The door is open!

When I taught kindergarten and first grade, the most exciting part of my day was Choice Time, when children had time to pursue an inquiry topic, explore materials and ideas and, of course, have space and time to play.  If you would have asked any of the children what the most exciting time of the day was for them, I would not have been surprised if they would have also named Choice Time as the best part of their school day.

Now that I’m a staff developer working with early childhood teachers I can see that it’s difficult for them, considering the push for high academic standards for young children, to program Choice Time into their daily schedules. My challenge is to help them (and their administrators) understand that a well-planned Choice Time gives children the opportunities to explore new ideas, problem-solve, practice newly-learned literacy skills in personally meaningful contexts, and, quite importantly, to have fun playing!

I’m starting this blog to open up a forum for sharing ideas, reflections, memories, suggestions, problems and questions about Choice Time. Ideally, we will all have the opportunity to dialogue on the topic.

In play a child always behaves beyond his average age, above his daily behavior. In play it is as though he were a head taller than himself.

Lev Vygotsky

The door is open. Let our Choice Time conversation begin!

CLICK HERE to make a comment. I invite all readers (teachers,students, parents, grandparents, etc.) to leave comments.  It would be wonderful to hear what you have to say so we can have more of a dialogue on the subject.

35 thoughts on “The door is open!

    1. Renee Dinnerstein

      Arbo, I love visiting your classroom. Through your entries, you’ll be allowing lots of other educators to ‘virtually’ enter your room and get a peek into all of the challenging and exciting projects that the children are engaged in!

      Reply
  1. Melissa Bowen

    Congratulations on your new blog!

    I have to say that the first reaction I have to reading your thought-provoking article is this — that it seems that children far older than 1st grade should all have choice time — middle school, even high school kids. So many kids don’t know how to play, except with electronic media; to have a little time sanctioned to explore different toys, books, crafts, would add immeasurably to their so-frequently-limited school experiences.

    Reply
    1. Renee Post author

      Melissa,
      I really do agree with you. My grandson and I were recently looking at a garden planted last spring in his school’s yard. The garden is lush and beautiful with lots of vegetables and flowers. I asked him if he worked on the garden. (He’s going into 4th grade this year) He said that the little kids worked on it because that’s where kids get to have fun. He said that once you get into the upper grades you’re not allowed to do fun things anymore. I don’t know if he was stretching things a bit, but that was his perception of how school is. I really felt pretty sad about that.
      When I was teaching kindergarten at P.S. 321 I worked collaboratively with a 4th grade teacher, Adele Schroeter. We did inquiry studies together. One year we did a study of the seashore. Another year we did a bridge study and when I took my kids up to first grade, we did a waterway study together. When her 4th graders came into my room to work, they went happily to the block center and to the art center. Sometimes they worked with my kids on lego constructions, with clay creating bridges from recycled boxes. They also did water experiments together. I think that the children in both classes flourished.

      Reply
  2. Bill Fulbrecht

    Thanks for starting this blog – I’m looking forward to following the conversation. You’ve chosen a wonderful quote from Vygotsky and I will keep it in the front of my thoughts as I prepare for another school year. In setting up the classroom one of my first priorities is to ensure that the space works well for children during choice time. That is the time of day when they will feel the most independent and sure of themselves and I need to know that the classroom environment is manageable and accessible. I will find out if I have been successful when, after weeks of practice setting up and breaking down the centers for themselves, the children begin coming to me not with questions about what to do, but with things they wish to share about their discoveries. It is, indeed, the best time of the day!

    Reply
    1. Renee Post author

      Bill,
      You are a master at setting up a classroom! I’m so curious to hear of how the children start taking ownership of the centers. You absolutely need to keep us posted on that. I’m wondering how you structure the centers. I remember that, when you worked in an inclusion kindergarten, the children were expected to go to a different center each day. We had many discussions about this, since I had a different approach to Choice Time. How is it looking in your class now? Have you stayed with your original structure or have there been any changes?
      I hope that you’ll share this blog with the other kindergarten teachers at the school.
      Have a wonderful start to the school year.

      Reply
  3. Joan Gallagher

    This is very exciting. As a collaborator with the Dept of Education for UPK since it’s incepition, I have had the privilege of working with wonderful staff developers from District 27. We share ideas and work together to better serve our children. I am looking forward to this dialogue
    Joan Gallagher

    Reply
    1. Renee Post author

      Joan

      I remember hearing you describe your center when you won the Bank Street Early Childhood Educator award. I was on the committee that interviewed and chose you! It’s so wonderful that you will be taking part in this discussion. It’s through sharing and dialogue that we all grow.

      Reply
  4. Rosemary Graham

    Congratulations Renee…this is a great idea. I am happy that you are doing this and so passionate about this very important topic. I am going to enjoy following it!
    Rosemary

    Reply
    1. Renee Post author

      Rosemary

      It’s great to have you on board with this discussion. Keep us posted on how your block center is working. That’s an area where we worked together last year.

