How to Make Easy, Engaging, and Effective Centers for Elementary Classrooms

effective center ideas for kindergarten

7-minute read
Includes FREE Downloadable Resources

center ideas for kindergarten and 1st grade

Gretchen Doll
Educational Consultant / Early Ed Teacher

As educators, we know targeted small groups that provide explicit instructioneffective centers for kindergarten are a crucial component for young learners. To determine placement and keep groupings fluid according to skill for systematic and explicit instruction that moves students forward, you also need time to assess. There are several good online assessment tools available to teachers such as ESGI, Lexia, and iStation.

However, time to observe students and have conversations to fine tune your understanding of what students know is paramount. But, what do you do with the other twenty-something students that are not with you? Here are a few tips for creating and maintaining accountable, engaging stations that manage behavior and promote time on task.

Make Stations Easy on YOU

effective center ideas for kindergartenTake time in the beginning to make multiple stations. I organized my stations using 5 colors. For every color, I had 4 boxes containing 4 different ways to practice the skills for the week. I divided students into groups and each group was assigned a color each day.

For example, if Lola is assigned the color red on Monday, she can choose from one of the four activities that are in the red tubs or labeled with red.

Keep the color tubs the same for the month, just change the skills for the week. Some tubs are applicable all year and do not need to be changed. (i.e. letter/number stamps, Wiki Stix, Play-doh with letters/shapes cookie cutters, Lego or snap cubes, sand trays, magnetic letters) This cuts down on prep time and teaching students new activities. Below are 5 great resources for stations:

1. Teach, Play, Learn!: How to Create a Purposeful Play-Driven Classroom by Adam Peterson
2. Make, Take, Teach Blog
3. 40 Literacy Center Ideas
4. Kaboom Sticks
5. Alive Studios Zoo Letters alive Journals and Math alive Journals

***Include a science or social studies station to help with meeting the required minutes. I often found it hard to get the minutes met in those areas. This can be done with leveled informational picture books. One example of a station would be sorting and counting animals according to color, habitat, diet, etc. Or let the kids choose their own way to sort and explain their sort. This can be easily organized using the journals from Alive Studios Zoo.

Make Behavior Manageable From the Beginning

Introduce two stations on Monday of each week by modeling how to complete the station and expectations for getting it out, playing and cleaning up. This is the time to introduce and reinforce the social emotional growth skills (SEL) needed to function as little learners in a community.

Time Management: Getting started quickly, focusing on the task at hand,effective center ideas for kindergarten and cleaning up so that the next group is able to have the same experience.

Social Awareness/Relationship Skills: Learning to take turns and use manners when communicating. Learning how to listen to and help others.

Self Awareness: Accepting that making mistakes can lead to success. I always ask kids if I can share their mistakes by saying something like, “Wow! Can I share your mistake because that is one I think others are making but aren’t brave enough to share it. Want to help me teach everyone? I can tell you are pushing your learning.” Sometimes kids say no, and that is fine, too. But eventually everyone would share mistakes in my class.

Self Management: Learning to self control and commit to excellence. Guiding students in finding their gifts and their areas for growth.

Lay down the law and practice, practice, practice! Just like making multiple stations to save your sanity, take the time to practice transitions, cleanup, and expectations. If things are going awry, stop immediately, assess why, and regroup.

Do not introduce new stations until previous ones are running like well oiled machines. I realize that there will be years and groups that will test everyone’s limits, but be consistent and don’t let little things slide those first weeks. Be overly regimented in the beginning, so that you can relax the rules and be flexible while managing the controlled chaos throughout the year.

I am a huge fan of Love and Logic resources for learning to set firm limits and boundaries in a logical, loving way. Centervention offers a subscription to online interactive stories, but they also have 95 Free SEL Activities available. One resource for free SEL short learning videos for kids is Cosmic Kids Zen Den. I used these in the morning right before we started our day, or before certain activities that I knew could become potential roadblocks. Alive Studios Zoo offers 26 Rhyming SEL Stories as a free resource. The stories connect lovable animals to everyday lessons in life.

Make Stations Accountable and Save Yourself Time

I learned several tips along the way to help students be accountable.effective center ideas for kindergarten If you have taught more than one year, you know that what works one year often has to be tweaked or completely reworked the next. Here are a few ways I rotated accountability throughout the years.

