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Learning Centers, Part 1: Why They're Important

By Allie Magnuson on September 24, 2010
  • 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:

  • Observe
  • Listen
  • 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.

 

Music01 Learning centers allow children to use up excess energy. In my Music and Movement Center, students are playing instruments.

 

 

 

Reading01 Learning centers allow children to relax. Playing reduces tension because children Reading02 don't have to worry about expectations. There is no pressure. In my Book Nook Center, students are having a carefree, enjoyable learning experience.

 

 

 

CutAndPaste01 CutAndPaste02 Learning centers allow children to take risks without fear of failure. Focus is on process rather than product. In my Cut and Paste Center, students are practicing fine motor skills.


 

 

 

Learning centers allow children to be themselves. They become more open and engaged, more Reader'sTheater01 comfortable with their surroundings, and more natural.  In my Reader's Theater Center, students are playing with puppets. 

 

 

 

Art03 Art04 Learning centers allow children to express themselves. In my Art Center, students are painting at easels.

 

 

 

 

Learning centers allow children to be self-disciplined by exploring in their own way and intentionally Computers01 Computers03 directing their own learning. In my Computers Center, students are playing learning games.

 

 

 

Writing01 Learning centers allow children to be self-motivated by concentrating on things Writing05 that interest them intensely. In my Writing Center, students are writing stories and studying print. Writing04

 

 

 

 

 

 

ABC02 ABC05 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.  Science07 Science04 Science03

 

 

 

 

DramaticPlay02 Learning centers allow children to role play in order to understand and make sense of the real world and their personal experiences in it. In my Dramatic Play Center, students are playing house. DramaticPlay03

 

 

 

 

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.


Games04 Games05

 

Learning centers allow children to see things through another person's point of view by working together Blocks04 to create, construct, and build. In my Blocks Center, students are making cities using blocks and Legos. Blocks05

 

 

 

 

Listening02 Learning centers allow children to be independent. In my Listening Center, students are silently enjoying a book on tape.

 

 

 

Math02 Learning centers allow children to face positive challenges and gain self-esteem Math06through success. In my Math Center, students are sorting, sequencing, and counting.


Math07

 

 

Learning centers allow children to feel satisfied by completing purposeful activities. In my Names Center, students are practicing writing their names.

Names01 Names03

 

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!

~Allie

 

Comments (8)

Christie - The science center probably has the most interesting and varied activities of all the centers. Pretty much anything kids can experiment with or observe can go in this center. Here are some suggestions:

Anything optical - optical illusions, fiber optics, pinhole glasses and cameras, defraction glasses, 3-D glasses, magnifying glasses, kaleidescopes, etc.

Things to put in test tubes - insta-snow powder, colored sand, waterproof sand, water gel, coloring tablets and food coloring, crystals and beads, bubble solution, putty solution, slime goo and activator, gravity goo powder, baking soda, vinegar, etc.

Microscope slides, eyedroppers, tweezers, vials of safe chemicals, and things to look at up close. A box with all kinds of small objects, which your students can put in bottles with sand, rice, beads, or blue-colored water and mineral oil.

Whipping cream and salt to make butter.

Plaster of Paris to make "fossils" of objects.

Thermometers, barometers, and sundials.

Magnets and anything magnetic.

Scented oils and flacons to smell and mix scents.

Ingredients for making lip balm - sunflower oil, beeswax, shea butter, scented oils (for smell), honey or flavor oils (for flavor), and lipstick (for color). You would need to supervise this activity, since it requires melting the wax and stirring in the ingredients.

Potting soil, seeds, plants, gardening gloves, rakes, spades, and small watering cans.

Different animal habitats to observe - ant farm, ladybug habitat, beetle habitat, grasshopper or cricket habitat, hermit crab habitat, earthworm greenhouse, butterfly garden, frog pond, salamander or lizard aquarium, fish aquarium, sea monkey aquarium, small mammal cage, or bird cage.

Almost anything goes when it comes to science, because you can try out so many different things using the same materials, and children never tire of it. Their curiosity and creativity are endless. Even better, you can broaden the activities forever by adding all kinds of new materials.

You can find materials, ready-made kits, recipes, and ideas online. Also, I have a few more ideas in my post "Learning Centers, Part 3: A Learning Carnival in Your Classroom."

Thanks for reading and for requesting more information. I'm always happy to help! ~Allie

I love that you can also do developmental centers as well as academic ones. I'd like to know more about your science center. This year we are required to have a science center. What is in this center what are the children doing there (other than what is pictured above)? Thanks

Jeanell - I think that's a great idea and that she will love it! Learning shouldn't be limited to school, just the work. :-)

I'm glad you got some ideas from my post. Next Friday will be part two of the three-part series. Thanks for reading!

~Allie

Teacher Geek - Yes, I think kids of all ages and in every grade should be able to direct their own learning. Think how much smarter older students would be if they were more comfortable and interested in learning because they had more choice, flexibility, and freedom!

Thanks for reading! Come back next Friday for part two on learning centers.

~Allie

My daughter is in kindergarten now and I know it's mainly academics at school. I think I will try some of these ideas at home. Thanks for sharing!

I wholeheartedly agree with the comment about centers allowing students to direct their own learning. They are so much more engaged when can make those kind of choices. Great post - thank you for sharing.

Nancy ~ I too wish I would have had centers like these when I was a kindergartner. With so many academics being demanded - why not make them fun? Let me know how it goes with your class. Thank you for reading and check back next week for part two. ~Allie

Wow, I wish we had learning centers when I was that age! I love how they allow students to be indepdent. We were just studying Erikson in my Intro to Ed class, and this is so relevant, I am going to share it with my class!

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