When I first began teaching, I was placed in a Kindergarten classroom in an all-girls private school. That classroom, filled with nineteen little girls, was magical. The room was overflowing with laughter, chatter, yelling, and, every early elementary educators favorite, the sound of blocks crashing onto tile flooring. My girls were noisy, rough and tumble block queens. Given ten minutes, they could build up a nine-story apartment building (with functioning exterior slide which made for a convenient exit for residents, but a less convenient entrance…), a complex series of cages and exhibits for a zoo, or a skyscraper that rivaled some in the New York City Skyline. They built structures that were so intricate and large that I was pretty sure I was being punked, and kept an eye out for certified adult architects who may have been sneaking into the classroom to do some building. Yes, there were other centers that the girls enjoyed; beading, dramatic play, painting, play doh and all the other fan favorites. However, the block area was the hottest ticket in town, complete with a daily wait list.
When I transitioned to teaching at a co-ed school, the first thing I noticed in my new Kindergarten classroom was how few girls were in the block area. Or the lego area. Or the magnatile area. That first day there were no girls at any center that involved building at all. Those centers were exclusively boy-packed. The girls were hanging out in the dramatic play area, or drawing at the tables, or playing with stuffed animals. They were very engaged in those activities and seemed to be having lots of fun. Within a few days, nothing changed. There were no girls building. Now, I realize that not all little girls want to build towers in their free time. Neither do all little boys. I know plenty of little fellas who love imaginative play and could spend the entire day whipping up cupcakes and pizzas in the play kitchen. This situation goes both ways. That is when I realized how important it can be to structure the way in which students participate in center time. I came up with a few solutions that allow students to participate in a varied selection of center time activities.
1) When choosing centers, let the girls pick fist.
At the begining of center time, I list all of the centers, and place a visual aid on the white board. Then I call on students individually to choose where they would like to spend their time. It is amazing how simply asking the girls first can change the whole dynamic of this activity. There tend to be way more girls in the building areas when they are given the option of choosing first. I am also sure to have days when I ask the boys to choose first. Or the quieter students to choose first. This gives your students a little more freedom in where they spend their time.
2.) Limit Centers
Some days, do not open certain centers. See what happens when there is no dramatic play area, or no paint, or no legos. See where your students who are married to one activity end up.
3.) Restrict Centers
If you see centers filling up by gender on a daily basis, have a day when you shake it up with a “girls only block center” or a “boys only dress up/dramatic play area.”
4.) Center Rotations
If you want to get hyper organized and keep your structured play VERY structured, you can set up a rotation so that students are visiting a variety of centers over the class period, or over the week. This takes a little bit of freedom out of choice time, and requires some record keeping, but can offer students the opportunity to step out of their comfort zone and try something new. It can be valuable for teachers and students to throw in an organized rotation every once in a while.
So, mix it up. Get your girls building and your boys baking if that’s what makes their little hearts sing.