They’re not just for Kindergarten anymore.
Typically, when you hear teachers talk about “centers” in their classroom, your mind tends to think about little Kindergarteners free playing and learning how to interact with their peers, right? While many Kindergarten classrooms do look like this, there’s only one thing that comes to my mind when I talk about centers – Don’t stop using learning centers after Kindergarten! 🙂
I come from a background of University level training in Early Childhood Education. During that time, I was so fortunate to learn so much about the benefits of using learning centers and how important the experiences that come from them are for children. Sure, fine motor skills are essential and one of the core areas of learning centers, but the social, communication, and relationship skills that evolve from them are irreplaceable.
Halfway through my first post-graduate diploma, I decided to focus my attention to teaching ELA as it became apparent that I was going to be teaching in a city where there is a large immigrant population, and thus a lot of ELL students starting Kindergarten every year. At times it was definitely challenging, having that language barrier, but I’m so grateful for the skills that I have cultivated teaching young ELL students and working with families whose primary language at home isn’t English.
After 10 years of Kindergarten, I moved up to 1st grade and now have actually been in 2nd grade for longer than I’d like to admit. 🙂 You know how they say it’s easier to move up a grade, than down? I can completely testify to this! I’ve been able to take a lot of the tips and tools I learned working with Kindergarteners and 1st graders with me to my current 2nd grade classroom.
It’s interesting how working with young students the majority of your career can mold your teaching style a certain way, and vice versa with older students. I’m really getting to notice it this year! My 2nd grade teaching partner has recently moved down from 6th grade. Her teaching style is very different from mine, coming from the older aged elementary students, while my style is formed around my experiences with younger students. The best part about using learning centers is no matter what age you come from or are heading to, you can make learning centers work for all students!
Where I teach, learning centers are something that are essential to Kindergarten pedagogy. When I taught Kindergarten, all 2 hours of the afternoon was spent in free play. During that time, I focused on circulating throughout the classroom, facilitating art projects, and observing my students’ learning styles.
Now in 2nd grade, I plan for 30-45 minutes of centers roughly 3 or 4 days a week. We obviously have a lot more to accomplish academically than in Kindergarten, and I’m also fortunate that 2nd graders have a much longer attention span! I’m able to stay on an academic lesson for a much longer period of time compared to what I could when teaching 5-years-olds. 🙂 Even in 2nd grade, though, students need that learning centers time to rest, recharge, and allow their brains to take a break without too many restrictions.
I typically provide around 10 centers for a class size of 24 students. I allow 2 to 4 kids per center, depending on what the center is. This is definitely something I’ve had to “play” with, myself. I love having interaction among multiple students, but sometimes a limited number per center is much more functional and the students can focus their attention better.
I’m fortunate that I have a lot of supplies to choose from for my learning centers. The majority of my supplies I have just brought in myself, which are my own children’s toys as they have outgrown them. I have also spent a lot of time in thrift shops and on Craigslist which are great places for accumulating learning centers materials!
To get your learning centers set up in a Kindergarten setting, you’ll want to keep “creative play” in mind. Building centers such as blocks and legos are wonderful for focusing on fine motor skills. Dramatic play centers using puppets and playing dress-up and house are super for basic social and communication skills. Art centers that incorporate painting, play dough, and other color and texture-related activities are where a lot of kids thrive with boosting their creativity. I also loved doing science centers that integrate water tables and a sandbox. These learning centers build so much curiosity!
My classroom is set up much differently for my 2nd graders compared to Kindergarteners. The room is not set up with large play areas like it was in Kindergarten, but I do incorporate many of the same learning centers materials and activities in 2nd grade, as I did with the little ones. I’m also able to add in board games, card games, and puzzles!
Of course this year things look so much differently than they did in the past with Covid-19 protocols in place, but we are making the most out of our learning centers and staying safe along the way.
As you consider implementing learning centers into your older-elementary classroom, I know it can feel as though you’re not applying your learning time towards state standards that you need to be focusing on. However, keep in mind the social skills and development that learning centers provide for your students. Keep in mind the resting and recharging time that the learning centers are providing for your students’ brains.
We tend to think, “The more we get through, the more we learn!” and while it’s great to cover material, we need our students to actually retain that information. And without proper brain breaks and movement throughout the day, we can’t expect our students to be learning at their full potential.
Are you incorporating learning centers into your elementary classroom? If so, how have you modified or adapted your centers to meet the needs of your age of students? I would love to hear what activities you are using! Please feel free to share in the comments below!