Health and
Physical Activity
ELEMENTARY TEACHERS’ FEDERATION OF ONTARIO
Learning
In Centres

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LEARNING IN CENTRES
Introduction
It is learning centre time, and the educator explains the new activities and materials available that
day. Jim asks who would like to use the props for the story Mouse Count, which the children know
well. Rasheed and William ask for the props as they are excited by the model snake.
Next, Jim asks who would like to join him in a colour-mixing experiment. The children will add
different food colouring to water in clear bottles. Jim says he wants them to observe what happens
when different amounts of colours are added. This experiment will take place over three or four days
with different groups of interested children. Eventually, the bottles will be displayed in the windows
for children to observe the colours through the light. Jim writes the names of six children who are
interested and says he will work first with one group of three, and then with the other group. He asks
George if he would like to join the group as George seems to have difficulty making choices, and Jim
wants to learn more about him.
In turn, Jim asks each child what he or she would like to do. Sam and Liam want to continue making
their zoo in the sand box at the sand centre. Chung chooses the felt board again, he enjoys the
Five Little Monkeys felt set. Matt chooses painting as he wants to paint his box sculpture. Melinda
and Melissa want to go to the water centre where they have been enjoying filling up the plastic
containers with cubes and watching them sink. Jim asks Tamilya and Niruba (who like to sit side-by
side and choose the same centres), Jiaxi, and Denny to point to the centres where they would like to
go and then repeats their choices out loud – puzzles and bin toys.
As each child says a choice, Jim records it on his tally sheet of the centres. Along with working with two
groups for a short time, he specifically plans to observe and take a language sample of the children
using the props for Mouse Count. He plans to check in with Sam and Liam about their zoo and talk to
them about it. For the rest of the time, he will circulate among the different centres.
Physical
Social
Emotional
Cognition
Communication
Language
Literacy

4
THINKING IT THROUGH: TEACHING AND LEARNING IN THE KINDERGARTEN CLASSROOM
ELEMENTARY TEACHERS’ FEDERATION OF ONTARIO
What is a Learning Centre?
A learning centre is also known as an activity
centre. Some centres are permanent, such as a
reading corner, while others may be temporary
and based on a particular interest, such as
planting seeds.
Learning centres have specific purposes identified
by the educator and program expectations.
Materials chosen for each centre are based on
children’s developmental needs, interests, and
potential for exploration and learning.
In planning for learning centres, educators need
to think about the purpose and focus for each
centre, keeping in mind what they know about
child development overall, and their students in
particular.
The expectations for centres are as follows:
Each centre is well defined and organized for
easy access of materials.
• Centres are not static, but evolve throughout
the year to meet the changing needs and
interests of the children.
• Educators consider the size of the space,
the location, the type of furniture, and the
materials that will best facilitate learning.
• Educators consider how to involve children
in the set-up, changes, and maintenance of
each centre.
• Materials placed in the centres are open-
ended in nature and students with a wide
range of abilities can access them effectively.
Why Learning Centres?
A kindergarten class is organized differently
than a grade classroom, in that it is filled with
learning centres. While classrooms for older
grades are generally organized around desks,with
learning centres to the side, the kindergarten
class is organized around learning centres for the
following reasons:
1. Learning centres are a means to provide
a developmentally appropriate learning
environment for young children. Through
learning centres, children engage in open-
ended activities, building on their prior
knowledge as well as constructing new
knowledge and skills. When learning centres
are developed based on children’s needs and
interests, all children can experience success,
build self-confidence, and develop a love of
discovery and learning.
2. “Learning centres offer children a powerful
opportunity to develop independence, risk-
taking, perseverance, initiative, creativity,
reasoning, and problem-solving – the
‘learning to learn’ skills.”1 These are the skills
that children need to succeed in school and in
life.
3. Learning centres afford children
opportunities “to explore, experiment,
manipulate, problem-solve, progress at
their own rate of development, practice and
apply skills and concepts, relate ideas from
one material to another, respond creatively,
develop communication skills, and acquire
reading and writing behaviours in real-life
situations.”2
4. Thoughtful and well-planned learning centre
experiences foster:
• the development of oral language;
• social skills;
• literacy and mathematics learning;
• sensory learning;
• problem-solving;
• inquiry;
• higher-order thinking skills; and
• the development of physical skills.
5. Learning centres support the development
of the whole child across five domains. For
example, as children build a castle at the big
blocks, they develop:

