Learning through play is important to the developmental growth of young children. When considering the developmental needs of a kindergarten student it is important to remember that “play is one powerful way in which children learn. Research tells us that play helps youngsters to improve their thinking skills, social skills, language skills, and problem-solving skills” (Heroman & Copple, 2006). Dramatic play and allowing students to use their imagination as often as possible allows children to act out real life or imagined scenarios and problem solve. Often students engage in dramatic play together, which boosts their social and language skills. They carry these skills forward and apply them to real life situations because “play affords children opportunities to develop physical, social, and cognitive abilities that will serve them later in non-play situations (Christensen & Kelly, 2003). In recent years there has been a push for teachers in all grades to focus more on academics and less on play in the classroom, but to do so would be detrimental to the healthy development of young students.
Learning centers are used to make learning fun for young students and often involve movement and imagination. Many people may not be familiar with learning centers, so it is important to note, “learning centers are special areas designed for individual and small-group learning experiences. They are equipped with a variety of high-interest materials” (McCarthy, 1977). The purpose of the learning center is to focus students’ attention on something they find interesting and is also educational. Students should be allowed to choose which learning center they would like to go to because it supports their need for independence and choice. This notion is supported when one believes that the purpose of a learning center “is to seek better methods of developing learning, giving an opportunity to experience decision making, self-direction, individual progression, and independence in study” (Bittel, 1978). It is up to the teacher to ensure that the learning center unites play with instruction. The classroom teacher is responsible for understanding “that young children need to be active, move around the classroom, engage in different activities, and work with different materials. Yet they also address the increasing curricular demands faced by all teachers in our public schools” (Conn-Powers, 2010).
Guaranteeing that the curricular demands and the students’ developmental needs are met can challenge teachers when it comes to designing and implementing learning centers. It is up to the individual teacher on which of the five learning centers he or she would like to use. They include the total learning center, remedial work, drill work, interest activities, and enrichment activities (McCarthy, 1977). Once a teacher knows which type of learning center they want to implement, they need to think about the role they would like to play in the learning centers and clearly define the students’ roles as well. Conn-Powers suggests that a teacher employ three strategies to help students become successful in their own learning during center time. First, there needs to be clear expectations and tasks to complete. Second, teachers need to increase demands at the beginning of routines so students start to think independently. Third, there should be activities that require students to solve problems independently (Conn-Powers, 2010). The types of activities that can be included during learning centers are vast. The common learning centers subject areas include literacy, mathematics, science, social studies, the arts and technology (Heroman & Copple, 2006). Teachers have freedom to decide how to incorporate these subject areas into fun and exciting learning experiences for students and should remember to scaffold new ideas so student learning can be as independent as possible.
Bittel, N. (1978). The Learning Center as a Tool in Individualized Instruction. Improving College and University Teaching, 67-68, 70.
Christensen , A., & Kelly, K. (2003). No Time for Play: Throwing the Baby out with the Bath Water. The Reading Teacher, 528-530.
Conn-Powers, M. C. (2010). Preparing Children for Kindergarten: Learning Centers. Retrieved January 29, 2015, from Indiana Institute on Disability and Community, Indiana University: http://www.iidc.indiana.edu/styles/iidc/defiles/ECC/LearningCenters.pdf
Heroman, C., & Copple, C. (2006). Teaching and Learning in the Kindergarten Year. Retrieved January 30, 2015, from The National Association for the Education of Young Children: http://www.naeyc.org/files/naeyc/file/Play/Ktodayplay.pdf
McCarthy, M. M. (1977). The How and Why of Learning Centers. The Elementary School Journal, 292-299.