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Setting Up Learning Centers for Preschoolers
It is a proven fact that children learn through free play and structured play activities. During the infant and toddler years, children move quickly from one activity to another and usually prefer to play alone. During these ages, it is best to provide children with plenty of open space and a variety of toys on low, child sized shelves.
By the preschool years, most children have increased attention spans and will focus on a single play activity for longer lengths of time. Preschoolers love to play in groups with their friends and their own free play is becoming much more structured. Setting up learning centers for various types of play is a great way to organize toys for preschoolers and learning centers help children concentrate on developing specific skills while they play.
The most important learning centers to include for preschoolers are dramatic play, block and construction play, books and literacy, and manipulative play. Other types of learning centers can be rotated or included based on your children’s interests, including a science center, an art center, and sand and water play. Each of these play areas help preschoolers to develop the skills needed to start school.
The dramatic play learning center should encourage children to pretend and to play creatively. Dress-up clothes that allow children to role play as adults or various careers, like doctors or policeman, and props that encourage role playing, like kitchen accessories, are great toys for this area. Other toys that encourage dramatic play are puppets, doll houses, and tents, like the Play Hut Disney Princess Magic Castle.
Learning centers for blocks and construction play need to include a lot of open floor space. Provide this center with a variety of blocks of all shapes and sizes. Also include cars and trucks, animal and people figures, and other toys that relate to your child’s current interests. This is the learning center area where your child can create models of anything she imagines, from cities with buildings and roads to an alien spaceship.
Create a book and literacy center in a small, quiet corner with soft chairs or over sized pillows. If multiple children will be playing in your learning centers, it is a good idea to keep noisier centers separate from quiet ones. Toy shelves and large toys make good barriers. The reading center should include a good selection of books from several different genres. Magnetic letter boards, felt boards, and phonics games are also appropriate toys to encourage early reading skills.
Manipulative play is very important to the development of fine motor skills and hand and eye coordination. This learning center should include a variety of toys that encourage the use of small finger and wrist muscles. Puzzles, matching cards like Memory, lacing strings or lacing cards, and math counters for sorting and counting are all great manipulative toys.
Art, science, and sand and water centers can be included in your set up, or, you can place the toys for these learning centers in a large, sealed container and only bring them out on certain occasions. Art supplies should include plenty of paper, crayons, markers, glue sticks, cloth and tissue paper scraps, and pencils. Stencils, stickers, play dough, and paints are other supplies you may want to include. Toys for the science learning center should be based on your child’s interests. Some suggestions are microscopes, plants, dinosaur or animal toys, or magnets. Sand and water play can be as simple as dishpans filled with water, rice, or dry beans and an assortment of measuring cups and spoons.