Sketchbooks and Play Planning

I am eager to start programming at Play Lab!

I have been itching to revisit some form of sketchbooks for children.  From 2009-2011, while teaching PreK at an international school, I brought the idea of sketchbooks to the class.  Most days, it was open choice for the kids in their sketchbook to draw what they would like to.  I also added prompts from time to to time - stickers on the table; unwrapped crayons; photographs of children at play glued into the sketchbook.  A favorite prompt for the kids was piles of their individual portraits and glue sticks, ready to add into the books.  Some kids pasted their own face over and over; some looked for a representation of every child in the class; some covered pages with a favorite friend. 

In hindsight, this was a really valuable time for the kids, and for myself.  I was able to learn about their interests, patterns, and preferences.  They had a personal space for working through ideas.  The majority of our time in that class was spent engaged in open, free play, either in our classroom or in the forest.  The kids had hours of opportunities each day to explore ideas through their play, and this focused sketchbook time was a compliment to that.  We brought our sketchbooks to the forest; to the baseball field; to the playground.  Whenever there was an idea to work through, we used those handy books.

Observation and reflection are central to teaching Early Childhood: we need to understand children, and ourselves.  I have become really interested in AnjiPlay over the past few months, and what really drew me in was the role of reflection and expression for the children - not just the adults.  From the AnjiPlay website:

"Observation, reflection, expression and technology play crucial roles in the practices of Anji Play. Anji teachers are keen observers. During the day, teachers record the play that takes place at school with their smart phones. In the afternoon, during Play Sharing, the photos and videos from that day are projected in the classroom and the children discuss their experiences, insights and discoveries as a group. After Play Sharing, children have access to variety of materials and draw, paint, collage and otherwise express their experiences that day through Play Stories.”

Rather than a focus on 30 to 40 minute chunks of time for different activities, children in Anji play - all day.  There is daily time for reflection on that play, both in a group discussion and through the creation of individual play stories.  This is a time to reflect on the play experiences, and the documentation that teachers gather over the course of the morning., through play sharing and play planning.

I hope to include some form of Play Sharing and Play Stories when kid + caregiver workshops start in April.  I see the value in gathering children’s stories over time, and I am also curious about how we might gather the stories of educators and caregivers: the observers of children at play.  When we bring in multiple perspectives, we have the possibility of expanding our own mindset around what we see, think, and hear.

Another aspect of play documentation in Anji is play planning.  The first place I saw this in action was in a toddler class at Sabot at Stony Point when I visited during Open Days last year.

With different levels of support and encouragement from adults, children of all ages can plan their play.  With an infant, it may be an adult narrative of how the child noticed materials and space, and began to engage with whatever was most curious to her.  A verbal child may make marks on paper and a verbal plan that an adult can transcribe.  As children develop and become more representational in their drawing and writing, their play planning becomes more independent.  Not only are children learning through the articulation of their own ideas, they are learning to notice, to look forward.  If we start our day with children by planning play, we can remind them of their play stories; of the materials and people and space they have been exploring and may want to revisit.  A portfolio of play plans and stories becomes a living document of a truly child-centered experience.

I have not been to Anji - I have just started to engage with people involved in the project who are implementing some of these ideas in different settings.  I am saving my pennies to go on the study tour in October, where I can see these ideas in action.  Until then, my focus is on my own research through observation, reflection, and planning.  I plan to provide ways, means, and support for children to express and collect ideas at Play Lab.


//  Dig Deeper  //

My posts on Sketchbooks on Bakers and Astronauts

AnjiPlay Dates at the Madison Public Library