Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Ways to Successfully Implement Centers at the Beginning of Kindergarten

Have you been wanting to implement centers in your classroom, but aren't sure where to start? With just a few steps, you can have your kindergarten kiddos successfully participating in small group center activities within the first two weeks of school!

Six years of teaching kindergarten has taught me the importance of implementing centers in the classroom. They help encourage student independence, motivation, and work ethic. They allow students to feel successful by completing an activity by themselves. And most importantly, they can be FUN! Every year, my students beg and plead for center time to arrive during the day. Taking the time to implement a few important routines and procedures at the beginning of the year can set the stage for successful small group center activities all year long.
Let's flash back to my first year of teaching. I had no idea how challenging teaching kindergarten was going to be, especially at the beginning of the school year. I very quickly learned the hard way what happens if you don't explain every detail to your students. And I mean E V E R Y detail. Because 5-year-olds will continue to find new ways to surprise you with a "Why would you ever think that was a good idea?!" moment. That brings me to Tip #1:

Teach your routines and don't leave out any details. Sit your students down and explain to them what center time is and what they will be doing during this time. When I first start explaining my center routines, I let them know that they are going to be with a small group of their friends that are going to stay together the whole time to complete different learning tasks (of course, I put it in kid-friendly speak, but you get the idea!). I let my students know that they are to stay at their center the entire time until it is time to switch. Letting students know this expectation will help reduce the amount of students that wander around to other centers bothering other kids.

This is also the time to introduce what transitions they should listen for so that they know when it is time to either switch centers or clean up for the next activity. The transition I like to use most during center time is the clap and response: I clap a beat and the students stop what they are doing to repeat the claps back to me. I like using this as an effective attention-getter because it requires my students to actually stop, respond, interact, and listen for my next instructions. They know that when they hear "The Quiet Clap", that they are to stop, clap, look, and listen. It's a quick and easy way to let my students know what they will be doing next. You can also do a speak and respond attention getter: You say a statement, and they respond with the rest of the phrase back to you.

Attention getters like "1,2,3 Eyes on Me!" and "Class, Yes!" are simple transition responses you can use that are easy for kids to remember. You can pretty much make up whatever phrase you want - the options are limitless!

Tip #2: Practice, Practice, Practice. I can't stress this step enough. If there is one thing you will want to do to prepare your kindergarteners for the routine of centers, it is to have them practice being at centers! You don't even have to have real centers for them to do when you get to this step. I tell my students to pretend they are working hard at centers - they love this part - and to listen for my attention getter to know when they are to stop, look, and listen. They pretend to write with their pencils or cut an invisible piece of paper and they think it's the greatest thing since sliced bread! I let them go on for about a minute and then use the Clap and Respond strategy, they clap it back to me, and then I have each group practice moving together to the next table as if they were going to the next center activity. We go through that again and again until they return to their own table seats.

Why is this important? 

Well, now your students have actually experienced what it is like to stay at one center for a specific amount of time and switch to the next one after that. Beginning of the year kindergarten students need those tangible experiences to really understand what it is you want them to do. It isn't enough just to tell them, you have to show and do.

Tip #3: Press the "Easy" button. The beginning of kindergarten is already stressful enough, so why add more to it? Another way to successfully implement centers at the beginning of kinder is to make your life easier by using simple centers for the first go-around. Use center activities that students can do independently so that you are not running around the classroom putting out fires every day. Here are some ideas for simple centers you can use:

Shapes, pattern blocks, play-doh, stamps, roll and cover games, sight word tracing, alphabet arcs, and easy cut & glue activities are all wonderful choices for your first rotation of centers at the beginning of the year. These are all simple, yet academic, centers that your students should be able to do independently, for the most part. Pressing the easy button with your first few rotations of centers will allow you to help students in small groups, complete assessments, and make yourself more available to all of your kindergarteners.

Tip #4: Don't Rush. It's okay if you need to do these simpler centers for the first couple of weeks of kindergarten. You will know when your students are ready for more rigorous activities. As the weeks continue, you can keep some of these activities the same and slowly add in 1-2 more difficult centers until they get the routines down.

Need some ready made activities for your beginning of the year centers?

Letter sorts are a perfect activity for the beginning of the year. These printables help students work on letter identification, formation and distinguishing between uppercase and lowercase letters. They are a super easy task for kindergarteners to complete at center time all while helping them practice letter concepts.

You can find these printables in my "I Can Sort My ABCs!" packs in my TPT store. There are two different sets: Uppercase/Lowercase Letters and Mixed-Up Letters. Click on the pictures below to check out both packs; and make sure you download the preview on each one - there's a freebie for you to try out to see if you like it!

Pocket chart centers and predictable sight word practice pages can also be an easy activity for the beginning of the year. My Time for School {Predictable Sentence Builders for Little Learners} pack is filled with activities to help your students practice and grow their skills in sentence structure, writing concepts, punctuation, sight words, and reading/tracking print. Predictable sentences are repetitive and help students recognize words and structure.

It has differentiated activities to fit your students' needs including multiple recording sheets to choose from; Read, Write, Build, Draw printables, pocket chart activities, and more. Click on the preview picture below to take a closer look!
Hopefully some of these tips and tricks will help you pull a little less hair out during the first few weeks of school. Would you add any more tips to this list? I'd love to hear of everyone's strategies for center success!


  1. Just finished my first year in kinder and this post spoke right to my heart! ;) Centers were the death of me and I never really got the hang of it. Thank you for the tips and tricks, I'm on my way to your TPT!

  2. Great post! This is my 7th year teaching K and every year I need to be reminded of these things!!!! Thankyou!

  3. Great post! This is my 7th year teaching K and every year I need to be reminded of these things!!!! Thankyou!

  4. I have one question. This is the start of my fourth year being a kindergarten teacher and I've always been an added unit. I have never started the first day with my students. All of the things you said really confirmed what I was planning to do. My question is...At what point do you start individually assessing or working with groups while they're in centers? I feel like that first week I need to be circling them and making sure they are understanding the expectations of staying on task and what is an appropriate voice level during center time, etc.

    1. Hey Stephanie! So, that first week of centers I keep them SUPER simple. For example, having centers using manipulatives such as linking cubes, shape/pattern blocks, playdough, cut/glue activities with a modeled example, etc. It may seem more like "play" centers that aren't super academic, but they serve a really important purpose, which is teaching them how to do centers. By keeping them simple like that, they are centers that they can do independently. This will only be for the first week or two while they are learning the procedures of center time; and then you can add on more to the centers as they get better at the routine! This will help teach them that they are to work independently, stay on task, stay at their center the whole time, etc. At that same time, it's a great time to pull kids back to assess because they are going to be at centers that they won't need any extra help at. It may take a bit before you are able to pull groups back on a regular basis, but that's okay! Patience is the key! I hope that helps!