Sunday, July 15, 2012

Learning Stations {A.K.A. Centers}

Happy Sunday!

Hope you've had some fun this weekend.  I've been slowly chipping away at my summer "to-do" list.  Don't confuse this with a "Bucket List" because that would be filled with fun.  My "to-do" list is more like a "honey-do" list for myself...I'm the honey, and I'm the do-er.  My main squeeze has been busy with his outdoor list and I'm slowly but surely working on my indoor stuff.  On the agenda today....clean the refrigerator.  Hold back the excitment...

As far as "Bucket Lists".  We don't have anything official but tonight calls for some firefly catching and ice cream eating!!!!  {Chocolate Chip Mint please}

My school district has adopted/purchased some wonderful resources for us teachers. We use FOSS kits for science {LOVE!}, Bridges for math, we do Reader's and Writer's Workshop.  Like them all - they work for me.  What doesn't work for me is fitting it all in.  I mean, I do - I do everything that I need to do to get everybody where they need to be; but there isn't a spare minute left in the day.

I've had to let go of a few things I used to do just because there isn't enough time.  The bummer being those few things were still good things and I wish I could find time to squeeze them in.  One of those things is "centers" or Learning Stations - which is what we call them.  Years ago I was able to fit them in three times a week.  The kids LOVE this time of day.  It's easy to plan and I CAN commit to doing them once a week.

If you're like me, and feel like your days are filled to the gills and there's absolutely no way you can fit something like centers back into your schedule - you should think twice about that.  I'm so glad I've held fast to Stations.  At the end of each year when we work on our memory books almost every single "favorite" activity is one we did during that time. 

Just keeping up with the workshop way of teaching {It's good stuff...but let's face it, planning our days is WAY more complicated than it was 10 years ago} can be a lot.  The way that I do Learning Stations is simple and honestly, can be pulled together rather quickly if you're in a pinch.  It's also that time I can incorporate all the awesome center games/activities I find around blogland.

At curriculum night I ask for volunteers to help out in a variety of ways. Learning Stations are one hour, once a week.  It's such a great way for parents to connect with their child in the school setting, I love getting to know the parents better, and I know they love seeing if Bobby is really as naughty as the stories at the dinner table make him out to be!

Honestly, Learning Stations can be as involved or as simple as you want them to be.  This past year was one of those years that I had a lot of volunteer cancellations.  The kids were so trained, they knew just what was expected of them, so as long as I kept three of the stations relatively simple, I was able to bop around and keep things running smoothly {pretty much}. 

Here's the nuts and bolts for how I run them:

I divide the kids into four even groups.  Once I find the right mix, I keep the groups the same week after week. It's just easier that way.  One less thing I have to think about.  I write them down on the sheet below.  You can grab one for yourself if you decide this might be something you want to incorporate in your classroom.  Just click on the picture below.

I run four stations. I talked a little about them {here}. Typically they look something like this:

Art - This is where I'm able to incorporate some of the cute crafts I find or something I come up with.  We paint, cut, paste, glue, etc. at this station.  If it's a solo day for me, I'll provide a simple cut and paste or pull out "Herman" {remember my scrap box?} and have them do tear art, or come up with anything they can using their imagination - I love doing this kids will request Herman Day.  So much of their day is prescripted so when they are given the opportunity to just dream up anything, they have a ball!

Math- I like to practice math facts using a math fact ball, or addition bingo, flash cards, or any math games I might find in blogland.  If I'm going solo, I'll pull out a math workplace from our math program that they are familiar with for them to work on.

Computer- We have netbooks in our classroom so I'm able to set those up each week and they listen to stories, work on math facts, draw pictures, whatever program I've introduced they use.

Science or Word Work - This station changes depending on what our needs are in the classroom. If I have an involved science experiment coming up, I'll save that for Learning Stations instead of tackling it whole group.  If I have nothing science related I'd like to get done, we'll work on something with words.  Typically, we practice our word wall {sight} words.  We'll play sight word bingo, or Rivet, build word wall words using tens and ones from math.  I get a lot of ideas from this book.  Many of the ideas can be done with little to no adult supervision - so again, if you're trying to do this on your's do-able!

Usually, I ask parents to arrive about 10 minutes early so they can hear the directions prior to our start. 

