Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Ten Tips for Meaningful Play in the Kindergarten/Grade 1 Classroom

Kindergarten teachers agree that their students need time to play each day—60 minutes of free play is a recommendation we often hear. This is supported by countless studies, a statement from Council of Ministers of Education in Canada, and Manitoba Education’s recent document, A Time for Learning, A Time for Joy. But what happens when you teach a multi-age kindergarten and Grade 1 class? You know that your kindergarten kiddos need play and you want to provide a developmentally-appropriate program. And, you recognize that Grade 1 kids need play too, but you don’t feel you can spare the time given the huge demands of literacy and numeracy achievement and reporting. What is a teacher to do without short-changing the kids or missing out on important instructional time? Here are ten tips to inspire you and provide some ideas for your classroom practice.

First of all...change your thinking! 
Opportunities to play WILL support your Grade 1 students' literacy, numeracy, and language development, as well as overall academic achievement. It is NOT time wasted, especially if play-based learning activities are thoughtful, intentional, and responsive to the needs of your learners. I do not spend a lot of time on "formal" reading instruction in kindergarten. Instead, my young learners have many opportunities for rich learning through play, project-based, and inquiry-based learning, where they use language for a purpose. We do spend lots of time developing phonological awareness skills (vitally important), practicing high-frequency words when we are ready, and reading together to access information for projects, but time spent playing contributes to their ability to learn to read. 

Second of all...educate and involve stakeholders.
Keep parents and your administrator informed and explain WHY play-based learning is an essential component of your program. Give them a clear understanding of how it is benefiting children and enhancing their emerging literacy and numeracy skills as well as motor development and social competencies. Post the CMEC Statement on Play-Based Learning in your classroom and send it home to parents at the start of the year. Be clear that there is a rationale behind including play-based learning and it is supported by Manitoba Education and current research. 

Discovery Learning
Start the day with 15-25 minutes of discovery learning tubs or trays—especially the days when your kindergarten students attend. Begin by teaching the routine of hanging up coat and backpack, handing in clipboard/agenda, putting on indoor shoes, then going to a table to explore and interact with the materials. Discovery learning can target literacy, numeracy, art exploration, as well as science and social studies concepts. Some teachers try to have one tub/tray from each curricular area each week for a total of 4-5 tubs/trays. Discovery learning is play-based, hands on, and promotes inquiry. Learn more here and check out these fantastic ideas on Pinterest.

The start of the year is a great time to begin discovery learning with simple fine motor activities to strengthen the hand skills of your learners—very important for the increasing demands for printing we place on Grade 1 students. See this post to learn more about fine motor activities that are open-ended and encourage exploration.  

Once a discovery learning routine is established, activities can become more complex. As a teacher, you can spend the time observing students, capturing evidence of learning through photographs and voice recordings, and taking anecdotal notes. You might choose to position yourself at one discovery tray or roam around the room. I highly recommend Microsoft One Note to organize all that information—create a page for each student, and you’ll have a wealth of data by report card time. Microsoft One Note is available across platforms (app and web-based). 
Maker Stations or Maker Spaces
Making is very much like free play—kids are given choices and opportunities for open-ended exploration, problem-solving, design/creation, and social interaction. Consider introducing maker stations or maker time when you feel your students are ready for it. Ideas include:
-cardboard creations (you could incorporate STEM/STEAM design challenges). It's a great use for recycled materials too. 
-building with a variety of materials such as lego, magna-tiles, blocks, Wedgits, etc. 
-coding and robotics (and if you teach in Park West School Division, you’re very lucky to have Leah Obach as an amazing resource in this area)
-making is an excellent way to meet Grade 1 science outcomes from Cluster 3: Characteristics of Objects and Materials while developing important Cluster 0 skills 
-consider scheduling making in your day or week for a period of time--longer blocks work best to give kids opportunities to really immerse themselves in what they are doing, Also, it can be messy, and I'd rather clean up one big mess once a week than slightly smaller messes every day!
-encourage your emerging writers to photograph what they have made and write about it--maybe by posting to Instagram and captioning it, or printing out the picture, pasting it in their journal, and printing sentences/words/labels. Preserving their creations through photography also helps with the heartbreak of dismantling it!
-learn more here
Making structures with cups is a popular MakerSpace activity
Make literacy and numeracy materials available to support and extend the play.
Provide students with markers, post-it notes, index cards, paper, tape, popsicle sticks, clipboards, dice, and basically anything you can think of to encourage them to use their emerging literacy and numeracy skills. Index cards and popsicle sticks make wonderful signs for a building project or hockey arena, for example. Clipboards and notepads are perfect for taking orders in the classroom restaurant. Pricing objects in a grocery store by printing numbers on sticky notes is wonderful practice.

