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Deedee Wills - Mrs. Wills Kindergarten

10 Tips for Managing Kindergarten Centers in Your Classroom (Free Download)

Managing kindergarten centers can be overwhelming! Check out these 10 tips to make the most of your center time without losing your mind! This post will help simply your center management and help you fit it all in!

Managing Kindergarten Centers

In order to fit it all in, you’ve gotta have a plan.   Managing centers/stations can be an overwhelming challenge without one.   Let’s see if I can answer some questions that I have had about centers with these 10 tips for managing kindergarten centers. 

Tip #1: Managing How Students Know Where To Go

It all starts with this chart.   Naturally, I have real student photos in the pocket chart.

The first few weeks of school, my student come up, touch their photograph with a pointer then slide it over to the right to see their “Blue Station.” The partners go off together to work at that station.  When the 15-20 minutes are up, I have the other partner repeat the process to find their “Yellow Station.”   TIP:  Make sure both students know how to find their station.  I had one student just follow their partner around.  One day [about the 4th week of school] that partner was absent and the remaining student was like Moses roaming the desert for a bit.   Bless!

Managing kindergarten centers can be overwhelming! Grab the free file and check out these 10 tips to make the most of your center time without losing your mind! This post will help simply your center management and help you fit it all in!
This is an older version of the literacy center chart
10 Tips for Managing Kindergarten Centers in Your Classroom (Free Download) 2
This is a first grade classroom example of math centers. Name cards work great!

You will also want to let students know specifically where you want them to do the center activity.  This center sign above the set of desks works perfectly!

10 Tips for Managing Kindergarten Centers in Your Classroom (Free Download) 3

Tip #2: Limit the Number of Students at Each Center

I prefer just 2 students at a center.  However, sometimes I have students work alone.  Some students have a hard time working with a partner.  Some students prefer to work on their own.   Although, it is possible they are flying solo because they needed a partner “time out”. If that is the case, I do try to keep the time out temporary.
My experience has taught me that 3 is a crowd.  I know other teachers have better luck with larger groups, but I prefer 2 to a station. 2 in a group also makes it easy for partner games.

My students love these BUMP games

Tip #3  Managing Transitions During Center Time

Students work at their “blue station” for about 15-20 minutes.  We regroup at the close of the blue station.
When you want to signal the end of one station, play music!   Pick your music WISELY… you will be listening to it for a long time.  I don’t play the “clean up song” but I sincerely love Jack Hartman’s Rhyming to the Beat songs.  Here is why… they are short!  They are zippy!  They wear well, so much that I sing them at the grocery store!  Each song in Volume 1 is between 1-2 minutes long [Volume 2 is a bit longer but you may want them both…it’s a long year]. When my students hear that music, they KNOW they have to hustle in order to make it to the carpet before the song is over.  They sing along and it creates a fantastic mood in my classroom. Start with the 2-minute songs on his tracks, then move towards 1-minute songs.  I promise you… if you give them 2 minutes to do something it will take them 1:59 seconds.  If you give them 1 minute, it will take them: 59 seconds.  Think of how many transitions you have a day.  If you could shave 1 minute off of each of those… WOW!  Bonus:  You don’t have to say… HURRY UP!
10 Tips for Managing Kindergarten Centers in Your Classroom (Free Download) 5

Tip # 4 Managing Small Groups During Center Time

I pull 2 small groups a day during center time.  I pull an additional group during my math station time. If I pull students for a small group during that center activity, they simply miss that center activity.  I used to try to schedule it all, but it was like planning a royal wedding…  This girl does not have that type of brainpower, nor do I think this is the best use of my planning time.   I KNOW their most powerful learning is with me, so I do not stress about it anymore. Plus, they love coming to my table so they rarely complain.

10 Tips for Managing Kindergarten Centers in Your Classroom (Free Download) 6

Tip #5: Number of Centers

WOAH!  You have 12 kindergarten centers going on at all times? Are you crazy? How do you manage them all? 

Each week I don’t really have to.   I keep my stations super predictable.  We spend the first few weeks of school gradually introducing the activities.  After my students learn about the writing work station, the stamping station, or how to complete the roll and write activities; they are good to go!  I can just replace the activities each week or month and gradually raise the difficulty of the work.

