What is a Center?
If you have never set up centers in your classroom, it can feel like an overwhelming task. However, with a little patience and a solid plan, you can use centers in the kindergarten classroom!
First, you need to understand that a center simply means a designated space where students work either independently or in a small group on a predetermined task. For example, students might work on sight words at the back table.
As the teacher you would create a task or activity ahead of time for students to complete. Occasionally the teacher will join a center group to help introduce or reinforce the skill being practiced.
Why should I use Centers?
There are so many benefits to using centers in the kindergarten classroom.
- Your students will feel accomplished when they are able to complete a task from start to finish by themselves.
- They get hands-on practice of the skills you are working on in the classroom.
- Centers teach your students social skills, mainly teamwork.
- You can focus on one small group of students at a time without as many behavior concerns.
How should I organize my Centers?
Using centers in the kindergarten classroom does take some organization, especially when first getting started.
My first tip is to keep them simple at the beginning and allow them to grow over time.
You need to think about what skills and activities you want to focus on at each center. I like to change mine out with various themes throughout the school year. This does not necessarily mean that the skill changes each time, but rather the activities that support the skill.
I think about the units that I’m teaching each month or so and make sure my centers support those skills. For example, we work on sight words all year long. So that center is always a part of my classroom, but how my students are practicing sight words changes.
My math centers will change more dramatically because my students become more advanced in what they can do.
Next you need to think about how many centers you need in your classroom. This can vary depending on the amount of space that you have and how many students you have in your classroom.
I use centers when I pull my small groups. The students who are not in the small group with me are at centers.
I usually have no more than 3 students per center in my kindergarten, but this will vary depending on the center. Partner games will have 2, play dough mats will have 3, independent activities or technology centers will only have one student per activity or device.
The number of centers you have can also depend on how much time you allot to centers in your daily schedule.
I usually will not go over 15 minutes for each center with my kindergarten students. 15 minutes focusing on one task is usually good, anything more and behavior issues can sometimes arise.
So, if I have an hour for my reading block (small groups) I will usually do 3 center rotations (small group with me plus 2 independent centers) that are 15 minutes each and I allow 5 minutes in between each for clean-up and transition.
I have found that bins work the best with kindergarten students for storing centers.
Any type of bin from a dollar store or the Target Dollar Spot will work great. Kindergartners can easily take out and put back materials from a bin.
I suggest using picture labels to help with organization of the bins. I place a label on the bin and a matching label on the shelf or table where the bin is to be placed. Students know exactly what goes in the bin and where to put it back when finished.
How should I transition between centers?
Anytime students are moving around the classroom chaos can ensue. But, there are things that you can do to make sure that control remains, similar to what you already use in other areas of your classroom.
You start with expectations and modeling the behavior. I always take a few minutes to show students how to complete the activity. This is repeated anytime I make a change.
As long as you keep the center activities simple and fun, students usually have very few problems knowing what to do.
I love to use timers when we are in center time. This gives my students a visual of how long they have left at each station. That way, they can prepare for what is to come next.
For clean up you can either set the timer at 1 or 2 minutes or play a song. Students know that they have to be cleaned up and at the next activity before the time is up or the song is over. Personally, I like to use any skill or seasonal song that we have been singing lately. I play the song and students know they need to be cleaned up and moved by the end. They often sing along and it helps create a “good vibe”.
Since kindergarten students usually need a little more help with following a schedule, I use visual cue cards so they know where to go and what to expect. I place them in a pocket chart and put student names or photos on one side and the center labels beside them. We go to green first, then blue, then yellow.
I have 5 or so centers that students rotate through during the week. This gives them some variety and helps them from getting bored.
If you would like a free set of editable center cards click here.
It is your choice whether you have students go directly to the next center OR you all meet at the carpet (or a meeting place) after clean up, look at the chart, and then go to the correct center.
Repetition is key to making centers work. You will be amazed at how well your students do at centers by October!
Will you use centers in your classroom?
Using centers in the kindergarten classroom is an absolute YES for me! The benefits are proven and watching my students enjoy center time each day is more than enough reassurance for me.
Yes, there is some extra time needed on the front end to get things set up. And yes, there will be some maintenance time required as skills change or the activities need to be updated. But, the good is obvious for me. What will be your first step in setting up centers in your classroom?