Article - What did you do at school today

So… What Did You Do At School Today?

Dr. Georgette Meister

                  For many parents, having a discussion about your child’s day at school is like a trip to the dentist… like pulling teeth without Novocain - painful.  This discussion, however unproductive for the parent, often goes something like this:

Parent: How was school today? 
Child: Fine.
Parent: What did you do today?
Child: We played!
Parent: What else did you do today?
Child:  We played a lot… and had snack.
Parent: What did you play with?
Child: I played with blocks.
Parent:  Did you learn anything today?
Child: No… we just played.

After much frustration and continued attempts to gain some understanding of what it is that your child has done all day, you begin to search your child’s backpack, looking for some semblance of a clue as to what your child has spent their time doing.  Searching for some extravagant worksheet or a really fascinating workbook and finding nothing, you begin to question why it is, exactly, that you are sending your child to school.  Pondering this plaguing question for a while, you also wonder if there is sufficient learning taking place and if, in fact, your child’s educational needs are being met. 

Many parents share your sentiments about talking with your child about their day.  While it often seems that little learning is taking place or that your child is quite capable of playing with blocks and needs more academics, you wonder if there is more to the picture.  Let me assure you that, there is a lot going on behind the scenes that you simply cannot fathom.  Understanding it all stems from one simple concept: Children learn through play.

Ok… ok… I know what you’re thinking.  We didn’t play all day in school and we learned just fine, right?  We came home with drill and practice worksheets and we wrote, boy did we write.  Very true, however, many of us had at least one parent who was home when we got there, or parents who worked one job and had time to work with us and teach us things that helped us to be successful in school.  While that doesn’t seem to be as important now as it once was, rest assured that having extra practice time with certain skills made a big difference in our lives.

Remember, pre-school aged children are, essentially, little sponges.  The more learning we can infuse through their playtime, the more they are actually able to hold on to for later use.  So, to explain some aspects of your child’s day, here are some things that they may tell you they have done during the day and what is actually taking place behind the scenes. 

I played in the writing center today!  When small children write, even if it is only a smattering of scribbles, they are developing hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills.  In addition, because writing centers are often saturated with letters, picture and word dictionaries, and other things used for writing such as order pads, menus, receipt books, etc., children are able to develop a stronger sense of the written alphabet, building vocabulary, and increase interest in writing.  This center is a strong area for children who are often turned off by writing or afraid; it helps building confidence for later skills needed in kindergarten. 

I went to the library area today and looked at some books.  Some parents may wonder what can be gained by looking at pictures for an extended period of time.  Interestingly enough, many early readers are essentially picture books with repeating sentences such as “I like…” or “I see…”  Books such as these help children develop a sight word vocabulary that they can access for later reading development.  In addition, students learn book-handling skills, hand-eye coordination, and are developing a desire to read because it has become something enjoyable.  Reading in the library also will help students further develop their alphabet knowledge and written print knowledge.  While there, students who are read to will be able to read along and track words, increase their oral language abilities and functional vocabulary, and learn about new ideas or places.

I played with the art supplies.  This center is a key area for developing creativity skills.  In addition, students in this center will learn to play together, share supplies, take turns with materials or utensils, and foster independence.  Students can also problem solve when things do not work out quite as they had planned.  Sometimes structures fall, paint colors change, and materials run out… even in this, students can develop skills in math and science.

We played with the dress up clothes today.  Playing dress up and role-playing at a young age helps children develop social skills.  It is a “pretend way” for them to solidify family roles and interact with each other.  In addition, children can explore emotions, family roles, what it’s like to grocery shop, or have a job.  Students develop oral language skills and independence while using their creativity to function in the role they have chosen for themselves.  For some children, the new role continues from day to day and sometimes, responsibilities or themes emerge leading to new experiences and growth.

I built with blocks today! This is a very popular area that is has so much to offer educationally.  Included in this area are often small props such as animals, people, cars, and other manipulative objects.  While students are free to build structures, they are also permitted to create buildings and ideas that develop into farms, homes, roadways, etc.  Students playing in block area develop language skills, motor skills, spatial relationships, and hand-eye coordination.  In addition to developing these skills, students are developing oral language skills, using their imagination to create, develop math skills through the use of unit blocks, and even science through the discussion of falling and gravity.  This area is rich with learning and often teacher-student interaction is easy and fun for the students as well as beneficial for student learning.

I played with the bear counters in the math center.  While this area seems like it may be good for only counting, there is much more going on than meets the eye.  Students are able to work on patterning, shapes, sizes, quantities, and even colors.  While in this center, students can develop oral language skills, social skills, and fine motor control.  

I played with Table Toys today.  Table toys are exactly what they sound like… small toys that can be used atop a table.  Many times students in this center are developing small muscle control, fine motor skills, and hand-eye coordination.  In addition, students can work on developing their attention skills so that they are able to sit and complete a task, social skills, if working with a partner, and determine things such as sizes, shapes, colors or patterns.

I played in the science area today!  The science area is always a place of discovery and learning.  Students can explore what is hidden in soil, look at roots growing, butterflies breaking out of cocoons, ant farms, frogs habitats, leaves, sand and water tables, and so much more!  Students in this area are always finding new things using their senses.  In addition, many students learn things such as cause and effect, what happens to light, why flowers absorb color in colored water or why a balloon sticks to a wall when it was rubbed on their head.  In addition to developing oral language skills, students in this area learn social skills, problem-solving skills, and develop a healthy curiosity about their environment.  Inevitably, the scientific process often shows itself through discussion and experimentation so students can observe, predict, experiment, record, and report.

As with any activity, teacher interaction is the key to fostering development in any area.  Students in pre-school are able to maintain and develop skills that they bring with them from home and learn new skills while in school.  Teachers and classroom aides have the ability and training to ask probing questions that further develop ideas, concepts, and skills and lead students to create their own ideas and experiments.

Another interesting part of your child’s day revolves around the Plan-Do-Review process.  Again, this is a process in which teacher involvement is very important to facilitate discussion and learning.  Planning time is a time for children to think on their own about what it is they want to accomplish during the time allotted and plan out how to do it.  A child who is planning may discuss using blocks to build a barn where the animals can live.  He or she might explain what blocks they are going to use, why certain shapes or sizes, and the need for a barn to keep the animals safe. Work time is the “do” part of the day.  This is where the students can choose centers discussed above, such as library, art, blocks, etc.  Recall time is a time of the day designated after clean up time to come back together as a group and discuss what they did during work time.  During this time, students can share what they did, how they resolved problems, what they discovered, and who played at the center with them. 

This process helps develop autonomous children, who are eager to discover their environment and become a part of it.  These children are curious about things they see and hear and often learn through cause and effect, exploration, and hands on learning.   The greatest way for a young child to learn and show you what they are able to do is through their playtime.  Our unofficial motto at Norma… Please be quiet, children are PLAYING!