Emily Sasz and her Virginia Preschool Initiative Plus students

Preschool students at Featherstone Elementary School became restaurateurs while they operated a pizzeria out of their classroom. With some imagination and a repurposed play space, Emily Sasz's Virginia Preschool Initiative Plus (VPI+) classroom was transformed into a restaurant.

Sasz used play to teach students about operating a restaurant. Students voted on the restaurant theme and a pizzeria was the overwhelming winner. They also voted on menu items, prices and decorations.

For more than two weeks students read books about pizza such as "Pete the Cat and the Perfect Pizza Party" by Kimberly and James Dean and "Pizza at Sally's" by Monica Wellington. Several recipe books also helped students learn how pizzas are made.

"My favorite menu item is the cheese pizza. It was fun learning how to make it," Cecilia, one of Sasz's students, shared.

Students also identified the jobs needed to run the pizzeria such as waiters, cashiers, chefs, and security.

Sasz said that, "students are learning key developmental indicators that define important learning goals for young students. In the pizzeria, students use their sense of competence, community, and conflict resolution. This creates decision- making roles about the community that is relevant to them."

Other lessons included discussing healthy eating behaviors and the personal care routine of a restaurant. The students also learned new vocabulary, part-whole relationships, measuring and spatial awareness, all through play.

Lessons about recycling were taught by having the students build a "brick oven" and "drink dispenser" from recycled materials such as plastic cups, cardboard, paper, and empty spice containers.

There's no doubt that a fun restaurant like this will have customers. During the role-play, some students were customers, but they also had a celebrity visitor. Dot Kelly, the current Miss Virginia, stopped by to enjoy time with the Featherstone Elementary students. She spoke to them about being a leader in their communities and making good choices before sitting down for a "slice" of pizza.

Sasz shared with her fellow educators the importance of learning through play. She said, "play is a very powerful thing and makes student learning meaningful. If they are playing, they are engaged. If they are engaged, then they are learning."

Sasz is also in favor of asking students what they want to learn, then scaffolding their ideas from there. "Having their input really helps and makes it more meaningful to them," she added.

The pizzeria is now closed; however, Sasz plans to use the restaurant learning module again next year. She is excited to see what theme her new students will choose.