Little minds are bursting with potential and hungry to learn!  The more hands-on experiences children get, the more likely they are to develop a lifelong love of learning! One way we encourage this at Spanish Schoolhouse is through “centers.”

Some centers, like Imagination Centers, are for self-guided exploration. They have designated spaces that encourage imagination, stimulate creativity, and challenge students to think and problem-solve. Learning Centers, on the other hand, are focused on age-appropriate academic skills. Teachers can select particular centers for each student to help develop certain skills. A Learning Center may be a separate physical space or may be created by providing students with a set of materials within the classroom.

In Learning Centers, children can work individually on a task or with classmates in pairs or groups.  Working together helps develop social relationships and communication skills. Teachers might observe the children or may interact, guiding them based on their individual developmental levels and learning styles.

More Than Meets the Eye

The materials in Learning Centers may look like fun and games, but they’re purposefully designed! These are important tools to introduce new concepts to students or to build on themes and skills that they’ve been introduced to in other parts of our curriculum. The materials help them take abstract concepts and understand them in a more tangible way.  

Inside the Classroom

There are many types of Learning Centers, but here’s a look at four favorites in our schools!

Manipulatives (Manipulativos) Centers

These centers offer the chance for each child to build fine motor skills at his or her own pace! They provide plenty of opportunities for both independent work and teamwork. Students might work on puzzles together, string beads, work on lacing cards or use building and assembly materials.

Manipulative Centers capitalizes on young children’s desire to do things “by myself!” Here they can develop self-help skills like buttoning/unbuttoning, fastening/unfastening hooks, zipping/unzipping, opening/closing containers, and tying/untying laces or bows. A variety of tactile materials in the manipulatives centers encourages students to try new vocabulary. We find great opportunities to describe things more richly (for example, using texture words like rough, smooth, soft, sticky, heavy, fluffy, etc.) and to teach new vocabulary and concepts.

Building manipulatives, like blocks, let children explore their creative sides by designing and building unique structures. What a great headstart for a possible career in engineering or architecture!

Reading Centers (Lectura)

These centers offer inviting, comfortable spaces for students to sink into any book that piques their interest! They’re set up to encourage a love of reading, and have a variety of books that rotate to keep things fresh! Children will find books related to the current curriculum theme, along with plenty of other interesting fiction, non-fiction, picture books, and bilingual books. They might even find books the older classes have made together! Our kindergarten classes, in particular, offer students a quiet area to practice their reading and comprehension skills, encouraging them to express ideas, explore their interests, and learn about the world around them.

Writing Centers (Escritura)

Writing Centers are an awesome way for children to work on fine muscle development and hand-eye coordination. They give early writers many opportunities to practice writing letters, numbers, or their names.  They also provide budding authors an outlet to express their ideas on paper in words or pictures. Children may work spontaneously, or teachers might ask them to write/draw about a specific topic. Sometimes teachers will cover a table with paper so they can collaborate on writing projects, mural-style. Writing centers offer lots of materials to choose from – colored pencils, markers, crayons, stamps, paper, note cards, magazines or catalogs for cutting out pictures and letters, Handwriting Without Tears materials, etc.

Matemáticas, the Math Centers

Math Centers really make learning hands-on and fun! What small child can resist handling brightly colored buttons, clips, cubes, or pasta?  Other math materials might include rulers, measuring cups and spoons, play money, clocks, magnetic numbers, or dominos.

While “playing” with these items, students get first-hand experience in important math skills like matching, classifying, counting, weighing/ measuring, one-to-one correspondence, and sequencing/pattern-making.  Students might be given challenges like sorting objects into trays by color, shape, size, or predicting which size of measuring cup will hold the most/least. These tasks sharpen fine motor skills while introducing basic math concepts.

Learn by Doing

Children learn best when they can experiment with their environment through hands-on activities and play. That’s why centers are such a vital part of the preschool classroom. They help encourage imagination, stimulate creativity, and challenge students to think and problem-solve. Learning Centers help meet individual students’ needs while promoting and celebrating different learning styles. Making learning fun is what it’s all about!!