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:

http://peggybroadbent.com/blog/index.php?s=Opportunities+for+Cognitive+Growth+During+Choice+Time

http://peggybroadbent.com/blog/index.php?s=Young+Children%27s+Cognitive+Gains+Through+Art

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 www.amazon.com

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: http://peggybroadbent.com/blog/index.php?s=Opportunities+for+Cognitive+Growth+During+Choice+Time

and

http://peggybroadbent.com/blog/index.php?s=Young+Children%27s+Cognitive+Gains+Through+Art

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 www.amazon.com

Early Math Concepts for Young Children

In my combined first and second grade, activities during Choice Time provided children with opportunities to make discoveries and achieve mathematical understanding through play. In the Math Center, while constructing, playing games, and pondering puzzles they were problem solving, using logic, and gaining various concepts of number. The Art Center also provided opportunities for expanding math concepts through creating constructions, collages which involve sorting and classifying, and carrying out ideas for patterning. And throughout the year, there were studies and emphases on symmetry and patterning. These concepts are assets for good achievement, enabling children to fully understand their math. Plus, new math concepts in the district-required math books always involved concrete experiences and manipulatives. Lots of them in various forms. Yes, it’s possible for children to manage correct answers in their books without understanding, but that guarantees from about third grade on – huge difficulties. I always hoped that they would know how and why they arrived at their answers and see the purpose of learning math in their daily lives. Then good abstract math would follow.

The children also understood that there may not be only one right answer in all circumstances. They should think about it. You know, a three-year-old once taught me that 1 + 1 = 1. It was a beautiful day outside when he was concentrating upon pouring a heavy pail of water into his pail of sand. When he finished and looked down at his pail of sand he was shocked and asked, “Hey, what happened to my pail of water?” He found out that one pail of sand, plus one pail of water, equals one pail of wet sand. So, questioning results in class was encouraged, so that math could be fun and creative and encourage problem solving.

Learn more about the math program and Choice Time 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 www.amazon.com

Animals and Natural Science in First and Second Grade

In my combined first and second grade classes, children’s self-initiated learning took place during Choice Time. These concrete experiences served as a background for gaining new insights and understandings.

It isn’t important which things are offered but vital that science is a big part of young children’s lives. The resulted learning is immense. Science can promote curiosity, discovery, investigation, and experimentation resulting in extending children’s vocabulary, language, and concepts about their world. It offers opportunities to develop rational and critical thinking, and the skills of problem solving, comparing and contrasting, classification, and observation. There are also opportunities for significant reading and writing.

Supplies

a terrarium                                                           birds’ nests

feathers                                                                   plants, seeds, and bulbs

collections: shells, stones and rocks,                toads and turtles

fossils, bark, fall seeds, fungi, acorns,

microscopes chestnuts,

everything blue, etc.                                     lizards

land crabs                                                                  slugs

pumpkins                                                                   monarch caterpillars and butterflies

cycle of mealworms                                                         and others, plus chrysalises and

fish and snails                                                           cocoons

slugs mice

pollywogs                                                                   spiders

live and dried insects                                             snakes

ants                                                                             molds

crayfish                                                                     parakeet

praying mantis                                                       science books

magnifying glasses

The collections and materials above found their way in our science center during each year. An exciting exhibit in the early fall was monarch caterpillars and chrysalises. Children were busy watching closely the sequence of the life span until finally – the butterfly

There was always a forest terrarium to house whatever might be brought to school. In the fall we had many creatures that grew in the area. Most we would keep for about a month and then let them go in a proper place. In the spring, we would have local creatures again. Other animals and reptiles found their way into our terrarium from parents or purchases from the pet store. We sometimes had a toad that lived in the terrarium all winter and seemed to become quite tame. There was a never-ending interest watching the toad whipping out its extended tongue to eat a mealworm. And then raising mealworms to feed the toad continued our study of life cycles. (Mealworms can be raised in a box of oatmeal containing cut-up potatoes.)

We accepted anything that we could properly care for and the children could hold and catch. There wasn’t often an aquarium because interest was high during the talks and preparation but waned after the fish were introduced. It happened with anything that could not be held.

There were also collections, such as shells, fall seeds, and birds’ nests and feathers. While some sorted and classified shells, others tried to guess what properties were involved. A big display of fall seeds emphasized life cycles and how they travel through wind, animals and people. We read a book about various birds’ nests to help in identification. Observing the various birds’ feathers, children tried to determine what parts of the bird the feathers had originated from and what purpose each had.

With the help of books in the afternoons, children learned more about the exhibits in the science center. For instance, books could be about the differences between various nests, a toad and a frog, a butterfly and a moth, a turtle and a tortoise; the differences between instinct and learned behavior.

For insect study, there was a chart showing the five parts – the head, the thorax, the abdomen, two sets of wings and six legs. Then we looked and searched for small things to see if they were insects or not. What a classification feat that was!

Raising mice each January, we became involved in a study about genes and heredity. It was most exciting each time we had a new litter – which was very often. We transferred the knowledge about the mouse genetics to other animals and people.

During the spring, a variety of seeds were planted from those found in fruits and vegetables, such as apple and melon seeds and the eyes of potatoes plus an assortment of bulbs and flower seeds.

Concepts gained during science activities not only kept their minds active but provided an extra basis for abstract thought that would be a benefit throughout all academic areas. And there’s no limit to young children’s vast enthusiasm for learning.

Read more about Choice Time and the science program 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 www.amazon.com

   Teaching Young Children © Peggy Broadbent 2011 - All Rights Reserved