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4 Lesson Plans you Need for Your Play-Based Classroom

lesson planning
“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”

Oh yes, Benjamin Franklin, you got it.

When we don’t plan out our intentions in our classroom, we can easily miss the mark. Being intentional and goal-driven when planning is the key to being successful. Ever feel like you are just picking up activities from here and there with no clear path of where or what you are doing?

You might need to get your plan on!

Here are the 4 Lesson Plans you NEED for your Play-Based Classroom (and a free printable)!


#1: Circle Time Preschool Lesson Plans

Circle Time isn’t always a time that teachers think to plan. But, without planning circle time, you might find that you aren’t sure what to focus and what you have focused on. 

Here are some of my top tips:

  • Shake it up! Don’t let your circle time get boring… if circle time is boring, children are not engaged and learning isn’t happening. Don’t just do the same ol’ songs, and activities each day.

  • Consider what goals you are actually trying to meet with this time. Can you break those goals into two groups - core/everyday & add-in/just for a short time? This may help you plan out what skills you might change out throughout the year.

  • Less is more at the beginning of the year. Plan only a quick and easy circle time at the beginning of the year to help students build stamina. Later in the year more things can be added.

#2: Whole Group Planning

I love whole group time! Our class comes to the carpet area and learns together as one whole group. To plan this I consider several different types of activities:

  • Read Aloud (each one of my whole group plans contains a read-aloud)

  • Activity or Game: this might be a sequence or re-telling activity based on the read aloud. Or, we might do a class game, song, movement activity or experiment.

Whole Group Planning Tips

  1. Consider the amount of time that your students can sit at the carpet before becoming restless and plan activities and read-alouds accordingly.

  2. Make sure your activity is engaging and involves student interactions. Students will quickly become bored with your activity if they are not contributing in a hands-on way.

#3: Small Group Planning

Small group time can be conducted many different ways. In our classroom, we have small group learning time during our free play center time. Doing it this way allows us to pull just a couple of students to work on skill specific activities or participate in an open-ended art invitation that is easier done with only a couple of students at a time. To plan this time, I consider several different options:

  • Open-ended art invitation: is there a process art invitation that I want to set up that needs teacher assistance?

  • STEM challenges: some STEM challenges require smaller groups and teacher assistance

  • Assessment: do I need to pull one student or a group of students to complete an assessment?

  • Skill-Based Activities and Games: after assessments there may be students that need a little extra practice in a certain skill. I can take this time to work with those students in a fun and engaging way.

  • Name Writing: we do not do sign-in books (you can find out why here), so I take time individually with each student to learn the correct strokes needed to write their name.

#4: Center Activities Planning

Planning centers? In a play-based classroom, much of the focus is on learning through play in centers. So, we must carefully plan the things we want students to learn in these centers. To plan centers, I list out all my classroom centers and list any changes/additions being made to the center that week.

This does NOT mean that I completely change up a center- we still have ‘core’ materials in each center and what I add each week is in addition to these core materials. For example, our block center has core materials like blocks, cars, animals, etc. But, during our Dino unit I make sure to add toy dinosaurs and during our All About Me unit, I make sure to add blocks with student pictures added.

Here are some of the centers I plan and the changes I consider:

  • Art Center: stamps, stickers, stencils, paper shapes, foam shapes different painting materials, different canvas materials (different types of paper, foil, wax paper, etc.) based on our current theme or season.

  • Block Center: consider adding materials that students can build with or use as building accessories that reflect the current theme or season.

  • Science Center: we change up our science center every month - you can learn more about what we cover in my Science Center Kit.

  • Sensory Center: this center gets completely changed out based on the theme. For example, during our Winter unit, we use white rice, fake snow and polar animals. When we are in our Thanksgiving unit we use dry beans, craft feathers and little acorns.

  • Library Center: each theme we add a different set of books based on the theme. We also have a tub of ‘favorite’ books that children love to read over and over!

  • Math Center: we like to add familiar games that we have planned during small group into our math center for students to play independently. We also like to change out puzzles, manipulatives and tools.

  • ABC Center: we like to add any alphabet games we have played through the week. We also like to change out the manipulatives to keep it fresh.

  • Playdough Center: add/change cookie cutter, playdough tools and playdough mats

  • Drama Center: We ditched the ‘house’ area and re-create our drama center based on theme. Every drama center is created to encourage imaginary play, peer to peer relationships and each includes a writing component. You can read about some of our favorites: Winter Wonderland, Spaceship, Beach, Rainforest and Pumpkin Patch

  • Writing Center: add theme specific vocabulary cards and we change out writing center materials often to keep students engaged.

Sign up for the free Guide to Preschool Centers

Let’s lay it all out!

I have a FREE Preschool Planning Weekly Overview for you right here!

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