Intentional play helps 3K kids better absorb school and life skills

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Gracelynn McShane (left) and Layla Peak engaged with a variety of farm animals and the barn, while playing in the farm center. (Photos by Correne Martin)

Braxton Bahls (left) and Nash Hubanks picked up the manipulatives after playing in that center, where there were tons of little people and characters they could explore in their fingers.

(From left) Lexi Prew, Tony Mayer-Chavez and Maelene Gilliland loved dressing up and role playing in the dramatic play center.

Maisie Rabbitt (left) and Gwen Martin enjoyed a book together in the books and puzzles center.

The 3K/early childhood team of teachers at B.A. Kennedy includes (from left) Emily O’Brien, Chelsie White and Andrea Govier.

Riley Stark spent some quiet time coloring in the art station.

Mikey Mergen drove a few little vehicles around the road playmat.

Arlind Kamberi and Grayson Copsey got busy in the Lego center, testing their building skills.

Gwen Martin sorted through some puzzle pieces in one of the two centers she chose for the day.

Mikey Mergen took a look at the picture above his center, while cleaning up, making sure to put everything back as he found it.

Killian Schneider plays with some magnetic blocks in one of the stations he chose.

By Correne Martin

Guiding the 3- and 4-year-olds at B.A. Kennedy Elementary School means walking a fine line between structured projects and instruction, and intentional play time, according to 3K teachers Andrea Govier, Emily Quam and Chelsie White. 

Through reorganization of the 3K/early childhood wing playroom earlier this semester, the way the kids play there improved tremendously, from a “free-for-all” to a system that better enhances each child’s cognitive, physical, language/literacy and social/emotional skills. 

Play is essentially young children’s work. 

Through an intentionally-prepared environment, the kids more advantageously absorb the skills they need to be successful in school and in life, specified Govier. This is especially important considering the end of the school year is approaching and most of these children will go to 4K next year. 

So, after Christmas break, the teaching trio and their half-dozen aides transformed the playroom for the preschoolers into an intentional play environment that’s pretty common across early childhood education.

“Before, all the games and toys were accessible. They were just everywhere,” Govier said. 

“Now the kids are not just dumping and running,” White expressed. “They’re playing with things how they should be.”

The setup includes nine independent centers: dramatic play, blocks and cars, farm, library and puzzles, tools, manipulatives, art, Legos and a sensory table. 

There are three morning sections and two afternoon sections of 3K/early childhood classes at B.A. Kennedy. During an assigned time every school day, each group of students gets 30 minutes in the playroom, and every child can choose two different centers they wish to play for 15 minutes of that time. To do so, they take a tiny picture of themselves from a folder and place it at the two centers they’ve picked. 

“Once a center has two or three kids (depending on the station), the others know they can’t go there,” Govier said.

At the end of their 15 minutes at one center, the children who’ve played there are responsible for cleaning up the space before they’re dismissed to the next center. There’s a picture in each play area of how it looks when it’s tidy; this helps demonstrate to the children how it should look when they’re done there.

“It’s academic. It’s not just ‘dump and run’ and don’t clean up,” Quam said. “They utilize toys appropriately this way.”

“They’re picking toys they can relate to,” White shared. 

They all agreed that the significance of this playroom method is that it creates basic life skill learning opportunities in terms of sharing, taking turns, following directions and more. 

For example, in the dramatic play area, students can dress up and play in a kitchen. They can role play and either model for their peers or learn from a classmate themselves. Also, at the new sensory table, the children can be real hands-on. They get to shred paper and feel a variety of fillers between their fingers, such as sand, noodles, corn, hay/straw, dirt and even soapy water. 

“Just that exposure is so important,” White said. 

Govier emphasized that this intentional play is key for developing fine motor skills. She noted, “The kids seem more excited to go to the playroom now.”

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