The Missouri Reader Vol. 41, Issue 1 - Page 44

Teaching children to think deeply and apply their learning across subjects is a far more effective and engaging way of increasing rigor.

Classroom Close-up


Bringing Play Back into the Classroom

By Aileen Cogo

It is 8:50a.m. and as the school bell rings loudly, hundreds of students flood through our front doors. Nineteen of my sweet kindergarteners bounce down the hallway and head into our classroom. They greet one another, then quickly head to their tables to get started on their day. Their small fingers quickly get to work and their minds are actively engaged as they begin 20 minutes of self-guided exploration time. This isn’t just typical paper-pencil morning work; my students are actively engaged in explore tubs. The concept of explore tubs arose when I realized that traditional morning work was not fitting the developmental needs of my students. Explore tubs are buckets filled with activities to develop fine-motor and problem-solving skills. Students practice lacing cards, using a hole-punch to make letters, or pipe cleaners and beads to count. “As children master and refine basic motor skills, they see themselves as more competent and capable” (Henniger, 2009, p. 334). When my students come into our classroom, I see joy in their eyes and hear countless collaborative conversations. My students are excited to be there.

We continue our morning with routines you could find in a typical kindergarten classroom. We count, write, practice letter-sounds, and listen to stories. Then we begin our literacy block. This is a time that is planned and developed around the important instruction students receive during guided reading. In many classrooms, this is a sit-still and be silent time. Research shows, “kindergarteners are now under great pressure to meet inappropriate expectations, including academic standards that until recently were reserved for first grade” (Miller & Almon, 2009, p. 11). I want my students to look at school as a positive experience. I believe to create a positive climate, through the integration of sensory exploration and play, I can create a developmentally appropriate learning experience for my students.

When I work with a small group of students, at the guided reading table, the rest of my class is playing. No, they aren’t throwing blocks and tossing paint around. Instead, they are engaged in purposeful learning experiences. “Early childhood education is rooted in the belief that learning through doing is fundamental for young children” (Henniger, 2009, p. 334). As students practice word work, they dig through a sensory tub full of intriguing slimy, crunchy, or smooth materials. Students hunt to find objects (magnetic letter, puzzle pieces, rhyming cards, letter/sound pictures) to match, sort, or sequence. Then, I look over and see two students at the writing center. They are placing plastic fruit into their shopping basket. One student checks their handwritten grocery list, full of phonetically spelled words. The other student uses the pretend cash register to total the costs. Then I hear one student ask for a turn. She is processing her wants and communicating with her peer. Children need to be given purposeful opportunities such as this to play and interact with one another.

As we wrap up our day, we end with free choice time. Students have the chance to choose from a few play-based options. Typically, a large group of boys pick the block center. With an untrained eye, the block center looks like pure disaster. Blocks are everywhere, boys are climbing over one another, and there are loud voices coming from that direction.