I haven't spent too much time talking about my educational psychology here (and I really should!), but this post has a lot to do with it, so it is worth delving into a wee bit. I am a very strong believer and advocate of play. Kids don't creatively imagine and play today as much as I believe they need to/have in the past. So much of is made of "keeping occupied" and "guided entertainment" style activities. . . Things like television and video games. Both, of which, I must say, I adore. But, this adoration must be in perspective. My experience leads me to believe we learn better when we play, when we discover things for ourselves, when we give ourselves the opportunity to be wrong.
Today, I aided the last 1st grade class glueing on their manes and tails for their zebras. While I was aiding others I had asked the students to sit back in their seats and "play" with their zebras. But, a funny thing happened. I had left the savanna picture on the floor (because the next activity was for the students to pick a place for their zebra to "live"), and quite a few studenst snuck out of their chairs to look at it more closely. I didn't mind as I was sitting right next to the picture. So, while I helped the last few students, I quietly observed my students and the savanna picture. They were picking up their zebras, making up stories, and walking them all over the savanna as if it were a doll house. First, it was killer cute. But second, wow! What a great teaching moment!!
The students were play-acting with their zebras and were speculating about what the zebras ate and what they do etc. etc. They asked themselves all sorts of exploratory questions that they wouldn't probably ask me. And, it was because they were playing. It was okay to be wrong. A high school teacher walked by my open door who is a great admirer of art and stopped. He complimented the students on the zebras and then he knelt down to play with them. They greatly loved this and began having their zebras ask his zebra (really my zebra, who they named Ralph) what food he liked etc. etc. The high school teacher told them zebras like grass etc. etc. and it was a great moment for them just to play and learn.
I thought it was worth noting because I love play and try to incorporate it all the time. So, I thought I was doing such a great job by allowing them to play with their zebras in their seats. But, by letting them play in a larger group with the savanna picture, the students learned far more. It was and is, for me, a great reminder of how not every moment needs to be structured to the hilt. That sometimes, allowing the students to guide the activity leads to much more profound learning.