Starting Free Choice Play Centers at the Beginning of the Year

One of the most challenging pieces of free choice play for many teachers is how to start without complete chaos. Here are a couple of quick and easy tips for successful free choice play centers…

IT ALL STARTS WITH THE CHILDREN’S OWNERSHIP

OF THE CENTERS AND THEIR ENVIRONMENT

starting centers

Provide the students with ownership of the free choice play centers from the start.

  • While taking a tour of the building, discuss how every room has a name that allows us to know what happens in that place.
  • In the classroom, talk about how each center has a purpose and specific activities. Describe some of the options in each center and allow students to brainstorm ideas such as in dramatic play, the students can care for the babies, for the animals, cook dinner, write a recipe, bake cookies, etc.; in the free choice art center, they can build a sculpture, draw or sketch a picture, design a collage picture, etc. Post the ideas that are generated by the students in each center along with a visual.
  • Allow the students to determine a name for each center such as Construction Site or Creation Station. The students can also create tags to show where items belong for easier cleanup.
    • Encourage creativity in the drawing and designing of the center signs. Allow students to use found materials to be creative such as pieces of yarn, pictures or letters from magazines, buttons, pipe cleaners, etc. Also show them how they can make objects stand out from the sign with loops, arches and so on
  • Have the students be detectives to notice how the center looks in a cleaned-up.  state- paying attention to the details. Allow students to share how we demonstrate respect for materials.
  • Allow the students to brainstorm expectations for center time. Generate a list of 3-5 expectations, write them on a poster along with a visual, and have all students sign the class contract for center time.

Clean-up is another common concern of teachers. See Clean Up after Play Centers and Student Jobs for Clean-Up Time

Learning at Home: Let them PLAY

Remote learning at home with young children can be a daunting task. However, remember that the best way for children to learn is to play! Let them PLAY!! Research proves that play is essential to a young child’s development. (Crisis in Kindergarten: Why Young Children Need to Play authored by Joan Almon and Edward Miller, published by Alliance for Children)

Play strengthens and builds a child’s …

Vocabulary

Attention Span

Ability to persist

Problem solving skills

Collaboration

Empathy

Language comprehension

Curiosity

Creativity

Symbolic thinking

Impulse control

Conflict resolution skills

Imagination

Relationship building skills

Critical thinking

and many, many more.

Sharing the Importance of Play with Families

Play based learning builds emotional resilience and strength in children as well as enhances confidence. Through free choice play, children gain empathy and impulse control. Play is essential to the children’s development to build emotional strength. Therefore, lots of child-directed play is crucial, now more than ever.

Encourage parents to allow their children to play; to not feel pressured to engage their child with worksheets or technology programs thinking that they are preparing their child for school. Lots and lots of play, not worksheets and not technology games that are simply worksheets on a screen, will provide the foundation of creativity, resilience, engagement and persistence required for later academic learning.

Below if a a free download containing slides regarding the importance of play as well as some ideas and tips on play for parents. Feel free to share one a week to encourage parents to allow their children to engage in play.

Learning at Home: Expanding Children’s Vocabulary through Play

A couple of posts in April discussed the importance of dramatic play (Learning at Home: Dramatic Play and Learning at Home: More Dramatic Play Ideas) and then last week, we expanded children’s play by watching, observing, noticing and adding additional props to encourage extended play and to expand the scenario.

Today, let’s talk about vocabulary. A child’s vocabulary by the end of Kindergarten and first grade is a significant predicator of his/her reading comprehension in later years. Hemphill and Tarvin in their research share with us that vocabulary development needs to become a central focus in our early grade classrooms along with letter identification, phonics and phonemic awareness to build strong skills and knowledge for later reading comprehension (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/248940899_The_Importance_of_Early_Vocabulary_for_Literacy_Achievement_in_High-Poverty_Schools)

Dramatic play is the perfect vehicle for extending a child’s play through authentic, hands-on learning- which is the type of learning that is going to stick with a child.

