Preschool classrooms have been shown to function best when organized into learning centers. Special education students learn well in learning stations too. High/Scope, Montessori, Voyagers, Head Start–all employ some kind of learning centers structure. Here’s a plan to set up early childhood Montessori style learning areas (the Montessori term for learning centers). Use this format at home or in a traditional early childhood classroom. This guide outlines six basic preschool learning stations. Depending upon space, class size and program, combine and adapt as needed. Each of the learning centers should have an accompanying book basket with related reading material.
Montessori Dramatic Play preschool learning centers. Also called early childhood drama or dress up learning stations, the dramatic play center focuses on fine arts. Provide many clothing types–pants, dresses, costumes, masks, shirts, coats, blouses–in dramatic play learning centers. Place accessories–hats, shoes, ties, coats, feather boas, crowns, gloves, jewelry–at child level. Musical instruments belong in dramatic play. Store instruments on a shelf. Attach wall hooks or racks for children to hang clothing. Provide a full length mirror. Set up a small stage with non electric microphone. Place a puppet theater in the dramatic play learning stations. Change clothing choices to reflect current unit or theme. During a Careers Unit, the dramatic play center has uniforms of different jobs. When animals is the theme, children dress up in animal masks and costumes. Books for the Dramatic Play include theater, dance, drama, plays, fairy tales, music, folklore and myths.
Montessori Art/ Collage preschool learning centers: Set up bins of recycled paper, plastic, cardboard, egg cartons, boxes, pill bottles, paper tubes, packing peanuts, wrapping paper, greeting cards, magazines and other recycled items. Set out feathers, clay, faux gems, pipe cleaners, fabric scraps, buttons, ribbon, lace, beads, plastic flowers and little toys for decorations. Set out baskets of scissors, glue, paint, markers and crayons. Perhaps rotate materials by day. The art center needs a drying rack and display area for students’ artwork. Provide old shirts to cover clothing. Books include how to draw, famous works of art, art history, design and technique.
Montessori Practical Life preschool learning centers or house area. This center includes baby dolls, baby furniture, small table and chairs, toy kitchen appliances, washer and dryer set. Accessories include: iron, ironing board, broom, play food, dishes, pans and table linens. Place accessories where they would be kept in a real house. Change items by theme, season and holiday. Book for the practical life area are cook books, baby care, how-to, crafts, family stories and DIY.
Montessori Block or building learning centers. Provide bins with building materials, blocks and Legos. Set up a child-sized tool bench with tools, apron, tool belt, hard hat and safety glasses. The tool bench may have wood and nails. Or provide pieces of Styrofoam and golf tees for children to practice pounding in like nails. Book themes are architecture, building, construction, how-to, tool catalogs, manuals.
Montessori Books (Library or Reading) learning stations. Arrange over-sized body pillows, back pillows, slouch chairs and cushions. Place blanket or soft rug on floor. Use a book rack that displays book covers. Book choices should reflect current theme. The library learning center should be cozy and quiet. Hang a mesh bed canopy to create a quiet area. Set up tent with flashlights and pillows. Natural lighting works best for reading so add a floor lamp.
Montessori science exploration learning stations, also called the early childhood sensorial area. Set up a preschool sand table. If your classroom does not have one, use a plastic covered sand box. Fill with other tactile materials–dry and wet sand, clay, dried rice, popcorn, beans, colored aquarium rocks. Fill with substances: shaving cream, bubbles, silly putty, baking soda and water, finger paint, water, snow. Add shovels, pails, cups, small muffin tin, sieves, trowel, gardening rake, sand molds, measuring cups, shakers, plastic animals, fish, insects, small fishing poles, boats, trucks. Place on tile surface or cover floor with an old tablecloth. Provide shirts for messy exploration. Book themes: marine life, beach, mining, earth science.
For crowd control in early childhood learning centers, place a chart with colored stickers at each center, to show how many friends may play at once. Write each child’s name on a pinch clothespin. Children clip clothespins on center chart where they wish to work. For popular learning stations, you can set a time limit. Have children gather when center time is finished, to process what they did that day.