Freedom of Choice for Choice Time

In my combined first and second grade, Choice Time met daily for 30 to 40 minutes each day. There were five learning centers – math, science, art, reading, and writing. They weren’t told where to go since I never felt that children’s intellects would develop in a lopsided manner. They would prefer activities that would help them grow. They wouldn’t select anything boring, and they weren’t going to be involved in something too difficult. They would decide upon activities of interest and often something that challenged them. They would choose something that kept their minds active which is such a great asset, not only for building and expanding concepts in Choice Time but for interacting in all areas throughout their day. So why would I attempt to choose a Choice Time activity for them? Therefore I didn’t.

The closest I came to steering a child to a different center was one time when, Lee, a new second grader who couldn’t read entered the class. Big perceptual problems. For the first half of the year, day after day, he chose to build with Cuisenaire Rods. Since I didn’t know why he was choosing as he did, or why it was wrong, I never interfered. During September, he often called with great excitement, to come and see what he had built. It was a jumble to me, but he was so enthused that I would always think of something favorable to say. Finally, perhaps in mid-fall, when he called me over, I saw that this one had more structure. It stayed together and had a little height. But I still didn’t know why this kept him so occupied. By the way, I forgot to mention that Lee was a brilliant child. He had an enormous vocabulary and was fascinating to listen to. Finally, about mid-year when he called me over, I thought I could tell what he had been trying to do throughout the fall. This structure was symmetrical, and symmetry was a half-year or sometimes a whole-year project in class. Meanwhile, I had just heard about his testing results for perceptual problems. The examiner said she’d never seen such consistency. In test after test, Lee couldn’t coordinate the left side of his brain with the right side. So now I thought there was a reason why he may have chosen the same thing over and over again. He was trying to coordinate his thinking. He was trying to make symmetrical designs, one side equal to the other, which is probably something his brain was craving. A mental harmony that he lacked. I was glad I never stopped his choice. He was helping himself to grow cognitively.

Lee’s choice is an extreme example of how children became involved in Choice Time. Children may have been building and constructing in the art or math centers, sorting and classifying as they went along, or problem-solving in a profusion of situations as they interacted with others. This mental activity, forged ahead through choices, was a great asset throughout each day. They were thoroughly enjoying Choice Time while allowing their cognitive development to flourish.

See my two entries about cognitive growth:

A complete description with materials and activities of all five learning centers are in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

Opportunities for Cognitive Growth During Choice Time

In my combined first and second grade, Choice Time was an important part of each day, allowing children’s self-initiated learning to grow through their freedom of choice. There were math, science, art, writing, and book centers each providing activities and materials to inspire and nurture a child’s excitement about learning. Concepts developed in the centers overlap one another. And every afternoon, there was an evaluation time to show, discuss experiences, and add more information about all to extend future learning in the following days.

For instance, in the math center classification was involved whenever there was sorting of materials for building a structure or for solving a puzzle or making a design – looking at  the parts and deciding how to fit them into the whole thing, the finished creation. In the science center, shells and stones were sorted and classified according to different properties. Children frequently looked at likenesses and differences plus comparing and contrasting, all pre-requisites to classification, in many things such as birds’ nests and feathers, various kinds of plants, and collections of bark, fall seeds, fungi, etc. And when they tried to see if a bug was an insect, identifying the five parts was a huge classification feat. In the art center, there were constant opportunities to notice likenesses and differences – exposure to the various textures of the materials. Classification was involved whenever separate materials were combined to make a whole – collages and painting and creating designs and using small boxes to make whole structures.

Classification formed in the learning centers are the very tools required for successful achievement in all academic areas. It is necessary in social studies when studying various groups of people and geographical features. In addition to ordering and sequencing, good ability to classify is necessary while alphabetizing, using the dictionary, and spelling. To anticipate or predict outcomes in literature require looking at the parts (the details) compared to the whole (the plot) plus comparing the parts among the parts. To understand paragraphs, children need to know the sequence of events and be capable of looking at the details (the parts) compared to the whole written piece. Identifying the main idea requires understanding the relationship of the whole to the parts. Decoding is an immense classification feat. And all of the above are required when children are writing, composing a story, or an article.

