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Old 09-20-2018, 11:07 AM
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Default Centers vs. Complete Free Play... Which to Choose and How to Manage It?

I have centers (ish) set up, but kiddos can move through much of the day freely other than during designated group time (e.g., circle time, group activities). Other than meals, group time is also optional but the kids love it and never pass it up. Last winter was VERY cold and long, as as we head into our months of increased indoor time, I'm starting to think about how "free play" is structured.

For those of you that choose to move kids through centers, how do you do so? Do you find moving kids through centers enhances their day?

In case it is helpful, I'll only have 5 toddlers/preschoolers and we have enough space that even if kiddos all want to work in one center at once we never really feel overloaded. Our outside time needed an overhaul (I recently posted about that), but when we are inside our play is fantastic. Kiddos do gravitate toward the same things daily, and I wonder if I could be supporting them better by encouraging them to explore other centers.
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Old 09-20-2018, 11:14 AM
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Ariana Ariana is online now
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I have certain toys that are out all the time and then I bring out activities for us all to focus on. For example today I brought out the fall/halloween themed sensory bin. It is “new” so the kids get much more excited and engaged. Same thing with playdoh and art. It is not out all the time and is treated as “special”. This is how I structure free play with focused activity play if that makes sense.
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Old 09-20-2018, 11:34 AM
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hwichlaz hwichlaz is offline
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Only two centers are out all of the time. The play kitchen, and the blocks. Everything else is rotated through based on my current theme and child interest. Well, I guess my reading center is out all of the time too, but the books rotate according to theme. It keeps them interested, and I generally only have room for two kids at each center (except the kitchen) so they always want to move on to the next one.
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Old 09-20-2018, 12:05 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ariana View Post
I have certain toys that are out all the time and then I bring out activities for us all to focus on. For example today I brought out the fall/halloween themed sensory bin. It is “new” so the kids get much more excited and engaged. Same thing with playdoh and art. It is not out all the time and is treated as “special”. This is how I structure free play with focused activity play if that makes sense.
Absolutely! This is what we are currently doing. I don't really manage, limit, or encourage other areas as much (blocks, trucks, dramatic play, puzzles, library, the fine motor activities that are always out). We do have times for reading and have special reading areas, so there is an emphasis on that at particular times of the day. I find some kids love the dramatic play center, for example, while others never touch it. I also find that most of my group always feels like they have to play together. I suppose this is a good problem, because they love each other, but I can't figure out if we have a great thing going or if it is my job to encourage them to branch out.
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Old 09-20-2018, 12:50 PM
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Right now, I have a SN kiddo that would choke on manipulatives, so I have them out, but up high so they have to ask for them. Then I can take little Y to do something else for a bit. If I had all preschool-ready I'd be able to leave things out for constant access...but when you have a kid that eats crayons and gluesticks.....
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Old 09-20-2018, 02:41 PM
BrynleeJean BrynleeJean is offline
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When I more than 6 kids usually I’ll split them into centers. I have usually 3-4 or I’ll create more if I have more kids at any certain time
-1-blocks,cars centers
-2-library books center
-3- home living center, dress up
-4- coloring, drawing center
-5-(if needed) puzzles
-6- (if needed) another block I pull out
If I need to do something with a group or one of them I use this time to use one of the “centers” as table time with me so I can do work with them in smaller groups or I’ll call them out of centers individually for handprint art or whatever.

They sit quitley and the quietest get to pick fist centers until that centers full and then so on until all centers are full. Then I set a timer for like 15 minutes and when it goes off I turn on this Disney song on my phone. The same one every time. They have until the song is over to clean up their center and sit Quietly in their center and then I rotate. Set another timer and do another song. It goes on for like an hour or two. They don’t get bored, they practice playing with all the toys, and they practice their cleaning.
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Old 09-21-2018, 08:02 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hwichlaz View Post
Right now, I have a SN kiddo that would choke on manipulatives, so I have them out, but up high so they have to ask for them. Then I can take little Y to do something else for a bit. If I had all preschool-ready I'd be able to leave things out for constant access...but when you have a kid that eats crayons and gluesticks.....
I get that! Only my own kiddo would attempt to eat a crayon or something small (and it is pretty rare), but I know him well enough to know when he's looking tempted. Luckily, that means I can keep most things out. I do keep everything in bins that take a little work to snap lids off so I can monitor who is taking what out and can stop them if need be.
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Old 09-21-2018, 08:05 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BrynleeJean View Post
When I more than 6 kids usually I’ll split them into centers. I have usually 3-4 or I’ll create more if I have more kids at any certain time
-1-blocks,cars centers
-2-library books center
-3- home living center, dress up
-4- coloring, drawing center
-5-(if needed) puzzles
-6- (if needed) another block I pull out
If I need to do something with a group or one of them I use this time to use one of the “centers” as table time with me so I can do work with them in smaller groups or I’ll call them out of centers individually for handprint art or whatever.

