In many primary classrooms, learning centers have been sacrificed for the focus on standards and testing. If it is in your power, please reconsider. Appropriate learning centers offer a multitude of excellent opportunities for learning and growth, and greatly increase student engagement and investment in the learning process.
Learning centers in primary classrooms offer opportunities for children to explore the ideas and concepts that are being taught to the whole group. In the learning center, they can manipulate the objects, test the connections, choose specifically designed activities or investigate their own hypothesis. Learning centers often address more standards than a specific lesson plan can, and with carefully chosen materials, it can afford children the chance to stretch their cognitive skills, problem solving and thinking outside the box. Working with other students in the center, a child can easily experience learning opportunities for language development, new vocabulary, communication, critical thinking, collaboration, cooperation, new perspective, sequencing, fine motor skills, and utilization of other executive functioning skills. Current topics of study and standards can also be readily integrated. Simply posting a sign of the many standards/indicators addressed shows visitors the comprehensive nature of each learning center.
Setting up the centers takes some planning and preparation, but if you teach the children how to maintain and fully utilize each center, they will begin to take ownership and assist with maintenance.
Primary learning centers often include: writing, literacy, listening, science, math/manipulatives, social studies, technology/computers, creative arts, music, and blocks/building. Additional centers can range from sociodramatic centers such as a grocery store or news studio to puppets and woodworking. It is at the teacher’s discretion to choose centers that complement the current unit of study and enhance learning for the children.
Some teachers are fearful of the “chaos” that can ensue when children are moving around the classroom. If you introduce each center careful, provide clear expectations about their use and maintenance and then monitor them attentively (particularly at the beginning) you will find that they become a favorite time of day, address much needed content, and also offer solutions for children finishing assignments early or working on special projects.
A writing center is a classic primary learning center and can be used to support any topic of study. Whether children are asked to write a warning letter to Goldilocks, create a get well card, or use the writing process to transfer their journal writing into a book, a well-stocked writing center can meet all of these needs. The opportunities are endless! Carefully including children’s books, magazines, vocabulary words, peer name cards, and other literacy items in the center will continue to facilitate your literacy objectives.
Learning centers can be integrated slowly, utilizing only a few at a time to begin. Pick two or three that you feel would be well received by your students and are not difficult to put together. Be sure to determine and share your rules of operation for the centers with the students before they begin using them and then you are ready to go!! Observe the children for unexpected use of materials or popular consumables so you can make any changes as needed. They may even have reasonable ideas for interesting and motivating additions! Enjoy and watch the learning happen!!