The child centered classroom: Adding things to do

I have been writing about setting up classrooms over the past few weeks and so far I talked a little bit about setting up furniture and selecting baskets for your shelves. Once you have your baskets, you will certainly need to decide what will go into the baskets.

What goes into each basket depends on the purpose behind each center (shelf) you are creating. For example, in the fine motor center/shelf I put lacing cards, weaving materials, and other supplies that invite fine motor development.

The question to ask yourself when you add toys or materials to a basket is, “What will the children actually do with these materials?”  You don’t have to have all the answers because children certainly have a way of coming up with their own ideas but you should have some idea or vision as to how the materials can be used for play or learning.

For example, I found these little rubber cars in a box and put them out for the children to play with. But the cars seemed kind of boring in the basket all by themselves. I wanted to put the cars in my math center, so to invite a little counting, I added dice too. The children may choose to do something totally unexpected with the cars, but I wanted to offer choices for different kinds of play by including additional materials with the cars.

I have also been making items to put in the baskets for play. For our math center I made these magnetic pom-poms…

I also took a bunch of random old blocks we had stashed around and added velcro to them, thanks to an idea I found here, for our math center. Now they have offer a new dimension of play…

I am looking forward to getting back into the classroom so I can take some photos of how the children actually play with these items. After setting out baskets in the centers, I will want to observe the children at play and determine where adjustments need to be made so play can be successful.

Oh, and I want to make sure that each basket of toys I provide has enough materials for 2 to 4 children to play with. It really depends on the resources I can muster up.

And where possible, I try to make sure that I match the size of the materials I provide with the size of the baskets I have. Not everything has to go into a basket, of course, but it does make for easier clean up and easier for the children to take care of things when they know where items belong and how to put them away neatly. These animals didn’t quite fit into my baskets… Hmmm – I will have to observe this to see if it works out okay anyway:)

In each of my centers/shelves I want to provide a different type of experience. I want to make sure that all developmental domains are being challenged and explored.

When I was cleaning out some of our centers, I noticed that we had an over-abundance of some materials, like ink stamps, and not very much of other materials, like good markers. So I want to find a balance of materials. No need to have 100 ink stamps out all at once. We can rotate them instead.

Finally, I want to mention that the classroom centers/shelves are not the only things provided in our classrooms for children to do. The centers are there for children to use during their free play but they are a critical component to keeping children positively engaged in the classroom experience.

A good, quality, well-organized, and well furnished classroom environment is like having another teacher in the classroom. It makes a huge difference in classroom management. The classroom set-up and materials can help you focus on being a facilitator of play rather than a micro-manager of children who want to play. A well designed classroom will lead children towards positive and constructive play.

Oh, and see this metal cookie sheet below. I saw a note on PreK Pages facebook page that these were available for $1 at the Dollar store – so I went and stocked up. We use them as magnetic boards and even trays for tiny pieces in each of our classrooms!

When the centers are child-centered then you will feel more confident in giving your students the freedom to explore and will be more confident that their exploration will lead to a positive learning and play experience.

By |2010-12-29T12:42:20+00:00December 29th, 2010|

About the Author:

Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. has been working and teaching in the field of early childhood education for over 30 years. Deborah currently owns and teaches in her own part-time, private preschool called The Children’s Studio. Deborah’s deep passion for teaching and working with young children is documented and then graciously shared with millions of readers around the world through her blog and other social networking communities. Deborah believes that young children learn best through play and exploration and embraces this belief in all that she does in her own classroom so that she can effectively and passionately share rewarding, real- life, tried-and-true practices with other teachers, parents, and leaders across the field of early childhood education.


  1. Scott December 29, 2010 at 12:47 pm - Reply

    As usual, you inspire my thinking. Thanks for a great post about practical organization.

  2. Deborah J. Stewart December 29, 2010 at 12:53 pm - Reply

    Wow – you are a fast commenter Scott! LOL!

  3. Alesia December 29, 2010 at 1:46 pm - Reply

    This came right on time! Before I left for Christmas break I was feeling like I needed to make a change to my classroom. I noticed that the children were starting to get bored with the materials that were out, and I was thinking of different things I could do with some of the materials that I have. Thank you for your ideas!!!!

    • Deborah J. Stewart December 29, 2010 at 1:58 pm - Reply

      You are welcome Alesia:)

  4. Karen Harrington December 30, 2010 at 8:54 am - Reply

    Deborah, I must say you amaze me! I love this article!!!! I have a huge roll of velcro that a parent gave me because she had no idea what to do with it. Well, I sure do – NOW. I can’t wait to get to school and try this. I have a small problem with my classroom in that it also doubles as a Sunday School class on the weekends. I must put away all my supplies but since I use baskets like your’s it makes it a little easier. Thanks again for more great ideas.

    • Deborah J. Stewart December 30, 2010 at 3:40 pm - Reply

      I used to teach in a program where I had to put everything away too! One thing I did too that you might like to know about is I kept two large plastic rectangular tubs with lids. I stacked them on top of each other and used them for sensory. I rotated the materials I kept in them like oatmeal, corn, rice, water and so on. I will blog about this soon:)

  5. Centers and Circle Time December 31, 2010 at 9:51 pm - Reply

    I’m sad to report the Center I work for is lacking materials. I am micro-managing the classroom all the time because there isn’t enough interesting material to go around. I’m always hitting the dollar store and thrift stores to pick up things here and there. Thanks for the ideas, I’ll have a list in hand next time I go:)

    • Deborah J. Stewart January 1, 2011 at 9:00 pm - Reply

      I think you are like many teachers Myra! It is hard to supply all that we desire on such limited budgets – I love your resourcefulness and we just need to keep being creative!

  6. Teri January 1, 2011 at 2:32 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much for these wonderful, inexpensive ideas to help provide more for the kids. I have been using trays, and plastic, square bowls and I love the idea of the strawberry baskets for weaving/fine motor skill practice!

    • Deborah J. Stewart January 1, 2011 at 8:55 pm - Reply

      I keep looking for new and easy and frugal ideas too! When I found this idea, I loved it!

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