The 10 essential areas of a play based classroom

The 10 Essential Areas of A Play Based Classroom

In my play based classroom there are 10 essential learning areas. I cannot do without them. The provocations and resources offered in these areas change throughout the year dependent on children’s interests and the curriculum intent. The placement of these 10 areas within the classroom is thoughtfully planned at the beginning of each year. I don’t usually move the areas around the classroom throughout the year.  Very often an area will have multiple objectives and will include cross-curricular experiences. When adding provocations to each area, the original purpose for that space guides what is offered there.

1. Carpet Space and Meeting Area

This area is always as large as I can possibly get away with. We play a variety of circle games. You need a large carpet space to comfortably fit a whole class seated in a circle. The carpet space includes my teacher chair, teaching easel or whiteboard and our interactive panel. Any resources I need for whole class lessons are within easy reach. I don’t teach very many whole class lessons but when I do, they happen on this carpet space.

2. Block Construction

Wooden block play is a staple in most play based classrooms. You need a reasonable space large enough for 4 or 5 children to build together or individually. I place the shelf holding the wooden blocks and loose parts along one side of the carpet space we use as a meeting area.  That large carpet space isn’t wasted then. It serves a dual purpose. During Investigation time, it is used for block constructions and during focused teaching time, it serves as a meeting place.

block construction in a play based classroom
Add fabric to block construction area
3. Dramatic Play

The dramatic play space is another area requiring quite a bit of room. This play based area is where oral language, social skills and problem solving are refined. It is always a popular space so it needs to accommodate at least 4 children.

The props in the dramatic play area tend to take up a lot of space so I position it in a large corner of the classroom. Position the dramatic play space in a corner so 2 walls are available to display environmental print. I usually use a small gazebo to define the space. The gazebo makes it easy to create a third wall by hanging a sheet or curtain from the frame. The roof of the gazebo also makes the space cozy and helps reduce noise.

4. Writing Table

This literacy area has a large table or group of tables preferably seating 6 to 8 children. I need this many seats because I use this table as my explicit teaching table during small group instruction later in the day. Next to this large writing table I have a 16 cube Ikea KALLAX shelving unit. This is a great room divider and defines the space beautifully. All our writing tools are stored on this shelving unit. Pens, paper, envelopes, sticky-notes, journals, list pads, magnetic letters, small blackboards & whiteboards, dictionaries etc are all accessible for the children to use as they wish at the writing table. I store a few of my literacy teaching tools on the top shelves.

class writing area in play based classroom
Library reading corner in my reggio inspired classroom
5. Reading Area

Our cozy reading area provides another literacy space in the classroom. I have a wooden single bed base with a light mattress and a number of pillows and cushions. A low light lamp and a net canopy is a must for this area to create a cozy atmosphere. This is a quiet space so I like to position it away from the louder spaces like dramatic play. I like to position the bed along a wall so that the cushions can be supported along the length of the bed. In Winter I add a couple of little soft blankets. There are usually a few teddy bears waiting on the bed too.

The books are stored on a low bookcase. This bookcase is the same length as the bed so I position it in line with the bed and place a rug on the floor to help define the space. The bed takes up space in the room and I have often thought of replacing it with a much smaller sofa or some large floor cushions but the children just love the coziness the bed creates. The bed comes in handy when a child isn’t feeling well or just needs a little calm down time. I think it’s worthwhile.

Autumn Provocation from My Teaching Cupboard
6. Science and Nature Table

Children love collecting treasures they find in nature. Our nature table gives a home to these collections. I add interesting pieces I have collected too. We usually have mealworms, caterpillars or a fish on this table. It is important for children to have some type of living thing to look after and observe.

The items here are changed around quite regularly to sustain the children’s interest in the area. Items related to our current  Science Unit are setup at this table too. Magnifying glasses, clipboards, bug-catchers and other scientific tools are either stored on the table or on a small bookcase close by.

7. Art & Collage Area

Very often this area actually turns into 2 or 3 smaller areas throughout the room. I always have a box construction space. Sometimes that is just a very large box storing recycled treasures like boxes, tubes, unusual packaging – you know the traditional junk! The large storage box can be placed next to a small table where the children can work on their creations. Very close by on an open shelf, I store our art construction materials: glue, tape, scissors, crayons, various paper and card.

Painting easels could be added close to this space but I usually put 1 or 2 outside on the verandah. I have another small table inside dedicated to painting or drawing where different art mediums are offered for experimentation. These would include, pastels, watercolours, charcoal or drawing pencils. Sometimes I add tabletop easels to these tables to vary the experience.

The traditional collage trolley would live in this space too. Recently I have been using the collage trolley in another part of the classroom as a sensory play space. A large shallow underbed storage tray fits perfectly in the top of the trolley and I can fill that tray with a variety of sensory invitations (water, sand, rice).

A small selection of collage items can be found on the open bookshelf housing the construction materials at the box construction area. I only offer a limited selection of collage items (cotton balls, glitter, sequins, pipe-cleaners, straws etc) on this shelf. They are presented and organised in small clear boxes. The children are aware of all the collage items stored away in our storeroom.  They will ask for specific collage items if they need them and I can easily get what they need from the storeroom. I found it very time consuming and somewhat wasteful constantly topping up the trays on our old collage trolley. The collage items seemed to be just randomly glued onto a box or a piece of paper. Having them stored away seems to make their creations a little more purposeful.

painting table in play based classroom
box construction in play based classroom
art area in play based classroom
Maths Sorting Provocation from My Teaching Cupboard
math investigation area
8. Maths Area

I have a small table in the maths area but it’s not absolutely necessary. You can get away with just having a resource storage space for all the math tools: counters, dice, measuring tapes, manipulatives etc.  Math learning opportunities arise in all play areas of the classroom. Having a designated space to store tools that may be used throughout the room is all the children need to incorporate math learning into their investigations.

