Learning to Play, Playing to Learn in New Haven: Summer Blog Series Post #2

Open Work Opens Minds

Last week we introduced our summer Play Based Learning pilot program with the New Haven Public Schools (see kick off blog post here). In this second installation of our Learning to Play, Playing to Learn in New Haven blog series we share how teachers are implementing play based learning strategies to open possibilities and create community in their classrooms.  

To honor student empowerment and foster community, teachers are using two strategies: Wondering Questions and Open Work.

Wondering Questions

Teaching teams brainstormed topics that would be developmentally appropriate and of interest to their students. From that process, one big inquiry was agreed to. This “Wondering Question” will guide the design of classroom centers, discussions and lessons for the summer. In one classroom students are investigating ‘What makes a home?” The group used their ideas and connections to build a shared idea of community, and then together, defined rules that would help everyone feel safe.

Open Work  

Led by Wondering Questions, teachers designed their classroom and schedules to allow for significant time for student choice in activities and exploration. We call this time Open Work. Open Work empowers children to be learners and show their understanding of what they are learning in a context that is meaningful to them.

The first task in designing productive Open Work is to identify the skills or knowledge you want students to learn or practice during this time, then determine how to build learning centers to address those skills. Learning centers were designed to offer a variety of materials through which students can work by themselves or with others. Shifting the focus of the learning in a classroom away from the teacher and onto the students allows children to engage with each other and the material through play, which opens up avenues to understanding that are difficult to achieve using solely teacher-led practices. 

What does Play Based Learning look like?

In one classroom, students were encouraged to solve a real-world problem when a group of students collaborated to create a tower out of building blocks, then proceeded to count the amount of each color block in the tower as well as tally the total number of blocks. Watch this video of the group working together and encouraging each other until they were sure they had the correct answer. Their collaboration fostered an environment of safety in both making mistakes and growing from them. This interaction between students was able to happen because the teacher valued and encouraged students as co-educators, and allowed them to teach and encourage one another. 

Why Wonder?

Using Wondering Questions and Open Work gives children the opportunity to learn playfully. Classrooms in our Play Based Learning program include block centers, math centers, science centers, book nooks, dramatic play corners, and art centers. Children choose to move from one activity to another intentionally. A classroom designed in this way engages children’s minds and meets their developmental needs for control and movement, while also offering practice in essential skills and academic content.  




















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  • Play base is a wonderful way of learning. Children grow in the learning process by working together. It is a skill that they will use all of their lives. It is awesome that new Haven has a summer program to keep the learning going through the summer. I hope to see it every summer. Teacher’s keep up the awesome work.👍

    Nilda Sepulveda-Cuenca on

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