Our Senior Preschool class (children age 4, or turning 4 in the beginning part of the school year) started out the school year in September with a strong interest in playing “Candy Factory” or “Chocolate Factory”. This play scenario was carried over from the year before by a portion of the children. They were joined this year by some children that were new to the school, but who also enjoyed construction of buildings and spaces.
On the first day, one child said that they would be playing Candy Factory at choice time, and then the play scenario continued in many ways for weeks. It mostly consisted of setting up big blocks in no particular configuration, and then using large wooden trucks and other means to bring materials such as unit blocks, caps, wooden disks, etc. over to dump into their building. A couple children would say they wanted to sell the candy, and if someone came to buy it, they would hand something to them. As the play evolved a bit, some of the children made signs with candy flavors/menus or directions (such as “STOP”) to indicate that it was a factory. The teachers tried to help organize the barrage of materials a bit by asking the children to dump their wares into containers, or even to sort them. Some of the children started to do this. A couple children even started using the ramp blocks to send materials down as part of the factory, and set up some of the materials in a little enclosure to be a shop.
All of this activity influenced others in the classroom immensely. The children who were playing something else often would get involved in passing - being asked to buy a chocolate, or to help with the transport of a material. Their interest would be piqued, and they would end up joining the game.
The teachers of course were involved in helping the children this whole time. We had been carrying on a “Lines and Shapes Project” during our daily project time. This was to help the children to recognize lines in shapes in the world around them in order to advance their drawing skills - so they could express their thoughts and feelings and represent their ideas a little bit more. When that project felt done, we discussed how we could build upon the children’s interest in machines and factories, and also help them to take their ideas to the next level.
We decided to start a Machines Project and to teach the children about simple machines and what they could do with them. We started in the beginning of November by giving each project group of 6 children some planks, big blocks, unit blocks, tubes and other materials. We divided the group into sets of three children with one teacher, and gave them a starting place and a goal. We asked the children if they could use the materials provided in a cooperative effort to move the felt balls from the start to the goal. The cooperative effort of the children with some guidance from the teacher was remarkable. They were able to set up systems of ramps together that moved the balls to the goal - success! The children were very excited about this.
We saw immediate effects of the ball machine activity on the children’s play at choice time. The children started incorporating ramps in different ways into their factory play. They also started using ramps for other kinds of play, such as making a miniature ball moving machine out of unit blocks, or as a bridge for cars. The children also started playing “garbage factory” where they processed garbage and recycling and sent it down ramps to go to different places. One child even built a “saw machine” as part of the factory, using it to cut up the garbage and send it down the ramp. They used the ramps to help sort items into different areas for their factories.
The next week, we introduced a machine that would lift cups up and down on a string at project time. The children enjoyed using the machines and trying to figure out how they worked. When one cup was heavier, it would go down and pull the other cup up, so it was kind of like a scale.