Play at the Earl Center

4 students (1 slightly off-camera) sit at table each carving a mini pumpkin with knives

Regularly, students come to play at the Earl Center.

That is, education classes taught by professors like Diane Levin and Kyoung Kim about using play in the classroom are set up in the Earl Center so that students have a place to get hands on with their education.

Here is an example of an educational play class from last Fall, 2016.

A table with long sticks of wood, measuring tapes, rulers, markers

Here’s the racing station nice and neat

Student pulling one end of a measuring tape and another student stands to watch

How far can these race cars go? Who can build the best ramp?

A plastic bin of water, 3 mini pumpkins, a blue scale, and a can of marbles

Pumpkin floating station (I didn’t even know pumpkins floated until I set this up! I have to confess to dunking a few ^_^)

 

4 students (1 slightly off-camera) sit at table each carving a mini pumpkin with knives

Students carve pumpkins in an experiment on floating

several students sit together arranging a playset of felt, construction paper, and long, lego people, rectangular wooden blocks to resemble a bustling restaurant.

Setting up a restaurant

 

A playset of felt, construction paper, rectangular wooden blocks, and lego people arranged to resemble a bustling restaurant.

I want to eat at this restaurant! Gourmet dining!

 

A station of the classics: pick up sticks, string for Cat’s Cradle, Tiddly Winks and more!

A station of the classics: pick up sticks, string for Cat’s Cradle, Tiddly Winks and more!

3 students sitting together. 2 students observe one student playing with pickup sticks

Let the games begin!

Now these students are ready to teach their own class, passing on playful experiments in physics, math, kinetic ability, creativity – and most importantly, fun!

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Learning by Messing Around: Play in the Service of Learning

Discover the different sounds you can produce with the rocks

Discover the different sounds you can produce with the rocks

Play is one of those institutions that almost all educators recognize as a critical part of children’s learning. Ironically it is often the first thing to get cut in pursuit of “high stakes testing” and rigor. There have been articles suggesting that kindergarten and even pre-school are the new “first grade”. These create situations where young children are expected to sit still and memorize letters, numbers and words at the expense of exercise, creative exploration that are the developmentally appropriate things for children to be attending to. It is impossible to envision how these two different philosophies will eventually resolve.

At the same time the activity of play is coming into its own for a completely different audience. Adults and teens are becoming the subjects of a push to develop citizens who can manifest creativity and problem-solving skills. Experiential opportunities such as “makerspaces” and “hackerspaces” are being developed both as part of traditional institutions such as libraries and schools and in independent entrepreneurial opportunities with play as a motivator.

Play and learning cannot be divorced from one another. The characteristics of play—curiosity, experimentation, not fearing failure, repetition, self-direction, valuing the means over the ends, and imaginativeness—are touted as 21st century skills as well as being characteristics of many Nobel winning scientists.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X10ttXSinuU[/youtube]

finding a shared interest poster at the Hawkins ExhibitFrom September through January the Earl Center hosted the Hawkins Exhibit. This is a national traveling exhibit that is about learning science by “messing around,” the use of existing materials and the joint exploration of child and teacher without a preset curriculum. The richness of the exhibit and the timeliness of the subject matter poised a rich counterpoint to the continual exploration of “making” and creating in the Earl Center. It also stressed the value of play in learning—whether learning by building with rocks or learning by experimenting with our 3D printer. In both cases the play activities build the creative stamina of the user by allowing unstructured access to materials and encouragement to explore in a free form way. We can only hope that by encouraging adult play in the world that the trend towards making children grow up too soon will reverse itself and we will all have the opportunities to play well together.

 

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