An image gallery of ideas for learning centers

Setting up science learning centers for young children in early childhood programs sometimes means just grabbing what you have at hand because your teaching partners have been out sick all week, and the materials you ordered haven’t arrived yet, and nap time is not yet settled enough for you to plan while the children sleep or the playground is too wet so the children are with you during your planning period.

If we create a photo gallery of our best (and “to be improved”) centers, we’ll have a resource that we can refer to when our creative energy is low or when our children become interested in exploring a material such as water, or are no longer inspired by the current classroom set-up. 

Here are photos from classrooms I have visited, and thank you to all who have welcomed me into their space! These materials and centers that may not be excellent examples of what you’d like to do in your program but they give an idea of what some programs are setting up for children. I hope you will begin reflecting on what makes a center an engaging place of learning that gives children something to do and think about, building on their understandings.

I don’t hold these ideas up as ideal or right for every program. Most of them can be improved and certainly none of them should stay the same all year! The trick to creating your own set is to add images from your work to your gallery–in an electronic or paper form–every day so you have a set of references to help you plan interesting learning centers, and can review them with colleagues to reflect on how children will use the materials and what their experiences will teach them.

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2 Responses to An image gallery of ideas for learning centers

  1. Julie says:

    I think these are fantastic. I am wondering. To build on what has been started here, how can we facilitate the use of more dialogic interaction between teacher and student while students are at these centers? Does someone have a resource that they could share which maps out how to make this happen (is there already something developed that has question stems with precise vocabulary so that I could share this with these early childhood teachers?). I find that they are up for the task, but don’t always know how to have that discourse in the moment!

  2. Peggy Ashbrook says:

    Great questions, Julie! I agree that the conversations and discussion between children and teachers strongly supports children’s (and adults’) developing understanding of natural phenomena and scientific concepts.
    One way I have seen teachers post open-ended question stems and prompts on the wall near where the activities are happening, as reminders to themselves of the more productive ways to help children reflect on their work. Being aware of the length of time that passes between a question you ask and when children answer, and allowing enough time to pass, is another way to facilitate dialogic interaction rather than only telling children what we know. Some resources: Patricia E. Blosser’s How to ask the right questions and Mary Lee Martens’ Productive Questions: Tools for Supporting Constructivist Learning and Jos Elstgeest’s The right question at the right time

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