This week was my first day out with the Imagination Playground big blue blocks since last summer – as is now traditional whenever I’m down for delivery, it rained, but fortunately not enough to put the children off their play! This booking came as a result of one of my teacher training sessions, where I used the tabletop version of the blocks as part of a DT session.
The school, Children’s House, is one I have visited before briefly: it has a very beautiful but sadly at risk mural by the artist and writer Eve Garnett whose One End Street books I loved as a child. It’s an interesting place – designed by architect Charles Cowles-Voysey based on Maria Montessori’s vision of an ideal learning environment for young children, opened by the author H.G. Wells in 1923 and visited by Gandhi when he stayed at Kingsley Hall as a guest of Muriel Lester. It’s a nursery school, so filled with tiny, curious little under fives who love to play.
Planned as an opportunity for parents to join their children for a play session, we kicked off with a small group of adults and children but it quickly grew as more kids decided to join in. We had our blue blocks, swathes of fabric in different textures and colours, marker cones and plastic play balls, and piles of shiny crinkly emergency foil blankets, and laminate floor underlay cut into strips and shapes. Kids adore these last two things for some reason!
Way back in the mists of time I trained as an early years teacher so am a big supporter of open-ended play and loose parts as part of child development. The big blue blocks were designed by Cas Holman for just this purpose. We have the largest version – just over 100 pieces, from long ‘pool noodles’ to chunky rectangles which were bigger than the children. We have added various other bits (see above) to the kit to bring more colour and what we have ended up with is a bright, pop-up experience that works for all ages.
I had a great day, and so did the children and adults: the headteacher was unable to resist appearing in the sessions to get down on the floor and play, which is always a good sign, and we’re going to visit their federated school in a few weeks as well. The channels in some of the blocks inspire creations like marble runs which work with the plastic balls, and the size of these runs mean a group of children can all join in. Once one child starts, the others join in, adding to structures and building on ideas to make them bigger and better. The sheer size of some of the blocks means co-operation is necessary to manoeuvre them into position. With the aid of adults, dens were created using fabric and the playground structures, allowing all sorts of imaginative play.
With the younger groups (the three year olds) there was a high level of additional need in the form of hearing impairments so the bright colours and textures of the kit became sensory experiences. The wonderful thing about open-ended play is that it’s impossible to get it wrong and the possibilities are endless.
The older children – four year olds – brought their story telling powers out to play with them. We built the tallest tower in the world so we could reach the teachers’ biscuits, and we built a boat to go on the sea with. At one point I got taken on a magic carpet ride to the seaside where we had ice creams and went for a paddle before going on a rollercoaster and then flying back home. All around me I could hear other adults discussing what was happening around them and making plans to buy fabrics and other things to add to their own blocks. I was quite sad to leave at the end of the day!
This week I am working with Key Stage one and two children as well, which is a less open-ended but just as creative session. Let’s just hope (for my team’s sake!) that the rain holds off.
Hope your week was as much fun as mine!
What I’ve been reading:
Abbatoir Blues/When the Music’s Over/Sleeping in the Ground – Peter Robinson