I create different centers throughout the classroom that are open all day for exploration. These centers may change weekly/daily depending on what the children are needing or wanting.
What does that mean? I observe the children daily to see what their interests are and how they are using the materials. If an area isn't being used, I know they are done with that area and may change it. If children are argueing about being in a certain area I know we need more space there. If they are still engaged, I leave it alone. I also listen to the conversations that are happening and talk with the children to see if they are needing something else or something more to help engage their discovery. Children learn best when they are an active participant in their learning process. We encourage the children to work cooperatively to reach developmental milestones and school readiness through exploring, experimenting, and repetition.
Some of the different areas in my room are:
Creative Expression....This is huge in my center. Each child has opportunitites to experiment with color and how to make different colors, texture, design, and motor control. They learn through doing and exploring. The easel is always accessible and there are shelves with activities like scissors, pencils,pens, crayons, different paint mediums, the melting tray, chalk boards, salt trays, bingo daubers, stamps, stickers, etc. We have a writing table and encourage book making, map making, journaling, and sculpture making. The clay and playdough are always accessible as well. The children are free to pick and choose what they want to work on throughout the day and some days we set up a different activity that the children may or may not choose.
Language....Language is throughout the room. Literacy is also big in my center. I LOVE books and purchase many books from around the world so children can become familiar with many different cutlutres and ways of life. I use real life picture books, story books, and science based books. I also find books that deal with different social issues like being fair, standing up for someone who is being bullied, the death of an animal, and taking care of our earth. Sometimes I have a listening center out in which the children can use headphones and listen to pre-taped stories. We also use cook books around the room. Language is throughout the room; on walls, in the reading corner, at the writing table, and the conversations the children have during their day. I consider all conversations important, even the arguments. These experiences enhance communication, listening skills and self-control.
Math, Manipulatives, and Science....How can they learn math if you aren't sitting them down and making them write numbers?
The term STEM is getting more popular as a way to show that schools are providing Science/Technology/Engenering/and Mathamatics (and if you add Arts you get STEAM). I think it is an interesting term for early childcare as we have always been a 'STEAM' program (or maybe just SEAM as we are technology free). Through math, sceince, and art we work on problem solving, order, serialiation, patterning, concocting, discovering, estimating, hypothesis, etc. We foster inquiring minds, logical reasoning, and work on collaboration. We are learning to discover patterns in our world through observation. Our sceince area is interesting with live animals, bugs, pelts, bird nests, snake skins, etc. We have a variety of magnets, magnifying glasses, flashlights, plants, weights, catapults, shadows, counting objects, and other sceince activities. With all this cool, hands on manipulation, the children are learning much more about their world and math than sitting down and doing a (yucky) ditto.
Sensory Wet and Dry....This area enhances the math and science by allowing the children experiences with mixture, touch, consistency, measurement, and volume. The children discover and practice pouring, filling, dumbing, squishing, I change this area at least once a month. Some of the different materials that you will find here are, water, rice, flour, oatmeal, beans, sand, and dirt. We might add scoops, animals, rocks, wood, spoons, cars, people, gems, or other things to manipulate or hide.
Block Building....Another STEAM area. Your child may learn about shape, dimension, size, construction, balance, construction, how tall can you go before it falls down, city sculpure, bridges, etc. When the children are working together they are using their language skills, problem solving, and spacial awareness. I also rotate the things in this area like block people, cars, animals, rocks, houses etc.
Music and Movement....children experience creativity, patterns, melody, as well as building large motor skills. We sing often during the day about anything; "I'm building, I'm building, I'm building a tower!". We love yoga, ask us how to do a bridge pose.
Dramatic Play...This is all about the world of pretend, self identification, family, and community. This is a place for children to act out what is happening in their world. A safe place to pretend to be a mommy, daddy, baby, monster, meanie, princess, etc. Boys dress up in dresses and girls pretend to be construntion workers. We can have 5 mommies or everyone is a baby. It all depends on the rolls they need to work out. The children will ask to change this area and we will have a group meeting to discuss what that might look like. One child really wanted a hair cutting place. We got in a group and discussed what they wanted to put in their 'hair cutting place'. They helped bring things in and they helped set it up. The kids even had their parents come in for a hair wash and cut. It was pretty amazing to see them all work together. They played with this for about 5 weeks. As soon as they seemed uninterested, we changed it.