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3 Best Tips for Center Time in Kindergarten

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Do you love centers in the classroom as much as I do? I love anytime that my students are empowered to make independent choices and show their learning. But if you’re like me, you have made some center time choices that can make it feel more stressful than productive. That’s why I want to share my 3 best tips for center time in Kindergarten. They will help you fix or avoid common mistakes and make centers feel like a breeze!

*For even more teacher tips and how to create a playful learning environment in your classroom, be sure to join us in P.L.A.Y. (Playful Learning All Year)!

Check out my 3 best tips for center time in Kindergarten that will help you fix or avoid common mistakes and make centers feel like a breeze!

3 Best Tips for Center Time in Kindergarten

Classroom centers are a great way to encourage independent learning. They also give me the opportunity to really focus on small groups and individuals.

But, if you have ever made some of these center time no-no’s (I know I have!) then you know that it can make centers feel like more of a nightmare than a dream. But don’t worry, there’s hope!

So let’s dive in and tackle 3 common center time mistakes and most importantly, tips for how to fix them!

Tip #1 Make Time for Exploration

Kids are naturally curious. Let’s face it, if you give them an empty cardboard box, they will be busy for hours! So why do we think it will be any different with all of those fun center materials?

Students need to be given the opportunity to explore materials with no expectations BEFORE they are expected to complete a task with the materials.

For example, before we ask students to sort counting bears by color, or use the counting bears to make 10, we must first let students simply play and explore with the bears.

Incredible learning will still be happening even without set expectations for what students will do with the materials… yet!

Before we ask students to sort counting bears by color or use the counting bears to make 10, we must first let students play and explore.

If we give students centers with expectations without first letting them explore the materials, it is very likely they will just play with them at first anyway – causing you frustration.

So instead of being frustrated, give them a few days to simply familiarize themselves and play. Then add a recording sheet or a game to go with the supplies. Afterward, you will have a much easier time getting students to use the supply to complete the desired task.

Allowing kids to play with materials like blocks will help them be less distracted later on during center time in Kindergarten.

Tip #2 Color Coding Centers

Clean up is one of the most common deterrents to center time. As teachers, if we don’t feel like we have an organized system in place for clean up, we may not want to allow students to participate in centers or free play because we certainly don’t want to be cleaning up the mess all by ourselves.

I have made this mistake myself over the years and it was overwhelming. But I have found a simple solution that has changed everything for me. By simply color coding my supplies, clean up went from frustrating (for both my students and me) to fantastic!

In my classroom, math supplies and centers go in red bins and literacy activities and materials go in blue bins.

In my classroom, math supplies and centers go in red bins.
In my classroom, literacy supplies and centers go in blue bins.

I also have orange bins for block area supplies and green bins for shared supplies, etc.

This lets my students know where things belong and where they can find materials for different times during the day.

You may be thinking that all of those bins must be super expensive. But you don’t have to run out and get new matching bins. Just use whatever you have and color code with construction paper!

You don't have to run out and get new matching bins for center time in Kindergarten - just color code with construction paper!

Tip #3 Ditch the Timer!

When I started teaching I had my timer, my set groups, and my stations of activities. But as soon as we got started we were all keeping one eye on the clock.

I often found myself wanting more time to work with my students in small groups. And students often found that the amount of time I had set for centers was either too long or too short for how they needed to interact with the materials at each station.

There were some centers that a kiddo maybe didn’t care for, and therefore didn’t meaningfully engage with in the time set and others that they would have spent all day at because it was right up their alley and they were learning tons!

So how do you fix this center time mistake? Ditch the timer and move to free-flowing centers instead!

Allow the kids the time they need to fully engage with supplies in center time in Kindergarten.

The freedom and flexibility gained from free-flowing centers will enhance your classroom center time in amazing ways. Students are empowered with choice. They don’t have to go to every station but instead can choose the activities that they would like to complete. They will be more engaged while completing activities that are a good fit for both their interests and skill level!

Gone are the days when you needed 5 more minutes with a student to help them make that breakthrough you knew they were so close to but had to ring the bell to rotate.

Gone are the days when if you didn’t meet with the blue group you would mess up the entire rotation. Even though you really needed to meet with an individual for one-on-one time instead.

Free-flowing center time in Kindergarten will lead to a less frustrating and happy teaching environment.

Once the routines to manage this style of centers are in place and solid, your kids will be able to run the classroom by themselves. They will gain independence, problem solving skills, and a deeper knowledge than you could ever dream possible!

But don’t just trust me, trust the hundreds of other teachers who have adopted this way of teaching after joining me for the P.L.A.Y. course (Playful Learning All Year)!

Want to stress less with even more “must-try” tips while learning how to create a “Playful Learning” environment?

(even if you “aren’t allowed to play”)

If you’re wanting to incorporate playful learning, free-flowing centers, effective routines, and more in your Pre-K or Kindergarten classroom, then you’ll definitely want to join us in P.L.A.Y. (Playful Learning All Year)!

This P.L.A.Y. course is a deep dive into practical ways that you can create a playful learning environment in your classroom!

This course is a deep dive into practical ways that you can create a playful learning environment in your classroom. Be sure to request an invitation so you’re the first to hear when the virtual doors open!

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