I always like to provide blank stapled booklets so students can create their own books as a play option. Some kids will spend hours doing just that. Make sure you support them with a very simple word wall and great books to spark their imaginations—the Pigeon books by Mo Willems coupled with some You Tube drawing tutorials of the pigeon and the duckling led to amazing and spontaneous student writing in my K classroom and Leah’s Grade 1 classroom.

In my kindergarten classroom, I have an Independence Station full of materials that the students are free to use independently (after some instruction)--stapler, tape dispenser, pencils, erasers, markers, pens, paper, etc. Having the materials accessible saves you the hassle of kids asking permission and gives them an appropriate level of responsibility. 

Involve students in the development of play activities. 
When it is clear that we need a new dramatic play activity in the classroom (maybe I observe they are bored), the students help me develop a plan for it. Together we brainstorm ideas, sometimes voting on what the new dramatic play activity should be. Voting offers opportunity for graphing, one-to-one correspondence, counting, printing numerals, and comparing.

Once the dramatic play activity is chosen, we use shared writing to draft a list of the supplies we need. This offers a wealth of rich literacy learning:
-how to make a list (writing genre)
-initial, medial, final sounds as we spell words 
-stretching words out to hear sounds
-syllables in words 
-spaces between words
-students can share the pen with the teacher with the teacher printing the more difficult parts (otherwise it takes forever and everyone gets tired of it)

This pizza restaurant was the students' idea and provided many rich opportunities for literacy and numeracy, 
Teach mini-lessons that extend play-based learning.
Once our new dramatic play activity is up and running, I carefully observe my learners to see what teaching I can do to extend the play. For example, if it is a grocery store, we might work together to price items and print numbers for each item. Then we might use pennies or loonies to match one-to-one to represent the price. Sometimes, once items are priced, I'll grab a bunch of grocery items from the store and give one to each child and together we practice counting out the correct number of pennies/loonies/counters to match the number written on it.

If it is a restaurant, we might work together to create menus, captioning pictures of what the restaurant serves. Or, I might teach them how a server would take an order in a restaurant or how a chef would write a recipe. The opportunities are endless and directly linked to kindergarten and Grade 1 outcomes. 

Check out the following examples:
Shopping for Learning 

Observe play carefully and use it to inform your instructional decisions.
-choose one child to observe per session of play
-take notes and collect samples of learning (photographs, voice recordings, etc)
-what do you see? Is there an evident need that could be addressed with a small group literacy/numeracy lesson or a whole-class learning experience?
-do you observe a strong interest that could be developed into a class inquiry or project-based learning? What fascinates your students and what themes emerge repeatedly in their play?

Consider "play planning", especially for your Grade 1 students. 
It's a fantastic literacy activity and develops your students' abilities to develop, record, and follow a plan. I like to add a reflective component as well following play time. Learn more here

And lastly...a pitfall to avoid

Don’t make play available to your Grade 1 students only when they are done their “work”. This results in many of the kids who need play the most being denied precious minutes of learning, and creates a mindset that play is a break from learning/real work. Play is the work of the child and there should be equal access to play for ALL children in your classroom. 
Oh how I LOVE this! I find play so important and will justify an extended recess any day!