Are you getting a transitional kindergarten classroom started and not sure where to begin with centers? Or are you a kindergarten teacher looking for some new ideas for a better center option flow? Let's jump into how I keep my students engaged all day long, from the minute they walk in the door! Come on inside and take a look around with me!
When students come into our classroom, the slide below is presented on our BenQ board. The picture clues are extremely helpful for kiddos to develop routines. Students go to their lockers and empty their book bags. Then they make their lunch choices and head to the bathroom. When they get back, they are ready for a Rainbow Station. At the beginning of the year, we start SUPER simple. I allow the kids to ease into the day, giving me time to check in with each student one-on-one when I can see that they are ready. This looks like "play time" but it's actually one of the most critical parts of my day with them...setting the stage for the day, helping them with any concerns they have and/or just plain getting to know them! ❤️
On the first day, they find the rainbow icon to discover the Rainbow Station "choice" is a coloring sheet. These change throughout the year, and the kids are excited to see new pages for each theme! On fun Fridays, they get to choose a craft to add to our classroom decorations. We might hang creations in the hall, on lockers, from the ceiling or make a class mural. Kids take pride in their work when they know it will be on display! 😍
Here are the packs I use all year long! You might explore these options for your classroom later! 😀
I teach them how to use play dough "the begindergarten" way on the first day so they will have play dough as an additional Rainbow Station choice on the second day and continually after that.
Play Dough, the Begindergarten Way:
-take one play dough container and one bag of toys
-play dough only touches hands and tables
-sleeves pushed back
-turn upside-down to push and close lids tight for clean up
Free choice throughout the day for fast finishers
Those same rainbow icons are placed around the classroom. As we progress, I introduce and trickle in the Rainbow Stations for both morning work and for transition times. As an example, students stay extremely motivated when they see their peers finishing up a handwriting sheet and then getting to play!
The next Rainbow Station I pop in as a choice includes our pencil boxes, which hold math counters. Not only do kiddos enjoy using these for math lessons, but they love playing with them, too, of course. Allowing time for them to explore during free choice also helps them to focus during our lessons...they've got that exploration time out of the way already. If time allows, I sometimes give students a pencil box challenge, asking them to sort materials or to use the toys to form numbers or letters. Once they complete my challenge, I give them another and another! They love to see me get so excited about their creations! ⭐
The boxes include multi-colored tiny toys I've picked up from a variety of locations over the years, including Amazon, Target, Hobby Lobby, Dollar Tree, Lakeshore and Oriental Trading.
As the year progresses, we're bound to have scrap paper and leftovers. I keep this little pink bucket as an option, and it's the most LOVED Rainbow Station by the end of the year. I love to see the kiddos get creative all on their own! 😍
Reading a book becomes a daily option for our fast finishers, too! I have a monthly book bin readily available for kids to choose a book to take back to their tables. (During center time when only 4 students are assigned to an area at a time, the "Cozy Corner" opens up as a space to read. BONUS: this space also serves as the perfect "Calming Corner" when kids just need a bit of time and space. Sometimes I think I might need to curl up under there myself! 😂)
At the beginning of the year, I introduce centers, little by little. I only set the kids loose on them after we've had time to talk about expectations for each center as a class family. 😉I love to hear their ideas for expectations, as they make great "rules" for one another. It's wonderful for them to take ownership of expectations so that when we talk about how things are going during our wellness lessons, they make direct connections, often to center (and recess!) time. With any free time at this age, there are bound to be issues, so addressing them together is beneficial in making off-task time minimal.
Students are arranged in pods of two; they have crayons on their table caddies, along with matching colored lanterns above their tables. (They keep their school folders and pencil boxes in these caddies, each getting their own side of each caddy. This is BEAUTIFUL for supporting kids in learning how to stay organized. I love that I can easily see what they've going going on...those seat sacks I used early in my career were constant trash cans, holding all sorts of unexplainable treasures. 😂) These table pods are a HUGE part of keeping things moving in our classroom, especially for bathroom breaks, material distribution and of course, center time!
