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Creating Learning Centers

At Home with Learning Centers

Now lets take a look at what makes a great preschool so you can be cognizant as you prepare your home BS years program. This knowledge, along awareness of skills development from birth to five, will make for a well prepared little learner.

The environment of your learning place is everything. Even if you can only dedicate a small part of the kitchen or living room this is perfectly fine. Establish that this is an important center for learning. Everything in the BS environment needs to be designed to help your child learn, grow and value learning.

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The smallest areas needs to be designed to encourage your child’s natural curiosity and desire to learn about her world. Fill it with bright, primary colors and and a variety of materials for your child to manipulate, explore, snuggle, play with and share. Put pictures of cats, dogs, foods, colors, letters, numbers everywhere. Be sure to label everything.
Here is a way to use those pictures…Look at the picture, say what it is, point to the word that names it and say it again. Then use the word in a sentence. Have your learner repeat as they can and constantly encourage speech. It’s all about language acquisition and development. Remember that while it seems playing is the only thing happening- that is how learning begins- through play and exploration. My niece has done this with her grandson since he was very young and he has developed quite a vocabulary. You know I am big on journaling, right? Keep a daily running commentary on what you are seeing during the time dedicated to your teaching efforts. And that is not all- keep your journal handy for self-initiated playtime. You can get a a lot of information by listening to what little ones have to say when they think they are “playing school”. Also, start a “dictionary”. When you are sure the child really owns the word write it down and refer to it often. Ask if they would like to choose a word from their dictionary to be their word of the day. Share it with everyone in sight and text those who are not. This is big stuff and if you show how important it is to you that will transfer to them.

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When I was in the classroom one of the first things I did was to establish a file box with 5×7 cards with each child’s name on some. As I saw certain behaviors occurring I would jot them down. This gave me insight in to learning behaviors and styles. It also gave me material to discuss with parents at conferences or whenever I made contact with them which tended to be often- once parents get over being nervous if the teacher calls they look forward to hearing about the cool thing their student did at school that day. Be sure to date each entry. You will be amazed when you look back at these cards. Observation is one of the key tools a good teacher should use on a daily basis and journaling with cards is a good way to do it. Of course, today, computers are available to aid in this practice. When your child asks what you are doing- and they will- you smile and tell them you are keeping track of all the super things they are learning.

The organization of their”classroom” sends signals to children about how important and fun learning is. They can find out what there is to do and how to do it. Research from the National Association for the Education of Young Children indicates that a well-organized work area helps in the learning process and creates motivation-a reason for what they are doing.

Establish interest areas in the learning center. Your space availability may dictate that these interest areas need to change daily since you just don’t have the room to spread a bunch of stuff out. That’s ok too, as long as there is a daily emphasis on learning. I believe keeping things simple will save you-the teacher-from pulling your hair out! Remember that your intent for the BS years is not only to set the stage for school success, but to create a lifelong love of learning.

Whatever space you have to work with, you will be providing skills that lead to reading, writing and math through communication, exploration and play. Keep in mind, the size of the learning area is secondary to the purpose of it.

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I’d like to tell you now about some of the learning centers you should set up for your student. The first one is all about LITERACY or books, books and more books! Have as many books as you can. Here, children explore the world of books and feel safe and secure as they are introduced to reading. I remember back in the olden days, making cloth books for my kids. They are easy to hold and can be tossed in the washer when they become well loved. They are still around and in many preschool classrooms. I had them in Kindergarten and First Grade classrooms. In the early stages of book handling tactile books are a plus. Those are books that have parts made of sandpaper for example and are super when introducing letters/numbers. Many young learners are quite tactile and will learn quickly with a hands on approach.
Reading to and with your learner should be relaxed and proceed on their time table. If they want to have the same story 87 times that is just fine. Memorization is early reading. Check it out- try reading a page differently, and your student will quickly tell you that your making a mistake and to please read it right. Surely, you must know how it goes after the 88th reading of a favorite bedtime story!
Literacy is not just for moms- get dad in the LC-(Learning Center) and have him read. Parents are the first and best teachers your child has and seeing Dad engaging in this activity will help place more importance on Literacy. Dad can read the newspaper, a sports magazine, a set of directions to a project- anything that first of all shows that everyone reads and that reading comes in many forms. When I was a Reading Specialist, parents would ask me how they could help at home. My answer was always the same, “Read with your child” nothing dramatic- just read with them daily. Notice I stress WITH not just read TO. Have them be involved in the telling of the story, making predictions at the end of a page- what do you think will happen next and why? Does that word start with a B? Look for all the ways to make reading interactive. Why? If they see you engaging in this behavior it must be pretty important. I will have a video available for you that shows how an interactive reading time should look.

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The next BS learning center is Dramatic Play or Housekeeping. The materials for this one can be child sized if you have the room or use your own kitchen or some other room in the house. I did not have either room or money when my kids were small so I had a cupboard in the kitchen that was just for them. I kept a couple of beat up old pans, plastic stuff, measuring cups, anything that could lead to them being able to imitate me while I was in the kitchen . While they are “playing” keep up a running commentary about what you are doing. For example, “ I need a cup of water for this soup I wonder which of these cups would be the one I need.” Again, take advantage of every teachable moment and it will make a difference.
The thing to remember about Dramatic Play or Housekeeping is that children experiment with different roles as they explore the familiar and the unknown through dramatic play. Fill the area with props and dress-up clothes to encourage imagination. Make use of your labels and one day the area is the Post Office or a restaurant or the library. Remember to use an outside area if you can because they can play be carpenters, gardeners, mechanics. Learning Resource Centers such as Lakeshore ( I’m in California but I am sure there are such places all over), have tons of materials for these activities. The purpose of Dramatic Play and Housekeeping is children get to practice verbal skills and develop an understanding of symbolic representation that leads to development of reading and writing skills. And- they are having fun!

