Play should be a child's most important “job”. This work has been taken out of so many classrooms as we push kids academically beyond what is developmentally appropriate. Play is necessary for the healthy development of children. Research shows that 75% of the brain is formed after birth. Play stimulates the brain, which is necessary to develop gross motor and fine motor skills, both things necessary in the learning process.
I get emails from teachers all over the globe asking for advice since they have been told they cannot have a home living center. My answer is always the same, follow the child. If they are craving something in the learning process, it's clearly what they need. You don't need to have a play kitchen to have a home living center. I learned that several years ago. I gave away my kitchen because it was very old and falling apart. I intended on replacing it but never got around to it before school started. Guess what I figured out? It didn't matter. My kids didn't NEED a kitchen to have a home living center. For all intensive purposes, you can walk into my classroom and assume I have no home living center but I do AND it's my students' favorite thing to do in the history of ever.
My home living center consists of a small table that I bought for $10 at Ikea. It has two stools I bought for $5 at Ikea and a bucket that fits perfectly under that small table full of play food, dishes, table mats, etc. I try and keep my back counter clear too so they can expand their creativity. There are also a few fake portable phones which always hold the most entertainment when listening to their conversations, such as the little boy putting the pizza guy on hold to talk to Labron James. Ha!
My point is that you don't have to have a kitchen. You don't need to have a ton of space. You just need an area where children can go and let their imaginations run wild. They just need the gift of time to play and yes this is just as important, if not more during this stage of learning, than anything else.
But why is this so important?
PRETEND PLAY: Do you remember pretending to be different characters when you were little? I do. I always played school with my little sister. I kept every paper I made and used it to teach my “class” when I got home. Imagine that. Ha! Imaginative play never loses its appeal. In my “home living center” box, I have several dress up vests so children can be a chef, a doctor, a vet, etc. I want them to imagine themselves being those characters one day. It could be the beginning of a new lifelong dream. You have no idea what seeds are planted through play. Children can be whomever they want and sometimes they need that opportunity to escape their own reality, which is too hard to bear. When they realize they can be anything they want through imaginative play, they build self-confidence. Self-confidence leads to exploring new things which helps them grow academically, socially and emotionally.
COMMUNICATION: Children learn so much from talking to one another. My principals have always told me that I have a high tolerance for noise. I've never understood this. Shouldn't children be allowed to talk? I don't let my kids disturb learning but I do think collaborative learning is absolutely developmentally appropriate. Children learn through our example and often we are THE example of how to have a conversation. Have you ever role played with your kids on how to introduce themselves, make eye contact, shake a hand or ask questions? If you haven't, start tomorrow! This is so important.
I learn a lot about a child and what they are exposed to at home by listening to their conversations and interactions in home living. I am able to chime in and offer friendly guidance as to the proper way to speak or problem solve. Home living gives kids great opportunities to problem solve with peers. What to cook, who should be the mom, how to set a table or sweep. The process of looking for solutions to problems develops analytical skills your child. They are given the opportunity to think outside the box and compare decisions with their peers.
PLAY promotes social and language development. An hour of play is just as important in developmental learning as doing activities deemed to be strictly educational. Children need opportunities to practice sharing, manners, working out problems and understanding the proper ways to deal with real life scenarios. More importantly, children view play as FUN. They don't realize the amount of leaning that is taking place in those moments. There is no pressure to perform. They just get to enjoy experiences with their friends.
So teachers, let's lose the idea that a home living center revolves around a play kitchen. If your school will not let you have one anymore, let's not let that be an end all be all. We can still create an area where imagination comes to life and find ways to make it meet a standard if necessary.
Start hitting up garage sale, family, friends and your local Wal Mart. Buy a plastic tea set, play food, cooking utensils, dress up costumes, play money, stuffed animals and dolls, band aides and plastic tools. Give your students the creative freedom to live in an imaginary world where they make all of the decisions, solve all of the problems and learn to cope in life situations all in the comfort and protection of your classroom walls. Just because our educational system has beefed up the standards does not mean that kids are no longer kids. What was developmentally appropriate twenty years ago is still very relevant today. After all, we were allowed to play for hours AND take naps and we didn't turn out so bad.