Play is learning- play with your child to authentically weave in the development and use of new words. While playing with your child, think about how you can pair what they are doing plus the vocabulary in which the child is already familiar with additional words. For example, if your child tells you that she is cooking chicken; you can ask, “Are you frying or baking your chicken? I love including vegetables with my chicken. Should we steam or saute them?” Or if you can playing grocery store, you can ask your child if he/she wants to be the cashier/clerk/merchant or the shopper/purchaser/customer. Use the words interchangably and encourage your child to use multiple words. If we use the words consistently, then the child will start incorporating the words into the play and conversation.

It is also important to help your child transfer the vocabulary to other settings. If they are playing auto shop and you go to an actual auto shop for repairs or an oil change, incorporate the same vocabulary used during play to help your child make connections.

Here are some ideas for vocabulary with the additional prop suggestions from last week…

Deepening Children’s Play through Props and Vocabulary
ScenarioIdeas for additional props to add to expand the playIdeas for additional vocabulary to incorporate while engaging in the play with the child
Orthopedic Doctor
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Encourage the child to take on the role of the engineer who designs the equipment for rehabilitation (crutches, walker, sling, cast) Provide the child with stuff from a recycle bin (boxes, oatmeal containers, cardboard tubes, lids) and allow him/her to design OR encourage the child to take on the role of the physical therapist or occupational therapist and add in props such as icepacks, heat pads, exercise ball, weights, step stoolPhysical therapy, rehabilitation, exercise, prevention, sling, cast, occupational therapist, heat, icepack, client, patient
Auto Shop
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is fuse-on-the-car-1.jpg
Encourage the child to begin to take calls from drivers that are stranded on the road- that cannot get into the shop for repairs and add props such as a big box to make a tow truck, empty, clean gas can, play tools, appointment sheet for phone numbers, play cell phoneRepair, roadside assistance, stranded, frantic, emergency, fuel delivery, insurance, peace of mind, on call 24 hours a day, dispatch, guarantee, customer, rescue
Home Living
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is kitchen.jpg
If the child likes to engage in a lot of pretend cooking expand the utensils available by adding chopsticks, tongs, materials for cake decorating, wok, pie pan: then observe and notice- what direction is the child taking the play, if he/she starts decorating cakes, then you can begin weaving in play about decorating for weddings or birthdays, taking orders and selling the cakes, etc. OR Remove all plastic play food and add vase gems, dice, plastic or foam alphabet letters, building blocks, wood cookies (tree branches cut into round disks) and have fun observing the child’s creativity as the items become all kinds of different food. (remember to add items that are appropriate for your child’s age and developmental level so that they do not become a choking hazard.)Sauté, fry, bake, decorate, fondant, glaze, buttercream icing, stir-fry, steam, roast, temperature, boil, whip, cream, fold, presentation, blend, shake, place settings, utensils, measure
Expanding Children’s Vocabulary through Play journeyintoearlychildhood.com

Learning at Home: Expanding Children’s Dramatic Play with Props

In the April 1 post, we discussed all of the amazing benefits of dramatic play. Dramatic play is SO critical to young children’s growth and development that I am going to recap one of the key benefits here:

Dramatic Play

There is documented research that demonstrates the high level of cognitive, social, and emotional benefits from children’s engagement in dramatic play.

Our goal is to help our children deepen their play experiences to engage in more complex play:

  • Plans elaborate themes
  • Play more than one role in the play scenario
  • Uses props symbolically (a block becomes a telephone, a pool noodle becomes a fire hose, a tree branch cut into 1/2 inch rounds become pancakes or cookie)
  • The play scenario takes play over multiple days
  • Incorporates the vocabulary of the scenario and incorporates ideas from books that have been read to him/her

When your child begins a play scenario and plays it over a couple of days (cooking in the kitchen, baking, grocery store, restaurant, vet, doctor, firefighter, traveling to space, taking care of babies, auto shop, hairdresser, school), begin to deepen the experience for him/her with additional props to help him/her delve into more complex play. Provide suggestions as you become a partner in the play but do not take over- let your child guide and lead you through the scenario.

