Creating Open-Ended Play Opportunities
Sara, my ‘baby’ girl, started Kindergarten last week and having both of my kids in elementary school has inspired me to create more open-ended play & learn opportunities for them at home. But first, this sentimental Momma must share the story of Sara’s first day of school.
She confidently boarded the big yellow school bus wearing her slightly-too-big monogrammed backpack from Grammy, grinning from ear to ear, brown eyes as wide as saucers. Her big brother started school a couple of years back so Sara is familiar with this routine but actually getting onto the bus along with the “big kids” takes her experience to a whole new level.
Over summer, I’m afraid bickering between my 5 and 7-year-olds reached a whole new level as well. Of course, this made it easier to ship them off on that crisp September morning (I’ll admit I was counting the days until school started), but I couldn’t help feeling a little sad as well.
The transition to elementary school, even though I had been taking her to preschool the past few years, is a major one and it’s the first time I’m putting her into the hands of a teacher I didn’t carefully choose myself. Granted, we chose half-day Kindergarten so she is only gone for a few hours each morning but it’s still a big change.
The change I’m most acutely aware of is the lack of play in the typical classroom. I’ve known of reality for years, of course, but now that both of my little ones are in public elementary school, it’s really hitting home. On her first day, Sara came home complaining the day was all “rush, rush, rush,” then the second and third days she was lamenting how much she misses preschool because she “mostly likes to play.”
Through her play-based preschool, I’ve witnessed the infinite value of open-ended play and how it contributes to real-life lessons and developing creativity and problem-solving skills.
As a parent who believes that “play” offers the best lessons in the world, what is a Mom to do? Some parents enroll their kids in Waldorf, Montessori, or other private schools but the price tag scares us away (plus I believe in public school, at least I want to and I want to be part of making it better, not remove myself from it). Some parents choose to home school but I’m afraid I’m not cut out for that. What I can do, however, is offer more open-ended play and learn opportunities here at home to enrich both Sara’s Kindergarten experience and my son, William’s Second Grade experience.
Here is my plan:
First step: Playroom. As of now, our playroom is a scary place where only the bravest child dares to go. We keep the door closed and hope that errant toys don’t escape. Most of our art supplies and toys are stuffed into this room and I’m afraid everything needs a serious going-through and reorg.
Next step: Uh oh, I’m honestly not sure of my next step but I’m fairly certain it involves assessing current spaces in our home and getting rid of a lot of stuff. For inspiration along the way, I’ve enrolled in a beautifully produced online class called Playful Learning Spaces (after watching just one of the six classes, I’m totally inspired and diving in) and I’ll be reading a couple of her book recommendations:
Would you like to create more open-ended play opportunities for your children? Are you eager to get organized now that your kids are back to school? What first steps will you take?