Last year, I set them out for them to play with in the block and kitchen center. They had a blast. The kitchen became the beanie baby store. They made signs (yay writing!) and used money (yay math!) in their store.
This year, my very artistically talented TA turned our loft into a zoo. Our loft is a "rotating" center. We change the center about once a month or so. We've had a castle, beauty shop, doctor's office, vet, elf station, house, fire station, and construction center.
The zoo is split up by habitat. Since it is up on the loft, it's really hard to get pictures through the bars and around the stairs.
After my TA had completed all the centers, we had the kids draw the animals to go in the habitats. I was so impressed with their drawings. Ms. C had them look through our animal books to find the animal they wanted to draw. Then she pointed out the shapes and characteristics that animal had. She gave them a little guidance as far as what to draw first, etc. But the drawings are all them. I'm so proud of my budding artists!
We allow between 3-5 friends in our loft at a time, depending on what center is up there at the time. We went with 4 friends at a time for the zoo. We encourage them to sort the animals by habitat, play with them like puppets, etc.
Do you use anything from your childhood in your classroom?