Posts Tagged John Dewey

Primordial Play

The more I spend my days around five, six, and seven, year olds, the more I take notice of their great perception for “primordial play.” All of those impulses, idiosyncrasies, and randomness that constitute their play are a much deeper anthropology connection then just behavior we can easily be chalked up as just imaginative play, or status quo – “aggressive play.” When we stop to consider all these childlike fantasies that become the core of their ancient stories that allow their play to unfold, one may find the primordial side to play that very well has origin and shape throughout the span of history, as well… two legged beings.

The sticks and stones kids use to construct bows, arrows, spears, and daggers, on these ancient subtenant tools that go back thousands of years, become important instruments of play. And the gathering of loose straw, collecting balls in the play yard as eggs, or picking and collecting herbs to heal wombs, the erecting of forts, and collecting of flowers – and finding ways to organize the hunt and gather, become the roots of play. There interests lie in organizing, forming whimsical social gathering, all revolving around human nature. John Dewey makes implications to this primordial connection among young people in The School and Society:

Many anthropologists have told us there are certain identities in the child interests with those of primitive life. There is a sort of natural reoccurrence of the child mind to the typical activities of primitive people peoples; witness the hut which they boy likes to build in the yard, playing hunt, with bows, arrows, spears, and so on. Again the questions come: What are we to do with this interest – are we to ignore it, or just excite and draw it out? Or shall we get a hold of it and direct it to something ahead, something better?

Dewey proposes important questions for educators and parents involved in the lives of kids. This degree of play does hold meaning and value to the ones acting out these primordial like roles and it would be a crime to squelch it or make it a forbidden act, because lives inquiries, questions, and answers provide a way for kids to demystify the complexities around life.

This behavior is definitely not easy to simply ignore because the intensity may cause certain conflict to arise. Or the opposite cause and effect from primordial play is that relationships grow stronger, new understandings can be met, physical challenges can be overcome, and abstract concepts of about life in general have an area for experimentation and figuring out. Most of this type of play can clearly be observed outside in more natural setting, however it normally goes on unfettered is there is a place for it. And this sort of play does not call for a play yard in a forest as a strip of rural or urban cultivated patch of green can provide the grounds for invoking this degree of play. But over all kids willingly can transform any environment as long as patches of plants and grass exist for them to stop, sniff, dig, pick, or other wise interact with their environment, no matter the size of the outdoor space. But surely, the more space, the merrier and greater the adventures.

Tapping into kids primordial play and where those interests lie provide a wondrous position for steering further exploration into academics. For example if they are imbued with the power dynamic of winning or my be quite partial to the “battle scene” as it even sub-surfaces through their drawings, then let these primordial fascinations fuel their interests into reading and writing. If they draw a battle scene in their journal or onto a piece of people then invite them to write the word “battle” or other words that captures their interest in that present moment, while phonetically sounding out the “b” sound in “battle.” Just as if another kid may be drawing bunnies or fairies, you would also encourage them to write titles or stories to compliment their images. If we can ease our tendencies towards projecting, prejudging, or stereotyping kids we can replace those initial anxieties with further opportunities for connecting with young people and assisting them with providing the means to thrive. Setting up policies at home or at school that forbid primordial play that stems from a place of “battle or hunt,” only demonizes the play and entices kids to wait until adults backs may be turned before reaching for a stick or speaking in battle tongues to their buddy.

Kids have innate curiosities for the biological world and all the living components that make it up. Often their vivid imaginations turn them into fierce cats, a coyote on the run, a baby wolf puppy, a hunter, or a gatherer of plants. They want to explore the school around them, find critters in the backyard, turn over rocks, pick food from the garden, care for animals, read and look at books featuring animals, go to the zoo, visit the beach, play at the park, etc. As if innately they have a deep connection with the outside world that goes back as far as humans can rightfully project their interconnection and reliance on the natural world.

There is this inner wildness among kids this age in particular that is worthy of being preserved and recognized as an innately valuable part of identifying and experimenting with their immediate environment.

Indigenous tribes internationally have a long history of being closely related or connected with the natural world. Young people shape and construct their relationship to the natural world through the act of scaling hills, treading through mud, standing in puddles, digging in the earth, gathering stones and plants, picking plants, finding insects, pretending to be an eagle, jumping off of stumps, painting faces with clay or mud, etc. Intuitively free of any adult dispositions or anxieties they simple dive right into life.
Take for example the our connection to the horse, “a gift from the great spirit,” by native Americans, carrying us great distances, used for transportation, in celebration, and for protection. For some youth the animistic sentient symbolism of the horse will ensnare their imagination, quite possible for years to come. And as the adults take notice of this, reassuring that they find all the materials or opportunities to support this interest, either by promoting horseback riding, visiting horse farms, reading about horses, sewing a horse from fabric, drawing horses, learning to spell or write a story about horses, etc. – much can blossom from a primordial connection. The child will begin to think about how the horse has helped groups of people us to fight battles, find and hunt food, and transport families over vast distances while carrying all their belongings, and a uncover a whole way of life before the rise of the automobile.

