— Louise Boyd Cadwell (Bringing Reggio Emilia Home: An Innovative Approach to Early Childhood Education)
When Jacob was part of a charter where we used to live, in the middle of the class, they would break and let the kids have free choice. Free choice was when the kids would be free to pick activities that other wise would have been reserved for a learning center or some other time designated by the teacher. It allowed them to play with the items or mimic what they had learned in previous lessons. Most of all, the kids loved it. I fully recognize the importance of letting the kids play, pretend, and imagine them selves and role play with these items. I try each day to give free choice to our learning items as well as the centers. As you can imagine this is a wonderful time and so it is worth working for. It has become a motivator to my own children, that if they finish their lessons, they can have free choice before lunch time.
I try to make certain that all the centers are available to them at free choice, and the biggest thing to remember is not to demonstrate anything unless a child asks how to do/use something and not to interfere with the play unless they are being unsafe and could hurt them self, another person or damage the materials in a way that was unsafe(ripping dress up clothes, tearing pages in a book, throwing toys, etc.) This is an exciting time as a teacher and parent, because you now get to see what your child sees. They will show us what their impression of how these materials should be used and played with. You also get to see them do "experiments". What will happen if I stack all the blocks? What will happen if I dig to the bottom of the sensory tub?
It is thrilling for the child to be the one deciding how they want to manipulate these learning items. I have seen them try to teach each other the alphabet, sort things according to color and stack them end to end to see how long a chain they could make and then measure it.
With this bin of play electronics (inspired by one I saw on confessions of a homeschooler), I have seen many very interesting vacations and phone conversations take place.
I have also seen skills displayed for me. I will never forget when Jacob pulled out all the geoboards for free choice and filled them all up. He wanted to make one of them into a clock.
What could be more fun for a child then being in charge of circle time and who gets to pick first for "Old Mac Donald"? During free choice I have seen an audience of stuffed "friends" be told to wait their turn.
Amazing adventures and wonderful displays are made. Most of all it is a huge boost to the self esteem of the child to learn while using these items, that they can indeed engage in a meaning way with them.
Favorite free choice items in our classroom are:
- alphabet blocks/fun foam letters and numbers basket
- view master story time center
- sensory tub
- do-a-dot art
- math manipulatives of any kind
- circle time materials(just watch out, I have seen the pointers become swords every now and then)
- dress up and imaginary play items
- file folder games
Malaguzzi, who was a former teacher in Reggio said,"Each child is unique and the protagonist of his or her own growth. Children desire to acquire knowledge, have much capacity for curiosity and amazement, and yearn to create relationships with others and communicate. "
To find out more about this way of learning search the web for Reggio Emilia and you will be amazed at how wonderful this technique can be.