According to research, learning centers in preschool provide the tools for learning all throughout life. The early childhood classroom (ages 2–5) is a huge factor in children’s development. Classrooms are usually set up so that children can be engaged with exploratory activities.
Materials Purposefully Planned
In an ideal setting, the materials are purposefully planned, changes are made often, the schedule allows large blocks of time. I recommend an hour in the morning and the afternoon. The classroom teacher’s role is to move from center-to-center encouraging, challenging, and supporting learning. Perhaps, the child care center’s philosophy has a weekly theme. This is a good way for the classroom teacher to add accessories to the different interest centers that go with the theme, as new items increase interest.
Some Suggestions for a Theme on Pets
- Add pet figures to the block center
- Stuffed animals and dress-up clothes like a veterinary or zoo keeper to the dramatic play center
- Books on pets or animals scattered around and especially at the book center
- Pictures of animals and animal shaped molds to use for the clay at the art center
Learning centers in preschool provide the tools for learning, but the teacher has an important role: The teachers are note takers and keep good records about development. Think of the teacher as the stage manager.
Ideal Classrooms Includes the Following Learning Centers
The ideal classroom is divided up with different learning centers. I would suggest always having books, blocks, art, housekeeping/drama, and math/manipulative available. There may be reasons to have some of the learning centers closed during times that are more stressful. For example, it may be difficult to supervise the water table when children are arriving in the morning. The learning centers that are popular are:
- Dramatic play
- Large motor
Self-Directed and Free Play
For children to know and understand how to direct themselves they need to be able to recognize what is available to them. I selected the picture below from Pinterest. It demonstrates how to use shelves or dividers to space the learning centers.
With free choice centers, teachers allow children to make their own choices of where to go to spend their time.
The teacher may say at the morning circle time:
- “There are pet accessories in the block center if you would like to play in a Veterinary Clinic or Zoo.”
- “I have some “fake” fur in the art center if you would like to draw a pet and glue this fur on your picture.”
- “I’ve put some stuffed animals, zoo keeper clothes and a veterinarian jacket in dramatic play if you would like to go there.”
While the teacher may give the children ideas to do at the center, the children should feel free to choose their own play.
Let Children Make the Selections
Children learn best when they are interacting with items that interest them. The items at the center should meet all the developmental levels in the classroom including special needs and multicultural. According to the author of Preschool Appropriate Practices by Janice Beaty, the child must be able to trust their environment by experiencing the following:
1. awareness of the choices available; 2. an interest in the materials (change items, often); 3. Freedom to explore; 4. time to get deeply involved.
A Typical Schedule
7:00–9:00 Arrival, greetings and a limited number of learning centers open.
9:00–9:15 Morning snack
9:15–9:30 Teacher-directed activity or circle
9:30–10:30 Self-directed learning centers
10:30–10:45 Clean-up, bathroom breaks, preparation for outdoor play
10:45–11:45 Outdoor play
11:45–12:00 Preparation for lunch
12:00–12:30 Lunch. The classroom teacher should sit with the children and model good table manners.
12:30–2:00 Nap time for children that need a nap. All children do not need naps; the schedule should be individualized for the non-napping children; the space should include an area for quiet activities during this time.
2:15–2:30 Teacher-directed activity
2:30–3:30 Self-directed learning centers
3:30–4:30 Outdoor play
4:30–6:00 Departure and limited centers open for play
Feature image courtesy of Flickr, Seattle Parks & Recreation.
Source: Fractus Learning