Often words pronounced or written identifying or describing animals, besides “mom, dad, ma, or pa” celebrate those intrinsic connections to animals. Animals and people tend to be also often some of the fist pictures kids draw. Many books pertaining to young are full of illustrations depicting animals or revolve around animal characters, because kids have always been able to identify closely to animalistic behaviors. Corporations such as Disney and others honed in on pitching the market at kids cashed in on this innate connection young people have to the animal world. The iconic mouse the brought millions across the country to meet Mickey and Minnie and the rest of the world of fantasia is just one pervasive example of how a young persons inner primordial fascination for the world can be exploited for profitable gain.

Not many generations ago people relied on the domestication of animals for sustenance. Today, millions of families have pets. Kids who have the responsibility of caring for pets in the home tend be nurturing and quite connected to the animal that lives in their home, often mimicking the behaviors. During play kids gravitate towards imaginative role-play where they take on animal characteristics. There is the infamous lion, the game of cat and dog, playing puppies or being coyote cubs, the dramatizing of animals is a well regarded mode of play where much is learned of the natural world and much is gained socially as they learn how to live cooperatively. The more kids gravitate towards primordial play – the more we can embrace, provide the space for it, and the resources to support their explorations of the fascination of the world around us. After all this way of play as a youngster, has been going on for countless generations.

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Organized Curriculum = Classroom Management

Offer a whirlpool of ideas and materials that spark the continual ingenuity of young minds, and more focus and organization will ensue. Kids in a healthy, supportive environment certainly do not move at a snails pace and as educators or parents we’re constantly challenged to conjure up interesting and engaging projects for them to channel their intentions and energy.

Classroom management in early childhood education begins with organized curriculum. A classroom that has a myriad of materials for young hands to help themselves, complimented by teachers that consciously follow their various needs and emerging interests, will optimize greater opportunities for learning.

One of the main aims of managing a successful classroom, comes with how well materials are presented – are accessible to teachers and students – can be quickly found with the deep layers of a teachers closet – appeal to the interests of the kids – and are developmentally appropriate, however still challenging and fun.

For example, my cohort and I in the classroom have noticed children who are partial to animal figures and are generally attracted by this fantasy play. Aware of this we decided to introduce a whole herd of animals, play trees, artificial greenery and set them up on our loft area, like a pseudo safari.

More recently, several boys and girls have taken more of an interest to playing with dolls, dressing them and carrying them in a warm sun in the play yard. Again, as teachers we decided to include stethoscopes and other medical equipment they may be entice further nurturing through socio-dramatic play.

Our jobs as educators are to pay attention to how materials are being used and to decide at one point to swap out or to present something different. Materials should always be within kid reach along shelves for practicing self-help skills, while projects themes can be presented and set-up at various tables through out the day, and later tucked away for another day. Setting up and displaying supplies for a specific project in an orderly, yet fashionable way will also tempt many little hands. A good rule of thumb is to be creative and think about how you your self would first like to be introduced to a new project.

Materials are to be used interchangeable. Preschoolers are absolutely content and thrive on diversification of materials, however they do have their favorites. And this is the simplicity of applying what educators commonly refer to as an emergent-based curriculum. There is no right or wrong way, this approach to curricula is provided on the individual and group related interests of the classroom, as each day is different.

Another good rule of thumb is to keep track of what activities or curriculum is being provided, how it is being used, who generally uses what, and at times demonstrate some appropriate ways materials can be used, while being careful not encourage any modeling, which may limit their own exploration into the project.

Our classroom layout by subject theme (i.e. art, kitchen center, dress-up, science, writing, math, etc.) is constantly changing, our shelves full of materials and stationary supplies are also weekly being recycled or restocked.

Curriculum emerges from self-directed and cooperative experiences in the classroom – a young person may short objects by color, shape, or texture, stamp alphabet letters onto paper, count beads while threading a necklace, or finding ways to balance a tower of blocks, all of these are organized acts. It was John Dewey, who advocated learning as a deeply rooted function; it is not an activity representative of a standard presented in a closed system of school. Play is then a fact of life; it is crucial to the full development. Dewey would argue for “the continuum of experience,” not for instruction, but where the educator is an intricate part of providing the resource for these diverse experiences to unfold. And the most effective way for continuum of diverse experiences to unravel is through a series of proactive steps towards an organized classroom. This is how we can best manage the classroom, while we entrust the kids take full control over their own learning.

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