“Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.”
— Margaret Mead, cultural anthropologist
I’ve done a lot of thinking and writing about choice time, inquiry, exploration and play. In my book on choice time I described how to set up and introduce a variety of centers that give children the opportunity and freedom to collaborate, create and have fun. Lately, however, I find myself musing about what might happen if we could give children more freedom to not only choose what centers they want to go to at Choice Time but also what centers they want to create and organize themselves for investigation and play. These thoughts were fueled by something that I observed in a kindergarten class in Flushing, New York.
One day, some of the children approached their teacher, Fanny Roman, and told her that they would like to have a center where they could make their own shoes. It’s unclear to me why this was important to them but after some discussion, it became obvious that the
children making the request were quite serious and had a strong idea of how they would go about creating sandals. When she saw how well they had thought out their ideas, Fanny said, “ok, let’s see what we need to set up the center.”
The children wanted construction paper, crayons, markers, scissors, and pipe cleaners. When they organized their material, they got to work. They traced their feet and the feet of anyone who would want a pair of shoes special ordered. Shoe soles were marked so that they wouldn’t mix up pairs that went together. The shoes were decorated so that each pair had a unique look.
Interest in the shoe production spread throughout the class and more children wanted time to work in the shoe factory. One of the children said that she saw shoes in a store hanging in plastic bags so children brought in zip lock bags to package their shoes.
Fanny took the children on a walk to a local shoe store and then the children decided to turn the dramatic play center in a shoe store. Feet were measured. Shoes were bought. It was THEIR center and THEIR project.
Now I’m trying to think about how teachers can support children’s ownership of centers. Are there structures for opening up conversations that encourage children to imagine centers that will reflect their personal interests and obsessions?
I’m thinking about this and will write more very soon. I’m fired up with this idea! What are your thoughts and experiences? Let’s share ways that we can put more decisions about choice time in the hands of children.
Addendum to this post: I asked Fanny to write me something about how this interest in shoes got started. Here’s what she wrote:
“A little girl named Yi Tong initiated the entire shoe center. She was at the writing center and she started making a shoe that her mother bought her in the store. She inspired so many other children and they all made connections with her story. Everyone had something to share about going shopping to buy shoes. My role was just listening and showing interest and excitement. I slowly started to add on to what was going on in the classroom.
I would walk around and say, “oh, I noticed that more children are making shoes with paper. What are some other tools we can use? What other centers can we add to our choice chart that are related to shoes?
My read aloud, poems and math investigations had a theme of shoes : ) They got really into it !”
Listening is so important!