      I hope that the early childhood staff at P.S. 154 adds to our new dialogue!

      Reply
  5. Miriam Pope

    Renee,
    This blog, like choice time, allows us to loosen the strings holding our balloons so close.
    Children have their Clark-Kent to Superman moment at choice time. That was our delicious chance, as teachers, to see them in their best school light, in new and surprising ways.
    Thank you, Renee, for setting the scene for a Red Balloon moment for us, when the balloons all rise up together and make patterns in the sky.
    Miriam

    Reply
    1. Renee Post author

      Miriam
      What a beautiful image! I’m going to keep that in my mind and, if you don’t mind, share it with teachers when I visit schools.

      The Clark Kent to Superman moment brings to mind something that I observed in a first grade classroom this year. The class was doing a study of the local health clinic/emergency room. The children created a hospital in the dramatic play center and in another part of the room a group of children were using the overhead projector to ‘study’ x-ray films. A little girl from the ‘hospital’ raced across the room with her doll and presented the ‘baby’ to the ‘x-ray technician. “My baby got hurt. She tore her arm!” The baby was put under the x-ray machine and the mother was told, “Her arm is broken”. Baby was rushed back to the hospital, given an injection by the ‘doctor’ and pronounced totally cured!

      Magic happens during Choice Time!

      Reply
  6. Simon Dinnerstein

    Dear Renee:

    I am so proud of this blog. Moreover, your commitment to education and to the beauty and independence and dignity of children is such a great example to everyone.

    All my love for the beginning of this new and exciting adventure!

    Simon

    Reply
    1. Renee Post author

      Simon, your support has been so crucial in allowing me to grow professionally. Actually, it makes me think of how teachers grow, and the importance of a good administrator who understands early childhood. I’ve always had the advantage of working with good administrators and really smart, child-centered colleagues. We were always learning from each other, questioning each other and collaborating. I’m wondering how we can create this kind of community in all schools?

      Reply
  7. Julie Diamond

    Renee,
    Congratulations – this IS an important topic and I believe people will want to be involved. Not only contributing ideas and suggestions but with questions and dilemmas that spark discussion. The photos are super.
    A question: many teachers call this kind of period “choice time” but in some classrooms it’s called “free play” and in other rooms, “project time” or “work-time.” Do the different names reflect differences in how teachers think about the period, differences in the meaning of the period for different teachers?
    Good luck! Julie

    Reply
    1. Renee Post author

      Julie, I’m so glad that your very wise voice is added to this discussion! As to your question, you have actually anticipated my next blog entry. I think that the name isn’t the crucial question but rather how the name is being defined. I’m going to think about this some more and write it up in my next entry!

      Reply
      1. Stephanie

        I was wondering if this could be considered centers time. I am planning on doing interest centers this upcoming year. Maybe I should call it choice time instead?

        Reply
        1. Renee Post author

          Hi Stephanie
          What do you mean by interest centers? Could you briefly describe a few of them? Would you consider exploring at the sand table an interest center? Dramatic play? I’m not so sure if it’s the label ‘Choice Time’ that is so important. I’m personally more interested in what’s happening during that time.

          Reply
  8. Jen Best

    @Renee– Congratulations on this brave new step! Bravo on becoming more comfortable with computers.

    @Julie–After reading your question about what we call this period I was wondering why I changed it from choice time to center time. I am not sure it makes a difference to the children, but I think I changed it for myself to start to shift my thinking away from having a time where kids played and I put papers in folders to a time where purposeful centers were developed and used. What do others use/think?

    Reply
    1. Renee Post author

      Jen, I’m wondering if you could clarify what you mean by “Centers”. Do you decide which center children will go to? Does the child choose the center? Can a child pick a center more than once a week? I think that it would be helpful to read a description of this change. I LOVE that you are not using this really important time to do your personal paper work. I see that happening all of the time when I visit schools and it is so upsetting. Just think of the message that children (and parents and administrators) are getting about how the teacher values that part of the day!
      It’s so nice to be ‘talking’ with you!

      Reply
      1. Jen Best

        Renee,
        I almost always allow the child to choose the center, although there are times and reasons that might not occur. Some examples of this is if everyone needs to go to the E-CLAS center for assessment, or if I want children to take part in an inquiry center such the beautiful stuff portrait center. When this is the case, there will be a lot left up to the child to choose like the type of materials in a portrait. In the beginning of the year, children can choose a new center each day if they like, but throughout the year I invite them to spend 2 and eventually more days in a center.

        What I am calling centers are the various areas/activities like: blocks, take-apart, pretend (hollow blocks & costumes/props) etc.

        At the end of a “getting the room ready ” day I can’t quite find the energy or the words to describe it all….but here is the basic answers to your questions.

        Reply
  9. Zoe

    Dear Renee,
    I am thrilled that you’ve created this blog, Renee. Already it seems a community is going strong here, and I look forward to learning from and participating in the unraveling conversation and all of its many exciting threads. You are providing a wonderful way for us to grow ideas together, with your insight and experience as a guide. Makes me long for a classroom of my own to learn in again! Love the Vygotsky quote, too. And isn’t that true of all of us? I think we’re all at our best – most empathic, most insightful – in the context of play, whatever play means for each of us.

