Center Time (Flash Giveaway!)

One of the things that truly saddens me as a kindergarten teacher is seeing that the fun has gone out of our grade level in a lot of cases. I know in my district there is a big debate over what is developmentally appropriate. With Common Core being fully implemented, a lot of people think the answer is to put more "work" into our day and the only way to do that is to take out the "play".

Obviously I'm in the other camp. To me, the most important part of kindergarten is playing. It's for this reason that I work in an hour of free choice center time each day. I try very hard not to take that away - even when we have assemblies etc. I see a lot of teachers in my district using center time as a reward - kind of like dessert:

"Eat your broccoli and you can have cake later." = "Learn your fact families and you can play with some blocks."

The only problem with that is that it's backwards - the "play" time is the broccoli! I don't think I could ever teach a lesson so well that it would outdo the natural learning that takes place in an unstructured play setting.

I think maybe I should clarify what I mean by "center time" really quick. For my class, we have 16 centers:

math, reading, writing, play dough, blocks, art, listening/music, puppets, puzzles, computers, living, science, social studies, sensory, and pocket chart

Each day, the majority of these centers are open - technology and space permitting. During our hour of center time each day, students choose their center. I have their center time clothespins in a bucket and pull them out randomly. When I call their name they go to whichever center they want to, even if they've chosen the same center all year. If the center is full they do have to choose a different center, but most children will happily pick an alternate center.

I guess you can tell that choice is very important here. Often what I find is that children instinctively know what they need and what truly interests them. Sure some children might go to our living center every day, but each time it's a different experience. Sometimes they're "playing" house, trying out new roles, discovering that being a family with Sally and June is very different than when Tommy and Jordan played with them. Sometimes the living area is a doctor's or dentist's office, others a grocery store. The play changes depending on the mood of the children in it. Even reading center is different each day, new books, a different stuffed friend to snuggle up with, and another child to read with.

During this time, I do not sit at my desk. Play time is not time for me to catch up on grading, read emails or plan lessons. Instead, I monitor the room, taking notes in a center time notebook. I just jot down the date, make a quick note of who chose which center and then record the learning I see and hear. I also have my camera in hand to take pictures.

To my mind it is extremely important that I document our center time this way, in case anyone ever comes to say "You're just letting them play for an hour, why aren't you teaching them?"

Usually, what I see going on in centers is the children acting out and incorporating what I have taught. I had one little girl who, each time we moved to a new math concept, would spend a day or two choosing math center, going over the concept independently (or guiding friends) until she had a solid handle on it. I had a little boy who spent a solid hour with the magnetic wands from science center, experimenting with everything in the class - finally coming to his own conclusion about the definition of "magnetic". Often I jot down conversations - noting expanding vocabularies, evidence of cooperation and character building, and moments of empathy.

Of course, center time is only as good as the materials available. but it doesn't have to cost a fortune to have quality centers that enable learning moments. In the next few weeks, as I plan my classroom and centers, I'll be sharing what goes into each of my centers - and what comes out in terms of learning!

One of the things that I find really helpful is my center time signs. I've created a full page sign for each center, with a fun graphic that let's my pre-readers easily identify what the center is about. The best part though, is the "I am" statements for each center. These are "talking points" to use when parents or administrators ask you about the purpose of a center and what the child is learning. Often times you may know that playing with blocks is beneficial, but it may be hard to put it into words on the spur of the moment. The bulleted list helps with that! If my principal were to question why I'm letting kiddos "play" with play dough, I can instantly point out several of the benefits (my principal is a doll and understands early childhood, so she wouldn't do this, but I've heard of others who have!)

The signs are also one of my center time management tools. At the beginning of the year I decide, based on space and available materials, how many children each center can safely and effectively accommodate. I then put that number of stickers on the bottom of my center sign. Signs are hung close to the individual center. Once a student receives their clothespin, they simply go to the sign for their center of choice and clip the pin over a sticker. Once all of the stickers are covered, the children can see that the center is full and they must choose an alternate center.

I've made several themed sets of my center signs that you can grab in my TPT store:

I have other themes as well, including animal print, ladybugs, pastel dots, frog pond, bees, and monsters!

I've decided to do a flash giveaway! Three winners will receive their center sign pack of choice for free! Just Rustle Up a Response below and tell me which pack you would choose (don't forget to leave your email address so I can contact you!) If I don't have your theme yet, let me know that too and I'll see what I can do! This little giveaway will run until Friday, July 5th at midnight Oklahoma time!

I hope that with this mini series on centers, I can encourage all of you to join me in the "play" camp, because as Mr. Rogers said,

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”

57 Rustle Up A Response!:

Donalyn said... Reply to comment

I follow your blog and would love to have the
bright colors and designs center signs. Thanks for all you do.

Mrs. Brown said... Reply to comment

I follow your blog and store. I like the red, white and blue ones. Wasn't sure if you had a bee theme set?

Thanks for the chance!

