Math Time: Early Finisher and Center Routines in Kindergarten

If it's your first year in Kindergarten, or second, or third, or tenth... you might be

wondering how to successfully implement early finisher and center routines during your math block. Math, like all subjects, requires a lot of hands on practice to help students really understand the "how" and the "why." Both of these aspects help our little ones really retain the information they are learning, which is why it's so important that they are doing work beyond worksheets and full group instruction. This post will assist you in creating an overall math time routine, but will also incorporate early finisher routines, and even help prepare your students for full time math centers all using an activity that I called "math tubs" in our classroom.


Let's start with the basics and then I'll dive into each:

  • Gradually release students into their responsibilities

  • Set rules and expectations

  • Model expected behavior

  • Introduce partner, center, or independent activities one at a time

  • Monitor and give praise


Gradually Release Students into their Responsibilities


As a teacher, you know that your time talking to a whole group of students at once should be limited. There needs to be a gradual release of responsibility to ensure that students are doing instead of only listening. Because of this, I always start my math block off with about a seven to ten minute full group instruction. I teach and model the new information for that day, and then allow a few students to come up and practice on the SMART Board. Students are expected to participate, give feedback, and ask questions. In the very beginning of the year, I release students back to their seats, where they will use manipulatives to practice the new skill they learned - i.e. use counters to fill a ten frame to five and practice counting and tracing the number five.


As you can imagine, this leaves a lot of extra time at the end of our math block. This is the perfect time to begin preparing students for their gradual release into independent and partner work. I use the time at the end of my math block to prepare students so that by October (Jersey schools start in September, so about 1 month in) I can begin meeting with my small groups and really support students effectively. All the while, I can count on the fact that the rest of my students will be on task. In order to gradually release them, I introduce my students to our "math tubs" and then begin introducing activities one at a time...more on that in a bit!


Set Rules and Expectations


I know you know this. But, my focus here is to remind you to create rules and

expectations every step of the way and make sure they are reinforced. I use their math tubs, and tell them they will get their own special partner (really adds to the excitement!) but before we can get started having fun with our math partners there are very important rules and expectations that we need to create so everyone gets the most out of their math time.


Take the extra time at the end of your math block to talk about your classroom rules, and then create rules for what it will look like when you start releasing them into their independent activities. I show the students exactly what their math tubs look like, where they will be in the classroom, and a quick glance at the fun games they will learn to play together. Again, adding to that excitement before we lay out the rules. I have a general idea of what the rules are going to say, take student feedback, and then we write the rules together. I always have students sign the anchor chart. Visuals are always super helpful and I can't wait for next year's anchor chart (find out why in the "monitor and give praise section!)

These rules will also help when it comes time to fully implement math centers in your classroom, because chances are they will be quite similar!


Model Expected Behavior


It's so important for you to go over the expectations, but even more important for you to show your students exactly what that means. For each rule you and your students come up with, show them exactly what you expect that to look like. Once you're done showing them, ask your students what they noticed...Did Mrs. Smith walk or run to retrieve or math tub? What voice level did she use with her partner? How was she using her materials?


Once you've modeled it, have the students model it and give them praise for following your own model! Start off with one student, then maybe a few more, then try a group of ten, all the way until you have the whole class modeling the rules that you've created. Since you have not yet introduced the games you can have the students "pretend" to use their math tubs or even better, have them explore materials in the bin, like cubes, dice, markers, pompoms, etc. in order to gain a strong understanding of their expected behavior.




Introduce Partner, Center, or Independent Activities One at a Time


In order to make sure your students are comfortable and knowledgeable of all of their math tub resources, it's important that you introduce activities one at a time. Again, use the extra time in the beginning of your math block at the start of the year. For example, I always introduce the roll and cover game first. I teach and model exactly how to play during whole group instruction. I'll even have a student come up and play with me for the class to watch. Then, we get a chance to practice the game and the rules that we came up with as a class. Once they've learned this game, it can stay in their math tub.


*Teacher Tip you know your students best, so put students in partners mindfully, and pick and choose what should go in their specific math tub throughout the year!





Be sure that you also introduce the activities in the tub as "independent" activities. Because, if you are using as an early finisher activity one student may get their before their partner. That's why I love the easy to use flash cards within the tub.


*Teacher Tip for gradual release: pull sticks for students to retrieve their math tubs and have them spread out in visible places throughout the room (flex seating definitely helps with noise control). Praise students who follow your expectations in retrieving their bins.


Monitor and Give Praise


After students have all retrieved their math tubs and are ready to start playing their first game with partners, don't instantly try to pull small groups (unless you want to pull your hair out). Make sure you walk around the classroom and give praise to the students who are working together and doing exactly what you want to see in your classroom. Use whatever management system you have in place to praise your students. Continue to do that as you walk around the class, as well as quietly correct any confusions about the game, or behavior you do not wish to see.


*Teacher Tip (the thing I'm so excited about for next years anchor charts) students who are perfectly modeling specific rules can have their pictures taken and added to the anchor chart of rules and expectations. This is a win, win, win. It encourages good behavior, helps develop your class community, and provides visuals on your rules chart.


That sums up implementing math tubs in your classroom! Ultimately, this can be used as an early finisher activity in your class while also helping your students get ready for centers. Once my students are ready for small group (around mid October) they do their math tubs until I feel they are ready to work in small groups at four different math centers. I love having the math tub still prepped and ready because it is so nice to have it as a fourth center when I don't have anything else prepped (for example, the week back from winter break!!!). It is also really nice to have on days when you are out and there is a substitute in your room! Even if you don't purchase this resource, you can mix and match resources you already own in your own "math tubs" and follow this guide for implementing them!


To purchase kindergarten resources to fit perfectly into your math tubs click on the resource below!

Reach out and comment below with questions, suggestions, or let me know how this post helped you! Also, feel free to tag me on social media @MrsSmithenwithTeaching!





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