Each year our classroom is different. We know that, right? We remember some years for being full of children who loved to play dress up, or we may remember a year when the creativity table was always busy with children pulling up extra chairs every day. This past year- for our classroom- our passion was blocks.
From day one in August, our entire Pre K class was building, building, building. Luckily we had set up our classroom in a way that allowed us to keep structures intact overnight in case the little construction workers wanted to continue on something the next day, which, of course they would. They loved to build. Their imagination drove their structures. Most popular was creating a home for a favorite stuffed animal, and sometimes it would turn into a very detailed home with pools, decks and play equipment. One day, a group of boys built a jet ski for a stuffed tiger – because as anyone knows, every tiger needs a jet ski!
The preschool where we teach is part of an infant-Grade 12 school, and the proximity of the construction of a new upper school building meant that we could walk across to watch, witness, and learn from the construction of a new upper school building. And…. on top of that, we were lucky enough to get our hands on the real blueprints! This added another exciting element to our obsession with building. Now students would often draw a blueprint for their structures and from the blueprint, they would build- just like we had seen being done across the street. We are a curiosity / project based school, and this excitement about building continued to morph into our project. Through this excitement and interest for building, we would create opportunities that enabled our children to learn and develop essential developmental skills.
At the same time as our love for blocks and building grew, we also were involved in a preschool-wide project to study and learn more about our local community. When our class of 14 Pre K students visited a local park, the children became obsessed with determining how long the hiking trail was. No one knew.
How could we measure it? The list the class generated of ways to measure the trail was amazing. We could line the entire trail with children. We could use a tape measure. We could use string. The most exciting idea was…. let’s measure the trail with blocks! Of course – blocks! Our favorite thing! Before loading an entire class set of unit blocks into our bus and heading to the park, we thought we would do a trial run and measure the hallway with blocks. The kids loved this! Every child was so excited to grab blocks from our block center
and line them up from one end of the hallway to another to determine just how long the hallway was. Would we have enough blocks? Yes… we did. And, we counted every single one of them – all 446 blocks.
We wondered as teachers at this point – how could we weave this all together? Blocks. Building. Animals. Measuring. Logic and our own imagination led us to to the answer. Measurement is necessary if we wanted to plan and build a structure that provided shelter for an animal!
In small groups, we had a building challenge. Can you build a structure for a large stuffed tiger or bear using just items found in the room? As collaboration and imaginations collided, it didn’t take much time before we had amazing structures built out of blocks, furniture, blankets and napping mats. And we heard inquisitive conversations – how can we make this wall longer? Why won’t the roof stay? How would the animal get out? Our students were learning from their imagination!
After the first building challenge, our class reflected on what worked and what didn’t. What problems did we have? What worked well? What was missing? What was hard? What could we do better? We used those reflections to improve our first structures. What made a good structure? We wove in vocabulary – floor, wall, level, roof, entrance. We completed another challenge in different small groups. We used smaller blocks (Kapla blocks) and smaller animals. Each time the children built a structure, we heard new vocabulary being used, and “aha” moments like “these two blocks equal one of these big blocks.” Learning was happening.
After building and building and building in the classroom, we decided it would be only fitting to find a real animal structure. This led us to a friend’s doghouse. After the excitement of the bus ride to visit the doghouse, we did observational drawings of the doghouse. We took photos of the doghouse. We made sure the walls and floors were level. And, of course, we measured the doghouse – with blocks!
Even as we practiced for end-of-year programs, and we sent home full bags of artwork and photographs from the year, the block center was still a busy place.
Earlier in the year, I had purchased a stuffed dog for the classroom. But in May we were nearing the end of the school year and I had taken it home. One of my students asked where the dog was. After telling her that I had taken the dog home for the summer, she replied, “That’s ok – I will just use my imagination.” Yes – keep imagining my friend, keep imagining!
About the Author: Debbie Markland
Hi! I am Debbie Markland, Education Consultant for Learn As You Play. I teach with Shann in Atlanta, Georgia where I teach a class of 16 pre-k students. I have taught for 18 years total! I have worked with age 2 all the way through middle school. I have enjoyed watching the ebb and flow of educational practices since I first taught in 1991, and being immersed in these changes enables my own learning to continue. I like to describe myself as flexible, creative, and open-minded. I strive to continuously be building curiosity in my students!