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10 Ideas for Using Learning Centers
By Carolyn Ross Tomlin

Learning centers, often called zones or stations, provide a variety of curriculum activities using cognitive modes of learning, such as visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. By using centers in your program, you can reach all children in the way they learn best.

All of the following ideas use inexpensive materials that require little preparation. You'll be amazed at how quickly your program turns into a "super-center."

1.       Math Center - Shower Curtain Graph
Using a new shower curtain and an erasable pen, mark off large blocks for a classroom graph. Write each child's name down the left-hand side. Across the top, choose a different topic for the day. For example, the color shirt each child is wearing, the number of buttons on their clothes, or what they ate for breakfast.


2.       Science Center - Colorful Tornadoes
one cup of water in a disposable pie pan. Squirt drops of food coloring around the edge. Pour several drops of dishwashing detergent to start the colorful tornadoes.


3.       Language Arts Center- My Special Book
For this activity, you will need self-sealing plastic bags and cut out magazine pictures about families or actual photographs from the children. Allow three or four bags per child. Line each bag with a piece of colorful construction paper and place pictures on each side. Insert pictures about families, homes, pets, and parents playing with their children. Punch holes on the fold side and tie together with a cord. Change the pictures by inserting new ones in the sealed edge.


4.       Music Center - Falling Leaves
During the fall season, take a nature walk and collect bags of leaves. Return to the center and have the children toss the leaves in the air as they dance to music.


5.       Art Center - A Picture of Me
Place a full-length mirror in the art center. Encourage preschoolers to use dry-eraser markers to draw their face or body. Ask, "What would you look like with green hair or a different eye color?"


6.       Gross Motor Center - Pillow Mountain
Pile large pillows on the floor. Encourage children to climb the "mountain." Read a story about mountains and show pictures.


7.       Block Center - Drawing My Community
Draw roads or city blocks on a flat sheet with tubes of fabric paint. Guide children to add drawings of their homes. Don't forget to add windows and doors.


8.       Home Living Center - Camping Out
Ask the children to bring in their sleeping bags or hang a sheet over a table. Provide hot dogs, condiments, and paper plates. Have fun during your "camping out" party.


9.       Library Center - Inner Tube Retreat
a couple of clean inner tubes filled with soft pillows in the library section. Stack age-appropriate books on a nearby bookshelf. Encourage children to rest and read a book.


10.    Cooking Center - Pumpkin Seeds Treat
During October bring a pumpkin to your center. While children watch, cut the pumpkin in half. Allow youngsters to pull or scrap the seeds from the inside. Rinse in cold water and place on a cookie sheet. Toast in the oven until golden brown. Sprinkle with salt and serve.


Carolyn Ross Tomlin writes for educational publications. She is a former kindergarten teacher and university professor of early childhood education. A recent book, What I Wish It Hadn't Taken Me So Long to Learn is available at www.1st.books.com.