Earlier this year, I touched upon early childhood centers in Centers — A Basic Introduction. I thought now would be a good time to delve a little deeper into organizing centers in the early childhood classroom. Keep in mind, this is just what I have been doing in my class this past few years. I have integrated centers into both kindergarten and preschool classrooms in different ways throughout my years of teaching. The organization of centers in both of these “grades” will be discussed below.
I think every teacher needs to decide for herself the best way to include centers in her classroom (based upon administrators’ expectations, teacher’s preference, students’ needs, etc.). So, with that caveat, let’s continue!
Free Choice Centers
From September to December, I use “free choice” centers in my preschool classroom. I use free choice centers at the beginning of the year for a few reasons. In the younger classes leading up to my pre-k class, the children are exposed to free choice centers. By using them in my room at the start of the year, the students are kept somewhat within their comfort zone; it’s something known within a new environment. Free choice centers also allow me to observe the children’s interests. I can see which students love to build, which students enjoy the home center, which students would rather not create art, etc. I’m also able to see how students relate to each other — which kids are buddies, which kids drive each other crazy, who’s shy with his peers, who’s outgoing with all her friends, etc.
With these centers, students can choose from a variety of centers, as long as there are no more than 4 kids at each center. With free choice centers, at least in my class, there’s no mandatory rotating. Children can stay at one center the whole time, or move around to multiple centers as they choose. That being said, I do sometimes have children move to different centers. If there are more than 4 children at a center, I help the kiddos determine who should leave. If some children aren’t making the best choices together, I may separate them. . If there are children waiting for a center to open up, I will put a time limit on how long students can be there.
The available free choice centers are usually as follows . . .
- Literacy or Math (with a teacher/assistant)
- Art (with a teacher/assistant)
- Writing/Math/Free Art
Structured, Grouped Centers
From January to May, I incorporate more structured centers to the preschool day. Again, this is done for a variety of reasons. As a pre-k teacher, my job is to prepare the children for elementary school. The kiddos will deal with more structure during the kindergarten day, and these centers help ready them for that. These centers also put more responsibility on the children. They need to take charge of what they’re supposed to do during center time and keep track of what they’re doing. On top of that, the structured centers take the kids outside of their comfort zones a bit. Every child has to go to every center, even those centers they may not like as much. They’re also placed in groups decided on by me, which exposes them to different personalities and sets them up with children they may not play with as often.
With the structured centers, I break the children up into 4 groups. I usually color-code the groups (red, orange, green, and blue). Honestly, the color-coding is more for me — so I can keep track of where all the kids are easily. This year, I have 3 groups of 3 kids and 1 group of 4 kids. Each group gets a line on the center pocket chart. Listed to the right of the groups are 4 to 5 centers that the group uses. They go through the centers in order, from left to right. They are to take their time at each center — doing their best and completing the center as I’ve described. Once a center is done, they are to clean up that area, check the center chart, and move on to the next center.
There is no set time limit on completing the centers each day. As long as they do their best and do what I’ve told them to do, I try not to interfere with how long they are taking. If students complete all of the centers listed next to their names, they are permitted to go back to the one they liked best. They can always get a book to look at, as well. If students haven’t completed all 5 centers by the time centers are over, that’s not a big deal. I tell them not to worry, that they’ll have time to play at those centers another day. It’s usually the first 2 centers next to the kids’ names that I really want completed anyway.
The structured centers are used for 4 days, which allows each group to go through each center grouping. For example, on Monday, the red group completes the centers listed on the top line of the center pocket chart. On Tuesday, the red group moves down to the second line of centers on the chart. On Wednesday, the red group moves down to the third line of the pocket chart. On Thursday, the red group moves down to the final line of the center chart. We finish the structured centers on Thursday, leaving us with “Fun Friday Centers” on Friday.
The way I usually organize the structured centers on the pocket chart is as follows . . .
~ First line
~ Second line
- Art (with a teacher)
- Book boxes
- Free writing/drawing
~ Third line
- Read the Room
~ Fourth line
- Write the Room
- Book boxes
Well, that was even more long-winded than I usually am! I hope you were able to grab some ideas that can be applied to your classroom. If you have any questions or comments, I would love to hear them. I will likely touch on centers a few more times in the future, since they’re such a big part of the pre-k day.