Planning for Play: Making Choice Time Even More Meaningful

One of the joys of being a teacher is the abundant amount of time to travel.  If you are anything like me, you take full advantage.  This summer, I went to Paris for a week with my dear friend, Ellen.  I was meeting her there after spending a few weeks in Spain and she was leaving her year-old baby and husband behind.  We knew we had to make this a memorable week.

On day 1, we talked about what we would do.  Since I was already in full European mode, I wanted to wander the beautiful Parisian streets, wearing every outfit I own that has stripes and Peter Pan collars, eating copious amounts of baguettes spread with brie.  This is how I imagined my time at least.  Ellen, on the other hand, came with multiple guide books, all marked with post-its and notes on the best things to see, times of day to go, passes to buy,and  restaurants to eat at.  I was overwhelmed.

Being the beautiful friend she is, we spent the first day doing it my way.  We wandered, leisurely, down to the Eiffel Tower where we met three-hour lines.   Ok, lets keep moving.  We strolled over the Arc de Triomphe.  One hour line.  The Louvre was nearby, so we decided to walk there next. I can’t even tell you how many hours that line would have been, but the sea of people was distressing.  What was I thinking?

That night, Ellen and I sat down with her guide books and iPad and we mapped out our remaining six days.  Needless to say, the rest of our trip was much more successful.  We were able to see all of the sights, while making time for aimless wandering.

Plan…. for Play?

I used to think that planning for play was unnecessary.  Why should kids have to plan for something that comes so naturally to them?  Just like my planned Parisian days were much more successful than our first un-planned day, Choice Time and play that is planned is much more successful.  As Mr. Rodgers reminds us, “Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning.”  The rehearsal and set-up for this play gives children a chance to dig-deeper and make even more sense of the world around them.

Here are some ways planning can support play in the classroom:

  • Helps children learn to collaborate
  • Builds problem-solving language and skills
  • Scaffolds children in moving from parallel and associative play to collaborative play.
  • Kids can share their knowledge about the world with peers so that we have more shared experiences and information

What Does Planning Look Like?

 Planning can look many different ways.  Here are some ways that planning has worked in my classroom.

  • Verbal Planning

Kids can simply talk before they begin to play.  The chart below, inspired by my colleague Kristi Mraz, gives kids talking points to plan off of before getting to work.


Kids work together to decide what they will make, build or create and then decide on who will be what.  For example, dramatic play might be making a restaurant.  One student will be the chef, one will be the waiter, one will be the patron, and one will be the owner.

  • Group Plans

Kids can decide what they will make or create in their center and then they can sketch what it will look like on large poster paper.

Ice Cream Shop Planning

Ice Cream Shop Planning

Ice Cream Shop in Action

Ice Cream Shop in Action

Pirate ship with plan hanging in the background.

Pirate ship with plan hanging in the background.

Kids can then use these “blueprints”, as named by brilliant colleagues Mollie Gaffney and Kat Cazes, to guide their creations.

  • Individual Plans

Kids can each have their own sheet of paper on which they can plan for their center.  They still talk together and decide what they will create or play and what role each child will have.

The group is playing 'Olympics'.  Kasey planning to be Shaun White.

The group is playing ‘Olympics’. Kasey planning to be Shaun White.

Shaun White in action.

Shaun White in action.

Restaurant plan 1.  Chef.

Restaurant plan 1. Chef.

Restaurant Plan 2.  Maitre d'.

Restaurant Plan 2. Maitre d’.

Little Red Hen Planning.  Who will be who?

Little Red Hen Planning. Who will be who?

This system relies heavily on children talking to one another as they plan because they are not all working on the same sheet of paper.  Recently, in the lego center, 3 children were planning on creating an Olympic stadium, while 1 was planning for a spaceship.  Teaching kids to check in with one another so that all of our plans and ideas match in important.

Kids Have Their Plans.   Now What?

