One of the silly things I miss about my old school was my amazing room and my house keeping corner. I had one of those nice wooden kitchen sets complete with an oven, sink and refrigerator. I had it in a corner where I had a fake window. Over the sink I'd stuck a clock and a calendar. I LO
Every kindergarten class at my old school had a kitchen center, so I didn't think anything of it. Last year I mainly had kindergarten students, along with two first graders.
I'd frequently thought about all the great things we could do this year if we had a toy kitchen, but hadn't done anything to actively get one. I was surprised to walk into the kindergarten classrooms at my new school and not see toy kitchen centers. It seemed like such an integral part of our kindergarten rooms at the think tank.
Last week an instructional aide for another classroom popped into my room to ask me if I wanted a toy kitchen. The after school care had found an old one they didn't want and immediately thought of me.
"YES!" I exclaimed, without thinking. I was ridiculously excited by this development. Finally, we'd get down to our important play-business in our room.
One of my colleagues, who has been teaching students with intellectual disabilities for years, happened by my room later that day. I have the utmost respect for this teacher, and truly listen to everything she says. She expressed great concern for me taking the play kitchen. "This isn't preschool, this is kindergarten. Our kids need to be exposed to age appropriate toys and games. If the general education kids aren't playing with it in school then our kids shouldn't be playing with it in school."
|Interactive writing we did during free choice a few years ago|
The thing is, I firmly believe that general education classes should have more time for creative play. I would have LOVED to have a toy kitchen in my gen ed first grade classroom. There are so many ways to use it for academics. Just because it's play doesn't mean we can't use it for learning.
I thought long and hard about whether I was going to keep the kitchen. I don't want to make my children any more different than they already are, but I also want to give them opportunities for growth. The kitchen allows for organic language opportunities. It teaches them to have interactive play, something they aren't going to learn without adult assistance. We can put math and literacy into the center. It will never just be "playing". If asked I can always explain what the kids are doing and how it supports their goals.
The first day I let three of my students go to the kitchen center I sat back to take notes on the language they were using. Without an adult prompting them they were having back and forth conversations- they were playing- using the toy food and pretending to eat. These little things are HUGE for my kids. I honestly had never heard this group of children communicate with one another like that.
I just can't put aside my beliefs on the importance of play. I'm sure there are higher-ups in the county who may come down on me when they realize what we're doing. But until then I'm going to keep using the kitchen center to enrich our free-choice time. We're going to keep using it to practice talking to one another, using appropriate social skills, stretching out the sounds in our words while we take one another's orders, counting food we're putting onto plates, and following photo recipes we've previously cooked.