Two lessons were taught here: geography and some yoga. Kids love colors and shapes. They love tangible materials and they love putting things together. And of course, they love to stretch and move and have seemingly care-free fun doing yoga by putting various body parts on various “parts of the world” , in an extra-education version of the American game “Twister”.
Making the colorful yoga-mat continents involved a painstaking cut-out project where I glued together long strips of translucent baking paper, attached it to a huge, 2 x 1.4 meter world map in the main hallway of my school, got help from a 6th grade class to trace all the land masses and islands from this map, cut out the continents and then transferred the pattern paper continents on to yoga mats, finally cutting those out, to produce some beautiful, Montessori-code colored continents. Using a blue sheet “ocean” background, the kids (featured in all the photos in this post) used the map to recreate a world continent map of their own.
The process involved talking about colors and especially shapes, and having the kids recreate the shapes using gestures and their bodies themselves. Once they were able to conceptualize the shape and form of each continent, I asked them to place those continents on to the blue sheet. I asked them to try to remember the position of each continent in relation to the others, and to space them as correctly as possible. We then looked at the world map as an answer key to see how correctly they had “re-created the world.”
Only some minor corrections were necessary; the kids had done a great job of memorizing the shapes and the disposition of our world’s continents! Africa and South America needed to be moved farther apart – yet by widening “the Atlantic Ocean”, I was able to throw in a quick lesson in plate tectonics. They then had fun putting the Africa and South America pieces together and then taking them apart, like puzzle pieces, further internalizing the concept of plate tectonics.
Below is a photo of a plate tectonic lesson taught in English to 6-7 year olds in a Czech school.
(I can’t wait to do some lessons on paleontology and Earth history with them! Especially since we all know how much kids are fascinated by dinosaurs.)
After our “yoga mat continent map” was finished, we identified some countries – especially big, “visually prominent” ones, first on the world map and then on the yoga-mat continent map with the blue sheet.
Then the kids looked at yoga positions on a brown yoga mat nearby, which I had reserved for that purpose. They immediately started to copy the various positions on the mat. There was little for me to do except to check that their backs were straight, that their yoga “shapes” were correct, and that they were breathing deeply and regularly.
Finally, we put it all together. We made a game of “Geography Twister” using body parts – first in German, and then in English. The kids had to put various body parts on various continents in specific areas on those continents (of course, vocabulary like “east / west / north, south” were used for this purpose as well.)
The results produced various yoga positions, reinforcement of their knowledge of world continents, countries and cardinal points, and lots of laughter.
There are thousands of ways to teach, learn, and have fun in the process! As I saw on the day of this outdoor lesson, “Geography Yoga” is one of them.
The next lesson – with a foam puzzle floor map of the world – had the kids identifying the continents once again, but this time also the countries. The map is made of foam and is a puzzle with over 250 pieces. You know how kids love puzzles! They put it together joyfully and in the process, learned the name and position of many countries. They were able to show me how they traveled across the Middle East to Germany. We talked about time differences. I asked applied questions about time and daily activities across the globe. The kids were fascinated by the fact that my mother back in Los Angeles was just waking up, while we were finishing a late afternoon lesson… or that a Russian child in Moscow was having breakfast, while a Russian child in Vladivostock was going to bed!
This map is almost the same size as the hand-made Montessori color continent map we assembled and used today, but detailed with every country and the country flag.
More yoga and geography is pictured below. Kids sure love to move! They sure love colors! They sure love to act on the following commands: “Put your left food on Australia and your right foot on Japan. Put both your hands on north Brazil. Keep a straight back.” The result, of course, is the yoga position “downward dog”.
I can’t wait to do this lesson again and the kids are looking forward to it as well!
“Play is the work of the child.” – Maria Montessori
Kids love to play. Playing helps them to be happy, to explore, to create original thoughts and to express themselves without guidance. Most importantly, playing helps children make sense of the world around them.
The first independent learning that a child will ever experience, is through play. Playing is a such a powerful thing!
Obviously, I have been watching children play all my life. As an educator, I have been observing children play for as long as I can remember being a teacher (nearly 17 years to date 🙂 ).
Yet I never fully appreciated the POWER in their playing – until I started teaching English (with Spanish and French as occasional lessons), in a Montessori school, seven years ago. It was in such an environment that I finally “got it” about why play is so important and so powerful. For the first time, I started to see children playing with new eyes. This was not just play I was observing. This was work.
Have you ever taken care of a child (or spent time with your own child or students), and said something to that child, while he or she was playing – only to find your words falling on deaf ears? Have you ever had to physically interrupt your child from playing – a tap on the shoulder, for example, because, lost in the deep focus of the play activity, that was the only way the child could “hear” you?
If your answer is yes, then that is not surprising at all, because what you observed was far more than just play. A child working on an art project – whether devised by the teacher, parent or by the child, is using the hands to create something first devised by the mind, or to realise something tangible without having a goal initially, but to “see what will happen” with the materials once the work is done. According to philosopher and pedagogue Maria Montessori, the child “does it with his hands, by experience, first in play and then through work. The hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence.” (The Absorbent Mind, p. 25.) And if a child’s play can be considered by its own, intrinsic value, as a means to identify and solve problems, experiment with data and formulate questions (responding to the world around him or her as experienced with all five senses) and indulge in his or her curiosity about the outcomes of his or her play, it is work in a child’s eyes.
