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Kindergarten-41
Exploratory Centers– A Case For Play
1 Sep, 2015. 6 Comments. A Day In First Grade, Back to School, Kindergarten, Preschool. Posted By: Kristen Smith

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Every afternoon, I set aside 30-45 minutes for my students to explore items, activities, and experiences in my classroom. I’m sure many of you are thinking, I definitely DO NOT have time to add that into my day. However, I urge you to consider it. I promise it will be worth it. It is by far one of my favorite parts of our day and my students agree. They love it and can’t wait for the opportunity to explore and CHOOSE what they want to do each afternoon. What is also incredible is the hum of learning that goes on during these activities.

During exploration centers, my students have the opportunity to explore a multitude of choices. I alternate what I set out each day and my students get to be-bop from activity to activity as they so desire.

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When thinking through activities, I make sure that I have an art activity, an engineering-type of activity, a math extension, a science extension, and a fine motor extension daily.

To give you some examples of things that I set out, I’ll take you on a picture walk of our last two weeks.

In Social Studies, we have been learning about the world that we live in. As an art extension, I let my students help me in hand-painting the earth. While this was happening, my other students were happily engaged in other activities of their choice. This made it easy for me to only have paint on the hands of 3 kids at a time. (This made painting during the first week of school a breeze!)

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While working, my students and I discussed why we were using blue and green, what continent they were painting, what ocean they were painting, and I was able to answer/aid my students in answering many great questions.

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I also have a few different “building/engineering” tools that I have been setting out. My students are loving building with our tree blocks.

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They also are enjoying exploring the light table.

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I also make sure that I set out a few different art opportunities for my students. They have really enjoyed working with the geometric cabinet.

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Other super simple art activities that I have set out have been water colors and markers! It’s really neat to see which areas of the classroom my students are drawn to.

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In addition to these activities, I also have included “loose part” play into our daily choices. For this, I set out a variety of materials and let my students explore and create. They have made some amazing things!!

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My students have shown a strong interest in mixing and making other colors. Therefore, this week, I set out a color mixing activity. For this, I simply set out our test tubes, eye droppers, and two containers filled with primary colors. My students enjoyed making different colors.

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Finally, the last center that has been a HUGE hit has been my sensory table. It currently is filled with sand, “treasure,” and flashlights. My students are loving using this.

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During this time, I write down observational notes in my documentation notebook and scribe conversations that are occurring. I also take pictures to add them to my students’ portfolios and then have them tell me what they were doing and thinking. This 30-45 minutes has given me such insight into my student’s likes and dislikes and allowed me to really get to know them. (The first week of school I also used this time to assess my students on what they already knew. I was able to assess all of my students on their numbers, letters, and sounds in 3 days!)  I love that it allows me to expand on my student’s interests and “ponderings” and allows them to explore things that might not have been in the curriculum.

Next week our focus is community helpers. During our exploration time my students are going to transform our classroom into a restaurant to learn about bakers and chefs, participate in dramatic play with a few community helper “dress up” items, and Friday we are creating a veterinarian office! Our whole day Friday will be filled with exploration, activities, and learning! (I can’t wait to blog about it!!) My students are BEYOND excited to do all of this! I can’t wait to see what they come up with and how they explore!

Remember, playing IS learning!

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6 Comments
  1. You have great materials. Where do you get them?
    Nicole.

    • Nicole, Thank you! I’ve bought them over the years. :)

  2. Love this post! I’ve always used developmental play in my kindergarten classroom, but it’s always been the standard/traditional kind of centers. I absolutely love the ideas you gave me to change the ‘drab’ into ‘fab’ and extend their learning on current topics.

  3. I LOVE this post. I have decided to do learning labs at the end of the day this year. I love the activities that you set out–where did you get your light table? I would love to have one!!!

  4. nicki -

    How do you get students to go to different areas or are they allowed to stay at any one area the entire time?
    How often do you change the centers? How do you start this exploration time? Do they all pick at the same time? Do you let them pick one by one? I have a class of 23 (15 boys btw) and I would love to do this, but I just don’t know if it is possible. Thanks!!! :)

    • Nicki- Great questions! I let my students choose where they go. If they want to stay at a center for the whole time then I let them. However, if I only have one of something, then I might give a time limit. (For example, I only have one firefighter dress up set so I only let students wear them for 5-10 minutes depending on how many want to use it that day.) As for how I let them choose, I dismiss 2-3 students at a time from the carpet and they tell me where they are going. Once the center is full, I tell the class that it’s full and have them think of a new center they would like to explore for that day. Each day I have anywhere from 7-12 choices they can make. My biggest hits right now are the magna tiles, the sensory table, community helper lego sets, water colors, and light table. They also love the different sets of blocks. I rotate items so that the kids do not get bored of the choices. In the past, I have asked parents if they had items such as marble runs, lincoln logs, tinker toys, and things like that and if I could borrow them for a few weeks. They have been happy to share their “toys.” This saved me having to purchase all those high ticket items.

6 Comments

  • You have great materials. Where do you get them?
    Nicole.

    • Nicole, Thank you! I’ve bought them over the years. :)

  • Love this post! I’ve always used developmental play in my kindergarten classroom, but it’s always been the standard/traditional kind of centers. I absolutely love the ideas you gave me to change the ‘drab’ into ‘fab’ and extend their learning on current topics.

  • I LOVE this post. I have decided to do learning labs at the end of the day this year. I love the activities that you set out–where did you get your light table? I would love to have one!!!

  • nicki -

    How do you get students to go to different areas or are they allowed to stay at any one area the entire time?
    How often do you change the centers? How do you start this exploration time? Do they all pick at the same time? Do you let them pick one by one? I have a class of 23 (15 boys btw) and I would love to do this, but I just don’t know if it is possible. Thanks!!! :)

    • Nicki- Great questions! I let my students choose where they go. If they want to stay at a center for the whole time then I let them. However, if I only have one of something, then I might give a time limit. (For example, I only have one firefighter dress up set so I only let students wear them for 5-10 minutes depending on how many want to use it that day.) As for how I let them choose, I dismiss 2-3 students at a time from the carpet and they tell me where they are going. Once the center is full, I tell the class that it’s full and have them think of a new center they would like to explore for that day. Each day I have anywhere from 7-12 choices they can make. My biggest hits right now are the magna tiles, the sensory table, community helper lego sets, water colors, and light table. They also love the different sets of blocks. I rotate items so that the kids do not get bored of the choices. In the past, I have asked parents if they had items such as marble runs, lincoln logs, tinker toys, and things like that and if I could borrow them for a few weeks. They have been happy to share their “toys.” This saved me having to purchase all those high ticket items.

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