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THINKING IT THROUGH: TEACHING AND LEARNING IN THE KINDERGARTEN CLASSROOM
ELEMENTARY TEACHERS’ FEDERATION OF ONTARIO
The Educator’s Role
The educator’s role is multi-faceted. Initially,
there are some very concrete decisions to be
made about choice of furniture and materials in
view of what is known about child development
and the particular group of children entering the
program.
Once the centre has been established, the
educator has several roles to play.
In the role of observer, the educator considers
the following:
• Are children following the routines?
• Is the centre working?
• How are children using the materials? What
would extend the play?
• What skills or strategies are they applying?
• What do they know? What can they do?
• What are the needs and interests of these
children?
• What do I need to document about the
learning?
In the role of active participant, the educator
considers these questions:
• What do I need to model? (social skills
such as taking turns; asking for materials;
routines such as how to put the materials
away; or a problem-solving strategy)
• Should I enter into a role? (For example,
should I play a waiter in the restaurant to
model language, or play the role of a narrator
for Three Billy Goats to sustain drama?)
• How can I extend the children’s thinking and
learning? (What questions can I ask? For
example, “What else could you try? What
do you think might happen? What happens
next?”)
“…Teachers spend time modelling and teaching
children routines for the centres. Teachers also
observe children at the learning centres and
gather assessment information on individual
children in order to plan instruction and
determine appropriate materials for teaching.”10
Choice
Giving children the opportunity to make choices
fosters their independence and encourages them
to take responsibility for their own learning. If
one of the learning goals for the kindergarten is
to develop self-directed learners and instill a love
of learning, then children need to be involved in
deciding what they want to do.
Child’s Choice vs. Educator’s Choice
It may be helpful to track which centres the
children choose to visit on a class list or pocket
chart. Children’s choices indicate their interests
and level of comfort. This information can be used
to inform practice and guide planning decisions.
Photo or Graphic of Educator’s Recording Chart
A task board, a “must do” approach, or rotating
groups of children through centres in small groups,
limits children’s opportunity to make choices. It
also sends a strong message to children about
who is in control of decision-making and what
is valued in the classroom. Developing children’s
Thinking It Through
• What do I value as an educator?
• What message does the organization
and the displays give to children and
parents?
• How does this learning environment
incorporate all areas of child
development and meet the needs of all
the learners?

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THINKING IT THROUGH: TEACHING AND LEARNING IN THE KINDERGARTEN CLASSROOM
ELEMENTARY TEACHERS’ FEDERATION OF ONTARIO
Throughout the year, materials should be added,
removed, rotated, and refreshed in order to
maintain children’s interest and maximize
learning. If materials stay static for too long at
Example
At the beginning of the year or when a new learning centre is introduced, the intent of the centre may
be quite simple. For example, initially at the modelling centre, the educator organizes the centre
with a mat and a container of play dough for each child. Mike’s intent is for children to explore the
materials without the use of tools to encourage fine motor control, and to prompt them to develop
different techniques. He deliberately chooses not to add things like cookie cutters as he has noticed
that children don’t explore modelling but become focused only on cutting out cookies. The chairs
are placed facing each other to promote social interaction and conversation. The educator plans to
observe the children and model techniques for rolling and creating shapes as appropriate.
Later, the educator changes the organization and adds a covering for the table with a communal
container for new materials such as plasticine or clay. This gives the children the opportunity to work
co-operatively, problem-solve the division of the materials, and decide how many children can work
comfortably at the table. The children can apply what they learned about modelling with play dough
to the plasticine, and explore the differences of this new material. The educator invites children to
represent their ideas, e.g., the characters in a story, a model of the playground or explore techniques
for printing. He also selects storybooks that use plasticine in illustrations as a focus point for
discussion and motivation for children to explore.
a particular centre, children will lose interest.
Conversely, if materials are changed too often
children will not have an opportunity to fully
engage with them.
The materials and props send an important
message about what is valued and what is intended
for children to learn. When first introducing
a learning centre, it is important to introduce
materials gradually, moving from the familiar to
the novel and from the concrete to the abstract.
By beginning with familiar materials, children
will gain confidence and be able to participate
independently at the learning centre. Children
may be more apt to use literacy materials in their
play when these have been formally introduced
and discussed.
Possible Situations during Learning Centre
Time
Even the most well-planned, purposeful
kindergarten classroom is not necessarily
problem-free. Children’s behaviour during
learning centre time can vary depending on
their development (degree of self-direction, self-
control, risk-taking, and responsibility), and
experience in social settings (degree of acceptance,
respect, co-operation, and comfort in interacting
with others). Their interests and needs change
over time and the environment needs to adapt to
them.
When difficulties arise, observation and
information are key to making informed decisions.

