Playing is learning for preschoolers. Play is how they explore the world and learn how to live in it. Maybe you are ready to jump into play-based teaching and learning – or you already are – but you want to know what you need to have to get started. I will admit freely, for play-based curriculum, you must have materials and resources – you gotta have “stuff.”
“Ah, ha” you may be thinking. “Here’s the catch. We must invest in lots of educational toys and materials.” Well, yes and no. You do not need to spend a lot of money to teach in a play-based environment. You know that old joke: Buy a child a new toy and he wants to play with the box? Well, that’s true for your preschool classroom, too. You probably already have all you need to get started!
Finding Materials for Play-Based Curriculum
Preschool play resources are all around us. We can use rocks and sticks and leaves for counting or stacking or exploring. Empty boxes and containers can be stacked and sorted and even tapped as a musical instrument. Scrap paper and discarded bulk mail make great art resources. Looking a materials with a different eye opens up many possibilities. Start with what you have and build on that.
Let’s think about a few basics for any preschool classroom.
Play-Based Resources for Teaching
Resources for creating. Many preschoolers like to create using various materials. Purchased items such as crayons, markers, scissors, and glue sticks open up creativity. Check out this list of favorite materials for your art center. But you do not need to spend a lot of money for items for creative play. Any kind of scrap paper can be used to cut and make collages. Dip a paintbrush in water and paint on paper or other surfaces for creative (temporary) art play. Raid your recycle bin for items to cut, paint or glue. Use old crayons to make new ones.
Resources for pretending. You probably already have whatever you need for pretend play. Pieces of fabric, scarves, and even towels can become all kinds of costumes or props. Safe kitchen utensils and tools become part of pretend play – both as the actual item or as stand-ins for other items. Plastic or paper plates and cups from a dollar store are great dishes for home and family play. An old purse easily becomes a doctor kit or a mailbag or a diaper bag…or a purse! For purchased pretend play items, check out these suggestions.
Resources for construction. Construction play is a combination of creative play and pretend play. Blocks and other purchased building items are great for preschoolers to use. But construction play can happen with what you already have or can easily acquire. Boxes and containers of all types and sizes are great for building and stacking. Plastic cups and craft sticks can be used in construction play. Even straws, pizza pans, cookie sheets, and plastic bowls make great tools for construction.
Materials for Play-Based Literacy and Math
Literacy and math activities are often seen as the most “academic” by parents and other adults. But preschoolers can use play to develop early reading, writing, and math skills.
Resources with letters and pages. Anything with pages is a book and can lead preschoolers to develop concepts of print – hold with spine on the left and turn pages, sweep from left to right and then move down, letters group together to form words, words are symbols for other things. Use catalogs, old magazines, instruction manuals, and homemade classroom books to supplement your classroom library. See these ideas for purchased items for literacy and book lists for reading.
Resources for counting. You can find some great counters and other manipulative items to purchase for your math center or math activities. But you may already have items for math play. Collect (or ask your families to help you collect) lids from plastic water and drink bottles. These can be used to count, sort, and group in many different ways. Preschoolers can use them to outline shapes. You can compare groups or line them up to measure lengths. As an alternative, you can do the same things with smooth rocks, colored craft sticks or paper clips, and any other small objects you find at the dollar store.
Resources to build fine motor skills. A key to writing is the development of muscles in the hand – those fine motor skills. You can purchase toys that help develop these skills. One of the best ways to work fine motor skills in lots of different ways is through using play dough. You can make your own play dough easily (and frequently). You can add craft sticks and those plastic bottle lids in addition or in place of purchased tools to increase play opportunities with the play dough.
Play-based teaching and learning does take materials and resources. But those resources may already be waiting in your classroom, your home, or the homes of your preschool families. The most important resource you need: open mind and a readiness to encourage children to investigate and explore.
Check out some of my favorite tools for preschool play for different centers and types of learning.
Discover ideas for setting up different learning centers in your classroom.
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