Sunday, November 4, 2018

A Peek Inside Our Playroom: Welcome to the Bakery!

Great things are worth repeating! Last year around Chanukah time, we set up our dramatic play area as a Holiday Bakery, and I'm pretty sure that's how we survived winter break from school! There's about a month until Chanukah now, but a month beforehand of birthdays in our family, Thanksgiving, and pending Chanukah excitement made me eager to get a jump start on our Bakery play theme this year.

Both boys are a whole year older now and dramatic play is something they are beginning to share in together, each at his own level. Y is mobile now, walking all around and navigating our play space. S is making huge strides in writing and math skills. Both boys love to play pretend, especially in our kitchen set and both boys love art and sensory play. Have I mentioned that both boys also love sweets and treats? Well, that's pretty much a given--so I knew they both would love this bakery theme.

When setting up a play theme in your home (or classroom), I'm a big fan of using what you have on hand. There's no need to spend a fortune or reinvent the wheel. I reused a lot of our bakery themed props from last year, including laminated printables, chefs hats we'd made, toys and props we already had, etc. Many of our kitchen set accessories were purchased secondhand, at the Dollar Tree or are homemade. This year I did get a lot of ideas and resources from Pocket of Preschool, including her great Bakery Dramatic Play set from TeachersPayTeachers.

I'm also enlisting the boys' help in making props out of Model Magic clay. This is such a fun art activity to do and it's so nice for them to see their own artwork being used at play! So far, they loved rolling and cutting out clay cookies. We allowed them to dry before "frosting" them with homemade puffy paints (shaving cream, white glue and food coloring), decorating with store-bought puffy paints (S did this) and adding rainbow rice "sprinkles" (both boys did this). Once dry, they were a great addition to our bakery! The boys will also be making clay donuts, cupcakes and perhaps even some gingerbread men!

Our bakery theme is set up to encompass a variety of areas of play and learning. A print rich environment supports my pre-reader through the incusion of signs, labels and natural print on recycled food containers. Plenty of opportunities for writing are set around the room, including laminated party invitations, bakery order forms, a receipt book and customer order book (Dollar Tree). Our bookshelf is stocked with some of our favorite baking and party themed books and a trip to the library will fill out the rest. Some actual baking cookbooks with beautiful photos are set out next to the play oven (which I made using a recycled box covered in tin foil with some recycled bottle caps glued on and a dollar store digital timer).

Math skills come into play as the boys count out cookies and cupcakes and fill customer orders. Even Y develops early one-to-one correspondence by placing one cupcake in each space of the cupcake tins or one egg in each space of the recycled egg carton. Our cash register and play money also support early math skills. Sequencing skills through following recipes come into play and action in this theme (and we will likely be doing some actual baking in the coming month as well). Fine motor skills are busy at work for both boys. They both are still loving the DIY Pumpkin Pie Set (pictured on bottom right in the photo above) made from felt and orange pom poms that the boys pick up using a variety of fine motor tongs, tweezers and tools.

Both of the boys are still loving our Counting Cupcakes Sensory Bin. Y learned how to sing "Happy Birthday to You" over there (he sings it all the time, now) and S loves picking number candles and counting out birthday candles to go with them. I'm planning to do a flour bin later in the week outside (where cleanup will be a little less scary). Even here, the boys are developing fine motor coordination, spacial awareness, transferring and pouring skills, a bit of math and plenty of practical life-skills when it comes to sweeping up spills!

Dramatic Play is something that has seemingly faded almost into extinction in many early learning centers and homes alike. The push toward early academics has replaced kitchen sets with worksheets and playtime with "work time." More and more, children are struggling with the ability to engage in abstract and symbolic play and the result is not an increase in academic success, but rather an increase in behavioral, social and developmental challenges. While all things require balance, a well set up dramatic play theme encompasses opportunities to develop academic skills in a language children best understand: play! In addition to the skills noted above, children engaging in dramatic play also develop social skills like problem solving, role playing, conflict resolution and emotional awareness. They gain language and critical thinking skills. They work large and small muscles. And they do all of this in a natural environment. 

So now that I've got my soap box statement in praise of play out of the way, here's a peek inside our playroom and what you might add to your own Bakery:

Toy Food: We had some bakery themed toy food and ingredients, but you can also make your own from clay, cardboard, felt or craft foam. Our gingerbread men are actually just foam shapes from Dollar Tree's holiday crafts last year. Both my boys love using pom poms as play food. They have been everything from cupcakes to ice cream to pumpkins, apples and even coffee or tea.

Dishes, Tools and Utensils: Again, some are toys, but many are "the real thing" purchased from the Dollar Tree or secondhand shops. The nice thing about the bake ware from Dollar Tree is that it is a little smaller and perfect for small hands. We use and reuse it in dramatic play, sensory play and when preparing recipes for non-food doughs and slimes.

We just celebrated my husband's birthday over Shabbos and since this is a month of birthday celebrations for my husband and myself, I added a birthday party sub-theme to our bakery. In lieu of toy plates and cups, I added paper party plates, cups, hot cups with lids for hot beverages, plastic forks and spoons and even party tablecloth (cut to the size of our kids' table). All of these were purchased from the Dollar Tree and/or leftover from previous celebrations. S especially loves setting the table, so it's nice rather than setting up a table for the kids to let them do it themselves as part of their play.

Costumes: Every baker needs an apron and a chef's hat. We made our own chef's hats last year and had one in our dress up clothes as well. The boys decorated child sized aprons earlier this year as well that are perfect for work in our play kitchen or our actual kitchen. Child sized aprons and chef's hats are frequently available at Dollar Tree stores as well. You can also print and make role necklaces. I like the ones in the Bakery Dramatic Play kit I linked above or you and your children can create your own. You might also talk about different roles in a bakery like bakers, cashiers, customers, delivery personnel, etc. We have a "delivery truck" as well (our toy shopping cart, but you can also use a wagon or riding toy).

 Props and Accessories: You can include any of the following:

  • cleaning supplies and tools
  • potholders
  • open/closed signs
  • boxes (I used recycled produce containers and boxes with labels I printed last year)
  • bags (I used leftover recycled gift bags with labels I printed last year)
  • laminated party invitations and envelopes
  • toy mailbox for mailing invitations
  • DIY punch cards 
  • hole punch or stamp for punch cards
  • pens, pencils
  • dry erase markers and rag/eraser
  • printed menus and order forms (you can laminate them if you wish)
  • sales signs or labels/stickers
  • receipt books, customer order books (available in Dollar Tree stores)
  • bentchers and/or laminated food blessings cards if you happen to be running a Kosher play bakery
  • cash register if you have one, or you can use a calculator or computer keyboard
  • play money (you can make your own as well)
  • small clipboards and writing pads for taking orders

You can keep it is simple as you wish or get as detailed as your children inspire you to. If you're just starting out, less is often more. You can always add to the play scene later on as you get more ideas (or as your little ones do). Perhaps you'll visit a real bakery and have a look around! As we get closer to Chanukah, I'll be adding in some holiday props and activities and perhaps phasing out some of the birthday themed stuff. And while engaging in play with the boys will be both fun (hey, I like to play, too!) and helpful in learning about some of the novel aspects of baking and running a shop, I like to let them take the lead. I'll be in The Bakery if you need me...

Happy Playing!

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