Tag Archives: curriculum


“…stand aside for awhile and leave room for learning,
observe carefully what children do, and then, if you
have understood well, perhaps teaching will be
different from before.”
Louis Malaguzzi (Edwards, Gandini, Forman, 1995)

Some years ago, my daughter visited my kindergarten classroom during Choice Time. As she looked around the room, she observed the children at their various activities. One group was setting up a pretend doctor’s office in the dramatic play corner. At the art center, children were constructing spaceships from toilet paper rolls and egg cartons. Four children, wearing plastic goggles, were using screwdrivers and pliers to take apart a broken telephone; two children were busy at the water table constructing a water machine with plastic tubing and funnels. Simone seemed fascinated by the life of the classroom.

“Whenever I come into your class at Choice Time, I feel like I’m walking into The King of Hearts she said, referring to a wonderfully magical film, a family favorite. The story takes place in a small French village during the First World War. After hearing news of an oncoming invasion, the villagers quickly fled to the countryside, accidentally leaving the gates of the town asylum unlocked. The innocent residents walk around the empty town in a state of wonder and amazement. They take over the jobs of the absent villagers, understanding some aspects of each role, but adding their own, highly serious, sometimes comical, interpretations as they attempted to recreate life in the outside world.

Kindergarten children are also filled with a sense of wonder and amazement. When they have the opportunity to self-direct their activities at Choice Time, they are attempting to make sense of the adult world. If we listen closely to their conversations and monologues, we can become privy to many of their understandings, misunderstandings, and questions.

Four children have transformed the Pretend Center into a doctor’s office. The wooden play stove, now covered with white paper, is the examining table. Placing her baby doll on the table, Elena, a bubbly five-year old dressed up in silver high-heels and my daughter’s outgrown fancy party dress, wails, “My baby is dead.” Jeffrey, now the ‘doctor,’ dressed in an oversized white shirt with a stethoscope dangling from his neck, takes rapid notes on a pad. “Don’t worry, I’ll fix the baby.” Jeffrey, taking a needle from the play doctor’s kit, jabs the baby’s arm. “O.K. now. The baby’s not dead anymore.” Elena picks up her baby, hands over a wad of play money from the pocketbook draped over her shoulder, and happily teeters away, balancing herself on her high-heeled shoes.In the block center, Luca has enclosed Karl inside what looks like a house without doors. Each time Karl’s arm reaches out, a wooden block falls down and Luca quickly replaces it. Then he runs to our reading nook, where we have a collection of stuffed animals. Selecting one, he returns to his construction, passing a stuffed animal to Karl. I observe this happening again a few minutes later. Each time Karl’s arm comes out and a block falls down, Luca replaces it adding another animal to Karl’s growing collection. Curious about this, I ask Luca about his building. “Karl is in jail, but don’t be worried. I bring him toys so he won’t be scared.”

Unfortunately, Luca’s father is in jail. Luca doesn’t ever speak about this. Not with me. Not with his friends. Not with his mother. He keeps his feeling hidden deep inside. Somehow, in his play with Karl, he found a safe outlet for expressing his fears and concerns. He found a way to make the experience of being incarcerated safe for his father and less threatening for himself.

Choice Time is Playtime. Playtime is Work time!

The children think of the hour in the day that I call Choice Time, as their playtime, I know that it is so much more. When I plan centers, I keep in mind these big goals: children should develop independence and self-confidence; centers should be ‘open’ enough to allow for children making interdisciplinary connections and developing personal inquiries; opportunities for using reading, writing and mathematics for natural and authentic purposes should be available in each center; the activities should allow children to work out social conflicts within a safe, protective environment and support their ability for developing positive social skills.

A high-standards kindergarten curriculum, should include opportunities for children to develop reading and writing skills. These are sometimes taught using the structure of reading and writing workshops. There’s time for word study, read – aloud , and mathematical instruction. There should be many opportunities for whole-class and small group discussions on a variety of topics. These can be from teacher or child generated ideas.

When we develop a classroom that encourages inquiry and exploration, we empower children, giving them skills they will use throughout their lives. When we plan Choice Time with this same philosophy and intent, we open up opportunities for helping children to grow socially and intellectually. This can occur when we encourage children to find ways of recording and sharing their discoveries at the sand table, write messages to each other in a class post office, label their art work, put up important signs by their block buildings, write a recipe for making playdough or make new jackets for their favorite storybooks. If children are making Valentine’s Day cards at a center, merely by attaching writing paper to the cards, we extend the activity in a way that says, “here’s where I will write my message.” If we celebrate, display and share the exciting moments and products of Choice Time play/work we’re sending to children, families and administration a loud and clear message about the importance that we place on exploration, inquiry and, yes, play, in the life of a five year old child!

