Play Is the Way to Learning at the Rethink + Reuse CenterPublished Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Stacking plastic cylinders on top of yellow cones, 10-year-old Matthew is intent on building a robot. He finishes the “legs,” and then, with the steadiest hand possible, sets one more cylinder in place.
There’s a wobble, a teeter and then – his creation collapses to the floor. Five minutes later Matthew’s “robot” is transformed. Now it’s an observatory. The robot’s legs are towers, wood blocks form a fence at the base to keep out snooping spies, and a single plastic cone – the observatory’s main telescope – protrudes from the top.
Rosen got her play-is-learning “ah-ha” moment several years ago. Part of a task force on early education, she attended a workshop facilitated by Walter Drew, president of the Reusable Resources Association and founder of the Institute of Self Active Education in Massachusetts in the mid-1970s. In the 1980s, Drew launched the Boston Public Schools Recycle Center, a program that became a national model.
“I had never seen children so engaged before. They were just using junk as open-ended materials,” Rosen remembers. “I knew that he [Drew] was really on to something.” Rosen investigated further, developed her idea and then secured an innovation grant from The Children’s Trust.
Margarita Borda joined Rethink + Reuse four months ago as a part-time trainer. Borda shows pre-school teachers and parents how to incorporate more play into their activities. Sessions, in Spanish and in English, are offered at the center and at a number of early childhood centers.
Borda highlights the benefits of the play-focused, open-ended environment for young creative minds. “A toy car that loses a wheel is just that: a car without a wheel. But a car that you’ve made that loses a wheel can become anything that you want it to be,” she said, adding “and if you discover something you will remember it far more than if someone tells you.”
On an October morning, Keila Tirado joined seven other mothers and their home-schooled children for a first-time visit to the Center. Mother and son sat side by side on the floor, each constructing their own creation, choosing from a wide variety of recycled plastics, fabrics, bottles, caps and other materials.
“I love everything that has to do with hands-on learning,” said Tirado, explaining her reason for visiting. The “no rules” approach to learning suits her son well. At home, Matthew has his own library and classroom; he learns on his own schedule. “I tried him in a school, but he was like a hamster in a cage.”
“I heard of a woman who was hit by lightning,” Ethan explains, “this center rod pulls the ‘bad’ electricity away.”
“Children love to build,” Rosen says. “If they don’t understand the concept that you need a wider base, that you need pieces to support the building up, they’ll give you a whole story of what they’re doing.” Teachers circulate in the play-inspired classroom and can document the stories children tell about their creative process: visible learning.
Rethink + Reuse training sessions help child care professionals understand that play is essential in child development. Through pre- and post-tests, these educators of young children are tested on their knowledge of age-appropriate development skills and expectations for learning. By participating in the same process that the children do, they see how creative play fosters school readiness skills: Children learn to count; to find and use words to explain their learning; to collaborate and interact with peers; to build self-esteem through their abilities, among others.
“We can help by being a resource. We can teach other agencies how to use these materials, help them process ideas on how to use them and have the materials here for them,” Rosen says and then adds, “for some people this is a real discovery. Almost everything is garbage until you realize it can be reused."
The Rethink + Reuse Center
4548 SW 75th Avenue Miami, FL
Phone: (305) 267-6665
Monday-Friday 10:00am- 6:00pm
Open by appointment after scheduled hours.
Written by Michael R. Malone