In order to assess children’s learning systematically, classrooms need to be set up so teachers can do so. In order to conduct formal and informal assessments throughout the day, teachers need enough time and space to jot down notes, use checklists, take photographs, and collect information about children. Teachers can only do this if they have enough adult support in the classroom to supervise the children effectively and to engage with children appropriately.
The over-scheduling of activities and projects takes too many adults out of play scenarios both as both players and observers and doesn’t leave room for one adult to observe children at play. When I observe a classroom that has 3 adults planted at 3 activities throughout free choice time, I am concerned. I worry that there is too much teacher-directed activity going on; that children who are playing freely in other areas are not necessarily being supported effectively, and free play is taking a back seat to product-focused work.
A technique that I like and teach is the “step-in, step-out” model (I am crediting my friend and colleague Cathy Main with this term and technique, although she may have borrowed it from someone else years ago). Most teachers of young children use this model without actually calling it this. It is the complicated dance of the early childhood professional team; one that recognizes the needs of the classroom, and adjusts accordingly. If one teacher is reading a book aloud, the other teachers are watching and observing what is needed for this activity to be successful. Perhaps one of the other teachers sits near the back of the rug and helps the children focus. Perhaps another teacher is setting the tables with two children who were not interested in the story. Perhaps, both of the other teachers are on the rug helping out. They “step in” where needed and “step out” when they are not.
Imagine planning to bake banana bread as a food experience. Would you also plan for a large group painting to take place simultaneously? No. That would be silly. The large group painting demands one adult’s attention and the baking demands the other’s. Who is left to observe the children, play, help negotiate conflict, and assess children’s learning if everyone is committed to these other labor-intensive activities.
Let yourselves off the hook. Often, more is NOT more when it comes to young children and play. Allow more time for free play and give yourself ample time observe the children while they play. Make time for this each and every day and at the end of the week, the month, the year, you will have an enormous amount of information about all of your children in order to serve them best.