If you were to walk in my classroom, "choice time" looks remarkably similar to "free time." I don't call it "free time" however, because the children are not "free" to do whatever they want...they have to make a choice from the leisure activities we have available and then stay productively engaged, unless they have asked permission to make a different choice.
Unproductive wandering throughout the classroom is one of my "teacher pet peeves." It drives me crazy and I have found that unproductive wandering leads to lots of management or behavior issues. Hence, we have "choice time" and not "free time."
One of my older third grade girls wanted me to buy a Barbie doll house for them to play with during choice time. I explained that Barbie houses cost a lot of money and we didn't have enough to buy one. She accepted this and went on to play with something else.
A few days later while browsing on Pinterest, I came across this pin that uses a 3 ring binder to make a Barbie doll house from Southern Disposition. Take a look. Kendra includes lots of ideas and instructions.
When we got to choice time the following day, I asked that little girl if she would be interested in looking at a possible solution to our Barbie doll house problem. We looked through the website and directions. She was hooked!
I happen to have lots of scrapbook paper at home that I don't use anymore because I now do most of my photo albums digitally. I also have a scrap craft bucket of ribbon, lace, beads, etc that I keep for projects at school. I purchased some scraps of cheap fabric from the scrap bin at Jo-Ann's.
I also happened to know that our bookkeeper has A LOT of old binders that no one wants to use because they aren't perfect. They were "perfect" for us because they were free!
So for about $8 for fabric scraps and some Stitch Witchery (no sew tape that fuses fabric together), we were in business!
Two girls wanted to make doll houses but they didn't really know where to start. We talked about how sometimes people use an "inspiration room." I asked them what colors they wanted their rooms to be. One chose blue and the other chose pink. We googled images of girls bedrooms.
One girl choose this blue room from Amecdes as her inspiration.
Our choice time lasts for 15 or 20 minutes at the end of each day. For about three weeks, the girls spent their choice time creating, figuring things out, problem solving and adding details to their doll house.
Here's one girl making a mirror out of a file folder, aluminum foil, and lace ribbon she cut apart.
Here's her room after she covered up a granola bar box for her bed.
And here is her final product. The curtain rod is a pipe cleaner with some blue beads we had in our craft bucket (I think they were table scatter beads from the Dollar Tree.) The curtains are just lengths of lace ribbon she cut and then threaded onto the pipe cleaner. The rug is a scrap of felt. We printed an image of a dresser off of another Google image search and she glued it to the wall. The bedspread is a scrap of fabric that she cut. I helped her make the pillows and the column of fabric that covers the 3 rings with an iron and the Stitch Witchery. (Hot irons and young children are not a good combination!)
Here is the other girl after she finished her mural and began working on her window.
The two rooms together looked like this (sorry the photo is a little fuzzy!):
The girls had so much fun making their own doll house bedrooms. They also had a lot of fun playing with them during choice time once they were completed.
I know I can't prove that they practiced their social skills or their problem solving skills and I certainly don't have any data to justify letting them spend 15 or 20 minutes every day making a doll house. However, these little doll houses have been one of my favorite memories from the year. To me it shows:
1) Willingness to accept and handle disappointment and the word "no" (We didn't buy their doll house that they wanted.)
2) Willingness to accept a compromise and take responsibility to follow through on the compromise
3) Ability to think in a problem solving process (Watching the one girl work for 2 days to get her mirror to stand up by itself was awesome!)
4) Ability to persist at a long term task (relatively speaking)
5) Thinking creatively
6) Using materials for another purpose other than its intended use
****One little girl is in my class for help with an emotional and behavioral disorder (EBD) and the other is in my room for help with a severe learning disability. I'm pretty happy with all of the skills they practiced in an authentic and personally meaningful way.
Many, many thanks to Kendra at Southern Disposition for her great idea!