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First Week of School

By September 9, 2017Uncategorized
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First week of school can be tough. Especially for kids that are separating from their mom or dad for the first time. KG and Pre-K is supposed to be fun and engaging regardless of how policy makers would like to change that. If you are one of the lucky teachers that teach at a school where admin understand and support true play based learning, you can open all of your centers right from day one! There are many good reasons why you should open all your centers. The main one being, kids will be happy, excited, and engaged for sure. This is the ultimate goal and frees you up to help those struggling students.

Students approved floor puzzle! 

Here are some tips on opening centers from day one and making your classroom inviting:

-Don’t overfill your shelves with supplies and materials. For example instead of stacking board games on top of each other and having 20 games to choose from in the ‘board games’ shelf. Display 3- 4 games only. On the empty spaces left put books, paper, pencils & crayons. I think it’s important to have access to reading and writing material in all the centers in your room, not just in the library.

-Think about the mess kids can get into beforehand. A big part about teaching is understanding children, predicting what can go wrong and coming up with a plan to avoid if possible. For example, while I would open the art center, I wouldn’t leave out open paint to use on the easel. I can see the possibility of paint getting everywhere and making it really hard for me to help them when I have a crying student that needs more attention. Free paint is a great daily choice when you have gotten to know your students and have good expectations and procedures in place.

-When deciding on what you want to display in your centers, really think what would be exciting for the kids and try to tie those into your theme or unit. Below are some examples of center you can open and things you can display.

      • Kitchen / Housekeeping Center (Tie in – Pretending to be mom/dad/brother/sister. Learning about each other, our families and their roles.) I know some teachers are laughing and saying “What kitchen corner?” because of the new policies and shifts towards KG looking like 1st grade. If you are one of those teachers, you are between a rock and a hard place, but bear with me, and I will give tips on of how to open centers without actually having centers. Kitchen corner is a great one to open on day one, because kids naturally gravitate towards pretend play and don’t require any formal instructions on what to do (like a board game might.)

      • Art Center – (Tie in – Things I like) Generally kids love play dough. You can buy some or make some at home and bring it in. There are many recipes you can find and experiment with online until you find the one that you like best. To set up put play-dough, plastic cookie cutters and rolling pins on the table. This is another center that kids will gravitate toward and you don’t need to give a lot of instructions. Be prepared and OK with kids mixing the colors. If you purchased expensive play-dough and don’t want colors mixed, don’t set this out on day one. Put out something that you are OK with getting mixed and remember mixing colors is science! Great tie in to any unit!

      • Writing Center – (Tie in – Self Portraits or Things I Like) Kids like to draw, color, etc. Requires minimal instruction. You can say draw me a picture of something that you like, a picture of yourself or your family. This is very open-ended and anything and everything goes. To make this area more attractive set up the table different colored construction paper, oil pastels, crayons and colored pencils. I would stay away from markers, liquid glue and glue sticks on day one, because kids this age do need instruction on learning to close the caps correctly.

      • Sensory Table – (Tie in – My Favorite Color) While water play would be the most attractive, wouldn’t recommend it on day one for obvious reasons! Instead put a variety of different colored construction papers (pre-cut in half to make it easier for them to manipulate.) Put empty envelopes and scissors (patterned scissors) if you have it. Kids can cut their favorite color and put the pieces into an envelope if they wish. This is a good way to practice cutting skills and building fine motor skills. You can later use the cut up pieces in the art center.

      • Math Center – (Tie in – I am 5 / 6 years old.) Display bins with a variety of math manipulatives kids can use to represent their age. For example: “Lets make a cake! Lets put 5 candles and pretend to blow them out! Some ideas: peg board set, unifix cubes (my all time favorite, super math tool), container of calculators (cheapest at the dollar store), Lego (this is a huge hit.) Be prepared to have kids do other things with the manipulatives. It’s great to have the intention behind the manipulatives in your lesson plans, but keep in mind the most important goal, is to have a day where students are happy and engaged and this doesn’t always happen based on your own plans. Following the students interest is important for them to love school, their classroom and learning!

      • Block Center – (Tie in- I come to school by ____.) Put out different container with cars, trucks, road signs, wooden people, etc. Add a couple ramps in there and this is another instant hit. You can invite students to share how they come to school then let them explore if the cars / trucks go faster on a high incline or a low incline. I bought rain gutters from Home Depo and cut them in half, they are great to use as ramps!

      • Science Center – (Tie in – My favorite animal is ___.) Display containers with different animal toys and Magna tiles. (Magna tiles are one of my favorite must haves for every classroom. Kids love them and they provide hours of fun and learning.) For this activity, kids can build homes for their animals or anything else they would like. Just have your questions ready to help them engage with the activity but then leave it open-ended so students can take it in the direction of their choosing.

The possibilities are truly endless. Just keep in mind your end goal: Keeping kids happy, engaged, learning, and building positive relationships from day 1. The more options, the more chances everyone will find something they want to play with. Think of centers or activities with the least amount of direction needed from you. Self directed, independent activities will be your best friend always but especially in week one! Be super flexible! Sometimes all a kid needs is a good dinosaur puzzle to forget his tears and tell you all about the dinosaurs he has at home!

For those teachers that want to have centers in their classroom but are not able to because of school policies:

While your room might need to look very different compared to a play based KG classroom, you can still set up your tables in groups and put out different “center like” manipulatives for each group. For example, if you have 6 groups of tables with 5 desks, you can put out 6 different center ideas.

                  1. play-dough and manipulatives
                  2. construction paper with colored pencils, oil pastels, crayons
                  3. trays with construction paper, envelopes and scissors
                  4. three bins in the center of the table with stack-ables to represent their age
                  5. container with animals and Magna tiles
                  6. bins with cars and ramps or the rug area or floor puzzles

You can still get away with having a play based classroom, you just need to be extra prepared in explaining why the kids are doing what they are doing, support it with a well written lesson plans and handy research when needed.

Happy Teaching!

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