Dear Powhatan Parents,

Research tells us that four and five year olds’ work is play. In Powhatan’s Pre-Kindergarten Classroom, that looks like Play Lab, which happens every week day at 11:00 a.m. And as I learned from my visits to a very busy Play Lab last week, although it may look a lot like play, there is an abundance of learning happening in every corner of the Lab!

The Play Lab represents interdisciplinary, authentic, and self-directed
learning for children at this age. Learn more in the podcast above!

Play Lab consists of several areas of learning. The dramatic play area can be whatever the children want it to be, the art center is supplied with many different materials for creation of anything imaginable, the block area has different sized blocks with various figures to use with any structure you would like to build, and the porch area is always changing and evolving with a water and sand table, easel, and many tools and materials to develop small and large motor skills as well as language acquisition.

To begin Play Lab, Mrs. Ludwig and Mrs. Dickson each take a group of children and guide them in making a choice of their work for the morning. They must verbalize their choice, it is written down on a special board by their name, and then off they go. Teachers are circulating around the lab making sure that children have the materials that they need, but never directing their work. This is exploration time and the children are designing and creating their own learning experiences. The level of focus, concentration, communication and collaboration is astounding and not a minute is wasted as students go immediately to their chosen areas.

During my visits, I spent time in the dramatic play area and block area. The dramatic play area was a pizza parlor. The children made signs and menus (with invented spelling of course) and decided the prices for the food in the restaurant and what they would be serving. I was a customer one time and a pizza chef the next. During my second visit, one of the students decided that she would like to serve soup at the restaurant. Menus had to be changed, prices added and picking the type of soup to serve was quite a decision-making process. There were a few times when the kitchen got quite crowded, and negotiation had to occur along with sharing of utensils and the stove. In the block area, I started my visit by creating a dentist’s office. The children had already decided that signs were needed in this area such as “Stop”, “Handicapped Parking Only”, and “Hand Washing Station”. They had made a set of them the week before my visit. Our dentist’s office used the “Hand Washing Station” sign and even had a candy machine, which the student said her real dentist had in his office. During my second visit to the block area, the dentist’s office had morphed into a dentist’s office in a castle. After all, wouldn’t a king and queen need a dentist? How easily the children shared their creative ideas and engaged in the give and take of group work.

At the end of Play Lab and after clean-up, the children come back to their groups to share about their work. Once again, the teachers document their work choice by writing their words next to each child’s name. Even the shyest children must share, and each child listens to each other – asking questions so that everyone has a chance to participate. This interaction builds enthusiasm for the areas in Play Lab and creates a sort of brainstorming session which inspires ideas for tomorrow’s Lab time.

Mrs. Ludwig says that the time in Play Lab flies by each day, because the children are so busy. And it is very exciting because you never know from week to week what ideas will change each space. It certainly keeps both teachers’ creative juices going as they continually look for materials to support the children’s ideas and literature to read to them about their themes. The Play Lab represents interdisciplinary, authentic, and self-directed learning for children at this age.

And it is just my first example of Innovative Learning at Powhatan! Stay tuned for more in November as I visit another teacher and area of the school!

My Best,
Sue Scarborough
Head of School