Do you remember the TAH Instagram challenge a few weeks ago called “Eat the Frog”?  It was based on the principle of tackling that one big (or small) task that just lingers like the dirty clothes hanging on the chair in your closet. My “Eat the Frog” was my centers routine and set up.  Having ten new three-year old’s with absolutely no concept of school, little to no communication and some severe behaviors, I was STRUGGLING with centers. Exhaustion and chaos were an understatement and I couldn’t seem to find a good routine.  I feel incredibly uneasy when there is not enough structure and I know my kids could feel it too.  They were pros at dumping toys and then just running around.  I felt completely out of control and dreaded that part of the morning. Centers is such an important time for our young friends, so it has to work!

I took a good look at WHY it wasn’t working and realized three things.  First, there was not enough physical structure between my areas (I had one big area that was drama, kitchen AND blocks).  Two, although I thought I did not have a lot of toys out, I definitely still had way too many.  Three, I needed to take the time and teach as many as I could how to play and clean up in the centers.  I have two friends who are difficult to keep in one area, so they are the only ones who tend to still float around.

I also needed to distinguish between choose time and center time toys.  In the morning as kiddos arrive, not everyone wants breakfast…so what do I do with the kids who are not eating?  Enter in Carpet Toys and blue rolling dividers.  I physically close off my main center play areas with the blue rolling dividers and only have two carpets open that I strategically set out a few toys for morning and afternoon choose time.  These are called my Carpet Toys.

These blue dividers have been heaven sent.  Constantly trying to keep kids out of the main center area was impossible and they needed physical walls.  These or more of those screen dividers will work fine! Worth every penny!

Next, I turned some shelves around and used screen dividers and Washi tape on the floor to make more defined boundaries.  Now I could tell them they had to stay behind the line and that once they picked a center that is where they would stay. For at least a week, my assistant and I each took a small group and practiced routines of each center.  If we didn’t get to work with teacher time or something else, it was ok because the kids HAD to learn the routine.  I’m happy to report it’s going much smoother!  Keep in mind these kiddos are also only three and so we have to learn to use words and how to share with all of our friends.

Kitchen/Drama Area


These are current pictures because at first, I did not have the wooden blocks on the shelves.  It looked pretty bare, but they had to learn to use what was there first before bringing out more toys.  I also have the related Early Learning Standards and Child Outcome Summary linked to each area of the room.  I feel like this counts as my “learning objectives and targets”.

Library/Language Arts Area

I still have way too many books on the shelf however my storage space is so small.  Soon I will just have to take some home as they tend to take them off and scatter them everywhere!  We also have a small basketball hoop in this area because we have a friend who loves to just throw things.  We are trying to teach him to throw soft items into the hoop rather than across the room!

Math/Writing/Art/Science/Future Independent Stations

For as large as my room seemed during painting, I was having trouble fitting in all of the required centers. I came up with this idea of desks and 3-bin systems that could house future materials and centers.  As of now we only use this area for additional snack and morning choose time.  Eventually once they can handle more, I will open it up as a working center and independent work centers!

Running Centers

Once I physically separated the areas more and eliminated more toys, it was time to actually put the plan in action.  This part is also still a work in progress but it’s working for now!  While some of my kiddos begin in centers, others work with a teacher.

I created a “centers board” that had repeated pictures of each center.  Once the child puts their green centers tag on that picture, they find an actual picture of themselves and take it to that center and place it on the 1-2-3 board.  I did not post that part for privacy reasons.  These are the same pictures of their faces that are in their cubbies and schedule boards!  I only allow a certain number of students in each center and this has helped immensely! I have one assistant monitoring the students in centers while I work with others.

When centers and work with teacher time is over (I try to run this over a course of 45 minutes to an hour) my visual timer goes off and I shake some bells.  We start to sing a clean-up song and help each other tidy up the toys. I close the centers back off with the blue rolling dividers and open up the carpet toys again.  While we change kids, others take a bathroom break and we start to pack up for the day.  Kiddos can play with the carpet toys while we complete the end of the day routine.

I am incredibly impressed with the huge difference this has made in our morning.  It is so much less chaotic, and they are learning to play nicely and clean up after themselves.  Next post I will be going into more detail with our actual morning schedule and work with teacher/circle time routines!

Gina Russell, B.S , M.Ed

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