Articulating high quality free choice time in Head Start preschools: A framework to support professional development and classroom observations

Judy Hicks Paulick


Free choice time (FCT) is ubiquitous on Head Start and other preschool’s daily schedules. Yet there is a lot of variation in what FCT looks like across classrooms. We lack tools that identify strong FCT practice, including how teachers ought to facilitate it. A framework for defining and gauging high quality FCT in preschool classrooms is overdue. This study documents the development of and preliminary findings from the Framework for Free Choice Time (F-FCT). Based on a comprehensive field- and research-based understanding of best practices, this framework articulates low, middle-range, and high-quality practice across 26 elements within 5 dimensions. Findings demonstrate some initial validity and reliability of the framework. The F-FCT articulates a range of quality and can be used to support preservice and in-service teacher professional development. Future work with the F-FCT may have implications for preschool curricula, policy, and teacher evaluation.


Head Start; guided play; free choice; observation tool; teacher practice

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This journal is a publication of the NHSA and the CEME at UNC Charlotte.