ACEI Standard 3.3 - Development of critical thinking and problem solving

         I planned and implemented a thematic sociodramatic play center (see Appendix E) for a kindergarten class. My goal was to create a safe, stimulating, and developmentally appropriate environment for students to engage in pretend play and, with my support, develop their social and emotional skills. My project offers relevant background information about the school, the curriculum, and the students in the class. I provided an in depth explanation for how the play center was designed. I described how I encourage student involvement in every step of the process and created the center accordingly. I used students’ input to ensure that the center was designed in a way that would be intriguing and stimulating, which would motivate students to engage in fantasy play. Additionally, I described what the center was like after it the planning and preparation. I discussed the children’s play as well as my role in orchestrating, facilitating, and scaffolding play their play. The project concludes with my reflections on the experience and thoughts for the future.


         My Socio-Dramatic Play Center project is evidence of my ability to support students in developing critical thinking and problem solving skills. This began with planning the play center. I believe that “planning for play does not begin with a project, in which teachers set the direction and sometimes, in their enthusiasm, take over” (Jones & Reynolds, 2015, p. 94). Therefore, I made every effort to ensure that the play center was “coconstructed by the children and the adults and the environment itself” (Jones, 2012, p. 67). I encouraged students to think creatively and express their ideas. I supported them as they worked collaboratively and actively participated in every step of the process, including decision-making, planning, designing, preparing, and using the center. After sharing and discussing their ideas, students voted on a space theme. Then, to ensure “that the children will find interesting, stimulating, meaningful, and challenging things to do” (Nielson, 2006, p. 15) in the center, we discussed exactly what we wanted the “International Space Center” to be like. We used the NASA Kid’s Club website to learn all about the International Space Station and space travel to help us design our own Space Center. I guided students through working together to decide on the layout, materials, decorations, furniture, dress up clothes, books, manipulatives, and even the roles they want to act out while playing.


         Giving students the task of designing the play center encouraged students to think critically and inquire about the topic of space. It required students to be creative, brainstorm, and plan. Designing the center required them to make connections between their learning and play situations. This connection was evident when they worked, both at home and in school, to collect real pictures of space and create decorations for the center. They filled the center with handmade space shuttles, moons, black holes, satellites, astronauts, real planets, invented planets, and shooting stars. Students’ also demonstrated their creative thinking when they decided to have the roles of astronaut, mission operations planner, researcher, and scientist available to act out.  Additionally, the many opportunities for collaboration enhanced students’ critical thinking skills as learned from their peers’ thinking and feedback.


         My goal for the center was for the students to “corroborate, question, experiment, and stretch their understanding of the world and their places in it” (Van Hoorn et al., 2015, p. 109) through fantasy play. For that reason, I only interrupted play in order to scaffold or extend students’ learning. However, I sometimes participated in order to enhance students’ social and emotional competence, support students in building and maintaining positive relationships, and guide students through learning how to regulate their own emotions and identify the emotions of others. I acted as a “peacekeeper” by stepping in, when necessary, to “help children resolve conflicts that occur in their play” (Van Hoorn et al., 2015, p. 113) and a “guardian of the gate” when a student experienced difficulty entering a play situation. Also, I used the instructional strategy of scaffolding by, when appropriate, asking open-ended questions to assess students’ understandings and determine the instruction necessary for a student to reach the next level. This enabled me to provide differentiated instruction to support studen

ts’ problem solving skills.


         In the future, I will have the students participate in setting rules for the center. I think that doing so will give students another opportunity to exercise their critical thinking and problem solving abilities. Students will be able to generate appropriate and relevant rules and expectations for their play. This will make the rules more meaningful to them and it will help students to better understand what is expected of them while they are in the center. Also, in the future, students will not be limited to acting out specific, predetermined roles. Students will be free to invent various roles and story lines. 


Socio-Dramatic Play Center