Getting The Most Out Of "Play"

This week marked our 4th week of school. While I still have a few that like to test the boundaries, for the most part everyone has adapted remarkably well to our schedule, rules and procedures. We play well together and clean up without complaint, so I went ahead and opened some new centers.

We now have the following free choice centers available for the students to choose from: Painting Easel, Blocks, Puzzles, Play Dough, Lego Table, Dramatic Play, Puppets, Reading, Listening, Games, Math, Sensory Table and Pet Center.

When I opened Math Center for the first time, I sat back and took some observational notes as 4 students chose to play with our Learning Resources Three Bear Family Counters. We've been doing a lot of sorting and patterning in our math lessons, plus learning about shapes, so I wanted to see what they would do when set free with these counters.
First, they sorted by color - this was great because it meant each student had their own set of bears so there was no fighting over them!
 Next they started sorting by size. One little sweety paired up a Mama Bear with each Baby Bear!
They also formed their bears into the shape of a circle - at this point they put their bears together so they could indulge in some cooperative pretend play.
While I watched, one sweetie decided to count her bears and successfully counted to 22! During our two center rotations, I observed 5 children successfully sort the bears by color, and 3 of them then sorted successfully by size by their own initiative. Another child has one-to-one correspondence down, but skips 20 when counting (she went from 19 to 21 every time). All of this is invaluable information for my records and report cards, and I didn't have to do any assessing to get it!

We also opened Game Center this week with some board games from Learning Resources.
I was sent All Around The Playground and Picnic Party to try out in my classroom in return for an honest review.
The thing that I LOVE about both of these games is that there are different levels of play. Right now we're working on number, shape and color recognition and one to one correspondence so the Level 1 play is right up our alley. As the year progresses and we start building our skill set, these games will be able to advance with us!
The All Around The Playground game was an instant hit with my kiddos. They loved the little people and the colorful gameboard. This one has a two-sided spinner for game play. We chose to use the side with shapes and colors as we are really working on basic 2D shape recognition. There are merry-go-rounds on the board too, so if you land on a special space, you get to take a ride! This was cause for lots of giggles! This game is for 2-4 players and is for ages 3 and up, although my 4 1/2 year olds were sufficiently challenged just by Level 1 play. On the other side of the spinner are numbers 1-10, so it would be great for reinforcing numbers and one-to-one correspondence too! The kids enjoyed this game so much that Game Center wasn't empty all week! The game play is simple enough that they could play it by themselves after a few times playing with me.
Picnic Party is also for 2-4 players, and is aimed to the 4+ age group. This one was a little trickier for some of my kiddos, but with adult support they still enjoyed the game. The Level I play requires students to compare numbers - which some of my kiddos could do easily and others found a bit tricky. For the ones that need help, I will add some unifix cubes next time so they can build their number towers and compare them.
This game was also great for number recognition - which is also a skill some of my littles really need to work on. The players each get a stack of cards and then flip over the top card. Whoever has the largest number gets to move that many spaces. The kids enjoyed the ant tokens and the fun picnic themed gameboard. I think in another month or two they will be able to play this game on their own, but for now either myself or my aide play with them to assist.

We also introduced our Pet Center this week! I created a Classroom Pet: Hermit Crabs pack that we are using with great results. It includes a pocket sort for foods that hermit crabs can and can not eat (which led to great nutrition discussions!) as well as vocabulary cards, diagrams, a daily care check list, graphic organizers, observation journal, emergent reader and more!
I love having pets in the classroom, but I want to make sure that they're an actual learning experience for my students and not just taking up space. I also wanted them to have something constructive to do when visiting Pet Center, which cuts down on behavior problems.
Each student has their own observation journal and can add to it whenever they visit the center.
The emergent reader is a bit high for my pre-k students, but through repetition and by using the picture clues, they can "read" most of the pages on their own now. I also have a few books at this center, but I'm ordering more from Amazon this weekend so I'll have a selection of fiction and non-fiction books about hermit crabs and guinea pigs that the kids can read to our pets!

Our last activity of the week was creating a card and police officer masks for "Thank a Police Officer Day" which was yesterday. I delivered our card and a picture of the class with their "masks"and the sergeant at the desk was very appreciative. He told me he'd display them in the briefing room so all of the officers can see them. Activities like this are very important for my students since I teach in a Title I school. Many of our students have relatives in jail, and often times, police are seen as the enemy. By doing activities like this, and having police officers come visit and read stories, I hope to show my students that the police really are the "good guys" and there's no need to fear them.

 The template for our police officer masks came from this pack by Dr SAM on TpT!
I had more to share, but the family is calling me to watch a movie - and I'm trying to be better about dividing my time between work, family and this blog! I hope you have a great Sunday night and a terrific work week!

2 Rustle Up A Response!:

Unknown said... Reply to comment

Hi! first year teacher and I love your blog! it's so straightforward and realistic :) My question is : When you opened the game center, how do you ensure students aren't leaving the games a mess/mixing up the pieces? Do you make them clean up before heading to a different center? I work for Headstart and they enforce "free choice" for all of center time. this makes it hard for me to regulate at all :)

Jennifer K. said... Reply to comment

Hi Carrie,

I'm in a public school pre-k, so I don't have the same regulations as Headstart. I have my students stay at one center for about 25 minutes and then we clean up, come back to carpet and then choose another. If I had to let them roam from center to center it would be very hard to keep things clean and organized. I think the best thing to do would be to make clean up very simple - keep pieces in baggies or Tupperware containers, labeled with pictures. You'll have to teach procedures like crazy - put away one you before you get out another. And if they don't clean up, have them go back and tidy up as soon as you notice it. With lots of practice you can get it under control. Also, are you allowed to limit how much is available? We have 2 games in our Game Center now and one gets put away before the other gets pulled out. Same thing with puzzles etc. I rotate items so that the center stays fresh. Good luck and have a great year!