Kindergarten Centers: Get tips and ideas for your kindergarten classroom. I will answer all your questions, and showcase what I have done with my students.
These are the questions I get asked the most- how do you do centers in kindergarten? Do students pick their own centers? What do you put out? How many centers do you have out? How do you do guided groups?
I’m going to try an answer all of these questions in this blog post. If I don’t answer one of your questions- leave me a comment! I would love to help you out with everything that I can.
First off, before start answering your questions- I wanted to point out that this is the way that kindergarten centers have worked for me. This is by no means the only way to do them, and it might not work for you.
Take the parts that do work for you, and maybe you will get some new ideas for your own classroom.
When thinking about how you want your classroom to run and look, some thought has to go into the environment at the beginning of the school year. These are some of the things I think of when setting up my classroom:
- Should I use a theme?
- What spaces and centers do I want to have?
- What books do I want in the classroom library?
- How will I store all my classroom materials?
- What will I put on the walls?
These things can change throughout the year as needed, but I like to start making deliberate decisions about the classroom environment. Ensure that the space reflects the students in your classroom and provides them with an optimal space for them to learn.
How Get Started
The first year in kindergarten is the toughest. You do not have centers already made- you are coming up with and making new centers all the time. It gets much easier after the first year, though.
How to prep your kindergarten centers walks you through how I make all my centers- step by step. In my classroom, I have 5 tabletop centers with different activities that students can choose from. This could vary depending on your room.
Now that I have been teaching kindergarten for a few years- I have a lot of centers at the ready. This makes changing out centers easy. If this is your first year- don’t worry! You will get there.
Take a look at my free Monthly Ideas Lists that outlines activities I did throughout the school year. This can help you come up with ideas that will help you set up learning opportunities.
Invitations to Learning are some of my favourites to create. These centers allow you to provide materials and space for students to show what they know in a variety of ways.
First Day of Kindergarten
In addition, you can check out my post Tips to make your first day of kindergarten successful or my podcast episode First Day of Kindergarten for more ideas about what you can do at the beginning of the year.
Staying On Top Of It
Once you get started on creating the centers for your classroom, you will want to keep them organized. It can get tricky to keep track of what you have or finding what you need. Find a system that works for you and keep it up.
I’ve also written a post describing how I keep myself organized. Organizing my Teaching, Profession and Personal Life shows you how I have keep everything going. I share some of the tools that work for me,
I do not assign centers or tables to students. They get to pick where they want to go and for how long. I do this because students work at different paces. Not everyone is going to be finished at the same time.
With self-regulated centers, they get to pick where they want to go, how long they stay there, and where they go next.
This takes a while to put into practice, but works so well once students have figured it out.
Of course there are students who would love to stay in the block center all day. That is a teaching opportunity to talk to them about self-regulating and how they can’t stay in the same place all day (other students may want to go there, we need try different things, we need to practice different skills). Helping students self-regulate is an important part of kindergarten!
I talk in depth about this in my podcast episode Free Choice Centers. If you have any other questions- have a listen, I try to explain everything the best that I can. There is also a blog post all about this topic.
Beginning of the Year
So how do I introduce all of this to our students? Slowly.
If you give too much choice, or try to overload your students with a lot of information- it won’t sink in.
Instead, introduce a few new centers at a time, and reinforce the rules continuously. Start your day off by reminding them of the expectations at centers, how to use classroom materials.
If things are not going well- stop and discuss the rules again. This is a process, and it takes a while to get it going. Once it is up and running though, your life will get so much easier.
Start the year off with easy centers like name writing practice (to make your own name writing tracers you can check out this YouTube video I made), play dough mats, colouring. Slowly work your way up to more complicated centers.
Take a look at my Get Centers Ready for Back to School for more ideas and tricks for the beginning of the year.
Working in a Full Day Kindergarten classroom in Ontario means that there is (usually) 2 educators in the room. That means that guided centers can take place with one educator, while the other is able to move between centers.
