Starting Free Choice Play Centers at the Beginning of the Year

One of the most challenging pieces of free choice play for many teachers is how to start without complete chaos. Here are a couple of quick and easy tips for successful free choice play centers…

IT ALL STARTS WITH THE CHILDREN’S OWNERSHIP

OF THE CENTERS AND THEIR ENVIRONMENT

starting centers

Provide the students with ownership of the free choice play centers from the start.

  • While taking a tour of the building, discuss how every room has a name that allows us to know what happens in that place.
  • In the classroom, talk about how each center has a purpose and specific activities. Describe some of the options in each center and allow students to brainstorm ideas such as in dramatic play, the students can care for the babies, for the animals, cook dinner, write a recipe, bake cookies, etc.; in the free choice art center, they can build a sculpture, draw or sketch a picture, design a collage picture, etc. Post the ideas that are generated by the students in each center along with a visual.
  • Allow the students to determine a name for each center such as Construction Site or Creation Station. The students can also create tags to show where items belong for easier cleanup.
    • Encourage creativity in the drawing and designing of the center signs. Allow students to use found materials to be creative such as pieces of yarn, pictures or letters from magazines, buttons, pipe cleaners, etc. Also show them how they can make objects stand out from the sign with loops, arches and so on
  • Have the students be detectives to notice how the center looks in a cleaned-up.  state- paying attention to the details. Allow students to share how we demonstrate respect for materials.
  • Allow the students to brainstorm expectations for center time. Generate a list of 3-5 expectations, write them on a poster along with a visual, and have all students sign the class contract for center time.

Clean-up is another common concern of teachers. See Clean Up after Play Centers and Student Jobs for Clean-Up Time

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Clean Up Time after Play Centers

Is clean up time after play centers becoming one of your greatest frustrations throughout the day?

TIPS and TRICKS to keep your blood pressure low during clean up:

·         Time clean up each day and allow the students to predict how long it will take the next day. Graph the results and set challenges.

·         Allow students to take pictures of items and place the picture on the shelf or bin where it belongs. By allowing the students the opportunity to label each of the bins, it provides them with more ownership and develops a sense of care and respect for the materials.

·         Teach clean up rules and procedures during a small group time. Yes, you lose academic instruction during one small group time, but you gain LOTS of time with an entire year of quick clean up times. Plus, of course, you gain fewer frustrations and headaches!

·         Have students take pictures of what the center looks like completely clean, neat and tidy and post those in the center or on the center bin.

·         Have the students help write a book about what they do during play centers including how to clean up. Take pictures of the students to place in the book. Make sure to take pictures of the students who struggle the most with cleaning up during clean up time being amazing cleaners to place in the book. When you read the book over and over, you can point that they everyone cleans up quickly, treating the materials gently and safely just like _______.

What tips and tricks do you use for clean up time? Please share…

clean up featured image