I’ve had some difficulty writing an entry this week because I’ve been rather depressed about the state of kindergartens in New York City schools. It’s becoming a cliché to say that they are becoming more and more like first grade but there does seem to be a lot of truth to that thought.
When I speak with administrators who have had Bank Street early childhood training, who understand how important play, inquiry and opportunities for social interactions are for young children and who STILL eliminate all opportunities for this to happen in their schools, I really do wonder what is happening? Why isn’t choice time and inquiry a priority for kindergarten classrooms?
Perhaps it has to do with the way that Choice Time is interpreted. I’ve been wondering about how my idea of Choice Time differs from what I’ve been seeing when I visit many kindergarten classes.
I always tried to encourage children to ‘think of the possibilities’. What can happen at this center? What’s the potential for these materials? What might we add to the center to broaden the potential? What center just isn’t going anywhere and what should we do about that? Should we add new materials? Should we just pack up the center and move on?
This was often a topic of discussion that I had with the children. Sometimes we charted ideas – (i.e. Here Are Some New Ideas for What We Might Do At the Sand Table). Other times, it was just an informal discussion that we had at meeting or among the participants at a particular center.
I don’t mean to imply that every Choice Time center, every day, was an earth-moving experience for the children or for me. What I am saying is that I always encouraged children and myself to think about how we could have new ideas about how to use materials and how the addition of new materials changed what children could do at a center.
Don’t we want children to become thoughtful, inquisitive readers, writers and mathematicians? Isn’t it logical to support these behaviors through play and exploration at Choice Time?
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I was just introduced to your blog today by a BankStreet colleague. I often wonder, when visiting NYC classrooms, whether Choice Time, where it does exist, encourages or constrains children. My experience with “free play” in my own classroom, was that it was exactly that, free. In my therapeutic nursery classroom, children had the run of all materials for the first 45 minutes of each school day. When I see Center Time in schools, there is often a lot of control over how many kids get to be in each center, and much time seems to be wasted in the choosing of centers. There is no natural flow between centers, and there are many classrooms without any open ended centers or materials that promote dramatic play. Teachers are often either absent or intrusive, showing a lack of skill in facilitating and scaffolding play. I would do anything to be able to scaffold and teach these teachers. I am looking into this at BankStreet, in the hopes that I may be able to create some web play courses that teach these skills. It warms my heart that you are out there blogging about this most important aspect of early childhood education. Keep it up!
All the best,
You’ve raised so many important issues. Some of them I can respond to from my own experiences in the classroom. In terms of the natural flow, when I taught pre-k, the children went freely from one center to another. I thought that was important for them at that point in their development. When I moved up to kindergarten, I expected the children to stay at one center for the hour (this hour included a short meeting first and a share meeting at the end). I started with a shorter period and built the time up. By the spring, children were telling me that they needed more than one day at their center!
My centers were very open-ended and children were encouraged to come up with new ideas for how to use materials, how to play games, etc. All of the centers had a few interesting books that related to that area in some way, different kinds of paper for recording, etc. I felt like part of what I was going for was increased concentration paired with innovative play.
I agree with you that many teachers don’t know what their role is during centers. That’s something that I’m trying to focus on in my consulting. It’s definitely difficult for teachers when they are the only adult in the room with 25 or so children. This is something that has to be recognized. I was lucky to always have student teachers and also to have parent-helpers during Choice Time. Many of the teachers that I work with don’t have that help, so we’re trying to find some innovative ways of getting assistance during this time.
I think that you’ve written enough thoughts to keep me busy blogging for a long time! Your course idea is wonderful. I’ve always thought that I’d like to do a short course on setting up a classroom. What do you think of that?
I also have grave concerns about the lack of understanding and value of open ended play in our primary classrooms by teachers. When I have conversations with primary teachers I often hear “I feel like I am like babysitting”, “I removed the blocks because they were too noisey” and “I limit the number of participants at each centre to avoid problems”. When I visit other classrooms I notice that the centres remain the same all year instead of being used to reflect the interest and curiousities of participants. My students play most of their day, love to learn and have demonstrated growth in all areas, meeting grade level expectations. I have two teacher volunteers in my room who are working as substitutes and want classroom experience and sponsor a student teacher each year. I participate in a professional learning group in my school district and am a member of our professional development committee. In my own small way I want to help teachers acquire the skills and passion to include play in the kindergarten classroom.