Now that you’ve got your centers prepped and ready to go (if you don’t, then you should definitely read my post about prepping your centers) you want to set them up for your students to use.
Step 1. How are you going to run centers? Are you going to have timed centers where children rotate through all the centers at the same time, or will you have free-flow where students can pick what center they do and for how long. Here’s how we run our centers:
We usually have a large block of time devoted to literacy in the morning and a long block of time devoted to math in the afternoon. We have a short discussion at the carpet before we start our centers, about what we are learning about that day. Before students set out to centers, we explain what is at each table and some expectations for what they should do during center time. Then students are allowed to explore the centers and move around as they would like. There are sometimes centers that they have to do (in literacy there is usually their weekly journal writing, and in math we have them do a center that is focused on the strain we are learning about). Teachers circulate around the room and start discussions with students about their learning, or pull small groups to do focused instruction.
Step 2. What centers do you want to do? I have a large variety of centers that are ready to go for different areas of our learning. We can get away with using centers for 2 days in a row most of the time, and then we switch it to different activities so that students don’t get bored. We reuse our centers throughout the school year, and build upon the knowledge that they have learned. We try to have a good blend of hands-on activities and things for students to explore. I love having loose parts at a table so students can show us what they know, and we have the bare minimum of paper and pencil work. We still have students do some writing, we need to get them ready for Grade 1, but we want to make sure we give them a rich experience with different kinds of materials.
Step 3. Set up your centers. Make sure you have all the materials set out so students don’t have to search for things. Enough pencils, papers, loose parts, anything they might need to be successful. You might change different materials throughout the school year and depending on what you are learning about.
During our math and literacy times, we have a loose parts center set out with different materials. Students can use these materials to show us what they have learned and we will often change these materials throughout the year to match what we are learning about, or just to keep it interesting!
Step 4. Explain your expectations for what you want happening during your center time. Set up the rules with your students so that they know what is expected of them during their learning time. Especially during the first few weeks of school you will have to keep reinforcing these rules, you can reiterate the rules before students start centers, and circulate around the activities to make sure they understand what they are to do.
Even though we have free-flow centers, students are still expected to complete activities to their best. One of the reasons we allow students to choose their own centers, is because not all students can complete the same work in the same amount of time. That does not mean that they don’t have to complete anything, they can just take it at their own pace. We also make sure that the noise volume doesn’t get too loud, we are still in a learning environment and we need to make sure that everyone can be their best learner.
Step 5. Have fun! This is kindergarten, so make sure you are having fun and setting out centers that keep your students interested and engaged. If they really like dinosaurs, make sure you allow them to learn about dinosaurs!