Much of math requires classification, and it must become internalized before children can understand and use their math without objects. Addition involves sorting and then classifying – looking at all the parts compared to the parts and those compared to the whole. Then multiplication is just a more complex form of classifying – looking at multiple groups of numbers in relation to wholes. Subtraction and division require all of the above plus reversibility of thought. Solving the missing addend, 2 + ? = 5 or ? + 3 = 5, requires reversibility of thought, and most first graders are too young for that. Fractions need an understanding about how the parts relate to the parts, the parts to the whole, and the whole to the parts.

Understanding conservation requires the ability to see transformations and reversibility. Once that is understood, children will know that two amounts are equal no matter what form they take. In the math center, they see a bucket of Cuisenaire Rods using various amounts of space – dumped on the floor, made into a building, or into long roads and then these same rods gathered up and put back into the bucket. A whole puzzle is dismantled, spread out on a table and then put back together again in the smaller space of the completed puzzle. And sometimes during Choice Time there was water play with different size containers. Following this in the afternoon with the whole class, the class would be shown one amount of water, and then have them guess if it would fit into other shaped containers. In the art center, cleaning up with sponges is a good example – a sponge full of water squeezed out and then the same water reabsorbed. All children helped clean up at one time or another. Any kind of modeling medium, such as clay or plasticine or play dough, starts out with one ball, and then can be rolled or shaped into many different configurations, and finally returned to the same original size ball.

In the art center there are many transformations taking place without reversibility – any kind of painting where one small amount of paint on a brush or a sponge is spread over a wide area. At least once a year, they became enraptured with making paper chains as long as they could – first to the length of the room and then back and forth until finally they’d give up. Some 9 x 12 pieces of paper, cut into strips in one pile, can then be connected to a long, long chain.

If Merry is a competent math student, she must also have a good understanding of conservation. She must recognize that the number is always the same no matter what sizes or shapes are presented. It could be five marbles or five buildings or five children. And they could be in a straight line, bunched together or scattered far and wide. It is still five. Merry must recognize that a dime is not less than the bigger nickel. She must be able to internalize patterns of numbers to do mental math. In order to measure liquid accurately, she must be capable of seeing different shaped containers holding the same amount. In reading, before she could imagine cause and effect, she would need to have acquired conservation and therefore, reversibility of thought. As long as her thinking is static, she could not reverse her thinking to imagine an effect from a cause, nor could she think about the effect if she could not imagine the original state.

Losing egocentrism is such an important process to overcome – to be able to see and understand other viewpoints, both intellectually and socially. For Jerry to realize that the whole world doesn’t see things exactly the way he does – that there are many different views and aspects to situations. Whenever children are looking at all parts of a structure while building in the math center or constructing in the art center with boxes or clay or making mobiles, they are exposed to all sides plus the top and sometimes the bottom. If Helen, an egocentric child, looked at only one side of a structure she wouldn’t be able to imagine the shape of the other sides. So, constructions in the math and art centers help children overcome their concentration of static situations. During social conflicts there were opportunities to point out the other side of a situation trying to help a child realize there are other opinions and attitudes. Always. Piaget believed that one reason children lose their egocentrism is because of disagreements with their friends. A child begins to realize there are other viewpoints and after enough exposure with concrete experiences, children begin to think abstractly.

Losing egocentrism is also important for achieving good reading comprehension. Eventually, if a child cannot consider any other viewpoint and believes that everyone understands and sees things exactly the way he does, then he cannot understand the viewpoints of the author, empathize with the characters, and consider hypotheses, or notice similarities and differences in order to make comparisons and contrasts. He also would be incapable of evaluating and understanding the whole. And if he could not manage any of that, his writing would be very weak indeed. And think of the massive misunderstandings that would occur in social studies. How can we expect any child to appreciate others or be compatible if one’s thinking is so static?

So, concepts developed during Choice Time are the very tools which contribute to good comprehension and development in all academic areas. Certainly many of the cognitive traits are expected and taught in academic areas; however, if the concepts are not developed in real life experiences, then a child’s comprehension will be very weak or completely lacking. When these concepts are materialized, then a child’s very best achievement can be attained. Once when teaching an advanced third grade class in reading, half of them could not comprehend a story about the ocean and tides. I asked how many had never been to the ocean, and the very ones who couldn’t understand it raised their hands. Well, you can’t very well experience tides around the Great Lakes where we lived. And, of course, we couldn’t offer any experiences in tides during Choice Time. The point is that without direct experiences, understanding can’t take place. So, the more those children are able to incorporate a good cognitive structure, the more depth of understanding will occur. Therefore, the cognitive abilities attained in the math, science, and art centers are vital contributions to good achievement in all academic areas, and there is a direct association between the two.

