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Hello everyone! I don’t know about you, but my summer has flown by! From teaching a week of PD, running two weeks of STEM camp, a quick trip to the beach, and many visits to the pool, the blissful summer days are drawing to a close for me. I re-read the book Purposeful Play this summer and am energized and ready to jump back into the classroom. There are so many fantastic points in this book and I highly recommend it. One thing that it really made me think about was the importance of teaching students how to come up with a plan for their play. Last year, I spent a lot of time teaching my students how to come up with a plan and I was very pleased with the results.
At this point in the summer, I typically stop, reflect, and think back on how I got my students where I got them in May. I have to remind myself that my incoming kindergarten students come in oh-so-young and that I have to start off very, very, slowly. It’s easy to get caught up in everything that needs to be accomplished, however, starting slowly is one of the best gifts you can give yourself as a teacher. Being intentional in the planning and pacing of your lessons, along with giving your students ample opportunities to practice what you are teaching, sets the tone for the entire year.
In my classroom, we typically have about 45 minutes – an hour of “exploration centers” in my classroom. During this time, students can choose what they want to explore and play with. (You can read about our exploration centers here!)
How to Begin
The very beginning of the school year is FULL of exploration. As much of the learning that takes place in my classroom is through discovery, exploration, inquiry, and hands-on activities, the first 2-3 weeks are spent familiarizing my students with our materials. Slowly, I begin to introduce each area and tools to my young learners. In the beginning of the year, these learning stations are “open” for discovery: our class library, building area, engineering area, dramatic play (this is set up as a grocery store the first 2 weeks of school), writing station, train table, and our science area which includes our sensory table and light table. Please note that at the beginning of the school year, the supplies available in each area are limited. Through mini lessons, modeling, books and videos, we go over how to carefully and responsibly use the materials. If a student does not use the materials safely and respectfully, they are not allowed to play in that area until they prove that they can use self control and respect while using the materials.
While this exploratory time is going on, I make sure that there are ample opportunities for my students to “record what they are learning.” I encourage my young learners to draw/write what they learned or did as they are playing. I make a big deal when students first do this and hang up their “documentation of learning” for all to see. The students beam when their work is hung up and this quickly encourages others to do the same. After our play time, I have my students reflect or share what they did or learned during our centers.
As students share what they are learning, other students get ideas of how they can explore with the classroom materials and document what they are learning. All of this sets the groundwork for making a plan, writing/drawing a plan, and reflecting on how well they executed their plan.
Introducing Making A Plan
As my students start to feel comfortable using the materials in our classroom, I begin teaching a series of mini lessons on why and how to make plan. I tell my students a story about when I bought my first house. It was a new build and I got to experience each step of the build. I explain to my students how the workers first poured the slab of concrete and waited for it to dry. Next, the workers put up the frame of the house, etc. I read the book, “How A House Is Built” and ask my students, “Do you think the workers could just start building the house without coming up with a plan?”
(The house might fall down! It wouldn’t work!)
This helps my young learners “buy into” the idea that making a plan is very important. At this point, I start an anchor chart that we refer back to often. I title it, “How to Make A Plan.” The first thing I teach my students is how to talk with their friends. I place a box of blocks in front of me and ask a friend if they would play with me. I then prompt, “What do you think we should build today?” If they say, “I don’t know,” I suggest, “Would you like to make a castle with me?”
They often say yes! I then ask them, “Do you think it should be tall?”
(I let them answer.)
“How many rooms do you think it should have?”
(I let them answer.)
I then stop and point out to the class that we are coming up with a plan for our building so that we both know what we are doing.
The process of having young learners make a plan takes practice, deliberate lessons, and opportunity for success and failures. Oftentimes, a problem is a great opportunity for a new mini lesson.
As I don’t want to overwhelm my students, at this point, they are ready to practice. I very quickly dismiss them by area. (If you would like to play in the building area, raise your hand. Remember, before you begin playing, talk with your friends and come up with a plan!) As a note, I only let 2-4 kids go to each area to ensure success. I circulate around the room and help the groups communicate with each other. At this point, the plans are not very elaborative and fall in line with, “Let’s make a home for the animals?” “Yeah!” “Let’s make a train track!” “Okay!!”
This is okay–you’re setting the groundwork at this point.
What Comes Next?
We practice this skill for a while until my students are in the habit of communicating their plans. We spend a lot of time on how we can talk to each other, how we can agree and disagree politely, what to do if there is a problem and how to solve the problems. These lessons are so important in kindergarten. Not only do they help our young learners socially, but they also teach them how to be empathetic, caring, and kind friends.
After my students have practiced orally communicating for a while, I teach the next step in creating a plan: I can draw my plan. (As they have been sketching out their buildings and discoveries for a few weeks at this point, this doesn’t seem as daunting.) I show my students the blueprints of my house using my document camera and point out objects they would recognize. Look! Here is where the sink goes in the kitchen! Look! Here is where the stove goes. We talk about how the engineers had to be very careful when drawing the plans and that today, we are going to practice drawing our plans before we play.
I present them with the materials they are going to use that day: blocks and one plastic or wooden animal, our very special “plan paper,” and have them draw out their plan for a home for their animal. Most of the time (depending on classroom dynamics), when I begin this lesson, I give my students the materials that they are going to use and let them practice drawing and executing their plan individually. Once the homes are created, they can choose to play with other friends and animals.
This sets the tone for how to draw a plan and how to execute it. Again, we practice this skill for a while and have many mini lessons on how we can draw things, how to look at the shape of objects, how to persevere when something is difficult, how to communicate the plan to others, and how to draw detailed plans that others can follow.
Once I have given these lessons, making a plan/documenting what they are learning becomes a classroom expectation. It makes my heart so happy the first time a student suggests to their friend, “Let’s make a plan first!”
As students begin to internalize the importance of making plans, I have noticed that the depth of their play/building deepens.
In dramatic play, the backstory is rich and full of details.
In discovery, students begin to ask their own driving questions and seek out the answers to their investigations.
In art, their color choices and drawings are specific and done with purpose.
Students also learn how to collaborate with others.
They also learn how to refer to resources.
Plus, it’s fun!
I hope that this post was helpful! If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask them in the comments or in our A Day In First Grade Facebook Group! Enjoy your last few days of summer!!