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LEARNING IN CENTRES
The following are some questions to guide decision-
making:
• When does this situation occur? Does it
occur at a certain time of day? At a certain
point in the schedule? At a certain time of
year?
• Who is involved? Is it usually the same
children? Is this a pattern of behaviour?
Situations Observed
Reflective Questions
Strategies to Try
Arguing in a centre
(aggression with
words or actions,
exclusion of others)
Is this an isolated instance? Or is
it a pattern of behaviour?
Does this generally occur at this
particular centre?
How many children can
comfortably be accommodated
in the space?
Are there enough materials for
children to use, e.g., four shovels
for four children?
Do the children know acceptable
ways to express their feelings?
Do the children have a model for
conflict resolution?
Are there things that need to be
modeled? (For example, taking
turns, sharing, asking for a toy?)
Note the time of day, the participants, and
the context of the argument.
Look at the traffic flow to see if there is
enough room.
Reposition the furniture to open up the
space, or amalgamate spaces.
Discuss the need for accepting other
people’s ideas / feelings, and how body
language and people’s faces can offer us
information about those feelings.
Brainstorm possible solutions to the
problems and ways to express feelings.
Model and invite children to role-play, e.g.,
asking for materials, taking turns.
Next, reflect on:
• How have my decisions and planning
influenced what is occurring?
• What needs to change? Be re-taught? Be
reinforced? Or be modeled?
• Who needs the extra support? One or two
children, a small group, or everyone?
• How can the children be part of the
solution?
The following chart outlines some situations
which may occur and offers questions educators
might reflect upon, as well as strategies to try.

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THINKING IT THROUGH: TEACHING AND LEARNING IN THE KINDERGARTEN CLASSROOM
ELEMENTARY TEACHERS’ FEDERATION OF ONTARIO
Situations Observed
Reflective Questions
Strategies to Try
Disorganization of
centre after use –
materials missing/not
put away/broken
Are there too many materials?
How can I gradually build
children’s success in caring for,
and organizing materials?
Are the materials appropriate
for children at this stage of
development?
Limit the number of materials, especially
at the beginning of the year.
Demonstrate how to handle and care for
items. After demonstration, have one of
the children show how to put things away.
Appoint a child each day to ‘inspect’ the
centres at the end of tidying.
Clearly label storage bins with pictures
and words, or mark the contour of the item
on the shelving, so children will know
where things go.
Engage children in reorganizing the centre.
Inappropriate voice
and actions used
Do the children clearly
understand the behavioural
expectations?
Who are the children involved
and is this a pattern of
behaviour?
What do I need to model?
How can I guide/redirect
choices to facilitate productive
behaviour?
Are the toys/materials leading
children into inappropriate play?
Establish classroom/centre expectations.
(“Remember…” Chart.) If things aren’t
working, re-teach or change. Discuss why
loud voices and destructive actions are
not acceptable.
Sometimes children are not aware of the
effect of their voice, so drama activities
using the voice in different ways can be
helpful.
Be specific in acknowledging appropriate
behaviour.
Redirect use of materials, and acknowledge
examples of different ways materials are
used.
Running between
centres
How can I organize the centres to
facilitate and guide effective and
appropriate traffic flow?
Are the expectations about
running in the classroom clear?
When does the running occur? Is
there a pattern?
Ensure that spaces for centres are well-
defined to indicate the purpose.
Move furniture, shelving, and dividers to
cordon off the space.
Eliminate large expanses of space that
encourage running.
Ensure that children have an opportunity
for physical movement and exercise
within the day.

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LEARNING IN CENTRES
Situations Observed
Reflective Questions
Strategies to Try
Wandering, difficulty
making a choice,
changing centres
frequently
Is the child’s style to watch
and observe for a while before
becoming involved?
Does the child lack personal or
social confidence?
Are the choices overwhelming?
Does the child not know how to
engage in play activities on his/her
own and/or with others?
Is the child’s style to investigate
everything first before spending
more time on one activity?
Allow the child time to watch before asking
him/her to make a choice.
Photos of the centres may help children
identify where they would like to go,
especially at the beginning of the year. This
strategy is particularly useful for English
Language Learners.
Have children share what they did at sharing
time to give others ideas of what to try.
Invite a child to engage with you and perhaps
a few others at a centre to build confidence
and comfort.
For children who can’t make a choice, give
them two choices from which to select (Would
you like to go to the sand or the puzzles?).
Children choose same
centres repeatedly
How can I encourage interest in
other centres?
Are children uncomfortable/
unfamiliar with other materials/
areas in the classroom?
How can I ensure that children
are growing in all elements of
development?
Recognize that once children build their
confidence with an activity, they want to
repeat the experience. It is the repeated
experience that builds their knowledge and
understanding of how the materials work.
Go for a walkabout in the classroom, talking
about all the centres to ensure that everyone
knows where things are and what is available.
At the end of learning centre time, stop the
children and have half the children visit the
other half at their activities to talk about
what they are doing, and then switch.
Depending on your relationship with the
children, invite them to work with you at a
particular centre.
After observing what is needed, add
materials to favourite centres to extend the
experience into other areas of development.

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THINKING IT THROUGH: TEACHING AND LEARNING IN THE KINDERGARTEN CLASSROOM
ELEMENTARY TEACHERS’ FEDERATION OF ONTARIO
Situations Observed
Reflective Questions
Strategies to Try
Centres not being used
Why are children not using this
particular centre? What is of
interest to children at this centre?
Is the centre accessible?
Does it need to be changed with
new materials added?
Is the centre too educator-
directed?
Is it the time of year? (An ABC word
study centre may not be of interest
at the beginning of the year.)
Re-evaluate the purpose of the centre and
the materials placed there to ensure they are
attractive, of good quality, interesting, and
age-appropriate.
Involve the children in changing the centre,
asking for their ideas and help in setting it up.
Change the location of the centre if needed.
Introduce one aspect of the centre and use
it in some way with the group, asking for
suggestions.
Over time, introduce other materials.
Work at the centre with a group of children
to engage them and determine their needs
and interests.