The Play Lab after school program brings a new kit of playful, curated materials to schools each week. This spring, all eight Bellingham schools have already explored our block party kit: A collection of construction materials, most of them familiar to the 5-8 year olds at Play Lab. We ask kids what blocks are familiar to them and what looks new; we open a dialogue about their experiences with the materials. Then, we invite them to play.
One of the core goals of each curriculum kit is to engage kids in self-directed play. There is no example to copy, and no final goal post that everyone needs to meet. Self-directed play looks different on each kid, and it looks different within each group. We bring block party early in the session - it is an easy entry point for kids who might be unsure about what to do.
It is easy for kids to get stuck and discouraged - just like it is easy for an adult to get stuck and discouraged. The skill we want to help kids develop is the ability to persevere. Buildings will fall over; someone else will have the last red LEGO; you will be one Magnatile square shy of what you need for your stuffed cat to fit inside that castle you’re working on. We are not trying to frustrate kids (or ourselves as teachers), but life is full of bumps that you have to acknowledge, and if we can use blocks to work on those life skills, that’s excellent practice.
The striking thing about these problems is that they are created by the kids themselves, through play. We don’t walk into the room, as teachers, and create these scenarios. With the right materials, kids want to execute an idea of their choosing. They’ll run across a problem, and they’ll create a solution. A lot of this happens when we aren’t watching. This is the core of playful learning: engaging with a world you are actively creating a modifying.
We want kids to brush off these external challenges and push through, so we encourage them to keep working towards a solution to their problem by supporting them. We don’t give them a solution or do it for them. Block party gives us the opportunity to teach this way because the materials are so familiar: most children will dive headfirst into materials like LEGO, Magnatiles, and Kapla blocks.
We have all been frustrated when we have encountered a problem, and our first solution didn’t work. But we have to keep on trying, or reframe the problem.
We do a lot of both at Play Lab.