During an art invitation set out by Miss Alicia, a student decided to make his own paint brushes using nature parts. Everyone was painting with their fingers but he didn't want to because he didn't have his paint clothes on. This child knows himself and knows what he needs. He knows he also has freedom of choice at school.
As he was making his paint brushes, I encouraged him to share his thinking by asking questions in prudent openings, such as "what materials do you need?" "How do you create these designs?" "What is the difference between this design and this one in terms of functionality?" "How do you know when the brush is done?" If I were to expand to social studies or history, poking his interest, I would say something like "I wonder what the first tools to paint looked like, do you?"
After the other children were done with their art activity with Miss Alicia, he wanted to continue playing with his hand-made brushes. Miss Alicia provided all the things he requested, and he also found more things around the garden. He had an extensive collection of brushes!
The natural progression of his play was then to build a shop. Coming from a family of enterprenuers, this kind of play is his go-to representation of the world. He got everything ready! In this shop, he would sell paint brushes and scrapers too.
A friend came over to the paint brush shop and started asking what was he selling, and how much everything cost. Using leaves as pretend money, both boys got to practice subtraction and addition to see how much money his friend needed for what he wanted to buy, and also to make sure he was getting the right change back. I helped them just a bit to determine some prices, sharing real life experience as a grown-up having purchased similar "products" in the past.
Having freedom to participate in his own way in the art invitation, designing brushes, and "selling” his creation was a great opportunity to practice math in a tangible way, beyond memorization to a more expansive understanding of mathematics. He was also encouraged to communicate, think, reason, and wonder. He also got to practice tool making an designing, testing materials for a purpose, and his fine motor skills, under the overall umbrella of engaging with art.
If he were to show more interest in the topic, we would offer a visit to an artist atelier, an art store, a book about making tools, etc. We would offer a journaling opportunity to write down the process of making a brush, or comparing designs, and help him create a budget for his shop. Sometimes the interest continues and goes ver, very deep. Other times other children join in the line of inquiry. Yet other times the children move on to other quests. This is natural. Our call as educators, defenders or child-led, play-based, nature-based learning, is to open our ears and minds, be agile thinkers, and know the learning standards we can expand on. What a joy it is to witness the child-led curriculum emerge!