Now that I’ve had a couple of weeks in the crèches, I am seeing things in a different way and beginning to think about my own practice in my classroom at home.
My first week, I saw the programs through a different lens. I saw that there weren’t enough crayons and paper for all of the children to complete an activity at the same time. Puzzles that were missing pieces. Books that were torn or damaged due to the moisture in the air. Baby dolls missing limbs. A “block area” that only had 26 wood unit blocks. A rustic classroom with plywood flooring and no outdoor area.
As I’ve become comfortable in the crèches and began to form relationships with the teachers and children, I’m noticing even more: Teachers who encourage and love their students. A safe, nurturing place for children to learn and play while their parents work. Children who love to hear the same stories over and over. Baby dolls who are carried on the backs of children while they play (imitating mothers in their community). 26 wood blocks that transform into various objects: telephones, hairbrushes (I was fortunate to have my hair brushed with blocks), trains, castles, food, bridges, dominoes– each day something new. Children creating cooperative games. Older preschoolers taking care of younger peers. I am amazed by what I see taking place in the classrooms.
When I observed children using blocks to represent a wide variety of objects over several days, I thought about my classroom at home. I realized that I don’t often see children using objects for representational play. When children want to use a phone, they go to the dramatic play area and find a real phone to play with. If they want cars, they pull out the basket of cars. If they want a bridge, there is a plastic bridge available and they use that. In the crèches, these things aren’t available to children (or are available in very limited supply). Therefore, they create their own. I see rich, imaginative play in the crèches. Imaginative play exists in my classroom at home, but much of the play is dependent on what concrete objects are available to children: dramatic play props, block props, costumes, etc. We have an enormous, beautiful set of wood unit blocks in my classroom and they are rarely used. The children in the crèches use a small amount of second-hand wood blocks daily for a never-ending list of purposes. It’s exciting to see what ideas they come up with and how they execute their plans. Since there is no play food in the “fantasy area” of the classroom, they often bring blocks to the area to use as props. Sometimes they create a “feast” on the table using a variety of toys (see photo).
In the coming school year, I’d like to work on facilitating play using blocks and open-ended materials in my classroom. I am wondering about what kinds of play opportunities might be afforded to my students if I utilize a “less is more” approach in regard to the amount of concrete materials I bring into the classroom. I plan to replace some concrete objects with open-ended ones (for example, offer pieces of fabric instead of/in addition to costumes) and encourage students to take objects back-and-forth between classroom areas.
I’m experiencing a give-and-take here in Cape Town. I am giving my time, sharing my knowledge of the field, and supporting the teachers and students in the crèches. I am taking away a rich experience that is evolving who I am both as a person and as a teacher. I feel inspired by what I see taking place in the crèches and look forward to the next few weeks.
– Melanie (Mel)