Kindergarten Teacher


Ten Minute Play Challenge


This post in intended mainly for primary grade teachers but really I think unstructured play can be valuable for all levels

Almost everyone that teaches young children agrees that play is valuable. Some more than others, but overall I think we all see the value of unstructured play. I consider unstructured play to be time in which there is not a predetermined learning goal or specific objective. Just time to play. What I continue to hear from teachers is that they don’t have the time or their district/school does not allow for play in their daily schedule. Finding the time is something I struggled with as well until I visited NAEYC last year. I went to a session by Vivian Paley about storytelling and one of the questions that was asked was about how often or how much time should we allow for storytelling. Her answer was simple… “10 minutes is better than nothing, but the more time you have to practice the better you get” Although she wasn’t specifically talking about play it struck me that I had been trying too hard to fit play into my schedule. The next week I changed my goal for play time to simply find 10 minutes each day. I stopped trying to write it into my schedule and instead looked for time that fit each day. Some days it is the last 10 minutes of school, some days after lunch, or after journal time, always before an assembly when they have to sit fo so long and on Friday it is the first 10 minutes of the day. I think it is important to discuss that this is not my time for computer, emails or planning. I am playing WITH the kids, introducing vocabulary, encouraging social skills, guiding the use of the tools, and most importantly building relationships. Of course, there are days that I am not able to fit it in and some days we go longer than 10 minutes but overall that timeframe works best for me now.  If you need information, articles or research to help explain the value of play to parents or administration start HERE.

I call our play time “Imagination Tubs” and I think that name works great for what is happening in the room during this time. Right now our tubs include Lego’s, Matchbox/Hot Wheels cars, Thomas Train set (found a huge lot of tracks on Ebay this summer), Marble Runs, Magnets, Lincoln Logs, Dominos, Acorns, Rocks, and various sets of figures (horses, dinosaurs, aquatic animals etc.) My goal is to find things that encourage imagination, construction or role play. I started with only 10 imagination tubs and now have over 30 that I rotate between. I have found several at garage sales, a few on clearance at toy stores and the majority have been donated by parents. I even sent a “wish list” of items I wanted to the parents this year and they donated many things.

Looking to fit play in your schedule, or add more time? I hope you will take the 10 minute challenge and let me know how it goes. Play is a child’s work!



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8 Responses to Ten Minute Play Challenge

  1. Scott says:

    I think this is a genius idea. I’m going to look for ways to incorporate 10 minutes of play in my schedule. Thanks, Matt.

  2. Karen Bernath says:

    Hi Matt – I start almost every day with play. I teach in a vulnerable area and getting to school on time is challenging for some families. The children are motivated to get to school on time so they don’t miss their DEAL (Drop Everything and Learn) time. Parents know that if they get to school before DEAL is over, my time is more flexible and I’ll have time to chat if they need to ask me something or share information about their child. I love your idea of the Imagination Tubs and your definition of play!! Thanks

  3. Olivia says:

    Hi Matt–I have questions for you about play time. When you are playing with the children, do you look for specific things about the children? Specific skills and/or abilities? Do you take observation notes about each child? And then fill out the notes after you play with the children?


  4. Laurie Badge says:

    Do you have the 10 minute play challenge more than once a day? Do your kids have any other type of choice play time? My choice time gets so crazy I want to eliminate it…..but know they desperately need to play.

    • Matt Gomez says:

      It typically happens once a day and yes it can get a little crazy at times. Overall it has been very successful in my room. I vary the choices often and sometimes use creative ways to group the kids at tables. That can help with the crazy.

  5. pbaechle says:

    Matt, I have 10 minutes first thing in the morning but call it Water Cooler Time. I am absolutely convinced that this social, unstructured time using imaginations benefits not only the kiddos, but I noticed less management issues during the mornings

  6. Tami says:

    Matt, do you have a list of your imagination tubs? Thanks!

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