Opening up centers on the first day of school

On the first day of school — my least favorite of the year, but that’s a different story — my centers are all closed. 

The house corner gets roped off with a sign that says “Closed” even before the open house, so the children already know when they arrive on the first day that they can’t just wander over to the shelves and start grabbing things.  (I’ll post more about our morning routines later.)

At the end of our first morning meeting, we get in a line (alphabetical, of course!) and make a “train.”  I’m at the front, blowing on my train whistle, and we all say “chugga chugga choo choo!” together until I come to a stop at the art center.  The train goes all around the center so that everyone can see, and I introduce the art center.  I show them what’s there (on the first day; not much), and where things go, and explain how they can wash their hands at the nearby sink, and then tell them how to use (and clean up) the playdough that is set out at the art center. 

Then I tell them to look at their “train tickets” — which are the nametags they are wearing around their necks — and that anyone with a red train ticket gets to go to the art center today.  The four kids with red nametags get all excited, and they sit down to play with playdough under the supervision of my para, while I take the train back to the meeting area, where we play games or sing songs or read books.

On the next day, we get back on our train and stop at a new center, say the manipulatives center.  The kids with the green tickets go there, we return to the art center and the yellow tickets get dropped off there, and I go back to the meeting area with a smaller group.

Each day we open a new center, and I cycle each group through each center.  It takes about 3 weeks, and a lot of planning ahead of time.  I like doing it this way because it teaches the children the rules and routines of each center over time, instead of trying (and failing) to explain everything all at once on the first day, when they are just itching to play.

Slowly but surely we learn where everything in the room is, how to play and share at each center, and how to clean up at the end of centers time, while at the same time we are building community and comfort and respect.

(image courtesy of, via google images)


7 thoughts on “Opening up centers on the first day of school

  1. I am enjoying your blog and watching your year take shape! When you open centers slowly like this what do all the children do that arent in the center you are introducing? I think it is so important to introduce centers but not always sure what is the best way.

  2. What a super cute idea to introduce your centers. I bet the kids get such a kick out of it. I’m sure it may seem like a lot of time to introduce them, but just think of the time you are saving by not having to constantly remind students of rules 🙂 Great idea!

  3. Thanks, Debbie and Audrey. Debbie, I’ve got about 20 kids in my class, and my centers mostly hold 4 kids each, so that’s 5 groups of 4 kids. On the 5th day, each color group is at a center. Up until that point, the kids who aren’t at a center are with me in the meeting area singing songs, playing games, and reading books. And we keep the centers time pretty short at first, so it isn’t a long time I have to keep the extra kids happy.

  4. Wonderful! Such a good idea. I agree that kids, little or big, cannot always absorb all the new rules, centers and expectations. I love this.

  5. I love this idea! I am definately going to implement this when school begins. I know it would be a great thing for the teachers of 3’s at our school too.

  6. Great ideas! We take it very slowly too. Since we have our centers are “free play” we only open a few, and keep the centers very, very simple for the first month. I like your idea of the train. I may have to do that for showing the children the centers.

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