“In play a child always behaves beyond his average age, above his daily behavior. In play it is as though he were a head taller than himself.”

Lev Vygotsky

Several years ago I had a huge “a-ha” moment while reading Serious Players in the Primary Classroom: Empowering Children Through Active Learning Experiences. If you’re interested in meaningful, purposeful play and learning then this book is a must-read. My “a-ha” moment resulted in creating one of my favorite times of the day – Explore. I started Explore when I was teaching second grade, and have done it with first grade and now kindergarten. We start and end each day with 15-30 minutes of Explore time. When my students enter our room every morning they unpack and then choose an Explore station. I have a work board where the children move their name to indicate their choices. Choices might be: blocks, art, iPad, dramatic play, sand table, garden rocks, Legos, puppets, puzzles, games, math manipulatives, play-dough, building ramps, etc. Reading in the library and writing are always choices.  I typically have 12-16 choices with space for 4 children at each station.

Because my room is on the small side, I don’t have the supplies out in pre-set stations, for the most part. I teach the children where to get the materials and how to put them away. Children are free to move from station to station as they wish – as long as there is room, they can change stations as much as they’d like. As the year goes on, it is my hope that Explore will turn into student-generated projects and stations that they create as an extension of our curriculum. I leave the board up with different options each week, but the children know they can let me know if they would like to create their own Explore station.

One year after a trip to a folk art exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, a group of second grade students decided to create their own folk art exhibit during Explore time. Just the other day we found a HUGE box in the hallway waiting to be taken out with the trash. We grabbed that box and it is currently being painted as a Fairy Princess Castle House. What will happen next is yet to be seen. It’s up to the children what they choose to do with the box. It’s up to me to provide the supplies and space for their creativity to shine.

During Explore I want kids to do exactly that – explore different things in our classroom and play! This is an important time for me to interact with the children. Walking around the room I take pictures, engage in play with students, ask questions, wonder out loud and observe. Kid-watching during Explore time gives me tons of anecdotal notes to help guide my teaching. This is a time rich with oral language opportunities and a chance for all students to be successful, empowered problem solvers. They are engaged, invested and learning a tremendous amount.

Explore is a time in our day that I couldn’t live without. It’s messy, fun, productive, exciting and full of learning that may not happen within the normal day and set curriculum. I can easily say that I don’t have the time for this. But I believe that we make time for what is important. And this is important work for children.

Have you tried a version of Explore? Please share your experiences with open ending exploration and play time for children. We would love to hear new and different ideas!

I’ve taken the idea of Explore and carried it over into math and literacy as well. Stay tuned for my next post on how Literacy Explore works in our classroom. And check out Kassia Omohundro Wedekind’s post on Math Explore over at Math Exchanges.


  1. In my first grade classroom we have 15-30 minutes each day for what I call Free Choice, the same idea as your Explore. My teammates are always surprised and amazed that I ‘have time’ for it. Just like you, I don’t. I believe strongly in it and make it fit into our schedule.

    During that time I blog with kids (they pick the pictures from our learning to post and compose the text and I type).

    I’m thrilled to hear you did this even in second grade. Kids need time to play.

    • What a great idea! Thanks for sharing. I’m going to make working on our blog or Tweeting with friends an option during Explore time next week. I’ve also thought about having Skype as an option – there are a group of people on Twitter through #kinderchat that have “Skype Play” and the kids can call other classes during Explore. I’d like to try that out too. Thanks so much for commenting on the post!

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