December 5, 2023

How to Organize Centers in a SpEd Pre-K Classroom

Are you in the process of setting up centers? Need ideas on how to organize your hubs? Read on to learn how I focus in my Co-Teach Blended Pre-K classroom.

Schedule of lessons in the centers

Table with academic subjects - Mat.  Letters, fine motor skills, writing, etc. and activities below
Sample center lesson plan

Math, fine motor skills, library, writing, puzzles, and science are some of the most popular focuses of special education classes. As an early childhood special education teacher, I know that centers are how children learn and grow. The first step is to decide how many centers you will have in your classroom and how often you will change them. I have to have at least eight centers in my Pre-K classroom, but my other teacher and I have more. In my lesson plan, I have a table (shown above) with the names of the centers and the activities available at each center. Ideally I have 2-3 activities in each center so that I can have more than one student in the center.

Ideally, you will write down your centers and activities for each one. Deciding in advance how often centers will change will help you stay sane. We usually change them every two weeks and do a dramatic play every month. Our dramatic play usually matches the theme and takes a long time to prepare. Check out my blog here to see more. Again, create a template for the lesson plans in the center and decide how often you will change them.

Organizational centers

Sensory center sign
Sensory Senter sign

Next, you need to decide where each center will be and mark them. Now this part works best when you know your style and what works best for you and the students. Some teachers hang signs on ceiling labeling tables, others give signs (see image above) or color code centers with tape/stickers. We usually have to plan for some tables to have a dual purpose. In other words, it can be a student desk, but during centers anyone can work there as long as they are in the puzzle center.

In my classroom, the student desks act as marker centers and there are individual centers as well. Some of the separate centers are a drama play, water table, desk, science table, light table, doll house, library and listening center. Students learn to put math activities on a chart labeled math only during center time. Find the centers and mark them so the student can clearly see where they are supposed to go. GENTLEMEN! Now you have your centers planned and set up!

Desk – blue inscription on the top right

The student led

Center velcro Sign-in sheet

Next, you create what I call a “sign-in sheet” for each center. The “sign-in sheet” will need to tell students what type of center it is with a visual and how many students are allowed in that center. It is very important that each center has its own limit and that students are aware of this from day one.

In our class, we laminated / color coded the center letter in the leaves and added velcro dots. Each velcro represents one student. So if they see five velcro spots, they understand that only five students are allowed to play there. So if all five seats are occupied, the student knows the center is full. This helps create independence, responsibility and provides free choice or free range for them to choose as they wish.

I have tried and seen many ways to do this, I know some teachers have created an actual sign in sheet for students to write their names and only provide so many lines. You can use a clothespin for students to sign in to the center, pictures, Velcro name tags, Velcro sticks, or appropriate visuals. I love using popsicles! You need to set up how students will log in and how students will know that centers are available. Which method will you choose?

Login to the math center
Log in to the math center
A popsicle stick with the student's name and picture
a popsicle stick with their names and picture

Trial and error

And it is done! Once you figure out the steps above, planning lessons and organizing centers should be a breeze! The last step would be to add activities appropriate for your students that match the topic. My number one tip is to always incorporate toys or activities that are engaging. Be flexible! It’s all trial and error to find what works for you. If you notice students losing interest earlier than your rotation, replace one or two items from this center to generate more interest.

Finally, if you want to create life skills classroom centers, check out this blog. Comment below if these tips helped you. Happy planning!

Yalie- Early Childhood Special Education Teacher

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