One of the best pieces of advice we received was from our dear friend and mentor Bev Bos. Do not feel overwhelmed by transforming your entire classroom. Instead Bev suggests, and now we do as well, to start in a corner. Pick one area and begin the transformation there. So often do we visit other centers or classrooms and then want to come back to our own and redo everything. Not only is this overwhelming for us, but for our children. Stop. Take notes. Start slowly.
Quick Guide to Change:
1. Observe. Where do the children interact the most within the environment? Which areas are not as used? Which schemas do you observe the children doing?
2. Identify. After you have observed what the children are doing and where, thoughtfully reflect on how YOU can best support their interests and behaviors. Find an area or *toy you want to change in order to best support the children's current interest. Consider what the children are currently doing or not doing there. If the children are engaging in trajectory, consider adding soft materials for them to throw. Another option would be to add more ramps in the block area. We are here to support children's interests. If your children are fascinated by creating than would you give them coloring sheets? NO. Support and foster each child's natural curiosity.
*replace the prescribed toys with Loose Parts for ultimate benefit for the children
3. Select Materials. You observed the children and identified a behavior or interest you want to support. Now, you need to select a material to substitute in. Consider this example from a Head Start in Northern California.
Teacher J learned about Loose Parts and wanted to infuse them into her classroom. She watched the children and discovered their particular interest in dramatic play. The children had a house with plastic food, plastic plates, paper money, and dress up clothes. Teacher J decided to start the transformation by replacing the plastic plates and cookware with real ones that she found at a garage sale. The following week Teacher J swapped the plastic food for glass stones and tree cookies. The first day the children were in disequilibrium, but quickly adjusted. Teacher J observed the children at the end of the week stirring the stones for "spaghetti" and filling glasses for "milk." Next, Teacher J took the dress up clothes out and added scarves, large blankets, and fabrics of various lengths. The children built a fort, were superheros, and tucked the babies into bed. Finally, the paper money was exchanged for rocks and leaves. The children created their own currency, but with paper scraps from the art area. Teacher J was and still is excited by the higher level of imagination the children are engaging in.
Teacher J was very thoughtful and intentional in her selections. She saw what the children were engaged in and reflected on what materials would best allow the children to continue with dramatic play, but make their play limitless. The children are not restricted by predetermined products. Plastic pizza will always be plastic pizza. However, tree cookies can be bread for a sandwich, money, wheels, stepping stones, and whatever else the children imagine.
4. Allow time. Allow time for the children to adjust. Allow time for you to observe. Allow time for exploration. When Teacher J added the stones she did not know what the children would use them for. They have since become food, money, and a tool for design.
The whole process in Teacher J's class was over the course of several weeks. However, guess what? The children do not ask for the missing plastic food or paper money! The teachers also do not want them back after seeing the children's creativity soar. Children are naturally creative, curious, and competent. We as educators must recognize this and support our children as much as possible.
Dramatic Play Area
Thinking of Bev's words, find one area in your classroom such as science, art, or dramatic play and start adding new materials and transforming that one area. Improving your classroom one small section at a time is feasible both financially and personally.
We challenge you to find your one corner or toy and start there!