How to lay the groundwork for a delightful day at preschool? I believe the delight is in the details. Perhaps it seems like a contradiction in terms - you must intentionally plan your open-ended, exploratory fun; you must intentionally plan the learning through play.
Let me showcase a recent classroom I visited. Minutes before the children arrived, I walked around snapping photos of everything the teacher had prepared, realizing I might be able to give great visuals of the thought that necessarily goes into a delightful day.
Children "come as they are" at ages 2, 3, 4, and 5. The teacher spends her day juggling these often varied personalities; the wise teacher provides a welcoming activity for each, appealing to their different learning styles. In this classroom, there are places for all the different personalities to land happily - to be able to enter the room and immediately immerse themselves in something that is very much to their liking.
There is the sensory table, right near the entrance, for immediate gratification. Young children often have mixed feelings separating from their loved ones at the door - immersing one's hands in a sensory activity, such as sand or water, can be just the right fix for these troubled emotions.
You will see in this same photo, above, another table that holds a work in progress - a puzzle that the children started the day before and asked to continue today. This idea of keeping work out - allowing children to add onto their efforts of the day before - demonstrates tremendous respect of children's play.
There is an art project, where the teacher has already ensured that each interested child will have the materials he/she will need. Having materials at the ready helps children to stay focused, to work longer on their creative efforts.
Also prepared is a concentration game, laid out, in position, ready to play. There will be no need to search for something to do. The game is simple, clear, and inviting. And look - it reflects the Thanksgiving theme!
It's important to point out - none of these tables is "static." This is just today's "look." Each day, a new plan - new activities. (In fact, this is just the welcoming/start of day "look." Once the morning is underway, the teacher will clear a couple of these tables for a cooking activity - today, the children will be making pumpkin muffins.)
But I haven't finished telling you about all the activities that have been prepared throughout the classroom for all the different learners. Across the room is a jumping spot for kinesthetic fun. Don't you know a child or two that needs to run and jump lots and lots before they can focus? Wouldn't that child be happy in this classroom!
In a corner of the room, there is a quiet table with a rather academic manipulative that is just the right place for a more introspective sort.
Last, but not least, on one side of the classroom, the teacher has fenced off a large running area and opened up the rabbit cage. The rabbit explored merrily and soon his familiar friends would be here to play with him, under the watchful eye of an adult.
(This rabbit was so happy and quick, I had trouble getting a good photo until a pal arrived....)
Oh, these lucky young naturalists, learning how to care for this dear little animal, showering him with love and attention.
This classroom exemplifies the intentional planning that goes into creating a playful environment for preschoolers. What a wonderful variety of activities! This is going to be a delightful day!