Organizing, developing, and carrying out centers is an extremely complex task and one made of up many layers. When the work is put in up front and centers are well thought out and planned for, they can run smoothly and offer great academic, social-emotional, and developmental value to an early childhood classroom.
These are a few of the resources I have used over the years to assist me in implementing learning centers with young children.
General Guidelines for Learning Centers
Organize Using Appropriate and Engaging Materials
Every learning center should contain materials that are displayed in a neat organized and attractive manner. Materials should be on display on low, open shelves that are within reach of the child. Materials, activities, and equipment should be stored in their own containers. Label each storage container with both a picture and words written in the correct mix of capital and lowercase letters. Designate a special place on the shelf for each individual container with a corresponding label.
Supervising All Centers
When setting up your room for learning centers, consider whether you will be able to visually manage activities in all of the centers from wherever you are in the room. Look at the way centers are arranged in relationship to one another. Your students need to be able to moved freely from one center to another without disrupting the work of other children.
Define Clear Center Boundaries
Clearly define the space in each center using small area rugs, colored tape lines on the floor, or by arranging shelves and other pieces of furniture to create and define center boundaries.
Label each center clearly with center signs that include words and pictures that define that particular learning center.
Creating an Art CenterThe art center is a place where young children can express themselves creatively, while exploring a variety of art materials. This center is especially important for those children who have a strong visual-spatial intelligence.
Creating the Art CenterYou will need:
-a drying rack or area for children to lay out or hang up their work to dry (you might need to rearrange artwork and paintings from time to time so there is always space available)
-tempera paint (tempera paint is nontoxic and least expensive way to paint, place paint in no-spill paint cups, empty juice cans, or any other container that is deep enough to hold at least at day's worth of paint, make sure the container is deep enough to hold a long handled paintbrush without tipping over)
**TIP** stuff crumpled up pieces of newspaper or newsprint around paint cups to prevent spills
**TIP** tempera paint starts to smell if it is stored for a very long time, on Friday afternoons wash cups with soapy water to avoid unpleasant smells
**TIP** prevent stains and stretch your tempera paint by adding a small amount of liquid or powered detergent to each cup
-a variety of types and shapes of paper (butcher paper, newspaper, wallpaper, leftover laminating film, aluminum foil, etc. )
**TIP** use masking tape, clamps, or spring-type clothespins to attach paper to the easel for painting, spring-type clothespins tend to be the easiest for young children to use
-pencils, pens, and markers
-a table (tip: cover the table with several lays of newspaper or butcher paper or use a vinyl tablecloth with a felt or flannel back)
-smocks (men's cotton shirts worn with the buttons in the back work well, t-shirts do not work well because they tend to absorb the paint, screw vinyl covered cup hooks into the sides of the easel for hanging the smocks)
-shelves (provide low, open shelves stored with a variety of open-ended art activities and the necessary supplies)
-scissors box (provide a large cardboard box big enough for a child to sit in and with work space to spare, children can cut as much paper as they want, scraps will fall on the floor of the box rather than the floor of the classroom)
Post: Fine Motor Skills: Scissor Skills from Rubber Boots and Elf Shoes
Listen carefully when children want to share about their artwork. Encourage your students to "write" down their thoughts. When appropriate, take dictation from the student, writing the exact words the child said as they were spoken and without editing. Be sure to write on a separate sheet of paper from the child's artwork.
Remind and guide children to see their work through to completion. Some little ones will have a hard time staying with the task, especially in the first few weeks of school. Seeing the work through to completion includes not only finishing their artwork, but also cleaning up spills and putting materials away.
If a child believes they can't do something or that they don't know how to draw and appeal to you for help in drawing and creating, then explain to them that if you do it, then it will be your work. Explain to them that it is their work and they need to do it in their own special way. Talk children through their ideas by asking questions such as "How many legs does a horse have? How many eyes?". You can also include sketches, drawings, and real photographs of items for student's to use as a "live" model.
Closed art activities that have a "right" and "wrong" way of being completed are best for other times of the day and for older children.
When you talk with young children about their artwork, avoid questions such as "What is it? or What did you make?" Children may have simply been experimenting with materials and the project was not meant to be anything specific or the child may feel discouraged if you do not recognize something they worked very hard to make. Try using a statement such as "Tell me about your painting." This allows the child to respond in a variety of ways and for you to decide on other appropriate statements to say and questions to ask.
This is the first post in a multiple part series. I will also address other centers such as blocks, dramatic play, literacy centers, math, and science in future posts.