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Integrating Learning in Play-based Programs

11 Nov 2021 by Teachstone

One thing we have all heard is that children learn the best through play - but how can we fully integrate that into our classroom environments?

Devynn Thomas joins us to explore ways to make the most of interactions during play and following the child’s lead in planning the curriculum.

Devynn Thomas is the owner and operator of Lakeside Friends Daycare, an at-home play-based daycare. She started her career in early childhood 10 years ago at a center-based child care center. Devynn is passionate about the connection between play and learning and how literacy, science, and math can be explored through play.

This episode dives into Regard for Student Perspective. 

Actionable tips to try from this episode:

      • Watch and observe, see what comes up naturally, and notice what questions they are asking, what are they drawing when they color, what do they get excited about?
      • The only limit is your imagination. Seek inspiration by connecting with other educators, look on Pinterest and Instagram for fun ideas and tweak them to suit your children’s needs
      • Throw out your checklist/preconceived curriculum - “the children will seek out what they need” and you can address all areas of learning under a theme the children provide and it’s ok to have more than one “theme” going at a time.


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Transcript 

Devynn Thomas:
I was in a training once with a trainer who said, "The children will seek out what they need." For me that was really eyeopening to say that I don't need to structure our day, and overschedule all these transitions so that we have math time and we have reading time and we have science time letting those things come in more naturally, I think is more meaningful for the children.

Mamie Morrow:
Hi everyone. So glad you're here. I'm your host, Mamie and welcome to the Teaching with CLASS podcast, where we explore topics that help educators deepen their connections with children and enhance their social, emotional, and cognitive growth and development. Today, we're talking about supporting learning through child led play. Our guest, Devynn Thomas, shares her experiences in following children's lead and how it has impacted the children that she teaches in her in-home play-based childcare center.

Mamie Morrow:
Devynn started her career in early childhood 10 years ago at a center based childcare. She also babysat and volunteered at theater camp for kids. She eventually worked her way up to being a preschool teacher, teaching infants to pre-K. She stepped away from childcare and opened her own in-home daycare. She is passionate about the connections between play and learning and how literacy, science and math can all be explored through play. I hope you enjoy the conversation.

Mamie Morrow:
We are so fortunate to have Devynn Thomas with us today. She is an owner of a play-based childcare center out of her home for children's ages two to four. So welcome Devynn.

Devynn Thomas:
Hi. Yes. Thank you so much for having me.

Mamie Morrow:
Thank you for being here, and I would love if you would talk to us about your in-home childcare. How did it come about? How'd you get started?

Devynn Thomas:
I have been open for about a year now, just a little over a year now, actually opened in the middle of the pandemic. Just pretty crazy. I was working in the office of a small private school and was furloughed voluntarily so that I could focus on my own two kids that needed to be at home. And prior to that, I had worked in a licensed childcare facility center based place for many years. So I had that experience and training to lead me to opening my own home daycare. And I love it because I feel like it's the best of both worlds for me. I get to be home with my kids, get my oldest on and off the bus now that schools are back open, while I have still a fulfilling career in childcare and education.

Mamie Morrow:
That was amazing that you took that leap of faith, right during COVID, during the pandemic to start your own business. And it's so wonderful that it's working out so well for you. And I love that your children are able to be with you every day while you support additional children in your home. And I know you're passionate about making the most of interactions. I know that you know, a bit about class, so making the most of those interactions in the play based learning that children do, and we know that's really how children learn the best. So can you tell us a little bit more about what this looks and sounds like in your program?

Devynn Thomas:
Sure. For me, it starts with observing, watching, noticing what the children are interested in, what are they gravitating towards, talking to them about what they are excited about. Getting those questions, going back and forth and then taking it from there. What activities am I going to plan? What materials am I going to put out in our playroom that go along with that interest that they are showing me. One example I really like to share is that last year, shortly after I got started, I was noticing that my children were all interested in block play, building things, tools. And so I started providing blocks outside as well as inside. And then total stroke of luck, the developer in our neighborhood decided to build two new houses directly across the street from us. So what went from this just normal interest in building with blocks just exploded into all these questions about construction and building. And what are the tools that these guys across the street are using?

Devynn Thomas:
We literally watched the cement mixer come and pour the foundations. We watched the framers come and put up the walls. We watched a crane truck bring in the rafters for the roof. And so they were so excited. We would sit on the hill in the front yard and just watch and talk about it. And then to take it further, I provided books, stories about building and construction. I provided books about animal homes, different kinds of nests and boroughs that animals build. And then even books about homes all around the world, in different cultures to get us going on some different conversations. I provided styrofoam and golf tees. So they could practice hammering with their nails. I would put out different little invitations, some mornings, like one day it was blocks and dinosaurs, can you build the dinosaurs a home?

