By Emily Bacon, Prekindergarten Teacher
When people ask me why I became a prekindergarten teacher, I tell them because in my job, I still get to play! Humans are wired for play. Our brains have evolved to learn about the world by experimenting with it, tinkering with natural items and interacting with each other. Preschoolers naturally operate this way, dismantling the outdoor world and often literally “bumping heads” as they figure out socialization. However, during their play they are practicing important executive functioning skills, such as problem solving, communication, and social-emotional skills.
This morning, I am observing several children working together with play-dough, hammers and various tools. Dora asks her friend about a hammer, “Can I have it? I’ll give it back.” Lula sings to herself as she creates and sculpts, “I’m making a snowman, play-dough, dough, dough. One butterfly, two butterfly.” Michael says, “Elin, can I have that?” Elin responds, “After I’m done.” Harlow, who’s watching Lula, says, “This is snowman.” Rowan asks, “Can I have a turn?” Harlow shows me, “I’m done. I did a snow. I made a snowman.” Olivia says to Lula, as Lula continues to sing, “Lula, I want you to watch this.” (She leans hard on her lump of play-dough with her torso.) “Look at my play-dough! Makes it flat.”
The most obvious tools the children were using in this scenario were their communication skills. They requested items, listened to each other’s ideas, discussed their creations, talked about their processes and sang. Sharing the tools was a great way for the children to use their social-emotional skills: they used patience and manners in asking and receiving; they remembered the importance of turn-taking; and they respected others’ desires to use the tools. Lula used creativity in making her song, but Harlow used her thinking skills in observing what Lula was creating, listening to Lula’s song and trying to replicate a “snowman” for herself. She learned a new vocabulary word and then tried something new, presenting her “snowman” to her teacher to admire. Thus, even in a brief play scenario, children have many opportunities to use executive functioning and 21st century skills, such as problem solving and cooperation.