Pre-K Police Project

May 7, 2018 by in category 9th Bridge Experience, School Happenings with 0 and 0

By Harmoni Wallace


Our Police Project – An Intro in Project-Based Learning

It is a busy day in the Pre-K 2 classroom. For one, tickets need to be handed out, fingerprints must be taken, and people need protecting. The Police Project is in full swing. Our Pre-K class is fully engaged in the topic of police as a part of our Project-Based Learning experience. While they are exploring a topic that they themselves chose, they are also solving problems and learning their curriculum in a fun, natural and engaging way. In fact they are learning so naturally that to them it is all play! The children are learning through joyfully and playfully living. How did this all begin?

How Projects Begin

Project-Based Learning begins when the teacher notices an intense and genuine interest that every child can participate in. In our case, we noticed it in the House Area of our classroom.

The House Area was bustling as always, and a few children were playing “police officer”. This was a common sight in Pre-k 2 where 3, 4 and 5 year olds often dressed up as a police officers and pretend to catch a bad guy. However, today was a little bit different. It was not only the regulars that were in on it, but everyone! Even children who would normally rather play “kitchen” or “family” were seen getting in on the fun and arresting their classmates and getting arrested. The teachers noted it and kept an eye on the House Area for the next few days. They noticed that every child, in one form or another, joined in on a “police” scenario. They also noticed that the Police play extended past the House Area. Over the next few days, jails were built in the block area to hold the growing number of criminals that seemed to be lurking in the classroom. Batons were made in the Art Area to support their pretend play. Police cars and jails were constructed out of Legos in the Toy Area. After a while, it was determined that there was enough interest in Police to plan experiences and activities around the topic, and to see if it could become a project.

Making batons in the art area to extend pretend play.

We began to notice that the children were very interested in Police Officers by observing their pretend play scenarios. Here, Ms. Robin is being put in jail and is served a meal.

Stage 1 of a Project – Field Trips and Expert Visits

As it became more and more apparent that the children were excited and engaged by the topic of police officers, it was necessary to arrange visits by experts and trips to real locations. This creates shared experiences on the topic so everyone can participate in group discussions and offer ideas and questions. It also helps us as teachers to zero in on exactly what about police officers interests the children. We began to collect information about what the children already knew about Police Officers and ask questions about what we wanted to know.

We did a mind map of what we already knew about police officers.

We also began to research by looking up interviews of Police Officers and trips to Police Stations. Then, the classroom was visited by a real Police Officer and we took a field trip to the nearby police station. During these visits, the children learned more about police tools and artifacts that they could touch and hold. We found they were especially interested in police vehicles. They also learned about animal partners like the K-9 unit, which was a big hit!

A Police Officer visited our classroom first, then the children visited our Local Police Station

Back in the classroom, we documented our questions and things that interested us. A word wall began to form where words like “police”, “station”, “baton”, “walkie-talkie” and “hand-cuffs” were written. Children were often seen going to the Word Wall to copy down a word to illustrate a picture or book. We began to read books on police officers and watch videos about police and police stations. The children learned that aside from arresting someone, you could also write tickets. Ticket forms were created and the words “steal” and “speeding” were added to our repertoire, as well as the formation of large numbers (100, 1,000 and 1,000,000) and how to write a dollar sign. Children were shown how to use the money from the cash register to pay their tickets.

Students wrote out tickets to friends and teachers, which must be paid at the ticket station

Creating our Own Police station

As our project continued, the children decided that the House Area needed to be more like a real police station. First, we needed a place to put all the bad guys they had been catching! We discussed what we would need to build a jail and the children decided that cardboard tubes would make great bars. We measured all of the tubes and cut them to be the same size. This led to discussion about length, using the words longer, shorter and same. The children were able to practice measuring and number recognition. When it was time to paint the tubes we did research on what color prison bars were and found several options. We created a chart and voted. The children were able to analyze the data and determine which color got the most votes (blue). We painted the tubes and taped them to our turned-around stove to create a jail.

We are determining where we should cut the bar in order for our jail to be even.

The children also created a finger printing station and a ticket paying station. The children decided they also needed a police car. We began collecting huge cardboard boxes and doing research on what police cars looked like. We found 2 designs that we liked and a pair of students went around the classroom collecting data on which design everyone wanted and announced their findings in a group meeting. They also took individual initiative to add things to the police car they realized were needed based on their trip to the police station and research, such as a laptop, steering wheel and wheels.

The children are trying to find the best way to get the laptop to attach to the Police Car.

A student adding the steering wheel

These sort of activities allowed children opportunities to see how group decisions are made and to collect and analyze data. By allowing project work to not only happen during structured group time, but naturally during work time as well, students were able to proactively work on the parts of the project that interested them the most and practice leadership and initiative skills.

A student collecting votes on what design of car we should make

A student researched Police Badges for our Police Station Sign and is asking his friends what they think.

As we did more research on police officers and our police station became more elaborate, so did the pretend play scenarios the children were engaging in. Their play evolved past simple “catch the bad guy” scenarios. For example, they and their K-9 partner (and sometimes their feline partner, or bunny partner) would find a bomb, or find a lost child. These pretend play scenarios allowed children to practice the concepts they were learning from their research. It also allowed us to put into practice important curriculum goals such as writing numbers and words (writing tickets, labeling police pictures and books, decorating and labeling the police station and car), learning how to use money (paying tickets), and health and safety (dialing 911, telling police officer’s their phone number, identifying community helpers).

Writing tickets gave children authentic reasons to practice spelling and sounding out words.

As we learned more about what interested the children about police, the project extended to all content areas. The children were very excited about the animal partners that were used by police, so cards were made with pictures and labels of many different kinds of animals that helped police and military personnel. These helped children learn sorting, matching and pre-reading skills, as well as delving into zoology and social sciences.

The children are introduced to the Police Animal 3-part cards, where they practice pre-reading skills such as matching picture to picture and word to word.

The children were also interested in police vehicle designs from other countries, and the same cards were made to illustrate that, helping us to naturally speak about geography. Children began to talk about different countries during their pretend play. They would “call” police officers in France to help them catch a bad guys.

One day, a student brought in a baton used by his great-grandfather when he was a police officer in the 1920s. This wonderful artifact inspired us to get pictures of police officers from the past. We examined how their uniforms changed throughout time, allowing us to dive into the concept of history.

History, zoology, geography, math, science, and literacy – all these skills were touched upon during our project. Each exploration was so natural to the children that they were fully engaged and excited to learn. Every activity had relevance to them and their day – it helped support their play! When children could see that what they were learning about was relevant to what they were interested in they were completely engaged! Difficult, abstract concepts like placement in time and past events suddenly became within their reach. This is the power of project-based learning, teaching based on what the children personally find interesting and helping them to solve the problems that arise when they want to express and explore those interests.

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