PLATTEKILL – This year, Plattekill Grade 1 teacher Barbara Bouck is implementing a new model in her classroom that combines Science, Technology, Research, Engineering, Art, Math, and Social Studies (STREAMS). Just as importantly, it combines exploration and play.
The idea behind the model, explains Plattekill Elementary School Principal Monica Hasbrouck, is that “Learning comes from exploring.” Much of this exploration is conducted through hands-on activities and structured play. “It’s really through play that children learn,” she asserted.
One recent morning, Bouck’s classroom was a beehive of activity, with students hard at work on projects inspired by the Plymouth Colony. At one table, children fashioned Pilgrim dolls out of wooden clothespins and scraps of yarn and fabric. At another table, young artists sketched out designs for a landscape like the one Pilgrims inhabited, which was later painted into a wall mural as a backdrop for the block area.
Nearby, two boys sat on the floor, using blocks to make a model of a one-room English cottage (the preferred architectural style in Plymouth). The blocks, which were made by Bouck’s father, expose the children to math and fractions, while also helping them to learn about balance, stabilization, and arches.
“Our classroom’s engineering station was turned into a toy-making shop, where we made hook and loop games with sticks and string,” Bouck continued. “These items needed to be measured according to directions. We also made applesauce, and homemade butter from cream.”
Earlier in the year, the class had immersed themselves in an investigation of monarch butterflies. “We had about 30 monarch larvae in different stages of their life cycles when the year began,” said Bouck. “There were mason jars throughout the room, on their desks, on the windowsill, and at the art table.”
Through the course of the learning unit, the students painted, sketched, and wrote about the butterflies. “We used insect puppets and made a puppet theater from an empty box, and painted it in our art center,” said Bouck. “We studied their migration, we read poems, and we learned songs. We learned about gender identification, the life cycle of the milkweed plant, and how to care for and raise milkweed.”
In Bouck’s view, the focus on exploration and play-based learning centers is a big success. “The students get to explore the learning station that suits their learning style, and they are learning how to budget time, work together, and make choices,” she said. “They choose from ramps and pathways for marble shoot blocks, a paint area, a block-building area, art collage, reading, and dramatic play stations. We open and close our centers with a mini-meeting, where we plan or share our discoveries and frustrations or ‘wonderings. I can tap into what we worked on throughout the rest of our day.”