When I first began teaching kindergarten, I had little teddy bear cut outs at each centre to indicate the number of children who could play there. For example, there were three chairs at the play doh table so there were three bear cut outs and three children could play there. There were four chairs in the house centre so four bears, etc. This is what I had been taught during my ECE training.
And what quickly happened is that I and the children spent our time policing how many children were in each centre. "Miss, there's five people in the house centre. He came last, he has to go!' "But she's had a long turn...." and so on and so on.
So, my ECE partner and I decided to get rid of the teddy bears and get rid of the limits on how many children could play in each centre. And the culture in the room shifted!!!!!! We could focus on engaging with the children in play, and the children learned to determine what the limits were at each centre. Sometimes a child would pull a chair from our make and take centre over to the play doh table and we might have four or five chidlren there. On their own, they decided when there were so many people that the play doh was divided into such small portions that they couldn't really play effectively. A few years ago I was visiting a kindergarten classroom and the teaching team had introduced a hardware store to the dramatic play centre with predrilled lumber, screwdrivers, screws and other materials. As soon as whole group time on the carpet was done, about twenty students descended on the very small dramatic play centre. We waited and in a few moments .... 6 or 7 students dragged some of the lumber and materials over to the tables to work on them there, about 8 children stayed in the drama centre and continued to explore and the rest wandered off to other centres. They were able to decide if they felt playing in the house centre was worth the stress of negotiating space and materials or if they would rather wait and play there later. All of this happened in mere moments and required no teacher intervention. The Ontario Kindergarten Program document reminds us that children are capable and competent learners, full of potential and ready to take ownership of their learning. The classroom environment needs to reflect our belief that children are competent and capable. What limits do we really need to have in our classroom and which ones are purely arbitrary? Here's a great article by Carol Anne Wien about teachers in a preschool centre in Ontario who found that eliminating many rules and reorganizing the physical space reduces accidents, noise, aggressive play and reduced teacher stress. This was originally published in the NAEYC's journal Young Children in January 2004. Deanna Pecaski McLennan shares a post on her blog about how the Flow of the Day in her kindergarten classroom allows students to deepen their learning through large blocks of time.