Teaching your own child presents a number of unique challenges.
Have you ever experienced sitting for 3 hours trying to help your child with homework or a writing project that is due the following day? Have you tried working with one child 1-1, and the other child creates chaos to make that impossible? Have you ever dreamed you could sit down and watch your children learn with no supervision while you calmly sip a cup of tea? Most parents would be laughing out loud at this point at the magical thinking of the words peaceful and teaching their own child in the same sentence. Elementary-age children have short attention spans, don’t like sitting in one place for long, will rebel at the simplest worksheet from school, and are not afraid to voice their disapproval. Adults are surprisingly similar on the inside, but we can sit still and appear to pay attention to the 3 hour PowerPoint presentation led by the well-intentioned individual who loves to hear their own voice along with the person who asks far too many questions that makes you want to hit your head on the table. Knowing this is key when teaching children and the importance of taking the level of engagement into account. Even adults like to play games, get up, and move, so why fight the insanity of sitting at a table for three hours? I am convinced this is why science projects are 90% completed by parents who have reached the end of their patience. As I write this, my thoughts go back to helping each of my three children with projects and homework late into the evening. Before I became a teacher, I was a stay-at-home dad and learned early on the importance of engagement and play and its relevance in learning. If you have ever said, “Wouldn’t it be nice to help my kids learn and keep my sanity during the experience?” you have come to the right blog.
What Are Learning Centers?
If you have never explored the concept of learning centers, they are separate stations that you can create that allow your child to explore learning in an engaging and fun way. They provide independent practice on specific skills that have been targeted in school or new material that can extend beyond the learning. Centers can include a game, listening, movement, writing, reading, or all of the above. A simple example of a center to reinforce sight word acquisition to early readers could be creating a fishing game using index cards. Have a picture on one side and an easy word on the other that matches the picture. Place a large paper clip on the end of the card and put tape over it. Then, get a magnet, put it on the end of a string, and attach it to a stick to make a fishing Pole. Fish for a word and say it using pictures and words. Extend the learning by having the child read the card and then write it on a dry-erase board. You can create a lot of fun games. Teach each center to your child and set a timer to go off every ten minutes. Try 4-6 centers and make the most fun center come last. Create a listening station where your child can hear a story while drawing a picture about it. Include your child in creating their own centers as well. It will make them feel empowered and part of their own learning journey.
Why Use Learning Centers?
Centers can be altered to match your child’s learning style and level of understanding. They are fun, interactive, engaging, and don’t feel like work. They can allow several children to practice a skill on their own simultaneously, which can be a huge help for parents who need to get work done or are busy teaching another child. I utilized centers as a classroom teacher every day to keep 20 first graders busy working while completing a guided reading lesson with a small group. An elementary-aged child can work in centers for 45 minutes to an hour. Any topic can be covered, and separate center materials can be used multiple times daily to cover more material. Students in older grades can work in more complex and involved centers that require problem-solving skills, project-based learning, cooperative work, and life-skill building.
Setting Up Your Learning Centers
Gathering Learning Center Materials
- Plastic Sleeves and Dry Erase Markers — Get more out of your printed materials in learning center activities by slipping them into plastic sleeves and having kids use dry-erase markers. Different pages can be swapped out anytime using these materials.
- Dice — Little preparation is involved in creating dice games, and they can help students in various operations. Multiplication War, Dice Addition, Target Number Bonds, and Race to Ten are great ways to use dice.
- Playing Cards — These can be used for any number of math-based activities similar to dice.
- Mini Whiteboards — Whiteboards help save on paper-based activities, and you can even get ruled boards for handwriting practice.
- Zippered Plastic Bags — Easy to use and an inexpensive resource, zippered plastic bags can be used for almost anything! A complete center with materials and instructions can be contained in each bag and organized by topic.
- Headphones — These are essential for auditory learning activities such as listening to stories, following a set of instructions, phonemic awareness activities, and learning reading comprehension strategies.
- Plastic Baskets or Bins — These are perfect for storing each center’s items for easy cleanup and storage.
- Writing Materials — Pencils, markers, and other writing materials are just as valuable for stations as they are in everyday instruction!
- Magnetic Letters — Can be used for phonics and word work, sight words, phonemic awareness skills, and spelling.
- Index Cards — Can be used for anything. Sight word fishing games, letter, and sound awareness, following instructions in order, creative writing prompts, and math facts.
- Laptop or iPad — for computer platform-based learning centers.
- STEM kits or simple science projects in a box. Kits can be purchased or made easily with household materials. A simple kit with a balloon, straw, string, and some tape can be turned into a center to learn about force and motion. Simple machines can easily be created with rubber bands, a wheel, a paper towel tube, and some tape and string.
- Instruments — Create a guitar or drum with simple materials and learn about the science of sound.
- Art supplies — finger paints, pencils, crayons, scissors, glue, and various craft materials can be used to create imaginative art projects. This center can be tied into material used in your science or reading centers.
- Book baskets — a mixture of fiction and non-fiction books can be organized into a milk crate or book bag. You can create a simple library based on reading ability and topic. A text the child chooses reinforces reading for interest and personal enjoyment. For early readers, a center with the audiobook and the physical book gives a child a chance to listen to the words and see them on the page. Studies show that the increase in exposure to written words improves, decoding skills, vocabulary, fluency, reading comprehension, as well as writing ability.
- Include a movement center or two — GoNoodle is great for that or create something fun that your child enjoys.
Reading Specific Centers
For reading-specific centers, here is a website created by the Florida Reading Research Center. Each are separated by grade level and provide practice in all the foundations of reading:
Reading Rockets is another excellent resource. Take the materials and organize them in a child-safe container. Use the same centers for a few days, then change them out. Focus on games and choose ones that are engaging and interactive. The more kinesthetic and interactive you can make them, the better.
Here is a resource page for great links for reading skills. I really enjoy empowering parents to help their children on their learning journey. Feel free to reach out with more questions. I taught 1st grade for over 10 years and centers were the only way to be able to teach small groups. Take a look at this blog for more info about working with Kindergarten and preschool-aged children if you like.
Above all else, have fun. Learning should be engaging, interesting, inclusive, and most importantly, fun. Parents can be really effective at helping their children learn more effectively. If you are new to homeschooling or you are pulling your hair out trying to get your child to get work done, please know there is a better way that does not involve worksheets and all your patience. For additional information please visit my blog about the role parents play in helping their child with online tutoring or try Mistakes Are Awesome for a look at the importance of mistakes in the learning process. Please feel free to ask questions anytime. I am happy to have a conversation addressing your ideas or concerns about this amazing quest for knowledge and your child’s joy of learning.
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