Unknown said... Reply to comment

I agree with you Jennifer! I do this a lot during my intervention time - we have free choice centers only once a week, but during my intervention hour I *have* to keep 10 kids, and often it's only 4-5 that I actually *need* to work with for that hour. So, I rotate through my class the "extras" I keep that don't actually need intervention and they get to do free centers. It's funny because they all get upset when they "have" to go to enrichment! (which is fun! but they would rather stay with me and work!) I follow your blog and store - I love the sweet owls set!
Rowdy in Room 300

Miss Sara said... Reply to comment

I follow your blog and I would love the owl set! I have an owl theme in my classroom :) would look super cute!
Miss Elementary

Kindertrips said... Reply to comment

What a wonderful post. I truly believe you and wish their were
people in charge that felt that way.

pmharrah said... Reply to comment

I think that play is one of the things that makes K special from all the grades. I believe that choice is so empowering for students. I like the idea of the center signs with the clips at the bottom. I would like to try that in my class this year. I would love to win the polka dot themed set!

Lori Rosenberg said... Reply to comment

So cute! I would love bright colors and designs. Thanks so much!

ΡΌ Lori
Teaching With Love and Laughter

Anonymous said... Reply to comment

I love this. I teach preschool and we do a large block of center time. I always struggle when a parent comes in and says all you are doing is letting them play what are you teaching them. This would be wonderful. My theme is blue and green. I also have frogs


Unknown said... Reply to comment

I love this! I always feel guilty when I let my students play, even though I shouldn't feel that way. I love that you put the "I am" statements on the signs, and I love your sticker/clip idea! Last year I told my kids only 4 to a center, and there were so many arguments about who was last to the center! I would choose the Red White & Blue Themed set.


Cindy Foreman said... Reply to comment

I am SO looking forward to this series you are starting! I have taught kinder for going on 9 years and play centers always seems to be the first thing to go when trying to squeeze in more "teaching time" I LOVE your signs and I absolutely adore the monster signs!

Anonymous said... Reply to comment

What a great way to explain it! I love the "I am" principal often walks through and will ask my kiddos what they are doing and about nerve racking! Thankfully they are usually able to give a good response. I think your posters would be a great help for my kids and the bright colors would look great with our rainbow theme.

Caroline Brantley said... Reply to comment

Cute stuff. Would love to win a black and white polka dot pack.

Rachel said... Reply to comment

I would like the Sweet Owls!

karen thomas said... Reply to comment

I like the bright colors set.


Mrs. C said... Reply to comment

Thanks for your supporting comments on my blog. It really meant a lot to me...

Unknown said... Reply to comment

Love the signs! I'm moving to kindergarten next year, and I think these would be a valuable resource! I haven't decided on a theme yet, but I think the bright colors & stripes one would be my favorite.

Cindy Del Valle said... Reply to comment

I would love the frog pond theme!!! So cute! Love it!


Kim said... Reply to comment

Love these! I would choose the red, white, and blue set!

Cindy said... Reply to comment

I would have to have your frogs!! :o)


aclark said... Reply to comment

I would love to have the monster set!


Kelly S. said... Reply to comment

Love this! I would like the bright colors and designs!

Tania said... Reply to comment

Im loving all things owls so it would have to be that one!

Thanks so much :)

Tania (

Christine said... Reply to comment

I totally agree that children need play. I teach Pre-K and I feel like the powers that be push more academics/less play. I do believe both are necessary but not at the expense of the other. Thanks for a great post!

Anonymous said... Reply to comment

Just found your blog and I love it! Loved this post too. Would love to win but not sure which one I would pick--they are all awesome! Thanks for the chance to win.

Suzanne Sweeney said... Reply to comment

LOVE,LOVE, LOVE these center signs-such a good idea to have the "justification" for center time on the card. These would be perfect for when the principal comes in during centers. I still have creative dramatics (housekeeping), blocks and sand although they all incorporate some signs (reading) that I point out when asked why they are "playing". Would choose the primary design (bright colors) center signs although they are all adorable. Have you ever thought of doing some in bear or apple themes. I am the person who has previously asked about your clipboards-still working on mine with all your great suggestions. Thanks!

Sue Lattea said... Reply to comment

I would love the bright colors center signs. They are wonderful.


A Rainbow of Teaching

Charlie said... Reply to comment

I love these signs, and I love this post! It happens quite often that centers time is accused of being just free time...when in fact it is the best time for the application of learning and social skills development!
The signs are wonderful, I love the bright colors...fits in with my kids personalities :) Thanks for the post!!


laura said... Reply to comment

great idea! i like the bright colors/designs best.
if you ever decide to make a seahorse/ocean theme....that would fit my room theme perfectly. i am a follower of your blog and tpt store.

Miss Squirrels said... Reply to comment

Your center signs are great-
I would really appreciate it though if you would "cool it" on all of your hard work this summer- you're making the rest of us look bad:) hee hee
Only kidding!

☞Go NuTTY with ME!

Sandra said... Reply to comment

Cute signs! I love the bright colors!
❤ Sandra
Sweet Times in First

Kinderteach said... Reply to comment

I love your blog and of course this post! Centers can be so misunderstood for those unaware of developmentally appropriate curriculum for young children! I would love any of your sets! They are all so cute and functional! Thanks for your hard work and for sharing.