Devynn Thomas:
And then when the houses across the street were finished, we actually built a little bird house and painted it. And we took it across the street to the new neighbors to welcome them to the neighborhood.

Mamie Morrow:
Oh, I love that.

Devynn Thomas:
So yeah, it was really fun. It was really sweet. We of course had to keep our distance, but we welcomed them to the neighborhood. And for me watching this whole project unfold over several weeks, we addressed math and science concepts. We addressed concepts in the natural world. Hammering the golf tees was good, fine motor exercise for them. And we even addressed social and emotional learning by welcoming these new neighbors and being good citizens in our neighborhood. And the fact that this was all based in the interest that they had, the thing that they were excited about made those learning opportunities so much more meaningful and engaging for them.

Mamie Morrow:
Devynn, I love the passion in your voice as you talk about this. It's very clear and obvious how much this moment meant to you and how as exciting it was for you to guide the children through this learning journey. And I'd love it if you just would share with us a little bit about the children's reactions, what they told you and showed you in their actions. What did this mean to them to have, be able to take so much ownership over their own learning?

Devynn Thomas:
Yeah, they would, the excitement things like, "Oh, look at that truck or what's that truck, or what are they doing now?" All these questions would come up. They'd be talking to each other, which is really exciting for me to watch. I love it when they, it's not just at me, it's their interacting with each other. And when they're two and three years old you don't always see that. Calling each other over, "Look, what's happening now." And, "They're putting that in there." And just this really rich language that was coming out because they were so excited about what they were doing.

Devynn Thomas:
And so many opportunities to share too, like taking or sharing hammers that we were playing with and can you bring me golf tee and or a nail, because they called them nails, of course.

Mamie Morrow:
Of course.

Devynn Thomas:
Lots of opportunities for them to interact with each other and for them to interact with me and get that language development going. And yeah, when it's about something they are excited about and interested in, it makes it just, they just focus, they're invested and engaged in it.

Mamie Morrow:
Absolutely. And it sounds like there was quite a bit of connection amongst the children. So did this help them to build relationships with each other? Because I know you have ages two to four, so can you tell us how the children overcame those age barriers and worked together? Did you see any mentoring and supporting and learning from each other?

Devynn Thomas:
Yeah, I'm so blessed the group of children that I have are really connected with each other and that happened pretty quickly. And it may have been because of this project being really the start of our program together. They have grown so much. And two of them are siblings, so that helps that relationship was already established. But then that informs the relationship that all the other children have as well. So the older ones will say, "Oh, come and look." To the little ones or they'll say, "Try this." Or if a little one is coming up and trying to take something from them, we've really worked hard on, acknowledging that the littler ones may have still some learning to do in terms of sharing. Right? I can step in and help of course, but the older ones really are good about using their words and saying, "I'm still using that. Can I have it back please?" Or "I'll let you have that when I'm done." We practice that a lot. And so that helps build their relationships for sure.

Mamie Morrow:
And it sounds like there were so many lessons learned from the children so much embedded opportunities to discover and explore in the situation. And I wonder for yourself as an educator, what would you say are some of the key lessons you took away from this, that are going to impact your future work as an in-home childcare provider?

Devynn Thomas:
Well, I think something I'm always working on and it started when I was in the center based program and a larger classroom room is, throwing away your checklist, throwing away your preconceived curriculum and being flexible, being in the moment with the students, right? This construction thing totally came out of what they wanted to do and what they were interested in, what they were playing in. And so then it was my job to get that and say, okay, how can I help them take this further? What can I provide for them?

Devynn Thomas:
And because I was flexible, because I could say, maybe I thought we were going to learn about pumpkins, because it's fall, being able to just throw that out and say, no, this is important to the children right now, this construction is important and there are ways that I can work within that for them. And that flexibility is something that just, it takes a lot of practice. And so having this project be so successful is a reminder to me to be that, to have that flexibility and say, look, this is how it works. This is the ideal, this is what we want. And so it serves definitely as a reminder to me to keep watching them to keep asking questions and to follow their lead and see that it does work.

Mamie Morrow:
And you mentioned something that might have given everybody a little bit of moment of surprise of like throwing out the curriculum, throwing out the lesson plans. So, can we touch back on that real quick because I know it's not just diving in and doing whatever the kids want and throwing things out, right? You clearly have so much knowledge of what you're trying to achieve through the curriculum. Right? And what the goals are for the children, the learning standards and the learning goals. And then you were able to arrange and manage this experience so that the children would still meet those standards, those learning goals, those requirements, is that correct?

