A look at how Doulos Pre-K students learn through playIMG_6324

If you walk into a Pre-K classroom at Doulos, you will see a lot of movement. You will hear a lot of talking and noises. There might be a group of children building a tower so tall they stand on chairs to place blocks high above their heads. A pair of children might be dressed like shop keepers and purse-wearing grown-ups selling and buying produce. Two or three might work together building a 48 piece puzzle. Some work individually investigating bird feathers with magnifying glasses, or reading books from the classroom library.

IMG_6293These children are hard at play. But this doesn’t mean that they aren’t learning.  

Research shows that play is a fundamental force in early childhood development. Young children are naturally curious. When they engage in play, they are learning what people are like and how people think and solve problems. Through exploration, they can understand more about themselves and others. This kind of understanding leads to social and emotional development that sets them up for success for the rest of their lives.

IMG_6332At Doulos, we allow natural learning to occur through play and exploration. Last week, our Pre-K4 class began exploring dams. I (the teacher) gave a brief explanation that dams are like a wall that stops the water from flowing in a river, and forms a lake on one side. We went outside and turned on a hose to form a river in a downslope outside our classroom. Without further instruction, I provided the students with a wheelbarrow filled with large and small rocks, dirt, and a few 2×4 wooden blocks from the classroom.  Immediately, mild chaos ensued and the children excitedly gathered all of the materials and threw them in the river at random. Soon, some of them started lining the wooden blocks longways in the river, but of course, the water continued to pass around the sides of the blocks.


Another group of students started using the blocks further downstream and had a better idea of creating a barrier. As they continued their work, the second group commandeered blocks from the first group, and started making a good attempt at a dam, though it was still compromised with cracks and leaks. Shortly, the first group abandoned their faulty attempt and begin working with the other group.

When I asked for predictions about what the problem was, someone shouted, “we need MORE blocks!” And off they ran back into the classroom to get more blocks. When they returned with ALL of the blocks we had in the classroom, they continued to place the blocks haphazardly creating a ginormous dam with plenty of cracks remaining.IMG_6354

But at this point, we had 100% of the students engaged and working together to resolve the problem.

While they understood the dam needed more reinforcement, they weren’t sure how to keep the water from leaking through their cracks. One girl got the idea that we could use the rocks to close the cracks. But they found that even that wasn’t perfect.

Eventually, they realized they needed something smaller like dirt to block the cracks, but they had already thrown all of their dirt in the river. So they took the wheelbarrow to a place of soft soil, and began filling it up. Back and forth they went bringing soil to fill in their cracks.


Well, eventually, they started over again and this time they got it!

After nearly one hour of total engagement and practically zero behavioral issues, the final product was, I’d say, a success!

That day we learned that building dams is hard.

We learned that working together is better than working alone.

We learned sharing is caring.

We learned how to communicate and use English and Spanish in a natural setting.

We learned about trial and error and problem-solving.

And, yes, we learned a little about science, too.

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