I wrote a bit ago about how I'm trying to turn my re-telling center into a more active, imaginative play center. I've been trying to work on ways to increase play in kindergarten for a few years now. I realize now that I was going about it the wrong way. I was trying to make the play opportunities that already exist more academic as a way to justify having play in the classroom. I spent a lot of time looking at Tools of the Mind and trying to work that into different free choice opportunities. I tried to add lots of literacy opportunities into play as well. While this was great in theory, I think I was limiting a lot of their spontaneous free play and was also missing the point. Instead of making the free play that exists more academic I need to put play and play like activities into our other routines. I didn't realize this on my own- this all came from my conversation with Splattypus a few weeks ago.
I wrote about creating a center where the children could act out making ice cream as a way to retell the activity. That worked well but after two weeks it was time to put something else in that center. Since we enjoyed a glorious 3 day weekend thanks to Presidents' Day I decided to put my Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Martha Washington dolls into a center to allow the children to act out what we are learning in social studies. In my perfect dream world the center would be full of objects that represent the times when they lived. In my dream world it would be mini-American Girl doll sets. Yet actually putting together a set like that is time consuming and expensive. SO... instead I frantically ran around the classroom and threw in what I thought would fit. Lincoln logs, toy horses, a fence, and pictures of both presidents' boyhood homes and the White House. (Yes, the White House didn't actually exist then, but it represents the fact that they both become presidents.) It wasn't perfect and I still have plans of finding more objects to add to the set.
When I introduced it we did a quick sort of present and past with the objects. Would a cell phone go into the box? No. Would a dinosaur? No. I demonstrated how to use the Lincoln Logs to build a house for Abe and then stepped away. I had other more important things to do like teach reading.
The past two days I've loved eves dropping in on the center. So far the play has been appropriate. I'm hearing the vocabulary that I've taught come out in the play "Hey! You presidents! Go to the White House!" They are using their names and the few facts they know and incorporating them into their play schemes. Sure George and Abe shouldn't actually be playing together. But it's play. If they want to act out George and Abe working together on a farm while Martha builds the log cabin- well, at least they are showing an understanding of past and present and interacting with the information in their own way. I have a hard time keeping a straight face, but I am loving listening to the play. It's also refreshing to hear happy play done in a quiet, constructive way during the reading block.
Over the year and this summer I want to work on putting together little sets- a set of the pilgrims, a set for Martin Luther King, George and Abe, and then sets from books we read so that every two weeks I can put another play set into the center. Right now I'm loving this- we'll see how it goes throughout the week.