Sunday, March 23, 2014

SOLSC #23 Thinking about academics

I am posting every day during March as part of the annual "Slice of LifeChallenge for Two Writing Teachers.  Check out their website for lots more reflections on teaching.


To know me is to know that I believe in play, exploration, and social-emotional learning in preschool, opportunities for children to learn and enjoy being together.

Something I often wonder -
Do families realize how much true academic work is happening alongside all this play?
Do they believe that social-emotional learning is emphasized at the expense of academics?

I dare to say that

to emphasize play, exploration, and social-emotional learning 

leads to richer, deeper, stronger early literacy and mathematics learning.

Play is the very best way to teach preschoolers anything and everything!

A moment last week -

a boy, playing with playdough and counting bears, building a large boat for the bears. He calls to me, "Ms. Ingram, look! I have 14 bears on this boat!"

Me - "Fourteen? Wow, that is a lot of bears! How do you know there are 14?"

And he proceeds to count the bears trapped in his playdough boat, one-by-one.

I nudge him further, pointing to index card numerals that I have laid out on the table as a part of this activity,
"Is the numeral 14 here? Which numeral matches how many bears are on your boat?"

He studies these and chooses "10."

I nudge him to count the small dots underneath this numeral -
"Do those dots add up to the same number of bears on your boat? Is it the same total?"

Methodically, slowly, one-by-one, he counts the dots on the 10 card and says,
 "No, that's not right. It is more."
He puts the card down and grabs the "14" - "See, this one, this one is right." Then he counts the dots on the 14 card to be sure.

Me - "Wow. That is a lot of bears! And you are right, that is the numeral 14. You have matched the numeral to your quantity."

"Now I am going to have more bears on my boat!," he declares and begins to throw in additional bears and get back to his play, bears in the boat.

All of this takes a matter of moments.

I have intentionally woven math opportunities into the play. At the beginning of the school year, according to my baseline data, this young child wasn't recognizing any numerals. He was not able to identify quantities for three objects, let alone fourteen.

Math in the preschool classroom is intentional and organic - woven into all we do -
how many kids are at that table? 
- how many children are absent?
- how many dress ups do we have? who is playing family with you and how many is that?
- what blocks will you use to make that bigger? what can you tell me about your design's shape?
- "let's make a number line for our classroom!"
- what will you do next? what did you do before?
- how can you make a bigger firetruck? how much bigger does it need to be?
- is this the same or different? how is it different? 
- do you see any patterns
- who is first? who is second? 
- how many people are in your picture?
- is she taller or shorter than you?
- will this container hold more sand than your container? or less?
- how many napkins will we need for everyone?

When we allow children the flexibility to choose their own learning,
to play and explore with what interests and excites them, and
have faith in our ability to weave math and literacy into this fun,
I have no doubt that
the academic learning is profuse and genuine.

(A daily share by preschoolers in their own words)
A Story Collage by Shaan

     This is a story for my Mom. The sun is on top and everyone is warm. Ezra Jack Keats is there and Julian was there and he is jumping on something, a special jump rope. There was a mommy of somebody. The bats fly away and they try to get all the vegetables. When the kids get too sweaty, they go back inside. And they have chocolate milk and Ezra Jack Keats and Julian go to school. Mommy goes to work, she never goes back to school. The End.


  1. And that is how it 'could' work in many areas, for older students too. Projects, planning, noticing the time it takes for someone to do something, & so much more are part of what teachers point out to students, sit to examine with students, etc. (No worksheets!)Thanks Maureen!

    1. Linda, as always, thank you for your comments! There has been a lot of press/publicity recently about academic preschools in our area - children in programs that are 'scripted', with very rigid lessons on counting, alphabet recognition, handwriting. I don't think schools are "either/or" - I sure don't believe play-based schools are not academic. Thanks for chorusing my thoughts - and pointing out their validity for all ages. I know I learn best when I get to pursue my own questions....

  2. Have you read the Show, Not Tell blog this month? Her OLW is play and she uses that word to fit in her daily slice. What is work for some, is play for others. Stick to your guns, if kids don't have the opportunity to learn through play in preschool, when will they?

  3. I am a preschool teacher and agree whole-heartedly with your entry here. I also teach in a summer school program for students 2-5th grade and find the "play" part of the day is often where the students integrate their academics as well.

  4. "Do families realize how much true academic work is happening alongside all this play?" I don't know if families do but I do! I want my class to look like yours! I have moments of true inquiry and really want the entire year to be more inquiry based. I can't wait until we figure this out for our oldest kids!

  5. This family does realize! And we also realize that this sort of instruction requires an enormous investment of teachers' time and energy. Thank you!