Planning Quality Content for Your Early Learning Program
Planning daily activities for your early learning program can be exciting as well as challenging. With so many resources available for games, crafts and activities, deciding what's best for your program can be overwhelming and time consuming. Here are some tips to help you optimize your time and choices.
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This is the fourth and last post in a four part series: Developing an Early Learning Program.
This article discusses ways you can determine what is appropriate content for your program.
Part 4. Planning Quality Content for Your Early Learning Program
There is a wealth of information available to parents and teachers in libraries, e-books, and training resources, as well as from colleagues and friends who share on social media. This results in a lot of choices for games, crafts and activities.
Since the range of available activities is extensive, keep in mind that an early learning program should nurture developmental skills as children simply play.
Here are some examples of routine areas that encompass early learning activities.
Circle time or small group is the time of day in the program when children gather in a comfortable setting with the teacher to engage in planned activities such as: reading stories; singing songs with finger plays; matching colors or shapes on the felt board.
Arts and Crafts sessions are opportunities for drawing, painting, cutting and gluing, with a variety of materials such as construction paper, glitter glue, colorful feathers and chenille stems. Try to make each activity less about following step-by-step instructions and more about following the child's lead by using open-ended questions and comments such as: I see you chose the red crayon to color your house. Are you going to cut out leaves for the tree? Encourage creativity as well as the use of fine motor, cognitive and language skills.
Gross motor activities incorporate large body movements such as jumping, swinging arms, and stretching. Indoors, play bean bag games, balloon volleyball or ring-around-the-rosy. Outdoors, make use of balls and skipping ropes, relay races, parachute games and playground equipment.
Free play or independent play allows children to choose from a variety of separated areas in the classroom (often called stations, centers, or corners). During free play, kids plan, or participate in, activities such as: "building bridges" in the block corner; "cooking breakfast" in the housekeeping corner; "digging up fossils" in the sand box; painting "clouds" at an easel in the art center.
Planning Quality Content
How can I make optimal choices for planned activities?
Before deciding to include an activity, consider issues specific to your environment such as:
- Is there enough space in the room for kids to leap-frog over cardboard lily pads on the floor?
- Does the story book have large colorful pictures to accompany the text?
- Are there options for different ages and skill levels in the art or craft project you have chosen?
- Is the activity open-ended, promoting independent thinking and creativity?
Choose activities that are age-appropriate as well as suited to the interests and skill levels of the children in your care. Often homes and classrooms have a range of ages and skill levels so activities are chosen to fit a broad demographic. For example, read a book during story time such as Sadie and the Snowman by Allen Morgan, then provide materials for an open-ended art activity. As the children gather around the art table, ask what type of weather they saw in the story. Rather than instructing children to "cut out a yellow circle for the sun", provide scissors, crayons and construction paper, then guide them through discussion and feedback as they draw or glue materials on a sheet of paper to make their weather pictures.
Choose activities that encourage play. Regardless of age or skill levels of the children, or available space and materials, the goal is to provide opportunities for children to experiment, explore and make discoveries while participating in group and independent play. Include a variety of toys and materials in your play spaces: a water table with funnels and strainers; an easel with paints and smocks; a puppet theater with kid-made puppets. These are all materials that promote learning through play.
You can improvise a puppet theater with a bed sheet draped over a table, and make a sandbox by pouring play sand into a large plastic bin on the floor.
These examples illustrate the variety of activities that go into making a well-rounded program. Many teachers adopt a weekly or seasonal theme which is recorded in a daily plan book.
For an example of how a collection of activities builds a theme or unit visit Little Sprouts Learning / How to Plan a Dental Unit.
With any activity, sharing your enthusiasm and encouragement is invaluable to the learning process. Join in the activities with the children - dance, stack blocks, share stories, make hand prints during arts and crafts time.
What are we doing today?
One morning I had a child ask: What are we doing today? Once children learn that there is always something 'going on' in your classroom they will bring their energy and eager anticipation to the early learning environment.
By providing open-ended materials such as sand and water play, dress-up clothes, and art supplies, along with teacher-led activities such as reading and singing together during small group times, you are opening the door to countless opportunities for children to learn and grow, all while having fun!
Quality education offers lifetime rewards for both child and teacher. Young children especially benefit from the care and expertise offered by early learning teachers. Your sincere commitment to understanding the role of play for nurturing developmental skills will assist you in developing a successful early learning program.
Making the effort to do the best you can for the children in your care will help bring out the best in them.
Here are the links for the posts included in this four-part series:
Part 1: Determining the Goals of your Early Learning Program
Part 2: Establishing a Daily Schedule for Your Early Learning Program
Part 3: Why There is Value in a Daily Planner for Your Early Learning Program
Part 4: Planning Quality Content for Your Early Learning Program (you are here!)