Play-based learning in PK
By, Michelle Griffith; PK 3 Teacher
Preschoolers love to play, explore and create. It is with these things in mind that we have cultivated an environment in Pre-K that begins to teach the fundamentals: learning to enjoy one another in a safe space, learning to love the God who created us, and learning the beginnings of phonemic awareness…the ability to identify and manipulate sounds in the spoken word.
Teaching preschoolers requires both structure and spontaneity (and maybe a little bit of coffee).
Let’s take the letter “O” as an example. I have a structured lesson for each week, which begins by introducing the letter and its shape. We have manipulatives, so the children can touch the letters and see pictures of objects that begin with the letter. We use our fingers and our markers and pencils to make the letters. These are the beginnings of letter identification. We have multiple coloring pages each week designed to reinforce the letter we are learning about. These are always objects that begin with the letter so that the children are observing the sound without even realizing it. I can pull their coloring pages into our learning conversations with a prompt for answering questions with success. So I ask, “What things can you think of that begin with the sound that the letter “O” makes?” I make the sound and wait for a reply. I prompt them: What did you color this morning? “An octopus!” “Yes, Octopus starts with the sound of a letter “O”!” It’s especially fun when one of the children has a name that begins with the letter of the week. For the letter “O”, Olivia knew this was her letter! And if the children have an “O” in the spelling of their name, we are excited about that, too!
Our storytime story for the week will also often have something to do with the letter of the week. For “O”, it was “Bear’s New Friend” by Karma Wilson. Bear’s new friend was an OWL! This book in particular, gave us an opportunity to both reinforce our phonemic awareness (owl starts with O) and talk about how to enjoy one another (being bashful and making new friends).
We also have a craft during the week that is an object that begins with the letter. For “O”, we made snowy owls. My goal is to have the children create something that we use to decorate the classroom. They are naturally inclined to look at their artwork, which reinforces the letter, simply by observation.
But much of learning at this early age is by engaging naturally with the world around us. Opportunities for kindness, growing in our love for God and yes, even phonemic awareness are all around us! Lining up for recess one day, I realized that it was snowing pretty heavily. I was told the other classes had gone in because the snow was too wet. But we are preschoolers! We all have a change of clothes and our moms and dads send us to school in the winter with hats and hoods! We put our hats on, found partners to walk carefully with, and headed out into the surprise snow to explore the world around us. We stopped to talk about the beauty of snow, and the God who created it. The class followed my footsteps all around the playground – cooperating in the slippery adventure, experiencing the wonder, exploring the cold. It was a spontaneous seizure of an opportunity for both fun and learning. When there is snow, you need to make a footprint trail! And there it was. A fun and unplanned adventure that blossomed into a lesson. I had them line up and watch as I made letters in the snow by footprint. They enjoyed figuring out the letters as I made them. O…W…L. And what word is that? It’s what bear’s new friend was! We went back in wet and ready for lunch, and enjoying friendship and adventure.
And everyone looking out their windows wished they were in preschool again…