My Biggest Challenge with a Classroom Makerspace

Thursday, 8 August 2019


What I love about the maker movement is its focus on process over product.

Children are immersed in the engineer design process as they work on projects that teach them how to plan and develop ideas, test and evaluate designs, and best of all, adopt a growth mindset.

All are important future-ready skills that our kiddos need to develop.


My Makerspace Challenge

And while I'm cool with the whole nonlinear, messy "process," there is one question I keep asking myself.

What do I do with all the stuff children make?


And I'm not the only one asking.

Parents wonder about this too.

Both parties want to respect the integrity of children's work, but find the storage and display of paper tube rockets and tin foil boats a bit of a challenge.

So here are a few solutions I've "tinkered" with in trying to answer this question.

Choose Quality Over Quantity

Probably the most important thing I've discovered, is that how I set up, plan, and use my makerspace center affects the amount of stuff children make.

In thinking beyond just arts and crafts activities (often labeled as STEM), and being more intentional about the purpose of each project, I've improved the quality of the experience, while reducing the quantity of products.

When planning, I first look for opportunities within curricular units or inquiries that lend themselves well to a makerspace challenge.

Next, I plan challenges, such as this paintbrush project, that require children to apply design thinking steps and include other tasks around the actual "making" such as sketching designs, running tests, and recording evaluations.


This not only teaches my kindergarten kids to stick with a task, rather than flitting from project to project,  but also results in a longer, richer experience AND less products in the end.

Invite Collaboration 

This next idea was inspired by the children I teach (where all my best ideas come from!).

I challenged the kids to make a slide as part of our force and motion unit.  When they kept asking for marbles, I knew they were more interested in designing "chutes," similar to the marble runs they enjoyed during choice time, rather than a model of a playground slide.

We began to watch Youtube videos of some amazing marble runs, and one child asked if we could join ours together to make a big one.

Children were then given the choice of taking theirs home or making it available for the jumbo marble chute.

Most opted for the latter.

One child's response was, "My mom doesn't really know what to do with it anyway so she'll probably just throw it away."


So this idea of each child making an individual project, that would then contribute to a larger whole, not only brings greater opportunities for thinking and problem solving, but reduces the number of products that parents would have to "secretly" dispose of when their child wasn't looking. #beentheredonethat

This idea of a collaborative project could also be done with children working in pairs or small groups.
   

Use Non-Consumables

While consumable materials offer more freedom and creative opportunity, non-consumable materials such as building sets (think Legos, Knex, Magnatiles) can also be used in challenges.

In fact, I've noticed that by limiting the materials, children stretch their thinking and are more innovative as they try to make the material work for what they are making or building.


And when they are finished, they can just take their creation apart and put it away.  Easy peasy!

Go Digital

Technology provides answers to this problem in two ways.

First, children can use technology as a tool for making.  My kiddos have used this Geoboard app to create both mazes and flags.


Second, digital portfolios, such as See Saw, allow children to take photos of their creations and create a digital gallery they can use to document and share their work.

This solution can also be shared with parents, who might be inspired to create a digital album to chronicle and showcase their child's work for any given school year.

Makers Gonna Make

I have no doubt that children love the makerspace and truly enjoy making stuff.

But, by being intentional about the type of challenges I offer, I am adding more value to the "product," itself.

If I let kids just "crank stuff out," I am missing many educational opportunities to build future-ready skills that my children really need.

If you are looking for ideas on how to set up a makerspace in your primary classroom, this  Discovery Center Start-up Guide can help you with those first steps.


Please let me know if you have other solutions for my "makerspace challenge."  I would love to hear from you.

Thanks for stopping by!


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Why I Don't Have a Dramatic Play Center in My Kindergarten Classroom

Sunday, 4 August 2019


Now before you go jumping to conclusions, let me say that I have nothing against dramatic play centers.

In fact, it makes me pretty sad to see how few kindergarten classrooms have space for them anymore.

I even got choked up at a conference once (not unusual if you know me) as I described how many of the kitchen sets in my school district had been moved to basement storage (my own included!).

Pretty embarrassing, but I saw it as a sign of the times, and I really didn't like where kindergarten was headed.

But even so, I currently don't have a traditional dramatic play center in my classroom.

And here's why!

Reimagining the Traditional Dramatic Play Center

Several years ago, I began to notice the literary richness that came from acting out stories that we read repeatedly each week through shared reading.

story retelling and role play from shared reading books such as Caps For Sale in a kindergarten classroom center

Children were:

  • building oral language
  • expanding vocabulary
  • internalizing story structures
  • using a story voice and expressive language
  • practicing sequencing and story order

I knew that all of these skills were benefitting my kiddos by increasing their comprehension, supporting their writing in both language and organization, and improving their speaking skills.

And so I thought that if I turned my dramatic play center into a storytelling center, children would have more opportunities to build these skills with each new story that was introduced.

Enter the Storytelling Center

So I took a deep breath and sent the kitchen set to the basement graveyard, scooped up another teacher's discarded bookshelf, and began to swap out the pretend play props of food and dress up clothes for story props and felt boards.

retelling shared reading books such as Jack and the Beanstalk in a kindergarten classroom center

Each story was given its own basket and felt story mat.  Props were gathered from a variety of places including my own children's toys, thrift stores, and garage sales.

