5 Essentials for Center Time

When trying to set up Centers for your Play-Based Learning classroom, there are 5 Essentials to take into consideration. Ignoring these 5 Essentials leads to the Top 5 Complaints about Centers. Cut critics off at the pass by thinking about these things BEFORE you set-up your classroom!

Noise: Let's face it, a kindergarten or Pre-K classroom is going to be noisy - especially at Center Time! However, some Centers lend themselves to noise more than others like Block Center and Dramatic Play. On the other hand, Listening Center and Reading Center are quieter activities. Put a noisy Center next to a quiet Center and you can almost guarantee that the quiet Center is not going to work out - the students will be too distracted by the noise from the next Center to concentrate! So before you start setting up your room, make a list of your Centers divided into 3 categories - Noisy, Quiet and Moderate. Then make sure that the moderate noise Centers act as buffers - between 2 noisy centers (because noisy+noisy=out of control!) and between noisy and quiet Centers. Your noisiest Centers should also not be near your classroom door - unless you plan to keep it closed at Center Time!

 
Space: There's never enough of it, and it's hard to decide which Center gets it and which doesn't. Obviously Block Center needs a lot of space, but does that mean Writing Center should get shorted? Ideally you wouldn't ever have to make that decision, but since we live in the real world, we do. My solution is to make certain Centers portable. With the weight of hardwood blocks, obviously Block Center can't be moved around the room, so that's a permanent Center. Your Listening Center needs to be located by an outlet and plugging it in and unplugging it daily would likely be a hassle so that's a permanent Center. Same with Reading Center - unless your Library is on wheels, you're going to want to keep that set up all the time. Once you've decided which Centers HAVE to be permanent, you can then look at ways to make your other Centers portable. I have a weird cubby space by the door to my heater/air conditioner. I can't block access to that door, but I CAN put a rolling table in that space. At Center time that table rolls out with our Dollhouse on top and can be moved anywhere in the  room. At the end of Centers it is a snap to roll it back into place! Similarly, our Puzzle Center and Play Dough Center are stored in bins on shelves during the day - come Center Time they're moved to a table top. If you train your students to help setup and put away these portable Centers, it takes just a few minutes to have them ready or cleaned up!

Mess: Center Time can be messy, it's part of the exploration and learning that students are doing. That doesn't mean your room has to be a wreck though. Keep your Art Center and Sensory Center on tile if possible or place a plastic tarp under them if you have wall to wall carpet. If you're lucky enough to have a sink in your room, obviously your Paint Center will need to be close to it. Make sure you have the tools for students to clean up their Centers too. We have 3 sets of dustpans and brushes sized just right for little hands. Part of our clean-up routine is sweeping the floor around Play Dough Center & Sand & Water Center. When water play is involved, I provide a basket of rags for wiping up spills. This helps to keep accidents down since slip hazards are removed plus it helps teach the students responsibility! Bonus? The custodians don't complain about my room!

Traffic: Have you ever noticed that on an open stretch of highway you tend to increase your speed? The same thing happens in the classroom - any time there is an opportunity to move in a straight line, students are going to run. Although we as teachers love nice, straight aisles, it's going to be a behavior problem at some point, because that wide open space is too tempting. Try to make sure that while there is space to get to the exits, there are no runways for students to build up speed around the classroom. Place a bookcase or table in the pathway to act as a speed bump so students have to slow down!

Behavior Management: Students can get bored of playing with the same toys day in and day out. A bored student can be a disruptive or destructive student! Once they have explored all of the acceptable ways to interact with a toy, they move on to the unacceptable ways! In order to prevent this, consider how you can switch out Center materials so that they remain "fresh" in the students' eyes. This may be as simple as changing out Roll & Cover game boards in your Math Center, or rotating books in Reading Center. Add a wooden train set to Block Center or new cookie cutters to Play Dough Center. And of course, don't put out every single activity on Day1 - start out with a few things, then after a couple of weeks add in some more. Take something out and add something different. If you keep switching it up, chances are students will be so enthralled with the ever-changing activities that they won't have a chance to get bored! Also, keep in mind how many students will be at a Center. If you allow 4 children at a Center, it should have enough materials for 4 so that fighting is kept to a minimum!

If you keep these 5 Essentials in mind when planning your classroom set-up and Centers, your Center Time will be more effective and less stressful plus give your critics less to fuss about! Have another tip? Please Rustle Up a Response below in the comments - I'd love to hear from you!

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