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Natural Learning


There are some educators, parents, and bloggers who feel technology is harmful for our kids and they should only have access to open-ended toys. I, however, believe that our children need a realistic harmony of both technology and open-ended play.

Technology and play balance is beneficial

Here’s why….

Today’s economy is much different than it was 20 years ago and it will be drastically different 20 years from now. Technology is changing almost every aspect of our lives and it will continue to do so. In fact, 65% of our children will land jobs that have yet to be created (success performance resolutions).

While open-ended play is amazing and I’m a huge advocate for free play and kid-powered toys, I think we are doing a disservice to our children if we don’t teach them how to use technology. Technology will ultimately be apart of their life forever.

Technology as a Tool

I’m not advocating for screens to be used simply as a means of distraction, escapism, or as a “babysitter”. What I am advocating for is a healthy balance of technology as a tool. Technology is a great way to help them create, locate information, think critically about information, learn to do something new, solve a problem, and/or find their voice.

Don’t Forget The Play

I am a strong advocate for children to have time to be children and just play. There are so many benefits of children playing freely especially when that time occurs outside in nature. Children learn to create, use their imaginations, develop crucial skills like fine motor, problem solving, and collaboration skills just from unstructured, free play.

It’s worth mentioning that I’m not talking about adult-led play or play opportunities that have to meet certain objectives. Adults can invite children to join them in what I call explorations like Play Dough, painting, or other similar explorations. The key is keeping it child-led and allowing them to create their own play within the exploration. The main thing is keeping the play unstructured. This will help encourage kids to use their own imaginations.

When Technology and Play Come Together

When both play and technology come to together in harmony for a well-rounded balance, it can really boost children’s skills and passions. It gives them even more opportunities with different mediums to create, helps them develop problem solving skills, collaborate with other children both in person and from around the world which means even more access to children who are different from them, and boosts communication skills along with language/vocabulary. Children are also preparing themselves for a successful career. They are also learning how to be a contributing citizen.

When technology and open-ended play are in balance with one another, children benefit greatly. We as parents need to lead by example by finding a healthy balance between technology and play. We also may need to assist them to create a harmony in the beginning. This will keep from one out weighing the other. However, if I had to choose between the two of them, I would lean with more play.

Technology and play is beneficial for kids
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Is it about true student engagement or compliance?

I know I’m going to catch some flack here from fellow teachers, but I’m going to be brutally honest with you anyways about what’s truly being measured in today’s classrooms. Is it student engagement or is it compliance? This is solely my opinion on how things are operating in the public schools and by no means am I undermining our fabulous teachers in the classrooms. This is more about the system and what they are told they have to do by administrators, superintendents, publishing companies, and government mandates.

Today, many school districts use set curriculums with many of them being scripted. In other words, everyone on the same page at the same time. Each child no matter their reading level or interest is reading the same exact story and the teacher  reads from the script in the teacher’s manual which also provides the day’s lesson plans. Heck it even lays out the entire unit and tells the teacher exactly what and how to teach.  How exciting right?

Did I mention these programs come equipped with worksheets too?

As a teacher this drove me batty and I HATED it, but I began to notice things happening in the classroom and in our trainings for the new “amazing” curriculum that was going to boost our lagging M-STEP scores. Well this was the line given by the publishing company that our district bought hook, line, and sinker.

In my short 7 year career as a teacher, all I heard about was student engagement. Mainly how to improve student engagement in the classroom. However, I began to notice we were actually doing the complete opposite in the classroom.

We weren’t actually looking for our students to be engaged, but rather looking for compliance from our students. We weren’t suppose to care whether or not they are ready for the lesson developmentally or even whether or not they found the lesson to be of interest to them. I was giving “Blue” or Responsible Thinking sheets out to students who weren’t completing their work during classtime. Students were choosing to not do their packets of worksheets which created a large number of students with missing assignments and failing grades. Heck we even tried to bribe, oops I mean reward, students with field trips and fun days for both No Failing grades and No Missing Assignments. Even this didn’t help to improve our student engagement.

What? Wait a minute here. How can “Blue” sheets and fancy rewards increase student engagement? Isn’t this actually used to get kiddos to comply with doing their work instead of them using their internal desire to learn aka be engaged with the lesson?

