The Importance of Play Series - Part 2
by Laura Venezia, Head of School at Woodland Montessori Academy
Welcome back to the Importance of Play series. An experience many families share is the experience of visiting a restaurant. We move through the process of asking for a table, looking at the menu, ordering, receiving the food and paying the bill routinely without even thinking about what skills were needed in order for that process to become so natural.
Let’s now imagine an Early Years classroom complete with a restaurant role-play area. A table is set with plates, forks and glasses, maybe a flower graces the table. A ‘kitchen,’ filled with food boxes, cans, pots and pans, spatulas and a cookbook is set off to the side. Menus, notepads and a variety of writing implements are stacked on a shelf.
A group of children approach this area and take their places. Two children sit at the table as Customers. Another approaches and hands them a menu. After a bit of discussion, the Customers place their ‘orders’ and the Waiter ‘writes’ what they will be having in order to communicate with the Chef in the kitchen. The Chef flips through the cookbook to find the perfect recipe. She finds her ‘ingredients,’ a few stones, a stick, some buttons, maybe a few nuts and bolts, and adds them to her pot stirring occasionally. She plates the meal and sends it off. The Waiter serves the dishes and the Customers are thoroughly impressed with the Chef’s creation! The bill is requested and paid (with pompoms, maybe some stones or clothespins—only time will tell).
In this simple play experience, there is a treasure trove of learning! Literacy and numeracy skills are plentiful from the use of menus, taking orders, ‘reading’ a recipe, and creating and paying a bill, children are exploring concepts of print and number through authentic and meaningful experiences.
The connection from real-life experiences into play allows children the opportunity to activate their prior knowledge and extend their own experiences, giving them ownership of their play. Cooperation and language development are rich in authenticity. For this whole process to be successful, children discover the importance of skills such as listening and speaking, taking turns, and assuming different roles. Children build bonds with those they are making these discoveries with, adding to their own social and emotional skills. Imagination is sparked with the use of loose parts. A stone becomes a tomato, maybe an onion… each day it will take on a new role. Yes, conflict will happen and that makes the experience that much richer! Children learn to solve problems as a group and how to adjust the process to work for everyone.
It is important to note that this will not happen in one day! Children need repetition and time to work through each role (customer, waiter and chef) with an adult joining in the play, but once children have had time to explore each role, the true magic happens. As adults, we then get to watch as children’s learning and engagement transforms beyond anything we could have predicted.