It is surprisingly easy to bring the academic topics and concepts covered during whole-class instruction to your Play-Based Centers block. PBC allows opportunities for enrichment and exploration that there simply isn’t time for during your regular academic blocks. Most importantly, students have time to approach concepts and skills from multiple perspectives, adding meaning and creating opportunities for deeper learning and authentic connections.
I once planned several whole-class science lessons on surface tension. The activities were not particularly complicated, but I did have limited materials and time. I really only had a few days to cover surface tension before we needed to move on. Honestly, how is anything supposed to stick in only three days, no matter how awesome my lessons are? With unlimited materials and time, I would have set up separate stations and had the students rotate through each one over several days. Then, I would have returned to the topic several times over the next year. However, this was not an option. Thanking my lucky stars that I worked at a school that still allocated time for science at all, I opted for a few quick teacher demonstrations. After these, I simply transferred and then rotated the demo materials through the Science Center. For more than a month, small groups of students eagerly played and explored using the materials. At first, they tried the demonstrations again, mimicking what I had done. And then, they began creating their own explorations. At times they requested other materials and I added and removed items to encourage their play and creativity. Some students recorded their explorations by drawing or writing on scrap paper attached to clipboards at the center. (I often leave paper on clipboards and pencils at the centers to encourage, but not require, observations and documentation.) During Ch.E.C.K.-ins I encouraged their use of content vocabulary, self-directed inquiry, and active learning. In winter, as the temperatures dropped, our science lessons touched on states of matter, and how liquid water can become solid ice. The students recalled their explorations of surface tension and asked interesting questions, connecting their earlier observations at the Science Center to this new topic. One or twice we brought in a bucket of ice and snow collected during recess and left it at the Science Center. Observing the way it melted and eventually evaporated. In the spring, we studied the changes taking place in ponds. I reminded the students of their previous water explorations, and the students were engaged and eager to talk about the different ways that surface tension affected the plant and animal life in ponds. I added some large, sealed containers of pond water to the Science Center and the students made observations using magnifying glasses. They noticed the pollen and other objects floating on the top. They also had an interesting exchange about the fact that while some bugs can stay on top of the water due to surface tension, some dead bugs in the container had sunk. After that, several students visited the Art & Design Center, extending their connections by creating drawings and dioramas of ponds. There may or may not have been a few dead bugs included in their artwork.
Play on, my friends!