Open-ended Play

Yesterday I decided that we would have quiet centres instead of writing workshop. We had been swimming all morning and the kinders were beat (yes I was too). Like our morning play the quiet centres were open-ended however I chose what centers were available and many had limited numbers. Because they are so used to playing together in large groups limiting numbers is very hard for them and to be honest difficult for me to say no, so some of the numbers grew with the caveat that if the play wasn’t working then the last to join would leave. These last two features are the opposite of our morning play. This is necessary because the kinders are tired in the afternoon and their ability to cope is much reduced. A friend of mine who supervises a daycare for 3 to 5 year olds tells me that they always need an extra adult in the afternoon to keep activity time running smoothly.

While the children played, I provided support where needed and completed a few observations. Later when I reviewed my notes and photos I appreciated the value and contribution to learning that emerges from open-ended play. During open-ended play the materials are less subjective, inviting the children to use their imagination. For example, at the playdoh table there was a bucket of white playdoh that yesterdays kinders had mixed in sparkle glitter.

Today, a group of kinders began their play by building snowmen. They visited the collage table and collected some buttons, fabric, glass stones, straws and feathers. After about twenty minutes, I invited them to use objects from our box art bin to extend their play. Some items in the box were clean meat trays, jar lids, and plastic containers. They explored the box of materials, made their own selections and then expanded their play. They began to create landscapes which included hills, tunnels and snow caves. Soon the conversation began to include some imaginary play while also including lots of talk about what to make and how to do it. After a short time a couple of kinders who were doing collage art at a nearby table stopped by intrigued by the emerging landscape and gave some positive feedback. They returned to the art table and began to use the playdoh group ideas to make 2d winter pictures with similar landscape features. It was really interesting to hear the conversations, observe the collaboration and notice the work that was happening in just one corner of our room.

Time:  One of the necessary requirements for good open-ended play is time. Children need time to explore materials, have conversations and think about how they want to structure their play, what materials they need and the direction it will go. When children begin to experience regular, longer blocks of time the play matures and begins to enhance the child’s language, social-emotional growth, and self regulation (these are just a few).

Multiple uses: choose age appropriate resources that can be used in many different ways such as stuffed animals, blocks and fabric. This encourages the child to use his imagination to create play.

Collage Materials:   I always begin the school year with lots of collage activities to provide the kinders with experience using the materials. Then, when they are ready, I create a new classroom centre which the kinders can use each day to make a craft entirely on their own. To hold their interest I change the materials, keep favourites and invite children to keep a running wish list. This is one of the class favourites and sparks the creative drive in children. I have dedicated a table in the room and have several small containers which hold mini collections such as: specialty scissors & pens, buttons, cotton balls, sequins, nuts, pine cones, bread tags, googly eyes, screws, mini bolts, feathers, pom poms, fabric, felt, ribbon, different colours & sizes of paper, glitter glue, paint, beads, jewels, rocks, ...

Feedback: While all of this wonderful play is happening it is my job to interact with students, scaffold their play, notice where changes have to be made and encourage the children to share their ideas. Research has confirmed that when children make a plan and then reflect on their plans the play is more complex and contributes to cognitive growth.

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