Using Free Choice Centers for Morning Work

While quiet, sit down morning work is perfectly functional and effective in many classrooms, last year I decided it just wasn't for me and my students. I wanted something more engaging and interactive. Something that would help students start their days off on a positive note, and help them get some social interaction and boost their confidence and friendships. So, I decided that free choice centers as morning work was the way to go.

Ok. So the thought giving kindergartners so much freedom in the morning was definitely daunting. Before the year started I would have visions of complete chaos. Students running and shouting around the classroom. Materials being thrown. Play - Doh being scarfed down like it was a gourmet dish. But, that never happened. Sure we had our moments. After all it is a kindergarten class i'm writing about; however; overall I couldn't have made a better decision for our classroom and I'm definitely never going back. So if this sounds like something you also want to do, but you're not quite sure where to start, let me help! Here is how I created fun, playful, smoothly operated mornings in our classroom...

Setting the Stage

The first week or two of school I did use coloring pages and other "at your seat work" in order to give myself more time to introduce our basic classroom rules to the students.

Then, I introduced students to all of our basic centers. I showed them the library, the kitchen, big blocks, magnets, puzzles, etc. and showed them how we use the materials and general rules for the area they would be working in.

Super important... I got them excited. I made each center sound like the best thing ever, and encouraged them to switch up their centers as often as possible. I also loved that I was able to introduce the library so early on in the year and get them excited about books.

Next, I introduced the rules. We sat at our carpet and went over all of the centers we talked about. I let them know that I had exciting news for them, and that they would be able to use these centers EVERY morning. BUT, they had to finish their morning routines first. There could only be three students at each center. They had to use the centers appropriately. And lastly, they had to promise to work together and have fun. To get the template I used click on the picture to the right or click here!

Putting Together your Choice Center Display!

I display six choice centers at all times. I have a display with six rectangle pieces, each with a number 1 - 6. So that I can change out the centers as needed, I add velcro to each of the six pieces. I then have about 25 center pieces in a small bin next to my display (for the most part I switch between the same nine centers in the morning...coloring, magnets, puzzles, busy bags, kitchen, dramatic play, big blocks, and library.) I put velcro on the back of each of these, and place one on each numbered rectangle.

Each student gets their name on a clothes pin which hangs from the "Choice Centers" poster. Students remove their name from the poster and place it on the center they choose, as long as there are no more than three students to each center (this will obviously vary by class size!) To get this template (available in different color options) click here!

Practice, Practice, Practice!

We practiced on a Friday during our afternoon center block. Since students weren't funneling in like they do in the morning, I simply pulled popsicle sticks with their names on them.

That following Monday, I let students know as they funneled in that their morning routine

would include choice centers.

Make sure you address any issues immediately. Make sure you have a strong classroom management model in place (I used class DOJO and students got 2 points for following their morning routine correctly, which included good voice levels and using their centers appropriately.) If there are any students who are struggling to meet your expectations, have them sit out of their center and chat with them about how they can do better and hopefully be able to use their choice centers the following day, or, if you think they are ready have them try again immediately.

Our choice centers lasted a short ten minutes every morning, but I know for sure it had a positive impact on them, and it was an amazing chunk of time for me to relax and get to know my students!

Comment below and let me know what you think about free choice centers, in the morning or any other time of day! I would love to know if you have any questions, or how you plan on incorporating free choice in your room. Follow me on social media @MrsSmithenwithTeaching for more classroom ideas!

Click to retrieve your very own free choice center template for choice time any time of day!

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