Children stomping on mud. What more could a child want? But stop for a minute and wonder: If children stomping in the mud could result in building birdhouses, sculptures, even playhouses, would this be an optional fun activity for young children or part of a learning project that touches on all developmental domains and content areas?
Consider the following: Our children discovered, while digging in the sand under the climbing equipment, that there was clay at the bottom. They knew that we were going to be building cob birdhouses and they wondered if the clay they found could be used for such a purpose.
Cognitively, they were making plans to use something they had (as far as they knew) discovered for the first time. They knew that cobbing required clay, made into mud. Their playground playhouses were made of the stuff, and they were very familiar with its use. So when they "discovered" a lode of clay, they volunteered to mine it. Working purposefully, they continued to dig, placing clay into a bucket for the work that was to come. I love seeing the children work so intensively to create something that is needed. Children are so often asked to do activities that have no relation to real life. These activities are implemented by well-meaning teachers in order to teach skills and content, but the work the children do has no relationship to the adult world. When our children discovered clay, they made a connection from what they were doing to something larger than themselves and their learning needs. They knew they were a part of the larger community that created an environment for living things.
The next step was to collect the clay, and measure the hole they had dug. We gave them tape and a long shovel so they could mark where the hole came to on the shovel. Later inside they would compare it to a tape measure, learning that they had dug a hole fifteen inches deep. Here were math skills used in service of the larger project. Some of the children carried the collected clay into the school where it would be combined with shredded paper and water to make the material for the birdhouses. The recipe for cob is clear. There is a certain ratio of clay to paper (or straw) needed. The children helped work out how much more clay was needed. More was needed, so while we used old clay from our crafts closet, the children continued to dig for more.
After kneading outside and in, the cob was applied to a wooden frame that will eventually become a birdhouse for our playground. This is a work in progress, but more learning is to take place as the children use their journals to reflect on what they themselves have contributed to the project.
All subjects are covered in a project-oriented curriculum. All domains are covered as well. Yet we do not use cute materials or teacher-made felt-board sets to teach. We teach, and the children learn, through their own serious and focused efforts to contribute to the larger world.