Tag Archives: pretend center


Two weeks ago I read an article in a New York City newspaper, geared to teachers, written by a kindergarten teacher about the importance of Choice Time . That should have pleased me. For quite some time I’ve been an advocate of keeping play and exploration in the early childhood curriculum. Yet I found this piece to be disturbing. Why?

First of all, the writer of this article states that the Common Core Standards are “developmentally appropriate and provide an in-depth, detailed guide for what must be mastered in kindergarten…” Once we outline a detailed guide for kindergarten mastery we are immediately off –base. As the authors of Developmentally Appropriate Practice write, educators of kindergarten children need to, “meet children where they are as individuals and as a group.” Micromanaging what all kindergarten children must master by the end of a school year is contradictory to what we know about how young children develop and about what we need to do to support their creative, social and intellectual development. I’m not implying that we should not have high standards for all children. We do not need to have a checklist of how, what and when children need to meet very specific academic benchmarks.

Another problem that I had with this article is that there is an assumption that children will need to be motivated to become engaged in centers and that the teacher will need to “clearly model how each center works.” The writer gives an example of what might be modeled to introduce the Read-Along (listening) center and how the minilesson would align this center with the Common Core. The teacher suggests telling the children that after they listen to a story “they will fill in a simple beginning, middle and end worksheet and retell the story with friends at the center. The students are encouraged to practice using the five Ws (who, what, when, where and why) when they are retelling.”

Choice Time is not a time to give children tasks. It should be an opportunity for children to direct their own play and therefore, their own learning. The teacher carefully sets up centers with materials that provoke investigations but it is the child who discovers ways of using the materials. When interest in a center wanes, then it opens up a few possibilities. It might be time to retire that center (at least for the time being.) Perhaps the teacher could present the children with her observations of how she has noticed a lack of interest in the center. The children might come up with ideas for “remodeling” that area to make it more interesting. They could brainstorm for different ways that the center could be used; what might take place at that activity? Perhaps at the Read-Along center the children might suggest having drawing paper so that they could draw pictures that the story brought to mind. The teacher might suggest adding blank tapes to the center so that children could tell and record stories for other children to hear. On the other hand, they might agree that the center is no longer interesting to them and suggest putting it away.

suspension bridge

One year when my kindergarten class was in the midst of a long and exciting study of bridges I noticed that the bridge constructions were becoming more and more intricate, taking up all of the space in the block center. Abutting this area was our very under-utilized dramatic play center. I thought that it might make sense to close up the dramatic play area and extend the block center. I was so sure that the children would appreciate this change since they practically never went into dramatic play during this period. I shared my thoughts with the class and to my great surprise there was an uproar of dissent. Absolutely nobody wanted me to take away what we called “the pretend center”. One child suggested that we make it a smaller pretend center. I questioned whether there would be anything that they could do in a small pretend center but the children thought that it could be a little store. After two days of discussions, it was decided that we would open up a little bookstore and that we could make the block area a little bit bigger. Unexpectedly, we were now beginning a mini-inquiry study of bookstores!


We visited a bookstore in the neighborhood, interviewed the workers and the bookstore owner, sketched and discussed the arrangement of the books in the store and stood outside the store observing, drawing and photographing how the store looked from the street. A few weeks were spent transforming the dramatic play area into a bookstore. Because it was a little bookstore, children who chose the writing center were busy writing little books. Our classroom library was searched for little books to add to the store collection. Children built an awning, made signs, constructed a cash register and made paper money, and wrote labels for the shelves, organizing the little books by subjects (just as they saw when they visited the neighborhood bookstore.) This exciting curricula detour lasted a few weeks and shows what can happen when children are challenged to consider and solve a classroom problem.

Choice time is not a part of the kindergarten program because it is in service of meeting the Common Core Learning Standards. Choice Time is part of the kindergarten program because it is essential that children have opportunities to play, investigate, explore, socialize, collaborate, think out of the box, play with a box, create…. have fun!

Following the Children’s Life Force

Recently, a teacher new to teaching kindergarten asked me how she should know what centers and materials to offer children during Choice Time. She wondered what the “trick” is to planning for Choice Time.

I think that the most important aspect to planning choice time centers is for the teacher to be a good listener and observer. For example, in one class that I visited, the children were playing with Unifix cubes. They were making the line of cubes higher and higher. There was a lot of excitement. I walked over and exclaimed that the line of cubes seemed to be as tall as I am. I stepped over next to the tower. It reached my chin. One boy said, “wait” and got more cubes to add to it. (I actually had to put them on for him because, even though he got on tiptoes, he couldn’t reach. We kept adding one at a time until one of the children called out “Stop”. It was as tall as I am.

That was the perfect opportunity for the teacher to have the children share this experience at the Choice Time share meeting. She could start ‘wondering’ how many cubes might reach as tall as Sho Yin? How many Teddy Bears (little plastic teddy bear counters) could go from one end of Sho Yin to the other end? Hmm, maybe she would have to stretch out on the rug to be measured with Teddy Bears! What else could we use to measure Sho Yin? The teacher might start writing down the children’s suggestions and then come up with a great idea to share with the children. “How about a measuring center?” “What would we need to add to this center?” That is the birth of a new center that has grown right out of the teacher’s observations and interactions.

The children begin to pick up on the teacher’s interest in what is happening during Choice Time. They notice that she is writing down notes of interesting observations and often sharing these with the class. They will notice how she gets new ideas that grow out of these observations. If this happens enough, children will begin making suggestions for centers based on what they notice happening in their centers. One year a group of kindergarten children in my class asked to share their great idea at meeting. I really didn’t know what to expect. “Let’s make a castle in the Pretend Center!” Well, this made complete sense. For some reason, this class of children had a particular interest in castles, kings and queens, princes and princesses. Many castles had been constructed in the block center. I’m not quite sure where this particular interest came from. I had been reading the chapter book, The Wizard of Oz, to them and maybe this sparked the interest. I’m not quite sure but they certainly were enthusiastic about this topic. I said that they certainly could make a Castle Center but that we should first find out more about what was needed. Over the next few days I read some fairy tale picture books aloud (the version of Snow White illustrated by Nancy Eckholm Burkert was a favorite), and I found a shared reading book about a King (I can’t remember the title!). We made lists of what we needed in terms of dressing up and also decorations and then opened up an art center for making crowns, capes, wands, fancy-colored windows (dipping napkins in a water and food coloring mixture) and turning two chairs into fancy thrones. Signs were also made and hung up all around the center. Scrolls became important. There was a lot of writing important messages and proclamations on paper turned into scrolls. When all of this was done, the Castle Center was officially opened. It was interesting to observe the children playing there because, in many ways, it was the same type of play that they did pre-Castle…but with an added zest! It was the children’s incredible imagination and life force along with my openness to listening and taking their ideas seriously that opened up a new center for exploration and play.

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