Why Choice Time?

Exploration is what you do when you don’t know what you’re doing. That’s what scientists do every day. If a scientist already knew what they were doing, they wouldn’t be discovering anything, because they already knew what they were doing.
Neil de Grasse Tyson
Director, New York Hayden Planetarium

This week, I received emails from two teachers, each asking for advice and information about Choice Time. They want to know what kinds of Choices to offer, systems to keep Choice Time from becoming chaotic and unfocused, how often to schedule Choice Time, what they should be doing during Choice Time, how many choices to open at one time, etc. These are all important questions that I want to answer so as to give these teachers as much support as possible. But, that said, I think that it’s important to first explain why I value Choice Time and why I spent so much time planning for this part of my kindergarten and first grade curriculum.

Choice Time provides a point and place, during the school day, for children to make sense of the adult world. So much of what happens in the classroom today is driven by a standardized, scripted curriculum. Teachers are bound by pacing calendars and quantitative assessments. Because of these mandates, children have less and less opportunities to make decisions, even down to being able to chose what they will be writing each day. That is why it’s important to provide time for children to explore, theorize, create, and experience the frustration of learning through trial and error.

My ideal Choice Time involves an active teacher who, by listening closely to children’s conversations and monologues, becomes aware of many of their understandings, misunderstandings and wonderings. This invaluable insight into their world provides the teacher with the seeds for planting future classroom dialogues and inquiries.

In planning choice time centers, I would suggest keeping in mind your big goals for the year. I wanted children to develop independence and self-confidence. Making interdisciplinary connections and beginning to generate personal lines of inquiry and exploration is another important goal. I provided many opportunities for children to use reading, writing and mathematics in ways that would support their own, self-directed projects and activities. Children should understand that they could use classroom equipment and materials in new and innovative ways. There should be many opportunities within the center for children to expand and deepen their use of language to express ideas, discoveries and confusions. When there was a sense all of this happening, then I knew that I was on the right track and my Choice Time was becoming successful in meeting my goals.

In setting up choice time centers, I planned to leave opportunity for children to ‘set their own agendas’. In September, the centers were usually rather basic: blocks, dramatic play, play dough, an art center, water explorations, a science table perhaps with shells to explore. These were a few of the possible early centers. As the year proceeded, centers became more focused on the children’s particular interests and on class inquiry studies. For example what began in September as ‘water explorations’ might possibly become a ‘water-machine invention’ center where children were experimenting at constructing water machines. At the playdough table, instead of making traditional flour and salt playdough, children might be creating their own innovations on the traditional recipe, adding sand or sparkles to the batter to see what would happen.

Although I was setting up the centers and deciding, initially, what materials to include, my ‘message’ was “I wonder what interesting projects you are going to come up with?” We would have interesting class discussions centered on “what can we imagine doing with this new paper?” or “Are there any thoughts on what we might explore with our new microscope? What new materials will we need to bring to the science table to help you with your science investigation?”

Generally, there wasn’t a specific ‘task’ to be completed although, sometimes, there might be a particular focus for a center. For example, one year when my class was studying the waterways in New York City we read about landforms and how they affected the creation of these waterways. This topic fascinated many of the children and they asked if they could use our sand table to make their own landforms using the Plasticene that we had in our art studio. I emptied the sand from the table and each day a group of children went to work on this project. There was a big basket of reference books and some photographs of landforms such as mesas, buttes, mountains and valleys. The children decided on how this project would proceed and, on some occasions, a few disagreements erupted, such as on the day when Alex decided to add spikes to her butte. She adamantly insisted that buttes had spikes. When the children came complaining to me about this, I suggested to Alex that she defend her decision to add spikes by finding some pictures of buttes in the book basket. I walked away and left the group, hoping that they would come to some mutual agreement. When I came back, I saw that the other two children, looking through the photos with Alex, convinced her that the buttes should be ‘spike-free’. Through their dialogue, conflict, and rhetoric the children pulled apart an idea, experimented with different strategies and eventually arrived at a point of compromise and satisfaction.

There’s so much more that I will be writing about Choice Time in future entries…helpful routines for making it run smoothly, ideas for new centers, the role of the teacher during choice time, assessing the work that the children are doing in their centers, dealing with problems like scheduling and clean up time, making connections to the curriculum, how it looks different across the year and from grade to grade…and any other choice time questions that come up over the course of the year.

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