I thought I would take a step back and go to the beginning of the Learning Centers course where Ms. Maxine Edwards Cornwell explains the meaning and the benefit of learning centers. A learning center is defined as "an area within a child care facitly where children can gather in small groups to focus their attention on specific kinds of play activity." A functional learning center is one that teaches. A functional learning center is one that does what YOU want it to do. You create the center with a certain goal in mind, and it is functional when it meets that goal.
She also states learning centers are constantly changing because they are incorporating lesson plans from the teacher. She explains that teachers need to be creative. Creative means that one has the ability to think about one think in many different ways. This enables us to take one learning center and constantly change it for our needs--we become creative. Yes, it may take a while to get in this creative "groove," but don't worry one catches on. And, creativity is contagious. If you are creative, you will help to develop creative children.
Here are the benefits of learning centers according to Ms. Cornwell:
"1. Center-based play gives children clear choices.
2. Center-based play helps children develop social responsibility.
3. Learning centers are great for integrating a variety of activities around a theme.
4. Learning centers are interesting.
5. Centers provide learning opportunities for more than one developmental stage."
Clear choices: Learning centers available for the day should be presented to the children at circle time. She suggests using pictures on a board to let children know what centers are available. She does emphasize though that one should not use words with the center pictures. She says that "non-reading children become easily discouraged and distracted from the confusion of the words they can't interpret." That's why she suggests using drawings. She also says that a teacher should "never, never, never let children hear them say they can't draw." If a teacher models confidence, it breeds confidence.
Develop Social Responsibility: With centers children learn to take care of things--and people. They should be taught to clean the area when they are done so that other children can enjoy the center also.
Integrating Themes: learning centers give a great boost to the effectiveness of your teaching. Since children learn best using ALL their senses, different centers based on the your themes allow the children to experience the theme with all their senses.
Centers are Interesting: "Good centers keep boredom at bay". There are so many areas for children to choose from, and these areas are always changing. There's no time to get bored.
Multiple-Stage Learning Opportunities: Every center caring for young children, has children of many different levels of development. Learning centers allow each child to develop the skill at their own pace, beginning where they need to begin, and taking the time they need to complete the learning process. It's done on their time, at the level they are comfortable with.
So there they are. I must be honest, when I read this I thought--Oh My! I don't think I could ever do this. The work involved, the brain activity that would need to take place. I don't know if I have it. As one reads on though, one realizes the fun the children could be having and the fun the teacher could be having with the centers too. I must confess, that I plan to start integrating centers better next year, but it may take me a while. I hope to someday measure up ever so slightly to Ms. Cornwell.