Are you ready to have a flawless first day with centers? It’s possible! Do you want a classroom full of students who are on task, focused, and learning during center time? It all comes down to the way you start your centers from day one. While that may sound a little scary and overwhelming, I promise if you follow these simple steps you’ll have successful centers all year long! Whether you teach kindergarten or first grade students, spending dedicated time at the beginning of the year will help those amazing kiddos become successful and independent learners who THRIVE!
Take it SLOW
Taking it slow can be painful, but it’s the way to ensure students know EXACTLY what to do. Understand that we ARE NOT starting centers the first day of school, and probably not even the first week. You can check out what we do the first week HERE.
Before actually teaching centers, it’s important to discuss the WHY behind centers with your students. We talk about the different types of centers students will have and what the teachers will be doing. I like to create anchor charts together to reinforce these ideas and to provide visual aids to refer back to as needed. Setting the stage to help students understand why centers are so important and how it will become an integral part of the day is crucial to the success of this time, so don’t skip out on this part!
When you’re getting ready for the first day of centers specifically, you’re going to want to pick ONE center to introduce. This goes for both literacy and math. Remember, we’re taking it slow and it’s going to take time to get centers up and running so that students are completely independent. Most likely, it will take WEEKS and maybe even longer for kinder students. Go slow to go fast.
These first weeks of practice are CRUCIAL to how the whole year will run. Just remember, I WANT to be there to support you! Centers are a beautiful thing when done right and you will LOVE this time in your day. Let me help you through every step of the way. Learn all about these important steps in the Mastering Classroom Centers For Good: Turning Chaos into Calm Guide. You can also learn more tips and tricks for the first weeks with centers HERE!
Focus On The End Goal
Have you ever heard of backwards planning? It’s beginning with the end in mind. What is the end goal we want to achieve with centers? Well, for most people, it’s a center time where students know exactly what to do. They know how to rotate and clean up after each center is over. Students are focused and on task the entire time. This creates a thriving workspace where ALL students can learn and grow while YOU get the time to work with individual and small groups of students. So how go we get to that end goal? It’s important to have a plan and a scaffolded progression from the first day to the first week. These first weeks of practice are CRUCIAL to p the whole year will run. Check out the free guide below to help get you started!
Simple is Better
When starting out, keep activities simple and engaging. Centers should always be practice of the skills they are learning. At the beginning of the year, center activities should include a review of skills from the previous year. For example, if one of my centers is going to be a writing or handwriting center, ALL students are going to practice at the activity at SAME TIME. This is the procedure for each new center being introduced at the beginning of the year. It is to ensure students know exactly what to do at each new center before they begin working in small groups and rotating.
Take a look at the simple activity below. Students are tracing the letter and stamping it on the sheet. You can laminate the cards and students will get practice with handwriting, using dry erase markers and a crayon or maker. When you keep the activity simple, students get the practice they need while learning the expectations the RIGHT way. Remember, you are only going to introduce ONE new activity each day starting from day one.
This process takes time, but students will learn quickly exactly what to do when it’s time to work in small groups. By the time you throw in rotating through centers, they’ll be pros at the station they’re in.
Debriefing is such an important time when learning different centers each day. After practicing a new activity you must take time to debrief as a class so you can all be on the same page. It is the time you will discuss what went well and what can be done better the next day. Here are some questions to pose:
How did we do working on the activity?
Were we focused?
Did we use materials correctly?
Did we finish our work?
By taking the time to debrief and review each activity, you’re ensuring students know exactly what to do, answering questions they might have had, addressing confusion and just making sure overall everyone is clear. Then the next day during centers, when they see it again, they can be successful and waste no time! You can also help encourage the behavior you want to see by taking pictures of students completing the activity correctly, cleaning up, and using materials properly. These visuals can be printed and posted on anchor charts as references for students if they need a reminder. See an example below!
Expectations, Procedures, and Routines… Oh My!
It’s time to teach EXPECTATIONS. They can either make or break your centers. If your expectations aren’t clear and consistent, your center time can turn into a seriously stressful daily event. Or it could be a precious, magical time I’ve learning. I’ve experienced both and trust me, the latter is not fun. But don’t fret because I’m here to help make it less stressful!
With THIS activity, students can quickly and easily learn center expectations in a fun way. Included you’ll find anchor chart headers, a class sort, and partner/independent activities to help students truly learn expectations of center time. Wanna know my secret to helping your students THRIVE from day one? Ask yourself these two simple questions- What does it look like AND what does it sound like? Think this through for EACH and every center to really paint the picture for your expectation. This will be the secret success to all your hard work. Learn all about center management made easy HERE!
The First Six Weeks
So if we know the first day with centers is going to go SLOW, we’re going to practice ONE center at a time, and we’re going to debrief, what does the first six weeks of centers look like? Well, you’re going to slowly introduce each center activity with the same process. When students have practiced each activity you’re planning, then you are ready to group students and have them begin rotating. To look at the in-depth process of the first six weeks, check out THIS post!
Want to dive into centers but no sure where to start? Don’t worry, I’ve got you COVERED with the jam packed Centers Mangement Ultimate Kit! You will have everything you need to take charge of centers and THRIVE from day one. Students will know EXACTLY what to do and you’ll have everything planned out for YOU! Grab yours now with the link below!
No Prep… Yes Please!
How do you feel about prepping for centers? It can be A LOT of printing, cutting, and laminating that maybe you don’t have time for. For this reason, I like to try and utilize center activities that are fun with minimal prep. That may mean just sticking a game board in a dry erase pouch or gathering manipulatives for a shake and spill activity. They don’t have to be a lot and they can be FUN and meaningful! Check out the No Prep Bundle full of my favorite easy and engaging center activities! These first weeks of practice are CRUCIAL to how the whole year will run. Just remember, I WANT to be there to support you!
Centers are magnificent when done right and I want to help you every step of the way. If you want to delve deeper, I highly recommend you enroll in the course that will allow you to say goodbye to the hassles of classroom chaos and hello to confident, effective centers – Mastering Centers for Good! Check it out HERE!
I really hope you enjoyed learning all about creating successful centers for the entire year with your students! Be sure to check out all the other tools included to support you in your centers journey. And believe me, it is a journey worth taking! Don’t forget to subscribe to my email list! Not only will you get the most up to date tips, tricks, and classroom projects… and of course more fun FREEBIES including the Mastering Classroom Centers For Good: Turning Chaos into Calm Guide FREEBIE! You will also have exclusive access to tons of digital how-to videos! If you would like to learn about this and other things happening in my classroom follow me @sweetnsauerfirsties on Instagram.
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