Guided groups don’t necessarily have to removed from the group though (in other words, they don’t need to happen at a guided table). Math or literacy concepts can be taught anywhere in the classroom, and guided groups can happen spontaneously throughout the day.
For guided reading and writing, my teaching partner and I would always work out who was doing what and when. So if she was doing a guided reading group, I would keep an eye on the rest of the class. If I was doing a guided writing group, she would be the one moving around the classroom.
Learn how I Effectively use Small Groups in Kindergarten. I share lots of tips and tricks to get you started.
For more information on how I ran guided writing, you can read my Get Students Writing blog post. I walk you through where I start, what I do, and some tips and tricks.
Knowing When to Slow Down is another post that focuses on meeting students where they are at and working from there.
I’m going to discuss some of the centers that I use in kindergarten. I change these up regularly so that students stay interested in them. I can always put them out again later so that I rotate through all the materials regularly.
Hands-on, concrete materials are the best way to get students excited about what they are learning and to help them retain that information.
Paper/Pencil centers are also important to learn how to use and properly hold a pencil to write.
I always give a mix of both to my students, but I have more hands-on centers for them to choose from.
When learning about letters, concrete materials will be your best bet: play dough, loose parts, puzzles, etc. These hands-on and play-based experiences will help students remember the letters and their formations.
Letters cannot be taught in isolation, though- they need to be given in context too. Just saying that ‘a’ says ‘ah’ will not be enough for some students to learn the letter and its sound. Having an explicit phonics routine will be an important step in teaching your students to read and write.
Discuss words that begin with each letter, point out letters in the classroom environment or in books. This shows your students why letters are important.
A great place to start is with your students’ names. They will love to learn about their own name, and their peers’ name. This can be a powerful way to teach letters and sounds to students.
These letter work mats are another great way to reinforce letter knowledge. They use a variety of concrete materials, and students love them.
Looking for some great books to read with your students? My post Alphabet Books for Kindergarten has lots of great ideas.
If your students are ready for sight words, there are so many fun games and activities that you can do with them. 2 New Fun Literacy Centers, 3 New Sight Word Play-Based Centers and Easy, Low-Prep Sight Word Activities for Kindergarten have some fun ideas to get you started. I use the heart word method to teach these words to my students before giving them opportunities to practice them.
I also use a lot of printable activities for sight words, so that students can practice writing the word and using a pencil. Practicing Sight Words in Kindergarten with a FREEBIE and Sight Word Activity Bundle has examples of what I use.
In my classroom, I made sure we also had a dedicated writing center. This space had all the tools that students need to write (sight words, writing implements, etc). I detail what it looks like, and how it works in Our Kindergarten Writing Center.
The most effective and engaging way that I have found to get students excited to write, is by making class books. I make 2 of these a month, and students love reading them after they are done. I discuss how they work in Make Class Books With Your Kindergarten Students, and they are always a hit!
Find out more about What Every Teacher Needs to Know About Literacy in Kindergarten.
Everything You Need to Know About Math Centers provides a comprehensive look at what I do in my classroom.
Working through math concepts is so much more meaningful to students when they have concrete materials to work with. Giving them the opportunity to work with manipulatives is a great way to reinforce various skills.
Number Sense is a concept that I work on all year with my students. From recognizing numbers, counting, composing and decomposing, there are so many things to work on.
My Counting Principles blog posts go in-depth about numbers, and how you can teach them in your classroom. Each post also comes with a freebie.
One-to-One Correspondence Intervention is also something that I use all year. It’s great for the beginning of the school year to introduce numbers to students. I continue to use it with students who need some extra help to understand numbers.
For other math skills, I use a combination of direct instruction, guided, play, and centers to reinforce them. For each concept, I try to come up with engaging and hands-on ways for them to explore it (Addition in Kindergarten, Subtraction Activities, How to Teach Symmetry, Measurement Activities, Kindergarten Money Activities, Easy Print and Prep Activities for 2D Shapes, Teaching 3D Shapes in Kindergarten with Hands-On Activities, Learning About Patterns, Sorting in Kindergarten with a Freebie).
