Can we still have fun in kindergarten? Are the expectations for our five-year-olds too rigorous, taking away all of the fun kindergarten activities? The fact that we have to ask ourselves these questions is quite frustrating, for sure. Kindergarten teachers everywhere have a LOT to say on the matter, as do parents of kindergarteners.
When I started teaching in 2014, this was already a big topic of conversation. In the ten years since I've seen curriculums come and go. I've experienced year-long portfolios that require WAY too much of our kinders, then swing to expecting WAY too little of them. (I'm a public school teacher, so everything I've experienced has been through that lens.)
With that being said, going to kindergarten is STILL an exciting and significant milestone for children. As a kindergarten teacher, I believe we can't depend on the ever-changing requirements and parameters to dictate our fun. Do you have to be creative? Absolutely. But Incorporating fun kindergarten activities into learning can help foster creativity, academic progress, and meaningful relationships. Keep reading to learn how to use FUN to its fullest potential in your kindergarten classroom!
So…Are you wondering if your child is ready for kindergarten…or not? Maybe you know of someone who is getting their child ready to go. Maybe you are a teacher and need a different perspective about your own child entering kindergarten! No matter the case…you gotta get my FREE PDF download that dishes the dirt and spills the tea – about what you REALLY need to know!
The Benefits of Encouraging Fun in Kindergarten – and everywhere else for that matter
I'm a firm believer in the fact that ALMOST anything can bring some sense of enjoyment if the intention is there. I know a few of you just gave me a big ‘ole eye roll and are getting ready to tell me all the MANY things that aren't EVER fun. I didn't say I always succeed at this, now did I? Let me give you an example or two.
Growing up, Saturday mornings were house-cleaning mornings. EVERY Saturday morning. My mom was quite the genius; however, she not only successfully enlisted my older sister and me to clean but to ENJOY it. Say WHAT??? Yep. Here's how she did it:
- We'd wake up and go downstairs to find 2 lists on the green roll-top desk in the kitchen
- “KELLY” was at the top of one of them, and “KACI” was at the top of the second
- There would be about 10 items on each of them, listing the items each of us would complete
- Here comes the genius part….she would alternate between a chore and an activity
- My sister and I would then compete to see who could get finished first
I still get tickled thinking about it! I can vividly remember dusting the table in the living room, only to see my sister through the windows in a mad dash around the outside of the house. While vacuuming the den, I could see her doing jumping jacks in the kitchen. Mom not only got a clean house every week, but she got in in record time! Genius, I tell you.
The Crossing Guard on Gallatin Pike.
I don't know about you, but traffic is not my favorite thing. It is the reason I started grinding my teeth and clenching my jaw. I was in a bad wreck that still constantly flashes in my mind when people are starting and stopping and not paying attention. I'm also chronically barely on time. Before teaching at my current school, which is literally 4 minutes from our house, I was driving an hour each way across construction-laden and ever-growing Nashville highways.
It seemed everyone was miserable in their cars each morning. NO SMILE to be found. Then I saw it…the dancing, shouting, beaming crossing guard. As I drove by, my mouth gaped open as she frantically waved at me and boomed, “HEEEYYYYY there lovely LADDDYYYY!! YOU have a BLESSED day now…DO YOU HEAR ME???”
I couldn't get enough of her. I found my face breaking into a smile when I knew I was getting close…and I started trying to outdo her. I'd roll my window down and yell back, make some car seat dance moves, and we'd share a brief moment of…FUN.
So…my point is this. Even the most mundane or non-choice activity CAN be…FUN.
I know there are some kindergartens that still have dramatic play areas, lots of free time, and craft-making out the wazoo. I remember kindergarten as a place where there was a dress-up corner, a naptime, and a caterpillar on the wall who kept getting a pair of construction paper shoes put on him each time one of us learned to tie their own. (Unfortunately, I was the very last one to add them – and we almost ran out of caterpillar. It was quite traumatic for me. 😉 )
I do not teach in a district where this is what kindergarten looks like anymore. No, kindergarten NOW is what I remember 1st grade to be. Parts of it, I think, remind me of what we were doing in 2nd grade. Agree with it or not, it is the reality. And…you know what? STILL…KINDERGARTEN IS FUN.
You may be thinking, “Ummm…it doesn't SOUND like it.”
Oh yeah? Read on.