I set up the stations in a circle as best I can and every year I tell the kids "We should call it Learning Circles". {Why I don't just call them that is a mystery...HA!} This helps the kids know where to go when it's time to switch.  Each station lasts about 15 minutes and the kids can't switch until I tell them to.  In one corner of the classroom I put out a basket of books for them to read if they finish the art station early.  All the other stations can be played over and over until it's time to switch. 

Another trick, as long as I have at least one parent to help out, is to put one group out in the hallway.  This helps with the sound level in the classroom and that change in scenery seems to help clear some heads for some big business we might need to accomplish a little later in the day. 

You might remember that anything we don't get done during Learning Stations on Thursday we finish on Friday during....

So, if you feel like your days are just jam packed and you can't squeeze in one more thing.  If you think the days of centers are long gone because you've got serious business to take care of and assessments to give and progress to show, and Dibels to's one hour out of your day and it will be the hour that your kiddos smile bigger. 

I sort of had a back to school dream last night, except it wasn't my typical one {you know, where I have no control of my class, the kids take over, and I flip out} it was more like "huh?". I wasn't really in a school, I was outside, and they weren't really students, they were was bazaar, but I woke up thinking it was school for some strange reason. remember my's not officially "back to school" time until I've had "the dream"...



  1. We do centers on Fridays and my kids call it "Fun Friday Activities". Yes, long gone are the daily centers, but I still love Friday afternoons, as it is something to look forward to after a morning of Spelling and Reading tests:) Its just a time for kids to be kids.

    The Resourceful Apple

  2. I'm having blog envy right now- your flexibility is a breathe of fresh air!! We are required to do an hour of workshops daily and I'm tied down to a guided reading group during that time. I would love to walk around the room and keep everyone on track!! And ART?!? What a luxury :) That's something I have to find time to squeeze in on my own (because I believe it's really important)

    *sigh* One day, when I take over education... ;P

    The Learning Tree

  3. I love the idea of ketchup and mustard time!

    Apples and Papers

  4. I hear you! Every year I change the way I do centers/stations/etc. This year I'm trying Daily 5. I just started my blog would love if you stopped by.

  5. This is my first year and I'm definitely including centers because I think they're super important! Now I'll let you know how that actually goes once school starts :P...such great ideas here!

  6. I hear you on the time crunch. But I might force myself to commit to once a week...bookmarked this post for closer to school.

    We also have FOSS. Our science time is about 30 minutes three times a week for half the quarter...and we are supposed to finish the entire unit in that time!

  7. Hi Holly!
    I can't believe how late ya'll go back! That's definitely great but hard at the same time. Are your stores already advertizing back to school? That would be so tough to ignore for 2 months! But then again it is nice to know that others are back and you are enjoying all those quiet mornings slowly sipping coffee in your PJs!

  8. We are finally using very little Bridges since it really doesn't align with our TEKS (both the new and old) and the Common Core. We are all doing the happy dance.

    I love hearing about what others do. I always say the grass might be greener in another pasture but there could be a lot of poop (editing word) making it that way! =) That is what you have to love about teaching.

    You are awesome no matter what you are doing girlfriend!

    Heather's Heart

  9. You've helped me, friend. I was JUST thinking that I'm going to have to take centers down from twice a week to once a week. And then I thought, why bother? But that's crazy talk! You inspired me to keep it. THANK YOU! :)
    I hate those dreams and I get them, too. Haven't had one yet, either!
    A Teeny Tiny Teacher

  10. Hi Ladies,
    I also do centers but I call them workstations and we are working rather than "playing a game". I tell the kids we are fooling the principal by calling them workstations! They each have a workstation notebook where they are responsible for telling me what they are doing during this time(which words I built, which learning game I played, which spelling words I practiced, etc.) I do workstations T, W TH during guided reading groups. They only go to one workstation each day, and then their guided reading group so each student is unsupervised for @ 45 minutes(this is usually when my kids are pulled for speech, OT, PT, so my squirmiest kids are only at the station @15 minutes. I love when a parent can come help but believe me, it's not that often! I take a quick walk through after each reading group to be sure all are on task. M and F I do the full group reading, Friday is project day when I meet with each student 1 on 1. It works for me. The key is to give them lots of practice to "learn" how to interact at workstations. I spot check notebooks once a week to keep them on their toes!

  11. I really nee to try and remember to see if our TiTle dept. has that word wall book....I'm seeing it everywhere and now I want it! lol


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