Center-Based Teaching Important Part of Curriculum

At USJ our early childhood education program is successful for a variety of reasons. The facility offers plenty of room for the teachers and children to move around comfortably. The teachers are educated, loving, talented, and patient. We plan for several enrichment classes each week that add valuable learning not often found in early childhood programs, and our teachers are provided with the materials they need to do the kind of job that is required.

But one of the most important parts is found inside the classroom at the core of the program – the learning centers. (They are sometimes called learning stations or simply, centers.)

Each classroom in the PreK-1st grade uses learning centers to some extent. These centers provide the children with opportunities for making choices, working with others, being involved in hands-on activities, and becoming fully engaged in learning. Even our Jr. Cubs, Cubs, and JrK students become independent learners through the use of centers. All of the classrooms have literacy centers, math centers, and writing centers. The younger children have art, music, practical life (fine motor), dramatic-play, puzzle, block, and seasonal or unit specific centers.

Five reasons why center-based teaching is so important for your child

  1. Children’s Behavior: While it may be appropriate for 8 or 9-year-olds to sit quietly while the teacher stands in front of the classroom for several minutes a day teaching to the whole class, this is an unrealistic expectation for a 3, 4, or 5-year-old. Children this age need to move and explore; denying them such opportunities can lead only to misbehavior and teacher frustration. While the noise level will be slightly higher than a traditional classroom, it is not a distraction for the other children or the teachers. When the children move about the room to choose their learning, socialize, and discuss with one another as they explore and learn at their own pace through the centers, we see these actions as early signs of self-motivated learning.
  2. Efficient Use of the Teacher’s and Children’s Time: Using the centers helps teachers give one-on-one help to certain students while the others are working independently. The children are not left at their desks or tables with nothing to do after they finish an assignment because there is always learning that is available at the centers. It also gives teachers time to float around the room, stopping at centers to extend lessons for children who need a challenge and to give more time for explanation and a quick check for understanding for others.
  3. Children’s Independence: The level of independence the children have in choosing their learning and solving their problems, sometimes with the help of a neighbor or two, gives them a sense of power and control over their world. Children are given this power in these child-centered classrooms.
  4. The Inclusion of Art, Music, and Physical Movement: Although we provide these enrichments, the children tend to really enjoy these activities and through the art, music, and listening centers, they can take advantage of even more time with these favorites.
  5. Academic Learning: Center-based teaching allows information to be constructed as the children explore and experiment with new ideas and materials. In this way, the children gain a better understanding of how things work because they have the opportunity to physically explore them, making them more likely to retain the information they learn and relate it to other concepts.

Comments from teachers:

Cubs Classrooms:

Standard centers are in place all year, and some change month-to-month, depending on the topic of study. For example, a veterinarian office is set up when they talk about animal doctors. Children can bring in a “patient” (stuffed animal) to listen to them with a stethoscope and apply Band-aids.

The Block Center is a favorite where students build and discuss such things as which building is bigger and what shapes they are using.

Children love to use their imagination in the Dramatic Play Center where they use props and dress-up clothes to recreate their real-life experiences.

In the Discovery Center, children can explore and guess what will happen as a result of an action. They plan, conduct investigations, and gather information, much like real scientists.

The Library Center is a relaxed place where children enjoy the wonderful world of children’s books.

The Music Center finds children singing and moving to music. They have a chance to hear and appreciate different kinds of music and express themselves through their movement.

Junior Kindergarten:

The children especially love to work with our hands-on Science Center. They explore temperature, colors, thrust, electricity, weight, sound waves, magnets, sink and float, coloring, mixing, and volume.

The Science Center offers experimentation with plants in the spring. The children identify flowers and other plants, leaves, and seeds. Junior kindergarten children are eager to explore the environment in which they live. We strive to provide fun and exciting learning centers to support this important period of learning.


In the centers, the children learn to work independently and cooperatively.

The centers reinforce the skills that have already been introduced in whole group.

The centers are varied to keep the children’ s interest and yet are similar in format so the children are familiar with the assignment.

We use one literacy center to “butter up” our “Popcorn Words” – high frequency sight words that keep “popping up.”

Our Poetry Center is a favorite where the children can read familiar nursery rhymes and other childhood poems.

The Write-Around-the-Room Center is used for children to “write around the room.” They use a clipboard and decorative stationery to take around the room and write any words they can read. The same type of idea is used with the Read-Around-the-Room Center. The children use a cute pointer to read anything that is displayed in the classroom.

The Listening Center is used for the children to hear a story as they follow along in the book. This helps them recognize words as the taped narrator reads the story.

Literacy crosses curriculum in the Math and Science Centers as nonfiction books are explored.

The children are so involved and enjoy the centers so much they don’t always realize they are actually working!

First Grade:

Centers in first grade are literacy based. Through the centers, there is a review of grammar, spelling, handwriting, creative writing, ABC order, and science/social studies.

One favorite is the Writing Center. The children love to share their stories with classmates. This helps not only the writer, but also the other children as they learn to be good listeners. This center is a perfect way to incorporate topics across curriculum.

Talk to your child’s teacher to get more information about center-based teaching in your child’s classroom. She will be happy to share this valuable teaching tool.

Reference: Bottini, M. & Grossman, S. “Center-Based Teaching and Children’s Learning: The Effects of Learning Centers on Young Children’s Growth and Development.” Childhood Education. Annual Theme 2005: 274-277.