Last week, I received a strong signal that we are on the right track with project-based learning. My kids transformed the living room into an Egyptian tomb, using their imaginations and materials at hand, and then spent a goodly amount of time using it as a set and spark for dramatic play. I’m used to finding elaborate set-ups in the common areas of the house (such as this). And this isn’t the first time the kids have incorporated what they’re learning into such a set-up.
For a long time, my middle child was fascinated with Mt. Everest, and to some extent, he still is. (I don’t think a strong interest like that will ever really go away.) The Top of the World became his guidebook as he planned his own trip to climb Mt. Everest. He would gather his tools, making them (with preschool-sized Legos; he was that young) if necessary. He’d pack the tools in a bag, explaining to me each tool and its purpose, and he’d set up base camp in the middle of the living room, making sure to visit the monkey temple first. In thinking about this post, I realized that this interest in Mt. Everest could be considered a project, and I could have done more to extend and deepen it. But instead of beating myself up over that, I’m choosing to acknowledge the things I instinctively did right: I didn’t take it over. I didn’t seize upon this interest to impose an adult-led “teaching moment.” I didn’t search the Internets over to find a child-size play set of mountain climbing tools–which would have taken away all of his joy in searching the house for equivalents and building them when necessary out of what was at hand. It’s important, as we try to embrace a new way of thinking and learning, to acknowledge what we are doing and have done right.
So, back to the Egyptian tomb. My daughter is a mummy here.
They’ve created a tomb wall, and the play silks and blankets represent the different wrappings and coffins. All this was explained to me. The box in the back with a handle, which is the kids’ treasure chest, is representing (obviously!) treasure. Later they added toys and books to use in the afterlife, just as the ancient Egyptians buried themselves with items to use in their afterlife.
The stuffed cat to the left in the photo is representing a cat mummy. (Cat Mummies is one of our library finds, and we’d just read it.) They told me they tried to cover our real cat with a play silk to represent a mummy, but he didn’t cooperate. (Which is strange, because all he does is sleep anyway.) Eventually, my daughter reported that her ka had found her again–her ka, she told me, recognized her by the clothes she was wearing–and she was able to play with her afterlife books and toys.
I can’t think of a more powerful expression of deep understanding–as well as the desire to deeply understand–than incorporating learning into play such as this. Creating a world and then acting within it, distilling what has been learned and processing it through play–it is amazing to witness, and powerful for me, too, to recognize it for what it was: serious play, child-led, and an authentic demonstration of deep interest and learning.