I have worked with preschool aged children for 12 years and have seen many different classrooms with learning centers. Most of the time however preschool classrooms are not fully taking advantage of how a learning center can benefit your classroom if done the right way. A learning center is NOT an area with random mismatching toys on a shelf. It is NOT toys thrown in a large basket that just get dumped out. If you walk into a lot of classrooms you will see a teacher sitting in a chair watching a room full of 3 year olds play. More than likely it will be very chaotic and loud. Some kids may even be fighting because there is too many trying to play with one toy or even becoming aggressive with the other kids because they are tired and bored of playing with the same toys for the past 2 months.
However if you walk into a classroom where learning centers are set up a bit differently you may see a different picture. Instead of a teacher sitting in a chair simply observing her class you will see a teacher who is actually in a center with the kids playing right along with them. You see what most preschool teachers don't realize is that the kids playing in your room will listen so much more if you are on their level talking to them instead of standing above them and talking at them. You will see a room that has kids playing and having fun but in a calm atmosphere. The kids are each in an area playing with toys that go along with what they are leaning that week and are also neatly organized for each specific center. If a teacher is willing to make the extra time to put this kind of set up in place it will make a huge difference in the class. The thing is it doesn't have to cost a lot of money to do this. It just takes doing a little rearranging of your room and some organizing of the things you already have.
Most classrooms have at least 6 different centers but it's recommend to have 7. The basic centers are the same in almost every classroom:
Block center-this center will have wooden blocks and different things that have to do with building and putting things together. You can also bring in tools or cars with a track. I will also bring in
different things such as a barn or animals or maybe a gas station depending on what we are learning
for the week. It's always good to rotate your toys out but make sure you always have the blocks out.
Dramatic play- a lot of the time this is known as home living center. However since I do change this center out quite often I prefer dramatic play. This center is a place for kids to really use their imagination. They can pretend to be a mommy or daddy or cook a gourmet meal for their friends, it's also a doctors office, animal hospital, barbershop, bakery, grocery store, and anything else we can imagine. I will bring in the different toys that encourage the play but I love watching them play and really become the part!
Library/book-this center is one that is pretty easy and often gets overlooked but you really can do a lot with it. You obviously want to have books for them and a comfy place to sit and read. Be careful not to overload the book center. You want just enough books out for them to have plenty to choose from but not where they are just getting thrown around. In addition to books you can have a puppet area and reading boxes.
Art-this center is a chance for kids to be free to create whatever kind of masterpiece they would like. Our art center will have markers, crayons, scissor box, colored pencils, paint and numerous odd supplies. Of course I don't have all of this out at once and I make sure they know how to use them.
Science/nature-this center can be a lot of fun. One of the most popular for this center is magnet play. Sensory bottles are also great. Bringing in plants or a small animal to observe is also great! We have also done experiments in the center
Fine motor/manipulative-this center is a chance for kids to work on their fine motor skills. Anything that helps them work with their fingers is great. Examples are matching items using tweezers! Sorting bears, lacing cards, stringing beads are great ideas as well.
ABC-this is an optional center that isn't normally in centers. Its a lot like the supplies in fine motor except they are all alphabet related
Computer-this is also optional. Not all centers have access to computers but it can be a great tool if it is.
When choosing your centers make sure you choose ones that you will easily be able to work into your classroom and the age that you have. I wouldn't put scissors and open paints in a room full of young 3 year olds. Make sure it is all age appropriate!
Our school will be starting next week so I plan on taking pics of my room for this year and how I have arranged each of the centers and organized them. I absolutely love this time of year. I love the fresh new feel if the room and how excited the kids are!!! I can't wait to start the new year with alley new kiddos!!!!