The McDonald's Project

A Project by Three- and Four-Year-Old Children at Valeska Hinton Early Childhood Education Center in Peoria, Illinois

Length of project: 11 weeks
Teachers:  Kathy Steinheimer and Tammy Shinkey

Phase One—Beginning the Project

McDonald's restaurant was selected as a possible project topic because of the prominence of the restaurant in the children's lives. An initial web discussion, which centered on the latest Happy Meal toys, demonstrated the children's interest in McDonald's and the limits of their knowledge. The teachers used the discussion to help the children see the need for research. The children planned and carried out two trips to McDonald's to gather data needed to plan a McDonald's building, playground, and equipment. The children documented their research by preparing planning boards which included photographs of the McDonald's building, field drawings, drawings done while observing photographs of the McDonald's, and labels written by the children.  During this phase, the children also explored how individual McDonald's food items, such as hamburgers, are prepared. All of the information gathered in this phase was used by the children in specific ways to build and operate their McDonald's.

Phase Two—Developing the Project

The children decided where to build their McDonald's and what materials to use.  The initial McDonald's was made out of unit blocks and involved some intense play experiences. After the children spent several hours taping the blocks together to resolve the problem stability and the structure still fell down, a child suggested that they build the next McDonald's out of boxes. This suggestion led to a planning session that included the drawing of formal floor plans by a small group. The children used their plans as guides when they constructed the walls, laid the bricks, made windows, and wallpapered walls. The children made representational drawings and paintings of McDonald's. The children built the appliances out of boxes and other found items. They used photographs of each actual appliance in the restaurant as references and included many details in their constructions such as the small, medium, and large, buttons found on the soda machine. During the construction of the appliances, the children began to explore how each appliance is actually used and continued to gather information about how each appliance is operated.

Phase Three—Concluding the Project

This phase of the McDonald's project focused on the actual operation of the McDonald's restaurant. The children's play during this phase was also intense. Children organized their own play and took turns working in the McDonald's, maintaining the restaurant's grounds, and visiting the McDonald's as patrons. During this phase, the children completed several books about their project including two books about the construction of the McDonald's building and appliances. The project was concluded when the children's documentation and the actual McDonald's construction was displayed in the center of the school.


The McDonald's project spanned an eleven-week period and would have lasted longer had the school year not ended. Significant growth was observed in every area of development. The children learned skills such as how to research a topic, work as a team, solve problems, and document their own learning. The children's growth in their ability to represent their learning through their drawing was especially impressive. Their work demonstrated the importance of never underestimating what young children can learn and do.

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Project Summaries

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