Any task that needed to be checked was completed in the station directly before that group came to work with me. Students would bring it with them to our small group, we’d do a quick check, and then they could put it in their mailbox to go home. I could reteach at that moment if multiple students didn’t understand, or save it for one-on-one/small group later.

If students had station journals or folders, I rotated the ones I checked. For example, check group 1 on Mondays, group 2 on Tuesdays, etc. I am sure you also know that a couple of students require daily checks. If you are consistent and go wild with celebration when they complete any task, the need for that can become less. Some years, the struggle to be consistent was very real for me!

Use an iPad to take pictures of creations that are not paper pencil. If your students use a device in the classroom during a station time, they can upload their game, number understanding, etc. by uploading a picture to SeeSaw and talking about it using the language of the discipline. If you do not use SeeSaw or another platform, have the students write their name on a sticky note and include it in the picture they take. Then, check the camera roll on the devices.

If you are using a tub choice system similar to the one mentioned above, make some of the tubs which give you the best picture of student understandings the “must do” tubs.

Do the Work, Be Consistent, Keep It Simple

effective center ideas for kindergartenStations are an indispensable part of the classroom. They develop not only academic skills, but more importantly, life skills. Tackling them can sometimes give educators combat fatigue. Here are the takeaways I have learned.

Keep stations simple and versatile by repurposing the same tubs and manipulatives, but change the skill. Take extra time to set up your classroom management and redirect students until you have the desired outcome before introducing other stations. Realize that certain stations just may not work for some learners or groups of learners. Save your sanity and put it in the closet for a while. Consistently holding students accountable gives you information and provides students the gift of responsibility!


Need more help creating super-effective centers? Message us!

Family Engagement and Learning Through the Summer!

summer learning for kids

2-minute read
Includes FREE Downloadable Resources

activity calendars for summer learning

Gretchen Doll
Educational Consultant / Early Ed Teacher

Counting the Days!summer learning for kids
The end of the school year is in sight and you can count the number of days left on one hand. You have worked so hard to make sure your students met their goals and benchmarks set by others.

Summer Learning Loss! Make it STOP!
summer learning for kidsHow do you keep your Pre-K and Kindergarten students from losing the proverbial months of learning over the summer break and get them ready for the next school year? During the pandemic, teachers, parents and districts saw monumental loss when students were receiving instruction virtually. Early learners do not have any room for learning loss over this and subsequent summers and you, as their teacher, don’t have time to create something that will keep their recent learning in the forefront. It is easy to tell parents to read to their children, talk to them about math at the grocery store, in the kitchen, in the car, counting socks to put in pairs, and the list goes on. Parents have really good intentions, but as a parent I know life takes over and often good intentions slide.

No-Prep, No-Print – Simply Download and Send!summer learning for kids
Using my experience in early education, special education, and instructional technology, I compiled calendar ideas in an easy, no-prep summer calendar with activities that are simple to facilitate by parents and are engaging for kids.

A parent letter, instructions, and links are provided for easy activities parents can do with their children over the summer. Just download the one that fits your needs, and send it out to your parents. There is no printing, gathering supplies, or explanation. It is all done for you and ready to send!

Take a breath! You are almost there!

FREE Downloadable (pdf) Resources
Get Ready for Kindergarten!
Get Ready for First!
Parent Letter


Need more ideas for a learning-filled summer? Message us!

It’s the End of the Year and You Know It!!

“… keeping your routines in place helps to ease the chaos! … you can keep the peace and still have fun!”

5-minute read
Includes FREE EOY Downloadable Resource

end of school for pre-k and kindergarten

Stephanie Dowlearn
Educational Consultant / Kindergarten Teacher

It’s finally here! (yay! boo!)
Throughout schools nationwide, teachers pass each other in the hall, proclaiming the number of days left this school year. It’s a yearly ritual, especially in elementary schools, where kindergarten teachers are sure to know that magic number! It’s the end of the year, and we all know it, but do you feel fine?

The end of the school year is a difficult time, but keeping your routines in place helps to ease the chaos! Even with Field Day, field trips, performances, ceremonies, and parties, you can keep the peace and still have fun!

