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Preschool Centers: Free Choice or Rotation?

One of the most common questions that I get in regards to preschool centers is “Do you do free-choice centers or a rotation?”.  While I have my own opinions on the topic, I think it’s important to look at the pros and cons to everything you do in your classroom, as to make an educated decision. So, let’s take some time to look at both the pros and cons of both – to better help you make a decision on which is best for your classroom.

Free Choice Centers are generally defined as allowing children to move from center to center whenever they choose and without limit.

Running Preschool Centers on Rotation is usually managed by the teacher and children are told to go to certain centers. They then rotate to different centers based on the time span the teacher sets.

Free Choice Preschool Centers


  • Students make their own choices. They get to choose to interact with centers that interest them and have a piece of control over their time in play.
  • Because students choose the center they go to, they are more engaged in the activity at that center.
  • Students can also decide who they interact with. With free choice centers, children decide if they want to go to a center to play with a specific peer. Or, they can choose to leave a center if a peer is being disruptive or un-kind.
  • More movement. Generally children will move their bodies more when moving from center to center. When their body is getting restless in one place, they can choose to move to another place.


  • Not all students are going to every center.  Students may not choose to enter centers that don’t interest them.
  • It can be challenging to try and get students interested in centers they will not try on their own.
  • One center might get over-crowded if there is no limiting of children.


 Preschool Center Rotations


  • All children go to every center on a rotating basis. Students are required to try out centers they may not try out on their own.
  • You know that children will get exposure to certain activities, that cover certain skills because they are going to every center.
  • You can control the amount of students in each center, keeping them from getting over-crowded.
  • You can control which students work together and which do not to possible deter behavior issues.


  • Because children aren’t choosing the centers they go to, they may become bored and un-engaged.
  • Children will not get the opportunity to choose which peers they want to build a relationship with during play.
  • Children may try to switch centers to play with a different peer or material, resulting in more management from the teacher.
  • Children may start to dislike playtime because they don’t have the ability to make choices based on their interests.
  • If rotations happen after a certain amount of time, there may become transition issues for students who want more time in one center, but are made to move or who are bored with the center before the time is up.

As you can see, there really are pros and cons to both choices!  It’s important to take into account your class, your preschool centers and the philosophy you operate by.

For my class, I have always chose free-play.  Mainly because the restrictions and lack of choice goes against my philosophy.  However, this choice also means that I have to work harder to make some of those ‘unpopular’ centers more engaging to get students interested in them!  It really is a give and take for both options!

I hope this helped you lay out the benefits and restrictions of each choice when it comes to running centers. That way, you can make the best choice for your situation. Drop a comment and let me know – which works best for your classroom?

Guide to Preschool Centers

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