Monday, April 23, 2012

RE: cleaning up.

I typically do "clean up" rounds twice a day in the playroom (and other work areas such as the little kitchen and the block area in our living room.) In a Montessori classroom this is called "restoring work" and it is done at these same times in a classroom. One night a while back Matt and I were getting ready to go to bed and I remembered I hadn't restored the work downstairs. We were planning on having an "at home" day the next day and I knew the playroom would be used, so I headed down to clean it up. Of course my sweet husband came down to help so we could get to bed, but he commented, "I don't know if this is worth the effort, they'll just mess it up again in the morning." As I began to explain to him the reasoning behind "restoring work," I made a mental note to write a blog post on it. So here it is!

When children come into an area that is not restored (ie: messy, or even arranged from earlier play) two things happen. First they don't settle into play right away. Often they will just start the "clearing and dumping" party--where they go around getting out more work, but don't engage in true play. It seems like they can't settle into play, and that is often because items aren't located in their usual spots and the area does not give off a calm, organized vibe (not to sound too new-agey, but children can pick up on the feel of a room and respond accordingly.)
The other thing that happens is that play is defined by earlier play. For example if the child had been playing school and there are books and school materials out all over the room, when they re-enter the room their brain is going to go automatically to "school." This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does immediately set a boundary to their imagination. So I typically try to restore the room to a blank canvas so that my "play artists" can start from scratch and begin imagining a new scenario for their play.

Of course I encourage my kiddos to restore the work themselves as often as possible. However sometimes they just NEED to get to bed or naptime and cleaning everything up isn't feasible. Also I do a check of the space on a daily basis to make sure (even if the children restored the work) everything was restored to the correct spot, no pieces are missing that I'll need to keep an eye out for, everything is in safe, working condition still, and also to briefly analyze what was played with/not played with that day. Over the course of time I look for patterns of play--and based on my observations I make changes to the work space and interventions to play.

For example if I notice particular items never being selected for play I do one of the following:
1) Decide my child isn't ready for it right now and put it away to try at a later time
2) Move it to another area of the room--sometimes seeing materials/items in a new place spark interest
3) Perhaps my child doesn't know how to use the item--in this case I will engage in play with my child and casually demonstrate how to use the item. Often a brief casual demonstration will ignite interest and the child will begin playing with the item.

Remember that the items I include in the playroom are never there on accident. I try to include just a few carefully chosen items based on the development of my kids, the themes we're exploring, and fostering the different learning modalities (sensory, dramatic play, music....).
For this reason I want to encourage my kids to play with the items I've included, so making observations regarding the items they play with is very important. Hopefully I've explained how part of my "teacher" role is restoring work daily and using this time to observe what work is being used (and sometimes even to make quick additions/deletions or changes to work) is so vital. This literally takes 5 minutes or less of my time during naptime and after my kids are in bed each night. Staying up with keeping the work in its correct spots saves us time doing major clean ups, and keeping up with the work and how it's getting play on a daily basis also saves me time when I do my monthly "lesson planning" because I've often done a great deal of it in my head.

If you have multiple kiddos to keep track of, you might try the sticky note strategy. Write observations and changes you'll want to make to your learning area on stickys with each child's name. Then when you have time to actually go through your work cupboard/materials you'll remember what you wanted to do!