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January 13, 2015

Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen? Switch to Tabletop Centers

By Allie Magnuson
Grades PreK–K

    If your centers are too crowded, you may want to consider switching to portable centers that students can carry and use at their tables. These centers can be super cheap to make, small and easy to store, and fun for the kids since they can be changed a lot more often than larger centers. They can even be used for dramatic play, as you will see.

    Here are some ideas for tabletop centers using everyday items:

     

     

    Shoeboxes

     

    Playset

    Turn a shoebox into a playset by decorating it with pictures from magazines or the Internet. You can make sets with different themes, or you can add on to a single theme by making different rooms, levels, etc.

    Populate the sets by drawing people on sticky notes.

     

    Puppet Theater

    Option 1: On the bottom of the shoebox, cut out a square or rectangular window. When the box is situated on its long end, this hole will be a window in the back wall. Add paper curtains behind the window on the outside of the box. Cut out the same shape in sheets of colored paper for interchangeable backgrounds.

    To make puppets, students can use bandages, cut-off fingers from rubber gloves, or paper characters with finger holes.

    Option 2: Instead of cutting a window on the bottom of the box, cut a slit in one of the sides. Use full sheets of colored paper for interchangeable backgrounds.

    For each puppet, you'll need a craft stick, a piece of string, a paper clip, and a picture (hand-drawn, from a magazine, printed, etc.). Tie one end of the string around the craft stick, and the other end around the paper clip. Attach the picture to the paper clip, insert the string through the slit in the box, and use the stick to make it move.

     

    Mint Tins and Lunchboxes

     

    Small Activity Toolbox

    Fill mint tins with materials for small activities, like beading.

     

    Large Activity Toolbox

    Fill lunchboxes with materials for larger activities, like this puppet/doll-making station.

     

    Cereal Boxes

     

    Light Show

    Using a pushpin, poke holes through the design of a miniature cereal box. Put small sheets of colored paper and a flashlight inside the box. Students can aim the flashlight behind the box to see the design lit up, and they can use the sheets of paper as filters to see what it looks like with different colors.

     

    Board Game

    Take apart the top and bottom flaps of a large cereal box, and cut along one side (stopping when you reach the flaps) so the box can lay flat. Attach Velcro to all the openings so it can open and close and store all the pieces inside.

    The inside of the box is the game board. You can make the game anything you want. I used a Froot Loop box, so I went with that as my theme. To make the Froot Loops game, I collected outdated paint chips from Lowe's and Walmart. I managed to get some that had several shades on one card, which were round and could be peeled off. I found the ones that matched the shades of the regular paint chips. Then I mixed the colors up, spread them out in a loop from start to finish on the inside of the cereal box, and glued them on. I kept the bag of cereal in the box — there are six colors of Froot Loops, and they can be used as pawns.

    To play the game, the paint chips are placed upside-down in a pile. Students pick the one on top and move their pawns to that color on the board (kind of like Candy Land). The first person to reach the rainbow its the winner.

    If your centers are too crowded, you may want to consider switching to portable centers that students can carry and use at their tables. These centers can be super cheap to make, small and easy to store, and fun for the kids since they can be changed a lot more often than larger centers. They can even be used for dramatic play, as you will see.

    Here are some ideas for tabletop centers using everyday items:

     

     

    Shoeboxes

     

    Playset

    Turn a shoebox into a playset by decorating it with pictures from magazines or the Internet. You can make sets with different themes, or you can add on to a single theme by making different rooms, levels, etc.

    Populate the sets by drawing people on sticky notes.

     

    Puppet Theater

    Option 1: On the bottom of the shoebox, cut out a square or rectangular window. When the box is situated on its long end, this hole will be a window in the back wall. Add paper curtains behind the window on the outside of the box. Cut out the same shape in sheets of colored paper for interchangeable backgrounds.

    To make puppets, students can use bandages, cut-off fingers from rubber gloves, or paper characters with finger holes.

    Option 2: Instead of cutting a window on the bottom of the box, cut a slit in one of the sides. Use full sheets of colored paper for interchangeable backgrounds.

    For each puppet, you'll need a craft stick, a piece of string, a paper clip, and a picture (hand-drawn, from a magazine, printed, etc.). Tie one end of the string around the craft stick, and the other end around the paper clip. Attach the picture to the paper clip, insert the string through the slit in the box, and use the stick to make it move.

     

    Mint Tins and Lunchboxes

     

    Small Activity Toolbox

    Fill mint tins with materials for small activities, like beading.

     

    Large Activity Toolbox

    Fill lunchboxes with materials for larger activities, like this puppet/doll-making station.

     

    Cereal Boxes

     

    Light Show

    Using a pushpin, poke holes through the design of a miniature cereal box. Put small sheets of colored paper and a flashlight inside the box. Students can aim the flashlight behind the box to see the design lit up, and they can use the sheets of paper as filters to see what it looks like with different colors.

     

    Board Game

    Take apart the top and bottom flaps of a large cereal box, and cut along one side (stopping when you reach the flaps) so the box can lay flat. Attach Velcro to all the openings so it can open and close and store all the pieces inside.

    The inside of the box is the game board. You can make the game anything you want. I used a Froot Loop box, so I went with that as my theme. To make the Froot Loops game, I collected outdated paint chips from Lowe's and Walmart. I managed to get some that had several shades on one card, which were round and could be peeled off. I found the ones that matched the shades of the regular paint chips. Then I mixed the colors up, spread them out in a loop from start to finish on the inside of the cereal box, and glued them on. I kept the bag of cereal in the box — there are six colors of Froot Loops, and they can be used as pawns.

    To play the game, the paint chips are placed upside-down in a pile. Students pick the one on top and move their pawns to that color on the board (kind of like Candy Land). The first person to reach the rainbow its the winner.

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