I am often asked; “Do you let your students choose which centers they can play in?”

The short answer is an absolute “yes.” However, I think the question is interesting enough to sit down and have a heart-to-heart about what center-based play and learning is all about.

The purpose of implementing centers in the classroom is to give students…

Choices: the opportunity to choose where he or she would like to play.

Experiences: the opportunity to explore different kinds of hands-on materials and processes.

Time: the opportunity to spend a quality amount of time exploring the different experiences provided in each center.

A secondary purpose is to be able to effectively accommodate and manage the varying needs, ideas, interests, skills, and abilities of a large group of children.

  • Play-Based Learning : As you give young children the freedom to choose which experience they would like to spend quality time in, you are also fostering important social and emotional skills that help them to become constructive participants in the classroom and in life. Giving the children quality time in the centers they choose to play in helps the children practice and master new skills.
  • Timed Centers : Timed-centers is not center-based play and learning. Timed-centers is when children rotate from one station to the next on a timed schedule. When I ask a teacher to tell my why he or she has chosen to use “timed-centers” the answer always comes back to classroom management. The major difference between timed-centers and center-based learning is that timed-centers is centered around classroom or behavior management (a teacher or classroom-management-centric focus) while center-based play and learning is centered around giving children choices, experiences, and time to explore (a child-centric focus).
  • Amazing Results : For over 30 years and in both large classrooms (28 students) to smaller classrooms (8 students), I have been applying a play-based learning approach to my classroom with amazing results. I cannot express how important it is when it comes to confidence, skills, and learning to give young children choices, experiences, and quality time to explore. Over those same 30 years, I have seen “centers” take on new meaning. Instead of centers being about giving young children the freedom to choose, play, and explore – center time has become used more and more as just a tool for managing children. But center-based play and learning can be so much more. I am not talking about this today to say that I am right and someone else is wrong. I am writing about this today to encourage you to stop and think about your understanding of centers and whether or not your use of centers is truly helping you promote the kinds of play and learning you truly wish to promote.
  • Classroom Control : I understand the need to keep control in the classroom. No one wants their classroom to be a madhouse. No one wants to go through a school year feeling frustrated. I know that I don’t. But the good news is, you do not have to have a madhouse-frustrating type of school year.