I always feel really sorry for the worms in my setting’s garden. Unsuspecting, they wriggle around in the soil, happy and content. That is until the doors open and children burst out, energised and eager, often on the hunt for mini-beasts to collect and ‘home’. The sensible insects scuttle off and hide but the poor earthworms, with their limited pace and seeming duller wits, just lie there waiting for little fingers and hands to begin pulling and poking.
Worms are incredibly fascinating for young children and seem to prompt a multitude of questions and reactions. Some children recoil at the thought of holding them, whilst others take great delight in trying to collect as many as they can until they have a boiling mass of them in their palms, writhing in a living ball. To be fair the children don’t necessarily mean to harm them. The adults do give them pep talks about respect. However the fact remains that as the garden closes at the end of a session, one can often see a deceased worm or two lying flat and forlorn on the patio slabs or drowned in a bucket of water.
It was witnessing this fascination that coincided with reading Bing Nursery School’s article about projects and led to the first project in my own setting taking the shape of Super Worm...
Just to reiterate, the concept of a project is very different from a topic. Topics are commonly adult-driven, last for a half term, have a predetermined adult outcome, usually attempt to satisfy Development Matters statements (in spite of it very very clearly saying that they are NOT a checklist...) and try to layer ‘learning’ over the top of children whether they are inspired by it or not.
Projects on the other hand are inspired by observations of children, see learning outside of the confines of Development Matters, and bring children right into the centre of their own learning. They are ephemeral and focus on engagement, joy and next steps...
So how does it work? Put simply, I’m watching, seeing what the children are hooking into, listening to their child chat, waiting for a dream to surface and a fascination to take hold. In this first instance it was very clearly worms. Collecting, housing, feeding, naming, counting and on and on...
Using worms as the hook, I then give myself ten minutes or so at the end of the day to brainstorm what possibilities there might be to embrace the play I see before me. If I didn’t have an adult world to satisfy then I’d let the children get on but because I exist in a system that demands and expects I need to focus my attention on next steps first.
How can I use worms as a vehicle so that through play I can meet the demands set before me? Here I’m thinking the 3Ms. I’m considering opportunities to spark children, to ignite them. Critically I’m not trying to engage all of the children. A project is a suggestion. I can do this because I have the utmost confidence and faith in my open ended continuous provision and in the children’s magic that the 3Ms can exist and happen whether they engage with Super Worm or not.
I don’t alter my continuous provision and neither do I spend a billion hours dressing it up. Rather I use my brainstorm to make my adult direct teaching high on engagement, on possibility, on the buy-in. I use a ten-fifteen minute input to act-out, model, introduce language, suggest, tease out understanding, provide a frame for the children to go off and investigate if they wish. And then I go and play with them.
Most children are full of it: making houses, measuring, leaving messages, drawing, inventing Worm traps, mixing ‘Worm Juice’, even being Super Worm. It’s awesome. For 24 hours children can’t seem to get enough of it and all the while adults are skilfully and sensitively using the 3Ms to get in amongst them and enable next steps.
The 24 hours tick away and then, as if by magic, the moment’s gone. New fascinations have emerged. Children have now taken to making paper aeroplanes.
It’s time for a new project, a new dream, a new adventure. Time for the adults to look at next steps once more and consider how folded, flighted sheets of white A4 paper can be a tool for deep learning, a tool for play beyond planning sheets, beyond topics, beyond the limits of the husk of adult imagination... it’s time to play and play hard...
Can I Go Play Now..? is committed to widening the understanding of the magic of children's play as an educational tool. Child-centred, play-based learning is where it's truly at....