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LEARNING IN CENTRES
• social competence as they work and interact
co-operatively, while contributing their own
independent thoughts and ideas;
• language and cognitive skills as they use
language, vocabulary, and problem-solve;
• emotionally as they attend to the task
within the group and as they use their
differing abilities;
• physically as they practice both gross and
fine motor skills, e.g., lifting and balancing
blocks, drawing and writing; and
• communication skills and general
knowledge as they use their literacy and
numeracy skills, and use their knowledge
about castles to build and represent their
understanding.
During the kindergarten years, the development
across these domains is strongly interrelated.
(See chapter on Child Development)
Early Learning and Brain Development
“Play is how children make sense of the world
and is an effective method of learning for young
children. Ideas and skills become meaningful;
tools for learning are practiced; and concepts are
understood. Play engages children’s attention
and offers a challenge that is within the child’s
capacity to master.”3
Domains of Development
• Social Competence;
• Emotional Maturity;
• Communication, Language and
Literacy;
• Cognition; and
• Physical Health and Well being.

6
THINKING IT THROUGH: TEACHING AND LEARNING IN THE KINDERGARTEN CLASSROOM
ELEMENTARY TEACHERS’ FEDERATION OF ONTARIO
Current research on early learning and brain
development indicates the following information
needs to be considered to ensure enriching
and meaningful experiences for kindergarten
children.4
(See chapters on Play and Child
Development)
Learning is social and takes place within
children’s cultural context.
Children learn by interacting with others
and participating in activities that afford
them the opportunity to talk, hear what
others have to say, observe, and experiment.
During the early years, children are
learning how to learn.
During the kindergarten years, children
are practicing the tools of learning, such as
planning, monitoring, revising, reflecting,
investigating, solving problems, and
exchanging points-of-view with others.
Children build new understandings from
existing ideas and concepts.
Learning proceeds from the concrete to
the abstract. When planning activities,
educators need to provide hands-on
concrete experiences and begin with what
the children know as this motivates and
engages them in learning.
Basic skills are meaningless if they are not
part of a larger context.
Activities must be meaningful for children
and placed within a context. For example,
children learn about reading and writing as
they engage in such activities as ‘reading’
the book which the educator read aloud,
and ‘writing’ a friend’s name on a picture.
Techniques such as flashcards, teaching
a letter sound as part of a program, and
worksheets teach skills in isolation. Children
need to develop their knowledge of letters,
sounds, and concepts about print and apply
them as an integral part of the process of
learning to read and write.
Consequently, when planning learning centres,
educators need to ensure that they foster oral
language development, social interaction,
problem-solving, and hands-on concrete
activities. As well, activities must be meaningful
and developmentally appropriate to ensure
engagement.
Adapting the Program
For English Language Learners,
refer to Stages of Language
Acquisition for ways to support
children’s oral language
development.5
Making the Connections
Learning centres are where children can explore,
revisit, create, and recreate based on past
experiences and new knowledge. Experiences
at these centres can be connected to various
experiences to extend the learning.
It is important that the connections to learning
centre experiences are natural and meaningful.
While it can be tempting to tie all activities at every
centre to a program theme or topic, the educator
needs to make sure that the play afforded at the
centre contributes to the learning in a way that is
authentic and engaging. Moreover, flooding every
centre with activities on the same theme or topic
can be counter-productive as it can prompt the
child to lose curiosity and interest. The themes
chosen for exploration determine their fit with
various learning centres.

