Prevention is the word you hear most when discussing classroom management in preschool. Building relationships, setting expectations the first day and being consistent are the big ones. However, we all know that these are great starting place, but most of the issues happen during play time.
Most preschools are open-ended when it comes to play. In open-ended play kids are allowed to freely explore all the play areas, and play in the area they prefer. However, when you sit and think about the goal of preschool or school based 4k what is the goal?
The goal of preschool is to “level the playing field.” Meaning to help kids that are struggling in any area of the curriculum catch up with the class norm. I always struggled with this in an open-ended classroom. It was hard to get the kids to pick up after themselves, understand the goals of each area and to monitor student growth. On top of that I noticed that the behavior was not improving. Kids were choosing to play in clicks and kids that they had been in daycare with for years, not wanting to include the kids that were just attending for preschool for school. The way they were treating the newbies made them feel sad and affected their overall feeling of school, which gave me cause for concern.
On top of the social issues I noticed that all of the centers that I worked hard to create with activities that met curricular needs, were not being utilized by all of the kids.
So I decided to change the structure of play in my classroom.
Clearly Define the Play Areas
The first step in setting up structured play is to clearly define the areas of play in your room. I use the center signs above to label each area. I love that there is a picture to accompany the word, as well as a statement that describes the learning taking place for adults to understand. I also move the furniture and add duct tape to the floor to create spaces for each center. Make sure to set up the centers in a way that allows them to move from a busier center to a quiet center.
Observe the Children for Play Skill Levels
After creating the spaces I observed the kids for a few weeks. I looked at the different levels, the kids that always had friends to play with, the loners, the kids that wanted to play with others but was refused, the kids that were able to engage anyone in play and the kids that would rather play alone. From these different personalities and needs I grouped kids into 3 or 4 per center.
Visual Play Rotation Board
Kids are so visual. In order for them to visually see who they were with and the centers they were going to visit, I created a visual rotation board. I used the miniature center signs and placed them in the order that kids would rotate throughout the classroom. I have used a white board, poster board and magnet board to make these signs throughout the years.
Putting it All Together
After I have the centers in place, I use magnets or library pockets and popsicle sticks to represent each child. Add their picture to the popsicle stick for an extra touch (I have pictures of my family not class shown). I rotate play centers based on time (unless they seem restless then we change centers sooner). To let them know it is time to rotate I play the clean up song. Then, they do a light pick up and head to the next center. We rotate three times a day with the goal being once or twice per center a week. Each week we switch the groups around based on observations made throughout the week. This has made a huge different in our classroom!
All of the posters and labels are included in our center label unit-to make it easy to through it together. This does take a lot of color, I took it to Kinko’s to print it out to save ink!