|Teachers who plan amazing environments for children are absolutely influencing learning.|
Here's the thing:
I adore Teacher Tom.
I admit it. His photo on his blog with his fabulous red cape make me think that he wears it everyday. He IS a sort of Super Hero for early learning educators - at least via the blogosphere. Tom is a rebel in the field of early childhood, an inspiration to help us think about This Rule and That Policy, and a never-to-be-questioned supporter of children being allowed to BE children.
One of my favorite posts of Tom's is when he wrote about 2-year-olds using hammers:
However, in Tom's post today, I don't know that I agree with his theory that a play-based teacher steps back and lets children "learn on their own." Here's the full read of Tom's 'Teaching a Play Based Curriculum' [Tom's posting was in response to Emily at The Natural Playground who posted 'Is Free Play Teaching?']
Tom offers that he and his Co-op parents prepare the environment - "Every day, I strive to make sure we have some way for kids to build stuff. Usually that means some sort of blocks. I also want there to be a sensory exploration going on, an art project, a couple fine motor activities, something over which to puzzle, and at least a few conversation starters. I try to make sure there's a place to learn with one's whole body, a way to get messy..."
This sure sounds like he and his parent group have intentionally planned for what they deem as important for young children to experience on a particular day or over a period of days.
This sure sounds like Tom & Parents have thoughtfully supplied - or taken away - materials and explorations that would provoke open-ended or creative interest and inquiry.
Tom writes that in his daily work with children, he thinks of himself as "an artist...a shopkeeper...a mad scientist...a game master...an interior decorator."
This sure sounds like he is intentional in what he is doing, preparing, and availing for children.
The role of the teacher is so very significant. I believe that this sort of Intentionality is one of the richest, most respectful gifts to offer to children in their play spaces. Teachers have afforded the environment and materials truly a central role (that 3rd teacher in Reggio doctrine) and in turn allow the day to mysteriously unfold with children engaged by choice and self direction.
My point to challenge what Teacher Tom was writing is that when the environment and materials are so thoughtfully offered as they have done, that learning - in essence - IS planned.
What I mean by that specifically is that YOU KNOW that amazing engagement, curiosity, and invention will happen:
YOU KNOW that children will explore color at that art project, or explore speed and distance at that ramps with balls area, or use descriptive language like Squishy or Gloppy or Super Cold at that sensory table filled with glue, cornstarch + water.
So, sure, the exact learning is not planned as teachers look forward to children using materials in unexpected ways. Maybe children want to use pinecones or branches to paint with at that art project, or use aluminum foil hand-made balls at that ramp area, or add mud to the sensory table. Maybe.
Sure, I get what Teacher Tom was saying. The exact learning is not planned. The exact math concept of one-to-one correspondence is not taught, the exact science concept of examining the properties of liquids is not taught, the exact small motor concept of writing the letter A is not taught. However...
In the most wondrous play-based schools like Teacher Tom's - learning is no accident.