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My Must-Have Play Materials for Kindergarten

 Whether you're new to kindergarten, or a veteran teacher returning after our province-wide shut down - this year kind of feels like everyone's first day of teaching all over again. We're all very nervous, unsure, and if you're like me - feeling unprepared for the many unknowns coming our way this September. Here in Ontario, our kindergarten program is built on the principals of play-based learning, which sometimes seems impossible in our current pandemic reality. I know we're all hoping to spend as much time outdoors as possible, but being outside is not always an option. Students will still need to learn through play and explore while inside the classroom. I felt really overwhelmed with trying to find a starting point, so I decided to come up with a list of the most used and loved toys and materials in my classroom and go from there. In the end, I have a list of materials that are easy to clean, and easy to separate if need be so that each child can have their own individual play materials. 

Letter manipulatives are always a huge part of my play based centers, but this year I need to move away from the wooden letters and use materials that are easier to clean and disinfect. Magnetic letters, plastic letters or plastic letter beads are going to be much easier in terms of keeping them sanitized. There are so many ways to use these items, below are a few center set ups to give you an idea. 

These types of letter will also be fantastic for using with beginning of the year name activities, or even for stamping with my next material - play dough! 

Although making play dough with students is often a fun classroom activity, it wouldn't be the best practice this year. The great thing about store bought play dough is that it comes in its own individual container - perfect for providing individual materials for students! I love to use play dough in so many different ways and find its always a wonderful material for those seeking more sensory input. With play dough I will often set out plastic cookie cutters (letters, shapes, or themed), various loose parts, letter or number mats - its really such an open ended material! 

This year of course, I would stick to plastic or silicone rolling pins, plastic cookie cutters, laminated mats that can be wiped and sanitized and perhaps a smaller scale of individual loose parts. Which brings me to my next most used open-ended material... 

Loose parts are essentially any small (ish) material that children can use to create with in inventive and open-ended ways. In my classroom loose parts can be buttons, flat glass marbles, wooden popsicle sticks, old marker lids... the list goes on and on, and the collection of loose parts grows every year in my classroom. There are so many ways to create and learn using loose parts

As I keep mentioning, this would be the year to keep your wooden loose parts or items such as pom poms or pipe cleaners stored away, and instead use items that are made of hard, non-porous materials so that you can ensure sanitization.

I think this one is pretty self explanatory... what kid doesn't love lego? It's in constant use in my classroom - and in my home with my own littles too! With lego the possibilities really are endless. You can give students specific building prompts, or use them as part of lessons (like this symmetry activity below), or simply allow your students to create whatever they want to create. It's so much fun, and since its a material that is familiar to students, I find they always become thoroughly engaged when using it! 

Bonus points for lego - its plastic! Which means, you guessed it, its easy to wash! It's also small enough that it would be fairly easy to separate it into a few smaller bins for individuals or small cohorts of students to use. 

Like lego, building blocks are such a fantastic and open ended building material for young kids. There are endless possibilities for what they can create - you can add blueprints or pages for students to draw their creation when done for some added literacy. Wooden blocks, plastic blocks or even foam blocks are all hugely popular in my room every year. For those just starting out - good old fashioned blocks are a material you will want to ensure you have!

You can use blocks in other ways, using them for stamping or writing sight words on them for example. When we get out of our current pandemic, I would definitely make the move back to wooden blocks - but for now I will be trying to stick to other materials that I can wash regularly. 

Magnatiles are a more recent addition to my classroom, but I cannot say enough about them! They are highly engaging and quite durable. Every time we bring these out for an invitation it is very popular. I love how fantastic these are for children to explore both 2D and 3D shapes - if you can budget for these, I highly recommend adding them to your classroom. You can see a few of the ways I have used these in the classroom below. 

I know I'm about to sound like a broken record... but they are so easy to clean! So if you can, snag a set or two of these magnatiles!

My final recommendation for play materials are peg dolls or peg people. I love to paint them and create different sets (including an alphabet and number set to add literacy and numeracy into play), and this past year we had a constant peg doll storytelling center that was always full. 

Unfortunately this year I think I will have to reimagine my peg doll center, but I am holding out hope we can get back to it and I can continue to paint these adorable little dolls for my students to use. In the meantime, I may give students one or two dolls that will be kept in an individual bin of their own materials, so that if they do want to partake in imaginative play, they are still able to do so, but without the risk of spreading germs. Children need toys to use as a vehicle to tell their own narratives and explore what they are learning, and I found pegs to be the perfect vessel for that. 

So those are my toys that I will be continuing to use in my classroom this year, it has helped me to feel a little more settled and centered by knowing there are still play options for my students - though it may look a little different right now. 

If you liked any of the mats or printables you saw, you can find them here:


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