"Does it start with battery or gas?" They are sitting in chairs that they lined up behind a wooden triangle. Inside the wooden triangle they placed a red cobweb duster. The duster is the brain of their rocket ship. Behind their chairs, they had lined up some hollow blocks and placed a wooden spool on top of those. The spool later became a platform seat for their 'danger watch animals'. These animals would tell them when there was danger approaching.
They decided fairly quickly that the rocket ship would be solar -powered, but there was a question about what would start it up. I think that only two children who happened to own Prii (plural of Prius so I am told) would ask that, consider the options, and then find an answer, but maybe I am wrong.
The flight of the rocket ship is set by simply waving a hand over the triangle. Leaning forward and turning the triangle helps the pilot/builders avoid asteroids. Shouting, "Turn, turn, turn," as you turn the triangle and the watchful eyes of the danger animals guarantee mission success.
I sat on the table in our dramatic play space and watched the rocket ship fly around and avoid asteroid belts while behind me, the cat family scrambled around on the furniture and meowed, complaining about their food and leaving cat hair on every bit of fabric available. This is the dialogue I was hearing...they would say, "Meow. Is this really our food?" and "Meow, don't sit there, it is covered in cat hair."
As I sat and watched, I thought, "This is what I do. This is my work. Watching children play."
Then I thought, if somebody came in and saw the cats and solar-powered rockets, what would they think? Our dramatic play sessions for the older class are 45 minutes long and the play they establish there will often spill outside. The children have the opportunity to extend play arcs for most of their 3-hour school day. When my children were little, there was no question that they would come to the Nursery School to play with other children. That was why we, and other parents chose the school and this is the thing that has remained consistent. It is in our bylaws. No one asked where the letters were or when they would learn to count. And that wasn't even that long ago. Now parents and teachers are bombarded with news about early learning and the need to introduce 'key concepts' as early as possible.
We spend a lot of time explaining play to parents and working through how learning is taking place within the context of social dramatic play and the other activities we shape and pursue each day. This is so that we all have an answer when someone asks, "Where are the letters?" because the letters are most certainly there, but in what we believe is the right way. The parents who choose our school want to know that there will be play and that the children will go outdoors and play some more. Every day. We are set in that regard and I hope that it sticks even if Maryland's Department of Education requires accreditation, a process that currently does not recognize the value of large amounts of time devoted to pure play.
The rocket ship is solar-powered. From the Sun. The children nod at each other and agree, "From the Sun." They trace a path that keeps them close to the Sun. This will keep their ship permanently powered up, regardless of whether it started with battery or gas. This trajectory will also take them wherever they want to go. The cat family will eventually find the perfect food and a solution for shedding hair. These successes, both large and small, are what we are here for. This is what we do.