Late last year, a group of our early childhood students went on a study tour to Japan and I have recently been going through their photos and reflections of this visit.
What is really interesting to me is the way they responded to cultural differences around children’s play and the role of the educators in supporting the learning arising from that play.
One thing that really struck the students was the limited number of toys scattered around in the environment. In Australia, we tend to think a good quality program involves providing the children with lots and lots of resources so that there is always something to play with. We often provide several of the same kinds of toys assuming that younger children will have difficulty sharing, therefore the best option is to have several of each kind of toy.
The students noted in several of the different preschools they visited that there were lots of spaces where there were no toys provided at all.
In one preschool the children had access to a large circular rooftop where there were no toys. In this space they saw the children running, playing make believe and all fully engaged and enjoying themselves.
Some of the students then wondered if, in our desire to provide children with lots of toys to prompt engagement and learning, we were creating a situation where children needed to have toys and were not learning to use their imagination. Are we creating a generation who need “things” to engage?
The students also noted that the educators at the Japanese preschools they visited made a lot of resources themselves using recycled materials – blocks were made from milk and juice cartons taped and coloured for example; musical instruments were made from rubber bands cut and taped to a desk. They noted a focus on natural materials rather than plastic in primary colours.
This led some to wonder again if, in our anxiety to provide the best resources for our children, we are overlooking the importance of using imagination and creativity to make the most of existing resources, and in the process, teaching sustainable thinking so that re-using and recycling become a normal part of our thinking.
Are we creating a generation who need 'things' to engage?
What does this mean for families in Armidale?
We do not need to provide the most recent, store-bought toys for our children to have great learning experiences. We can provide excellent learning through supporting imagination with minimal resources. We can re-use and recycle materials and support our children to do so: build with old boxes; make a fairy garden with iceblock sticks, cartons and paint; draw on the back of printed sheets of paper and experiment with paper planes using the advertising circulars that arrive in our mailboxes with great regularity.
Build a painting table with large cardboard cartons, sticks and lots of tape. Go on a treasure hunt for particular shaped sticks, pine cones or leaves.
Learning does not require expensive resources, it requires us to use our imagination and creativity to support children to do the same.