A quick note about material distribution because it's just so helpful, and the kids LOVE the responsibility.... I introduce peanut butter and jelly working together to make THE perfect combination for the best sandwich and how it's just not the same with only one. Then I give students a little card, inviting some students to color theirs brown (peanut butter) and some to color theirs purple (jelly). I explain what it means to be table buddy partners. They don't know it, but the kids are arranged specifically at their tables and assigned to their peanut butter and jelly roles accordingly. I move the little apple magnet back and forth on our chart (below) each day, from one side of my PB&J card to the other. The peanut butter kids, for example, will be the ones who "get" to gather math materials and wipe tables on Monday, and the jelly kids know they will get their turns Tuesday. Tada! No arguing over who gets to do what! 😉 I switch out the cards throughout the year to switch things up a bit, and the kids love the change every time!
I put these cards together to share with you!
Back to centers! The crayons on table caddies correlate with our Crayon Center chart. Since we have 2 kids at each table, 4 kids go to each of the 3 center locations. I find this to be the perfect amount of kids in one space. There are enough materials to go around and it doesn't get too noisy, allowing me to work one-on-one with assessing kiddos. 😍 The sunshine, pencil and cupcake icons are located around the room, serving as visuals for the kids to find their center spaces.
THe SUnshine Center
The Sunshine Center includes the BenQ board and literacy options.
At the beginning of the year, students simply draw on the board. As time goes on, I introduce them to games, but they still seem to go back to drawing the most. 😀
The pink bins hold letter manipulatives, and I change out the blue bins as the year goes, popping in sensory materials and a light box to keep the kids engaged with this center.
The kids just maipulate the materials at the beginning of the year, but they learn and grow and begin to interact with them on more of an educational level as the year progresses. I love when I see them shine at this center! That's when I know it's "clicking" for them!
The pencil Center
The dramatic play area is the most loved center in begindergarten! They love playing in the house! They use the Cozy Corner, mentioned above, as a space for dramatic play, too.
Stuffed animals are kept in the gray tote, and they play a big role in this center, as they are often hugged, fed and loved!
Here's a better look at the house, in case you're interested in building one for your classroom. It's such a big part of our room, as we decorate it for our weekly themes, too! (Oh, and do you spot the little guy to the right? He's my helper and number one begindergarten fan! 💙 That little wave makes me smile.)
The Cupcake center
The cupcake center includes materials tucked away in the cupboards. To keep it fresh for the students, I just move the cupcakes throughout the year...SO SIMPLE!
You'll notice that these building materials are perfect for fine motor, math and STEM projects for class lessons throughout the year. Again, we have so many fun learning materials, so it's great for the kids to have opportunities to "just" play with them without strict guidelines.
Heres' cupboard 1:
Cupboard 2: (The play dough is the missing tub. When the novelty wears off a Rainbow Station, I pop it back into the cupboard, then offered as a center choice)
That's a wrap, my friends!
I hope you picked up some new ideas to better engage your sweet little darlings this year! My first principal told me that the relationships I build with my students is more important than any curriculum I'd ever teach. I think of this SO often, realizing that she is SO right! Offering my students time to play throughout the day allows the students to trust in me. They know I want them to have a blast at school, all while staying safe and learning together as a class family. Although I find center time to be my most frequently asked question in getting started in begindergarten, I invite you to read along with my true number one passion, building those relationships. Take a peek at my blog post by clicking the button below, and find out how to use paper to motivate the little loves...YES! I said PAPER!
Transitional Kindergarten Curriculum
Of course, you do NEED a curriculum! 😉 I've got that to share with you, too! I've embedded THE most crucial concepts for the little ones, while also including options of a variety of materials, such as "pokey pins", dauber paints, q-tips, tracing, cutting, gluing and coloring! After years of continued development, here it is, all in one delightful package!
If you're not a TPT member, feel free to explore my downloads directly on my site HERE or explore more blogs posts HERE. I'm here to help you plan! Feel free to reach out with any questions about ANYTHING begindergarten! It's my teaching true love, and I'm always ready to chat and share more!
And a Freebie!
Looking for more simple ways to automatically keep the kiddos engaged in their learning with minimal extra effort? I created this document to share with parents, also serving as a valuable tool for teachers, to remind us all that we don't have to make things complicated for our kids to learn. Take away the stress and live your life, tossing in a little magic along the way!
Let's Stay Connected!
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