Sunday, 2 August 2015

Play is the universal language. Road Trip to Lithuania Part 2

The magical entrance to the outdoor nursery at Kaunas.
Each year for the past 10 I have had at least one child who enters the class with little or no English. I firmly believe the preschool year is the best year for this to happen, as it is so language rich as an environment & also very visual. The adults tend to mime most of the actions they are asking the children to do - washing hands, putting in coats etc. 
I watch each year as these 3 and 4 year olds make connections with us and their peers as they play, at first just playing alongside each other but then gradually playing with each other. It is always wonderful to witness this connection through play.
Last week as I spent a morning at Lauko Darželis in their 2nd and newest nursery in Kaunas, I was reminded how important play is for making connections with young children. I speak no Lithuanian and the children spoke no English yet as we played alongside each other in the sand pit, we were able to make a connection. The children were making sand pies & at first were just content to play alone but then they began to watch each other to see how each was achieving a different end result. As I looked around to find some decorations for my sand pie, they began to include me in their play. 
One child asked his mother (one of the two teachers in the nursery)  how to get me to come and play with him and when she told him to say "Please come" he used this all morning as an invitation for me to follow him or join him in his play.
During our week in Lithuania, we had talked debated about how so many preschools look exactly the same & therefore the theory is that you could drop a blind folded teacher into any setting and they would feel 'at home'. I would argue that you could drop anyone who still has the capacity to play anywhere in the world and they would manage to make connections with others. 
A skilled adult can play alongside a young child making the teaching implicit.
It made me realise that this is how the young children in my class without English manage to find their feet so quickly - they learn so much of the mechanics of school by playing alongside their peers and by imitating what they see.
I had similar experiences in Norway when I spent a week in a kindergarten and picked up more words while playing with the children than I ever did by just listening to adults talking. It does make me realise how much harder it is for children who have to join a class at a much older age when there are less opportunities to learn by doing as opposed to listening to instructions and less chances to 'play' outdoors.
By chance this piece by Dr. Scott Sampson ( appeared in my feed today and it reiterated what I was trying to say: being outdoors in nature and playfulness go hand in hand and it was the latter quality that allowed me to interact with the young children at Lauko Darželis.
The sooner we all realise that the preschool experience should be as informal and as outdoor based as possible the better.

You can read some more about the outdoor nurseries in Lithuania in the following posts: On my blog:
And this one over at Takoma Park Cooperative Nursery School:

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