Making a Pretend Play Area More Authentic

Some interests change and some interests are consistent among our children as they play.  With a mixed-aged group, we observe a mix of play interaction, parallel play (playing along side each other) and independent play.  Our parents will be meeting soon to share and discuss our observation notes.  I’m excited to see the similarities and differences.  Overall, the children are getting more comfortable with each other’s company, which is nice to see.

The children tend to go back and forth among the baking tools and pretending the play dough is bread dough or cookie dough.  Since we observed this a while ago, we decided to transform our play kitchen into a bakery.  I got very excited with this idea and found a bunch of bakery icons and print-outs online to put in the play kitchen area.  The literacy guru in me got excited that I was creating a “print-rich” environment for the kids by finding menus, signs and order forms online.

Sometimes too much excitement is not a good thing.  I rushed every decision.  I printed, I laminated, I was so excited to present this area to the children.  It didn’t take long to realize the children had little to no background knowledge of the function and purpose of a bakery.  We adults needed to model these actions for them… something wasn’t feeling right…

At the end of the day, I finally paused and took time to reflect on my decisions, the children’s language and play experience.  After talking to the other moms in our group, here’s what we realized:

  • Our children’s background knowledge of baking was mostly from home.
  • The only bakery they may have seen was from the local grocery store, not a bakery itself.  Plus, we’ve never purposefully pointed it out to them.

Therefore we came up with a new plan: A Bakery Play Area Makeover. Here’s what we’ve done to make this play experience more authentic for the children, more from them, from their own learning and experience:

  1. What do they already know about a bakery?
  2. Research bakeries. (We tried to schedule a kid-friendly tour, but was very difficult to arrange due to food safety regulations…we were bummed).
  3. Since we couldn’t find a bakery to tour, we watched a virtual tour online.  I found a great one of Great Harvest Bakery: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8pGc2-mXaKE
  4. We asked the children to share what they saw.  We were surprised to hear them also pick up on some new vocabulary words too! (See in next post).
  5. Arrange a purposeful trip to a local bakery to get the experience as a customer.
  6. Bring home our observations and findings (data) to re-design our bakery play space in the home.  The print-rich environment will come from them rather than prints outs found online.
  7. Watch the children’s play come alive as they re-create their own bakery experience and newfound knowledge.

When I say “purposeful,” here’s what I mean: We prepare the children for the bakery trip ahead of time by talking about it and asking them questions.  Once we go to the bakery, we’ll give the children clip boards and teach them to be active researchers by gathering data through drawings, “writings,” and taking pictures.  I quote “writing” because the children are sharing what they see and know through pretend writing and/or purposeful drawing of pictures.  We adults will be carefully listening to what the children say and how they communicate their drawings to us so we can record it.  When we record their words, we’re modeling the relationship between spoken language and print.

In my next post, I’ll share how the student’s responded to the bakery video tour as well as some more play experiences.

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