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5 Tips for Starting Centers in Kindergarten
Whether this is your first or tenth year as a kindergarten teacher, starting centers in kindergarten can be exciting, yet overwhelming. Don’t worry, there are some simple strategies you can do to get your stations up and running smoothly. After teaching kindergarten for 17 years, I have compiled a simple list of what helped me the most when running centers at the beginning of the year. Enjoy the following list of 5 tips for starting centers in kindergarten.
Start With Play Centers in Kindergarten
This is one of the most important tips to having successful centers, or learning stations, a successful learning experience for the kids. Too often, teachers are pressured to started academic centers the first week of school. Doing so can overwhelm the kids, cause them to feel frustrated, and lead to behavioral concerns during group time. Instead, start with fun, play based, activities in every center during the first week or two of school.
When you have the kids engaged in play centers the first week of kindergarten, you can observe and take notes of their language skills, behavior patterns, interests, and so on. These anecdotal notes are great for a Kindergarten Readiness Assessment (KRA), as well as planning your instruction accordingly.
Play centers are developmentally appropriate for kindergarten.
Benefits of learning through play include:
- relationship building
- builds problem solving skills
- improving cognitive development
- developing language skills (receptive and expressive)
- build confidence
As you plan on starting centers in kindergarten, examples of play centers include playdoh, housekeeping, building blocks, puzzles, games for kids, legos, shaving cream, sensory bins, and exploring with manipulatives. These types of play centers allow the students to get to know their peers, build language and confidence, have fun learning, and feel secure in their environment.
Promote Help From Parent Volunteers
If possible, invite parent volunteers to come in the first few weeks of school when starting centers in kindergarten. Make sure the volunteers know your expectations and procedures. That way, they can model and offer positive reinforcement to match your expectations.
One or two parent volunteers can make the world of a difference.
If you are unable to invite parent volunteers to help during the first week of kindergarten, then I strongly suggest finding help within the building. You can ask support staff or round up a couple kids from the older grades.
Having an extra set of eyes and hands for just 10-20 minutes can make a world of a difference in the kindergarten classroom.
Smaller Groups and More Centers
When starting centers in kindergarten, you will find it much simpler to manage if you have smaller groups and more stations. Until the kids get to know routines, expectations, and how to get along with others, it’s best to have no more than 3 kids per center.
When you keep the amount of kids in each group to a minimal, you will have less behavior problems to address. With this being said, I understand you may have a large class size and are feeling this will be impossible. I’ve been there, friend, and I promise you can do it! For years I had between 25-30 kids and no aide! Yes, it was extremely challenging, but finding ways to minimize behaviors was the key. If you have a large class like I did, then set out more centers.
Along with a classroom library, you can put out simple name building activities, such as the ones shown in the video below.
Augmented reading books for kids are also a great way to keep kids engaged at a reading center. I only suggest using those the first week of school if you have an aide or volunteers. They will need to help get the apps turned on to interact with the AR books.
Establish Routines in Kindergarten
Before starting centers in kindergarten, you should spend a week or two teaching and modeling your routines and expectations.
If you are using a wireless doorbell for call and response, then teach them over and over again what exactly they should do when they hear a specific ring tone. For example, chose which ring tone will mean stop and listen, clean up, rotate to the next center, 5 minute warning until switch time, etc.
Learning how to rotate the groups is always a challenge, yet so important when establishing routines. Not to say I am right or wrong, but I learned not to stress about the grouping and rotation at during the first back to school weeks. Instead, I would start off rotating centers by tables.
My tables were color and number coded. You can see my superhero table labels, here. For example, the red table would get playdoh, and when the buzzer went off, everyone at the red table would stand up and move to next table or area, eventually rotating all the way around the room.
Again, at the start of the year, my focus is to see how they interact, to teach routines, and build independence. No matter how many cute and fun centers you prep for, without classroom management nothing will go as planned.
Transition into Academic Centers
Once you feel that your kids are successful at rotating through play centers, it’s time to transition into academic centers.
When I introduce academic centers, I, first, model the learning activity as a whole group. Then, as the kids are engaged in play centers, I begin pulling small groups. I do not start guided reading, yet. Instead, during small groups, I see if they’re able to complete the learning activity on their own.
Each day, I introduce 1-2 academic center activities. Over the course of a week, I introduce, model, and observe their progress in my small groups. It’s wonderful, because I can then take notes of my students who understand the expectations and the ones who need more help.
As I begin regrouping my students, I take that into consideration. It’s nice to have a leader within every group.
When I transition to academic centers in kindergarten, I start with letter matching activities, clip cards, no-prep cut and paste Making Words and Building Sentences, a Build a Poem pocket chart activity, and a Write the Room center. I have bundled all of these centers together to save you time and money.
You can check out the Back to School kindergarten centers, HERE.
Starting centers in kindergarten can feel overwhelming and chaotic, but they don’t have to! Plan to start with play-based centers, then slowly transition to academic centers once you have established routines and expectations. Use these 5 tips for starting centers in kindergarten to get yourself ready for back to school. If you have more tips for starting center rotations, leave them in the comments below.
Before you go, here are a few blog posts you may enjoy: