Some of my favorite bloggers refer to "loose parts" in the preschool environment. This refers to materials that are undefined and ready to be used for whatever open-ended play that the children devise. I've watched how these wooden planks have enlisted many skills:
sheer physical strength
planning and strategy
predicting and cause/effect
experiencing trial and error
building on a team
working through conflict (everyone thinks they know the "right" way!)
identifying safe ways to build
persistence and following through to project completion even when it gets frustrating
keeping up with the storyline of the play while doing all of this work!
I just can't think of a teacher-directed activity that could even compare. These kids are getting experiential learning about the fundamental elements of living and working in school, family, the workplace, and society. (How I wish I had gone to preschool as a child!)
The boat above eventually became the boat below...
Za appreciated some alone time to build this structure just right.
Za contemplates her next move, and after some intervention with Sa, they create this:
T discovers the fulcrum
They like to tinker with the finished product, always making improvements or testing theories about "what if we..."
Plywood is the perfect implement for meaningful, open-ended play.