Examples:

Deepening Children’s Play by Adding Props
Journeyintoearlychildhood.com
ScenarioIdeas for additional props to add to expand the play
Orthopedic Doctor
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is dr-play-journeyintoearlychildhood.com_.png
Encourage the child to take on the role of the engineer who designs the equipment for rehabilitation (crutches, walker, sling, cast) Provide the child with stuff from a recycle bin (boxes, oatmeal containers, cardboard tubes, lids) and allow him/her to design OR encourage the child to take on the role of the physical therapist or occupational therapist and add in props such as icepacks, heat pads, exercise ball, weights, step stool
Auto Shop
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 20181106_135231.jpg
Encourage the child to begin to take calls from drivers that are stranded on the road- that cannot get into the shop for repairs and add props such as a big box to make a tow truck, empty, clean gas can, play tools, appointment sheet for phone numbers, play cell phone
Home Living
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 2013-03-26-10.01.27.jpg
If the child likes to engage in a lot of pretend cooking expand the utensils available by adding chopsticks, tongs, materials for cake decorating, wok, pie pan: then observe and notice- what direction is the child taking the play, if he/she starts decorating cakes, then you can begin weaving in play about decorating for weddings or birthdays, taking orders and selling the cakes, etc. OR Remove all plastic play food and add vase gems, dice, plastic or foam alphabet letters, building blocks, wood cookies (tree branches cut into round disks), and have fun observing the child’s creativity as the items become all kinds of different food. (remember to add items that are appropriate for your child’s age and developmental level so that they do not become a choking hazard.)
journeyintoearlychildhood.com Expanding Children’s Play with Additional Props

Learning at Home: Outdoor and Nature Fine Motor Fun

Learning at Home:

Using Nature and Playing Outdoors for Fine Motor Fun

Engaging in fine motor activities that will prepare our 3 and 4-year-old children for writing the letters of the alphabet and numbers can be so much fun.

Earlier is not always better when it comes to handwriting and children.

Parents can help provide a strong foundation for later writing by having lots of fine motor fun now.

FREE DOWNLOAD: Learning at Home: Fine Motor Fun with Nature and Outdoors 

  1. Draw pictures with sidewalk chalk.  drawing on the sidewalk journeyintoearlychildhood

pouring and measuring with beans and seeds journeyintoearlychildhood

  1. Pour sand, dirt, or water from one container to another. How many small containers full of sand/water does it take to fill the big one? Can you pour it without spilling a drop?

pouring water fine motor fun journeyintoearlychildhood

3. Draw shapes, letters or numbers using a paintbrush and water on the garage door (large, vertical writing is great for both fine motor and gross- motor development. Tape paper on the garage wall to draw on.using a spray bottle for fine motor fun journeyintoearlychildhood

4. Clean the sidewalk using a spray bottle and water.

5. Fill each section of an egg carton with dirt, make a small hole, and pinch 3 seeds to place them in the hole. Use a spray bottle filled with water to give the seeds a drink. Remember to spray the dirt and the growing plants with water each day.

sorting nature items journeyintoearlychildhood

  1. Collect nuts, pebbles, and/or leaves and then sort them. How many ways can you sort the items you found?

nature fine motor fun journeyintoearlychildhood.com

designing with pinecones journeyintoearlychildhood.com

  1.   Collect pinecones and snap off each piece. Design a picture out of them by laying them on the driveway or gluing them on paper.

 

 

 

using a stick for stringing beads journeyintoearlychildhood.com

8. String beads on a stick.

 

 

 

 

fine motor fun using nature and being outdoors journeyintoearlychildhood

 

 

Learning at Home: Fine Motor FUN

YES, helping your child develop his/her fine motor skills can be fun!! Avoid the temptation to succumb to the lure of brightly colored, cute picture worksheets.

Especially when it comes to fine motor development, pushing a child too early to complete paper/pencil tasks is not better. Parents can help provide a strong foundation for later writing by having lots of fine motor fun now.