10 Tips for Managing Kindergarten Centers in Your Classroom (Free Download) 7

Tip #6: Student Independence During Center Time

Student independence during center time is crucial because I am working with a small group and do not want to be interrupted. Unless of course, there is blood or fire (or other major emergencies). I definitely don’t need them coming and asking “What do I do at this center?” So, since most activities are predictable, they usually already know.  However, I always provide an “I Can” card at the center.  It is okay to let them struggle a bit to figure out what to do.   We want students who can look at the materials and with confident independence, decipher the task. I do not want to be the person that spoon-feeds their learning.   When they ask me what to do at a station, I just say, “What do you think you do?”  9 times out of 10 they can tell me.  Why would I want to enable dependence?  They can do it if you give them the opportunity to problem solve.  This is an “I Can” card from my Dough Centers.

10 Tips for Managing Kindergarten Centers in Your Classroom (Free Download) 8
10 Tips for Managing Kindergarten Centers in Your Classroom (Free Download) 9

Tip #7: Stamina

How do I get students to work the whole time? I expect it.  Keep the activities within their zone of proximal development.  Make them challenging, but not too hard. This should not be new learning for them and it should be FUN!   My students LOVE centers… I mean LOVE! So it is a treat for them.  They don’t want to miss it.  However, there are some who want to do the play part, but they have not developed self-regulation yet.  I sort of feel like this is our role.  Yes, we want them to play, but we also want them to learn how to cooperate, follow directions, and be pleasant members of society.  I like to set the bar high and support them so they can be successful… both academically and socially.
10 Tips for Managing Kindergarten Centers in Your Classroom (Free Download) 10

Tip #8: Student Accountability

How do I hold students accountable for their center work? This is an old image, but I think it explains it best.  That first image… oy!  When we only have 1 minute to clean up, put their papers in their bin, put their bin away, and sit down… we tend to stuff… ha!

10 Tips for Managing Kindergarten Centers in Your Classroom (Free Download) 11
When the students complete their station, they put their papers in the black magazine bins.  The shapes on the bins correspond to their table shape.
10 Tips for Managing Kindergarten Centers in Your Classroom (Free Download) 12
10 Tips for Managing Kindergarten Centers in Your Classroom (Free Download) 13
10 Tips for Managing Kindergarten Centers in Your Classroom (Free Download) 14

Several times a week, I have the students take the center bins and sort the papers, so their papers are on their desk.  If there are no names, the papers go in the recycling…THE END!  No Name = No Reward

Tip #9: Quality Student Work

I want their center work to be quality work. First, we provide a rubric.   Sometimes the most capable student rushes through their work in order to be “done.”  Well, I want students to make smart color choices because it is through illustrations that they make their meaning known.  I want them to color carefully because it helps to strengthen their writing muscles.  So this is our rubric.   Note: One student’s “All Star Work” may not look the same as another students.  I am striving for personal best and we celebrate the

10 Tips for Managing Kindergarten Centers in Your Classroom (Free Download) 15

I also provide exemplars and use those exemplars as a tool to help nudge students forward.

 Tip #10: Adding New Center Activities

How often do I change out the center activities? I used to change it every Monday… years ago… but this is what I noticed.  Some bins still had papers left for students to work on. I was wasting paper.  Here is how I solved the problem.   At the beginning of the month, I made all my station activities and response pages.  I filled the bins, then held the other center activities aside.    I trained my students to bring the bin to me when they took the last 2 response pages out.  They didn’t interrupt my group, they would just put the bin on the floor.  When I was done with my small group, I would fill the bin.  When the station time was up, the students brought me what was left of their materials (sorting cards, I can cards..) and picked up the newly filled bin… EASY!  No more Monday morning crazy time!

I hope you found these tips for managing kindergarten centers helpful!

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Deedee Wills

My teaching career allowed me to experience teaching in different classroom environments and grades. My heart belongs to early childhood education. My job is to make teaching FUN, ENGAGING, and EASIER. Welcome!

Hi, I'm DeedeE.

My teaching career allowed me to experience teaching in different classroom environments and grades. My heart belongs to early childhood education. My job is to make teaching FUN, ENGAGING, and EASIER. Welcome!

