Thursday, August 2, 2012

Using Imaginative Play as a Learning Experience

Creating a Restaurant with Kindergartners

We know that young kids love to play and NEED to play. This play offers major literacy learning and can provide so many opportunities to develop language, routines and procedures in order for that literacy learning to become self sustaining as the year progresses. My co-teacher, Amy, and I talked about the opportunities that a classroom restaurant could offer and decided to make space for one as one of our first imaginative play areas of the year. We were talking about some of the things we would need and we started to make a verbal list. We did go ahead and get some things we felt the kids would need to play, but before we reveal them we will use this opportunity to set up the structure of our classroom where kids will be in charge of all the thinking and planning.
Some books to help us start our discussions: Froggy Eats Out (Jonathan London), Wiggens Learns His Manners at the Four Seasons Restaurant, How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food? (Jane Yolen), Pretend Soup and Other Real Recipes.
We will start with a discussion around restaurants and the experiences they've all had. What is a restaurant? What would you find at a restaurant? Then start to make a list (through interactive writing) about the kinds of things that we will need in our restaurant. I would expect that the list the kids would come up with would include menus, food, waitress, dishes, silverware, cook, etc. We will continue to add to that list as kids get the chance to talk with their families (it would be awesome to take them to a rest, but we are on a no field trips budget) about going to a restaurant.
Creating the necessary elements of our restaurant:
Once we have a list established we will go about setting our restaurant up and organizing it together.
We do have some “food”. We will show the kids the food we have and ask them what we could offer on a menu based on the food we have. Using chart paper we will be able to make a list of the foods we could put on our menu. It's important for students to have the chance to look at a variety of menus so that they can start to notice the features of a menu and what all menus include. This will give us the chance to start to model and practice looking at “mentor text”, working with a partner, and how to “notice”. After allowing them the chance to take a look at some menus in small groups/pairs we will share what everyone found and make a chart to refer back to. This info. Will help us to design our own menu. The menus we will provide for the kids to look at will have some purposeful features, such as pictures that go with the food selections, simple bold headings, etc. We then want them to use the features we noticed in other menus to create our own. A lot of literacy learning will go into the design of our menu: labels and illustration, very beginnings of saying words slowly and writing what we hear, matching sound to letter, making words and pictures match, how to use a mentor text, how to collaborate as a group, layout, communicating with an audience... These same kinds of skills will be used as we create place mats, a restaurant name, paint the restaurant name on our aprons and chef hats for the workers in the restaurant, create name tags, etc.

Opportunities to Learn and Practice Language...

Training our restaurant workers: It will be fun to train our servers and chefs to work in the restaurant. We will be able to have discussions around how you treat your customers, the language you use when you talk with customers, how to explain what food specials there are, how to take an order, and so much more. We will figure out what we need to know as we play!

Of course we will have to talk about how to be a good customer (not like Froggy!) in a restaurant and practice the kind of language you use when you're ordering, how to ask questions, or tell your server when you want something cooked in a special way (no onions please!).

Reading and Writing Recipes:The restaurant will give us the chance to look at recipes and talk about how to read one and what is included in a recipe. This will help us to write our own and talk about how to explain how to do something step by step (Pretend Soup and Other Real Recipes is a great mentor text for this.).

The more I think about this restaurant the more opportunities pop up! The playing itself will be awesome. As we get the chance to pretend (and model) with our kids in the restaurant and watch and listen to them it will give us new ideas and opportunities to use that imaginative play to continue to encourage our students to create new dishes to be served, new specials to make posters for, to solve problems, and brainstorm new imaginative play centers.


  1. I love this- and your students will too!

  2. You're providing many literacy suggestions and connections here - I think the restaurant is such a good way to open the year with dramatic play as it's an experience that most (if not all) kids have experienced so they will have some background knowledge. I'd love to hear what direction the kids take this - please do another post once they've played a bit!