A key element of any successful early childhood program is the use of learning centers in the classroom. A learning center is a clearly defined area where students can independently explore and learn with hands-on materials. Research has proven that young children learn best through active, hands-on play; learning centers engage students and make learning fun. With learning centers, I have more time to interact with students one on one. The children become more independent and confident about the decisions they make in centers.
In our full-day classroom we have three different learning center times daily; ABC centers, math centers, and developmental centers. We spend 30 minutes each day at ABC centers, 30 minutes each day at math centers, and 45-60 minutes each day at developmental centers. In each center I have signs posted from ABC Teach that explain exactly what skills we are learning.
The ABC center provides students with hands-on activities that encourage letter identification, phonemic awareness, and literacy. Students manipulate colorful, plastic letters in a variety of ways such as: spelling their names or friend's names, sorting letters by lines (curvy vs. straight), matching same letters, and matching upper to lowercase letters. They also enjoy fishing for magnetic letters with mini fishing rods and tracing sandpaper letters with their fingers.
The math center provides students with hands-on activities that promote number sense, ordering, sorting, patterning, 1:1 correspondence and more. My students enjoy creating patterns by using tongs to place pom-pom's in egg cartons. This activity promotes 1:1 correspondence as they place one pom-pom in each egg cup and fine motor development as the students squeeze and control the tongs with the small muscles in their hands. Another favorite math activity involves ice cube trays, one foam die, and pom-poms. Students take turns rolling the die, counting the dots on the die and placing the correct number of pom-poms in their ice cube tray, which also helps promote 1:1 correspondence and number sense.
Socialization and oral language development are the focus of developmental centers, where students are engaged in activities like dramatic play and science exploration. In the dramatic play center students are learning how to cooperate, share, and communicate with each other by dressing up and role playing. At the flannel board, students are manipulating pieces to re-tell their favorite story. Concepts such as questioning and observation are developed in the science center as students watch worms wiggle under magnifying glasses.
One of the most common misconceptions of learning centers is that the students are “just playing”. Young children are not "playing" during learning centers; they are learning both hard and soft skills. These are all skills that are necessary and will be used daily for the rest of their lives. It is important that teachers create rich learning experiences for their students that lead to higher-order thinking skills. When students engage in authentic activities, it is more meaningful to them and will resonate more deeply as opposed to a one dimensional worksheet.