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51 Responses

  1. Thank you for sharing your station system. Mine are very similar, so it is a relief to know that I might have a similar plan as an all-star teacher! I have 12 academic stations at a time and two kids per station. I usually try to put a boy with a girl, a high with a low, or a leader with one who needs structure. I usually send the kids through one round of stations with one set of partners and then switch the partners but keep the stations for another round. My stations are cross curricular and the kids looove Workshop. I try to grab each kiddo for a quick lesson every two days and the groups are always organic based on the skill. Some stations that are real crowd pleasers are Typewriter (they’ve never seen one!), Cutting (paint chips, colored scrapbook paper, glue sticks), Dot to Dot Mystery Picture, B vs D, and ABC/C-V-C/Reading Sentences/Teens Go Fish (depending on the time of year). They love War station with card decks and dominoes. I also have ABC objects where they pick a toy out of a bag, determine the beginning sound, and then put the toys in ABC order. I’m trying to think of others…I love knowing that they are loving learning with a peer partner. Our school is 1:1 with iPads, so many of these stations are recorded by the students (once they get comfortable and some experience) using Pic Collage, Seesaw, Our Story, Shadow Puppet, Chatterpix, Sock Puppet, Notability, etc. Needless to say, Workshop is an important part of the day.

    I have center time at the end of the day that is 15-20 minutes of pure play time. I think play is critical for so many social and problem solving skills. Magna Tiles, Moon Sand, School, Mosaic, Lego, Archaeology, Vet, Drawing, Marble Run, Monster Truck & Build-a-Track, Dot Art, Play-Doh, Build an Orchestra, Tube Tot,…20 centers in all. This year I am going to have Sewing Center and I can’t wait.

    I love your idea of rubrics to go along with each center. I think that would be a sure fire way to hold students accountable for producing quality work. Thank you for sharing all of your wonderful ideas. I get a ton of inspiration from you as I begin the tpt journey.

    Have a great school year! Our first day with kids is August 12th,…just around the corner!

    Leah Huntley
    Yay For K!
    Leawood, KS

  2. Do you have the star hold punch card in you TPT store? I cannot access it through the Facebook Fan Freebie Folder.

        1. Can I please have the star hole punch card too? I love it!

          1. Yes, simply add your email at the bottom of the post and it will be sent to your inbox. 🙂

  3. Even though I don’t teach kindergarten, I am loving this series! (And let’s face it, sometimes middle schoolers are kindergartners at heart stuck in bigger bodies. LOL) I have tried to implement the “station” approach in my ELA classroom on Fridays, and you have given me some great ideas to tweak it so it runs smoother. I love the “I expect it.” That is SO true!

    We are definitely kindred spirits. 🙂 I use music in my classroom as a “hurry it up–you have one minute to finish and get ready for the next phase” warning. I use songs that tie into what we’re learning, Top 40 songs (that are school appropriate, of course), songs from when I was in junior high…whatever suits my mood. Here’s the clincher: if every single student is not ready when the one minute of music stops, I. will. sing (terribly)…and maybe dance. Ain’t nobody wants any part of that! LOL Likewise, if everyone is ready to work on time, we will listen to the rest of the song at the end of class as we are getting ready to leave. Huge motivator for my kids! And believe it or not, 8th graders will still work hard for a Jolly Rancher–I keep a jar on my desk at all times. 🙂

    Thanks for the great ideas!


  4. Hello! I absolutely love your back to school posts, thank you thank you! I was wondering what you have your students do if they finish their center work before time is up? Is that where they would grab a dessert tub? Thanks so much for your time with your responses, it is greatly appreciated! 😀

    1. Great questions! Both… for literacy centers I group them homogeneously. For math, they are grouped heterogeneously.:)

  5. Can you reexplain the following question: Do you change out all the stations every Monday? I spend a lot of time after school on Fridays changing stations for the next week. Id love an easier system. Thank you.

    1. Hi there! I prepared the centers at the beginning of each month. So I would make 18 copies of the response sheets and have all the ELA centers together and all of the math centers together. THEN… as my students opened the bin and took the last two response sheets out, they would place the empty bin on my desk. The students would do the center and use the last 2 response pages. Then the students would come back to my desk at the end of that center time and pick up the bin… I would have filled it with an already prepared center. So some days, I would swap out 3 centers… some days I would not do any. Does that make sense?

      1. Hi! Your posts are so helpful. Growing my kiddos to independence was a big struggle last year. You’ve referred to “bins” several times, and you have a picture of magazine boxes with papers in them. Could you talk more about those? Do you have “response sheets” for every center? I’m confused. Why 18 copies if you have more students than that? Are students not expected to do each center each week?
        When you refill the bins, is it with a new response page or more of the same? Thanks a bunch.

        1. Hi Jenny,

          Why only 18 pages if you have 20+ students?:
          So… you probably noticed that my stations are SUPER predictable. I really don’t worry if a student does not get to a station, because they will have more of the same the next week. Same type of activity but a different variation of it. Since I am pulling students away from stations for small group, then I would have a lot of students repeating stations. By making fewer response pages, I have fewer repeats. BUT if they do repeat, it is not a big deal (I do try to minimize it).