Quick, easy ideas that use household items:

  1. Cut a small hole in the lid of an empty coffee can or oatmeal container. Decorate the container to be a monster or an animal. Cut yarn or straws into small pieces and then “feed” the monster/animal. OR cut a slit in an old tennis ball, squeeze it open and “feed” it.
  2. Using tongs, move small items such as cotton balls, tissue, pom-poms, noodles from one container to another. OR by looking at the group of items, estimate how many each bowl will have if you share them. Place one at a time in a set amount of bowls and count how many are in each bowl.

    Journeyintoearlychildhood.com
    Fine Motor Fun with Toilet Paper Tubes and Straws
  1. Build a tower with cardboard toilet paper tubes, a hole punch, and straws or pipe cleaners. Make holes in the toilet paper tube and connect them with the straw.

 

 

 

journeyintoearlychildhood.com
Fine Motor Fun with Old Tennis Racquets and String/Yarn/Ribbon

5. Weave ribbon in and out of an old bike wheel, old tennis racquet, etc.

 

 

journeyintoearlychildhood.com
Fine Motor Fun with Nuts and Bolts

  1. Match nuts and bolts and screw them together.

 

 

6. Cut letters and numbers from empty food containers. Sort them in lots of different ways. (Learning at Home: Sorting Letters and Numbers Free Download at journeyintoearlychildhood.com)learning at home sorting letters journeyintoearlychildhood.com

To read more about why worksheets are not the best learning tool for young learners, read my blog posts:

No Worksheets in Early Childhood Part I

No Worksheets in Early Childhood Part II

No Worksheets in Early Childhood Part III

 

Learning at Home Fine Motor Fun journeyintoearlychildhood

Download a Printable Version…

LEARNING AT HOME: FINE MOTOR FUN

Learning at Home: More Dramatic Play Ideas

Why is play important to your child?

Play is a vital part of your child’s development. Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, physical, cognitive, and emotional strength.  For young children, play and learning are one and the same, they cannot be differentiated.

Through play, important brain development is established. Play is not a break from or a reward for learning- Play is Learning!

Dramatic Play

There is documented research that demonstrates

the high level of cognitive, social, and emotional benefits

from children’s engagement in dramatic play.

Children learn through imaginative play- more skills 

(see post on April 1st for the first list)…

Social/Emotional Skills:dramatic play learning at home journeyintoearlychildhood

  • Negotiating
  • Compromising
  • Self-control
  • Managing feelings

Critical Thinking Skills:

  • Problem-solving
  • Predicting

 Academic Skills:

  • Storytelling
  • Increasing vocabulary

 

 

MORE Dramatic Play Ideas for Home that

Include VERY Little Set-Up or Supplies…

(see post on April 1st for more ideas)

  • Airplane or Train:
    • Supply Ideas:
      • Put 5 chairs together (pairs side by side and one in the front).
      • Paper, crayons, markers
    • Suggestions:
      • Help your child design tickets and travel brochures.
      • Have your child take on the role of pilot, flight attendant or passenger.
        • Where are you going?
        • What will you see?
        • Are you flying to Africa and can see the giraffes and elephants as you travel across the safari on a train?
        • Or maybe in Australia and can see the koalas and kangaroos?
        • Or to a big city?
        • What will you do when you arrive?
        • Where do the passengers store their luggage? How do they get their luggage when they arrive at their destination? How to they tag their luggage?

 

  • Hairdresser
    • Supply Ideas
      • Comb and brush
      • Barrettes and other hair accessories
      • Hair Blow dryer (not plugged in)
      • Straighter (not plugged in)
        • Suggestions
          • Allow your child to pretend to cut and style your hair.
          • Add in some additional literacy by remembering to call to make an appointment so your child can keep a schedule of appointments.
          • Don’t forget to have your child write a receipt and for you to pay.

