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…



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


What Are Provocations? Resources for Block Play Provocations

What is a Provocation?

Provocations are materials or the way we present materials to create a context where the child can explore. They are an extension or a challenge to our children’s current thinking and theories. 

Teachers provide materials, media and general direction as needed but the children take the ideas where they want.


  • The teachers observe what happens when the children come in contact with the intentionally chosen materials. 
  • The teacher then provides additional materials and/or poses open-ended questions to expand students’ ideas and theories, that allow students to continue to test their theories for accuracy and to reflect upon their learning.

The image of the child is one of competency. We honor the children’s abilities to explore, create and make meanings. Through provocations, we allow children to develop their theories, test their theories, and develop more and deeper understandings as we continue to offer additional materials and open-ended questions. The students are the ones shouldering the heavy work and thinking- they are the ones doing the learning.

Construction Play Center, Creation Station, and Discovery Center are all ideal places to add in provocations to extend the learning and encourage students’ thoughts, ideas, and play on a specific topic or objective.