All learners need practice in order to achieve skill proficiency in any given subject area. We often think of skill practice as consisting of drills and exercises, yet activities to which the skills are applied are also a means of practice and are often more engaging and meaningful to children. Skills are increased with use. Our focus in early childhood is on providing contexts in which children are motivated to apply their emerging skills in literacy and numeracy.
In my classroom, children are invited to share a special item from nature, a hand-made art project or an item related to our theme during share time each morning. Toys, however, are not allowed. Instead, at the end of every month we have a day specifically set aside for toys, which we aptly call, “Toy Day.” What started out as a solution to a seemingly endless share time in which children brought the same toy week after week has become a very rich, meaningful, community event in our classroom. Toy Day is a great example of a functional and purposeful learning situation in which children are motivated to practice and apply skills using a favorite toy from home.
The children are excited to talk about their toys, providing opportunities for rich oral language experiences as well as written language through journal entries. The children draw a picture of their toy and then add language to their journal. The Toy Day entries are always very descriptive because the child is invited to talk about something in which they are very interested. Other opportunities for early literacy activities come about as we talk about the initial and ending sounds of the toy or the number of syllables (claps) in the word car or mermaid. Emergent writers may begin to use phonetic writing to title their journal pages. During our afternoon centers, several of the children “read” to their toy, sharing a favorite story in the classroom library.
Opportunities for mathematical integration are plentiful on this day. Each child is excited to measure their toy using non-standard units of measure. Concepts of more or less are practiced as the children compare the length of their toy with that of their classmate’s. Estimation is practiced as the children guess the length of their toy before measuring. We also use a balance scale to establish a measurement of weight, providing additional opportunities to apply skills of measurement, counting, number comparison and estimation. We spend time as a class sorting, classifying and graphing our toys, part of the algebraic standard in mathematics.
Social and emotional competencies are important to foster in young children, and bringing a toy from home provides opportunities for the children to connect in new ways. It also gives the teachers a glimpse into the ever-evolving interests, passions and fantasy life of each child. We typically have “Toy Day” towards to end of every month. To the children, it is a culminating event and a fun day of play in the classroom. The teachers know that it is much more than that. It is a time to observe and assess the children as they apply the skills that they are learning in the classroom, while happily playing with a favorite toy.