I like having a small math table or tray inviting children to investigate and practise the mathematical concepts we have been learning. The provocations I setup on the table vary according to the math concepts we are focusing on in class. Adding a sensory stimulus to the table will help with engagement and memory. I use this table during focused teaching lessons to demonstrate and teach our current math learning intentions too.

9. Tinkering

The tinkering area is a place where children can develop their fine motor and engineering skills. A small table with real tools and safety equipment for the children to use is always inviting. They can dismantle old broken household items or tinker with nuts & bolts, small engineering kits or small construction toys like meccano or lego. It is generally placed off to the side of the classroom and is only a small table for 1 or 2 children.

Play dough provocation with printable flowers
colour provocation at the light table
10. Sensory Play Area

Sensory experiences are embedded in all the areas of my play based classroom and then I also have at least 2 other areas specifically designed around sensory play. Sensory play acts as a magnet to children. Everything we learn about our world comes through our senses. This area is very important for cognitive and emotional development. Fine motor skills are also refined through sensory play. It can sometimes be a messy play space so it is best to set it up on the vinyl or outside on the verandah.

I have a light table permanently set up in the classroom. It is a very calming sensory play area. I change the provocations at the light table every 2 or 3 weeks. This allows me to design provocations linked to the curriculum. It also keeps the children interested and engaged in this space.

Another permanent sensory play area is the play dough table. It is set up at another small table in a quiet area of the room. I try to place this area on the vinyl as pieces of play dough always find their way to the floor.  We call it the play dough table but it doesn’t always have play dough on offer. Clay and plasticine are some of the malleable materials rotated through this area.

Sensory trays are very often included in the play investigations. They can take the form of a water trough on the verandah or the large under-bed storage tray in my repurposed collage trolley. A couple of small individual trays on a table can form part of our sensory play area too. There are many options for the provocations you can offer in a sensory tray.

You can read more about sensory play and how to use the sensory experience of play dough to teach phonics here on my blog.

30 open ended question prompts on beautiful nature inspired photos. Promote higher order thinking with these open-ended question prompts from My Teaching Cupboard.

Open-ended Questions Promote Higher Order Thinking

One of the gifts you can give children is allowing them the opportunity to solve problems. Solving problems develops higher order thinking skills.  Children must be given the opportunity to experiment, investigate and solve problems. If you are lucky, they may even fail.

It’s OK to Fail

There must be an acceptance that failure is natural in the learning process. Furthermore, failure is actually a springboard to growth and success. Encourage them to experiment, investigate and solve problems. This will ensure you are nurturing the natural curiosity and wonder children have about the world. As a result, you will be giving them the gift of lifelong learning.

Provoke Wonder

Children naturally learn by first having a sense of wonder or interest in something. Then they will explore and experiment. They will discover possibilities and reflect on their observations. Experiment, explore, fail and reflect some more. Consequently, their reflections provoke more interest and wonder and so the cycle continues. Their curiosity leads them to increasingly complex knowledge and sophisticated, higher order thinking.

30 Nature Inspired Question Prompts

open ended question to print

These open-ended question prompts will encourage higher order thinking in your children. Higher order thinking is a focus in every curriculum and with every age group. Enrich academic and social learning by encouraging your children’s natural curiosity. These questions tap into that natural curiosity cycle.

I love these cards

I place these cards around my room to prompt my questioning when I’m interacting with the children. They help me to challenge the children to think for themselves. They are also a great reminder for me to invite the children to share their thinking and their view of the world.

It’s important to me to help my children develop higher order thinking skills and to learn in an interesting and engaging way. Sometimes I add beauty and value to a learning centre by including one or two of these open-ended question photos in the provocation. They assist me and other educators in the room to take the learning to the next level.

Using these prompts will demonstrate to your children that you believe that they have worthy ideas, that you expect them to think for themselves and that they can contribute in valuable ways. This then results in a sense of autonomy, belonging, and competence within the child and the classroom community.

I have found these open-ended question prompts to be a valuable and effective learning tool.

Purchase my 30 Open-ended Question Photos to foster higher order thinking in your classroom

Reading Area

The children were not using our reading area as much as I would have liked. When I asked them why, they said they would like it to be a little more cosy. I found this large net at Ikea, added a lamp and a couple of super soft throws…

It’s a very inviting and cosy space now and a very popular area.

Birds and Feathers Investigation

My Preps have been collecting feathers for a while now.  They will love this investigation area.

Magnifying glasses to encourage “looking closely”.

Ink drawing of feathers pinned up near our bird nest. I love this hessian tree from ZART Art. The limbs are wired and easily bent to hold and support the bird nest I found in our garden.

The little basket holds some Montessori Bird and Egg cards. The feathers here are very long and I am hoping it encourages some talk about measuring and length.

The little wooden egg rattles. I try to incorporate sensory items into every area. Hopefully the Australian Birds book will encourage some bird watching at outdoor play time. I might add some binoculars in a few days.


That ostrich feather is so soft. I always include clipboards in my investigation areas. They encourage writing and recording of all the Preps discoveries.

A cosy space for 3 children. Small investigation areas keep the noise to a minimum. Well that’s the plan anyway.

Creating a Peaceful Environment using Lighting

I strongly believe the classroom environment to be the third teacher. This year my focus has been on creating a peaceful and welcoming environment for us all to discover and learn in. Soft lighting, natural materials and quiet, private work areas are helping to create a calm and productive classroom.

This is the light hanging above our Art table. We love the soft light it gives off. I made it by tying some hanging Christmas lights to a cane hoop.