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One Thing You Might Try...Ditching the Morning Work

Posted on: March 14, 2024

By Grace Choi

The One Thing You Might Try... blog series presents you with easily implementable new ideas to try out in your classroom, straight from Stenhouse authors and expert guest contributors. 

In this One Thing You Might Try...blog post, Grace Choi explains what "Morning Choice" is and highlights the positive impacts it has had in her classrooms.

I don’t know about you, but when I start my work day, it’s usually not with work right away. It’s okay, you don’t have to keep it a secret – my bosses know, and I’m 99.99% sure many working adults also fall into my morning “work” routine.

It goes a little something like this: boot up my computer, sip some coffee, chat and catch up with teammates, check email, browse some books that caught my eye, chat some more, and sip some more before beginning my first meeting or task. 

Giving myself time and permission to ease into the day calms me and prepares me mentally and emotionally as I connect with my team and start with some lighter to-dos before diving into a full day of learning, teaching, and thinking. And, when I think about students starting their school day, I fully believe in offering them this same kind of soft start. This gift of time and choice is a way for kids to also mentally and emotionally prepare for their full day of learning, thinking, and growing. 

While the lure of Morning Work like review worksheets or word finds is compelling (It’s easy to control! It keeps the kids busy and in their seats! It’s good review!), we have to pause and wonder what it might feel like to be in our students' shoes. Imagine walking into your classroom every day and finding your administrator has placed on your table a new form to fill out or data that needs to be analyzed right away. Do you know how to do it? Sure. Is it work that looks similar to what you’ll do later or what you did yesterday? Absolutely. But does it energize you or make you excited to start your day? Maaaaybe at first, but I’m going to guess that sentiment might seriously wane after seeing this same work day after day.

If we, instead, offer our students time to settle into their school day through play and networking, or Morning Choice, as we called it in my classroom, we start their morning with joy and excitement before we ask them to meet the more rigorous academic demands of the day. It might get a little messy, it will certainly be harder to control, but it will definitely be worth it. I promise. 

How to Get Started

If you already have a designated play or choice time in your schedule, you’ll want to differentiate this morning time from that other block. Morning Choice is shorter and children won’t have as much time to create open, elaborate play scenarios. Because of this, in my kindergarten classroom, the dramatic play area and large blocks were closed for the morning, and children chose activities organized by box (board games, puzzles) or bin (bristle blocks, Lincoln Logs, magnetic building tiles, Play Doh) that allowed for easy and quick clean up. For older students, card games like Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza, Uno, Exploding Kittens, or Sleeping Queens would also be fun options, as would more complex building toys like K’Nex or Snap Circuits. 

In addition to play activities in boxes and bins, students could also choose to draw or write – some might even turn to a previous piece from their writing folder. In my classroom I often invited my students to illustrate a class Shared Writing piece during this Morning Choice time, and many kids would eagerly volunteer and happily share this work later during Writing Workshop. You can also open your classroom library during Morning Choice and invite students to read on their own, with a buddy, or with a small group of buddies. 

You might find there are some students who choose to spend Morning Choice time just sitting and chatting with a friend. My students would eat breakfast during this time, so while some students chose to eat quickly and move on to play, others would nosh slowly, enjoying the time to share a meal with a pal. 

As you think about setting up Morning Choice in your classroom, you might have other ideas based on what you know about your students’ interests and the supplies and activities you have on hand. One thing that’s important to keep in mind, though, is that activities on a screen are probably not the most worthwhile for Morning Choice. This is because screen activities are often independent and hinder student-to-student talk and interaction, which are some of the biggest benefits of Morning Choice time. 

When just beginning with Morning Choice, it’s helpful to limit the amount of choices you offer your students so as not to overwhelm them. Maybe start with just two or three choices: puzzles, board games, or drawing. Set clear expectations that students can begin a Morning Choice activity once they’ve unpacked and finished any have-tos such as handing in take-home folders and putting away lunches. In my classroom, students were free to move from activity to activity so long as they had cleaned up before moving on, but you may decide to start with students sticking to just one choice for the morning as they learn this new routine. 

For my students, Morning Choice began with the first bell and continued for a few minutes after the second bell, totaling about twenty to twenty-five minutes. This time allowed students who were coming in just as the second bell rang ample time to unpack and settle in before beginning our Morning Meeting. Depending on your school and class schedule, you may need to adjust the time, but even just ten or fifteen minutes per day of Morning Choice has the power to transform your students’ mornings.

What You Might Notice

What are those ways your students’ mornings might transform? I’m so glad you asked! Here’s what you might notice as you observe students during Morning Choice: 

Students are eager to start the day. Not only would many of my students finish their breakfast quickly, but students also learned to unpack quickly so they could begin Morning Choice. Often students who might have been tardy would even arrive earlier to the classroom because they knew the morning was starting with play and they didn’t want to miss it. 

Students make unexpected connections. Because students trickle in throughout Morning Choice, their very closest friends might not be available as playmates. In my classroom I often found students would pair off with whomever was available instead of waiting on a close buddy they usually played with at recess. This allowed students to form or deepen other relationships and make new connections with one another. 

Students grow in their social language. Having another unstructured time during the day gives students the opportunity to grow in their conversation skills. Because our Morning Choice happened within the classroom walls and involved less physical activity than recess, my students were engaged in so much talk with one another. Sometimes the talk was a little more structured if the students were playing a game, and other times it was more open ended. I delighted in overhearing (and often joining in on) these morning conversations!

Students are independent. Once Morning Choice routines were introduced, practiced, and refined, this time ran seamlessly each morning. Even if I was called into a meeting or had a substitute, my kids knew what to do and were self-sufficient. Additionally, my instructional assistant and I didn’t have to spend our morning explaining and re-explaining directions to a worksheet or making sure students were doing their Morning Work, and could spend our time chatting with kids or taking care of needs.

Consider This

And finally, as you think about swapping out that Morning Work and beginning Morning Choice with your students, consider this:

After Morning Choice, students are ready to begin learning. Perhaps the biggest benefit of all is that giving students time to ease into the day prepares them to begin our more traditional instructional blocks so much more than any review worksheet ever could. Because during Morning Choice, everyone has some time for networking or play. Everyone begins with an activity of their choice. Everyone is successful. What better way to begin a day of learning than by already feeling connected and successful?

Grace Choi is an educator in northern Virginia. She spends her time teaching and coaching in elementary schools and loves experiencing the brilliance of our youngest students. She believes that giving students choice is key to developing lifelong readers and writers. You can follow Grace on Twitter @GraceKChoi.