Anyone who has ever taught kindergarten knows most of the year is one rough day after another, buried in the trenches until the end of February when like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, our little kindergartners suddenly become independent little beings and the routines that were established months ago keep the classroom running like a well-oiled machine!

It’s not over yet!
This was always my favorite time of the year! Learning and laughter were a daily occurrence until the end of April when suddenly, my sweet little kindergarten family turned into a bunch of bickering pseudo-siblings! It was like they’d forgotten everything we’d learned from our numerous SEL activities! Experienced teachers can attest to this yearly end-of-year transformation, and for those who are new to this, all hope is not lost!

Ideas for a fabulous finish!
A great way to motivate learners and encourage wanted behaviors is a fun incentive! Each year, near the end of April, I introduced our Kindergarten ABC Countdown to Summer, which is similar to the Backwards Bootcamp from The Kindergarten Smorgasboard.

There are tons of End of Year Countdowns on TPT to choose from, but it was the tradition at my school to count the days until summer with a review of the alphabet that many of my students began the year not knowing!

This 26-day countdown celebrated the alphabet with fun activities as we continued to follow our daily schedule and routines. The kids loved coming to school to see what fun was in store, behaviors improved, and joy returned to finish the year!!

When in doubt, bring out the animals!
In my last year in the classroom, I had the great idea to include animals in the ABC Countdown! Along with the countdown theme for the day, we brainstormed all the animals that start with the day’s focus letter. Since I had Classrooms alive, it was easy to refer to animals from our Alive Studios Zoo to learn more about their characteristics and habitats.

Each child created an animal letter craft for the day and wrote about the animal. The pages were then combined to create an adorable animal alphabet book that went home with them on the last day of school. I really wanted the kids to record themselves reading their book, but I’ve learned you just have to let some great ideas go! I also sent each child home with a Letters alive Student Journal to continue learning throughout the summer!

Whew! We can do this!
There are so many great ideas to end the school year, but we all know the trek to the end can be overwhelming, so slow down, take a breath, and as you near the finish line, be sure to have fun and make memories with your little learners!

For some fun theme-day ideas, click here!


Need more ideas to make your end of the year memorable? Message us!

Spring Funding Frenzy: How to Secure Classroom Resources Before the Budget Year Ends

funding for pre-k and kindergarten classroom resources

“While you may feel that there is no money available at this time of the year, the exact opposite may be true.”

3-minute read

funding resources for pre-k and kindergarten

Tanya Pechnik
Educational Consultant and Former Assistant Principal

Can you believe it’s already the end of March? Most of us have made it past spring break and have the finish line in sight, however, that does not stop educators from constantly being on the lookout for new resources for their classroom. But does the thought of approaching your administrator leave you stressed out and anxious? Well, as a former Assistant Principal I’m here to help! While you may feel that there is no money available at this time of the year, the exact opposite may be true.

funding for pre-k and kindergarten classroom resources

Oftentimes school leaders look at their budget towards the end of the school year to determine what is left in their “use it or lose it” funds. This is the money that has been allocated to be spent by the end of the fiscal year (June 30) and will be forfeited if it isn’t. No administrator wants money to go unused! Believe it or not, this may impact next year’s budget in a negative way since it appears that they requested more money than the school actually needs.

So let’s talk about how you can approach your school administrator for funding in the spring:

Research the costs
Before you meet with your school administrator, you should find out how much the resources will cost. If you can, break down the costs into smaller items so that the administration may approve only part of the money. Also, if you can get a written quote from the vendor, this would be very helpful as well.

funding for pre-k and kindergarten classroom resources

Explain why the resource is necessary
You should explain why the supplementary curriculum is necessary to increase student achievement. Include student data, if applicable.

Present a plan
Create a plan of how you will implement the resource in your classroom and be sure to think past this school year. If this resource will be used year-to-year it will be more appealing than something that is used once.

Show evidence of its effectiveness
If available, provide evidence of how the resource has helped students in other schools who have used it. Many educational resources will provide research or case studies that demonstrate student success using their product. This research helps increase confidence; and oftentimes is a requirement for certain funding sources.

funding for pre-k and kindergarten classroom resources

You know your administrator best. The extent to the amount of detail you need in each of these areas depends on the person reviewing your proposal. However, having each of these components covered will help your administrator understand how the money you are asking for will benefit student growth and learning.


