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!


  1. Thanks so much for sharing with us! We love making our play plans. All students are now motivated to write full sentences about what they would like to play and which friends they will play with!
    -Mrs. Lowe

  2. Yeah actually I was looking information on best Phoenix kindergarten and I want to know why a kindergarten is important for a kid. Can you share some thoughts on that? I want to know so that I can take care while selecting a school for him.