Assessing Structured vs Unstructured Time in Preschools

Involved in my child’s life, I became a volunteer student aid for the head start program. Head Start is a program developed for preschool children ages 3-5. This is where the children are readied for Kindergarten.

My son had been part of an unstructured daycare center as part of his socializing therapy for speech problems. Classrooms were set up with big toys and fun stuff. He enjoyed playing there 4 hours a week.

Children were out of control in the small room. Many times I brought home bite marks on my son’s arms and even once a goose egg on his forehead. The children were loud and screamed as they pulled toys from the shelves, dropping them to the floor then grabbing another.

It wasn’t long before my child began clinging to me when I would sign him in. I decided that this unstructured facility was dangerous to my son both physically and emotionally.

Enrolling him in the structured classroom found in the head start program, he began to excel in his speech. This program was developed towards learning using play and activities geared to the children’s interests.

A typical day involved circle time in the morning, while breakfast was being set up on the tables. In circle the children would choose their job for the day and go over the date, weather, and stretch. Following breakfast, the children would brush their teeth and have bathroom breaks before heading to their play station.

Play stations were divided into groups. Teachers and teacher aids supervised each unit. The make believe area was set up with gowns, suits, teddy bears, castles and puppets. The children used their imaginations while playing quietly with a classmate, unlike the boys in the block area. They had wobbling towers built from blocks tumbling across the floor as their Tonka truck slammed into the base. Picking up the pieces and re-stacking encouraged eye-hand coordination.

The art area was full of activities to explore. Construction paper, scissors, crayons, glue glitter and paints. This area needed constant supervision. The children created project after project to take home. The children enjoyed center time as it was cut into time grids. With small attention spans the children switched areas if desired keeping the individual center limited to a pre-determined amount of students.

Allowing for a few minutes of clean up we’d turn down the lights to signal clean up time. Playing a CD, we’d play songs to help keep pace while children began to pile into circle area as they finished their area. This circle time provided learning for the children through songs and stories guided by one or two teachers. While in circle time, the other adults worked on preparing the meal and others on cleaning the tables and setting them for lunch. After circle time the children would be released two at a time for bathroom and hand washing before eating.

Nap time followed lunch. In this time of rest the children listen to stories read by either a teacher or played from a CD or tape player. The children often fall asleep while relaxing on their personal rugs with their special blanket from home. As they wake, they are directed to the bathroom then allowed into the center’s play area outside. Scooters, bikes, sand boxes and jungle gyms are fun activities for rested bodies.

Once all the children are awake and playing outside, snack time is being set up. Snacks usually involved a simple carton of milk and juice with graham crackers or cookies. This was the last activity before the children would get on their hats, coats, and backpack to head home.

My son looked forward to his structured preschool. He didn’t grab at my leg or hide behind me as he did in the other center. He bolted out the door each morning to catch the bus that was provided by the head start program. This program worked well in my son’s speech therapy. Once he began speaking, he seldom left words for anyone else to say.