Play: Organized or Unorganized?

I’ve been struggling lately with one element in my classroom: play.

So much lately that I feel the need to blog about it to ask my other professional friends (AKA my #kinderchat friends) what they think.

I have been meaning to blog about how I manage classroom activities and play together in the classroom, but this problem of mine seems to be taking the utmost importance in my life right now, mostly due to my level of sanity in the classroom and the quality of education I strive to deliver to my students.

Basically, while I am working somewhere with a small group of students, and my SNTA is working somewhere else with a small group of students, I seem to have the group of students that disturb the peace. I have several problems with the way they disturb the peace:

1) They play with the SAME toys ALL the time

2) They play with the SAME people ALL the time

3) They never mix up their play to make anything different

4) They are as loud as a commercial plane taking off the runway (OK. A bit of an exageration, but ALL kindergarten teachers know what I’m talking about on this one).

Yes, I HAVE put toys and animals with the blocks in hopes of them constructing something amazing together. Yes, I HAVE showed them some different and creative ways to use the blocks. Yes, my SNTA HAS sat with them, played with them, and observed them. Yes, I HAVE given them different tasks/problems/situations to work together to build something. It’s. Not. Working.

It’s the combination of the above elements that concern me. I understand children have creative outlets in the classroom and that this group of students are obviously channeling something inside them, but the point is that it’s not good for my classroom dynamic. It’s not fostering the type of learning enviornment I am comfortable with, and with such a large group of students, I decided I needed to do something. I felt like I was doing 74 yoga postures at the same time trying to control everyone. And I NEVER feel that way. I get all anxious and start getting very short with the students. We’ve all had those days but these were getting to be a little too frequent for me.

So I came up with “Play Buddies” while on my recess break. When the students came back from recess, I basically paired them up with someone they don’t often play with. I asked them what area in the class they were going to go. Each pair of students chose an area, and they were off. AND IT. It was the best! There was so much helping, and sharing, and learning, and new exploring going on. And the volume was perfect enough for me to continue some smaller group work at my table.

After about 15 or 20 minutes, I asked the students to pick a new area in the class with their partner. Again, they did great.

I love having unstructured play time in the classroom, but several questions still remain:

1) Did my “Play Buddies” idea only work today because it was new and exciting? Is it “the honeymoon period?”

2) I can’t manage pairing my students each day and having them rotate every 30 minutes. How do I keep a tolerable volume level and engaged play experiences at the same time?

3) I don’t ever like “forcing” a student to play with another student or to go to a certain area of the classroom for extended periods of time, but I feel diverse interaction between students and mixing up the kids of games and activities they do VERY important.

What do YOU guys do to manage moments like these in your classroom?