Dramatic Play and Urges

When children are engaged in dramatic, creative play of their own choosing, they are operating at a high level of cognitive and social development. Dramatic play allows  space for the development of executive functioning skills, identified now as key skills for the modern adult world.

Almost three years ago, when Longworth Forest opened it’s doors, creative, dramatic play occurred occasionally. Now, I am privileged to observe this type of play happening on a daily basis.

This week, a large branch from a gum tree was felled in order to make room for a tree house. Once the area was safe, our learners couldn’t wait to visit the site. After an initial explore, our current urge for enclosures and hut building began. The first afternoon was taken up with dragging branches to the site.


Although the first constructions were made by individuals or small groups, the high level of co-operation among our learners no longer surprises us. Branches were shared along with any problems that individuals happen to experience. Some branches were too heavy, so the older learners were only too happy to help fix them into the best positions.



Work continued on the first afternoon for well over an hour. There was time for some risk taking. The tree stump was just too inviting!


Just climbing along the felled branch proved to be risky for some learners.

IMG_0194 (1)

The next day, we took our lunches to the huts to enjoy the feeling of being enclosed.





After lunch the enclosures suddenly changes shape and the two main ones were joined together to form one large construction that could house everyone. This seemed to”just happen” with very little negotiation. Here is the final structure.


On the third afternoon, again by mutual agreement, the building phase was over and the dramatic play began. As with all creative, dramatic, play the twists and turns in the plot were hard for an adult to follow. I do know there were a number of tigers who had to be captured and trained. The most magical part of the play was their decision to create a new language. Our learners  made up their own special way of communicating by substituting and altering letter sounds  There was no place for adults in this self chosen  play. No adult could teach or prepare for this level of learning. Once again it was a privilege just to observe.

Providing Time for Dramatic Play

How many Parents and Teachers take the time to sit and watch a child’s dramatic play? The demands placed on our daily lives  do not often allow us the privilege of  spending time observing and listening. If we decided to prioritise what learning is important in the classroom, we may be able to make time for this important practice.

This week I had the  privileged of  sitting and observing a group of Forest learners during their self chosen dramatic play. Firstly, they constructed a new bridge between two existing structures. This bridge building required some planning, an understanding of stability and a great deal of team work. Trial and error followed the planning, the bridge was constantly tested to see how strong and stable it was and then finally, our learners knew when it was completed because everyone could stand on it safely. The conversations and discussions throughout the process were constant. Each learner learning from each other.


After lunch the bridge turned into a boat as did the two other bridges. Our learners divided themselves into boat builders and proceeded to work in these small groups to load their boats with provisions for a ” trip to London”




The provisions were made from natural materials in the Forest. Soups and stews were concocted from grasses, moss and dirt. The scurrying around for these resources happened naturally without interrupting the flow of the dramatic play.

Next, oars were needed.  Spades and sticks were transformed.



One of our learners suggested they all take photos as they sailed past the Queen’s palace. Then, quite abruptly,  boats became pirate ships! Another call went out that sharks had been spotted and they all had to save themselves. The separate groups joined together to assist one another with words of encouragement. So engrossed were these learners that no-one was aware I was observing and taking photos.

Not only should we take the time to observe children at play but more importantly we should allow time for children to play. Providing time for uninterrupted  creative, dramatic play ensures that our learners are operating at the highest level of creative thinking.

We cannot effectively teach the skills that these learners practised during that afternoon. I could only observe and marvel at their social skills, their problem solving and their creativity. .The twists and turns occurred quite naturally in their narrative and in the way they organised their social groupings.

I am so pleased that time  enabled this to happen.



It’s All About The Process

In a data driven climate,   it is often hard to remind ourselves that the learning process is more important than the final product. For a long time, schools have planned, taught and assessed for their students to reach a tangible goal. For young children, it is all about the process. It is not necessarily the  beautiful picture or the detailed construction that interests them but the problem solving and skills they are practicing along the way.

The challenge for Teachers is to let go of focusing on that final product and to recognise the learning that is taking place.

This week in The Forest, our learners decided to move some pallets and lay them across the creek to form bridges. This shows their final product.


Watching them work and listening to their conversations, I was able to identify all the learning taking place. They used levers to lift the pallets off the stack, they had to work as a team to carry them to the creek, they negotiated where they would go and they estimated their size to see if they would fit. They used their prior knowledge about bridges and knew they had to be level and safe to use. When one wobbled they added a paving stone to level it. Trial and error ensured it was stable.

Clear curriculum links were made to maths ( measurement), science ( simple machines), technology ( constructions), literacy ( discussions. questioning ). This activity covered too many key competencies to list  but the most important ones were self management, thinking skills and relating to others.

I remember a classroom focus I once planned on bridges for 5 year olds and it  could not replace the learning that took part in The Forest. Once the construction was completed and they had all walked across the bridges, their focus shifted and they were off to conquer the next challenge! For these learners it was all about the process.

