Free time for kiddos (and teachers and parents) can be such a great opportunity to learn and grow independence! Here are some guidelines to help make the most of "free" time.
ALWAYS REMEMBER TO LOOK FOR WHAT INTERESTS AND MOTIVATES THE CHILD (AND REALIZE THAT THOSE INTERESTS AND MOTIVATORS MAY CHANGE OFTEN)!
Use what motivates and interests the child to build on weaker skills
For example: Your child loves trains but isn't great with writing or identifying letters. Use trains to "build" letters, draw pictures of trains, use trains vs dots when connecting the dots, use shaving cream or paint and drive a train through to draw/write, etc.
Respect your child's interests even if they aren't common (assuming they aren't harmful).
Children are often so proud to introduce you to their creations, ideas and world. Give them the opportunity to create!
Save a tote of toys that only come out during free play time
That way these are more “special” toys that may help peak their interests.
Have only 2 – 3 sets/bins of toys out during this time (1 new, and 1 - 2 familiar and interested).
Sometimes having too many options can be overwhelming and often when there are less options, kids will actually stick to each activity for longer periods of time
For example: each morning, pick something like babies, balls and blocks that are all out and that’s what they can play with.
I would always allow the gross motor type stuff in addition during any of this though (ride on toys, climbing/slide toy) for those who are seeking proprioceptive input.
Change bins as interests change.
Have 1-3 bins that will follow the theme of the week that can be the bins for every morning that week.
Activities with either a clear end or are a little more purposeful/functional or give some sensory input
Having a box of squishes (sensory balls, koosh balls, balloons with playdough in it, etc.)
Instead of just balls, have an empty bin that they can throw the balls into or even a hula hoop to throw in.
Put small bean bags in a scattered line and tell the kids to try to walk from one end to the other, using them as stepping stones
Have a “mess” of 2 – 3 types of items and ask the kids to clean them up/sort them (i.e. a pile of balls and blocks and they have to put the blocks in one container and the balls in another)
At a table, have pipe cleaners and fruit loops/apple jacks and have the kids string them
At a table, have a “car wash.”
Get a bin of matchbox cars and put out old toothbrushes in a small cup of water (or even no water) and let the kids scrub the cars.
Get Q-tips or cut up straws and an old parmesan cheese container and they can dump them out and then stick the Q-tips in the holes to put back in
Water bottles with pom pom balls they can dump out and then put back in
Turn on music that has kids’ sing/dance alongs
Have a toddler scavenger hunt…every few minutes, say, “OK, I want you/everyone to find a baby!” or block or ball or book or whatever. Great opportunity for visual finding skills and for each kiddo to say the word of the toy when they find it.
Have a couple hula hoops on the ground and ask the kids if they can stand on the outside and jump in and vice versa.
If the child is old enough and interested by things like legos, blocks, building, books, cooking, etc, give challenges vs free time.
Can you create a bridge out of _____ that can hold this book?
Can you find out from these books which is the fastest flying bird in the world?
I need to make a snack for 4 people using these ingredients. Can you help?
The pantry/closet is a mess, could you organize it in a way that I can easily get to all that's in it?
Place a large washable tablecloth on the floor
On the tablecloth, place lots of random edible ingredients (graham cracker crumbs, sugar, applesauce, cereals, nuts, sprinkle, marshmallows, water, etc.)
Also put out cooking supplies (measuring spoons, cups, bowls, muffin pans, cupcake liners, etc.)
Tell the child/children that they can "cook" any food they want out of these and that they can let you know if they need any other supplies.
Place a plastic table cloth under the "work" area for easy clean up
Put out several different sized cups and bowls with various amounts of water. Add food coloring or juice into several.
Also put out things like: water droppers, paint brushes, small spray bottles, travel sized shampoo bottles, various papers (coffee filters, construction paper, paper towels)
Sit back and see what they create!