Learning Centers, Part 1: Why They're Important
- Grades: PreK–K
Kindergarten was created as a place to emphasize the development of the whole child. Now, however, emphasis has shifted so much to academic development, at the expense of emotional, social, and physical development, that we often forget how important these are. However, your classroom learning centers, provided that you implement them right, can be a perfect place to promote these areas of growth in young children.
In Part One of this series, I will tell you why learning centers are important and give examples of how my students benefit from them.
In Part Two, I'll discuss center management and rules and routines.
In Part Three, I'll share specific center ideas for your classroom.
Also, stayed tuned every month to see how I've set up my dramatic play center to incorporate literacy!
Five- and six-year-olds are natural, enthusiastic learners. Their impulse to ask questions, to investigate, and to explore, examine, and experiment, comes from a burning curiosity about the world and a desire to understand things. They learn, grow, and internalize through interactive experiences with each other, with adults, and with real materials that require all of their senses. For this reason, I spend careful time planning diverse learning centers, with open-ended activities and hands-on materials, to use throughout the year.
Learning centers are areas within the classroom where students learn about specific subjects by playing and engaging in activities. Play is an active form of learning that involves the whole self. Even cognitive development, the primary focus in today's kindergarten, is achieved through child-initiated exploration and discovery.
However, children need certain strategies and skills, such as making decisions, carrying out plans, cooperating and sharing with others, and problem-solving, in order to play and learn independently. As the teacher, your job during center time is to:
- Ask questions
- Show what to do when help is needed
- Support first attempts
- Participate in activities
- Talk and have discussions with your students
- Help your students make discoveries and connections
- Share your knowledge and expertise
Do not take ownership of the activities; figure out what the children are trying to achieve and how best to help them achieve it.
Learning centers allow children to relax. Playing reduces tension because children don't have to worry about expectations. There is no pressure. In my Book Nook Center, students are having a carefree, enjoyable learning experience.
Learning centers allow children to be themselves. They become more open and engaged, more comfortable with their surroundings, and more natural. In my Reader's Theater Center, students are playing with puppets.
Learning centers allow children to freely choose and experiment with materials that they find interesting. In my ABC Center, students are playing with tangrams and magnetic boards to recognize letters and learn their shapes.
Learning centers allow children to investigate, explore, and discover things that are new to them and make connections with things that they already know. In my Science Center, students are growing plants and observing animals and insects.
Learning centers allow children to understand the social world, develop communication skills, and build relationships. In my Games and Puzzles Center, students are interacting while they are playing.
Learning centers allow children to see things through another person's point of view by working together to create, construct, and build. In my Blocks Center, students are making cities using blocks and Legos.
Learning centers allow children to feel satisfied by completing purposeful activities. In my Names Center, students are practicing writing their names.
In sum, learning centers allow children to develop appropriately. Since mature, well-rounded growth must include the whole self, children should be encouraged to play and explore their environment for selfish and social reasons as well as academic ones. When used for all of these purposes, learning centers are an important part of a balanced kindergarten.
Do you use learning centers in your classroom? Why do you feel they are important?
Have a playful weekend!