          Does every center have a response page?:
          Nope! Not at all. Many are open ended without a response page (games and such).

          Station work bins: Yes! Students put their finished work in these bins. Then I check them a few times a week for completeness.

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  9. How do you organize your math stations? I was at your SDE conference in Ohio this year (Jan 2017) and loved how you do your literacy stations. But i am struggling with figuring out how to organize my math stations…. Do you put your math activities in like categories? do you have a blog post about this?

    1. Hi there! I run my math stations just like I run my literacy stations. 2 students to a center. I try to keep my materials together by month. Is that what you mean?

      If is easier, you can email me. I might whip up a post to help you (and others…)

    1. I just went in added links to this post so you can read up on it. I have a whole post on early finishers with a free download too!

  10. I downloaded the free center signs, but was wondering if you had the version that you have in the post. I would be happy to pay for them if they are in your store if you point me in the right direction 🙂 Thanks!

  11. What do you do if the kids don’t get cleaned up and back to the carpet before the song ends? I used a timer last year but it just made them rush so fast that things were messy and disorganized. Probably my fault for not setting higher expectations!

    1. If they don’t make it to the carpet in time, then the class does not get a piece of Mr. Potato Head (which we collect for some additional free time.)
      YES! AND they have to pick up “neatly and completely.” So sloppy does not cut it.

  12. Deedee, thanks for all you do:)
    Do you just have a shelving unit with 12 tubs labeled with a number? Do they just go anywhere in the room?

    1. Hi Pam, I have 12 for math and a few more for literacy. AND no, they have specific spots to take the bin to work. Otherwise they could be the wandering nomads for HOURS… HA!

      1. I know this is probably explained somewhere but do you have numbers hanging in the room that matches the numbers on the tub?

        1. Yes! I sure do! I have them hanging above the desks and also along the walls where I want them to take their bin to do their work. 🙂

  13. This isn’t about the blog post, but… I attended the ‘Mastering Centers like a Boss!’ webinar last night. I had the sale page for TpT up in a browser, and I had the file (the pdf with the links, including the TpT sale page) open, and….my computer froze and needed a hard restart. Needless to say, I lost everything, all tabs and Adobe documents that were open.

    I thought I’d get an email with a link to view the webinar again, but I didn’t get one today. I REALLY would like the file and the TpT link again. How can I do this?

    Thanks for your time and consideration!

  14. I could not get the star punch cards. Can you help me out? Thanks… a loyal customer. 🙂

  15. What do you do if you pull a child for a reading group and they are scheduled to play a partner game (like bump)? Their 0artner then cant play the game. Do you find that this happens and what do you do about it? Thanks for always sharing your expertise!

    1. It happens ALL THE TIME… or their partner is absent… or they are pulled for speech… or… You know what I mean!

      I tell them to play with Dexter (who was my dog… but had never been in my classroom EVER.) They would pretend to play with a partner. Another option is to have a supply of stuffed animals in your classroom and they can partner up with the stuffed animal. The student just takes a turn for the toy… double learning!

  16. Hi Deedee! I was just wondering where you get the shape signs for your tables/ center work bins? Thanks!

    1. Hi Jenna,

      You will find the cards in this blog post:

      Early Finishers

      That post will have the circle cards on there for you. You will just insert the shapes you are wanting to you. You can make the shapes on your computer (like in PowerPoint) or you can download shape clipart. I like to buy my clipart on TpT.

  17. I am loving this blog post, but I am still confused on how you prevent students from repeating work pages? Also, in the picture of the center chart you have 2 “meet with teacher” cards, but said you pull students during center activities and they miss that center. How does that work? I’m so excited to use the punch cards! I hope it helps keep them accountable. Thanks for your help!

    1. So students might actually go to the same center and repeat on activity 6 or 7 days later. I really have to let it go…LOL! I know that repeated practice is important at times. I know they will be a-okay! I hope that helps.

      1. Yes! Simply add your email to the box at the bottom of the blog post. It will be sent to your inbox.

  18. Is it too late to ask for your punch card?

    After 18 years in 3/4th, moved to K and just a liiiitttttlllle overwhelmed 😀

    Thanks for ALL your tips and expertise!

    1. Nope, never too late1 Just add your email to the box in the blog post and it will be sent your way!

  19. Hello!

    I, too, would love the student accountability punch card. Thanks for all of your amazing work & products!

    1. Yes! If you add your email to the box at the end of the post, it will be sent to your inbox.

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