    Reply
    1. Renee Post author

      Zoe

      Diane Ackerman, in Deep Play, wrote about how all animals play EXCEPT for ants. Ants have no play in their culture. They all learn their particular job and spend their lives in this way. An interesting, and disturbing, image, isn’t it? I hope that the schools don’t spend their time using the ant community as a model!

      Reply
  10. Jeanne

    Hi, Renee! Success! So, as you now know, I am embarking on teaching 2nd grade and I’d love to have your input on good choice time activities for 2nd graders. Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Renee Post author

      Hi Jeanne

      Most of the second grade teachers who I’ve worked with have made Choice Time more of a project time. The children worked on projects that connected to their science and social studies curriculum. Some examples that I can quickly think of: while studying old New York and Native Americans, a second grade class had a dramatic play area with ‘props’ connected with a Native American story. The children wrote their own version of a folktale and acted it out with the props. Another group was cooking a Dutch recipe, and there was a group of children doing mapmaking with blocks. At another school, the class was working on a year-long exploration based on a story the teacher told about a ship-wreck by an uninhabited island. The children built a large model of the island and, over the course of the year, developed the island. They were also studying NYC and they made connections between their island and the city they were visiting. At another school, the children were studying the NYC subway system and their Project Time was connected to this study.

      I hope this gives you some ideas. Maybe we’ll get some responses with different ideas for second grade.

      It’s a wonderful age. I think that you’re going to have a great year!

      Reply
  11. Susan

    Hi Renee. I had attended the K-3 G&T Summer Institute that you had spoken at this July. You had mentioned Choice Time and it sounded different from what I had done in the past in my 1st grade classes. I was wondering if you could clarify what exactly Choice Time looked like in your classes. Below are some questions I had. Any guidance would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

    Sincerely,
    Susan Kim

    -What types of choices were given to the students?
    -How many choices did you give?
    -What system did you have in place so that a lot of children weren’t choosing the same activity?
    -How often did you do Choice Time?
    -What did you do during Choice Time?

    Reply
  12. Miriam Pope

    Renee,
    I love that you answer each comment made to you- just the way you would answer each child who makes a contribution, putting such value to their words and ideas. What better way to have the conversation continue, by providing further food for thought.
    The flow must go on!
    I remember how seriously my son took the studies that he embarked upon, with his friends, in your classroom, during choice time, I am sure.
    As you know, he continues these studies, in his current choice time, which covers his work and play.
    Thanks,
    Miriam

    Reply
    1. Renee Post author

      Miriam, I love following Raf’s blog The Audacity of Pope. He’s so articulate, serious and also funny. The same boy I knew in 1994! I have a feeling that, just like in my class, the level of conversation at home was always rather high!

      Reply
  13. Rose O'Connor King

    congratulations Renee on this wonderful idea you have initiated! I look forward to sharing ideas and observations with other early childhood educators. Choice Time is always the best time of the day ,but I sometimes don’t know which direction to take from the children. Blocks is an area I find difficult at times. I look forward to some suggestions . Thanks Renee!

    Reply
    1. Renee Post author

      Rose, thank you for connecting to the blog.
      I think that children sometimes need support in the block area to help them get started on collaborative work, especially the pre-k children who tend to work on their own structures. Would you be interested in some information about a class block lesson?

      Reply
  14. Frances Sachdev

    This is a great way to share your center knowledge. It also gives teachers a place visit when thinking about choice time. Good luck with your new blog. See you soon.

    Reply
    1. Renee Post author

      Frances, welcome! I think that, as I continue writing on this blog, you will see many references to your class. I think that you have been so adventurous in making brave changes in your classroom since we’ve worked together. What particularly impresses me is that you don’t make any changes until they feel right to you, because you’re always thinking of what is best for the children. I’m looking forward to returning to your class this year and also to reading your ideas on this blog.

      Reply
  15. Margaret

    I don’t understand why ALL schools aren’t like this. I wish my grandson could experience a kindergarten class that is so social and such an adventure. It must be must be easier for little ones to learn when they don’t realize that’s what they’re actually doing.

    Reply
    1. Renee Post author

      Margaret, your grandsons are very lucky to have you as an advocate for them! Perhaps their teachers will find their way to this blog and join in this conversation.

      Reply
  16. R

    I teach science to Kindergarten and First grade students, and I see how important all of the work/play in choice time is. I am finding that the First graders often do not have enough fine motor coordination or focus to stay with the hands-on science explorations in our curriculum. Many do not know how to cut with a scissors and follow 2 step directions to make a collage. And don’t start talking about following directions at cleanup time! I have to scale back what I plan for the children to explore, because they haven’t learned independence. Choice Time is a critical value for academic learning. It flows right into science activities.

    Reply

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