Intentional make-believe play is at the heart of Payne’s early childhood classrooms. Our preschool classrooms follow the Tools of the Mind curriculum, which utilizes intentional make-believe play to promote self-regulation and the growth of executive functions.

Tools of the Mind is implemented by constructing play themes within the classroom. One play theme we often use is the “grocery store.” Students and teachers make the props and signs needed to recreate the various departments of a grocery store within their classroom. Once the store is constructed, the students engage in intentional make-believe play within the departments. Playing within each theme promotes self-regulation, social interaction, foundational literacy, math, and science skills. For example, counting change at the check-out counter is a foundational math skill, and learning about fruits and vegetables in the produce department teaches students basic plant science. To develop literacy skills, Tools of the Mind utilizes play planning. This is a technique where students plan their play within the theme. Students express their plan with a picture depicting what they intend to do within the theme. Initially play planning is done through drawing, which is an important precursor to writing. As students develop, their drawings become more advanced and they are encouraged to express their play plan in writing as well. As the students learn and grow, the themes change in order to push learning to the next level.