This is my 9th year teaching first grade. When I went to school to become a teacher, I had a certain picture in my mind of what my classroom would look like. In my mind, I saw a little kitchen, an art center, a block area, sand and water table, and a light table. I saw a cozy library, soft lighting, and a busy hum of children engaged in learning. I also remember having to write my own personal philosophy of education, and I made sure that it was based heavily on the importance of play in the classroom.
There are times when I see the classroom I pictured—sure, I have a cozy room with a library of wonderful books and fun furnishings, but none of those centers I imagined are actually in the picture. No art easel, sand table, block center, or light table. I have literacy and math stations, but I struggle with the pressure of meeting standards, while also wanting the classroom I pictured so long ago. Why does it have to be like this? How can I find balance?
Somewhere along the way, play has been banished from classrooms and replaced with worksheets, teaching to the test, and continually moving forward with instruction whether the kids understand or not. Education, along with society, is fast-paced. It gives students little time for play, little time to socialize, and to resolve conflict. Maybe behavior referrals would be reduced if we had the time to allow our students to explore these essential skills again.
This year, I am ready, and desperately hoping for, a change. I brought in a play kitchen for the first time EVER. And when I did, I worried about it. What would people say? Do I need permission? Is it taboo to have a play kitchen in a first grade classroom? Should I be giving this play kitchen to a Kindergarten teacher instead? I actually felt a little guilty, and felt the need to justify my decision to people who came in and saw it sitting in the corner. BUT WHY!? My students are SIX YEARS OLD! Yes, of course they still want to play! It’s what they do, and I am going to allow them to do it!
So, here are some reasons I am bringing the play kitchen to first grade!
1. Play is Age Appropriate
BECAUSE THEY ARE SIX!!! They are little! Let’s let them be little again! Kids are forced to grow up so quickly. When they step into my classroom, I want time to slow down just a bit. For centuries, scholars like Rousseau, Pestalozzi, Montessori, and Hill have promoted the value of play for early childhood development—including children in primary grades. See? SCHOLARS have said that play is OKAY.
2. Literacy and Writing (even math!) Integration
I have big plans for this kitchen. I can’t wait to change it up based on classroom themes-- allowing my students to create signs, lists, recipes, and shops. I plan to use literature to integrate author studies, phonics, and science and social studies topics. During math, students can become shop keepers, setting prices for items and exchanging play money. Since learning will be student directed, I know students will be engaged.
3. Social Skill & Language Development
I have noticed that as the years go by, many of my students have difficulties interacting with new friends. There are times when I feel that I am so bound by standards, that I have to continually move forward with instruction, and I have NO time to let students interact unless it involves a math game or buddy reading. This is hindering them from developing relationships, empathy, and resolving conflict. They simply need time to talk—after all, communicating feelings and ideas is essential in everyday life. That is why “Speaking and Listening” is an ENTIRE Common Core standard strand, right?
4. Imagination and Creativity
Let’s face it. Technology has taken over, and while technology is amazing-- gone are the days when videos, iPad's, Kindles, and such weren’t at our fingertips every given minute. The play kitchen will allow my students the opportunity to pretend again. How many memories do we have with our friends playing in the home living center at school? Dressing up and playing with baby dolls? Developing imagination will inspire them to become creative writers and thinkers. I think I will see a dramatic change in the writing my students produce because of the play kitchen.
So, I am giving it a try--beginning next week. I am so excited about it too! If introducing a play kitchen into our learning stations goes well, then I am definitely saving my money for a light table next. :) If you have any tips and management tricks for play kitchens in a first grade classroom (or any grade for that matter), I would LOVE to hear them! Leave me a comment below!