During our geometry study, the children engage in a variety of classification experiences. For some experiences, they work with 2D shapes, working to group them according to various attributes. Children might sort by corners, placing squares and rectangles in one group and triangles in another. Another child might sort by sides, arranging rectangles, squares, and triangles together, but putting circles and ovals into their own distinct group. While working with attribute blocks, some students even focus in on the thickness of each shape, sorting them into the categories of “thick” and “thin.”
Another important experience for children is to apply these classification skills in real-life contexts. Can they consider the purpose of various objects, and decide which things might be grouped together? Can they examine a wide range of objects, and determine some semblance of organization? What kinds of structures are put into place to assist them in maintaining consistent organization? My co-teacher and I knew immediately which area in our classroom would provide the students with an engaging opportunity to apply their classification skills: the dramatic play center.
First, we had the children survey the play area, examining the containers, the objects within, and the manner in which things were currently organized.
They realized immediately that the area was in dire need of organization. No labels, overflowing materials, and just a general mess! We collected their observations and ideas in an anchor chart:
The next day, we talked about how we would begin the categorizing process. The students talked about starting with one bin at a time. They would take out objects, one by one, and decide if it went into an existing group or went into a new group. The children also suggested making labels for the categories as they were made. We started with the cooking materials.
Once the initial categories were established, other groups rotating into the center checked to see if they agreed with the labels for each group or decided that objects should be moved around. For example, pots and lids were originally in two separate groups. The students decided that they should go together, since each pot had a corresponding lid.
The children were most excited to sort through the gigantic bin of food. They agreed there should be different groups of food, since “if you’re looking in the food bin for a certain food, it takes too long and then you waste all of your play time.” Fruits and vegetables were the first groups to be identified, followed by the meats and bread groups.
With items like sushi, pizza, rice, and soy sauce, food items that did not clearly go into another already established group, the children decided to make a “special foods group.” The students finished up their sorting by making a group of baby dolls, stuffed animals, and dress-up clothing.
Once all of the objects were classified into their distinct groups, it was time to put them into containers. When considering the range of containers available, the students shared that it was important that objects fit into the container with no overflow. In addition, there should not be too much extra space left over in the container, or else it was a “waste of space.” After completing labels for each container, the children then had the job to figure out where the containers should go on the shelves. They quickly agreed that all of the food containers should go together, “because if you’re playing grocery story or restaurant, all of the food is right there for you.” Because most of the containers were fairly small, they managed to fit in our repurposed puppet theater, now actually making use of the existing shelves! Larger containers that held the cooking equipment, utensils, and place settings fit comfortable in another area of the dramatic play center. The students also decided to put the stuffed animals on the shelves. When they did not fit in one area, they decided to split them up purposefully. Sea animals went together in the larger shelf unit, “because they’re bigger and they fit better there,” while the smaller land animals took up residence in the smaller shelf unit.
The new, organized dramatic play center has now been open for about a month and the children are doing a terrific job of maintaining the many, diverse categories within it!