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LEARNING IN CENTRES
After a read-aloud or shared
reading
– The story of the day is placed in the reading corner for children to
revisit and enjoy.
– The book with illustrations using torn paper is placed at the collage
centre for children to use as a reference when experimenting with torn
paper.
– The book showing examples of tools is placed at the technology centre
for reference.
– The models of the gingerbread story characters are added to the sand
for retelling.
– Five yellow ducks and the book are added to the math centre for
children to use when making up stories about five.
After a visit to a local bakery
– The educator engages children in various baking experiences. The
baking pans, utensils, empty packages, playdough, and recipe are added
to the dramatic play centre for children to revisit the experience and
use associated language.
After going on a listening walk
outdoors
– The educator and children record what they heard and discuss the
different sounds.
– The educator on her own, and with children, creates listening games for
the science and technology centre where children identify the object
by its sound, match and order sounds, and create sounds with different
objects.
After a visitor comes to the
classroom, e.g., a vet
– The educator adds props to the dramatic play (stethoscope, bandages,
scale, empty medicine bottles, etc.) for children to role-play.
– The educator observes and engages children in thinking about other
props they might need.
After taking rubbings of
objects outside in the
playground
– Children create their own textured pictures and the rubbings are placed
at the collage centre for children to add to their collages at other times.
After children had various
experiences exploring
shadows in the playground
– The educator adds the overhead projector to the science and
technology centre along with various objects so children can explore
making shadows.
– The educator adds flashlights to the building materials for children to
explore shadows with their structures.
Examples

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THINKING IT THROUGH: TEACHING AND LEARNING IN THE KINDERGARTEN CLASSROOM
ELEMENTARY TEACHERS’ FEDERATION OF ONTARIO
The educator observes the
children using The Three Bears
props in the dramatic play
centre
– In shared writing, the class creates a list of characters for the Three
Bears story. Before going to learning centres, the educator invites the
children to sign up for roles.
After observing the children
build tall structures with the
coloured blocks
– The educator adds thick pieces of card for children to create different
levels, as well as to use for ramps.
– The educator invites some of the children to record their structures.
As children make discoveries
at the various centres
– The educator invites the children to sign their name on the sign-up
sheet for sharing time.
– The educator listens to children’s explanations and questions for more
information.
After taking photos of a child’s
building in process
– The educator asks the child to explain what is happening in the photos.
Together, they create captions to be displayed.
After teaching the routine for
painting and watching the
children
– The educator plans a shared writing lesson to create the procedures for
the routine with illustrations and print.
– The procedures are reread and the educator asks the children to
demonstrate parts of the procedure.
After children draw, write, or
paint
– Each child has a place in the class ‘art gallery’ outside the room and can
add a drawing/painting/collage to his/her spot for others to view.
– The class often takes a gallery walk to view the new pieces.

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LEARNING IN CENTRES
Creating the Learning
Environment
“We value space because of its power to organize,
promote pleasant relationships between people of
all ages, create a handsome environment, provide
changes, promote choices and activity, and its
potential for sparking all kinds of social, affective
and cognitive learning. All of this contributes to
a sense of well-being and security in children. We
also think that the space has to be a sort of an
aquarium that mirrors the ideas, values, attitudes,
and cultures of the people who live within it.”6
The classroom environment has an impact on
children as learners, and on their learning. The
Reggio Emilia approach to early education
considers the environment as ‘the third teacher’.
In her book, Authentic Childhood, Susan Fraser
states that the environment “informs and shapes
the kind of learning that will happen in the
room.”7 The choices we make about materials,
tools, books, furniture set-up, and location of
centres indicate our values as educators, and our
intentions for learning and experiencing.
Some points to consider:
• Arrange materials, and learning centres,
in an aesthetically pleasing way to engage
children’s interest and to evoke curiosity.
• Think about lighting when deciding where
to place centres. Should the science and
technology centre be placed by a low window
for outdoor observations? Or, should the
visual arts centre capture the natural light
from the window?
• Ensure that materials are in good working
condition for safety reasons, and to prevent
children from becoming frustrated.
• Include natural materials as much as
possible – items that are naturally part
of the child’s world. These items engage
children in using their senses.
• Think about what is on the walls. How is
the work of all children represented in the
classroom? Is the work of all children valued
and represented?
Creating the learning environment begins before
the beginning of school.
Before school starts:
• Make a list of the centres that can
reasonably be supported in the classroom.
Is there enough furniture? Are there
enough materials? When moving into a
new room, some educators prefer to first
take everything out of the room so they
can arrange it without being influenced or
constrained by previous set-ups.
• Think about the location of the large group
meeting area. How much space is needed to
accommodate the number of children in the
group? Should it be at the back of the room
where there might be less distraction from
people coming to the door? Should you face
the door so that you can see people entering
or exiting the room?
• Consider what furniture will be needed for
the large group area - an easel for writing?
Storage? Bookshelf? Display space for wall
charts, etc.? Will this area also be used for
construction materials and games?
• Consider the children entering the
classroom. Have the children been in the
room before? Do they attend childcare or the
extended day program for part of the day?
Are they new to school? If children have
been to school before, or are in the childcare,
there can be more centres open, with more
materials, as they are already familiar with
them and the associated routines.
• Consider the kinds of centres that would
appeal to the children at the beginning of the
year. Sometimes, centres such as the ABC/
word-study centre are not popular at the
start of the year, and may be more effectively

