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Fostering Independent Decision-Making by Allowing Free Movement During Center Time

Many preschool classrooms limit the number of children who may be in a center at a time. Director and preschool teacher Anne Marie Boroughs describes why their program places very few limits on center time activities. By allowing children to make choices about where they wish to play and which play materials they would like to bring with them, the program aims to help children develop independent decision-making and self-regulation skills.

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  • Fostering Independent Decision-Making

    by Allowing Free Movement During Center Time

    (This video has captions. You can turn them on by clicking the CC icon at the bottom of the video.)

    Download a printable transcript in English and Spanish.

    Anne Marie Boroughs, Director and Lead Teacher, Sea School: We don’t set limits on children in the centers. They can go move about to the different centers freely. It goes it goes right along with all the other expectations we have, [which] is: we want to include everyone; we don’t exclude people.

    Child 1: Does mine look pretty, too?
    Child 2: Mmm-hmm.
    Child 1: They both look pretty.

    Anne Marie Boroughs:
    But we also have to realize that they have to think for themselves, and they have to say, “Hey, if we have a game that we’re playing, and there’s four players, can we have eight people here?”

    Child: I’m going to go grocery shopping.
    Anne Marie: You’re going grocery shopping? Alright.

    Anne Marie Boroughs:
    I’m not going to tell a child, “No, you can’t bring the MagnaTiles over here, because they belong here.”

    Anne Marie: You’re back?
    Child: I got some toys.

    Anne Marie Boroughs: There are reasons sometimes, like you wouldn’t want to put MagnaTiles in the water table, but why not? Explain it. And once they know why they can’t do something, that’s fine. And we find that when they have that kind of freedom, they just become better decision-makers.

    Child: What are you doing?

    Anne Marie Boroughs: We just basically give this huge, open opportunity for them to navigate these situations on their own.

    Child 1: You want to make salad with me?
    Child 2: Ok. What ingredients do you need?

    Anne Marie Boroughs: And it is scary for some teachers. They’re like, “What’s going to happen? Are they going to make their way back?” Guess what? When we do cleanup time, those kids put them back. So I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t be able to move about freely.

    © 2021 Center for Early Childhood Education at Eastern Connecticut State University.
    May be reprinted for educational purposes.

    1. What limits do we currently set on children's play during center time? What is our rationale for those rules or limits?
    2. What are the positive and negative consequences of the limits we set? How do our rules affect children's social interactions, the development of their self-regulation skills, their creativity, and their cognitive development? How do our current rules and limits affect our teaching?
    3. Have we considered cultural differences in children's play and how our current rules might affect children from different backgrounds?
    4. Are there ways we can meet our goals for classroom management and safety without limiting children's play - or with fewer limits in place?
    5. If we were to consider making changes to our current rules, how would we prepare the children? for those changes? How would teachers support children to be successful? How will we respond if everything doesn't go according to plan?
  • Producer and Scriptwriter: Julia DeLapp
    Editors: Chris Hominski (Eastern student), Ken Measimer
    Videographers: Ken Measimer, Sean Leser

    The Center wishes to thank The Sea School in Mystic, Connecticut, for sharing their strategy and to the teachers, children, and families for their collaboration in the making of this video.