When choosing hands-on math centers for your early learning classroom, it is important for them to be predictable, engaging, and address the key skills that students need to be practicing. It is even better, if you can find centers that allow students to use materials that you already have on hand.
That is why I created hands-on math centers that can be used throughout the year. Although some of the activities do change, they are still predictable and engaging for students, while also targeting important kindergarten math skills.
One of the most important things to keep in mind when choosing hands-on math centers for students is whether or not they are predictable. What I mean is that we want to ensure that students remember how to do the activity in the center. After all, center time is supposed to be independent. We don’t want students to constantly come up to us and ask how to complete the activity. For this reason, I try to use similar activities throughout the year. This is an easy way to ensure most young kids can retain memory of the instructions from before.
For example, students may have a math center each month where they use snap cubes to build shapes. Then, they count how many cubes they used. However, I can change what shapes they create on the activity mats throughout the year. This is a fun way to keep them engaged. When students first come to kindergarten in the beginning of the year, they build shapes like pencils and other school supplies. However, in April, they build butterfly and chick shapes. School activities such as these are a great place to start developing an interest in simple addition and other math fun. By doing this, students know what to expect in centers, without being bored by completing the exact same task every time.
Another key aspect to consider when choosing your hands-on math centers for the year is whether or not they are engaging to students. Again, center time should be independent work time for students. We want to make sure that they are actually utilizing that work time. A great way to ensure that happens is incorporating fun math games. Math center activities such as math puzzles or pattern activities can solidify early math skills.
One thing I like to bring in to make centers more engaging is student interest. At the kindergarten level, almost all students are interested in what is going on in their own lives, like holidays and changing seasons. So, I make all of my centers with holiday and seasonal themes. For example, in January, we work on centers with winter themes like mittens and snowmen. In May, when students are thinking about summer, we have summer themes like the beach and ocean in our math centers.
Another thing that helps make center time more engaging for students is to include hands-on materials like math manipulatives within the centers. Things like geoboards, snap cubes, Play-Doh, and pattern blocks all make great math center materials. When working on summer centers, I might have students build a sunglasses shape using rubber bands on a geoboard. Then, they can count how many rubber bands they used. This helps bring in the summer theme for student interest, as well as the hands-on aspect of using fun classroom materials. It's very easy for a variety of activities to feel like a fun game. They will likely be having so much fun they won't even realize they are getting in great practice!
Addressing Key Skills
Addressing key skills is another huge consideration when choosing early learning centers to use throughout the year. We don’t want centers to be fun and engaging without engaging students in the right skills. Throughout the year, the skills that are most important to focus on might change a bit. Overall, we always want to address counting, number recognition, and categorizing.
Students can count rubber bands used on a geoboard, Play-Doh dots on a ten frame mat, and pom poms on a shape mat. Using centers like the snap cube mats are also perfect for helping students to practice counting throughout the year. While the shapes might change, the focus on the key skill does not.
This simple activity using snap cubes also encourages students to categorize based on color, as students count how many of each color they used to create the shape. Students can also categorize based on shape as they count how many of each type of pattern block they used when making figures on the pattern block mats. By focusing on the same skills in different ways throughout the year, students build a solid foundation.
When choosing early learning hands-on math centers for students to use throughout the year, it is important to keep things predictable, but not boring, so that students know what to do. Bringing in student interest with seasonal themes and hands-on manipulatives helps keep the predictable activities more engaging. Students can then keep building on key kindergarten skills throughout the year.
Have you ever used kindergarten math centers? Do you have a learning center in your class room currently? Do you have math center ideas you get excited about and want to share? Let me know your best practices in the comments below!