One of the hardest parts of educating many children is the problem of the toddler. What to do with this little bundle of energy. Let them run free and who knows what they are going to get into.
This problem is not limited to homeschooling. What if you have something you need to do? A phone call to make? Or you work from home? Is your day destined to end in disaster?
Even if you have one child, they can get into things so quickly. That was sure true of our first.
I have found a system that works so well. I wish I had found this sooner.
How do elementary teachers teach multiple groups at the same time? They create centers. I taught first grade for a year. Creating centers is hard work. So much hard work! I don’t know about you, but if it’s too hard, I won’t do it. I needed to create an easy to use system, one that was easy to change so that it didn’t get too boring.
The system also needed to be picture based since two of my children who are using it do not yet read.
Here is what I came up with (this post contains affiliate links):
Using a baseball card protector and labels that I created, I set up a visual tracking system for the kids to follow. Here is an example of one day:
In this example, I do not have a school center. Monday is my “get things done” day. I need all of the centers to be independent so that I can focus on lesson planning, meal planning, and anything else that needs to be taken care of.
Here is an example of a school day center time:
I have one sleeve for each day of the week, Monday through Friday. I also have a sleeve I pull out anytime the kids are bouncing off the walls and need some direction.
Each day, I pull the sleeve out of the binder and hang it on our magnet board. You could also use the fridge or a cookie sheet from the dollar store attached to the wall. You could also just leave it in a binder or put it on a clipboard.
We do centers twice a day, one for math, the other for reading. The other subjects we do together and don’t require so much concentration or quiet. Right now, it is working to do the same centers twice. At some point, I may need to make two sheets for each day.
Helping Kids Keep Track
I let my children free play before school. Before I set up the centers, I give them a ten minute warning. When I am done setting up the centers, I call all of the children to me. I show them each picture on the centers sheet. Then, we walk around the house and I show them where each center is located. Our house isn’t very big, so the centers are normally in the same place each time. I also explain the center if it is new.
Each child has their own magnet that they put on the first center in their row. When we rotate, they go to the chart and move their magnet down one spot.
When I first started using centers, I used a timer. After 15 minutes, we would rotate. That was about 2 months ago. My children either have better attention spans, or I am better at picking centers that interest them. We don’t set a timer any more. When I am done with school with the child I am doing school with, we switch. If a child is really interested in what they are doing, they are allowed to ask for more time. I almost always grant them another 10 minutes or so, but then it’s time to switch. I do still use timers for the days that I am getting stuff done (like Monday) but the time is more like 25 minutes now.
The Discipline Problem
I am sure at this point, you are envisioning perfectly behaved children staying exactly where you put them and playing quietly. You should know that I have gotten used to a certain amount of chaos. Quiet = Trouble. So, unless my children are into something they aren’t supposed to be, the house is not quiet.
During centers time, there are normally 3 voices going at the same time, unless the baby is awake and then there are 4. I normally put the centers in a room that I am not going to be in (to decrease the noise and help which ever child I am working with concentrate).
While the house is not quiet, it is also not loud. It is the comforting sound of young children processing, and young children do not process in their head.
But every once in a while there will be a problem.
“Mom, Ben keeps watching me do my center.” I have become very careful about where I put the centers and who is in the room together. It simplifies things if they can each be in a different room but this isn’t always an option. I make sure that Ben and Grace are never in the same room together. They can play fine together normally, but they have a hard time working in the same room.
“Mom, look at me. I’m jumping!” This from my three year-old, Faith. “That’s great sweetie; can you go back to your center?” “No, Mom! I’m jumping!” Which will almost always be followed by Grace saying, “Mom! Faith is being too loud. I can’t concentrate!” Sigh. Sadly, I will have to quit what I am doing and address the problem. I try not to view this as an interruption because then I feel rushed and don’t handle the situation well. I try and view this as character building. Part of my job is training up children. If I think of it this way I will not feel like the time is wasted…as much.
I started out being very strict about staying in the center. With my older two children, it is normally not a problem. But for some reason Faith sometimes has a hard time being interested in the centers. She wants to be with me. Is this a bad thing? I decided it wasn’t. When she feels lonely, she is allowed to bring her work next to me as long as she doesn’t interrupt the lesson. She is typically so quiet. She sits next to me gluing her pictures and watching the lesson with half an eye. In fact, there are days where she only does school with me and the other center times are spent working on that project next to me. This hasn’t bothered the other kids. As yet there is no, “Why does she get to sit there and I have to do handwriting?”
Sometimes, it just takes me going to her and getting her interested in her center. This is especially true of the sensory bin. The other kids get so excited about the sensory bin, but not Faith. She looks at it like, “You want me to play with that? You must be crazy.”
I have also started letting her wander from the center if she has been there for 15 minutes or more. For some reason, this also has worked out well. Normally, the critical part of the lesson is over after about 15 minutes anyway so if she does cause a disruption, I am free to handle it.
Creating centers for your home
School is so much easier now. I can concentrate and so can my kids. As a bonus, when I have something I need to concentrate on, I can pull out a sleeve that has centers all planned for me. As the kids get older, they will even be able to help set up the centers.
Are you ready to have some free time? It takes some preparation, but it is so worth it.
- Walk around your house and write down any activity or game that your children like to do and can do independently (all of your children don’t have to like it, just most)
- Create labels for each item (I took pictures of each thing and used picmonkey to create labels. A simple handwritten label would work just fine). If you do it like me, you will need a label for each center for each child. (In my case I needed three)
- Make a list of each day of the week with the number of centers you want to create. (I created three centers).
- You might want to create some centers that never change. For example: Monday will always have the “Creative Writing Center” and “Activity Shelves”. I labeled (on my weekly planner) the ones that would change as “Play”.
- Fill in your sheets with the centers. I let my children pick the “play” ones. (You could also print (or write) the labels and glue them onto paper).
I think this is such a useful idea that I am going to make a packet that has detailed explanations of each part; I will also include a resource list and helpful information on training; plus the labels that I have created and step-by-step instructions on making your own labels. Subscribe below so that when it comes out, you can have it!
I linked up to abc blogging at Ben and Me.