Center time is absolutely essential to the Kindergarten classroom. When used effectively, centers can be an incredibly valuable part of your daily routine. Creating a plan for running centers smoothly can help facilitate key skills through hands-on learning and keep your students engaged. However, centers can also sometimes feel chaotic, overwhelming, and maybe even a bit stressful until you get into your “groove” with center management. I’m here today to help you take back center time and bring you my top tips and tricks for running centers smoothly! Check out these ideas and you will be on your way to creating the center routines of your dreams!
1. Introduce Center Procedures
As Kindergarten teachers, we know just how important it is to teach procedures in the primary classroom. Having procedures in place for everything not only saves your sanity, but it will also help foster independence in the classroom. And, these procedures will play a vital part in helping you manage centers.
Some important questions to cover with your group include the following:
- Where do they get their center activity and supplies?
- Is there a designated space they need to work in?
- How and when do they rotate to the next activity?
- What to do if you finish your activity early?
Take some time to think about how you would like center time to look and jot these questions and answers down. Once you have an idea of what your ideal center routine is, it’s much easier to facilitate in the classroom.
Back to Basics
When I first start using centers in the classroom for the year, I like to spend lots of time teaching my students the basic procedures.
For the first couple of weeks, I like to ask the children to work with a partner for their center activity. The goal here is to practice sharing materials and staying in their assigned center area until the timer goes off. These procedural learning targets should not be overlooked!
Since many children have never been to school before kindergarten, these are key skills we need to practice over and over again.
2. Start Small
Running centers smoothly is a balancing act in the beginning. To keep things simple, I recommend you start small. Keep in mind that you don’t have to teach everything all at once.
Take baby steps and try to make sure the majority of your group has mastered the procedure or skill you are teaching before adding more to the mix.
For example, in the very beginning stages of introducing centers, I don’t ask the children to rotate. Instead, I set a timer and when it goes off, I rotate the bins for the children so that they can focus on the activity rather than moving around in the classroom.
Have a Plan for Questions
When you first start using centers, there will be questions. Lots of questions. And this is great! Questions are how children learn, right? But to help everyone and make sure those questions are getting answered, I recommend having a plan in place.
My favorite tip for questions is the “Ask 3” approach. Students learn that they must ask 3 peers before asking me. I love this method because it creates classroom community and gets my students thinking and helping each other.
Another easy hack for getting questions answered during center time is to use picture direction cards. These colorful cards can be printed, laminated, and used over and over again during center time. Simply choose the cards you need and arrange them in order of first to last for each center.
These cards will remind little learners of their tasks and help reduce the dreaded, “Now what do I do?” question after each step in the activity.
3. Maintain Consistency
The best tip that I have for you with creating an awesome center routine is to stay consistent. Be intentional with your centers and try to focus on activities and skills the children are familiar with.
Using familiar activities will help your students gain confidence in their skill set and give them the repetition and practice they need.
I know firsthand how easy it is to get carried away with ALL the super cute ideas on my Pinterest feed. But let me tell you friends, that is not what moves the needle most for your little learners.
Instead, be intentional with your center planning. Think first about the skills your children need to focus on.
Next, come up with a guideline to help you plan your weekly centers. For example, for literacy centers, you might plan to have 2 handwriting centers, 3 sight word centers, 3 phonics centers, and 2 phonemic awareness centers.
Having this framework in mind ensures your students “know what to expect” to a degree and balances your curriculum.
When students understand the rhythm of center time and can develop general expectations for the activities, it becomes SO much easier to manage centers.
Keep Center Materials Organized
This might seem like one of the most daunting components of centers, but I promise this can be easy too! Take some time to think about the amount of space you have and how you would like the children to access the materials.
In my classroom, I like to foster independence as much as possible so I’m an advocate for storage options that are easy for small hands to manage. When looking for containers, focus on items that will stay closed, stack nicely, and aren’t too difficult for children to open.
Next, label ALL the things. This takes some time in the beginning, but I promise this step will be worth every single minute of your time. Having bins and boxes labeled makes clean up a breeze for your littles and will make finding your materials super simple.
Keep Center Time Simple All Year Long
Alright, are you ready to conquer center time? I hope you are excited to try some of these tips and tricks to make your center time run more smoothly! If you are looking for a super simple, low-prep option for comprehensive Kindergarten centers – look no further!
Check out my Kindergarten Low Prep Centers Bundle for an entire year of simple and engaging centers. I have made planning and prepping for centers easier than ever with this complete bundle. Your students will learn so much with the activities in this resource and work on key skills including:
- Shapes and Colors
- Tens Frames & One to One Correspondence
- Alphabet Practice
- Tracing & Writing
- Sight Words
- Beginning Sounds
- CVC Words and MORE!
This year-long bundle will simplify your planning so you can get started right away by creating a perfect center routine in your classroom. Be sure to check out the bundle if you’re looking to streamline your process and make centers fun again!
Save These Tips for Running Centers Smoothly for Later!
I hope you enjoyed these top tips for running centers smoothly! Don’t forget to pin these center ideas on your favorite classroom Pinterest board for later!