This is true even if the child is not highly conscious of the fact that he or she has actually done anything that is work in the conventional sense of the word: it can be guided or it can be 100 percent agenda-free. There is fantasy play with dolls and toy animals that are given a voice, where life is breathed into them through the voice and hands of the child. I am talking about a child mesmerised by the feeling of various materials (modelling clay, sand, mud, different types of paper) between the fingers. I am thinking about the quirky things that children do when they are given funny toys and told to simply create stories with those toys, and how they enjoy making a doll character “smell the breath” of a “dead [toy] dinosaur”, or tickle the feet of a “sleeping” plush toy gorilla to “see” (or decide 😉 ) what that great big, fearsome animal will do to the “tickler” when he wakes up.
Then there is also fantasy play that does include an agenda – an academic one that includes real people from our time or from the past. I use lots famous people in my English workshops- and the learning of culture they represent or contribute to the world. Encouraging make-believe not only “involves multiple perspectives and the playful manipulation of ideas and emotions that reflect a critical feature of the child’s cognitive and social development” for the normal development of a child (Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D., Beautiful Minds, 2012), but gives a teacher a chance to engage children in learning about the great minds of scientists and artists and the work those masters did which, like children, was “play ‘at work'”:
Below, a second grade boy impersonates Leonardo Da Vinci. His contemporaries complained that he took ages to complete a task or never completed it at all, in addition to abandoning it to take up something else.
Below, Degas, played by a third grade girl, is grumpy because his “work is interrupted” by the curious class members. They are happy to learn about impressionism and art history, through make-believe:
Kaufman also talks about “the important concept of ‘theory of mind,’ [as] an awareness that one’s thoughts may differ from those of other persons and that there are a variety of perspectives of which each of us is capable, is closely related to imaginative play.” (Jenkins & Astington, 2000; Leslie, 1987; Singer & Singer, 1990; Singer & Singer, 2005).
Play is what children do best. We have all done it, and our children do it too. It is a very special kind of work that gives pleasure and therefore motivation.
Back in the 5th century B.C., Confucius said: “If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life”. If this is true, then play is every child (and adult’s) opportunity to do something that is both pleasurable and useful. Play gives children the chance to practice what they are working on, the chance to practice what they are learning. “Play is the work of the child”, said Maria Montessori at the start of the 20th century. By extension, she continues to say that “a child’s work is the man [or woman] who he [or she] will become.”
The Power of Play: What are the benefits that the child (and his or her family) get to enjoy? What are the powers?
- Problem-solving: Play helps a child to develop all these wonderful and necessary life skills. How about the child that understands how frustrating but necessary it is to do something over and over again in order to produce a result, despite countless failures? Below, a “scientist” is given a gift of two robots for his birthday. When the robot does not follow his commands properly because it is not yet “programmed properly”, the “scientist” must keep trying to fix the problem, the way he sees his parents do, in the adult world. And when the robots are finally programmed, the scientist discovers the irony of the statement “Be careful what you wish for …” :
2. Practicing empathy and tolerance: how many times have we seen children pretending to be a mother comforting a child? Or pretending to work in a zoo, “washing and feeding” the animals?
Or practicing what they are taught regarding loyalty and kindness to those who love them?As wisely stated by Scott Barry Kaufmann (Beautiful Minds, 2012): “When children use toys to introduce possible scenarios or friends, the representation of multiple perspectives occurs naturally.”
In the “sequel” to the above video, evil does not ultimately triumph; the young student chooses, in his subsequent English workshop, to have a natural catastrophe kill Darth Vader – using the same meteor that fell on Earth and caused the extinction of the dinosaurs! See below:
3. Play allows for what psychologist Sandra Russ (2004) calls divergent thinking (the ability to come up with many different ideas, story themes, and symbols) and reinforcement of previous learning – including the learning of academic subjects, historical notions and cultural practices from around the world. Given a bunch of toys, and breathing life into them, a child can both internalise and integrate elements of a teacher’s lesson (the culture content which I always include in my English lessons) into his play. I tell a second grader who loves Star Wars about the tradition of English knighthood, both medieval and modern and this is what he comes up with:
The above video also shows another component and benefit of the power of play – laughter and creativity – which lead us to #5, below:
5. CREATIVITY! I call it “a child’s magic realism“. I love the oxymoron of the words “magic realism”. And I love its definition by Merriam Webster. “a literary genre or style [associated especially with Latin America] that incorporates fantastic or mythical elements into otherwise realistic fiction.” Watch the video below for an example of a child’s magic realism – putting Frida Khalo, Mozart, Beethoven, a T-Rex and a Firefly together into a Mexican jungle and creating a story. Pure creative genius that comes from the power of play:
There is also Magical Realism that involves other Famous People : Take Gandhi, who lost his sandal, for example – a cute little improvisation entirely thought up by a first grader, on the spot!
Or the toy lobster (“Mr. Lobster”) who has committed some “crime” and is now in “court”. What will be the final verdict?
Sometimes play is too much fun for me not to get involved. I love toys as much as children do! I want to play as well. In English, of course!
Our class restaurant is irresistible:
Watch the five year old waiter in this video improve his service skills as he progresses through the role play, and how well he (and the others) learn English expressions for use in the restaurant – and the kids’ spontaneous improvisation throughout this little video. I love their creative “in the moment” contributions, mixed in with my suggestions.
Long live the power of a child’s play … and the power of the imagination!