Thursday, March 19, 2015

Planning For Play

If you're reading this blog, you are probably already well-versed in the benefits, and absolute necessity of, play in kindergarten. Before I even fully understood all of this myself, I always  gave my kindergarten students an hour of play each day. Since beginning my kindergarten journey in 2008, here is how the play in my room has evolved.

1) 5 centres with a workboard. Students organized in groups, rotated through centres when a timer rang. No student choice as to where or with whom they played. 

2) A number of play centres. Student names on clothes pins, number limits imposed on centres, but students were allowed to choose where and with whom they played. Students moved to a new play activity after a specified amount of time. 

3) A number of play activities available to students. Number limits imposed on play activities, but students were allowed to play wherever and for as long as they would like. 

4) And most recently, there are many play activities available to students. Number limits are removed and students are allowed to play wherever and for as long as they would like. We spend time practicing negotiation skills and problem-solving. Many students are fully engaged in play, but at times the atmosphere is extremely chaotic and some students wander from one group to another without engaging with other children. What to do?

At the recent Leading for a Strong Start conference in Winnipeg, of course I became involved in a discussion of what play looked like in different kindergarten classrooms. My friend Connie Lowe told me that in the past she had used play plans and felt that it was time to try them again this year. What is a play plan? Follow this link for more information, but to summarize, a play plan is an oral or written plan for play that includes whom a child will play with and what they will do. If a student's play plan is not working for him/her, it is possible to revise the plan. 

In junior kindergarten, we are working on oral play plans. In senior kindergarten, we started with oral play plans and have now moved to written play plans. My student teacher hass invaluable in implementing this new approach in kindergarten--read her thoughts on the topic here

Here's how it looks in senior kindergarten: 
We spend a few moments talking with our friends at the circle and orally developing our play plans. When we are ready, we get a piece of paper that reads "Play Plan 1" and "Play Plan 2". We draw pictures of our play, and when we are ready we caption our pictures. We print our friends' names (by asking our friends how to spell or checking the word wall). If we are feeling super smart, we print words to tell where we will play. Above, students use the word wall to print names and play activities.
 In this picture, students are telling each other how to print their names.
 Students draw pictures of their upcoming play.

 Denver will play with Lincoln and Liam using blocks and animals for both periods of play.
Austin will play with Andre at the pirate ship and later move to trains.

After two weeks of play plans, here is what we've found:
-students are enthusiastic about developing play plans and often begin talking about their plans as soon as they arrive
-occasionally students change their plans, but not often. To change their plans, they have to draw what they would like to do and print their friends' names.
-students have to consider if they are okay about playing on their own if no one else is interested in playing at that activity. Sometimes students are content playing alone and other times, they revise their plan.
-students appear very purposeful and engaged in their play
-the room has a very focused feel
-reduced anxiety about whom they will play with and what they will do as there is a plan in place to follow
-excellent motivation and purpose for writing! Students are excited to draw and write their plans and I am eager to scaffold their writing.

As a teacher, if I have students create play plans earlier in the day, I have time to reflect on how I will become involved and extend the play. Yesterday, a number of students wanted to play with blocks and animals (which they later turned into a hockey rink), so I decided to include popsicle sticks, small pieces of cardstock, tape, and markers. I modelled how to make a sign for their hockey rink then left it up to them. Students made at least 8 signs for their structure and I had a chance to observe and extend their literacy skills. This would not have been as easy or impactful without play planning.

Sharing with others...
As Connie hasn't introduced play plans to this year's class yet, she asked my boys and girls if we would be willing to Skype in and teach her boys and girls all about play plans. We photographed the steps in the process and showed them how we use our word wall.

Next steps...
-developing a chronological collection of play plans to document growth in literacy, drawing, social connections, and complexity/variety of play
-writing and drawing mini-lessons based on what I observe during play planning time to address student needs and expand their skills

So if you haven't tried play plans, I encourage you to adapt this to your classroom! My boys and girls are available to Skype in and get you started!

Developing Fine Motor Skills Through Exploration and Play

As a junior and senior kindergarten teacher, it's very important to provide a variety of activities for young learners to strengthen their developing fine motor skills. If these activities are student-directed and encourage play and exploration, even better! Students with strong fine motor skills experience more success with cutting, printing, drawing, colouring, and manipulation tasks.

When we first began developing our junior kindergarten program in 2010, DIAL-III results indicated a real weakness in fine motor skills in our pre-school population. Our school division's occupational therapist, Rob Thiessen, was a great help in developing classroom activities that would strengthen fine motor skills of all students. Five years later, I was excited when I was asked to share these activities in Winnipeg at Leading for a Strong Start--a full day of play-based learning as we introduced our new kindergarten support document to school superintendents and principals.
So much fun spending time with some of Manitoba's leading early years teachers--pictured above are Connie Lowe and Deidre Sagert from St. James-Assiniboia School Division!
Take a look at how you can create play-based learning activities for your classroom to target fine motor skill development!

 Clipping clothes pins onto flowers strengthens pincer grasp. Matching dot patterns and numerals adds some math outcomes as well. A similar activity could involve matching letters on clothespins to pictures for beginning sounds.
 Using large clips to transfer pompoms to an ice cube tray also strengthens pincer grasp. Colour coding the ice cube trays would add another layer to this activity.
 Penny races: two friends race to see who can cover their X first with pennies. Rolling a die to see how many pennies students can use at a time would add subitizing and counting practice.
 Any kind of water play is always so much fun! Squeezing eye droppers is excellent fine motor and eye-hand coordination practice. Students fill the spaces on large lego blocks in this activity. Using clear containers and water coloured red, blue, and yellow fosters exploration of colour mixing.
 Big kids really enjoyed testing their speed and fine motor skills during playtime at the conference!
Other activities included:
Spider Silk (2nd photo): students help spiders catch insects by wrapping spider silk (yarn) around insects.
Alphabet Sort (3rd photo): students use tweezers to choose an alphabet bead and sort it into a labelled ice cube tray. The beads feature uppercase letters, so students could match to a lowercase letter in the ice cube trays.
Q Tip Printing (4th photo): students print letters and numbers using their fingers or Q Tips on Ziploc bags filled with paint. Adding bubble wrap to the bags provides sensory feedback when students print with their fingers.
Tennis Ball Monsters (5th photo): students feed bingo chips to tennis balls with a slit cut in them. Adding googly eyes makes them look more monster-like. Students can spin a spinner/roll a die and count a certain number of bingo chips. Feeding the tennis ball monster with tweezers adds another level of challenge.
Cotton Ball Race (6th photo): students use a turkey baster to squirt air at a cotton ball. The first person to move their cotton ball from one of the table to the other wins. A great activity for increasing hand strength!

In my kindergarten room, we spend the first 20-30 minutes of each day on discovery learning. Fine motor activities such as the ones above are a perfect way to begin your day as boys and girls arrive at school. Adding opportunities to explore numeracy, literacy, and science outcomes increases the level of challenge and differentiates for learners.