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Murray Journal

Twin Peaks’ Kindervillage offers fun learning environment for young learners

Apr 30, 2022 12:00PM ● By Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

A few steps up behind Twin Peaks Elementary’s stage sits Kindervillage, a dramatic play city with a home, a grocery store, a pizza shop, a veterinary clinic and a place to build houses.

At times, it’s a quiet space, but for 20 minutes twice per week, Kindervillage is buzzing as a classroom of kindergartners can be found busily building a brick wall, serving a pizza or buying groceries.

While it may just look like good old-fashioned playtime to some, the village was carefully designed by kindergarten teacher Stephanie Proud.

It began last fall when the State Board of Education helped to fulfill her Donors Choose grant for plastic food items since she didn’t have many for her grocery store station in her classroom.

“I thought that was awesome and when I set it up, I realized that only four or five kids could play at a time since the area in my classroom was small and so they’re missing the opportunity to be with all their peers,” Proud said.

Equipped with evidence that dramatic play helps students learn, she talked to her principal, Rebecca Spence, who immediately agreed to help identify an enlarged area. One month later, in late February, Kindervillage opened behind the stage curtain.

Proud had a second Donors Choose grant funded with more dramatic play stations plus several others bought or donated items for the kindergartners.

“I love it, they love it and they have so much fun,” she said. “I found that my English learners are a lot less inhibited and communicated more when they are playing and not sitting in desks. I’m seeing a lot of language growth. Most English language learners connect objects and actions to words. For example, someone may hold a pineapple and say, ‘I love pineapple.’ It sinks in and they associate the words. It just means more. Or if they’re setting the table, they’ll ask someone to get plates or what do they want on their pizza. They’re able to make these connections and they’re helping one another learn,” she said.

In Proud’s classroom, there are six native languages: German, Portuguese, Hindi, Spanish, Russian, and English. That’s not atypical as Spence estimates there are more than 10 languages spoken amongst the 230 students who attend Twin Peaks.

Proud said even when the kindergartners return to the classrooms, their discussions reflect back to Kindervillage.

“We have lots of discussion and they’ll say, ‘remember when we played at the vet station, and we measured them’ or ‘that’s what a vet does’ or ‘we got that at the grocery store.’ There’s been a lot of carry over,” she said, noting that students are also understanding these occupations, which ties into kindergarten curriculum.

In addition to vocabulary, students also are learning social skills.

“They’ll say, ‘how kind of you to warm up my food;’ they’re learning how to treat others how they want to be treated,” Proud said. “They’re also learning how to work together while playing, whether it’s giving a pet a shot, making a pizza or building a wall. They’re learning problem-solving and conflict-resolution skills when someone isn’t sharing or learning how to take turns.”

Kindergartner Chloe McNamara said she’s learned that.

“Playing in the house and store with my friends are so much fun, but sometimes, I want to do something and someone else is doing it,” she said. “We have to be patient until it’s our turn and that’s when I usually go to the pizza shop because it’s fun too.”

Her classmate Abigail Gonzalez likes playing in the pizza shop and with the animals at the vet.

“It’s fun with my friends,” she said. “I’m learning all about everything.”

Kindergartner Ahad Khan is learning about a possible occupation.

“I’m making a house,” he said as he moved cardboard boxes covered in brick wrapping paper. “I want to build houses when I’m older.”

Proud plans to rotate future stations to include perhaps a post office, a cookie shop, a flower shop and other community places.

“I want to incorporate more writing skills where the students can write notes to be delivered at school, or a waiter can fill out the menu or a veterinarian can write down medical records,” she said. “My favorite part is just watching these students lose their inhibitions. I’ve had a bunch of pretty shy kids in my class, and it takes a lot for them to raise their hand and ask a question or to get up in front of the class. But here, there’s no one in the corner; they’re all actively engaged. “They aren’t worried if they don’t know the word because often, they’ll learn it right then. There’s so much they’re expected to learn in kindergarten, and this gives them mounds of growth while they’re moving around versus just sitting at a desk with a pencil. It’s been great.”

Kindergartner Maxi Garcia agrees: “Sometimes, I like building and sometimes, I’m at the vet taking care of animals. Dramatic play is about pretending. I pretend to buy things in the market, or I pretend to eat pizza with my friends with a toy pizza. It’s fun and the best part of kindergarten.”