Children were building castles in the block corner, explaining the different areas by using terms such as "great room", and "battlements" (we had been reading castle books to them). My small group had just finished a long project on bridges, and drawbridges came up in conversation. For teachers who believe in emergent, project-oriented learning, these facts were like a blinking neon sign that said,
Coincidentally, the Dramatic Play area was due for a changeover. I have been giving workshops called "Projects and Provocations", which were heavily influenced by the Reggio approach. Some teachers from other preschools dropped their jaws when I told them that dramatic play needn't always be a house corner, or that it could be changed over when their students' interest lagged. I thought of them when Carrie (a gifted teacher at our center) and I changed the area into the Great Room of a castle.
Fireplace in Great Room
The fireplace was especially fun. While we created the mantel and chimney, the children used various artistic media to create a stone-like surface. I brought in electric candles for the table, and found that Carrie's group had decided, when I had been on the playground, to put them in the fireplace for a more authentic effect.
The morning "question of the day" for parents with their incoming children was this one:
Question of the Day
Having had multiple time-travel stories about Medieval times read to them, children were very clear about what they liked and disliked about the idea of living then.
Battlements best. No cannons worst!
For one girl, the worst was "war". Seige was a part of every story about castles.
In the writing center we left rolled up pieces of paper for "scrolls". When children wrote on them and brought them to a teacher to "read", hilarity ensued. "By this proclamation, all teachers will leave and go to Starbucks. Children are in charge of the school!" Many invitations to "balls" were issued:
Queen Ball Room
Musicians were in the castle books, too, so I downloaded music from iTunes appropriate to the era. The children brought drums to the great room, and I played the music for them.
Girls drumming to "Music of the Crusades"
Then one morning, a boy spoke words dear to my heart: "Let's make our own castle, Gail". So my small group began working on a castle model, made of corrugated cardboard, tubes, and pieces of shoeboxes. We are still working on it, because one thing led to another, as is the way of projects. They made a moat (and we had learned that moats were NOT clean!), battlements, a dungeon, a kitchen with a fireplace and chimney cut through the roof ("Gail, we need a hole in the roof for the smoke to get out"). A "keep" was created by including another shoebox.
Castle with moat, drawbridge, and Keep.
Of course the children wanted to create little knights and princesses. I pointed out that those lovely people were not the most important people in the castle. Without the cooks, farmers, and others who produced food, the royalty would have starved. Immediately one boy created a cook for the kitchen.
I have been so pleased with the depth of learning that has taken place throughout this project, aka. "unit". The children have been fascinated by the topic, we integrated science, social studies, math, and language arts easily without doing rote practice drills. This is the beauty of integrated teaching and learning. I wish it for every child.