Monday, January 18, 2016

3 Centers I Will Never Live Without

In kindergarten, centers are a staple! I don't know what I would do without them. They allow me to differentiate learning for my very diverse kinder kids while allowing me to pull small groups to work with. We have listening center, work work, writing center, big books, reading center, pocket chart, and computers. While I enjoy our literacy-based centers, though, there are some other centers that I absolutely cannot live without. I call them "creative centers."
Our creative centers are pretty typical of what you might find in a preschool classroom. We have lots of hands-on, play-based centers that my kids absolutely love. There are three of them, though, that once I started implementing them a year ago I knew I'd never be able to live without.
Dramatic Play
If there was one area of my classroom that I felt like enriched my students' kindergarten experience the most, I'd chose this one. We know that research shows that children learn through social interactions and play, so it's no surprise that I see my students truly shine when they come to dramatic play. Recently, I watched from a distance as one of my students who came to kindergarten knowing very few words in English initiated and maintained a role in restaurant play. He was chatting and laughing and making up rules. The joy you get as a teacher seeing this happen is unbeatable. As I watch, I see my students creating entire scenarios from their own experiences. It's amazing to hear them have issues and solve them on their own! Who knew that a little wooden kitchen, a kid-sized apron, IKEA cookware, and some empty food cartons from home could evolve into social development.
Discovery Table
More commonly known as a water table, our discovery table is my second favorite center. I call it this because we have many other things in it besides water, and honestly I just didn't want to confuse my kids :) Right now it's full of dry pasta and beans, but aside from water we also have fake snow (in Colorado we had real snow!), soil and seeds, sand and shells, shredded paper, Easter basket filler (that stuff that gets EVERYWHERE), and fall leaves. I like putting "real" materials in here because it allows students the chance to see how they could use them in creative or imaginative ways. This table is never used for literacy-based tasks, and the only rule is "Don't drop things on the floor, or sweep them up if you do!" Shirts get soaked and our floor does get messy, but the things that students create here are amazing! I've seen a student discover displacement while using a bucket and a shovel in water. I've watched students create a current around the walls of the table. I've watched castles, cakes, and mountains be made. Who knew cheap, dry pasta could be so entertaining?
Loose Parts
This is where I've taken some Montessori inspo and incorporated it into our classroom. I was so intrigued as I read about loose parts stations in Montessori classrooms. A bunch of (seemingly) random, real-world objects in a basket, and kids are told to "explore." I was skeptical but tried it anyway. WOW. Did you know that with yarn, empty soup cans, binder clips, fabric scraps, and chairs that you could make a zip line?? I didn't! I love this center for a few reasons: A) It's incredibly cheap to stock. All you need are things you think you don't need anymore! B) It proves that kids don't need expensive toys to play. C) It forces kids to use their imagination! If they're given random things and told they have 20 minutes to play, they'll come up with something!
I wish I could see how other kindergarten classrooms ran centers. I love my literacy centers, but these "creative" centers are truly my favorite. I hope I never teach in a school (again) that doesn't have a play kitchen! And if they don't, I'll be lobbying for one!


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