No matter how well a lesson is planned, you will always have children who finish earlier than you expected. It can be hard to keep a whole class occupied, with something meaningful, all the time. I have found having various areas in my classroom, which have a skill or curriculum-based activity at them, the best way to keep young children occupied and engaged.
I have, what I refer to as, Rainbow Challenges around my room. These challenges range from physical activities and games to worksheets and books and all sorts in between. The children can go to any challenge they like once they have completed their work. I refer to the areas as rainbow challenges because there are seven of them and they are colour coded as the colours of the rainbow. There are a variety of areas that you can create but I have found the following successful:
Skill based areas:
Funky Fingers: This area is an area with hands-on activities specifically designed to build on the fine motor skills of young children.
Listening station: At a listening station I have had laptops/cassette players/radios with speakers and a selection of CD’s, audiobooks, rhyming poems etc that the children can simply enjoy listening to.
Construction: A variety of construction toys and materials can be used to help the children improve their fine motor and problem-solving. Its also a great activity for the children to use their imagination and work together with their peers.
Reading corner: A library area can be a very relaxing area for some children who enjoy the downtime of sitting reading a book or just looking at the pictures. I always have prompt cards in my library area to encourage language around books and to get the children thinking about the books for example ‘What are the characters in the story?’, ‘Who is the Author?’ etc.
Cúinne Na Gaeilge: An Irish area for the younger children is simply an area where they can explore language. My area is a simple table of objects relating to a colour of the week or related to the language of a particular topic for the week. Some examples of easy activities are:
Bia – have a selection of pictures or real-life foods/drinks and the children can use the pictures or props to practice ‘is maith liom’ agus ‘ní maith liom’.
Eadaí – have a selection of dolls and baby clothes and the children can practice the vocab of eadaí while dressing the dolls.
SESE: As I teach my SESE through topics, I always have an area of interest related to our topic. It generally contains books, toys and activities related to our theme. I will also have a variety of worksheet activities for the children to complete
Maths: My maths area contains activities to support whatever I am teaching that week. It is usually a hands-on activity or game
English: My challenge area in the area of English is always my writing area. Here the children will have activities based on our writing and phonic focus for the week
Art: My art area tends to be either general – a bunch of art materials for the children to be creative within their own way, or theme – usually for Halloween, Christmas etc where they have a specific art activity to complete
I am very lucky to have a bit spacious room and I have the space to have lots of activities out full time. This is not an option for many classrooms but that doesn’t have to stop you from having the same activities on offer! Simply create the activities and ideas in a portable container or box that the children can take to their places or carpet area to engage with! A box of art supplies, a writing box filled with paper, pens, whiteboards etc instead of at a table, a box of maths games and manipulatives and so on. All you need is a shelf or a window sill to pop the boxes on so the children have access to them and you’re all set!
Keeping Track of the challenges
I don’t feel that I need to track the children’s engagement in the activities. They are designed to be independent and purposeful. I don’t need to assess their engagement and it really doesn’t matter to me if they are engaging with the same one all the time – it’s an additional activity of their choice!
That’s not to say I haven’t tried, at some stage, to track their interactions with the activities, and I found it almost impossible. A solution I found was my Rainbow challenge system, which makes it really easy to track who is doing what.
I have seven challenge areas and each has been assigned a colour of the rainbow. When a child completes a challenge they can colour in the corresponding colour square by their name. This did take a bit of training but they have the hang of it now and it is working really well. You can always adapt this idea to incorporate fewer challenges if seven is too many!
What do your early finishers do?