In the comments for my last post, jwg said:
I’m curious. Are there art materials available for the kids who don’t want to color in the lines? Are there other math materials in the math center or do they have to do the project? Is there sand or water play? Can they chose to write about something other than Under the Sea? Is there a Dramatic Play area where the kids choose the script? I think you see where I’m headed here. As you decribe your day it sounds as if the children have choices of where to go, but few choices of what to do when they get there. I hope I missed something.
Here’s my reply:
Point taken. You didn’t miss anything, because I missed some things. Here’s what was missing:
The art center has a specific activity about every other day, and on other days all the materials (large scraps, small scraps, ribbons, hole punches, stickers, glue, scissors, markers, crayons, etc.) are available for the children to do whatever kind of art they’d like. Some of the kids in my class are thrilled to color pictures, and I offer that kind of activity for them from time to time. The ones who want to draw when the art center is booked for something else usually go to the writing center, which is always open for free exploration, even if there is a specific activity being offered there. (The writing center has pencils, crayons, markers, colored pencils, envelopes, several different kinds of paper, and little blank booklets in addition to alphabet magnets and whiteboards.) They can write about whatever they’d like to, but usually are interested in the theme. We have a big pocket chart with word and picture cards for the theme, and the children like to use them to draw pictures and write words in their journals, or at the writing center during centers time. Today Pumpkin took a blank booklet and made a book with pictures of a princess, a whale, an octopus, and a tuna fish who was a bad guy, complete with pretend writing. It was awesome.
The house corner is always open, and is usually just a house, although sometimes I change it to go with the theme. (We’ve had a bear cave and a pizza restaurant, for example.) The sand table is always available, and blocks are almost always open. Sometimes instead of blocks we’ll have the train set or a big tub of Duplos in blocks instead of our wood blocks.
The math center is like the art center — it has a specific, directed activity (usually taken from the curriculum, but sometimes teacher-created) about every other day. On the alternate days, the kids can choose. We have two separate bookshelves full of math manipulatives. I find, however, that the kids like the math center better when there is something new or a special activity. They spent a lot of time doing free exploration of the manipulatives in September and October, and they’re kind of over it.
So there’s the missing information about our centers time. I will say this, however — I do not have a 100% child-centered classroom. That’s probably obvious by now to any regular reader. This is a conscious choice on my part: I think a completely child-centered classroom can be a terrific place for learning, but while it is possible to do it well, it’s also very difficult. The 100% child-centered classroom doesn’t fit my personality or my teaching style, and I think that there is some value in having some of the morning be teacher-directed. I’ve got more to say on that subject, but think I will save it for another post.