Video Showcase

Video Showcase

STEMTLnet Video ShowcaseThe STEM Teacher Leadership Video Showcase features 3-minute videos submitted by teacher leaders and those engaged in creating teacher leadership programs. View their inspiring stories and make sure to leave a comment! Share on social media and "like" your favorites!

Early Childhood Science: The Power of Guided Play

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Hello! I am Cassia, the educator in this video. Just wanted to offer a little bit of context for this lesson involving preschool and first grade students since it was impossible for the video to capture everything. I shared the bird story only after the children explored with the natural materials because I was curious to see and hear what they were wondering about real bird nests and what would happen when they tried to build their own nests without any glue or tape. The story illustrates some of what I observed the children doing. The bird hurt its beak (empathy) as it was picking up the sticks to build its nest. The sticks wouldn't stay on the branch of the tree (challenge). The children shared many ideas about how the bird could use certain materials to make its nest sturdier and had opportunities to try out their ideas (trial and error). The children came up with so many ideas that they didn't want to stop trying them out. Stories should never end!

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Full Name

Here are some things I am curious to learn from you: 

a) What does guided play look like in your classroom?

b) What challenges do you encounter when practicing guided play?

c) What tools are useful to bring about the learning behind children's playful experiences so others can see it?

d) I've always used a story first to engage the children. The exploration with the materials came after. I am curious to hear what you learned when you tried reversing that process: exploration with materials first, then a story. 


Fri, 11/04/2022 - 4:09 PM Permalink

Hello, Cassia and Lawrence Hall of Science team!

I loved watching your video -- such fun to see how the things I do as a high school teacher in a formal setting are right along the same path as what you do with little ones in an informal ed setting.  Guided play has been such an important part of how I've framed my planning in the post-quarantine high school science classroom. Sometimes, it looks like the service learning and hands-on experiences in our video for this showcase -- where the focus is on maximizing student agency and choice. Otherwise, I've come to realize, play doesn't feel, well, playful!

In high school, we can't rely on lecturing to students without making uncovering their thinking. That's why active learning environments are so much more powerful when there's a well-designed set of formative assessment strategies, as you've demonstrated here: asking questions of learners, noticing materials use and nest design, and having learners describe what they're thinking as they work. We make use of card sorts, written documents, and lab setups with older students, too.

Thanks so much for this peek into your work! :) Kirstin



Mon, 11/07/2022 - 11:02 AM Permalink
Full Name

I really enjoyed watching your video.  The activity was very engaging for your students.  I also teach an early childhood class.  It is my most challenging as far as finding engineering challenges for this age group.  This would be a wonderful activity for them.  

Mon, 11/07/2022 - 12:53 PM Permalink
Full Name

I loved this video and the main message: to listen to what preschoolers think and what they are interested in before telling them content of what one thinks they should know. The kids are adorable and this video models Guided Play so well. Hope many educators see this! I imagine that this pedagogical stance would work well in formal environments too. 

Thanks for creating this!

Mon, 11/07/2022 - 12:54 PM Permalink

Joni, as a researcher you have the ability to observe very closely. 

It is vital for us educators to practice and sharpen our observation skills every day if we want to continue to improve our practice. I just finished presenting STEAM professional learning sessions to educators in preschool settings at public schools. The goal: adult-child connections. They found it very helpful to interact with phenomena alongside with their young students. They had opportunities to use observation tools and felt comfortable with a flexible lesson plan. They were so happy to apply changes to the lesson right away according to the interests of their young students! 

Joni, will you lead me to the latest research about guided play and STEM in early childhood, please? I would love to learn from you and keep in touch about our work!

Wed, 11/09/2022 - 5:49 PM Permalink

I am so happy to hear that you start with thought provoking questions.  Listening to these young children explain in their own words is so powerful for teachers to identify misconceptions.

Mon, 11/07/2022 - 1:52 PM Permalink
Full Name

Thank you for sharing your video.  It is interesting how this concept of play and observation is lost as students get older.  For high school this especially important.  Students need to have time play and explore science and engineering content.