Once kids have their plans, they are ready for play!  Here are some ways to help kids continue to use their plans:

  • Kids check in with their plans as they go.

As students are building, creating, and playing, have them check in with their plans often so that they can remind themselves of their original intentions.  This helps them build stamina around playing one thing for an period of time, and supports the collaboration between a group of students, helping them to continue to work together towards the same goal.

  • Plan Revisions

Just like a planned day in Paris might take a turn when the Catacombs end up being closed, play sometimes takes a turn as well.  When my students thought they were building a commercial airplane, but then realized it was actually Air Force One, their plane needed to change.  Instead of lots of rows of seats, they revised the plan so that there were 10 seats, 4 for Obama and his family, 1 for their dog, 2 for the pilots, and 3 for friends.

Having kids revise their plan by adding (Ahh, there is no bathroom on the plane!) or making changes (We should make a square front instead of a round one) supports kids understanding of what they are playing and allows room for them to dig for an even deeper understanding than they began with.

  • Time for Reflection

Kids can have conversations around their plans.  At the end of Choice Time  kids can reflect on the work they completed.  They might ask:

  • Did we stick to our plan?
  • Did we need to revise our plan?
  • Why did we need to make changes?
  • How will this change play for tomorrow?

Next Steps

Now that my kids are fluently make a use plans during Choice Time, I have been considering a few next steps:

  • Having kids research and plan during other times of the day for Choice Time.
  • Content Areas in Choice Time and how plans can support this content knowledge.
  • Having groups ask other groups for feedback on their plans before getting started.

Please share comments and ideas below.  I’m eager to hear how your students plan or how you envision they could plan for play in Choice Time!

Fitting It All In

Brilliant ideas seem to breed brilliant questions, so I wasn’t surprised to hear that a teacher from Washington D.C. was left with some pretty smart questions after reading kinderconfidential, my colleague, Kristi Mraz’s blog.  Becky wrote to Kristi and asked, “How do you do it all?  We feel pulled in twenty directions and like we can’t do any one thing well.”

As I’m sure all of you know, this isn’t a question that has an easy answer, or an answer at all.  I often don’t fit it all in, but I do have a few guiding beliefs that help me try.  Kristi wrote about this topic on her blog: and asked me to give my thoughts on the topic as well.  Two brains are better than one, right?  So here it is…

Remember:  Everything is Connected

When I look at my schedule, I often feel overwhelmed.  There are so many components that make up each day:

Morning Meeting

Reading Workshop

Shared reading

Read Aloud

Word Study

Writing Workshop

Shared Writing

Inquiry (Science or Social Studies)

Community Meeting


Choice Time

I used to look at each of these components and think, “Whoa, how can I do all of this?” until one day is occurred to me that each part of the day isn’t separate.  Each part is connected.  Every component should support one another.

My colleagues and I are currently in a story-writing unit.  On Friday I knew that in writing workshop we would be working on having characters on every page of our story.  Having this in mind, I made sure that read aloud and shared writing would come before our workshop time.  During shared writing as my students were co-authoring a story with me, I was able to guide them to have characters on every page of the story we were writing together.  Furthermore, as I read Leonardo, the Terrible Monster for read aloud, I had my students put a thumb up every time Mo Willems had a character on a page (What do you know, Mo has characters on every page!).

This is helpful for a few reasons:

  • It helps making my teaching stick.

My kids hear the same idea over and over during three parts of the day as opposed to hearing three different ideas in those three parts of the day.  The repetition supports all of my learners as they are able to hear my teaching point many times, see it in action in a published book, and have a scaffolded try before having to do it on their own.

  • It provides students with a frame of reference.

When I got to teaching my writing workshop lesson on Friday, I was able to start by saying, “Remember how Mo Willems made sure to have a character on every page of his story?  And remember how we put characters on every page of the story we wrote together?  When writers write stories, they have characters on every pages.”  Knowing that my kids have already heard, seen, and lived this idea is a huge time-saver when I finally get to teaching the lesson!  Knowing that I, at best, have 7 minutes to get my students attention and teach them something, being able to refer back to a point earlier in the day makes my teaching much more succinct.

