Starting Purposeful Play in Kindergarten? Outstanding!

Kindergarten Cafe

Welcome to Kindergarten Cafe - your home for teaching ideas, activities, and strategies across all content areas! I am Zeba McGibbon and I love creating resources for teachers and sharing my teaching experience with others. Kindergarten Cafe is aimed for kindergarten, but teachers of Preschool-First grade can find resources here for their students! I love to connect with other teachers so please reach out and say hello!

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Are you interested in trying purposeful play in kindergarten? Are you looking to make your playtime more meaningful and intentional? These steps will definitely help you to get starting starting purposeful play with your students!

Schedule time

purposeful play in kindergarten schedule

Purposeful play in kindergarten takes time. I know that everyone’s schedule gets tighter and tighter as academic demands take over, but play should be a priority too. Children learn so much through play, but not all play is equal. 10-15 minutes for recess is just not enough time for young children. Kindergarteners really need 45 minutes ideally for play daily. They need time to choose an activity, make a plan, adjust the plan, and see the plan through. I can tell you from experience, that my students kept wanting to switch activities within a few minutes because they were used to jumping from activity to activity and not really sticking with their play. The real learning comes from deep, meaningful, and engaging play.

If you can’t make 45 minutes work, can you make 30? Could you do 45 minutes just once a week? Can you integrate some learning into the play time, like a science center or word work center? We know that there is so much academic learning that can be integrated into children’s play. You could show your administration the research behind need for 45 minutes of playtime and the benefits it provides to your students. I would also encourage you to share with them Purposeful Play by Kristine Mraz, Alison Porcelli, and Cheryl Tyler. Bottom line though, if you can’t do the full 45 minutes, you can still try it out and start with what time you do have.

Set up play options

purposeful play in kindergarten play centers

Decide which play areas will be open for your students during this time. How many students can go to each area? How will the areas change over time? You don’t have to have all the answers to these questions! You can observe your students, reflect on how the play is going, and think about these questions. I like to have more cooperative play areas for purposeful play in kindergarten. For example, I open up blocks, dramatic play, sensory table, beautiful stuff, and games. I also add in other areas from time to time. It’s good to keep things interesting for students, so don’t feel like you have to keep things exactly the same as you had them on day 1! In fact, I change out my areas whenever I notice interest dwindling.

Open ended play materials

purposeful play in kindergarten open ended materials

I try to include as many open-ended play materials as possible so that my students can be as creative as possible. Open ended play materials also allow students to be more engaged because they are setting the direction of play.

Open-ended play materials are toys that can be used for more than one play idea. For example, blocks, can be turned into so many different structures and play ideas. I love bringing in recycled goods and loose parts as well. The students use the recycled goods in our beautiful stuff area to make creations with. The loose parts can be used in many different areas or on their own! I took these sauce packet tops from students’ snacks (after they were done eating them of course!) and now they are such a fun loose part for students to play with!

Reflect with the students

purposeful play in kindergarten reflect

One of the best parts of starting purposeful play in kindergarten was making time to reflect on the play with my students. We used this time to discuss how the play was going, what new areas/materials they wanted to try, and what challenges or misbehaviors happened. This is the perfect time to help students learn from their social challenges. Students also really enjoy being able to take ownership over their play. They get to reflect on what is working well and what they want to change or add to their play areas. I take their suggestions seriously and lead with them! It saves me time thinking of ideas and gathering materials, and they enjoy it more! I love using this structure to have students create materials for student created dramatic play centers too!

Planning papers

One of my other favorite parts of purposeful play in kindergarten is giving time to my students to make a plan before starting to play. They decide what area they will play at and then, together with the other students in the area, they make a plan on what they will play, what materials they will need, and who will do what role. I’ve found that these plans really help guide my students in their play and make it much more meaningful to them. True story – after trying them out the first time, I wasn’t so sure about them. But the next time we did purposeful play, my students begged to use the planning sheets again! I really did see the benefits from their planning time. They were much more engaged in their play and it lasted much longer before they asked to switch play areas (some never asked to switch even after 45 minutes of play!).

purposeful play in kindergarten planning sheets

Conclusion

Starting purposeful play in kindergarten is easy… you just have to do it! You don’t need all the answers and it won’t be perfect from the start! Take your time and reflect with your students on how the play went and what can be done to improve it! All you really need to start purposeful play is time in your day, some open-ended play materials, and clear play areas. You might like these free planning papers too! Give it a try and let me know in the comments how it goes!

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Emma Hayes

There I was in a hot yoga studio with plenty of bright natural light and bending myself into pretzel like positions for the very first time.

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