They sit quitley and the quietest get to pick fist centers until that centers full and then so on until all centers are full. Then I set a timer for like 15 minutes and when it goes off I turn on this Disney song on my phone. The same one every time. They have until the song is over to clean up their center and sit Quietly in their center and then I rotate. Set another timer and do another song. It goes on for like an hour or two. They don’t get bored, they practice playing with all the toys, and they practice their cleaning.
This is helpful! Right now I have all of these centers, but no system to rotate them through. If a kiddo prefers one center and wants to stay do you still require that they clean up and rotate? I'm so conflicted because we also worked SO hard on the ability to sustain play for longer periods, and I don't know if I'm undoing the work or simply encouraging new experiences by rotating them. Does that make sense? Or maybe there is a time for both? Our days seem to go SO fast, but I might not be using time effectively.
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Old 09-21-2018, 09:58 AM
BrynleeJean BrynleeJean is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LittleScholars View Post
This is helpful! Right now I have all of these centers, but no system to rotate them through. If a kiddo prefers one center and wants to stay do you still require that they clean up and rotate? I'm so conflicted because we also worked SO hard on the ability to sustain play for longer periods, and I don't know if I'm undoing the work or simply encouraging new experiences by rotating them. Does that make sense? Or maybe there is a time for both? Our days seem to go SO fast, but I might not be using time effectively.
yea, i get that.
if you let them stay in the center its most likely a popular center and then you've started a fire and then everyone is going to say "well you let charlie stay in his center" and nobody will move or they will come up to you and bicker about wanting to go into blocks or whatever the popular center is not to mention charlie just threw off your numbers because you need to move 3 kids into that center but now theres gonna be four cuz he's still there.

id either do the timer, make them all clean up and rotate my way like i said or
do the timer make them clean up and sit on the wall and they can pick a center based on who is quietest first and sitting stillest or whatever, encouraging new centers but not enforcing because little Johnny was quieter and got to pick first sorry little suzy maybe next rotation the center won't be full OR
do the regular rotation no choosing for them all the way through and then let them choose in a last 15-20 minute increment after you've already gone through all the centers.
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Old 09-21-2018, 10:09 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BrynleeJean View Post
yea, i get that.
if you let them stay in the center its most likely a popular center and then you've started a fire and then everyone is going to say "well you let charlie stay in his center" and nobody will move or they will come up to you and bicker about wanting to go into blocks or whatever the popular center is not to mention charlie just threw off your numbers because you need to move 3 kids into that center but now theres gonna be four cuz he's still there.

id either do the timer, make them all clean up and rotate my way like i said or
do the timer make them clean up and sit on the wall and they can pick a center based on who is quietest first and sitting stillest or whatever, encouraging new centers but not enforcing because little Johnny was quieter and got to pick first sorry little suzy maybe next rotation the center won't be full OR
do the regular rotation no choosing for them all the way through and then let them choose in a last 15-20 minute increment after you've already gone through all the centers.
That's helpful! Thank you!
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Old 09-21-2018, 11:25 AM
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I have centers set up-dramatic play, books, blocks, art, sensory table and two centers that rotate (i.e. writing center, discovery table, etc).

During free play, an hour in the morning and from 3pm until pick up, they can play wherever they want. They are expected to clean up before moving to another area. If they are having a difficult time in a certain center (following rules, etc) then I'll choose a center for them.

They spend 15 minutes in morning meeting, 20 in group time, 20 in circle time and I figure that's enough of me controlling their minds and movements. They're little. It's an important skill for them to be allowed and able to make their own choices and change their choice if they want.

If children are missing skills because they don't visit a certain center then either I 'beef up' the center to make it more appealing or provide activities to give them that skill another way.

I do struggle sometimes with this, though. There are times throughout the year where kids have a favorite center or two and I consider another way to do this but in the end I know they are young and need less structure in their play, not more. I also worry about the shortening of attention spans.

I love seeing them really engrossed in what they're doing and I don't feel they can be fully creative and 'lost' in their play when there is too much structure or limited time.

I also feel like children need time and space to be bored. It's usually after a period of 'boredom' that we become our most creative. And I worry with too much moving around and structure they will miss that free, creative boredom! Lol
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Old 09-22-2018, 07:03 AM
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I have always been a strong supporter of children choosing where and how long they play. I believe children are masters at their own play and benefit greatly from making their own choices.

I've taught preschool, kindergarten, Head Start, and in - home FCC.

When I taught K and HS I had a system that limited the amount of children in each center but they chose how long to stay. In K centers were all up graded with academic extras.

I currently have these centers in FCC. These are the same centers I've always had but they are tweaked for mixed-age and generally younger kids.

Home living /dramatic play
Blocks
Art and play doh
Writing
Puzzles
Math games-mostly homemade (used only while I prepare lunch now. After snack when I taught preschool, after math lesson when I taught K)
Easel
Sensory table
General toys
Science

Art, writing & science are much more basic now in FCC!
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Old 09-22-2018, 07:13 AM
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Oh, and library corner! Also, I found in K and HS that kids had to branch out as certain centers would be full. That could work in FCC if you have a larger group of older kids.
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Old 09-22-2018, 05:09 PM
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If things are working well why mess with it.Save some of these awesome ideas for when your system stops working.Sometimes we over think things.The kids are playing and happy Don't fix whats not broken LOL.As game of thrones said …."winter is coming".
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Old 09-23-2018, 07:11 AM
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I do not manage free play time. I can step into current activities and give them some idea. Also, I remind them to clean up toys if they decide to change activities. That's it.
I have 12 kids and a lot of different centers:
-coloring
-painting
-lego
-playdough
-craft
-puzzles (have counted them right now. there are 118 puzzles here)
-blocks (different sizes and materials. in both of our rooms)
-puppets center
-fine motor skills toys area
-memory games
-books(in both of our rooms)
-dress-up area
-dolls area
-kitchen area
-cars area (even will not try to count them. Definitely more than one hundred.
...

I do not rotate toys. As a result, kids know where is each toy and always can take what they want as well as where each toy supposed to be returned.
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Old 09-24-2018, 10:33 AM
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This is all so helpful! It gives me a lot to think about. To start, I think I'm going to beef up a few centers (particularly writing/fine motor and sensory play). I have great items for these centers, but they require that I really lead them because of how they are organized. I think I'll make these tools more accessible, especially to the big kids.
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