Developmentally Appropriate Learning…Play, Naturally!

Developmentally appropriate learning is often a major concern of early years educators and families alike.  Is this what they should be doing at their age?

Often, however, when the learning or home environment encourages child-led enquiry and play-based learning, this is not an issue.  Children of many different developmental stages can be active learners in the same environment, with the same equipment and still be extending their learning and development at their level.

One area of every learning environment and available in most backyards is an excellent example of this… the sandpit or digging patch.

At our place recently the play started with rain…

Developmentally appropriate learning environments

Nothing like making a river in the gravel


Play-based learning environments

Which turned into a longer river.

The entire time the children were building, they discussed the flow and feel of the water, how to channel and dam it successfully.  They also introduced characters and dramatic play into their river scene.  This went on for hours.

When the  rain was gone the next day the play continued…dinosaurs, sticks, leaves, flowers were added.  A whole “Jurassic World” of drama took place in the mud pits of our driveway; each child adding to the story and the construction.

After a few more days the play moved to the sand pit.  This was sparked by the fact that a mysterious nocturnal animal had been digging at the side of our sandpit.  Master 6 started to pour water through the sand pit and let it flow down the trenches.

Watching water flow

Watching water flow

Recycled pipes were introduced.  Dinosaurs moved into new cave homes.  When the sun went down, reference books  on dinosaurs and habitats were consulted.  Miss 10, Miss 8 and Master 6 discussed and planned the play the next day.

Dinosaur 2 cave, 2 storey home with stairs.

Dinosaur 2 cave, 2 storey home with stairs.

Space was negotiated, roads were build, social and community rules for this world developed.  Disagreements were had and resolved (with minimal assistance from the High Court Justice aka Me!).

Equipment such as nature collage box of items we had previously collected and treasure search were accessed.

Equipment such as nature collage box of items we had previously collected and treasure search were accessed.

My role in this was not passive bystander.  I asked questions, viewed construction, discussed land development and architectural issues.  I suggested equipment that might enhance their community and we debated if certain plans would work then tested our theories.

The beauty of all this…any child, any age, any stage, could have joined in this play.  Yes, more supervision and risk awareness would be required for babies…

Master 6 ate fists full of sand before he was 1 year old! Yum!

Master 6 ate fists full of sand before he was 1 year old! Yum!

However, the developmental and learning benefits outweigh any minor risk factors.  I also have always found that natural extension of learning happens with multi-age play.

Separating children constantly into similar age ranges and developmental stages does sound SAFE and is easier to plan and prepare, but is it an educationally sound practice?  The language level and vocabulary exposure alone are worth the risk.  Peer tutoring, mentoring, social and emotional fitness building, creative development, children’s own developmental goal setting (“I want to be able to do that!) are all extended by mixed age/developmental stage groups.

Were the children learning?…Yes!

Was it what they SHOULD be learning?…Yes!

But these are school age children…was it academically sound learning?…Yes!  This Key Learning Area overview maps just some of the academics of sand play. (It does not have to be on a worksheet or template!)

Sandpit KLA Linking Overview*

And here are the links to the E.Y.L.F for those of us working with younger children and schoolies…

Sandpit EYLF linking Overview*

And just for good measure, here is just one example of a learning experience in the sandpit that can pull all the linking, developmental outcomes, play and learning together.

Scoop, cup and bucket Template 2*

Play…developmentally appropriate…naturally!

Till next time…Have Fun!

*These fully planned overviews and learning experiences are available to Rose3 members.  Not a member? Join Now


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