In January, children can assume more responsibility. Group-time discussions help children make their own choices about the activities and centers they would like to visit throughout the day. It's easy when you use visual reminders. Children can make choices about learning centers, receive center tags or "play passes," and be inspired to try new activities. All you need is a system. Here is one child-tested system that works.

Make "Play Passes"

This simple system manages the number of children who go to each learning center after group time. Not only will this system make your day a lot more organized, but children also get to manage it themselves! Make only enough "play passes" for the number of children each learning center can accommodate. You can model these passes on the type people wear around their necks at conferences. Decorate the tags with drawings or pictures-from the Internet, catalogs, or magazines-that represent each learning center. Cover the tags with clear, self-adhesive vinyl or laminate. Punch two holes in the upper corners of each tag and attach an elastic cord or thick yarn. You can also go to an office supply company and buy plastic-sleeve nametags that have strings attached, and fill the sleeves with pictures of your different learning centers.

Introduce the Process

Start a discussion at group time by asking children to consider what might happen if everyone wanted to play in the block area at the same time. "How would it feel? Would you be happy there?" Show children the "play passes" and explain how adults use similar passes at big events. Invite children to examine the different passes and guess which learning centers they correspond to. Share with children that if they want to play in a particular area, they have to wear a pass while playing there. Let children know that each morning you will bring the "play passes" to group time, and they will be able to choose which center they want to play in first.

Chart it!

On chart paper, create a list of children's names in the left margin and then list the center names across the top. Introduce the chart at group time. Invite each child to choose a center and place a mark in that center's box across from his name. This chart keeps children from choosing the same center over and over again. Children learn about sharing by looking at the center chart and seeing who has and has not had a turn to play in a particular area in recent days.

Add Inspiration

Sometimes children need inspiration to try out a new learning center. Group time is the perfect place to show children a new tool or toy you have added to a particular center. Or, you can show children a wonderful picture that will inspire their work and play in a different center. You can also bring the following activity cards to group time to motivate children to choose a particular center.

  • Make block-center cards by gluing pictures of interesting buildings from around the world on poster board.
  • Create cards with copies of great works of art for the easel or art center.
  • Collect interesting pictures to place in your literacy center as "story starters." Introduce one picture at a time and ask open-ended questions to spark some creative thinking. For example, with an expressive picture of animals ask, "What if animals could talk?"

Assign Jobs

Children can also work together to create classroom jobs. First, it's fun and interesting to ask children what they think your job is as a teacher. Write their ideas on chart paper. You may be surprised to hear what they think!

Next, ask them what they think their jobs are and write their thoughts down. Display these ideas in the room where you can to refer to them all year. The list is a good reminder of everyone's responsibilities. If there is job confusion during the year, you can go back to the charts to remind children of their responsibilities in the classroom.

From their list, invite children to brainstorm a list of responsibilities that can be used to create a job chart. Jobs might include watering the plants, holding the door, feeding the pets, setting the table, and being a line leader.

Make a circular job chart out of poster or cardboard. Paste job pictures on pie-shaped sections of the circle. Make name and/or photo clothespins for each child. These can be clipped on a section of the circle when jobs are being selected. Keep all of the clips in a bag and invite one child at a time to draw a name for each of the jobs. When a job is done, that child's clip can then be attached to a "Good Workers" chart. This not only shows who has had a turn, but also who completed his job. When the bag is empty, fill it up again with the tags and start all over!

Note: Free downloadable center tags and markers are available at