Learning Lessons: Discovery Room

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Learning Lessons: Discovery Room

Voice: May 2018

This story is part of a regular series, “Learning Lessons: Great ideas, Great schools,’’ that features educators who are doing great things or conducting great programs in Pennsylvania’s public schools. For other stories in the series go to www.psea.org/learninglessons.

When you walk into the Discovery Room at Conewago Township Elementary, you’re transported into a bustling town.

A doctor checks out a patient as she tries out some crutches. The mayor sits at her desk taking an important phone call. Theater participants are preparing for a show. Groceries are being collected in a basket. And in the center of this “town,” boys and girls relax in the shade of a large tree.

“The Discovery Room allows students to learn and discover through imaginative play,” said kindergarten teacher Jessica Miller.

An idea shared

When the Conewago Valley School District, Adams County, moved to a full-day kindergarten program, Miller and her colleagues knew they needed to incorporate as many opportunities as possible for children to learn in ways that were developmentally appropriate.

“As parents and teachers know, young children learn through play,” she said. “However, we, as kindergarten teachers, were finding it challenging to incorporate purposeful play into our rigorous academic program.”

After her colleague, Marcy Whitcomb, learned about a local school with a developmental room encouraging this type of learning, she visited with the building principal, Larry Sanders.

The information shared that day sparked enthusiasm that Whitcomb and Sanders brought back to the team of six kindergarten teachers at Conewago Township Elementary, and they began plans for their own imaginative playroom.


A small town in school

Through donations of items and funding, the teachers were able to create a robust town for the students to explore.

“The focal point of the town is a large tree located at a park in the center of town,” Miller said. “As you follow the road around the town, you can stop off at the mayor’s office, a house, Playland, grocery store, STEM lab, construction zone, post office, school, theater, traffic center, doctor’s office, toy store, or park.”

In its second year, the Discovery Room continues to grow in details as time progresses.

“It has quickly become the favorite part of many students’ days,” Miller said.


Learning through play

While the students are having fun pretending to deliver mail or cook in the kitchen, they are honing important skills.

“Instead of students’ being passive learners receiving knowledge passed on by the teacher, the Discovery Room allows the children to be actively engaged in their learning,” Miller said. “They are able to problem-solve and develop a deeper understanding of how the world around them works.”

Miller noted one of the greatest benefits is seeing the social interactions and the progress students make in this important area of development.

“The children are problem-solving, developing conflict resolution skills, practicing oral language skills, and applying what they are learning in the classroom into a real-world situation in the Discovery Room,” she said.

She also believes an important part of the Discovery Room is allowing children to take the lead.

“As teachers, we want to step in and lead, but in this case, we need to step back,” she said. “The children need to be the ones interacting and creating. The children need the freedom to find out what works and what does not.”


A positive addition

Parents and students alike enjoy the benefits of the Discovery Room.

“There has been an overwhelmingly positive response to the addition of the Discovery Room,” Miller said. “The parents have been extremely helpful in getting the Discovery Room up and running. Almost all of the items in the Discovery Room were donated by parents, teachers, and families.”

And the opportunity to learn through play is welcome.

“Parents have shared that they believe allowing the children a chance to play is important to kindergarten students,” Miller said.

The students are just as thrilled as their parents about the opportunity.

“The look on the children’s faces the first time they visit the Discovery Room is priceless,” Miller said. “Their mouths drop open, and their eyes get big. They love to visit the Discovery Room.”