Need help getting your proposal together? Send us a message below:

13 Resources that Helped Me Embrace the Science of Reading

“Knowing the needs of my students and labeling the components of the Science of Reading has helped me realize I’ve been successfully doing most of these things in my classroom, yet I am always learning!”

7-minute read | 2 videos

science of reading for pre-k and kindergarten

Stephanie Dowlearn
Educational Consultant and Kindergarten Teacher

Anyone who knows anything about teaching children to read can tell you something about the Science of Reading. They can share a fact about the years of research dedicated to improving reading instruction or how a quip from state-mandated coursework reminded them of that Educational Psychology class back in college.

No matter what is being said, the Science of Reading is not just a fad or a buzzword of the year; it’s a solid foundation of research that began hundreds of years ago by pioneers in education who knew the importance of understanding how children learn to read, and it is still significant today.

science of reading for pre-k

The Pressure to Read is On!
So why do so many teachers feel overwhelmed when the subject of the Science of Reading pops up in conversations? Could it be that many teachers feel the pressure to learn, understand and put into use the body of research sweeping the nation while fitting in the numerous requirements already mandated?

science of reading for early learnersOr, is it that over the course of their career, they have been told phonics is best, only to learn the next year that the whole language approach is better? And don’t forget balanced literacy! One thing is for sure; there are studies to back each method, and they are creating madness in the minds of teachers!

Recognizing SOR for What it is
What can be done to quell the angst? The first step is to understand that the Science of Reading is not a curriculum, a program to implement, or a magic cure for teaching reading. It is a body of research fueled by the desire to understand the best ways to teach reading.

Throughout history, many reading wars have been waged over which technique is best, and the victims are the students left to learn at the victor’s mercy. In today’s classroom, teachers who acknowledge the science behind how humans learn to read and use it to guide their instruction, regardless of the curriculum in place will reap the spoils!

Teachers have a huge weight on their shoulders, and having a strong understanding of the Science of Reading can ease the burden.

Google the Science of Reading, or drop a question into ChatGPT, and you will quickly have an overwhelming amount of information at your fingertips! As an educator, I’m fascinated by the research and would likely devour the content if I had time, but as a teacher, wife, and mom, I need the meat and potatoes version.

science of reading simplifiedI recently watched a great webinar called The Science of Reading Simplified, hosted by Mr. Greg from TKS and Holly Ehle from TRT. They are real classroom teachers who shared easy and effective ways to incorporate SOR aligned activities into daily instruction. It’s FREE, so be sure to check it out!

To break it down, the Science of Reading focuses on five key components: Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary, and Comprehension. These five components are woven together, each dependent on the other to build strong readers.

science of reading for early learners1. Phonemic Awareness
Phonemic awareness is the more sophisticated relative of phonological awareness. Instead of just the ability to hear, recognize, and play with the sounds in spoken language, a child with good phonemic awareness can hear, recognize, and play with the individual sounds in spoken words.

These individual sounds are called phonemes, and discerning these in spoken word is a step toward becoming a reader. Phonemic awareness implies that all kids are or become aware in their own time, but it is a skill that must be explicitly taught in the classroom.

Rhyming, segmenting, blending, isolating, and manipulating phonemes are excellent activities for developing phonemic awareness in early learners. A few of my favorite resources in the classroom were Reading Rockets, Heggerty, and the Florida Center for Reading Research.

science of reading for early learners2. Phonics
Phonics is the understanding that symbols or letters represent specific sounds and that those sounds can be combined to form readable words. Phonics is a necessary skill to sound out and blend words so students can read them when they see them.

Children with strong phonics skills can connect the sounds they hear in spoken words to the letters that make them up. This is crucial for decoding and spelling words, as it helps children to make sense of the letters on the page and turn them into words they can understand.

science of reading for early learnersTo help build phonics knowledge, teachers can use numerous strategies and engaging activities. Some of my favorite resources for phonics in the classroom were Jack Hartmann, Frog Street, Handwriting Without Tears, and Letters alive!

3. Fluency
Fluency is reading smoothly and accurately, an important predictor of reading comprehension. Children who struggle with fluency may have difficulty understanding what they read because they focus on decoding the words rather than comprehending the text.