Now, of course any child wouldn’t be completely lacking in all of the concepts presented here. They overcome a little at a time and in an uneven fashion – and continue to develop throughout life. So Troy, for instance, could be egocentric or lacking behaviors in some areas and not in others. The point is that Choice Time is a time to further develop these abilities necessary for good to excellent achievement in all academic areas. And opportunities in a school program are unlikely to allow such advances in concept attainment as there are in a Choice Time with learning centers.

So, as children are engaged with materials and each other during Choice Time, plus reading books and discussing those activities during evaluation time in the afternoons, they are absorbing a tremendous amount of knowledge about their world. These concrete experiences create ideas which are then expressed through language. While busily occupied and helping each other, they are engaged in friendly conversations plus discussing, debating, and arguing with their classmates. And school programs are not likely to offer children the opportunities for cognitive growth without a period of Choice Time. They may learn as much from each other as they do from adults.

A complete description with materials and activities of all five learning centers are in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

Choice Time for First and Second Grade

In my combined first and second grade, Choice Time for children’s  self-initiated learning was an important part of each day, a time to participate and explore in the learning centers – a time to learn on their own. There were math, science, art, writing, and book centers. Each of five centers provided appropriate activities and materials to invite and nurture a child’s joy in discovery and excitement about learning. Concrete experiences serve as a background for new insights and understandings in the world around them. These, in turn, not only kept their minds active but provided an extra basis for abstract thought that would be a benefit throughout all academic areas. The materials in each center were enough to capture the interest of the very brightest students and yet still be appealing to slower or younger children.

Few materials were offered at first in each center increasing as their growth in responsibility progressed. Vital to the smooth functioning of the class, the amount of freedom or choices that children were allowed to have were coexistent and contingent upon the amount of responsibility they were able to assume. Then there was great harmony. Of course, sometimes a child was disruptive or interfering with others and had to be dealt with but the ability to handle numerous choices must be apparent with most of the class. We had very few rules – no fooling around or wasting time and everyone should be busy.

Children were involved for the first thirty to forty minutes each day (while individual students were met for writing and math) followed by an afternoon evaluation time. Projects that could be saved were put on my desk to show and explore with the whole class after lunch and recess. Those that couldn’t be saved, such as constructions in the math center, were shared and discussed just before clean-up time. During the evaluation time, a whole range of ideas were explored with positive comments, constructive suggestions offered, problems discussed and solved, new ideas and concepts introduced, and books read about the displays. In this way, the whole class was involved with others’ projects leading to more understanding for the next day’s investigations.

Important aspects concerning concept development during Choice Time included opportunities for increasing each child’s cognitive development; that concepts developed in the math, science, and art centers overlap one another providing opportunities for cognitive development while participating in any of the three; and the concepts formed in these three centers are the very tools required for successful achievement in reading, writing, math, science, and social studies. And there’s no limit to young children’s vast enthusiasm for learning.

Choice Time is a time to further develop abilities necessary for good to excellent achievement in all academic areas. And opportunities in a school program are unlikely to allow such advances in concept attainment as there are in a Choice Time with learning centers.

See my two entries about further cognitive growth:


A complete description with materials and activities of all five learning centers are in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

Programs for Six-, Seven-, and Eight-Year-Olds

What programs in my combined first and second grades provide the natural learning of childhood? Exploration, discovery, and experimentation are part of self-initiated learning stemming from children’s great strives to understand and absorb their world. Learning centers supply an enriched environment that keeps their minds active and allows them to strengthen and expand their concepts, the necessary equipment for good progress in the academic areas. So, a daily Choice Time in the math, science, art, writing, and book centers was very important. A happy productive time.

Then what about the instructional programs, those that would allow them to grow and still keep their love of learning that they arrived with? It was hoped that each program would be appealing by allowing children to identify with others, enhance and broaden their thinking, and enable them to understand and accept purposes for learning. Programs addressed a wide range of intellectual levels and abilities without limits for achievement. Programs that would, along with the learning centers, reinforce and extend their concepts.

So my challenge and hope was to never, or try never, to turn them off. Then I know their learning and growth could really accelerate.

Read more about these programs in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

   Teaching Young Children © Peggy Broadbent 2011 - All Rights Reserved