Some storytelling sets were purchased with school funds through catalogs such as Lakeshore Learning and School Speciality.

It didn't happen overnight and I'm still always on the lookout for new props that kids could use to tell a new favorite story.

I renamed it the Storytelling Center to be explicit about what children were to do when they visited.

choice time discovery center - storytelling center start-up guide for kindergarten

Expanding Into Content Areas

Over time, I began to expand the many ways children could use the storytelling center.  In addition to retelling folk/fairytales and emergent storybooks, I started to see "stories" in other areas of the curriculum that could be told in the center to help children better grasp the content they were learning.

In November, the children retold the story of the Mayflower and the first Thanksgiving.

retelling the story of the Mayflower and first Thanksgiving in a kindergarten classroom center

During a weather unit, they made up their own weather stories...

creating weather stories in a kindergarten classroom center

and told the story of how a snowflake was made.

telling the story of how snowflakes are made as part of a weather unit in a kindergarten classroom center

The possibilities are really endless as story is inherent to all of history, people's lives (think biographies), and the science of how things are invented, made, grown, etc.

Children could tell the story of Martin Luther King, Jr., how a flower is grown, or the water cycle.

Still a Dramatic Play Center?

So, you may be asking yourself, "Isn't this still a dramatic play center?"

In many ways, yes!

Both invite role play, explore pretend/makebelieve, utilize social-emotional skills and build communication.

retelling the story of five silly fishermen in a kindergarten classroom center


But what is traditionally known as a dramatic or pretend play center typically includes props that invite children to explore roles associated with home and community living.  The center may be changed throughout the year to match students' interests from a pet shop to a garden store to a dentist's office.

I see value in both, but felt the storytelling center was a way to meet increasing academic demands while still keeping dramatic play alive and well.

In a perfect world (or a bigger classroom), you might offer both!

How do you incorporate dramatic play in your classroom?

Thanks for stopping by,




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Number Staircase Ideas for Your Kindergarten Math Center

Saturday, 27 July 2019


As you are thinking about how to run your math center this year, consider offering a few ongoing activities that will sustain the center for the entire year.

One activity I like to include is building number staircases.

Using number staircases to help children with number sense skills such as 1:1 counting, numeral recognition, number order, subtilizing, more and less, and comparing numbers.


Not only do children enjoy this hands-on experience, but it provides great practice with number sense skills such as 1:1 counting, numeral recognition, number order, subitizing, and configurations such as columns and rows.

Even more importantly, the visual of the staircase supports children in conceptualizing the pattern of our number system and understanding that each number has a value that is one more or one less than the numbers that come before and after.

This may seem like a simple concept, but I find many kiddos who struggle here, which then makes grasping addition and subtraction even more difficult.

Here are a few ideas and things to consider as you set up and organize your math center to ready it for staircase building.

The Numerals

You'll need to gather a variety of numeral sets for children to choose from when building staircases. These might be made of wood, foam, plastic, cardboard or could be index or flashcards.

Using number staircases to help children with number sense skills such as 1:1 counting, numeral recognition, number order, subtilizing, more and less, and comparing numbers.


Consider beginning with numerals 1-5 and then progressing to 1-10 and 1-20 as their skills grow.

The Math Counters

Children will enjoy choosing the counters to use for their staircases so make different sets available.  Mini erasers, acrylic gems, felt pieces, snap cubes and small blocks all work well.

Using number staircases to help children with number sense skills such as 1:1 counting, numeral recognition, number order, subtilizing, more and less, and comparing numbers.

It's important that the counters are uniform in size in order for children to see that one more, one less relationship. 

Using number staircases to help children with number sense skills such as 1:1 counting, numeral recognition, number order, subtilizing, more and less, and comparing numbers.

If you have seasonal counters, change them out with each month or season to renew children's interest in this ongoing activity.

Using number staircases to help children with number sense skills such as 1:1 counting, numeral recognition, number order, subtilizing, more and less, and comparing numbers.

The Math Mats

You might find that some children need a math mat to provide a physical boundary for their work or to support them in creating the staircase.

Using number staircases to help children with number sense skills such as 1:1 counting, numeral recognition, number order, subtilizing, more and less, and comparing numbers.

Carpet remnants, placemats, or doormats all work well for this.

Make it a Math Game

Make it a game by adding some dice and children can stack counters based on what they've rolled as they race to see who is the first to complete their staircase.

Using number staircases to help children with number sense skills such as 1:1 counting, numeral recognition, number order, subtilizing, more and less, and comparing numbers.


Using number staircases to help children with number sense skills such as 1:1 counting, numeral recognition, number order, subtilizing, more and less, and comparing numbers.

You can find these staircase games in the Roll it, Write it, Count it resource.

Storage and Organization

Sorting trays are great for counter storage.  Numeral sets can be placed in plastic bags or pencil cases and stored in a bin.

If you don't yet have a Math Center in your classroom and are looking for more set-up tips, this start-up guide will walk you through the process.

Using number staircases to help children with number sense skills such as 1:1 counting, numeral recognition, number order, subtilizing, more and less, and comparing numbers.

The math center is one of several choices my children have during Discovery Workshop. If you are curious about this time in our day and want to know more, check out this start-up guide.


Thanks for stopping by!

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