A Deeper Look into Centers Time in an Early Childhood Classroom

What Exactly is in Centers?

Centers.  So beneficial, yet they can be so tricky to run.  For me, they have looked differently each year depending on the students I have.  Our school is also going through Maryland State Accreditation where we enter an incredibly rigorous process to be validated (revalidated for Pre-K4).   The requirements for the state are not always conducive to the type of classroom I have at the moment (ie: the amount of materials required in each center can be hard to manage with friends who are still learning not to throw).  Something amazing about going through accreditation is knowing what should be available to all your learners to make the experience meaningful.  Check out the pictures and videos to see what is in each!  *Disclaimer, when I created my video, I forgot to film the art and music center!

Art Center

Art and Kitchen are my two most popular centers!  Art is such a dream because I have so many materials available.  I have found that young children love to use the tiniest scraps of paper so not much really gets wasted!  People are always willing to donate old craft supplies so I never feel bad about watching them stack a million stickers or use markers until they run dry.  In my Art center I have a variety of materials like tissue paper, feathers, pipe cleaners, doilies, wall paper scraps, foam stickers, and writing forms! 

Reading, Writing, and Social Studies Centers

The reading area is inviting with a cozy rug and chairs for my kids to get comfortable.  I love seeing them flip through books and “read” to the puppets.  In writing we have tons of different paper types, tracing papers, dry erase boards, alphabet letter peg boards, magnetic letters and again, lots of different things to write with! The Social Studies center features a puzzle globe, local pamphlets for exploring and a CD player to listen to different music across cultures!

Blocks, Kitchen/Drama Centers

These are some of my other favorite centers!  I try to have a mix of different blocks, cars/trucks/trains, lacing boards, animals, and soft blocks for the kids to create and imagine with.  Again, we worked up to these different types of materials and are constantly monitoring the use.  In the kitchen we have a ton of real food boxes we have recycled and some laminated menus to order from.  They love playing restaurant!  

Math, Science, & Music

I have packed rolling shelf with science exploration tools such as a magnifying glass and binoculars.  We have rocks and fossils they can feel and even a bird nest!  Our math center has a few math games, shape sorting mats, and other puzzles.  I love putting materials in there that we have worked with during teacher time.  My music center (not pictured) is a shelf with some triangles, rhythm sticks, bells, and maracas! 

Supporting Students in Centers & Teaching Play

Real talk.  I am usually exhausted by the time centers comes around however, this is one of the most important times of our mornings.  We work on language, play skills, play initiation with peers, teaching HOW TO play with toys, routine, cleaning up, and more!  Meeting children where they are developmentally in play is challenging.  What do you do when you have a student not making eye contact with you, stimming on a string, with no interest (YET)? First, listen to Podcast #59 with Ashley Rose! She talks about not chasing students around trying to get their attention.  Instead, be present and engage in toys and see if they are interested and come to you.  If after about 30 seconds they show no interest, try something else!  It’s the first step!  You can find more information about truly teaching play on her website HERE.

Running Centers

When it is time for centers, my students have a green centers picture card on their schedule.  They put that in a basket and then find their picture in a bag next to pictures of the centers.  After they choose where they want to go based on what is open, they stick their picture on the wall.  There are only a certain number of pictures printed for each center, so when it’s filled up with student pictures, they know they must pick something else.  I have a few students who do float in and out and I’m ok with that because choosing a center and staying there will come with practice and age.  I do not expect them to stay in one center at this age the whole time.  My only rule is that they clean up any toys before moving somewhere else.  I try to have at least 45 minutes of centers time daily, it is such an important part of their morning! During the last 5 minutes I will walk around with a visual timer and prepare the students for cleaning up.  If anyone tantrums or screams no at that time I ignore it.

Cleaning up!

Cleaning up? How dare you! I think cleaning up is one of my most requested parent wishes when I get new students.  It’s very typical at this age (3 years old), to see tantrums when it’s time to clean up and transition from play.  My biggest tips are (1) start using a visual timer and warning your students ahead of time.  At first, they will have no idea what it is and may not even pay attention to it but just keep being consistent.  Once the timer goes off you can verbally say and prompt, “Timer went off, time to clean up” and you can even sing a clean-up song.  (2) Hand over hand cleaning up.  Picture this, time to clean up and your student might scream no, exit the area, throw the toys, flop on the floor, etc.  Ignore the behavior and just keep saying, “put away, clean up” and hand over hand have them put toys into a bin or on a shelf.  If the student has run away from the center, I will actually bring toys over to them and hand over hand have them put at least some pieces away, ignoring the escape behavior.  (3) Positive praise.  When they do clean up or even if you have to hand over hand prompt and then slowly move your hand back, give them positive praise! That’s hard for them! Keep at it, I PROMISE it works! The tantrums might even get a little worse before they get better but stick with it.  Sometimes having your peer models help them will encourage them to clean up!

Happy Center-ing!


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