Learning to Play, Playing to Learn in New Haven: Summer Blog Series Post #1

Wonder, Purpose and Joy

Ava, a New Haven public school teacher for over two decades, is relieved to create a classroom where children choose when, where and with whom to work each morning. Her second grade classroom options includes molding clay, a magnifying glass and some bugs, a block corner and even a drama center. “This is how we used to teach, “ she tells us, “before we forgot that kids were kids.”

This summer Gesell has partnered with New Haven teachers from around the district to co-create classrooms infused with joy, purpose and wonder for nearly

200 pre-k through third graders. Teachers trained with developmental psychologists and educators from Gesell for four days to revisit developmentally appropriate practice and define a shared understanding of a pedagogy of play. The learning intensive culminated in collaborating to build, from scratch, classrooms that reflected their vision of an ideal learning environment.

The center-based classrooms that the teachers created use Wondering
Questions (big themed and higher-order thinking inquiries) that focus the Open Work (skill-and-content-driven, child led, teacher scaffolded activities). One group of teachers began with the question, “How does water affect our lives?” Children will explore the contents of the ocean and sort, qualify, quantify, compare and contrast. Through these activities they learn units of math as well as evaluation skills. What looks like playing in the sand is a path towards mathematical equations.

At Gesell we believe in the power of play. What looks like child’s play is in fact complex. The magic of teaching happens in that place where we bring the joy, wonder and purpose together with the work of building essential skills and engaging with core content. Learning can be fun and play is the perfect way not only to grow skills and engage with content but also to practice how to inquire, create, debate and dissect.

During the month of July children will arrive to these classrooms, ready to put this pedagogy of play into action. Stay tuned for dispatches from the classroom and follow this blog to hear more from the teachers and children taking this summer adventure in play with Gesell.

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