Free play is just about my favorite part of any day. It allows my students to be creative and imaginative – two art forms that are slowly being depleted from the lives of children. Today, I watched as two boys, Max and Gabe, had a picnic. In the dramatic play area of our classroom, we have materials for a great picnic. There is a basket of picnic food, a pretend grill, a blanket and some other camping supplies. Without any help from me, Max went to our math center and brought a box of fruits and vegetables to the picnic blanket. These math manipulatives, complete with a plastic knife, are mostly used to practice whole and half. Max helped Gabe set out plates, silverware, glasses and napkins and then cut each and every piece of fruit or vegetable and gave one half to Gabe and kept the other for himself.
As I stood back and watched their play, I was intrigued by their interactions. The first time Max cut the fruits and veggies, Gabe watched and waited. As their play continued, Gabe put all of them back together. This seemed to be fine until Gabe wanted to use the knife and cut the fruit himself. Max was not willing to give up the knife right away. And hence, another early learning opportunity is born! I reminded Max that we take turns in our classroom and I reminded Gabe that we need to ask our friends for the toys we want to use. After some practice and a few deep breaths I watched as the boys played together – slowly solving their own problems.