Co-regulation and the stages of play

This post was co-written by Nicollette & Sarah

Last week, we had an opportunity to observe how the children reacted to changes in the offerings we presented. Although we focus on unstructured play, the implementation of our emergent curriculum calls us to respond to children’s needs, interests, the dynamics of the group, and even situational factors, like the weather! Since the weather has been SO HOT, we decided to experiment with ways to co-regulate the children’s energy and emotions. On Tuesday, Robin offered a variety of quiet activities for the children to engage in, whenever they felt they needed or wanted a more restful activity. Eden was especially interested in stringing leaves together! Charlie was pleased to find the fairy house he built on the previous Thursday still intact and played with that for a while.

Educators witnessed some “play in proximity” unfold between Charlie's endeavors and the ever-evolving superhero/Wild Kratts-inspired game that Wendell, Sammy, and Beck invested their time in. Although such parallel play or associative play most commonly emerges in toddlerhood, it is not surprising to see our 5 and 6 year olds circle back through the stages of play as they settle in to new environments with new social norms and expectations. And indeed, we saw that after the snack break, these big kids were on to a full expression of social play, with Charlie joining the game! He was able to offer his interest in writing to create "plans" for the group. Eden came in and out of that play, sometimes running full speed down the hill, and other times collecting leaves of various shapes, sizes and colors.

Thursday the dynamics shifted yet again with several children out sick and the addition of our new friend, Miles. The experienced forest kindergarteners were compassionate and patient with the young newcomer and the modeling that happened between the children was more meaningful than anything we adults could have directed! We started the day with a focus on forest animals— enjoying both a frog Sammy caught and our observations of an enormous “cow killer” ant. The park manager, Bob, caught up with us to let us know they were taking a nearby tree down. This was exciting, as the children remembered the educators flagging certain trees of concern, and allowed us to venture casually into the topic of how wild spaces are managed by humans. We listened for the tree and discussed the many sounds we heard.