Mon, 11/07/2022 - 3:01 PM Permalink
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In reply to by Jose Rivas

Thank you for your feedback Jose! Is it ok if I share your feedback with my colleagues?

I would love to learn from you what inexpensive materials could be used to integrate more Mathematics into playful learning. Kodo Kids, Legos, Loose parts and others offer open-ended materials but they can be quite costly. 

Wed, 11/09/2022 - 10:45 PM Permalink
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In reply to by Cassia Izaac

Yes, please share.  Materials are expensive even when you are trying to have students do low budget projects like cardboard robotic hands and solar cars.  I am constantly applying to grants and contacting local industries to support my vision for STEM education.  Where are you located? There are many grants that are given based on location to companies.  For example the Shell lab challenge gives millions of dollars to schools that are located close to their refineries.  I have been a judge and many times there is only one school that applies and they automatically get the $10,000 grant.

Tue, 11/15/2022 - 2:50 PM Permalink
Full Name

Thank you for sharing the video. Do you often use guided play or are there more open inquiry opportunities, as well?

Either way, this definitely promotes curiosity and engagement! Thank you so much for sharing. Your video was really well done!

Wed, 11/09/2022 - 2:41 PM Permalink
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In reply to by Jodi Zeis

Dear Jodi,

I'd love to learn from you what you mean by open inquiry opportunities. 

Here's how I practice guided play. How is it compared to open inquiry opportunities? 

The short video couldn't showcase all the time I spend learning alongside the children to meet them where they are.

- I am constantly gathering the children's prior knowledge as they freely explore with intentionally planned materials for days.

- I carefully observe them to inform the planning of future play-based experiences and stories. 

- I encourage social interactions that engage them in co-constructing their knowledge. 

- I ask open-ended questions when appropriate to deepen their thinking and extend their curiosity. 

- I am careful not to interrupt their play and wait for the proper moment. 

- I welcome trial and error and collaboration among them during the process. 

- I invite several ways to document their learning: drawing, painting, building, songs, stories, dance, games, etc. 

- I use the documentation gathered to reflect and make decisions with them related to their own learning and how it benefits not only themselves but others as well. 

- I connect their learning to real-life situations. 

Thank you for bringing up your question.

I look forward to continue this conversation.





Thu, 11/10/2022 - 12:15 AM Permalink
Full Name

Guide PRODUCTIVE play! Love this and I am inspired.

Last school year, as a STEAM enrichment educator here in central NY, I provided mystery bag materials for elmentary students to create a nest like a bird engineer would. See pics here But I am inspired your one-nest-to-rule-them-all lesson! We do have to get ont he foor with kids and PLAY with them--thank you for the great exmaple!

I wish I was on the west coast (is that where you are?) to visit you and learn more about the creative things you do.

Wed, 11/09/2022 - 4:26 PM Permalink
Full Name

It is wonderful for children to relate to birds, and their homes.  Then to look at how their homes are built.  

A birds' nest in an engineering mater piece,  They seem so common and simple.  Yet they must stay in a tree! And protect the birds and their family from the weather  

Seeing it from the ground in the tree is one layer, but then looking at it with a magnifing glass is another layer.  New details and layers can be seen.  

Science and understanding is layer after layer. This is a great introduction to layers upon layers.

Wed, 11/09/2022 - 7:28 PM Permalink
Full Name

Thank you for sharing your video! You have proven that children are never too young to learn STEM Learning. I think that guiding play is needed more from the time the children are being curious. This is an inspiring idea for me as a grandmother. :) Diana

Fri, 11/11/2022 - 11:07 AM Permalink
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Cassia, thank you so much for taking the time to document an example of your rich and impactful approach to supporting early childhood science learning through guided play! We at the Lawrence Hall of Science are appreciative of your leadership in this field and your incredible work in our community.

