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October 22, 2010 Learning Centers, Part 3: A Learning Carnival in Your Classroom By Allie Magnuson
Grades PreK–K

     In "Learning Centers, Part 1," I talked about the various reasons learning centers are important for the classroom. In "Learning Centers, Part 2," I shared ideas for managing your centers. Now, here's the good stuff.

    Though there are limitless possibilities for learning centers and the activities in them, it’s easy to fall back on the standard ones that everyone features in their classroom. For this reason, I’m going to share some different ideas, most of which I came up with myself, to show you how creative you can be with the activities in your centers. I'll share more center ideas in future posts.


    Center Activities

    (A word on playing games: you can let students continue playing until everyone wins.)   


    Pots of Gold Bowls

    Get some different colored containers and write the color name underneath each one. Make paper cards with the color names. Students line up the containers in a rainbow shape and drop a gold coin inside each one. In turn, each player draws a card, tries to identify the right color, and lifts up the container to self-check. If they are right, they get to keep the coin.

    Balloon Darts

    DartsMake a small paper balloon for each student in the class. Glue on their pictures and laminate. Attach the balloons to poster board. Then make a set of cards with students' names. Players pick a card, read the name, and try to hit the correct balloon with a suction dart.

    Pirate's TreasureTreasures

    Get or make a realistic treasure chest. Put tiny boxes in the chest. Each box should have a letter written on the top and a picture corresponding to the letter on the bottom. Inside each box, put a corresponding letter manipulative. Students reach inside the chest and pick a box randomly. They say the letter name or sound and check their answer on the bottom. If they are correct, they get to open the box and keep the treasure (for the duration of the game only!).

    Gone Fishin', Ring Toss, and Whac-A-Mole

    • Fishing02For the fishing game, players try to "catch" fish with the same beginning sounds using a fishing pole with a magnet or a hook on the end of the line. If they can catch them, they can keep them.
    • RingTossFor the ring toss game, players try to toss the ring around the beginning letter of a word, then the ending letter, and then possibly the middle letter.
    • WhacAMoleFor the Whac-A-Mole game, you will have to buy a toy version. On each mole, write a letter.  Students hit the moles in alphabetical order as they pop up.


    Basketball, Football, Baseball, Hockey, Catch, and Skee-Ball

    • BasketballFor the basketball game, students try to shoot the ball through all the hoops that start with a certain letter.
    • For the football game, two players stand on each other's ten-yard line. In turn, each player draws a card, and if they can read it, they move forward five yards; if they can't, they move back. The first player to make a touchdown wins.
    • For the baseball game, each player draws a card, and if they can read it, they move the number of bases indicated on the back; if not, they get an out. After three outs, the next player is "up at bat."
    • HockeyFor the hockey game, students separate words into two groups, however they want, by sliding the pucks into the two goals.
    • Catch is easy. One player says a word and throws a soft ball to another player, who tries to make a rhyming word. 



    • Finally, for Skee-Ball, glue some containers of various sizes to a cardboard box, either one above the other or inside one another. Set the box at an incline. Tape or write the letters of words on separate Ping-Pong balls, and put each word in a separate bag. Students take a bag and try to toss the balls into the containers in the correct order to form the words.

    Hopscotch, Miniature Golf, Bowling, and Plinko

    • For hopscotch, just set up the standard game, as pictured to the right. Hopscotch
    • MiniGolf In the miniature golf game, students use a toy golf set and try to get their balls in a hole or holes, making a tally mark on a piece of paper for each try.  At the end, they count their tally marks. The person with the lowest score is the winner.


    • BowlingFor the bowling game, players knock down pins (either toy ones or a DIY set with two-liter bottles, which can be clear, decorated, or filled with objects). They cross off knocked-down pins on scorecards with ten sets of ten pins.


    • PlinkoFor Plinko, get a Plinko disc-drop game board (or, if you feel so inclined, make your own with a peg board. You can make eight rows with 76 pegs). Whatever number their chip lands on is the number of counting markers they get. Each student takes five turns. Whoever has the most markers at the end is the winner.


