Imagine you visit Merritt in the middle of a typical school day. The two years olds are out on the playground and you watch children playing in the sand filling up and dumping out buckets of sand over and over and over. You see K4 students walking in a line behind their teacher as they head from the gym back to their classroom. In the infant room you see a teacher holding a baby and feeding her a bottle. You head into the school building and see a small group of children reading aloud with their teacher at the table in the lobby. You peak into the 7th grade classroom and see the students sitting at their desks typing on their chromebooks. Further down the hall you see the 5th graders organizing small toys and trinkets. The door to the 3rd grade is also open and you see one student talking to the teacher, two students lying on the rug writing in notebooks, another student standing up looking at a book on a tall stool, and other students sitting at their desks. Down the hall in the kindergarten class you see children tearing up pieces of colored paper and gluing them onto a large display.
So which students were learning? It’s a trick question of course because the answer is all of them. The two year olds playing with sand are learning first hand lessons in geometry, measurement and the physical laws of the universe. The K4 students walking in a line are learning important social skills like direction following, appropriate levels of personal space, patience, and paying attention to both the teacher and the person in front of them. The infant being fed is learning to trust people other than just her parents. The small group of beginning readers is learning to take turns, to focus on their own reading but also learning from the mistakes and successes of others. The 7th graders have the entire world of the internet to explore under the careful guidance of their teachers. The 5th graders are preparing for their yearlong hands on economic lesson of running the Tiger Store. The 3rd graders are learning to work in a variety of positions and postures that help them focus best on learning. The kindergarteners are strengthening their fine motor skills for the challenging task of writing as well as learning geometry, patterns, and teamwork.
I could go on and on but I think you get the point. Learning is happening all the time in a multitude of ways. What looks like simple play or even moderate chaos to an outsider is a lesson plan carefully crafted by a teacher or a teachable moment seized by a skilled educator to subtly guide children to what they are engineered to do—learn.