 

  • Trudging through the Rain Forest, Woods or Jungle
    • Supplies Needed
      • Pillows
      • Blankets
      • Toilet paper cardboard tubes
    • Suggestions
      • Have your child help you set up obstacles that you might face in one of those environments such as pillows that you have to step on to cross the marsh, trees (stairs) you have to climb to see to the other side, a blanket across a chair and couch or a table that becomes low hanging branches that you have crawl under.
      • What animals do you see? Do you need binoculars to see the animals? (make some from two toilet paper cardboard tubes taped together)
      • What supplies might you need?
    • Carry a picnic with you and stop at the “clearing” (kitchen floor) to eat your lunch

 

  • Movie Theatre (Do you already have plans to watch a movie together? Turn your living room into a movie theatre.)
    • Supply Ideas:
      • Tickets, brochure, money, and concession signs and prices- allow your child to make. Only need paper and crayons or markers
    • Suggestions:
      • What roles will your child play? Ticket taker, concession stand clerk or is it a dine-in theatre and he/she needs to take your order and deliver the snacks?
      • Have your child name the theatre and make a sign, make tickets and make signs for the concession stand- how much will popcorn, pop, apple, chips, candy bar, etc. cost (whatever you are willing to serve at your theatre!) Cut apart some paper and write a number on it to use as money. Allow your child to “make change” for you.
      • Have your child make a movie brochure by drawing pictures of 3-4 movies and then collecting a vote from each family member. Show your child how to make tally marks to show each person’s vote.
      • Office
        • Supply Ideas
          • Keyboard
          • Clipboard
          • Phone (not plugged in)
          • Paper
          • Pens/pencils
          • Phone book
          • Notepad

Open-Ended Questions to Expand Children’s Play in a Dramatic Play Center:

  • What do you need to…                             * How is it different than…
  • How is it the same as…                             * What else can you do with…
  • What would happen now/ next if…       * What is your plan…
  • How would you describe…                      * How many different ways…
  • I notice…. Tell me more….                       * How does someone know…

Home Learning – Dramatic Play Suggestions: PRINTABLE VERSION fREE DOWNLOAD

Learning at Home: DRAMATIC PLAY

Why is play important to your childdramatic play journeyintoearlychildhood.com learning at home

Play is a vital part of your child’s development. Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, physical, cognitive, and emotional strength.  For young children, play and learning are one and the same, they cannot be differentiated.

Through play, important brain development is established. Play is not a break from or a reward for learning- Play is Learning!

What is your child learning by playing?

Through child-directed, free-choice play,

  • … children solve problems and pursue ideas
  • … healthy connections are made in the brain
  • … there is an increase in academic skills as noted in multiple research studies
  • … children are learning how to learn- how to persist and persevere through challenges.
  • … creative and critical thinking are developed
  • … social skills such as collaboration, turn-taking, and conflict resolution are developed
  • … emotional skills such as empathy and self-control increase significantly
  • … children engage in science, engineering, and math skills including hypothesizing, experimenting, testing and concluding
  • … vocabulary and language skills grow

Dramatic Play

There is documented research that demonstrates

the high level of cognitive, social, and emotional benefits

from children’s engagement in dramatic play.

Social/Emotional Skills:

  • Sharing
  • Cooperating
  • Building empathy as they take on the role of someone else
  • Solving social problems
  • Building of compromise
  • Persisting

Critical Thinking Skills:

  • Expressing their creativity
  • Flexibility in thinking
  • Connections of experiences and learning
  • Problem-solving
  • Predicting

 Academic Skills:

  • Storytelling
  • One to one correspondence
  • Thinking symbolically
  • Writing to convey meaning (treatment plan, check-up form, pet information)
  • Identification of letters/numbers/shapes

Communication Skills

  • Using an expressive vocabulary- often will use more complex vocabulary such as in this center, we may hear them saying words such as examination, stethoscope, illness, fractured, etc.
  • Engaging in turn-taking conversation

 

Dramatic Play Ideas for Home that

Include VERY Little Set-Up or Supplies…

  • Build a fort, cave, or shelter
    • Supply Ideas:
      • Two chairs and a blanket
      • Big box
    • Suggestions:
      • Let your child’s imagination soar as he/she decides what the shelter will become and what is happening outside of the shelter.
        • Is it a cave near an ocean? Can you find seashells near the cave, go swimming, lay on the beach, dig up calms and cook them over a fire?
        • Is it a bear cave? Read books such as Bear Snores On, Bear Can’t Sleep or Bear Wants More by Karma Wilson and have your child design the cave and then react the story or make up their own using the same characters.
        • Are they on the island of lost boys with Peter Pan and it is a hideout from the pirates?
        • Are they stranded on an island?
        • Is it Rapunzel’s tower?
        • Is it Elsa’s ice fort?
      • Forts also allow your child space to be alone, to chill, to read, to play with puzzles, etc.

