The holiday season is upon us and the cooler weather has arrived.
Stores and restaurants are always the most popular themes in our Imagination Center. Our Gingerbread and Cocoa Cafe is no exception. As the cooler weather finally hits our area and the holiday season arrives, this theme sets the tone for festive, educational role-play.
Even a small space can be inviting and engaging.
For those of you who follow along on our blogging journey, you may know our classroom is small. Despite the size, just the right amount of engaging activities can be added, without clutter. Besides, less really is more. However, one place I carefully spurge on is our Imagination Center. The Gingerbread and Cocoa Cafe has everything a little, lovely cafe could want: an inviting storefront, bakery/small specialty kitchen, and a quaint eating area. Despite the main furniture items being the same, the unique added touches make it easy to imagine something completely different. The storefront sign, at the top of our cafe stand and the other signs and labels are included in the Gingerbread and Cocoa Cafe Dramatic Play Pack found in my TPT store HERE.
The modern cafe uses chalkboard decor.
Menu boards and signage, at modern cafes, tend to lend towards a chalkboard theme. The Gingerbread and Cocoa Cafe menu boards were printed at Staples, on 11x17 cardstock and laminated (they are included in the Gingerbread and Cocoa Cafe Dramatic Play Pack). Everything I print, or murals I make, are laminated for durability. They last several years, through many theme rotations.
Independence is key, when role playing.
Aprons are one of my staples for role playing. To foster independence, I use my regular Montessori design, with one strap and a hook and loop closure. Since I only have up to four scholars in a center at one time, I have only two aprons: the Cookie Baker and Cocoa Maker/Cashier. The labels were printed onto iron-on transfer paper and ironed onto the cloth. If you choose to use printable iron-on transfer paper, make sure you choose the paper made specifically for dark fabrics (if ironing onto fabric with any color or print). The additions to these aprons are a double pocket front, to help hold items while running the cafe. The Gingerbread and Cocoa Cafe Dramatic Play Pack has various job title tags to choose from.
The cafe menu offers hot chocolate and gingerbread cookies.
The Gingerbread and Cocoa Cafe makes soft, fluffy gingerbread cookies, offered three ways: plain, flooded with frosting and flooded with decorations. Our cafe also offers delicious hot chocolate, made from a "Secret Family Recipe". Add-ins include whipping cream and marshmallows. All menu items are made from scratch and made to order, through my scholars imaginations.
The hot chocolate station is separate from the baking station.
To make the roles completely separate from each other, the play kitchen was removed and a small hot chocolate station was set up. The wooden cooktop is from Melissa and Doug and works perfect for a small station such as this. Most of the hot chocolate ingredients are stored at this station, with the exception of the sugar, which can be found on the shelves in the baking station. Small, plastic mugs are perfectly themed with images of gingerbread men. They were purchased from Oriental Trading Company and come in a pack of twelve. The extra small, plastic, silver colored spoons are from a party supply store. They are just the needed size for our little mugs and of course, tiny hands. Mini white pom-poms are the ideal sized marshmallows for this pint-sized cafe. Tongs are added for fine-motor development. The whipping cream is two ripple cut circles of white felt, in various sizes, hand-sewn together with a simple gathering stitch. Most of the store/restaurant themes that offer whipping cream, also have an empty can of whipping cream as a prop. However, even though the Gingerbread and Cocoa Cafe Dramatic Play Pack has a label for a can, there wasn't room for something that tall on the station shelving in our classroom.
The hot chocolate needs to be pourable.
Small chocolate brown colored pom-poms make the perfect hot chocolate. They can be stirred, spooned up and poured into mugs. The containers for all of the hot chocolate ingredients are available at the station, following the recipe that's posted in the station area (adding one-to-one correspondence, measurement and sequencing). The salt shaker comes from the Melissa and Doug condiment set.
The Bakery Station has everything needed to make delicious gingerbread cookies.
The gingerbread recipe is posted and all tools and ingredients have labels, teaching scholars that text has meaning. Exposure to pictures with text is important, whether they are able to read or not. The spice rack is another Melissa and Doug favorite. It came with all of the spice ingredients needed to make gingerbread. The order board is magnetic. The candy cane bucket is usually found at the register area, but due to our small counter space, it was placed at the end of the bakery station.
Felt gingerbread cookies make the perfect play food.
The felt gingerbread cookies were made using the actual cookie cutters available in the bakery station, to add realism to the role playing. Each cookie is lightly stuffed with polyfill. The flooded cookies were covered in stiff red or green felt. The flooded and decorated cookies were made by adding puffy paint. I made sure to decorate them as closely to the clipart in the dramatic play pack as possible.
Bakery supplies are as realistic as possible, to follow the sequence of the recipe.
Using the same cookie cutters that are in the baking station, I made a "rolled out" set of dough, with two cookie cutouts. My scholars can roll out the dough, cut out the cookies, and place them on the cookie sheet to bake in the oven. When the cookies have been baked and cooled, they can be decorated using the piping bags. The frosting in each bag is colored felt, rolled into a cone shape and stuffed with polyfill. My scholars enjoy the squishiness of the piping bags, making the decorating process more realistic. Plastic piping tips are usually around a dollar for a set and the set makes just the right amount of piping bags. Rather than spending the money on the flimsy clear decorator bags, I use a double layer of gallon sized freezer bags, trimmed at the top. The bags are tightly tied with ribbed ribbon.
Making supplies reusable is important.
No matter what theme is set up, it's important to try and produce as little waste as possible, making most or all of the props reusable. This also makes the theme cost efficient. My order forms are laminated and have a magnet strip on the top back. The order forms can easily attach and be removed from the magnetic order form board. A dry erase marker is added to the order form box, making the order forms reusable year, after year. The Gingerbread and Cocoa Cafe Dramatic Play Pack has themed money. Just simply print the pages on green paper. I use plastic play coins found on Amazon. The cafe stand was purchased at Walmart and the awning cover was sewn from holiday fabric and attached with velcro. The cafe stand storefront sign is part of the Gingerbread and Cocoa Cafe Dramatic Play Pack. The number line was permanently attached and is from a Pocket of Preschool math and literacy pack.
Modeling the various roles will set the tone for how the center is used.
Before my scholars use the themed set up, I model the different roles that can be played in the center and demonstrate how to use the supplies. It's amazing how well they role play running a small business. My scholars take their roles seriously and learn so much through the theme. This center provides opportunities for developing fine-motor, sequencing, counting, measurement, reading, writing, one-to-one correspondence and very important social skills - plus more! Find the Gingerbread and Cocoa Cafe Dramatic Play Pack in my TPT store, HERE. Two versions of the table menu and various signage are available in the pack: chalkboard and an ink saving white background.
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