Are You Using Your Classroom Center Chart Effectively?
Everything in an early childhood setting should promote the development of skills. The items in your classroom centers – the blocks, dramatic play props, books, manipulatives – help children to develop literacy, math, science and critical thinking skills. Skill development should also be the purpose of your Center Choice Chart. Unfortunately, many teachers use the chart improperly and miss the skills that it should be promoting – decision making and self-confidence.
When a Center Choice Chart is used correctly, the students are using it to make choices. The measures of quality early childhood education such as the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS) emphasize the importance of free choice throughout a student’s day. The Center Chart is a visual clue as to choice and decision making. When used properly and with pro-social skill development in mind, it is not a tool for the teacher to make the decisions.
How do children learn to think critically and make good choices if adults are making the choices for them? They don’t. Children who are consistently told where to go and what to do are not given the opportunity to learn about making decisions or to gain confidence from their ability to make choices. They don’t learn that even if your choice doesn’t work out, you can change it and be okay. Children who are directed all day long only learn to follow directions. Following directions is an important skill, too, but that shouldn’t be the focus during “free” play time.
The proper use of a Center Choice Chart teaches two basic lessons:
- Name recognition – Each time the child leaves a center to go to a new one, the child has to find his/her name on the chart and move it. Many children also learn to recognize their classmate’s names faster by consistent use of the charts.
- Critical thinking – If a center chart has many names, the students need to learn that this poses a question – Do I want to try to stay here or should I wait until someone is done and it is less crowded?
The question – Do I want to try to stay here or should I wait until it is less crowded? – needs to be asked consistently by the adults so the children learn the choice BUT the children should make the decision. Say to the children, “It is crowded here. Do you all want to stay here or does anyone want to do something else until there is more space?” Let them decide.
If a child wants to play in a crowded center, there is another choice that the teacher and student can make together. It is best practice to expand popular centers by temporarily moving furniture to make the space bigger or by offering to take some of the items from that center to a different area. For example if the block center is crowded, the teacher should determine if furniture can be moved aside to expand that area or offer to take some of the blocks to an unoccupied area of the room so everyone who wants to build can build. Everyone who wants to use the blocks should have the opportunity but not in a way that limits learning. Likewise, children who are already building should be allowed to finish.
Think about how often we are in a “Where should I put myself?” situation in everyday life. We walk into a crowded waiting room and must determine where to go. We are ready to leave a store and have to pick a cashier. We go to a gathering or a meeting and have to figure out where to go in the room. We answer the question, “Where should I put myself?” all the time. In my generation, we learned to make that decision while out playing with friends. We spent endless hours playing with our friends and neighbors without adult intervention. That sort of play-until-the-streetlights-come-on socialization development doesn’t happen in our neighborhoods anymore. We need to replicate in our classrooms the lessons that we learned while we played unsupervised. We didn’t have adults making decisions for us all day long and children today shouldn’t either.
The Center Choice Signs in your classroom are to teach students to make choices and to learn about the positive or negative consequences of their own choices. They are not a means for adults to exert control by assigning play areas. Put the decisions in your students hands and watch how much they learn!
Are you looking for other ways to have more meaningful learning in your classroom? Sign up for my Dec. 22, 2016 webinar “Improve Your Circle Time: Make It Time Well Spent” – click on the title for details! Participate live or sign up to ensure that you get the replay in your email.
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And in person….Go to my full website for information about webinars, presentations and individual consulting for parents and educators -Helping Kids Achieve.
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