Following the Children’s Life Force

Recently, a teacher new to teaching kindergarten asked me how she should know what centers and materials to offer children during Choice Time. She wondered what the “trick” is to planning for Choice Time.

I think that the most important aspect to planning choice time centers is for the teacher to be a good listener and observer. For example, in one class that I visited, the children were playing with Unifix cubes. They were making the line of cubes higher and higher. There was a lot of excitement. I walked over and exclaimed that the line of cubes seemed to be as tall as I am. I stepped over next to the tower. It reached my chin. One boy said, “wait” and got more cubes to add to it. (I actually had to put them on for him because, even though he got on tiptoes, he couldn’t reach. We kept adding one at a time until one of the children called out “Stop”. It was as tall as I am.

That was the perfect opportunity for the teacher to have the children share this experience at the Choice Time share meeting. She could start ‘wondering’ how many cubes might reach as tall as Sho Yin? How many Teddy Bears (little plastic teddy bear counters) could go from one end of Sho Yin to the other end? Hmm, maybe she would have to stretch out on the rug to be measured with Teddy Bears! What else could we use to measure Sho Yin? The teacher might start writing down the children’s suggestions and then come up with a great idea to share with the children. “How about a measuring center?” “What would we need to add to this center?” That is the birth of a new center that has grown right out of the teacher’s observations and interactions.

The children begin to pick up on the teacher’s interest in what is happening during Choice Time. They notice that she is writing down notes of interesting observations and often sharing these with the class. They will notice how she gets new ideas that grow out of these observations. If this happens enough, children will begin making suggestions for centers based on what they notice happening in their centers. One year a group of kindergarten children in my class asked to share their great idea at meeting. I really didn’t know what to expect. “Let’s make a castle in the Pretend Center!” Well, this made complete sense. For some reason, this class of children had a particular interest in castles, kings and queens, princes and princesses. Many castles had been constructed in the block center. I’m not quite sure where this particular interest came from. I had been reading the chapter book, The Wizard of Oz, to them and maybe this sparked the interest. I’m not quite sure but they certainly were enthusiastic about this topic. I said that they certainly could make a Castle Center but that we should first find out more about what was needed. Over the next few days I read some fairy tale picture books aloud (the version of Snow White illustrated by Nancy Eckholm Burkert was a favorite), and I found a shared reading book about a King (I can’t remember the title!). We made lists of what we needed in terms of dressing up and also decorations and then opened up an art center for making crowns, capes, wands, fancy-colored windows (dipping napkins in a water and food coloring mixture) and turning two chairs into fancy thrones. Signs were also made and hung up all around the center. Scrolls became important. There was a lot of writing important messages and proclamations on paper turned into scrolls. When all of this was done, the Castle Center was officially opened. It was interesting to observe the children playing there because, in many ways, it was the same type of play that they did pre-Castle…but with an added zest! It was the children’s incredible imagination and life force along with my openness to listening and taking their ideas seriously that opened up a new center for exploration and play.

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5 thoughts on “Following the Children’s Life Force

  1. Deb Vilas

    This was a wonderful description of choice time as a child-centered entity, as opposed to an adult-created, top down idea of what and how children should be playing during free play. The teacher’s active role in observing and recording the children’s play serves to ignite creativity, adding value and investment that feels very important to the children being witnessed. It makes me think of the child on the playground yelling at his caregiver, “Look at me! Look at me!” Well, this teacher IS looking, watching, recording, sharing, valuing her students’ play. The students in turn will value it, deepen it and grow from it. Bravo!

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  2. Anita Brehm

    The best teachers do not “teach”. They listen. Children teach themselves if given the opportunity. When a teacher listens, she can find the children’s interests and follow them as opposed to making them follow her. And the excitement builds. Think back, as an adult, in which college courses did you do best? Why did you decide to teach and not become an astronaut? One must follow her interests and so must children. Too often the teacher decides the direction, ad then wonders why the children don’t seem to get it.

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    1. Renee Dinnerstein

      Actually, Anita, I would say that good teachers DO teach. The challenge, however, is to redefine the word ‘to teach’. It needs to include listening, recording, interpreting and following up with appropriate ‘next steps’.
      What are your thoughts on this? I think that an understanding of this definition might possibly not be part of the pre-teaching instruction that students are getting in their college education courses.

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