Creating a Positive Environment Through Fun
Have you ever had a friend who, no matter what you do, you have fun doing it? Have you ever enjoyed a group of people so much that every time you get together, you leave feeling energized and just…joyful?
That, my friends, is one of my goals. I want the environment of the classroom to be so solid that no matter what we are doing, we can enjoy each other. Building classroom community is the foundation for everything else.
Community building can take place daily with morning meetings. We LOVE our morning meetings. Every day is a little different, but it's the space where my kinders get to learn about each other, laugh with each other, and grow to trust one another. Once you have that trust – magic can happen.
When children are having fun, they may take turns, share their experiences, and gain respect for each other. This can even help improve behavior as children learn to relate to one another in a socially positive way. Allowing students this time together also encourages them to stay engaged with their academic progress by making learning more enjoyable.
Why Play is Essential for Early Learning
Play is essential for early learning, as it provides a space for children to explore their creativity, learn self-expression and collaborate with others. Play also helps children to think about the world around them, develop crucial problem-solving skills, and foster physical development.
But…when is there time for this? Our days are jam-packed with just enough time to get in our foundational literacy, writing, science, social studies, math, etc…let alone squeeze in a fun read-aloud.
You HAVE to get creative.
There are several things that I've incorporated in my room that sort of weave in and out of our day-to-day. My kinders know the guidelines and the expectations, and because of the work we've done building classroom community, they do a beautiful job sticking to them. Here are some things that provide a healthy dose of that kindergarten fun:
Some Fun Kindergarten Activities
OUR FAIRY DOOR AND FAIRY CODE
We came up with a fairy code so that they could write notes back and forth to our fairy. They can do this alone or with a friend when they are finished with work. It's play for kindergarten while also using their emerging writing skills.
HOMEY THE GNOMEY
We have a gnome that has taken over our classroom. He also has his own door now and apparently is best friends with our fairy. He drives around in a souvenir NYC taxi cab, loves to build bridges across the room with a Jenga game, and also plays other tricks (like moving my stapler, hiding my pen, etc.) Homey pops up in conversation throughout the day, and it's…FUN for them.
This big yellow button brings nothing but the best sporadic dance moves to my classroom. When we need an immediate brain break, pick-me-up, reset, or celebration…all you need is 30 seconds. Want to kick the fun factor up a notch? Have someone run over to the light switch and flick them on and off for an instant dance party. 30 seconds. FUN.
My kids LIVE for desk pets. They work hard for them the first half of the year, as they are building classroom community and establishing the climate of the classroom together. They work together to fill up a cool beans jar (in years past, it's been awesome balls). Once the jar is full, the desk pets arrive! Talk about perfect play for kindergarten that not only is fun but teaches them so many lessons and allows them to put them into practice.
How Fun Can Encourage Creativity in the Kindergarten Classroom
Fun is pivotal for the success of any classroom, especially in a kindergarten setting. Teachers can use fun activities to encourage creativity by providing students with outlets for their ideas and interests. Creative expression helps cultivate problem-solving skills, as children are tasked with creating something from nothing. This often requires them to think outside the box to come up with solutions. Discovering, creating, and implementing the fairy code or even desk pets help to explore their imagination while also honing in on important life skills.
Encourage Social Skills Through Fun Activities.
Fun activities sprinkled throughout things like math tasks provide a great way to encourage social skills and cooperation among students. These activities help children learn how to negotiate, problem-solve, cooperate, and understand the importance of fairness. We are constantly weaving fun kindergarten games into our morning meetings and indoor recesses. Always look for engaging ways for children to interact and work together in order to achieve a common goal. Additionally, I use role-playing activities as a way for students to practice their communication skills and team building.
Seriously, just don't take yourself too seriously.
If you take a look at the picture back up at the top of this blog, you'll see two of my kindergarten kids “airplaning” – ME. You would never believe that this actually took place at the end of a lesson about the size and weight of polar bears, would you? We read a fun fact about their weight being as much as 7 dads – or something like that. That led to how heavy we were, which led to some aerodynamic talk, which led to me “airplaning” each of them, which led to them “airplaning” – ME.
I bet if you asked any kid from that class what we were talking about – they'd have no clue. But I also would bet good money that they remember the day they “airplaned” their kindergarten teacher.
Don't take yourself too seriously. Have FUN. Try to see the world through their eyes. Wear the onesie. And look for all the mini-moments throughout the day where you can turn your kindergarten classroom into a place FILLED with laughter and – you guessed it – FUN.