May 15, 2014

What's Wrong With Play Anyway?? What Happened to Play in Kindergarten?

Making Play a Priority in My Kindergarten Classroom

As the end of the year approaches, I can't help but find myself reflecting on the year. This is my second year teaching Kindergarten. Over the past two years, I have learned an enormous amount about the developmental needs of young learners. First and foremost, I have learned that 5-year-olds have an incredibly tight schedule: an hour of math, two hours of literacy, 40 minutes of science and social studies. As a kindergarten teacher I find it difficult to fit in the social and emotional centers such as puppets, blocks, dramatic play, art, water/sand table, which are so important to the development of our 5 and 6-year-olds. The kindergarten I remember used to be all about developing social and emotional skills, but now I find that we have succumbed to the pressures of preparing children to tackle the rigorous demands of 1st grade and preparing them for high-stakes standardized testing. 

This year I participated in a Kindergarten Seminar at the New Jersey Department of Education and spent a great deal of time this year working with other early childhood teachers, master teachers, and administrators discussing developmentally appropriate practices in kindergarten. I found myself reflecting on my own teaching in  a much different way. I realized the importance of teaching my students to solve problems, work together, share and accept each other’s differences through play. More importantly, I learned that I can do this while still implementing the Common Core Standards in developmentally appropriate ways. Who knew?!?!

The first change I made to my classroom was eliminating morning work. While attending the Kindergarten Seminar, a colleague asked me why I had my students complete morning work, but I honestly could not find a reasonable answer to give her. It was this moment that I realized that I did have time to give my students opportunities to problem solve, make choices, have fun in my classroom every day through play. All I had to do was eliminate morning work. I remember thinking to myself, "How had I never considered this!?" 

When I returned to my classroom the next week, I immediately trashed my monotonous worksheets and instead greeted my students with puzzles, blocks, stories, puppets, paint, and journals each morning. I found that my students were more pleasant, argued less, had more fun, and were actually learning! They explored, used critical thinking, learned important social skills, expressed their creativity, solved problems without my assistance, which in turn, created a more pleasant environment for everyone. 

Although this is only one of the many changes I made, I felt it was the most influential change I made this school year. I learned that I should be focusing more on making my kindergarten classroom fit the needs of my students instead of my students adapting to fit the needs of my classroom. I am thankful that I had to opportunity to reflect on my teaching in such a significant way. My students will benefit greatly from it and I hope yours do too!

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