Playing school. My sisters and I were addicted. I recall the experience as not so much reinforcement of academic skills, but more of playacting to sort out social issues that were happening at school. Our "students" were hand drawn faces of classmates, cut out and lined up in rows. In this classroom, I made sure I never sat anywhere near "Jimmy." Due to alphabetical last name fate in real life, I was destined to sit behind him throughout most of my elementary career. One day he turned around to sneak a glance at my spelling paper. With a swish of my pleated plaid uniform skirt, I marched up to teacher's desk to report him. "Sister! James has tried to copy my spelling test!" Swift in the department of justice, Sister soon had James cornered in the hallway. When he slunk back to his seat, he managed to hiss at me, "I have snakes in my backyard and I am going to catch a big one and put it in your book bag!" And so it was on between James and myself. But not for the reason you think. My beef with him was that he never produced the reptile that animal loving, second grader me looked forward to owning as a pet. Jimmy left me with a broken heart and a cardboard box lid lovingly prepped with cotton fluff, "snake toys," a cushy doll blanket and a reserved spot on the sunniest window sill in my bedroom.
Final score: James: 01 - Prissy Tattle Tale: 00
But enough about me and my half century old tale of woe. I observe today that my grandsons have never shown an interest in playing school. But four year old Bree? Oh my. She's been all in since starting pre-school last year. It's gotta be strictly a girlie thing. And I'm so happy to indulge her.
When this young lady was newly born, I pounced on a play school set that would have sent my sisters and I over the moon. A triple fold board stands up to serve as teacher's backdrop for unlimited learning joy. Maps, hallway passes, stickers, a nifty little plastic pointer - everything included, save for a dozen or so generously loved, mangy stuffed animal "students." No prob. We've got those of our own in abundance!
But the more Bree played, the more I studied that board. As much as this toy delighted her, it was not a bargain! Piece by piece, I challenged myself to not just duplicate, but improve the experience for less than $20 and a trip to Dollar Tree. And this time? Triumph! I'm the winner!
Grandma: 01 - Overpriced Toy Store: 00
Here's what I bought at Dollar Tree, clockwise from top left, to make a triple fold, two sided learning center:
1 set of learning center posters
1 set of Telling Time/attendance posters (packaged together)
1 US map
1 pack of bulletin board trim
1 alphabet practice dry erase board
1 set of stickers
1 set of sight word strips
1 note pad cube
1 plain dry erase board
1 clear plastic storage folder
1 set of decorative awards (not shown)
3 white 20" x 30" foam boards (not shown)
You will also need:
white duct tape, strong glue (such as Gorilla), rubber cement, Velcro scraps, clip clothespins, 20" narrow ribbon or string and craft paper. I also used leftover red dotted border trim from another project.
1. Use white duct tape to connect foam boards together along 30" sides.
2. Make center board (shown at top) by framing inside with trim or paper scraps. Glue "Reading Center" poster at top, centered. Cut triangles from paper scraps and run a thin line of glue along right angle edges only. Position to hold removable sight word strips and glue down. Attach alphabet dry erase board with Velcro on optional paper background.
3. Make left side board by gluing on Telling Time poster and attendance chart poster. Glue clothespin to right side and clip on dry erase pen tied with ribbon. Cut or punch weather/season symbols and glue on, along with border trim and a second clothespin for notes. This panel is where students gather to begin the day with a review of the month, day of the week, time and weather.
4. Make right side by framing top 2/3 with trim. Use strong glue to attach dry erase board and incentive awards. Glue plastic storage pocket below using strong glue. Place stickers and supplies inside of it.
6. Make reverse side right panel by framing with trim and gluing "Art Center" poster at top, centered. Glue on 4 rectangles of scrap paper and attach clothespins for holding art work as shown.
A double sided play center allows two little teachers to participate while rotating students from one center to another.
And if anyone wants to pass out grades, I'll take my A+ right now. When Little Miss Teacher arrived, her bright blue eyes popped wide open and she exclaimed, "This is for me?! Really?!" - and got right to work!