Center time management is so important for our little learners. No matter what system you use it’s important for students to know the classroom centers and the expectations. Our center time is an hour each day which is a huge block of time for students to play and learn!
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In my classroom, I have five centers: library, blocks, pretend, art, and discovery (math and science together). You can read more about each center by clicking on the word. Each center has a symbol and a color. So the blocks center is yellow and the symbol is a stack of blocks.
Each center can have three students at a time which is why there are three clips on each center. Once the clips are gone that center is full and the student needs to pick another center to go to.
The shelves in each center are labeled with the center sign to help define each center. The center sign is backed with colored cardstock.
Students wear the colored clothespins on their shirts/dress. It is also a visual reminder for the student, their peers, and the teacher.
At the beginning of the year, I read books and teach students about our classroom centers. These are my favorite books to teach about our classroom centers.
I read one book each day about a different center. Some years I read multiple books about each center and some years I just read one book about each center. It just depends on how fast students learn the names of the centers.
- Discovery Center: What is a Scientist? & Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons (introduce manipulatives)
- Art Center: The Shape of Things & I Aint Gonna Paint No More (introduce the art easel)
- Pretend Center: ABC Jobs & Mr. Cookie Baker
- Blocks Center: Jack the Builder & When I Build with Blocks
- Library Center: Lola at the Library & Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (introduce magnet letters)
Instead of open centers the first few weeks, I spend time during center time introducing each center in more detail. So I take the whole class (my new class only has 10 kids) and we sit on the floor or at the table in the center.
I introduce the center name, color, and symbol. We talk about the materials in the center, how to use them, who we could pretend to be, and how to clean up. Then the students played in that center for about 20 minutes or so. Then we go to another center and we do the same time.
After I have introduced each center once, the second time we go to the center as a class we review it. It takes about 5 minutes and then students play in that center for 25 minutes or so. Then we go to another center, review it, and play in that center.
When I taught full day (18 kids a day) I split the class in half. Each group went into a different center with a teacher and after 30 minutes the kids switched and went to the other center for 30 minutes.
Take the time to do this at the beginning of the year! It is NOT a waste of time. If you want students to pick a center and/or be able to stay in a center they need to teach them about the centers. It takes me about 10 days to do this (two centers a day, introducing each center then reviewing it the second time around).
Once students have learned about each center the fun begins! Each week I add at least one new activity, game, or manipulatives to each center. It sounds like a lot but I only have 5 centers so that’s only 5 new things a week.
When it’s center time I place the center chart on the floor show students what’s new in each center, and student talk with each other. My hope is that they find a friend to play with during centers. Students always have the option to play alone as well.
In my class, STUDENTS PICK THEIR CENTERS. If I notice a student is going to the same center over and over I put something I know they will love in another center to get them to go somewhere else. I don’t write down what centers students pick. Some teachers do but I don’t.
What happens when all the clips for one center are gone? The students have to pick another center to go to. Yes some do get upset. I think it’s an important skill to learn that sometimes you can’t get what you want every time so making a second choice is ok.
I don’t have dots on my center charts or posters because sometimes I add or take away the number of clips per center depending on activities are out.
Students can change centers as much or as little as they want. Younger students will change centers more because their attention span is smaller. I usually ask the student if they want to make another choice in that center but they don’t have to.
My goal is for students to play in the same center for the whole center time by the end of the year. Now that doesn’t mean they play the same game or activity. They may explore rocks, play in the sensory table, and play a math game in the discovery center.