Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Learning Centers

Despite my lack of recent posts, you can rest assured that my life is plenty full and busy, with lots of stuff going on that might even be blog-worthy, if only I consistently had time to tell you about it! On the days when I'm really, really on top of the most important things, I'm lucky if I have even an hour or two to do the remaining business, blogging, emailing, and all of the other behind-the-scenes things that come up in the life of someone that manages children, Christmas shopping, educational issues, business issues, and keeping some relationships going.

After struggling for months to tutor 4 or 5 kids at the kitchen table simultaneously during school time, I decided to try using some learning centers to help the kids have plenty of educational and enriching things to do during school time, and allow me to only work directly with one or two kids at a time. For close to a week now I have been working on cleaning out some nooks and crannies of our family room so that I could somehow set up these centers/stations to keep the little hands and minds occupied.

For a few days I only had one station set up, and each night after the kids were in bed I placed something on that little table. It was fun to see kids gravitating toward that spot, sitting down and giving their attention to whatever was there. They loved it, and it reminded me of a past wish I had to make my home like one big all-you-can-learn-buffet, where everywhere a child turns is something that will feed their body, mind, or spirit. These little centers seem to do that in a way that nothing else has for us.

Yesterday was day one for going full force with the centers. Although our family room isn't huge, I was able to set up 9 different centers for the kids to use. Why so many? Because I knew they would need plenty of things to do while I worked with the kids that go s-l-o-w at their school work. That's why!

In the past I have tried this idea and set up stations that were a little heavy with stuff to do, and it seemed like the kids got a little bored with those after a short while. This time I decided to use some small tables and spaces, and just put out a very slim choice of what to do at that space. The other idea is to not have the same thing there every day.

Probably like a lot of other people, we have collected an awful lot of really neat learning resources that we rarely ever use. I've got tons of games, art books, craft stuff, cards, flash cards, cool learning resources, Leap Pads, Flashmaster, Highlights books with puzzles in them, and lots more. I'm so glad that I have a place to put these things, but the trick is that I am a person that tends to forget what resources we have if they aren't in front of me. So now I am just bringing out a few items from the collection each day, one per center area, and letting the kids enjoy them. After school time that stuff gets put away, and as I got through the day I keep my eyes open for what else is around, and pull some new stuff out to use the next day. Now the kids are grabbing stuff and saying, "Hey! We should use this for centers tomorrow!"

We have one round kid-size table. At a yard sale a couple months ago I bought two coffee tables for $10. One is rectangular, one is a small square. I bought these because I liked the shape of the design, and the price was right. But I didn't really have a need for them or know where they would go. Now they are working out really well for learning center stations. Plus I can mention the tables by their shape (circle, square, or rectangle) to tell where something is or where to suggest someone go next. I also use a small part of one coffee table, a corner of a couch, plus a regular size table down in this room. So far, so good.

When I showed the kids the stations, they were quite excited about it. In the morning I set everything up and then gave them a tour, explained how it would work, what the rules were, etc. One of the main things I stressed was that it was important to be very quiet so that the person working with me at the table could concentrate. As it turned out, we had near silence for several hours as we did school yesterday. Wow! It was really nice.

I also had each child pick out a silent reading book before we got going, so that if they got finished at their center before it was time to switch, they could sit and read on their own. I figured it made more sense to have them get their books before we got going, rather than have them all going back and forth to the book shelf at different times.

I set up the centers to be clutter-free. Here is some of what I had today:

On small round table I had a box with our connectagons in it. Later my daughter decided to add Dominoes to the table.

Another table had a phonics thing we have that's called Instalearn, which is mainly used by my early readers. For older kids at this station there were Mad Libs, and for my five year old there were some little learning cards that he likes to play with and can do on his own.

We had a cozy station on the corner of one couch for listening to audio books. Station included pillows, blanket, CD player with headphones, and two CDs with read-along books, plus our Bible verses CD to choose from.

Computer station with headphones was set up for the younger kids to go to starfall.com to play phonics and reading games, etc.

Art station today had two learn-to-draw books (one geared toward youngers, one geared toward olders) and an assortment of crayons, colored pencils, markers, and paper.

One station had a puzzle.

One area (on the floor--I just put out a plastic tablecloth to create the space) for playing with wooden blocks (they have not played with those for a long time and they loved it):

I didn't really micromanage the timing of switching. Since there was plenty to choose from, and the atmosphere was very calm, the kids seemed to enjoy choosing a spot to go, and they played with it for plenty of time and then cleaned up before going on to the next. Some spots were a little more popular than others, so in those cases sometimes I asked the child if they would like to try another station in two minutes or whatever, to give them a gentle nudge to move on so that someone else could enjoy the station they were on.

Like so many things in my life, this will probably take a lot of mom-power to keep it going, so the chance of it falling to the wayside is pretty decent. I often feel that I'm taking a risk by telling about my latest and greatest idea since I feel like so many of them come and go at high speed. Still, I think this idea has merit as a tool to keep the wheels turning here at our school, and maybe it will give a few of you some ideas too.


My Trendy Tykes said...

Great post! I have it bookmarked.


Maggie Najera said...

Looks like a great idea. I may have to try something like that here. Thanks for the pictures.

Julie said...

Wow! I think this is a really great idea. We have a box where I put a few items each day for my children to discover - but setting out learning centers really appeals to me.

Have you read "What do I do when I want to do everything?" by Barbara Sher? She recommends setting up an Avocation Station where you set up several areas, each with everything you need to complete a project. Then you can cycle round projects without packing each away. We have done that for some the the childrens bigger projects.

Sorry - long comment! But thanks for the interesting post.

Supermom said...

Julie, thanks for that idea! I am not familiar with the Avocation Station idea, but am going to go in search of more info on that. I have heard of Barbara Sher, and the idea of what to do when we want to do everything appeals to me. I want to do it all! ;)

Julie said...

Hi Supermom
Barbara Sher has a forum that is interesting and this thread has a discussion about Avocation Stations on it.
(Am not sure if you need to sign up or not!)
What I like about the book is that she says you SHOULD do it all!