Here is a secret: On some days, when I am crunched for time, my shared writing might be my writing mini-lesson.   “Did you see how we just added characters to every page?  You can do that to!  Go try…”

  • It gives my brain a break!

There is so much to teach each day, each week, each year.  When I get to school in the morning, my brain is often buzzing with everything I need to teach that day.  Knowing that many parts of my day are connected makes it easier to pick a few things to focus on with my students.

This is true for reading, inquiry, choice time, and math as well.  My reading components are often all exposing students to the same idea depending on my students’ needs.  Choice time may be supporting our inquiry.  Read aloud can support everything- content and skills in any area.  I really make sure to take advantage of that fact!

The last thing to consider when thinking about your schedule as parts of the day that are all connected is that as teachers, we are trying to create the kind of citizens we would want to be in the world with.  In my classroom, I value kindness, effort, persistence, resilience, optimism, and these qualities are connected to every component, every day,


Student Interests Should Guide Your Planning

In Becky’s note to Kristi, she wrote, “We want to know how you build a well-prioritized classroom.”  My students’ interests are my priority.  Yes, there are things we have to keep in mind as teachers:  curriculum, the common core, benchmarks, etc, etc, etc…  Nothing is as important as what my class is interested in. If my kids aren’t engaged, they aren’t learning.    When I am planning, I am often not thinking about the content of the unit, but how I can draw my students in considering what my class loves, what they’re talking about, what they are playing in choice time.  Fitting it all in doesn’t matter if kids aren’t holding onto your teaching.  Disguising my teaching as play around what my students love helps them do the hard work I am asking them to do with a fun twist.  I believe school and work should be fun so making sure it feels that way for students is a priority.  Sometimes this might mean having Spider-Man drop a package down to us covered in webs and acting shocked as we receive a new reading power, but other days, this might just look like picking a read-aloud around a topic I know my kids are interested in.  It doesn’t always have to be bells and whistles, it only always has to grab your students’ interest.

What’s the rush?

What are your kids interested in?  Spend time on those things.  When we are in an inquiry or unit that my students can’t stop talking about, we spend time on it.  I don’t cut their excitement short to get to the next thing on my schedule.

I also let my students guide the timing of my day.  Instead of being rigid and sticking to 20 minutes for this part of the day, 20 minutes for that part of my day, I notice what my students are engaged in and linger in those parts of the day.  If my kids are sucked into their independent reading, I don’t stop them.  If they are working hard with math partners I let them work.  You can always tell when kids start to get wiggly and are ready for something new.  Get to know those signs so your kids can guide your timing.

One out of Twenty:  Set Goals for Yourself

During my first year teaching, I felt like I was drowning.  I remember saying to my co-teacher, the incredible Kirsten Myers-Blake, “I’m not doing anything well!”  In her all-encompassing brilliance she said, “It is not possible to do everything well.  Make a goal for yourself, pick one thing to get better at.”  That’s what I did and that is what I still do now. I pick one thing, guided reading, conferring, etc, to work on.  I seek out colleagues to learn from, find professional texts, videotape myself in action, and give myself constant feedback.  Like working out, I make sure to set small goals that I can reach and celebrate often along the way.

Teaching is hard.  Becky and her colleagues are feeling pulled in twenty different directions because, lets face it, we all are.  Focus in on one out of twenty.  We can’t be great at everything, so why set yourself up for disappointment?  Get good at one thing, be kind to yourself, and celebrate.

There are so many moving pieces when it comes to fitting it all in.   Leave a comment below and let me know your version of fitting it all in!  And remember to check out Kristi’s beautiful post on the same topic at

Thank you, Becky and colleagues for challenging my thinking and pushing me to consider new ways to juggle.

