Spielgaben-Not Just for Preschool – Written by Nashella Zarek, elementary school teacher with Masters’ in Reading/Language Arts
After reading about the Spielgaben and all the benefits it offers for children, I started to wonder how to incorporate this wonderful toy into my first grade classroom. I had read about all of the ways that the Spielgaben could be used in a preschool setting, where there is less structured academic time, and more time for free exploration, but I was not sure that I could find a place in my busy curriculum for the Spielgaben.
Many people do not realize that first graders in a traditional school setting spend their days reading, writing, learning about mathematics, science and social studies. The curriculum is dense and there is very little time in the day where children get the opportunity to play and explore, even though most early elementary teachers feel strongly that this is beneficial for children. As a first grade teacher, I constantly try and look for ways to incorporate play and free exploration time into my students’ days while still delivering the curriculum that I am required to teach. I was determined to bring the Spielgaben to my classroom, and after closely examining my daily schedule, I was able to do just that.
Where to Fit the Spielgaben into Your Elementary School Day
I brought the Spielgaben into my classroom, and put the components into clear plastic tubs and stacked them on a shelf. As soon as my students walked into the classroom, the noticed the new materials, and asked when they could play with them. I decided that the best way for my students to work with the materials was in a small group, while I was working with other students.
I typically use the workshop approach for writing, reading and math and decided that I would first put the materials out during math workshop, where I rotate the students through three rotations. In this manner, I would be working with one-third of my students on a lesson, another third would be working on an independent practice activity (a more traditional paper and pencil task usually) and another third would get to try out the Spielgaben, or play one of the math games they usually play during this time. Every child in the class chose to play with the Spielgaben when it was their turn for the free choice, and they loved it!
After this initial foray was so successful, I decided to look for other times when the children may have the opportunity to use the Spielgaben. When I teach small reading groups, I use the Daily Five approach to classroom management for the rest of my students. While I am working with a small group of children, the rest of the class is divided up and rotate between other reading and writing tasks that they can do independently. This is about a time of free reading and writing choices where children can be creative and work independently to apply strategies we have learned in class.
I believe in the importance of fine motor activities for my students as it aids them when they are writing so I am always looking for ways to sneak in some cutting, tracing, clay, lacing, or other activities which will improve finger strength for my students. During the Daily 5 time, I often set up a fine motor station and I decided to make the Spielgaben a choice during “Strong Fingers”. Again, my children loved the activity and came up with several creative ways to use the toy for fine motor stimulation.
My students and I have loved the addition of the Spielgaben to the classroom. It has allowed me to give my students the gift of unstructured play, while still meeting all of the expectations that my school district requires. I have only touched on the benefits to this toy in a traditional elementary classroom and am sure that my students will continue to find creative and meaningful new ways in which to use it! The Spielgaben is not just for preschool and can most definitely be integrated into a traditional classroom setting!