Home » Comparing Play-Based and Paper Centers for Kindergarten

Comparing Play-Based and Paper Centers for Kindergarten

Play-based learning is a hot topic and  I share my opinion and thoughts on it. I discuss what works best for me and my kindergarten students.

Play-based learning is a hot topic and I share my opinion and thoughts on it. I discuss what works best for me and my kindergarten students.


A popular topic of debate with kindergarten teachers seems to be around play-based versus paper centers.

In this blog post I am going to outline my opinion on this debate. This has been based on my experiences in the classroom, and in no way is me telling you how you should run your classroom.

Every community and classroom is different, and educators knows what works best for their students. If you would like to join in on this professional discussion though, make sure you leave a comment!

What Is Play-Based Centers?

Play-based learning is a hot topic and  I share my opinion and thoughts on it. I discuss what works best for me and my kindergarten students.

Play-based centers allow children to learn the skills they need need in a structured environment, with the help and supervision of educators. For children, play is learning.

Play needs to be purposeful in a kindergarten classroom. It is not enough to just put toys out. Educators need to have thought and consideration for the materials, provocations and centers they present to their students.

For our students, play is an important vehicle for learning. It is developmentally appropriate, and will keep them engaged and receptive.

Play-based learning is a hot topic and  I share my opinion and thoughts on it. I discuss what works best for me and my kindergarten students.

In my classroom, I have used play-based sight word centers, sensory bins and alphabet dice. Play can be used to teach any topic in kindergarten.

What Has Worked For Me

Play-based learning is a hot topic and  I share my opinion and thoughts on it. I discuss what works best for me and my kindergarten students.

A mix of both hands-on, play-based learning centers and paper centers has worked for me.

Giving students a choice to pick their way of learning is important, and I provide a paper option during centers. Let me be clear- I run free choice centers, and one of the options for my students includes something like rainbow writing, alphabet hunt, or class books.

My students are not all doing the same worksheet at assigned seats- they get to pick their activity from different tables that have various hands-on activities at each one.

Why Have Paper Centers?

Play-based learning is a hot topic and  I share my opinion and thoughts on it. I discuss what works best for me and my kindergarten students.

If students learn through play, why do I use paper centers at all in my classroom?

This is the big shift that has happened over the years: we have moved away from a teacher-led model of teaching, to a child-led one. This change was necessary and for the benefit of our students.

Even though we have made this switch, I don’t believe that we need to complete eliminate paper centers from our classroom. They can serve a role in our program:

Build stamina & attention span

Maybe the skill that we are working on with the activity is not the one on the paper. It can be that we want our students to be able to keep their attention on a task for a longer period of time. They are able to follow through and complete the center, and build on that ability.

This can be extremely hard for some students- at the beginning of the year they may be able to sit for only a few minutes before moving on. That’s okay, they will continue to practice and build their stamina.

Some are ready & interested

I have students that want to complete a paper-pencil activity. That is the way they enjoy practicing a skill, and they will choose that center over another. I provide that choice for them.

Exposure to writing utensils

Using a pencil is important. Applying sufficient pressure, having the correct grip, and practicing writing norms are crucial skills. Fine motor practice can also help with this, and having opportunities to strengthen those muscles is necessary as well.

Explicit teaching for mark making

How to form letters, words, sentences, numbers is not intuitive. Our students need opportunities to practice.

Weigh in on this debate and let me know your opinion. Leave a comment to continue this conversation with me.

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