Kid-driven Traditions

**After months of dragging my feet, I am finally starting a blog!  Thank you #nerdlution for the inspiration and final push.**

Every Thanksgiving I wake up in my parent’s house, slightly “under-the-weather” from seeing high school friends the night before and I start the day by making a pumpkin roll for my family.  This year, as they smell of cinnamon filled the kitchen and my arm started to get sore from mixing, I began to think about this tradition and why it fills my heart with warmth.  Here is what I came up with:

1.  It is reliable.  I know that every year, the ingredients will be bought by my mom and sitting out on the kitchen counter.  I know that however we decide to spend Thanksgiving, whether it be around our dining room table or at a Jets game, I will make a pumpkin roll- no questions asked.

2.  It is shared with people I care about.  It is made with the people I love the most in the world in mind.

  3.  Maybe the most important reason why this tradition is important to me is I created it.

There are other Geschwind family traditions that I hold close to my heart- receiving a Halloween package from my parents, eating baked ziti on birthdays, playing Phase 10 on vacations- but this tradition is one that I started.  I chose to bake this specific dessert for my family and I continue to do it because it is my way of showing my family how thankful I am for them.

In our classrooms, we as teachers are great at creating ‘traditions’ for our students.  We have reliability and sharing with peers down.  We do this by sharing student work at the end of reading, writing, and math lessons each day.  Kids get to be superstars in those moments as their friends learn from their work.  We create exciting publishing celebrations for student’s to share their writing.  We may even plan celebrations around special times of the year, but how often do we let kids create the traditions in our classroom? Here are some ways that I have been trying to give my students’ ownership over our classroom traditions.

  • Make ‘sharing’ a job.

This year, I couldn’t think of enough meaningful classroom jobs so that every student had one.  Being that my kindergartners are often smarter than I am, I asked them, what jobs do you think we should have in our classroom this year?  Many said, clean the floor, close the closets, lead the lines, and all of the jobs that kids typically have in a classroom.  Mikey said, “One job can be telling kids what you know how to do.”   This is how the  ‘expert sharer’ job was born.  The expert sharer gets to share anything they want with us on Friday.  They get to choose when on the schedule they will share and what they will share.  It may be a piece of work they are especially proud of such as a book they have been learning to read or a story they have been writing.  Many times it is something else they are proud of- a lego structure they built or a painting they made in choice time.  My students get to think about what they are good at, what they have put effort into, and what they could teach others.  They get to choose instead of me doing the choosing for them as it often happens at the end of lessons.

  • Invite families in and let kids learn about them.

My brilliant colleague, Kristi Mraz, posted a calendar allowing families to sign-up to come into the classroom to read a book, join choice time, do a craft, or share something they love.  I promptly stole this idea.   The first few times, my kids would barrage the parents with questions, “Where do you live?”  “What’s your favorite color?”  “What games do you play?”  I thought, why not set up an interview time when a new parent comes in?

And with that, our interview time was born.  Kids get to teach about their family while the rest of the class gets to ask whatever they are curious about.  This part of the parent visits has become their absolute favorite. From the first interview to now, my kids have learned so many more questions to ask.  We’ve moved from, “What kind of skin do you have?  Indian?  Italian? to “What’s your ethnicity?  We also have a lot more information about each other making it easy to compare families.  Ben and Anne both play baseball with their dads on the weekend.  Lots of moms love the color purple!  Jared and TJ both have a baby sister who chews on their toys.

  • Kid-chosen Read Alouds

This one has been is easy and has been a favorite!  Every week, one student gets to choose their favorite book, from home or school, for me to read. Kids also get to tell everyone why it is their favorite book and then write the book title on a list next to their name.  Once we get through every student, I am planning to send the favorites list home so all of the families can have it.

It has been exciting for me to allow kid-created traditions to influence our community.  What kid-driven traditions do you have in your classroom?


And for those who now have a hankering for a pumpkin roll, here is the recipe:

Thanks Kirsten Myers-Blake for introducing me to this delicious dessert!