Another challenge for Teachers is how to document this authentic learning. Learning Stories are an effective way of capturing and recording the learning process. Initially,Teachers will find these challenging but they are a powerful way for us to understand a child’s learning process.

We have much to learn from our 5 and 6 year olds if we change our mind set and begin to see that the learning process is paramount. Let’s return to that wonderful  NZ Curiculum Document and implement the curriculum as it was envisioned.




In Tune With Nature

For the past two weeks I have felt like I have been in Gerald Durrell’s novel “My Family and Other Animals”.Although Longworth Forest and its wildlife hardly resemble a Greek Island, we have nonetheless been involved with saving a variety of insects and amphibians.

It began with one of our learners wanting to build an animal hospital. The construction was furnished with flax woven and tied together with knots.




The rabbits were to be suspended in a bed on a pulley system.


After a poor frog was accidentally submerged in a container of bubbles, it soon became the first real patient. One of our learners exclaimed ” Its our first real patient – just what we wanted”.

After he was bathed in clean water, a round the clock vigil was put in place with strict instructions, “watch him but don’t touch him!”



When the vigil was broken for morning tea, the patient discharged himself and was not seen again.  The care and attention given to the frog was amazing.

The next patient was a butterfly ( still alive) with a broken wing. A flax bed was especially made for this patient. Once again, it quickly discharged itself.DSC02841


Other insects have passed through the hospital doors and there have been modifications to the building. A pathway for the ambulances, a sign (reflecting the fate of the poor frog) and a front door bell have all been added for the comfort of the patients.



Lots of fungi was collected for “mushroom soup” for the anticipated patients.


Some wonderful problem solving arose when the flax seed heads were wanted to form decorations around the hospital. As the ground was too hard to dig a hole, some other method had to be found to keep them upright. Our learners worked together as a team to solve the problem. They used mud and bricks.





The Monarch Caterpillars will be pleased when the school holidays arrive and the TLC given to them is over!

Just like Gerald Durrell, our learners are immersing themselves in the living world around them. They are perfectly in tune with their surroundings and have a wonderful respect for all living creatures. What better way to ensure a positive future for our Earth.



Values according to the NZ Curriculum document, are to be “encouraged, modelled and explored”. One of the values to be encouraged is ecological sustainability which includes caring for the environment.

At Longworth Forest caring for the environment happens on a daily basis. Surrounded by trees, birds, insects and animals we quickly learn that all living things are precious.

Once again, we have been very concerned about the wasps eating the Monarch butterfly chrysalis. In an attempt to save them, we moved some caterpillars inside and fed them swan plants everyday. This week we were rewarded with the “birth” of two precious butterflies – both male.



Our pond habitat is always a source of wonder. Every day, the water is scrutinised very carefully for a  water boatman, mosquito larvae, cockabullies and frogs.


When frogs need to be encouraged, habitats are built for them. Embellishments are added for their comfort – a lily pad, trees, extra water.




Our learners decided to use the pond to try their fishing skills. Everyone made their own fishing line and then spent the afternoon engrossed in trying out their fishing skills. This did not result in any great catches but the conversations  about caring for our environment were fascinating.




Even our big resident animals need daily care and attention. Our very old sheep is a favourite and he just loves old agapantha flowers.



There is plenty of time for some quiet moments by the pond.


Valuing our environment needs to happen every day.

The Importance of Water Play

At Longworth Forest, our learners are able to play with water all day every day. Not a day goes by without some water exploration. A natural pond ensures opportunities for creative play as well as investigations into pond life. Even more enticing is moving water. Moving water encourages the building of dams and boat races!

Most of this week was spent playing with water. When a wooden pallet became submerged and stuck in the mud, our learners recognised a real life problem to be  solve. They worked in a team, each suggesting ideas and offering their physical strength.



Trying to stop the flow of water taught our learners a lot about water power. No amount of stones or mud could prevent the flow!


When water is on hand, it is used in the most ingenious ways. Here, mixed with other ingredients, it serves as fuel for a hovercraft.


Water is calming! There are quiet moments floating “boats”and watching the ripples in the pond.


Our learners are exploring water and having fun playing with water every day.

A New Year at Longworth

This year our web page will look a little different. Postings will be more irregular and photos of our adventures will become the main feature. As mentioned previously, Parents of our wonderful learners are provided with a weekly diary of their child’s learning so this site provides additional visual information.

Here is how we enjoyed our first week back after the long Summer holidays.
















So much science! Mixing “cement” to fill a hole that could be dangerous for animals, pouring potions down a plastic pipe to make a waterfall at the bottom, making a raft that proved to be balanced and stable enough to float, digging up potatoes and turning them into chips for lunch, working out how to get the best ride on cardboard down the hill – will it work on wet grass or dry grass?

All these activities were chosen by our learners. self directed learning at its best!