Using Center Activities to Promote Student Learning

Overview of Centers

 Using Center Activities to Promote Student Learning


Center activities play a critical role in fostering student learning. Cognitive skills are developed in a child-centered environment as students are empowered to make decisions, negotiate with peers, and create projects and scenarios while engaged in play. Executive function skills, such as self-control, planning/organizing, and cognitive flexibility, are central as students cooperate, problem solve and persist in an environment of creativity and curiosity. These same skills and behaviors, which are also assessed on the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment, connect directly to a person’s later success in school, college and career.

Centers are an integral part of the teacher’s daily schedule in early childhood classrooms. Dramatic play, blocks or construction zone, science, math, and art are some examples of centers commonly found in classrooms. Centers that allow students choice in how they engage and explore the materials are often referred to as developmental centers.  

Role of the Teacher

The teacher’s role is two-fold. First, a teacher should be purposeful in establishing the routines, selecting the materials, and planning a purpose or problem to solve for each center. The teacher is thoughtful in introducing the center to the entire class with a hands-on demonstration in the proper usage of the materials and the rules to follow. Students practice and role play the desired activity at each center, including the storage and clean-up of materials, until the teacher is comfortable with their performance. Materials are rotated in centers throughout the year based on observations of student interest and the topic or unit being taught by the teacher.

The second role of the teacher is being intentional and visible by observing and engaging students during center time. Throughout the year, the teacher asks questions, provides feedback, highlights positive examples of student behavior and work, and makes adjustments when necessary. The information collected is used as formative assessment to inform instruction. It may be to introduce a new skill or concept, re-teach a skill, or challenge individual students to the next level in their learning. 

Center Resources

The resources found in the Early Childhood folder on this site reflect a variety of developmental centers found in early childhood settings. Another type of center, sometimes referred to as work stations or learning centers, are also found in classrooms. They serve a different purpose by having a more structured approach with an academic focus. Students are usually given a specific task to complete that is a review or application of a skill or concept taught in a previous lesson. Both types of centers are important and are typically scheduled at separate times of the day.

Several resources have been valuable in learning about developmental centers. The books Choice Time by Renee Dinnerstein and Purposeful Play by Kristine Mraz, Alison Porcelli, and Cheryl Tyler, provide many ideas for developmental centers. Supporting Every Young Learner: Maryland’s Guide to Early Childhood Pedagogy Birth to Age 8 is available online. 

Return to top