Space is not the only differentiating factor when thinking of centers. The focus or intention of the center time can mean something different for each teacher as well. In my classroom we have three different types of "centers." Our literacy block includes activities based on the Daily 5 model but my kids still seem to refer to them as centers. We also have math stations which again are another form of centers. Finally we have our traditional centers which my kids just seem to refer to as "Center Time." We just got a new student today and my kids excitedly told her that we had THREE center times! Her little face lit up and but they quickly informed her she didn't get to go to the house or block center during two of the center times. They filled her in on the rest as the day went on. I just love my class! =)
Center time can often get a bad rap unfortunately. For someone who has three center times in her classroom it's obvious that I enjoy teaching through the use of centers and small group work. However I can recall in my early years of teaching (when the Constructivist approach was gaining popularity in our area) visiting some classrooms that even I was unable to see the purpose of the centers. You know what I'm talking about.....chaos, kids running all over, a mess of materials and a teacher who is not interacting with the students at all. I think we went through a spell where teachers who were not trained to teach using centers were told they must use centers and the result was a bad rap for center time for the rest of us. Boo.
I've been fortunate to have opportunities to visit some wonderful Kindergarten rooms in other districts. However, their use of traditional centers was being pushed to the side in favor of strictly math and literacy centers. That's a whole different post but let's just say that I'm not in favor of that approach. So much learning can and does take place in a Kindergarten classroom that incorporates traditional centers into their daily routine.
I have found that it takes careful planning to keep my traditional centers fresh and interesting for my students. I'm also always looking for ways to include literacy &/or math skills into my traditional centers as well. I tend to focus on a theme in my traditional centers and I rotate materials and activities quite frequently. Many times I include small group projects to take place during this time. We may have a group working on an ocean mural in the art center, while others are in the science center reading ocean books and recording their observations of what they've learned.
Another activity that seems to help create more focus for our traditional centers is having the individual students write a plan for what centers they would like to work in. I began doing this years ago and I would have the students just write on scrap paper "My plan is ________ and _________." They would use our center signs from around the room to help them spell the names of the centers. Also on the scrap paper I would have them draw a picture of what types of activities they planned on working on in their chosen centers. Time permitting we would share our plans and at times I even had students work on plans together. The kids were engaged in their activities and often many activities were extended to the next day. There was pride and ownership in the learning that was taking place during this time. This system worked BEAUTIFULLY for me for YEARS. I really have no idea why I quit having my students write plans other than the fact I had one very challenging class that caused me to do a lot of things differently in my classroom. We just seemed to get away from writing plans. Sad....but true.
But this year is a new year and I have a wonderful group of kiddos. I decided that I would love to bring back plan writing. It's been a couple of years since I've had a class try this. My only issue for now is that I'm not sure that this class is ready to actually begin WRITING their plans. After talking to Mrs. B from down the hall I decided to try something that she uses at the beginning of the year with her kids. She made a paper chart for each student that includes pictures of each center. There is a section for each day of the week and the kids just circle two centers that they would like to work in that day. I decided to create one of my own that you can check out. This includes all of my traditional centers but is so easy to edit to include your own.
So for right now I'm asking my students to circle three centers that they would like to work in each day. They only get to work in two but I've asked them to circle a third as a "back up plan" in case their first two choices are filled up. =) We begin center time on the carpet and everyone brings their plan paper with them. As I pull their clips from the chart they bring me their plan. Time permitting I try to ask them what they plan on working on in their first choice center. This encourages them to really think about what activity they would like to be involved in instead of getting to the center and deciding they are really wanting to change to their second choice center right away.
As I'm pulling clips and discussing plans the rest of the group can monitor how many students are in each center by reading the numbers on the center cards. As you can see on the above card four kids can go to this center. This helps them while they are waiting for their turn to think about if they will need to go to their second choice center first or resort to their "back up plan" center for the day. I let my kids change their center once on their own during our center time.....but it must be a center they wrote their plan for. It does take some time for them to learn the procedure for this but once they do it's not a problem at all!
Everyone has their favorite centers but I do encourage them to pick different centers each day. Later in the year I keep track of their centers in order to avoid having students pick the same centers daily. If I see that a student is not getting to their first choice center for a couple of days I make sure to pull their clip early in our meeting in order to give them a chance to get to that favorite center!
I'm hoping with this amazing little group of smarties to begin writing our plans later in the year. For right now this is a great start for us. I love to listen to their discussions as they are circling their centers and meeting together on the carpet. Tomorrow is pumpkin carving day and we have a marshmallow ghost cooking activity.....lots of choices for my little friends!!
Have a safe and happy Halloween!