I believe play is critical in early (and middle) childhood. I am fortunate to work in a district that supports play, and we have blocks, play kitchens, dress up clothes, and sand tables in our kindergarten rooms. These areas can be amazing, wonderful and imaginative places, and they can be a disaster. My feelings of pride and warm fuzziness at seeing two children “cooking” dinner to serve at their restaurant can quickly turn to frustration and aggravation as the food is thrown on the floor and the kitchen utensils become ninja weapons.
One way to elevate play is to play with your kids. I try to do this when I can. I like taking the time to get lost in the game with them, and they certainly love to cook food for me or build blocks with me! However, more and more I am engaged in other activities during their choice time – supervising the hallway, doing assessments, reminding kids to wash their hands after using the bathroom – you name it. So I needed something more in order to make play more productive.
This is where I came up with the plan to situate play “inspiration” around the room. In my kitchen area I have a box filled with menus, grocery list paper, and cookbooks. In the blocks area you can find books about famous buildings, blueprints, and maps. Near the easels and art supplies are books filled with prints from famous artists. And all around the room my bulletin boards are covered in pictures, photographs, drawings, and prints that are meant to inspire.
Once the children realize that these books and tools can make their play more interesting, they naturally elevate their games. I am not saying they will not be food slinging ninjas ever again, but maybe the ninjas will take a minute to write down their food chopping mantras during play! What are the ways you integrate real life reasons to read and write into your play areas?