See to me, it’s more like we were measuring student compliance rather than truly finding ways to engage our students. Shouldn’t we be helping our students discover their passions, discover their purposes, uncover problems they want to solve and help guide them to finding answers, enrich their lives with truly meaningful information and not just basic info they can Google on their phone in seconds then expect them to memorize and regurgitate for the upcoming multiple choice test?

What’s really expected of teachers? 

But we’re not…. we are expected to do the dog and pony show, create a stellar attention getter for each of our lessons, create behavior plans for those who don’t comply repeatedly, use fear of getting into trouble, grades- both rewarded for A’s and fear of failing grades, fun days and field trips for rewards, question if a child has ADHD or needs medication simply because they are off task during the lesson, or have a child looked at for special education if a child isn’t engaged with lessons.

*Yes, some children do have ADHD, some need meds, and some need special ed services. I’m not going to debate any of these issues. My problem lies with using these as an excuse for noncompliance without first looking at the curriculum and whether or not the child finds it important to them. Is it of interest to them? If not, then the lack of engagement might be the curriculums fault. *Insert Gasp

How is it we don’t look at this first? Rather we blame the child like it’s their fault. I challenge you to find a topic you find boring and then be “engaged” with it 100% while someone lectures you on it. No day dreaming, no doodling, absolutely 100% engaged with the lesson the entire time. Never mind the fact that you maybe hungry, got into a fight with your best friend or any other experience that might interfere with your engagement.

Again, I’m not here to slam teachers. I worked with some pretty fabulous teachers in my career. It IS the system that I don’t agree with, not them. The education of our children is the most important thing in the world, but our current system is failing many of our precious children. I couldn’t change the system from inside. It is just too big and way too messy. So now I want to educate parents on other, more supportive ways they can guide their children to be life long learners beyond the preschool- 12th grade system.

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Natural Learning to me is simply when children, or adults even, use their interests to learn. Our little Scout loves toy trucks. She loves to push them across the floor while saying vroom vroom. She also loves sitting or attempting to sit in her large Mega Block CAT dump truck.

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Scout is naturally drawn to her trucks, so this makes natural learning opportunities widely available.

A girl playing with her toy trucks in the window
We love our set of 5 Plan trucks that include a mni garbage truck, mini roller, bulldozer, mini excavator and mini fire engine. These mini trucks are made out of wood and offer many different learning opportunities. Not to mention are non-toxic and the company cares about the environment by using environmentally friendly practices according to their Amazon description.

These trucks offer hours of play and really keep her attention because she loves trucks. When she’s busy playing with her toy trucks, mommy and daddy can sneak in some learning opportunities. Get your own Plan mini trucks here.

Plan Toy Trucks being used for play
Here’s some ways we use the trucks to develop skills with her toy trucks….

1. When she pushes them around the house, she’s building her gross motor skills or developing her large muscles. She really cruises around the house with these.

2. When she pushes them side to side, picks them up, or pushes the buttons to make them work, she’s developing her fine motor skills. Fine motor skills are the development of small muscles. This development will help her with her writing skills later on.

A girl playing with her toy trucks
3. They offer language building opportunities when we sit and play with her. When we call the trucks by the name, she’s hearing new vocabulary words. We can describe the trucks while playing which helps build her color identification skills and other descriptive language skills.

4. The toy trucks offer plenty of imagination play. Scout can use them any way she wants too. Pretending to be on a construction site, building a house with her blocks, racing them around the track, or digging in the dirt.

A girl playing with her toy trucks and Mega Block farmer
5. One of the most important skills for her and all toddlers to work on is problem solving. Scout can work her problem skills through using the toy trucks and learning what each button or feature does. For example, the bulldozer has a button that lifts the “blade”. She also builds her problem solving skills by simple playing with them. Some times she gets them stuck on something, “debris” has fallen into her road (aka toys that have been left on the floor), or any other situation her toy trucks put her in.

A girl playing with her toy trucks
How does your child use toy trucks for play?

5 Ways Natural Learning Can Be Supported by Toy Trucks

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