Caregivers Information

Playtime on the Prairie

Philosophy, Research, & Ideas for Enhancing Your Child’s Experience

What is Playtime on the Prairie?

Playtime on the Prairie is a nature-inspired, deconstructed play experience for early learners under the age of 6. Through intentional selection of materials, direct access to nature, and an opportunity for self-directed play, we design the environment and overall experience to inspire curiosity and provide time for children to explore and discover.

Key Concepts of Conner Prairie’s Philosophy of Early Learning

We believe children construct their own knowledge based on interactions and communication with each other and with the environment. The role of the teacher/facilitator is to set up an environment with intentionally selected materials, referred to as provocations or invitations to play.

Put simply, provocations provoke! They provoke thoughts, discussions, questions, interests, creativity and ideas. Provocations can come in many forms; an interesting photo or book, nature specimens, concepts (changing seasons, light), old materials displayed in a new way, an interest a child has, an object (maps, magnets), new creative mediums, questions (i.e. what is gravity?), an event (presentation, holiday), etc. Provocations can be as simple as a photo of a rock sculpture next to some pebbles or as elaborate as a table with an assortment of recycled materials next to a book on robots and resources to make upcycled robots. Often though, provocations are simple and displayed beautifully to provoke interest. Similar to strewing, they are usually created as an option, not as a premeditated activity. Ultimately, the intention of provocations is to provide an invitation for a child to explore and express themselves. It should be open-ended and provide a means for expression where possible.*

Throughout this process, the role of the teacher/facilitator is to listen, observe, and learn about the children. As the children explore the materials, tinker, think, repeat, and talk with each other, the “curriculum” will naturally emerge. (For example, if children are looking at dandelions and see an insect, they may ask a question about insects and we may switch our focus from plants to insects). The curriculum comes from the play we observe and the dialogue we hear. As we encourage children to wonder, explore, discover, and create, the focus is on the process involved in a learning or play task, rather than the final product.

Through this specific type of play, children are developing problem-solving skills, autonomy in risk taking, confidence, persistence, resiliency, a sense of freedom, respect for self and others, conceptual understanding, communication skills, and joy! Adding exposure to nature and natural materials enhances these experiences creating even more meaningful connections in the brain. Pediatricians, educators, and psychologists have been researching and sharing the benefits and importance of outdoor play for many years and we are listening!

*Provocation information provided by:

Evidence & Research

Connection with Nature

How can you support learning while your child plays?

Our materials/set ups require little to no direction. We invite you to relax during this time, take care of a sibling, or even play a little yourself! You are always welcome to engage with your child, but we encourage you to let them lead!

Try to avoid naming their creative work (i.e. “is that grass?”, “is that the sky?”). Instead, use phrases like “tell me about your painting” or wait for them to tell you about it when they feel ready/finished. When you talk with them, use open-ended questions - What do you notice? Hear? See? Smell? Try not to tell them something you’ve discovered robbing them of the opportunity to discover it for themselves (i.e. “If you put that in there, it will overflow”).

Let your child guide transitions. When he/she is engaging with something, try to avoid phrases like; “Do you want to try this now?, Are you ready to move to the next thing?” Try not to worry about leaving enough of something or sharing the space if possible. Our job as facilitators is to try to have enough space and materials for children to move about using things as they please. This gives children the opportunity to practice asking when they need something and develop their sense of self.

We understand this philosophy can be very different than what many are used to. We are happy to answer any questions you may have after class. Please remember, the children are our top priority, so we cannot always have extensive conversations during a class.