Devynn Thomas:
Yes. I consider my program, I like to use the word play school. I just think that that's such a great term to describe what I do. I have a very gentle preschool curriculum. I'm going to get those learning opportunities in there, but it is play-based and it is largely child-led. So I'm not pulling out that kindergarten readiness checklist at every day and going, okay, we have to do math today. I want to-

Mamie Morrow:
Finding the opportunities.

Devynn Thomas:
Right, right. I was in a training once with a trainer who said, "The children will seek out what they need." And for me that was really eyeopening to say that like, I don't need to structure our day and overschedule all these transitions so that we have math time and we have reading time and we have science time. Letting those things come in more naturally, I think is more meaningful for the children. And of course has a lot of other benefits, like reducing transitions and things like that.

Mamie Morrow:
Absolutely. And it takes a lot of work. It might sound like it's easier on an educator, but I know it's not. It takes a lot of work on our parts, a lot of research, a lot of support. And what would be some tips that you would have for educators regardless of the situation that they're working within and the curriculum standard. The expectations they have at their schools, what would be some tips on how to just start being more comfortable and being more flexible and following the children's leads and giving them more autonomy and ownership in their learning?

Devynn Thomas:
Well, like you said it, it is more work, right? So I watch the kids, I figure out what the interest is that is bubbling up. And then after they go home in the evenings, I'm doing research, I'm looking up things and trying to find, what am I going to put out tomorrow that will take that further? So I think keeping that in mind is important. And like I said, it starts with watching and observing.

Devynn Thomas:
Just sit down in the corner of the playroom and watch and listen to the conversations that come up. And then that lets you know what the interests are and once you've identified that, then you can choose activities that have those math skills and counting skills or whatever the curriculum is that you need to work on. But having it fold under a theme that the children are interested in, makes it more meaningful for them. And so really the only limit is your imagination. If they're interested in dinosaurs, and you want to do a math activity then, okay, maybe we're putting polka dots on the back of the dinosaurs. How many spots does this dinosaur have or eggs? How many eggs did the mama lay? Right. So that's where that research comes in. Because I don't, you know, dinosaurs. Right?

Mamie Morrow:
You don't just automatically know that?

Devynn Thomas:
Well, I mean after 10 years of teaching preschool, I know a lot about dinosaurs.

Mamie Morrow:
Great.

Devynn Thomas:
But just as an example you take that thing that they're interested in. They're constantly taking out the dinosaurs, they're playing with dinosaurs. When they're outside, they're acting like dinosaurs, then that's your thing, that's your interest. And then you make the activities that go along with that and when they are play based and when they are connected to that interest, it's going to work more for the children. It's going to do more that math concept or whatever it is that you're working on is going to sink in more than if it was just something you picked out of the book.

Mamie Morrow:
And it sounds like it's going to work better for the teacher too. Because you're just going to be that much more excited and interested and imaginative and curious and creative as well.

Devynn Thomas:
Right. It's fun. It's fun.

Mamie Morrow:
Yeah. Yeah. We got to bring fun back into it, not just for the children, but for the teachers because those feelings are contagious, right? Those feelings of excitement and enthusiasm. Well Devynn, thank you so much for, first of all, the work that you're doing, it sounds wonderful. And thank you for sharing your knowledge and your experience with our listening community. And I wonder what would you hope they're taking away from this conversation?

Devynn Thomas:
My biggest thing is play is important. It's become sort of a slogan for my daycare and some of the other things that I do, are with the goal of promoting play in our community. I think play is just so important and it's getting better. I think the trends are getting there where education is seeing how important that play is and that you can learn and play at the same time, but it's still a long way to go. And so that would be my main hope for a takeaway is that, play is important and play is learning and it's important.

Mamie Morrow:
And it's important for teachers to get involved in that play, absolutely. So we can help children to learn the most from those experiences and take their play further. And I love two quotes, I'm taking away myself is, play is important and the only limit is your imagination. Thank you so much for sharing with us today and having this conversation.

Devynn Thomas:
Thank you. Thank you again for having me. It's been a pleasure.

Mamie Morrow:
If you're interested in continuing this conversation with other educators, I'd encourage you to join our class learning community. You can share or learn more strategies with thousands of educators around the world. The link to join is in the show notes available on your listening platform. Also in the show notes, is a link to a few really helpful blog posts on this topic that I encourage you to check out. Thanks for joining us today. And I'll see you again next week, but until then be humble, be teachable and always keep learning.

 

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