Planning Materials for Play and Learning in PreK and Elementary Schools

Carefully selected materials can differentiate meaningful play that leads to significant learning and aimless play. Consider these points as you choose toys and learning materials.

Age-appropriate, with a challenge. Are the toys sturdy for these kids? Choose materials that are good for the range of development and interests in your group. Do the materials offer a challenge to kids? Toys that have been mastered don’t hold interest for long. Materials that do notto intrigue kids or excite possibilities are not likely to facilitate successful play.

Skills and concepts. What are your learning goals for kids? Select materials that will provide lots of opportunities for kids to develop and apply those skills and concepts.

Offer materials that will enable you to observe the kid’s progress and support the learning.

Supply and demand. Do you have enough toys? Kids need plenty of toys to choose from. You will also need several copies of popular toys to reduce disputes and waiting time. Do kids need additional materials? Observe kids’ play, and add props and materials that will extend and enrich their learning.

Choices. Do you have an assortment of materials? Be sure to include classic toys such as dolls and Legos.

Authentic and natural. Have you included authentic materials? Provide real objects that are safe for kids to play with—mixing bowls, baskets, rulers, measuring cups, clothespins, maps. Does the learning space include both items from nature and items made from organic materials? Plastic is sturdy, colorful, and safe but doesn’t provide the same sensory richness as wood and fabric. In addition, kids need indoor nature experiences.

Organic and rotating. Are kids losing interest in a toy? Sometimes kids just need some guidance in new ways to use the toy. Or maybe it’s time to replace that toy with something they haven’t played with recently. Create a system for rotating learning materials. Are materials inviting to kids? Display toys in robust containers on labeled shelves. Avoid stacking containers so that kids can easily take what they need and put it away at clean-up time.

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