the value of deep engagement in play, rather than short bursts doing 20 different things. This also visually limits the clutter and movement in the classroom when I (and others) am stationary.

I have tried ‘planting myself’ at the following centres with success: puppets, blocks, sensory table, and, today, puzzles! My students have been quite interested in puzzles lately, partially due to the fact that I often offer this activity as a quiet, calm alternative when play gets excessively rowdy and dysregulated. I recently bought these new crepe rubber puzzles to provide something with a bit more difficulty, and children were quite enamored with them. Learning regarding colours, shapes, spatial awareness, problem solving, perseverance, letters and sounds, and vocabulary all took place.

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In following with the metaphor, I am finding that ‘planting myself’ is allowing many new seeds to take root and grow in my classroom! I wonder where I will plant myself tomorrow…

Have you ever tried this strategy in your classroom?

What do you notice about your classroom, yourself, and your students when you ‘plant yourself’?

Until next time,

-KKF

planting myself

Hard to believe another school year is already underway! We are in full swing and I’m looking forward to another year of learning alongside the little souls that I’m blessed to have in my classroom everyday.

This will be a quick post; I just wanted to celebrate the fact that I found photo evidence of me achieving a goal I had with regards to free play time in my Pre-K classroom.

I have realized that when I plant myself in a stationary location during free play time, rather than flitting around from place to place, the students follow my lead and are also more grounded and engaged in longer play experiences.

It was my great pleasure to go through yesterday’s photos (taken by my lovely EA, who has become quite an adept documenter herself) and notice myself in the same position throughout our roughly hour-long play block. I plunked myself down in the block centre at the outset of play time and didn’t move once the entire time!

I was even more pleased to recognize that I had engaged with a variety of different students during this time. They literally do “come to you” if you plant yourself in one place. Students ended up bringing a basket of play food from the kitchen over to me to engage with together; this is the beauty of flexibility and ability of children to transport items within the classroom.

Granted, staying rooted in one spot doesn’t happen all the time (or even that often!) in Pre-K, as teachers need to be somewhat mobile to assist students in various areas of the room. But this is definitely a strategy that I would like to explore and employ more in the future. I continue to be so excited by the power of play and delight in the role that I can take in this beautiful learning.

Have you tried “planting” yourself during play time?

Have you noticed differences in how the children play when you do?

What other strategies do you employ as a teacher during free play time?

Until next time,

-KKF