Unknown said... Reply to comment

I'm loving the owls! I completely agree with you and even though I am all for the Common Core, in theory, I do wish that there would be a focus on how our students play. The social skills they gain in K and 1 will take them to where they will be as an adult. I don't think anyone really understands how important this is, so we will have to continue to infiltrate the system and allow our students to play and make it look like work!

Chris said... Reply to comment

hi! Love your center signs....would love to win the Pastel Dots set. Thanks!

kidzkidzkidz8 said... Reply to comment

I would love the Bright Animal Prints.

I totally agree with your post. I agree with "Kjersti" too. I have been teaching K and K/1 for many years. About 6 years ago, I had a few parents ask me what happened to the fun projects that we used to do in kindergarten. Social skills are so important in K and 1st grade. It's amazing to think how much education has changed over the last 20 years...and what is expected on five and six year olds.


larcher0411 said... Reply to comment

I love the bright animal print!


Teaching in the Jungle said... Reply to comment

I just ran across your blog this morning while surfing! WOW where have you been! I will get absolutely nothing done today because I am reading it ALL! I love your comments on center time and play and am in the same camp as you. Sadly many of "our" kind have rode off into the sunset.
I love your center signs, my room is frequently used for school tours, I try to explain my philosophy on play but often time is short or if I am in the middle of a lesson the signs will be a big help for the tour guide to share the importance of play to our prospective parents. If I had to pick I would take the red, white and blue but I would love to see western themed center charts!


Diane O said... Reply to comment

I love the Fred Rogers quote! The Bright Colors and Designs would work perfectly in my room!

Shelly said... Reply to comment

Love it! They are so cute. I'd love the bright colors and designs set!


mcoop1125 said... Reply to comment

I totally agree with your take on centers! We still do centers regularly and LOVE them! Thanks for the chance to win! I'd love the bright colors and designs set if I win. THANKS!

MeadowsMom said... Reply to comment

I love your blog and your TPT store! I would love to have the animal print center signs for my room! My email is Thank you!!

Courtney said... Reply to comment

I am a huge fan of your blog and TPT. I am doing a total classroom makeover for next year and LOVE owls!! I am doing an owl theme around my room and would love to use your owl printed signs. Thank you for the opportunity to win them. Have a great day!


KinderMyles said... Reply to comment

The statements on your center signs are a great idea for visitors. I like the red, white and blue because it has stars (and that is our school theme).

We only have 20-30 minutes of developmental centers but we also have 60 min of Workstations (literacy centers/guided reading) and half the time we have 30min of Math centers. Because we have the most time for literacy centers, I include Science, Social Studies and Math there as well. Our developmental centers include things like housekeeping, blocks, art, puzzles, manipulatives(math) and this past year I had students who would ask to draw in their journals. Dev Centers is the time of the day when my class looks the most like chaos but they are indeed playing and learning. I love listening to how they interact. When I'm working on behavior charts, I try to move to different areas so I can "overhear" different play. I don't get to do as much circulating to observe and interact as I'd like because during literacy centers I always have groups and during developmental centers I do individual goal conferences. I have to admit,every now and then I steal part of my guided reading time to spend observing the students at literacy centers.

Unknown said... Reply to comment

I have followed you for a while, but I am new to Kindergarten this year and would love your "sweet owls" signs!

:) Rachel

Sarah said... Reply to comment

I love your center signs! I would choose the bright colors and designs pack.

Miss Emily said... Reply to comment

I would love the bright colors and designs pack! Very cute

Brianne said... Reply to comment

I love your center signs, especially the bright colors and designs!

DeRidderK said... Reply to comment

I love all the center signs, would love the monster theme set!

Anonymous said... Reply to comment

The debate of play and work in K is a hot button issue at our school-how can we not play-the kids are with us all day!!! If I ever have to stop painting, playing or singing in my classroom I will have to find a new passion! Love the center cards!
Stephanie in PA

Sharla said... Reply to comment

I would love to have the owl theme center signs! They are adorable!

sarah said... Reply to comment

Thank you for posting about the value of play. There doesn't seem to be many out there anymore in this camp!!!

Love the signs!

The Tutu Teacher said... Reply to comment

I would love the bright colors center signs! I'm moving from Texas to Rhode Island and will be teaching in Massachusetts. I plan on doing a rainbow theme for my new classroom.

A BLT adventure

Lisa R. said... Reply to comment

These signs are super cute! I would love the Ocean themed ones if I win!! :)
Learning Is Something to Treasure

Jane Anne said... Reply to comment

These signs are great! I would love the ladybug themed center signs since my class is named "Ladybugs and Dragonflies" Thanks!

Jane Anne said... Reply to comment

Forgot to leave my email:

I TOTALLY agree about play! I refuse to get rid of my developmental play areas or to cut my recess to make more "learning" time!

Erv said... Reply to comment

Thanks for all the "bee" stuff! I've thrown a lot of it on my "wishlist" for next year. Guess I better get will be here before you know it!

Lind said... Reply to comment

Thanks! I couldn't agree more!!!!!!!!

clofran said... Reply to comment

Thanks! I am undecided at this moment, I can get the bright colors or the owls one! Love your blog!
Maria Agostini