I have not shared much about my Action Research project that I am working on this semester. It is taking a lot of my energy, but it is definitely a positive thing. I am focusing on Children's imaginative play for my project, so I have been spending a lot of time watching children engaged in imaginative play, and the easiest place to see and capture that is in the dramatic play area. I gather videos and notes each Tuesday and Thursday as I watch children play, and for the first two weeks of this data collection, dramatic play had costumes; plates, cups, and spoons; fabric, and two giant boxes. The boxes were open ended, and they were everything from jails to houses and caves and stores. One thing I noticed was that watching that play was like watching a pinball: themes and ideas and roles changed constantly. Children often revisited the same ideas and concepts, but each idea would have about 3 minutes before switching.
This is not necessarily negative. This is how they want to play, in a way: they want to try out different things, places, roles, ideas, and more. That is why I love imaginative play, and I want to promote it constantly in the classroom.
That said, I have been getting more and more curious as I have been watching more imaginative play than average. Could I help them stick with an idea and get deeper into it? So many teachers chose a dramatic play theme, and I was curious to try and create a focus in dramatic play without giving something too definite. I think that if there seems to be just one thing to pretend in dramatic play, some children are bound to never try it out.
The children often play out home themes, with Mommies and babies and bad guys and eating dinner and changing diapers - a big mish-mash of all the ideas and themes that are salient to them. So, without making a permanent decision like purchasing something, I made a play kitchen out of one of the many IKEA Expedit Shelving units we have in the classroom.
It was all the rage when on Wednesday, the day it was first in the classroom. Children immediately started pretending to cook, and after a while they were serving it at the table in the dramatic play area. Halfway though the morning, two boys announced that it was their store, and it was open - and it turned into a restaurant, with orders being taken, prepared, and brought to the table. One of the boys who opened this restaurant has only engaged in dramatic play pretending to be either a tiger or an elk, so we're starting to expand our horizons.
I have to remember not to be afraid to suggest things to children. I cannot assume that they will just spend all their time pretending to cook and eat: I have seen them be creative and unexpected, and they will likely surprise me, even with a pretend kitchen.
On another note, I now see the potential of these shelves: I'll let you know what we turn it into next!