Center time is about as chaotic as your day can get.  It is also the most important part of your day because this is when we work with small groups, time for student play, and is the time when most of the ‘problems’ occur.  I have found that an organized approach to center time helps you, and the students, stay on task, and get the most out of your structured time.

First we look at center tags.  In my classroom students have to choose from over 10 centers where they want to go play.  There is, of course, one caveat: there must be space in that center.

How do I release kids to centers? Right before we go to centers the students and I play a mighty minute game.  After each student (or students) take their turn they go up to the center tags, choose their center, and sit back down to finish the game.

How do I know who is in which center? Beside the carpet area I have a center tag station.  Here we have tags (necklaces) for each center in the classroom.  There is only a specific amount of tags per center, therefore only a specific amount of students get to go to a center at a time.  One students, one center tag, one space per center.

 What if a center is full and a student wants to go there? If a center is full (e.g. no more center tags) student asks a teacher for a timer.  I let the kids in that center know that they will need to switch in 15 minutes when the timer goes off.

Social Emotional Learning during centers time is very important.  Unfortunately, you don’t often have the opportunity to see everything that happens in your room (no matter how many eyes you have behind your head).  Therefore, SEL is extremely important to help your kiddoes solve problems on their own.

In my classroom I have set up a Feelings Center.  Here students can find SEL resources to help them solve problems during center time.  Not withstanding some kind of emergency, (the kind that involves a really bad fall or blood), students are held to high standards and they must solve their own problems.

During centers we use Bugs and Wishes (freebie in my next blog!), How To Calm Down chart (part of Second Step curricula), When to reach out to a teacher, What To Do When Someone is Annoying Me, and a Center Choice Booklet.

All of these SEL resources are available for students to use all day long.  As teachers, we have given students the ability to role play how to use them and we use them ourselves when we are having ‘problems’ with our students.  Further, these are the only ways we solve problems in our classroom, it’s part of being consistent with behaviors and expectations.

Interruptions to small group centers are so annoying.  I hate them!  Before your kiddos know how to solve their own problems it is very easy for them to come reaching for you every time something happens to them.

So, as they become more and more independent and able to use the SEL resources in your room you will need some help in the ‘don’t interrupt my small groups’ department.  Here is where my “lights on/ lights off” chart comes in.

This bulb idea is something I had seen on pinterest years ago and finally found a bulb at the dollar store.  If the bulb is off the students can come in and speak to you.  If on the other hand, the bulb is on students need to solve the problem on their own or speak to another teacher.  This is a super easy way of curbing interruptions from students while you work in small groups!

I hope the post gives you some ideas about how to better organize your center time routines.  If you have another great idea to share, let us know below!

Cinthya Quintana
Cinthya Quintana

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