Learning Centers


- Parent: "What did you do in preschool today?"
- Child: "I played."
"Play!": That's your typical response from a preschooler!  And, yes, children do learn best through play.  Play is essential for healthy growth and development in all domains of learning.  In the preschool classroom, we set up the classroom environment with the goal of providing rich learning opportunities.  We create learning centers and plan experiences that are meaningful, engaging and hands-on for our students.  These experiences correlate to our Illinois Early Learning Standards (these are expectations for young children's development in all areas of learning).  More information on Early Learning Standards: http://www.isbe.state.il.us/earlychi/pdf/early_learning_standards.pdf. In planning for learning, we take into consideration the growth and development of the whole child, that is, nurturing each child's language, physical well-being, social-emotional well-being and cognitive growth.

Play is what helps children discover the world and make sense of it.  Essentially, it is a child's context for learning.  Exploration, investigation and social-interaction take place in active play.  Discoveries and inventions are made, risks are taken, rules are followed, other's perspectives taken, emotions are expressed and controlled, negotiations are made, conflicts emerge and get resolved, imaginations soar and childrens' sense of wonder is awakened.  All this in play!  Although on the surface it may seem disorderly and chaotic to an observer, young children's play is very much purposeful because it's child-directed and, therefore, intrinsically motivating.  There are many stages of play and it becomes increasingly complex and mature through experience and growth.  With time, children begin to engage in play that is more elaborate, detailed, sustained, and cooperative.

We allow children to choose centers, or learning areas, in the classroom EVERYDAY.  Do not underestimate the power and value of play.  Below, we offer you a peek into a typical day in the life of a preschooler as we list and explain the valuable learning that takes place during each routine and within each classroom center:


Children begin each day by entering the building and locating their name tags, so that they know where to hang up their backpacks and jackets.  The children are learning to recognize their names and important self-help skills (dressing and undressing):
Once in class, children assemble into a circle and determine who is present and who is absent that day.  We may sing a greeting song, read a story, do rhyming activities, introduce the alphabet letters, finger-plays and discuss what will happen on this particular day.  We meet in a circle, once again, at the end of our school day to reflect about our experiences and touch on classroom issues/conflicts and rules (if necessary).  In doing so, a sense of community is established.  Much learning takes place in the everyday routines and children feel secure and comfortable when they know what to expect.


After circle time, children choose from many of our centers (learning areas) to explore in.  These include: the math table, science center, housekeeping area, manipulatives, art table, writing center, blocks, dramatic play, trains/cars, sensory table, play-doh, and more.  We regularly change and rotate many of our centers, based on the theme of each month, the season, and children's interests.  Play at these centers contributes to children's cognitive, physical, social-emotional and creative development.  Play really is children's work!

More about our specific learning centers:


At the math center, children have the opportunity to handle manipulatives (such as dominoes, counters, small blocks, geometric shapes, etc.) and in doing so, learn important mathematic skills, such as: sorting by various properties, identifying and extending patterns, identifying shapes, counting, matching, measuring, sequencing, comparing and more.  Activities are often introduced to the large group, guided in small groups, and eventually practiced independently by the students.


At the discovery zone, or science center, children play the role of investigators.   They are learning about how things work and are using their senses to explore the world around them.  We rotate the objects at the science center based on seasons and themes and provide a variety of science activities/experiences for children to engage in.  These science experiences include opportunities for children to engage in observing, questioning, experimenting, predicting, comparing/contrasting, classifying, hypothesizing, collecting and analyzing data, and drawing conclusions.


We have plenty of manipulatives (or table toys), which are small toys for children to manipulate.  These include: snap blocks, magnet tiles, lacing cards, gears, pegs, puzzles, and more.  Manipulating these provides children with the opportunity to strengthen their fine-motor skills, improve hand-eye coordination, and strengthen mathematic skills, such as sorting, counting, and patterning.
Play-doh strengthens small muscles: children can squeeze, pinch, roll, cut, and poke small objects into play doh.  Every month, we make different colored play doh for children to play with.


At the housekeeping center (or kitchen), children act-out scenarios, often what they may experience at home with family.  Children express their emotions in role-play.  They express themselves creatively and play many roles.  There are child-sized tables and chairs, baby dolls and cribs, play dishes and food, a stove, washer and dryer unit, sink, dress-up clothing, and telephones.  Play at this center promotes creativity and communication, social skills (sharing, taking turns, negotiating, conflict resolution, etc) and enhances language development.  These scenarios increase in complexity over the year as these skills are strengthened.  This center is decidedly one of the most popular ones and you'll find it's always occupied!


Experiences in art, whether in visual art, drama, music, or dance, provide a healthy avenue for children to express themselves and their comprehension of the world.  Children have opportunities to explore a wide variety of media and using different techniques, including: paint, finger-paint, clay, play dough, crayons, markers, cutting and pasting, collages, and much more.  In preschool art, we focus on the process, not the end-product.


The writing center is stocked with writing instruments, paper, envelopes, and a message center that includes a chart with names of all of our students where children are encouraged to write to one another.  The class library is stocked with picture books, which are rotated based on our current theme/season.  Here, children learn book-handling skills, master basic concepts about print, and strengthen early literacy skills.


At these centers, children use their large-motor skills and improve their coordination and control.  In building with blocks and train tracks children may encounter some challenges and learn about how things work (“How do I get these blocks to stand, not fall?”).  As children build with blocks, they explore the forces of gravity, attempt to achieve balance, and experiment with cause and effect.  Children learn to become more persistent and improve their problem-solving abilities.


The dramatic play center allows children to assume different roles.  As they act out these roles, children’s vocabularies expand and they learn more about the important jobs and community workers in the neighborhood.  We provide props and costumes to help children bring these to life.  We begin the school year with tools and construction workers.  Different settings and occupations are portrayed throughout the year at the dramatic play center.  These include: grocery store, doctor’s office, veterinarian’s office, dental office, restaurant, McDonald’s drive through, office, dollhouse, post office, train station, and more.  Dramatic play helps children learn to cope with fears they may have because here, they are in control when they recreate some of these life experiences. 


One of the most exciting centers in preschool!  Children love to use the sense of touch to learn about things.  The sensory table is filled with different textures, which we rotate throughout the school year.  Children examine the properties of these textures using their hands.  We begin the year with sand and change to water, noodles, fake snow, rice, birdseed, dirt, pom-poms, and more.  Tools include spoons, funnels, sifters, spinning mills, cups, etc.  Using these, children practice measuring, improve eye-hand coordination, and explore cause and effect.


After centers, children line up, get dressed, and go outdoors (weather-permitting, of course)!  Outdoor play helps children strengthen their large-motor skills, such as coordination, control, and balance.  We use the preschool playground, where children have the opportunity to run, climb, slide, play catch with balls, jump around, organize games, use their imaginations, and expend all of that energy they seem to have so much of!  Sometimes, we go for neighborhood walks and explore nature, signs, houses, and decorations.  Outdoor play is indispensable.  Children need to play outside!


Children are offered a snack and milk daily by choice.   Children relax a little bit, sit together and have the opportunity to socialize with their peers!  It’s a time we also celebrate classroom birthdays.  Then, we say farewell and go home!

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