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Different ways to play

Grant allows for more diverse toys

Kenowa Hills — Central Elementary teacher Tracey St. Pierre prioritizes play in her kindergarten classroom.

The pretend ice cream shop in a corner of the room is one of her students’ favorite toys to play with, she said, a close second to the baby dolls.

“(The students) love the baby dolls,” St. Pierre said. “They carry the babies around while pretending to talk on the phone or feed and rock them. They’re modeling what they see at home or in the real world.”

On a recent Wednesday morning after breakfast, kindergartners Viviana Garcia-Suttles and Sabian Pulluiam walked over to the toy crib holding five baby dolls. 

“That baby looks like you!” Viviana exclaimed as Sabian picked up a doll with a dark complexion and black hair, similar to her own. 

St. Pierre’s newest additions to her dramatic play collection provide students with toys that better reflect their diversity. 

“I wanted to celebrate the unique children we have in our classes. Our district is multicultural, and not every student we have has blonde hair and blue eyes,” she said. “These dolls are a subtle way of telling a child ‘I see you. I respect you and love you.’”

St. Pierre’s “Play That Looks Like Me” idea was funded by one of six grants awarded by the Kenowa Hills Education Foundation to teachers this year. 

Funding Innovation

The foundation awards grants for innovative projects beyond the district’s general operating budget. 

“A previous grant I received expanded our dramatic play areas in each kindergarten classroom,” St. Pierre said. “With this grant, I wanted to focus on different ways to play and learn.”

Central’s kindergarten classes rotate on Fridays between the four rooms, where students pretend they are veterinarians caring for pets, scoop frozen treats at the ice cream shop or shop for food at the grocery store. 

‘I wanted to celebrate the unique children we have in our classes. Our district is multicultural. … These dolls are a subtle way of telling a child ‘I see you. I respect you and love you.’

— Tracey St. Pierre

St. Pierre said her students enjoy Fridays because they get to see their friends from other classrooms and play with different toys. 

After teaching for 23 years in the district, most of them at Central Elementary, she said incorporating play in her class is more important than ever.

“There is such a rush to get everything done. I’ve learned to be intentional about making time for play,” she said. “Children learn so much through play, like language skills and how to get along. They figure out so much on their own without any of my direction.” 

Read more from Kenowa Hills: 
Apple a day & making time for play
District buildings promote mental health awareness

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”


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