Her name was “Mrs. L,” and what happened in her second grade classroom on Fridays and infrequent special occasions, was magic.
There was magic scattered in the corners of the little portable where she taught, and tucked into the file cabinets used to separate the miniature table and chairs where children sat enthralled as she read books like Charlotte’s Web.
There was magic in the air whenever she said “Okay, Class, clear your desks” at 2 o’clock, typically after a science lesson.
There was even magic during tests, when she would reach deep into her canvas duffle bag and pull out an assortment of new supplies.
What she had created in her classroom was not part of any curriculum, but it was the very best part of the school week for every child that she ever taught. In the aforementioned corners and cabinets, she had tucked away all the very best things that can be used to capture a child’s active imagination.
She had tubs of markers and feathers and pipe cleaners and felt shapes that could be kept “as is” or trimmed down into something even better. She had beads, yarn, and construction paper. She had brought in masks, and costumes, and other items favored for dress up, as well as materials to make more. She had a money center with a cash register, paper bills, and plastic coins. She had a food area with bright colored molded produce, and cardboard boxes printed to look like crackers and cereal. She had stickers to make menus or to decorate the precious greeting cards children might make for their parents. She had essentially created a fantasy land, perfect for kids to gather and just be their imaginative, creative selves.
Not every child is blessed with a Mrs. L, but every child should be. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to create centers in our schools today, such as those lovingly assembled in that little portable years ago. However, you can encourage fantasy play right in your own home. A few shoeboxes stuffed with art supplies, an old camel chest filled with treasured clothing from your own youth or secondhand garage sale finds, a few drawers stuffed with treasures from the attic all can serve as a starting point for imaginative, active play. After all, it really isn’t about what Mrs. L brought into the classroom, it is about what the children did with those items she provided.