I am very thankful to teach in a school that understands that young learners need time to explore and engage in tasks. Every morning, after my students have signed in for the day by answering a question and our morning meeting, we start the day with a time that I call “exploratory centers.” My students (4 and 5 year olds) are able to slowly ease into the school day and choose activities that they enjoy. It also allows me to meet 1-1 (or in small groups) with my students and to present new lessons and activities to them. When I am choosing my daily activities, I often set out “centers” that work on five things:
*life skills/fine motor
To make things easy for my students, I set out our ” table centers” on trays. My students know that if something is on a tray, it is for one friend. They can also choose items off the shelves or go to one of our classroom centers if they would like to enjoy an activity with their friends.
Tray activities typically help my students work on their fine motor skills. They currently are loving: pouring, cutting, painting, creating letter books, creating number rolls, creating color books, color mixing experiments, and tong transfers.
For many of these activities, I use (child-sized) glassware on their trays. Yes, you read that correctly. I use real glass for our fine motor and practical life activities. (This is very Montessori.) One of the reasons why Montessori used glass was because it instills in children the need to be careful. They realize that they have to treat the objects with care and concern. I have found this to be true. My students (while they are young) know to use care with our classroom materials and I have seen this play out to ALL of our materials and not just the glassware. They also are working on skills that they do not often get to practice at home.
One of the most visited morning activities is pouring. Pouring is such a great activity for young students. When students practice pouring, they are working on:
-pouring from left to right (pre-reading skills)
-fine motor skills (pre-writing skills)
-care and concern (taking care of the classroom environment) and so much more! They are gaining independence and in the morning, I have noticed that my students will first choose pouring which has a calming effect on them. It is almost as if the act helps them regulate their bodies. After a brief session of pouring, they are ready for their next activity.
Another fine motor activity that my students enjoy is matching nuts and bolts together. What is the benefit of doing things like this at school? Your students develop their fine motor and problem solving skills.
At least once a week I set out an inquiry table where my students are free to make discoveries on their own. If you would like to read a post on these, you can do so here.
This tray is set up as a coffee filter color wheel. My students use the eye dropper to add the correct number of color drops to each circle and then mix each circle with the tail end of the Q-tip. Once the color is mixed, they carefully place a coffee filter over their work to see a full spectrum color wheel emerge! It is practically like magic. 😉
The block center is always a popular choice. I love the different structures my students have been creating lately. Just the other day (I don’t have a picture) 3 of my students worked together to make the NYC skyline. It was incredible!
In this math activity, my students are using our teen board to make their teen numbers. I love this because it reinforces that a teen number is a “ten” with other units. The act of sliding in the wooden numbers on top of the ten truly solidifies this point. My students love taking out the GOLDEN ten beads. The beautiful materials lend themselves to student intrigue. I love how my students gingerly count the glass beads and place them with such care as they make their numbers. This is just another way to develop interest amongst your students. It also helps develop concentration.
Another math activity that has been a huge hit is cover a number. This is helping my young mathematicians get really great at adding!
Since this past week we were working on primary and secondary colors, I set out a few color mixing trays this week. My students loved using the eye droppers to mix the colors. The conversations during this activity were priceless!! I loved that they named all the different shades of colors that they were creating. They also made some great connections!
“This is green like a snake in the rainforest!”
“This green is like our cucumber leaves!”
“We made orange like the sun setting!”
“Guess My Word” was a popular choice this week. For this game my students take out a picture and then have their friend try to guess the letters in their word. It’s kind of like hangman without the hangman. 😉 It’s been really great for my students who need help with phonemic awareness.
Finally, making books has been a big hit, too. My students are working on a variety of skills on their level. They practice a book and then I move them on to the next level. This is great and allows my students to work at their own pace and to feel successful. They are so proud when their books go home!
After about 30 minutes we come back to the carpet and I have my students tell their neighbor something they did that they were proud of. Then we eat snack and transition to our specials. After that we begin a period of guided reading and literacy centers.
I have loved changing my mornings from “put a worksheet on their desks” to this type of a morning because my students accomplish SO much in such a short period of time. I love that it develops community and allows my students to choose how they would like to start their day. Each day is different and we don’t know how our students come to us. This model allows my students who have had a stressful morning to come in and unwind and get ready for the day. It allows my students to choose work that they enjoy and it helps me meet with my students and develop work that is “just right” for them. Classroom management is simple because everyone is engaged and if someone is having a hard time making a choice, I gently guide them to an activity that they might enjoy.