Fri, 11/11/2022 - 12:08 PM Permalink
Full Name

Such a beautiful video, Cassia. And a reminder that these first hand experiences with nature, especially with very young children, are so important, so formative, even transformative. I still am amazed and perplexed at how birds get those dang nests to hold together and to stay in the tree--every time I see one!! The experience you provide for those 5 year olds could keep them puzzling, wondering, investigating for the rest of their lives!

As us like to say, "Think and wonder. Wonder and think" (Dr. Seuss)

Thanks for the profoundly important work you do, Cassia, adding wonder to so many kids' lives!

Fri, 11/11/2022 - 12:18 PM Permalink
Full Name

Cassia, what a fantastic exploration of what these kids were thinking. It was great to hear you asking open-ended questions that really elicited their ideas. And then pushing them to explore their ideas further by trying things out and seeing what worked and what didn't. I really enjoyed watching them use the model beaks (plastic tweezers) so they could do a more honest exploration to help with their sense making. It was also great to see a quick shot of the type of observation tool we might use as educators while we're trying to track learners' ideas. Thank you for sharing all of your great work for us to learn from!

Fri, 11/11/2022 - 10:27 PM Permalink
Full Name

It’s amazing to see the endless possibilities with the young mind. We actually use play/explore as part of our STEAM strategic plan for grade band preK-3. 
I would be interested in learning more about the professional development for you educators. 

Sat, 11/12/2022 - 10:33 AM Permalink
Full Name

Thank you, Cassia, for sharing this video of young kids having such fun while learning and exploring nature. I loved watching them try things out, use models and tools, be curious, show empathy, and use their imaginations. You are such an inspiring educator! 

Sat, 11/12/2022 - 1:16 PM Permalink
Full Name

When you discover something it is called SCIENCE-- LOVE THIS!

This is great work, Cassia, and resonated with me as I collect abandoned Birds' Nests and use them in my lessons.  In the spring I love to do a unit on "Engineering in Nature."  The youngest students build birds' nests, the older ones explore Chipmunk Burrows, then Beaver Dams, then Spiders' Webs.  They learn to look at nature differently, not just as scientists, but as engineers who can learn from what they notice outside.  Keep up the fabulous work!

Sun, 11/13/2022 - 8:23 AM Permalink
Full Name

As a mother to young children (4&7), I agree that children play to learn. I especially love how you show the guided play in your video. While playing looks different as we get older, it is still just as important for learning and building creativity.

If you have a chance, check out the book Karl's New Beak. It's about an Abyssinian ground hornbill who had difficulty eating because of his broken beak. His zookeepers used 3D printing to give Karl a new beak. It reminds me of your story because students can use empathy to solve a problem.

Keep up the inspiring work, reminding us that everyone plays to learn!

Mon, 11/14/2022 - 6:31 AM Permalink
Full Name

Great video, Cassia! It really highlights what a wonderful job you do engaging our youngest scientists. 

Mon, 11/14/2022 - 1:16 PM Permalink
Full Name

We have been working really hard to restructure our Kindergarten classrooms to encourage more learning through play. We did a book study that emphasized how much we've lost by limiting opportunities for our students to play. This video was so supportive of our initiatives and helping our teachers understand how we can guide their play to ensure they have long-lasting takeaways and social development!

Tue, 11/15/2022 - 4:01 PM Permalink
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In reply to by Ryan Mahn

I was so happy to watch your video a few minutes ago! I would love to learn more about your on-going efforts to support classroom teachers. What are some challenges that you still encounter? And what strategies do you use to empower changes? 

I hope to hear from you soon,


Sat, 11/19/2022 - 10:46 AM Permalink
Full Name

Hi Cassia,

What a wonderful video that really showcases the power of play, storytelling, and activity to engage young learners in the world around them. Thank you for your creative energy that continues to touch so many children when they experience the early childhood program at the Lawrence! 

Your video also brought back fond memories of working together so many years ago. Hope to see you soon, Cassia, and to meet puppet Kimi in person!

Wed, 11/16/2022 - 2:08 AM Permalink
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