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When Center Time gets Overwhelming

Do you want to keep your preschool center time fresh and engaging, but get overwhelmed at the thought of actually doing it? I hear ya…. changing out centers for center time is some serious work!  But, what you need is a plan!

There are so many moving parts to center time that it can easily leave you feeling defeated before you even change anything out. How does anyone have the time to change out centers anyway?!

I actually used to come in on one of my off days every other week to turn over my classroom centers. It was time consuming and even required prep work to gather all the materials ahead of time so that I could be ready to change everything out when the day came.

I’m happy to report that I no longer do that. It was just too much. It took too much of my off time and it left me dreading those change out days. And to be perfectly honest, there were a lot of times that I just didn’t change them out at all.

But, with what we know about the power of play and the importance of using the environment as a second teacher – I knew I needed to find a way to change out centers without feeling so much stress.

So, I do what I do with most problems that come my way in the preschool world and I mapped it out. I got out a piece of paper and just started organizing my thoughts to try and come up with a better way.  And with a few tweaks and changes here and there, the plan I had come up with worked pretty darn well (if I do say so myself).

While I understand that the way I do things will not work for everyone, I want to share in case it does help someone…. so here we go!

Step 1: Decide on which centers you want to change out on a regular basis and which you plan to keep the same (with maybe a couple minor changes here and there). 

For me, I decided to change out my dramatic play area, science center, sensory table and library.  To be perfectly transparent I actually change out 8 centers now, but I worked my way up to this number. I started with what felt manageable at the time and that was four.  I kept my block center, art center, writing center, math center and playdough center pretty much untouched. Except for the occasional themed stamps and stickers for the art center or seasonal playdough mats. 

So, for right now – decide which center you want to commit to changing out – but don’t overdo it!

Step 2: Decide on the duration that you will change the center out (weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, bi-monthly).

Using your prior experience, at what point do your students seem to lose interest in the centers that you will be changing?

For me, I found that changing the science center every 2 weeks and the sensory tub every 2 weeks works well. I’ve also found that keeping the dramatic play center the same for a month (rather than 2 weeks) has helped push children into other centers when they find that the drama center is getting stale. When I changed it every 2 weeks, they lived in that center all year long. For the library I change the books monthly by theme.

It’s all about trial and error, but make a plan on how often you want to change out the centers you chose from step 1 and commit to it for several months and see how it goes.

Step 3: Stagger, stagger, stagger!

Unless you like staying at school hours past when you should have said ‘peace out’, then you gotta stagger your changes.

For example: I change out my science and sensory every two weeks. I make sure to stagger this so I am not spending excessive amounts of time after school. So, I change out science on a Monday and Sensory on a Wednesday. Or, I could have went a different direction and staggered which week of the month each was being changed out – like week 1 of the month changing science and week 2 of the month changing sensory.

When you stagger your change-outs it feels so much more manageable. You are only having to plan and hunt for materials for one center at a time. Plus, it’s takes less time at the end of the day to just do one center – instead of killing yourself trying to make them all new at the same time!

Step 4: Really want to get your plan on? Plan out your center changes in advance!

I have a Preschool Planning Matrix in Google Docs that lays out which centers I am doing when. I made it over the summer when hosting the ‘Say Aloha to a New Year’ training. It has been a lifesaver and I no longer have to wonder… what should we do next?!

If you want to sign up for the replay of the training and get your own customizable Preschool Planning Matrix, you can do so at the link below:

Preschool Yearly Planning

Tell me… does this plan seem like one that could be helpful?

Guide to Preschool Centers

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I love helping preschool teachers be the best they can be, by providing quality resources and sharing fun ideas!

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