Published by Lori Pickert on October 23, 2007 at 12:10 AM


Jack said today that he wanted to work on his bird project — this is a project that has lasted for months, and every time I think it is over, he says emphatically he's not done yet. This reminds me of the preschool students who would work almost an entire year on a single topic (which, of course, they would explore to an amazing depth and breadth) then return in the fall for a new school year, cheerfully asking to resume study of the exact same topic.

These kids and their short attention spans.

Jack is so project-oriented, I think he will forever think of this continuing interest in birds as a "project" rather than, say, a hobby. On summer vacation he brought along his bird books, his bird list, and his binoculars, and asked to buy new bird books (Western states, you know) and bird identification sheets "for homeschooling". He offhandedly informs us of random bird facts and identifies birds on the wing, looking off skyward and shrugging modestly. And whenever he spots a flash of color in the yard, he dashes off for the binoculars again. It continues.

Today he said he was going to make a model of a bird, a goldfinch he believes, although he'll be making it larger than life-size, "so you can see all the details."

After some interesting discussion of possible materials he could use, he decided to try paper maché. He wanted to dive right in, but I helped him pull out a bunch of things and then suggested he make something else first. "Something else?!" But he was amenable, and proceeded to spend a good part of the morning making a "muscle man", with a lot of extra taping and giggling.

Children need some time to just mess about and play with materials before they use them purposefully. By exploring what he could do with the paper, tape, and wire I gave him, he gained a lot of knowledge about the materials and their properties, their limitations. I'll encourage him to do more free exploration tomorrow. When he feels confident manipulating the materials, then he will be able to confidently approach solving his problem of how to model the goldfinch.

Play for young children is not recreation activity... It is not leisure-time activity nor escape activity.... Play is thinking time for young children. It is language time. Problem-solving time. It is memory time, planning time, investigating time. It is organization-of-ideas time, when the young child uses his mind and body and his social skills and all his powers in response to the stimuli he has met. — James L. Hymes, Jr.


Comment by molly on October 23, 2007 at 04:25 AM

Thanks for the quote about playtime. I am always amazed to see how much my son is learning, doing, processing while he plays. He counts everything, makes up stories, tests theories. I think he is a lucky boy to have so much time to play and learn.

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 23, 2007 at 01:40 PM

Me, too, Molly. :^)

All work that is approached with the freedom and relaxed state of play is done more easily and with more enjoyment. This is very related to Csikszentmihály's flow theory, which Stefani wrote about yesterday:

Comment by katrien on October 23, 2007 at 01:47 PM

Hi Lori,
that is really good advice: to let them familiarize with the materials before they tackle the "main" project, os as to avoid frustration and disillusionment. I hadn't thought of that. My daughter is 26 months, and we're only just starting on the "projects". I'll be sure to visit here often for ideas!

Comment by Lori Pickert on October 23, 2007 at 09:09 PM

thank you, katrie! hang around, and keep commenting. ;^)

yes, it's the frustration that happens when they want to do a particular thing and can't figure out how to do it. during free play & exploration, they're just messing about; they don't have a lot hanging on whether something works or not. if they pick up a new material (or even something they haven't used in awhile) and immediately try and do something very particular, with a specific vision in mind, they can become frustrated and just abandon the whole thing.

that will still happen sometimes, of course. ;^) and we'll try to talk it through and develop an attitude of "well, let's try something else." but if you take time at the beginning to mess about, a good deal of frustration can be avoided entirely.

two is such a great age. :^)

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