Number Talks are a great teaching tool for providing students with the opportunity to think about math concepts and hear how their peers think about math. Used regularly, they can be a powerful addition to your math routine.
Reading and using books can also be a powerful way to connect these new concepts to concrete ideas. Students can see why these skills are useful and why they are important. I’ve highlighted some of my favourites in Math Books for the Beginning of the School Year.
3- Changing it Up
I also like to use other centers when teaching skills- not just table-top activities. These are activities that students can do in other classroom areas and let them work the way they want.
Write-the-Room activities are a great way to get students moving around the classroom so that they are not sitting all day. Unscramble the Room and Add Around the Room are just two of the activities that I use.
Fine Motor activities are one of the most important areas of focus in my classroom. I am constantly looking for ways to focus on them because I know that my students need them for writing, self-help skills and more!
Having a sensory bin in your classroom is an amazing way to get students to learn while having a lot of fun. How to Use Sensory Bins in Kindergarten shows you how I use them, and 7 Non-Food Sensory Bin Filler Ideas gives you ideas of what you can put in it.
Small world play allows students to play on a smaller scale and with their peers. You can use it for story retell, dramatic play, STEM challenges and more!
Changing up your centers to match your students‘ interests (not just changing up the theme with the season) keeps students excited about their learning.
Let your students guide you with what they want to learn and how. We have done inquiries about space (Space Math and Literacy Activities), fall (Fall-Themed Activities), flowers and seeds (Flower and Seed Inquiry), and anything else they are interested in.
Think about other spaces you can use in your classroom. I love using a pocket chart. You can find so many uses for it, my favourites include the Can You Find The… games.
I optimize the use of tech tools in my classroom, and I have been lucky enough to have access to a wide variety of items. I am always exploring and learning more about new ways to use tech in kindergarten.
My Big List of Tech Tips for Teachers is the perfect place to start if you are looking for ways to learn more about using technology in your classroom. These are different tips and tools that I use daily to make my teaching life so much easier.
Robots, iPads, Chromebooks, desktop computers are just a few of the tools I have used with my students.
A skill that is so important to our students and is often overlooked- coding! This will be a skill that they will most likely need in the future, and getting them started early is a bonus.
Coding in Kindergarten walks you through how I teach my students to code and what has worked for me. It also gives you different coding centers that you can use.
If you want to start off easy, try some Unplugged Coding (this is a great blog post to show you what it is if you want to know more about it). You don’t need any kind of tech to get started, and it is great for building problem-solving abilities with your students.
Boom Cards are digital task cards that will have your students working on a variety of skills. I love them because there is nothing to print, and they are self-correcting. You can find out more about them in this blog post: Boom Cards.
Google Jamboard is an interactive whiteboard that you and your students can use. It has made sharing a whiteboard virtually so easy, and students love the interactive elements.
Do you have access to iPads in your classroom? My Top 5 iPad Apps showcases my favourite ways to use them.
Items That I Love
I use a few items in the classroom that I love, and some of them are for students to use, and others just make my life easier. I have My List of Useful Kindergarten Classroom Tools that shows you the different items I use and why I use them.
There are affiliate links to these items if you would like to take a look at them, or you can go to my Amazon Storefront. I add new items there every time I find them.
Hands-on Learning Items
You can work on letter or number formations, fine motor skills, and extend learning using them (challenge them to make their name, a sight word, math sentences).
Alphabet Stamps are always a hit with students. They love using them to spell their name or words.
Making Your Life Easier
If you don’t want to laminate everything, but you don’t want to print a class set of everything- these Dry Erase Pocket Sleeves are perfect. Slip a page in it, and students can use white board marker on them.
I am never done learning. I am always looking for professional development to help me grow. I have found some books that have helped me develop my kindergarten centers.
Again, you can check out my Amazon Storefront that I keep updated with my latest finds.
Need more kindergarten centers?
Are you looking for even more inspiration for your kindergarten centers? Make sure you are on Instagram. There is a great community of teachers that share creative ideas. You can also find me there, and I am always trying to share new ideas!
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