This article illustrates inquiry on transportation through an unstructured play-based environment.
After a presentation on student agency at the South Asia International Baccalaureate Schools Association (SAIBSA) meeting at Neev Academy, a chord was struck within me instantaneously. My four-year-old kindergarten students were going to inquire into transportation under the theme How we organize ourselves so our teaching team collaborated on the idea of creating an unstructured play-based learning environment to facilitate the students’ understanding of the need for transportation and how transportation makes our life easy.
The classroom provocation was set with sand and toys before the students entered. The students were free to play and explore with different toy vehicles in the classroom with sand on the table and floor.
This activity led to many questions and suggestions. “This place is not good to play because it is not smooth, the wheels are getting hard, etc.”
The need for a good road for the vehicles to run smoothly was pointed out when the students first tried moving their toy cars on sand. They analyzed and came to the conclusion that the wheels could not roll on sand as they were getting stuck and that was why the vehicles were not able to move forward. It was a valuable experience to document these four-year-olds discussing alternatives and solutions to the problem at hand. As a result, the beginning of a road was created by the students the next day.
Crossing a road to get to the other side became the next challenge. Children interacted and found various means to get the vehicles across mountains by building bridges using play dough and blocks. They painted a zebra crossing their customized road to help an imaginary old aunty get to her apartment.
Very soon toy policemen emerged in the scenario, standing by a traffic light created by the students in order to direct traffic.
A few days later the students received special permission to paint a zebra crossing in front of the school building for older students to cross the road. They were making a difference in the community they are a part of.
During this unit, the students inquired into the various modes of transportation and understood that people move from place to place through different means. By creating necessity they soon were able to categorize the various modes of transportation according to the medium they operated in, such as road, water or air.
As the students inquired further into various modes of transport, they participated in a real life experience of a bus journey: a mock bus trip on campus with different bus stops along the way, where they got a hands-on experience of buying tickets, counting money and the safety rules to be followed in a moving bus. The students decided on the bus route and stops where they would like to embark.
Similarly, a mock airport scenario was created in the class with pilots, stewardess, security and passengers. Students were excited to experience how to buy airline tickets, print boarding passes, check in baggage and go to the security point. Our in-flight experience included an in-flight menu and a movie. The students carefully paid attention to the safety measures and became aware of the required documents and etiquette of traveling by air.
This play-based method gave the students an opportunity to explore a variety of possibilities, take into consideration others’ viewpoints and their own experiences to come to a conclusion about the need of various transportation based on the given situation. This is truly learning through play: agentic learning at its best!
After 6 years of teaching in various schools across the Southern part of the nation, Sangeetha Rajeev is currently in her 3rd year as an early years facilitator at Trivandrum International school, India. Her passion for teaching is not only limited to the classroom and the given resources but extends to the involvement and integration of play and unstructured learning to facilitate student initiated inquiry. With her firm believe in the need to change with time in our means of facilitating education, Sangeetha aims to bring in student-led teaching to the Primary Education System.