So this one’s pretty obvious, but sometimes we need to be reminded of the obvious. (Like the time the store clerk had to remind me to actually take my bags with me after paying.) You may be thinking, “I just put dinosaurs in the sensory table. Isn’t this pretty much the same thing?” Well, yes and no. You can certainly use the same set of dinosaurs, but you’re going to get a different type of play. In the sensory table, you obviously get sensory play, along with language and dramatic play, but the theme of that dramatic play is likely about flooding or burying. In the block area, the play is constructive and spatial. The language and dramatic play elements are still there, but likely in the sense of the dinosaurs seeking refuge in a home or cave, or being trapped or caged. It may even take on a familial script, or something we couldn’t even imagine yet. The children not only play with the dinosaurs in a different way in the two areas, but they will play with the blocks in a different way than they do without the dinosaurs. So don’t worry about it being redundant. Get those dinosaurs out in your block area too. The children will love it, and you’ll be surprised at how their play changes.
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I have issues with putting dinosaurs out in my classroom. Everytime I do it deteriorates into the children using the dinosaurs to bang or hit on each other. Do you have this problem and if so how do you handle it?
In general, if a child is using anything to hurt someone or make others feel unsafe, I would state very clearly that what they are doing is hurting others, and that I can’t let that happen at school. (I often point out that that means I won’t let people hurt them either.) Then I tell them they need to play something else for a while and maybe try again later, when they’re ready to use the toys properly. Then lovingly walk them to another area to play. (Of course, if the behavior is more violent, sometimes I need to remove them from others for a short time.)
More specific to your question, if you’re finding that every time you put the dinosaurs out, the overall play deteriorates, you may need to be more involved in directing or redirecting the children’s play. You may suggest other plot lines for example, introducing a unifying crisis like a storm where the dinosaurs have to work together to build shelter (specific to the block area). The children may be having a hard time coming up with any story line for dinosaurs besides fighting. Reading stories about dinosaurs (like Saturday Night at the Dinosaur Stomp) will introduce new ideas.
You may also want to take a few minutes to discuss the issue during your large group time or morning meeting. Be very specific about the kind of play that you’re not happy with and why it isn’t appropriate for school. Ask the children to introduce suggestions for appropriate ways to use the dinosaurs and demonstrate with them. Let them know that you can only use those toys in your classroom if you know they can use them properly and keep each other safe. Don’t be threatening, just be very clear and specific.
I hope that helps!