    SpongeBob Toss

    Copy some pictures of SpongeBob SquarePants and write numbers on them. Write corresponding number words on kitchen sponges. Hang up the pictures, put a bucket in front of each (no water!), and have children try to toss their sponges into the correct buckets.

    One Duck, Two Ducks, Red Duck, Blue Duck

    DuckPond01 DuckPond02 DuckPond03 Students put colored ducks with numbers on them in water, draw cards with color and number words, and try to find the right ducks in the "pond." If they are correct, they keep the ducks. If incorrect, they put them back and try again.

    Racetrack Racetrack

    Draw four lanes on a long piece of paper. Divide each lane into 12 spaces. Each player picks a toy car and places it in a lane. In turn, the players roll a die and move their cars that number of spaces. Whoever gets to the finish line first is the winner. 

    That's Right, That's Wrong

    Make some question cards with a a right answer and a wrong answer. The object of the game is to give the wrong answer. (In the process, students learn the right answer and have fun doing it.) If a player gives the right answer, they lose a point. If they give the wrong answer, they score a point. After going through the stack, the players switch. Whoever has the most points at the end wins. 

    Alien Landing and Flight Landing PaperAirplane

    For "alien landing", players draw a card with a planet or fact on it, then try to land a frisbee UFO (with an inverted clear plastic cup on the top) on the corresponding planet. For "flight landing," players draw a card with a continent, country, or state on it, then try to land a paper or plastic airplane on a map. 

    Unlock the Box

    Provide a few boxes that lock. Mix the keys in with a bunch of other keys. Students pick keys from the pile and try to find the ones that will open the boxes.

    Float or Sink?

    Students fill a fish bowl with water and place a small container at the bottom. Then they drop small objects into the bowl, trying to get them to land in the container. The students will see which objects float and which ones sink. 

    How High? How Long? How Fast?

    Cup Parachute BalloonTrainIn "How high?" students predict where water will rise in bottles of different shapes and sizes. In "How long?" they attach things of different sizes and weights to parachutes and see how long it takes them to land. In "How fast?" students learn how fast and slow things are by observing toy cars, balloon-powered vehicles, and wind-up toys.

    Pin the Tail, Bean Bag Toss, and Tracking ExpeditionBeanBagToss

    In "Pin the Tail," players try to match tails to the right animals. In the Bean Bag Toss, players toss bean bag "foods" in the mouths of the animals that eat them. In "Tracking Expedition," students trace the paths of different animals by following their tracks on a map.

    CarnivalCrane The Claw

    Make a set of cards. Write a specific item on each one. Students draw cards and, using a prize and candy grabber machine, move a joystick up, down, left, and right to make a crane reach down and try to grab the items.


    Wonder CheckersWonderCheckers  

    The checkers open up so you can put sweets or prizes inside. Students have to capture the checkers to win the prizes.


    Tape the lyrics to short songs onto old CDs, or record single songs onto blank CDs. Put them in paper envelopes, and label each envelope with a letter/number combination (e.g., F-7). Put them in alphabetical order and have students select a song from the jukebox to sing.

    Boat Race

    RacingBoats02 RacingBoats01 

    Two players stand — or sit — at either end of a water table, with one boat in the middle. Each player tries to get the boat to the opposite side by shooting at it with a squirt gun (one that is NOT shaped like a gun!).

    Building Pictionary and Hurry & Build

    Make cards with simple structures, designs, vehicles, nature elements, etc. There are two games you can play using these cards:

    • To play "building pictionary," a student tries to create what is on the cards using blocks, Legos, Lincoln Logs, K'nex, Tinkertoys, or Marbleworks. The other players have to try to guess what the student is building before the timer runs out.
    • To play "hurry and build," all children play at once, gathering the materials and building the pictures in a race against the clock.TempTattoos

    Tattoo Parlor

    Set up a tattoo parlor where students give each other temporary tattoos. 


    Aw, kids. They've got it made. To be able to do their work by playing like this? I guess my only consolation is that I had almost as much fun coming up with the games and activities as they have playing them.

    You have good ideas. You know you do. I know you do. Tell me.

    Have a fun weekend!




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