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Manipulative Play is a very important Learning Center. Your child can string beads into colorful patterns, build something out of Legos or manipulate a puzzle. You will want to load your shelves with various size puzzles, pegboards, beads, and other small construction toys. This will help develop fine motor skills by using their fingers and hands in creative ways. It promotes eye/hand coordination and practice problem-solving skills. Again, be sure to listen and observe-gain insight into how your child learns.

What happens at the Block Learning Center will lead to language enrichment. You and your student can be working together to build “ the highest tower in the whole world”. Or, they can build a bridge and load toy people in toy cars to cross the bridge. The use of all shapes and sizes of blocks will amaze you as you observe children building replicas of their world, or creations of their imaginations as they develop symbolic representations. Through their activities here they are shaping an understanding of the relationships between size and shapes (handy-dandy when observing letters and numbers!) and the basic math concepts of geometry and numbers.

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Load the Art Center with colored paper, crayons, markers, tape,paste, safe scissors- all sorts of raw materials for creativity. Have them out on shelves and tables so decisions can be made as to which medium will be used today. The ability to make decisions and think independently is sadly lacking in many small children when they enter school. This can be worked on from the very beginning of the BS years and participation in the Learning Centers facilitates these skills.
Activities in the Art Center can be things like tracing the outlines of leaves or cutting out shapes and pasting them in patterns on colored paper. Painting at an easel, making critters out of play dough are also valuable objectives that will lead to fine motor control and eye/hand coordination. It will also show how your little one feels about creativity.

Large Motor Skills Centers need space where children can crawl through tunnels , climb, walk on the balance beams, hop and jump, bounce and dribble balls. This develops coordination, balance and large motor control. Make use of a neighborhood park, or a Gymboree( do they still have them?) or the local elementary school after school hours. If Dad is handy he can make a play area in the backyard that allows for climbing- great opportunity to involve Dad and student in conversation and decision making. Why is Dad doing what he is doing? How will these boards go together?
This kind of play is serious and offers great opportunities for children to be feeling good about themselves. Sometimes a child will have great verbal skills but can’t bounce a ball and they can get quite frustrated. I had a little boy in Kindergarten who could read at the 11th grade level. So how was I going to meet his needs? I asked him what he would like to learn and how could I help him. All he wanted to be able to do was bounce a ball-he was not coordinated and he knew it. He knew how to read and do math and his parents offered him great enrichment opportunities. All those needs were going to be met. When I told mom and dad what he wanted they were so happy I would be able to accommodate that need. Between my efforts at school and his family that little guy made great strides at ball bouncing. It is critical that parents and teachers look at the whole child and be familiar with their needs.

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A Sensory Skills Center is vital in helping children learn of the physical world. Experimenting with a water table- or mom’s pots and pans- will lead to figuring out what floats and what sinks. Boats, cups, funnels and sieves are tools to explore the mediums of water and sand.Take advantage of the weather in your area. If you live where it is snowy- bring some in, let it melt and measure the amount. Get another batch, do the same activity and COMPARE the results- be sure to keep a journal or a log of your activities to READ later ( giving reading a purpose)! If you live in the desert like I did when I was raising my kids do the same with the sand. Sensory development is critical to making sense of the concepts underlying math and physics.

A Science Center is such fun. Children will enjoy planting seeds in pots, measuring the temperature in an aquarium, examining seashells, feeding whatever Science Center pet you might have. Fish, lizards, mice, guinea pigs, bunnies are a few that would be fun. I had gold fish that went back and forth to school every weekend. I couldn’t leave them at school since the air conditioning had to be turned off( this was in 29 Palms where it can get quite hot). There should be an assortment of objects from nature, such as leaves, rocks, and seashells. for children to examine with a magnifying glass, plus paper and markers to draw them. Children are naturally inquisitive and participating in the Science Center will develop language skills by discussing, writing and drawing. You will guide their time and ask questions while the explorations occur. Tell them they are scientists- children love to role play and are usually uninhibited.

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The Media Center- so many families today have a computer. They are an essential part of life as we know it today. It plays a major part in the education our children have at school. While it is important it can never replace the role of mom and dad in the BS program you create or the classroom teacher when they go to school. Regard it as a tool but never let it do your job. There are good early-learning software programs that will reinforce phonics or counting games for example. Please never just plunk your little learner in front of a computer with a cutesy program and think you are doing your job. You are the teacher and, as I have stressed many times before, you are their first and best teacher. Regard it as a valuable tool, but you are in charge- not it.

So, I have covered major Learning Centers for you to consider. Be sure to early on establish your expectations for what you want them to do during the activities. If you want them to journal, be sure they know what that looks like. Ask their opinions and help them to learn that their thoughts matter. They need to make decisions daily starting at a very early age. Something as simple as do you want the red cup or the blue cup or should we walk the dog before we start the math lesson or after, do you think I should wear jeans today? Believe me, these simple things will set the stage for school success.

Well, Congratulations! You should be very proud of yourselves. Your child is about to embark on the next step to getting a top notch education and you have played a very big part in their success. Relax and have fun. Once they do go on to Elementary School be sure to stay involved and let your child’s teacher know that you expect to be a part of the Learning Team that involves parents, teacher and child.

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In conclusion,I do have one more thing to add-I mentioned early on how concerned I am about how America compares to the rest of the world in education because we have lost ground. I think we need to keep in mind that yes, if there is anything education does not lack today it critics, but we can change things. Let’s go beyond criticism which is a start but fixes nothing. Let’s find those fixes together and do right by our kids.