The Worm Hotel
If you've spent any length of time with me you may have heard me say that I am a guide not a teacher. Don't get it twisted, children are still learning when they are in my classroom. I just prefer to let them choose their learning and their process to get there. It's not a cop out. It's not lazy. Children learn more and they retain more when they are interested in what they are learning.
When play is self-directed, many times children draw on familiar life experiences and bring it into the dramatic play. If we gave children medical toys it seems a child will immediately want to give a playmate/ an adult/ a dolly a shot. That is what is memorable about the doctors appointment. They replay what was the most painful or stuck out the most in their mind.
So, what exactly does happen when we let children choose their own play? Rich, complex vocabulary, peer interaction, roles being assigned, problem solving skills, engagement with nature, cause and effect, natural consequences, among many other things.
This week I had a front row seat to all of this. Come with me on a walk to my playground and witness with me the story of the worm hotel.
It all starts.... wait! I don't know how it started?! We were outside and the children started digging. When they first discovered the worms it got exciting. The rest can be described as an avalanche of talking and chaos and kids running and planning and organizing and barking orders to each other. They immediately wanted to rescue the worms. I patiently explained that the worms belonged in the dirt and didn't need rescuing. They were both safe and comfortable in the dirt. Quickly came a reply that maybe they just needed a vacation and could stay in a hotel. Cue the mud kitchen and some of our old dishes. One child was convinced that given the choice, worms would definitely love to sleep in a seashell. We grabbed some seashells from our science center and beds were made for the hotel. They hunted throughout the yard for some leaves for food. One child even asked if we could give them some of our leftover grape tomatoes from snack time. She had to smash them first though!
Some of the quotes I jotted down during this play period were:
"I hit the jackpot!"
"We could put this over here. Is that a great idea?"
"This one might be sick he’s not moving. Let’s give it extra leaves."
"Which side of the worm is the mouth and which is the booty?"
"Is this a hospital or a hotel?"
"Do we need a bathtub for the dirty ones? Oh wait! They're all dirty. They're worms!"
When I felt like the play was winding down and it was time to come inside, we had a quick conversation about hotels (human ones.) We talked about who had stayed in one in real life and who had real experience with this game. We then went on to explain that no one stays in a hotel forever. They stay for a bit and then they check out. So in an effort to re-establish the balance of nature and put the worms back in the dirt, I called for check out at the worm hotel. I was surprised that not one child gave me any push back. Every single one of them, gently took each of their guests and put them back in their natural habitat. I do hope the worms at Teacher Stacey's Playground had a lovely vacation.