To improve fluency, teachers can use repeated readings of familiar texts, choral reading, and other strategies to help children practice reading with expression and accuracy. My kindergartners loved using Epic to listen and read along with the stories.

4. Vocabulary
Vocabulary refers to the words we know, understand, and use to communicate effectively. It is another essential component of reading comprehension. Children with a larger vocabulary are more likely to understand what they read and hear and use more words correctly in their speaking and writing.

To build vocabulary, teachers can use various strategies such as introducing new words through shared reading and read-alouds, providing opportunities for children to use new words in their writing and speaking, and using visual aids to help children learn new words.

It is also important for teachers to provide explicit instruction in word meaning and encourage children to use context clues and ask questions when they encounter unfamiliar words. I introduced new vocabulary with every unit, and my students loved Reading and Writing the Room activities. WordWorld and WordGirl on PBS Kids were favorites to watch during snack time!

Integrating science into literacy activities is another great way to build vocabulary.

Using the Letters alive building sentences feature, I was able to spur many interesting and lively discussions in my classroom! Cross-curricular resources enable students to develop great background knowledge that benefits them as they learn to read!

Watch my teacher friend, Adam, using Letters alive:
phonics program for kids

5. Comprehension
Comprehension is the ability to draw information from a text and make meaning of it. In the Science of Reading, comprehension is the end goal, not necessarily something focused on until students become skilled at decoding.

The science shows that asking a child to decode and answer questions about the plot, setting, characters, problems, and solutions can can tax an emergent reader. Of course, comprehension is important, and as children grow as readers, teachers can address comprehension skills through read-aloud, class discussions, and audiobooks.

When the difficult decoding layer is removed from the story, reluctant readers are more apt to participate, ultimately building their reading confidence. So take the time to read to your class and ask questions along the way!

Trust the Science
Throughout my 25 years as an educator, I’ve gathered knowledge from many sources, including professors, colleagues, researchers, bloggers, authors, and, most importantly, my students.

Knowing the needs of my students and labeling the components of the Science of Reading has helped me realize I’ve been successfully doing most of these things in my classroom, yet I am always learning! You are too! Embrace the science, use your resources, and put it into practice!


If you’re looking for fun and easy ways to implement the Science of Reading and to support your curriculum, send us a message below:

Is Technology Appropriate for Early Learners?

technology for prek and kindergarten

“What if technology was used to help children collaborate, talk with each other, and stir up their imaginations?”

5-minute read | 2 videos
technology for early learners

Cynthia B. Kaye
CEO | Chief Zoo Keeper of Alive Studios

Is technology an appropriate resource for early learners? Well, it kind of depends. We all know young children sitting by themselves in front of the screen is not ideal, but what if technology was used differently?

What if technology was used to help children collaborate, talk with each other, and stir up their imaginations?

What if there’s a technology that helps teachers facilitate conversation and interaction between their students? I think there can be a wrong way that we use technology with children and a right way.

Are you using technology with your young learners? If so, what kind of technology are you using? Is it a collaborative technology that gets children engaged with each other and the teacher?

Or, is the child more isolated and engaged by themselves? Is the student doing a “stare and peck” activity where he/she glares at a screen and pecks at a keyboard? It doesn’t have to be this way.

Technology for early learners

The Right Criteria for Tech
Technology in the classroom has become increasingly popular for students of all ages, including early learners between the ages of three and six.

While there are valid concerns about the potential negative effects of using technology for early learners, there are certainly strong arguments that support its use as a highly-positive educational tool… if the right criteria are met.

Play-based learning is essential for young children’s development, and if you can incorporate novel and intentional technology in this play children can learn important skills such as problem-solving, creativity, and social interaction.

With the right type and use of technology, teachers can add a fun and exciting way to learn to their list of teaching strategies. technology for prek and kindergartenIf the technology encourages and facilitates collaboration, interaction, and movement, it can open children’s brains up to a higher level of attention and learning.

Many children in this age group are naturally curious and enjoy exploring new things, and technology can provide them with a wealth of interactive and stimulating educational resources.

For example, the right educational apps, games, and programs can help children learn basic skills such as counting, letter recognition, collaboration, and problem-solving in a way that is both exciting and effective.

