Center Management Made Easy

What is the one question I get asked more than any other? How do you set up centers for kindergarten?  (or any grade!)  Center management can be frustrating and overwhelming.  It took me years to figure out a system that worked.  And while it’s not perfect, it works well and is always being tweaked!

Center Management For Kindergarten

Some things you will see throughout this post and our center management system is:  CHOICE!  FREEDOM!  CONTROL!

The key to center management and for my students to stay engaged is giving up control!   Yes, in order to keep control, I give up control!   You’ll see what I mean and why it works…

The key to our center management system is THE CENTER WHEEL!

Literacy Centers

math centers for kindergarten

Math Centers

The wheel is a simple visual way for my students to know what centers/workstations/hippopotamuses they go to.  It’s kid-friendly.  It’s teacher friendly.  It is center management made easy!
The wheel is divided into 4 sections because I have 4 groups.  I use four groups but you can have as many groups/colors as needed for your class.
The wheel is color coded.
My groups are color coded.
centers for kindergarten
The color coding makes it super easy for the kids to know exactly what group they’re in and what centers they can go to!  Again…kid friendly.  Teacher-friendly.  The students have control!

The groups are NOT the same as my small groups.

My center groups are skill based.  So I’m looking at data and grouping my students based on what skills they need to work on (letters, sounds, numbers, adding, cvc, etc).  The groups are fluid and change every couple of weeks or as needed.
As my students are working in centers, I call small groups by skills that the group needs to work on. For this, I just call the names of the students I want.  They leave their center and come to my table.  When finished with me, they go back to their center and I call my next group.

So, it’s time for centers.  How do centers for kindergarten work?

1. Check the basket.  

2. If you have work to finish, you must finish the work first.

3. If you don’t have work, check the wheel.

4. Get to work!

Check the basket!
The basket holds any unfinished centers/workstations from the day before.  So if you’re working on a center and it’s time to clean up but you’re not finished, you put your work in the basket (pink for reading/literacy and purple for math).   The next day, you must check the basket FIRST!  If you have work, you have to finish it.  THEN you check the wheel.  If you don’t have any work in the basket, you can check the wheel.  If someone has your tub/activity, you join them and finish the work.

Check the wheel!

The center wheel tells you what center to go to.  Mr. Greg does not.  I am not a wheel.  And because I am not a wheel, I cannot tell you what center to go to.  CHECK THE WHEEL!  When my students ask me what center to go to my response is: “Do I look like a wheel?  Go ask the wheel!”
Tionna is in the pink group.  Tionna checks the wheel, she sees that the pink group has two choices:
 Write The Room and Read To Self/Library.
Tionna is free to choose either one of those two centers.  She has the control, and the freedom and she makes the choice.  Tionna gets to do what she wants to do so she’s empowered and engaged.  When our students are empowered they have buy-in.  When they have buy-in, their behavior is better!
So Tionna goes off to write the room.  Let’s say she finishes her write the room.  She can choose to do another write the room OR she can choose to go read.  If she reads for a while and chooses to go to write the room, that’s perfectly ok.    It’s that choice and the freedom that keeps them engaged and keeps them from getting bored at 1 center.

Choices In Centers

The students are free to move freely between their TWO CENTER CHOICES.  They cannot go to any other choices.   The expectation is that if they choose an activity, they must do that activity before they can move to their other choice or choose another activity.
We do not transition.  This wastes precious learning time.  That is why they have 2 centers to choose from.  CHOICE!  And within those 2 centers are more choices!  CHOICE!  That keeps them going and engaged.  Engaged=less behavior issues.  This system also eliminates the early finisher problem.  Because technically you never finish centers.  You finish activities but you never finish the center.

So our center choices are:  Read To Self, Write The Room, Technology, Sensory Bin/Light Box and Tubs.

The tubs are where all of our science of reading-aligned phonics, sight words, letters, sounds, writing, and sentence practice happens.  The tubs are my favorite center and they are the heart of our centers.
You see the same color coding as the groups and the wheel.  So if the center wheel tells you to go your tub and you’re in the pink group, you can choose ANY PINK TUB!  CHOICE!   Each tub contains 1 activity/center/game.  There is no expectation that you complete all the tubs in your color.  There is no order to do the tubs.  Students choose which tubs they want to work on.  Because the tubs are differentiated, no matter which of their tubs they choose, they are working on skills they need to practice!
When they finish the activity in the tub, they can do it again or put it up and pick another tub!  CHOICE!
I also do not care if they pick the same tub each day.  It’s their choice, and they have control.  (If I see this happening, I might suggest a different tub, but I won’t tell them to get another one!)
The key to making this system kid-friendly is color coding!
When the wheel says to write the room, the kids grab a write-the-room paper from the basket for their group!
The baskets used to be on the wall using Command hooks!  BAM!
Now we use color-coded buckets to write the room!
So you can see that choice and freedom are the keys.  In the read-to-self/library center, they can choose any books to read.  CHOICE!
In technology, they can choose QR codes to use on the iPad.
The sensory bin/lightbox center has a lightbox and a sensory bin to choose from.  The light table gives them multiple choices to work with!

Give them control and the choice.

So what about math?

It’s the same!   I run both math and literacy centers the same way, with a few variations!  The consistency is great for students and teacher-friendly!
center management
The wheel.  Four groups.
Our math centers are math baskets, math the room, technology, a lightbox/sensory bin, and ten frames/graphing.

center management

Math baskets!  These work exactly the same as the reading tubs!
Math The Room is count the room.  Later in the year, it’s add and subtract the room as well!
center management
center management
These are differentiated.  Count the room will have fewer pictures to find and count (to 10 or to 20) depending on where we need to practice.  These are also copied on colored paper to match the groups.  So you know if you’re in the blue group, you get blue paper!
center management
Ten Frames and Graphing!  This center contains thematic/seasonal ten-frame cards so we’re always practicing our 1 to 1 correspondence.  This center also always contains See Count Graph and other graphing games so we’re always practicing graphing and data.
There are always several different sets of ten frame cards and several See Count Graph activities so they have CHOICE!
center management
center management

A few other tidbits of information for center management:

I only change out centers every few weeks.  This works because of the choices.  They don’t get to all of the different activities quickly so the whole change your centers weekly process is gone.  That saves so much time and stress.  This system literally makes our job easier.
I can change literacy and math tubs in 45 minutes to an hour.
I will remove seasonal/holiday centers when that season or holiday is over.
Students are free to work with a friend or by themselves.  This is their choice!  Free to choose!

Introducing And Teaching Center Activities And Games

I teach center activities during whole group and small groups.  A lot of our center activities are things we’ve done in whole group or small group.  BUT a lot of them aren’t.  Because I create all of our center activities, they are very kid friendly and don’t require reteaching.   I AM VERY DELIBERATE WHEN I  create all of my center resources so that once you’ve learned the different types of activities,  you can do them all year with very little or no instruction at all!
It really is a matter of our brains loving novelty and that’s as simple as changing the clipart (or theme) from a pumpkin to a ghost!   For a five-year-old, that’s a whole new activity!  Same skill…same activity.  No instructions are needed!  Also, all of our activities are the same so they know how to do matching games with letters, sounds, cvc words, equations, etc.  The process stays the same all year.
These are the activity types we use:  matching, puzzles, spinners, word building, sorting, clip games, and DIY activities such as cup stacking, counting plates, etc.


Also, I do not collect or grade the recording sheets.  I am monitoring their work between groups, etc.  The groups are differentiated to the point where the students can be 95% successful as they work!  When they finish a recording sheet, it goes in their cubby and goes home!

For more details on centers, check out these posts:

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