Theme Based Centers

Categories: Academics | Fall | Sensory

I Love a Good Theme

Using themes in my classroom is something I choose to do with intention. My students live for a good theme. It keeps our daily activities fresh, fun and engaging. For the next two weeks we are studying farms. We live in a small, rural town and it’s harvest season. Our students see tractors and crops daily. A farm theme was a natural choice to help students better understand the world around them. One of my favorite ways to incorporate a theme is within our daily centers. I run 3 centers and keep things pretty simple at the start of the school year. Here’s a peek at this week’s centers.

Task Cards

I love task cards! They are easy to prep, easy to use and can easily be differentiated. There’s no training needed for staff to run this center – they just grab the task cards and go! For our farm theme, we are using these Farm Matching Taskcards. These are made for early learners and come with two sets of cards. One set is errorless (only one choice to match) and the other set is an easy matching set (matching from a field of 3). This is the perfect way to introduce task cards to your students. As a bonus, for those students who are looking to start independent work, these are the perfect choice!

Sensory Play

If we are talking about farms and students are seeing tractors and combines all over town, I want to give them a structured opportunity to experience some items from a farm, too! I partnered the opportunity for structured play with a sensory bin and it’s a huge hit. I found the corn at a local feed store and it was around $10 for a 20lb bag. I added in a farm playset, some farm animals and farm vehicles. My students LOVE this center! It’s fun to see them play. Staff model tractors moving and animals making noises. Students follow along and even make animal noises on their AAC to play! I love seeing students act out what they are learning!

Easy Matching Weekly Workbooks

I’m loving these new Farm Easy Matching Weekly Workbooks. There is a new book for every day of the week and students have a blast completing the books. They give students errorless tasks and easy matching opportunities in an adapted book format. Not only do students love these because they are super engaging, staff love them too! They make centers a breeze – just pick up the book and you are ready! Once they are made you can use them for years to come and your centers will be done!

That’s it! My centers at the start of the year are simple and highly engaging by design for a few reasons.

  1. I’m still building student rapport
  2. Staff are still learning
  3. Everyone is learning new routines
  4. Transitions are hard! In centers we transition A LOT.

Once we move into October and November I start adding in some more specific academic centers and eventually move to having a fine motor/writing center, reading center, and math center. When we get center rotations, transitions and behavior under control I know we are ready to start adding in those academic tasks.

Themes are a great way to add variety to your instruction and help incorporate what’s happening in the world around your students! The ideas for themes are endless. If you are just toying with the idea of using a theme in your classroom, start with student interests and see what happens!

Jen Koenig, B.S, M.Ed., LBS1
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  1. How do your center rotations work? I assume you only have one student at a time at each one. Is there an adult at each center or does an adult rotate with each student? Are you working on more challenging tasks with students while assistants manage the centers? How long does a child stay at each center, and what happens if a child finishes the task before it’s time to rotate? Just some questions I have about how your centers fit into the schedule and how they are managed. I love these centers btw!

    • Hi Jennifer! All great questions – I have 8 students, so there are 2-3 students in each center at a time. I have one adult at each center unless group needs additional support. Of my 8 students 3 have personal care aides – my student population has significant disabilities including communication and academics, and often need behavior support. I take a turn at centers and rotate in with my assistants. We have 6 adults in the room total, so we have 3 who run centers and 3 who support centers/students. If a child finishes the task, we sing a song, play peek a boo or practice conversational skills. These centers are short! And that’s by design. We start around 3-5 minutes at each center and build from there. Each year I tailor what we do to the group of students that we have. This year I have all emerging learners. I have a bunch of other posts on center ideas for math, reading and tips for rotation. They may help, too!


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