Meaningful ways to foster curiosity and engagement in your classroom!
While observing my students and my grandsons exploring plastic eggs this week, I was struck with the many lessons a plastic Easter egg has to offer me as a teacher and thought I would break my thoughts down into five simple concepts to share with you…
1. Choose function over fancy
I can go out and buy the fanciest, coolest looking plastic Easter eggs in the world but in the end what I really want is for my students to be more interested in finding out what is inside the egg and anxious to pop it open to find out. When selecting things for our classroom shelves and baskets, we need to think about what we want our students to actually do with these things rather than focus on aesthetics or how cool they look on our shelves.
I have some pretty cool looking (and expensive) blocks sitting in my garage right now but every time I bring them into my classroom, the children pick them up for a few minutes and then just toss them aside (just like the fancy Easter eggs). So even though those blocks sure look beautiful sitting on my shelf, they serve no purpose if they are not contributing to the process of keeping my students engaged in quality play and exploration. Now I am not saying that we can’t have cool looking things out on our shelves but I am saying that the reason we have them there can’t be only because they look cool – they must also be a valuable resource in keeping children engaged in their play.
2. Build curiosity
Plastic Easter eggs naturally invite curiosity. Whenever my grandson sees a plastic egg sitting around, the first thing he wants to do is open it up. I can tell him that there is nothing inside it. He can shake it and not hear anything rattle inside it. He can feel it and know it feels empty and yet still, he just can’t resist the temptation to open it up and see inside it. We want everything in our classrooms to build curiosity just like an Easter egg. We want the things on our shelves to invite our students to ask questions, wonder, test, and try.
3. Foster exploration
Plastic Easter eggs also foster exploration. A plastic egg can be opened, closed, stacked, filled, emptied, sorted, painted with, used as a scoop for sand and water. This is what we want to see happening with the things in our classrooms. It is hard to get in the mindset that a block may end up being used as a roller at the playdough table because as teachers, we see things differently than young children and might think a block is only for building. But it is important to give children the chance to explore the things in your classroom in ways you do not expect or that might be out of the ordinary.
This doesn’t mean that your classroom has to become a complete free for all but it does mean that you need to be aware of your decisions when you see a child constructively exploring an item in a way you would not have considered or expected. Often times, some of the most remarkable ideas and learning occurs when children and teachers learn to use materials in ways that hadn’t been considered before.
4. Promote developmental skills
Plastic Easter eggs naturally promote fine motor development as the children use their fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination to pull an egg apart and put it back together. Depending on the way a plastic egg is being explored, there are other kinds of development happening as well. For example, when a child is guessing what is in an Easter egg, he or she is using listening skills to hear what might be inside the egg or mathematical thinking is being promoted by feeling the weight of the egg.
Just like a plastic Easter egg naturally promotes all types of skills as the children are given the freedom to explore and play with the eggs, so too should the other things we select and keep on our classroom shelves. Be observant of your students and learn to recognize what types of development are taking place while your students explore the things around the classroom so you can articulate to parents and for yourself what types of growth and development is taking place through a child’s play.
5. Rotate materials
After all the Easter celebrations, many of us will pack up most (if not all) the leftover plastic Easter eggs and put them away until next year. Although you can certainly leave plastic Easter eggs out for play all year round, there is no doubt that by making them only available for a short season of time will keep the children more interested and excited to use them the next time you pull them out for play.
And just like plastic Easter eggs can be brought out for a season then put away for a season so too can other items in your classroom. However, you must know the difference between which materials should stay out and which should be rotated in and out of the classroom. That is really a whole other discussion in itself because it isn’t all that simple. Sometimes, children need time to build their interest and skills so rotating an item (like blocks or your easel and paint) out of the classroom doesn’t give them that opportunity. Other times, items (like plastic Easter eggs) are seasonal and need to be removed to keep them fun and inviting the next time you bring them out.
As you get ready to pack up the plastic Easter eggs in your classroom, let me encourage you to take a look around your classroom and reflect on what is sitting out and available for your students to do next. Do you have things out that build curiosity, foster exploration, and promote developmental skills? Do you need to stop rotating something or give the children more time to build their skills in using it? Can you find something similar to a fancy and expensive item you have been saving for and use that instead? Are you too worried about things only being used in one specific way and in one specific area or can you relax a little and discover along with your students a potentially new and great idea using the materials you already have?
No doubt about it, there are many things to consider and think about when choosing items for your classroom and how best to use those items to facilitate play and learning!
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