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THINKING IT THROUGH: TEACHING AND LEARNING IN THE KINDERGARTEN CLASSROOM
ELEMENTARY TEACHERS’ FEDERATION OF ONTARIO
introduced once children have settled in.
• Plan the storage needed for each centre.
Where will the paper and writing resources
be placed so they are easily accessible? Are
there shelves by the water and the sand
centre for easy organization and access?
Where will completed paintings go? Where
will pieces from the collage centre be placed
to dry?
• Consider the placement of centres to
promote flow and use. For example, would
it be better to place the big blocks beside
the dramatic play so there can be interplay?
Should all the visual arts be close together
- painting, collage, and modelling? Could
the listening centre be part of the reading
corner?
• Walk through the routines for each centre
ahead of time to ensure the centre will
function properly. Where will children
get the material they need – is it easily
accessible? Where will they work? Is there
enough room? What will they need to
tidy up? Is that stored handily? What will
children need to know about the routine?
How will it be communicated and reinforced?
Will visuals help, or will the children
need a demonstration and walk through?
Consistency is important for young children
therefore it is advantageous to have routines
clearly mapped out ahead of time.
Adapting the Program
Become familiar with children
entering the program to determine
if there are children with special
needs who will require special
equipment or widened pathways.
For every centre, consider the following questions:
• Does the centre require an electrical outlet?
• Does the centre require proximity to a sink?
• Are materials placed near related materials?
(i.e., construction hats and trucks logically
extend block play.)
• Is there sufficient room for the activity to
be used to the fullest extent? (If the space is
too small, children will become frustrated.)
• Do the children have an appropriate number
of materials to use? (Too many materials
overwhelm, too few cause disagreements.)
• Are quiet areas separated from noisy ones?
• Are traffic patterns such that a child is
able to move to and from the centre with a
minimum amount of disruption to others?8
Once school starts:
Go for a walkabout with the children so they can
see what is available in the room. Talk about the
names for the centres. Circulate, getting to know
the children, acknowledging and reinforcing
behaviours and routines.
Remind children what is available at the centres
each day. Some educators take photos of the
actual centres and post them near the large group
area so that English Language Learners and shy
children can point to the centre where they would
like to work.
Model the routines, showing children what they
look like, question for understanding (Where
will I put this? What do I put on before I paint?)
and have a child model the routine. In this way,
children see it, hear it, and walk through it. Re-
teach where needed.
Children tend to feel more secure in an
environment when there is a sense of order. For
example, sorting is an important mathematical
skill, and a skill needed in life. Different models
of sorting and organizing may take place at each
centre. At dramatic play, children may put clothes
in the dresser and food in the fridge. At another

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LEARNING IN CENTRES
centre, they can return animal and transport
models to their labeled containers.
Children are much more likely to visit a visually
appealing and organized centre where they can
locate materials they need. For example, when the
sand materials are placed in labeled containers on
a shelf, children can easily see what is available
instead of wasting time rifling through a bin
under the sand box. Labeling containers with
pictures and words engages children in using
literacy and mathematics skills.
When setting up the learning environment,
educators also need to take into consideration
their knowledge of child development, children’s
socio-cultural context, as well as the needs
and interests of all children to ensure a
developmentally appropriate environment.9
Adapting the Program
In planning for children with
special needs, think about
individual needs with regard to:
safety (make sure areas are clear
of barricades that might cause
injury, and materials are of a
size that won’t be swallowed);
space (provide a quiet space
where children can go if they feel
overwhelmed, enlarge pathways
in the classroom for children with
spatial needs); access (to outdoors
for outdoor time, to centres with
entryways); and materials (board
books that make it easier to turn
the pages, a name card with raised
letters, visual cues to support
routines).