Furthermore, supplemental digital resources can be used to enhance and bring to life traditionally static and boring teaching tools, such as flashcards, books, worksheets, or even a classroom rug.

Helping Kids Develop Appropriate Tech Skills
Also, the use of appropriate and effective technology in early childhood education can help children develop important 21st-century skills.

In today’s digital age, it is increasingly important for children to be proficient with technology tools and to be able to navigate the digital world. Using technology in the classroom can help children develop skills such as digital literacy, communication, and working together, which are essential for success in today’s world.

Additionally, technology can also provide children with access to a wealth of resources that might not otherwise be available, such as virtual field trips and online educational videos. For early learners, here are some points to keep in mind for positive use of technology.

Kids need:

● tech that promotes collaboration with other students and the teacher
● interaction with the technology
● hands-on/physical activities
● visual/audio “novel” experiences that increase their excitement and engagement

Technology for Pre-K and Kindergarten
So you might be thinking, what are some technologies that are novel and encourage collaboration?

technology for prek and kindergartenOsmo
One of these positive technology resources available for early learners is Osmo. Osmo is a mobile application that encourages students to collaborate, create, think critically, and communicate.

The application is coupled with an age-appropriate learning kit including a tablet base, camera reflector, manipulatives, and a teacher’s guide. One of Osmo’s learning tools is “ABC’s”, which offers an interactive and kinesthetic approach to phonics.

Kids can work with Mo the Monster to form letters and make words with squishy, colorful sticks and rings. This type of learning with technology blends traditional learning methods with young children’s natural curiosity about today’s digital devices.

Illumination Station
technology for prek and kindergartenAnother example of an engaging technology tool for Pre-K and Kindergarten classrooms is offered by Kaplan Early Learning; It’s the Illumination Station.

The Illumination Station takes your sand and light play to the next level. It engages children’s cognitive, social, and sensory development by transforming a common sand table and projector into a hands-on learning adventure!

Using 3D Augmented Reality, the Illumination Station transfers realistic colors and life-like images onto the sand for a mesmerizing sensory experience that kids love.

Children learn about geography, topography, seasons, animal habitats, and more as they create new worlds and explore interactive environments.

technology for prek and kindergartenLetters alive
Letters alive is a super-engaging, supplemental early literacy learning kit that uses 3D augmented reality animals to get students excited and motivated to learn. It facilitates social learning through collaborative and novel technology. Teachers lead their students through the Alive Studios Zoo to learn about the 26 animals while building solid foundations for reading success.

Letters alive brings all five components of the Science of Reading to life and is proven by Independent Research to increase engagement, support classroom management, and improve outcomes.

Research on Tech for Early Learners
You might be wondering, what does research say about the use of technology for early learners? Glad you asked.

When Dr. Tamra Ogletree, Professor of Language and Reading at the University of West Georgia, was introduced to a supplemental reading program, Letters alive, from Alive Studios that utilizes 3D Augmented Reality zoo animals, she initiated an Independent Study to determine its efficacy.

Technology for early learners

Dr. Ogletree discovered that Letters alive can be used to enhance any core curriculum with a multi-modal, collaborative learning experience.

Dr. Ogletree’s study tracked the progress of Pre-Kindergarteners in three classes for 90 days: Class 1 did not have the program, Class 2 had partial components from the program, and Class 3 had the full program. Neither class was given any instruction on how to use the product.

At the end of the study, the students who had full use of Letters alive could identify twice as many letters and four times as many letter sounds as the non-users.

technology for prek and kindergarten

“The teachers who were part of the study were surprised at how students who typically had attention difficulties were consistently engrossed in the program. The students responded to the animals because of the sound and visual stimulation,” Dr. Ogletree said. “Classroom management problems decreased as a result of the students being actively engaged, as well,” Ogletree added.

Yes, the Right Tech IS Appropriate for Early Learners
Technology can be an effective and engaging educational resource in the classroom for early learners between the ages of three and six. It can provide children with a fun and thrilling way to learn, and it can help them develop important problem solving and social skills.

However, it is important to use technology in moderation and find a balance using technology as a supplement to traditional teaching methods.

If you would like more information about collaborative technology from Alive Studios, send us a message below.