 

  • Window Washer
    • Supply Ideas
      • Spray bottle with water
      • Rag
      • Paper to schedule appointments
      • Phone (not plugged in)
    • Suggestions
      • Call to make an appointment with the window washer, have your child keep a schedule of appointments.
      • Give him/her a spray bottle with water and a cloth and allow him/her to clean your windows.
      • Don’t forget to have your child write a receipt and for you to pay. Do you need change? How much change?
  • Basic Home Living and Grocery Store

Let your child’s imagination take off while taking on the role of mom, dad, brother, baby, dishwasher repair person, mail carrier, etc. in a basic home set up- add a grocery store for some extra fun and creativity

  • Supply ideas
    • Bowls, spoons, pots, plates, etc.
    • Empty big boxes to become the stove, dishwasher, washing machine and dryer
    • Bottle caps, corks, shells or jar lids with letters of the alphabet written on them to become food- “Can you bake me cookies that spell your name?”
    • Old clothes, old iron or iron not plugged in
    • Paper to write grocery lists and recipes
    • Cookbook
  • Empty and clean up food containers (cereal boxes, egg carton, cracker box, oatmeal container)
  • Suggestions:
    • Add a grocery store by setting up empty and clean food containers (tin cans, boxes, water bottles)
    • Turn the home living area into a restaurant by adding some menus and paper for ordering. You can use take out menus but even better is to allow your child to make his/her own menu- drawing pictures is great! There is no need to force writing – if your child is developmentally ready to start adding in some words, they can even start with just the beginning letter.
  • School
    • Supply Ideas

      school journeyintoearlychildhood.com
      Learning through Play journeyintoearlychildhood.com

      Books

      • Stuffed animals
      • Paper, crayons, markers
      • Magazines
      • Scissors

 

 

Open-Ended Questions to Expand Children’s Play in a Dramatic Play Center:

  • What do you need to…                             * How is it different than…
  • How is it the same as…                             * What else can you do with…
  • What would happen now/ next if…       * What is your plan…
  • How would you describe…                      * How many different ways…
  • I notice…. Tell me more….                       * How does someone know…

 

Home Learning – Dramatic Play Suggestions: PRINTABLE VERSION FREE DOWNLOAD

10 Frames in Early Childhood

10 Frames are magical tools to build number sense in our young children instead of just rote counting. A strong sense of “10” will enable children to see relationships between numbers. Children need to first develop this strong understanding of the numbers 1-10 before they begin to work with larger numbers.

10 frames

They are two identical rectangles stacked on top of each other divided into five equal segments- thus a “10 frame.”

A 10 Frame is a tool to help children be able to visualize the quantity of numbers, compose and decompose numbers. A 10 Frame supports children’s knowledge of 10 by visually seeing patterns and numbers. For example, if the top row of 5 is filled and the bottom row has three, we want children to be able to automatically think of this quantity in relationship to 10 and state that the quantity is 8 because two are missing.

10 Frames can be incorporated into the curriculum throughout the day- not just to use only as a tool during math time.

EXAMPLES…

Allow children to play with 10 frames during free-choice play time…

10 Frames in Early Childhood
journeyintoearlychildhood.com

journeyintoearlychildhood.com

Allowing children to play with 10 Frames during free-choice play centers

Incorporating 10 Frames into a Behavioral Challenge…

10 Frames Reward system journeyintoearlychildhood

Taking Attendance using a Question of the Day and a 10 Frame…

10 frames question of the day journeyintoearlychildhood

Allowing students to produce the number posters for the classroom…

We are Teachers provides some great hands-on activities to play using a 10 Frame.