Love the idea of learning centers but hate the way yours turn out?
If your centers are more mayhem than model, you’re not alone. Setting up – and maintaining – centers that work is no easy feat. But, when done correctly, learning centers can be highly engaging and effective, so let’s give it a go – together! Check out our best strategies below for creating and managing centers that work – and don’t forget to share your own tips and tricks in the comments section.
You could support every lesson you teach with a center, but, let’s be honest, that would be exhausting. Instead, try some of our tried-and-true student favorites, like:
The library is one of the most obvious centers in the room. Stock yours with classroom books as well as a variety of independent-reading books in a range of ability levels. Consider highlighting a recommended or new-addition book of the day/week. If you’ve got space, set up a multi-media listening center as part of your library center. Entice students with colorful pillows, beanbags, and other cozy seating options.
Bring words to life with a colorful, multi-sensory center where students can physically explore letters, sounds, and words. Fill your letter center with reading manipulatives such as magnetic letters, word family, and other phonics tiles to facilitate alphabet, word sorting, and word building activities. You can also support hands-on literacy practice with arts and crafts materials such as colored pencils, markers, and water color paints.
Who doesn’t love a good story? Students of all ages and abilities love to tell their stories, so provide a variety of materials and let them loose – you’ll be amazed at the results. Stock your writing center with:
– Collage materials including magazine pages, scissors, glue, and construction paper for younger kids. Art enables children to tell their stories even if they are not yet ready to write words!
– Paper and a stapler…and watch as your students create and fill their own storybooks! (Tip: colored pens and pencils can make book-making even more appealing!)
– Stationery, cards, and envelopes for letter writing. Ask parents for donations!
– An old typewriter! Check with your janitor or try a local thrift shop – find an inexpensive one and watch as your students pick and peck their mini-masterpieces.
To keep things really fresh and fun, change the supplies in your play center every day. Consider dress up clothes, blocks, puppets, theme-based materials, board-based magnetic play sets, other toys, and even art materials.
Make math a bit more magical with manipulatives! Plastic and wood manipulatives are great, but we prefer magnetic ones. Why? They’re less likely to make a mess and get lost…because they stick!
Students love sensory science, so why not set up a sensory science center? Fill a large plastic tub with filler (shredded scrap paper, packing peanuts, sand, water, or dry beans), then bury several small objects (try to include objects with similarities and differences for comparing and contrasting later). Provide a tool, instructions for excavating, and a chart where students can record their finds. It’s especially fun to include some magnetic objects in the tub and let students “find” them with Magnet Wands. Then count, compare, contrast, group, sort, analyze, describe, and discuss! Which objects were magnetic? Which are non-magnetic? Small? Large? Colorful? Hard? Soft? You know the drill!
If we had all the space in the world, setting up stellar centers would be a snap. Since that’s not always the case, efficiency is key when organizing centers. Choose tools that are versatile/multi-functional, reusable, and customizable, and materials that help you make the most of the space you have…while keeping your room tidy.
Now, back to the mayhem. Without serious classroom management skills, even the most engaging center content can go awry. Try these tips to set expectations from the get-go:
Learning centers are essential for young learners and incredibly engaging and inspiring for older students. In fact, they’re often students’ favorite school activities (well, except for recess and lunch, but who can compete with those?). With proper planning, tools, and management, centers can become a successful part of your classroom routine, too. Now get out there and set up your centers!