Every Picture Tells a Story – Natural Play

natural playThere is a common misconception among early childhood teachers that Engineering is too complicated for inclusion for the young child; however, the reality is that children are natural engineers.

Structural engineering, which is part of the primary school science curriculum, primarily focuses on the solutions humans create to solve problems they encounter in nature. For instance, erosion, water supply and pollution control. So what are the skills the preschooler needs to develop in order to be successful when learning these concepts in the future?

The answer is simpler than we might imagine. In general, engineers are creative thinkers. They utilize current technologies, equipment and tools in order to control, manipulate and build machines, devices and structures that solve or prevent a problem. They make connections.

Children do this everyday as they play on their own and within groups. They are quick to imagine scenarios in which they must “save the day”- cross over the hot lava, fortify the castle and dam the river (to name a few). Their critical thinking skills are put to the test as they use ordinary materials to construct in the block area, sand box and garden. They often unveil their inventiveness through representational drawing and storytelling. In short, they invent all the time to amuse, to inform and to imagine. Teachers have always supported traits common to the engineer.

The materials we offer play a critical role as children problem solve and invent ways of combining natural things with man-made. Rocks and pebbles have thousands of applications like truck “stoppers” as we see in the photo above. We want to point out the use of rocks because they are one of the most versatile materials we all have at our disposal. But too often, they are removed from our outdoor and indoor learning spaces for fear that they will be used to cause harm. We feel, like many teachers, that time spent initially on setting expectations for safe play will result in the respectful and very inventive use of these natural construction materials. Encouraging children to use items given to them by Mother Nature can lead to an appreciation of our natural world. Opportunity for utilizing natural materials supports kids as they invent, create and think like engineers.

If you haven’t got rocks in your space, go get some! Watch the natural play and learning begin!

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