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May 10, 2007

Choice Time = Critical Time for Student Growth

"Choice Time" is a critical time for pre-k students to grow academically and socially.  During choice time in my classroom, the children can go to any of ten interest areas that provide a wide range of opportunities for learning through hands-on, experiential activities.  Each area has labeled materials and books pertinent to that area (e.g., Blocks has books about building and transportation; Dramatic Play has cooking and career books; Art has books of art with famous paintings).  These materials help teach how literacy permeates all areas of life.

Here is a glimpse into choice time in Pre-k 114:

Blocksarea_01 Blocks Area – Quite logically, the blocks area contains different types of blocks - wooden and plastic, large and small.  In addition, we have worker hats, transportation toys, animal toys, and people figurines.  We put illustrated labels on all toys to help make children aware of letters and words and how we use print in a functional way.  When this photo was taken David and Samar were trying to construct a tunnel through which the car could pass.  I asked them to recall what the tunnel looked like in the book we read.  They found the book and discovered they were missing the top part of the tunnel.  They also learned about cause and effect when they pushed a car through their construction project too fast and the tall sides fell in.

Dramaticplay_01 Dramatic Play – This area includes everything from plastic fruit to a medical kit.  The children take on pretend roles ranging from mommies and daddies to doctors and waiters.  We expose them to different functions of print by including real maps, menus, recipe books, and bus schedules to support their play.  I often engage students with open ended questions that build their vocabulary and target their individual needs.  In the "doctor's office," I asked Doctor Tyrique whether he was going to fill out a prescription for my medicine.  He responded by grabbing a notepad and writing my name.  We worked on listening for the sounds in Pappas and connecting those sound to letters.  In the photo, Tyrone is writing a grocery list for his family.

Artarea_01_2 Art Area – This area includes a wide range of materials intended to spark the children's creativity and invite constructive and open-ended dialogue between the teacher and student.  Rather than tell children exactly what to make, we give them tools such as water color paint, paint markers, hard and soft clay, and collage materials.  We provide an example, and then encourage them to express themselves with their tools.  The symmetrical paintings shown on the back wall in the photo exemplify this process.  I showed students how to paint on one side and make a mirror image on the other side by folding their paper.  They then made their own paintings and, in the process, learned about symmetry.

These examples reveal the successful results of learning through play, or what I would deem constructive play.  Teachers create interest areas with opportunities for children to explore and grow in various content areas.  They then use choice time as a chance to target individual student needs identified through ongoing, performance-based assessments, and analysis.  As children explore and discover, teachers can seize teachable moments and move their students forward.

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