Tag Archives: play


If you would consider taking advice from a long-time kindergarten teacher who appears, in these days,to be a dinosaur,  here’ are my thoughts on what to look for in a kindergarten class.

To begin with, I’d like to scratch out all of the suggestions and ideas for getting your child ready for kindergarten.  It is better to concentrate on , “How is this school, and this teacher, getting the kindergarten class and program ready for my child?”

So then we have the job of checking to see if the kindergarten is ready for the child. Perhaps begin by thinking of some goals that you might have and then look carefully at how the room is set up and how the day is planned to see if they are aligned with your expectations.

This is a fairly long list. I’d say that it is for a parent’s ongoing assessment of what happens in their child’s kindergarten class over the course of the school year.

I might begin by asking myself if this is a place where my child can develop and build self- esteem. What, in this room, will support this?

Does this teacher value curiosity and divergent thinking? How does the classroom environment reflect these values? Are there many areas in the room that are set up for open-ended explorations, where children can explore personal projects and ideas or do centers have “tasks” that stunt creativity and investigations?














Does the daily schedule place a primary value on indoor and outdoor play, discussions, and singing? Today, most public kindergartens have time for reading, writing, math, and phonics in their programs. However, in the rush to meet standards and to address new curriculums, this most important part of kindergarten often gets either left behind or scaled down inappropriately. I taught the same children for two years, kindergarten and then first grade. We called this “looping” with a class. I could see how well the children did academically in first grade when they had a kindergarten year that was filled with Choice Time, Inquiry projects, lots of books read aloud, interesting group discussions and plenty of singing.

Remember, this is KINDERGARTEN, Kinder meaning children – the children’s garden!




























Is this room reflective of the teacher as a facilitator rather than as the major source of direct instructions? Are tables and chairs organized so that children are always facing the teacher or are they incorporated into centers scattered about the classroom?






                                                                                  (Getting a room set up before the schoolyear begins.

Does the classroom library represent a diverse population where all children can find books that speak to their ethnicity, culture and gender identification? Can my child find new books but also wonderful children’s classics. Are the books enticingly displayed and easily accessed by children?

Do you see any signs of inquiry projects that are built upon children’s questions? Is the progression of the project displayed so that the visual documentation focuses on the explorations rather than only on finished projects?







Computers and technology are a reality. However, it’s important that they aren’t used asgames and technological work books. Children can use computers, just as they use books, to figure out problems, to research, to communicate with pen pals from other classes and locations and for a variety of creative activities.












What is the relationship between the teacher and the parent or caregiver? Is it a relationship of mutual support and advocacy? Are parents welcomed into the classroom? How does the teacher communicate with families? Does the teacher ask you to begin the year by writing about your child, your hopes for your child and your child’s special interests and talents?











It seems to me that we are often forgetting that this kindergarten year is not preparation for the next year of school. Kindergarten should be a joyful, intellectually inspiring and excitingly fun-filled year all of its own.

Let’s not rush children out of childhood. It only comes once. Let’s use this kindergarten year to respectfully honor the importance and specialness of childhood. There’s plenty of time for scholars in the future!

Describe Choice Time in Three MInutes!

Can I describe Choice Time in three minutes? My book, Choice Time: How to Deepen Learning Through Inquiry and Play, was recently published in Mandarin by the Beijing
Normal University Press and they requested that I send them a three minute video talking about the book.

Where do I begin? What should I emphasize? I want to stress the importance of play in the life of the child and also in the life of the classroom. How can I best and concisely describe how play looks in a first grade and a kindergarten classroom? It is important to include that the book gives teachers concrete information on how to prepare an environment that entices children to explore, create and collaborate while they play and how, through playing in these centers, they also become more independent in using space and materials.

What does the room look and sound like when children are playing in the Dramatic Play Center, the Block Center, the “Science Lab,” the Art Studio? What might teachers observe happening in these centers? What is the role of the teacher before, during and after Choice Time?

There’s so much to include! I’m almost frozen because I don’t know where to begin and how to fit it all into three minutes.


I tried to record a video and it was more than seven minutes!

Oh no! This won’t do!

I asked my friend Laura Wagonlander to share with me some important ways that my book helped her create a vibrate Choice Time in her kindergarten classroom in Fenton, Michigan. Here’s some of her feedback: “I think my big “aha” moments were that Choice Tim empowers children to be learners and show their understanding of what they are learning in a context that is meaningful to them. It (the book) guides educators in how to set up the classroom environment so they can honor children’s interests and abilities while at the same time teaching them skills they can use to nudge their thinking deeper. …When we teach in isolation or we do an activity with an expected outcome, even if it’s “playful,” it isn’t the same as giving them true choice …If you can give kids enough time in choice, magic happens…It’s all like a beautiful dance.”

I wondered if I should start all over again, creating a new 3 minute video. Then, to the rescue came my grandson, Adrian Greensmith. Thank goodness for 17 year olds! In a few minutes he cut my seven  minute video down into just a little over three minutes. This is what I’m sending to Beijing. I hope it does the trick!  There is so much to say about Choice Time and how I hope my book helps to support teachers.

What would you have included in a three minute video about my book on Choice Time if you could?


Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition. ~Jacques Barzun

This past summer I spent a lovely afternoon having lunch with my friend and former colleague Bill. As always happens when two kindergarten teachers get together our conversation drifted to the classroom. Bill talked about how current trends in education nationwide have made school more stressful for children and for teachers. Even in Bill’s school, where the administration understands the social and intellectual importance of explorative play, there is often not enough time for children to become involved with interesting projects that they can direct at their own pace. Bill spoke, with a wistful voice, of the last few weeks of school when the children were happily engaged in an investigation of bridges. He devoted long stretches of time each day to this interesting project and noticed that the children were working with more self-directed independence and that many yearlong social tensions seemed to dissipate.

Out of this discussion came Bill’s decision to begin the year with, what he hopes will be, an exciting, child-directed study of playgrounds. We both believed that this inquiry topic would ‘speak’ to all of the children in the class.

Bill (or Mr. Bill as the children call him) wrote to all of the families on his class list informing them of this project and encouraging the children to think about playgrounds during their summer vacation. So far, the email responses from parents indicate that they are mostly concerned that their children have fun, enjoy school and grow as a person. It certainly seems as though they will be eager to support and become involved with their children’s investigation into playgrounds.

I became quite excited about this project and asked Bill if I could ‘follow’ his children and him along this journey of exploration. Bill was intrigued with this idea and so, on my blog, we will be visiting Bill’s classroom and meeting with Bill to plan and reflect throughout the year.

During the week before school was to begin, Bill started getting the classroom set up. To support play and explorations, it was important to leave ample room for extensive block building and also for dramatic play, science and art. This became quite a challenge. I remembered so well wanting to stretch out the walls of my classroom, giving enough room for all my centers and maintaining a sense of space and openness.

Bill decided that, instead of designating a separate classroom area for dramatic play (pretend play), he would use hollow blocks and prop baskets, keeping them stored in a corner of the classroom meeting area/library. That would give the children a lot of space for their play and also the ability to reinvent their ‘script’ each day. Doing this also created more area for a spacious block-building center. When I visited Bill, the day before school was to open, he was in the midst of getting ready for the children…. putting names around the room, setting up a cozy reading corner, hanging curtains, setting up his art center, and completing the myriad of details that will let the children know that this welcoming space is ready for them!

Time to begin unpacking!hmm...now what should I do next?Time out for a song!A place to meet, to talk, to listen, to read, to play...

hmm...now what should I do next?

Time out for a song!

A place to meet, to sing, to talk, to play....

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.