Kindergarten: Teaching with Art Centers

 So what class scared me the most when I began teaching... Kindergarten!!
I just didn't see how I was going to get 20+ Kinders to focus for 50 minutes!! But, the art teacher whom I had replaced left me a few ideas. She used ART CENTERS! I had heard of CENTERS in the regular classrooms but had not thought about them in the art room. After some research I discovered that Centers make Kindergarten so much easier to teach. After all, it's how they are taught in their own classroom. Small group learning is the key. Here's how I do it.
  • 3 groups of 6 to 7 students (depends on class size) 
  • Each Art Center is 15 minutes long (this leaves 5 minute cleanup at the end)
  • Students use "Table Talk Voices"
  • I use a bell to ring 2x for center clean up and sitting quietly. Then I ring the bell 1x when I see everyone is ready, to change centers. Repetition is key to nailing the clean up and center change.

Play-Dough is great for fine motor skills, sculpture, and responsibility. 
Most days are free choice, but others we learn how to make forms and other fun things. I don't always give students tools. I like for them to use their hands. 
Keep play dough in zipper zip lock bags and add a little water each week to make play-dough last! Store all bags of dough in a plastic container.
Center 1 Rules: 
GermX before you play!
No eating, throwing, or sharing your playdough
1 color
Clean up by mushing up your crumbs and putting all play dough into your bag, hug bag, and zip. (this is to get the air out of the bag) 

Students love to build with blocks. I love to watch them working together as a team. Blocks are kept in 3 plastic shoe box sized containers. Best blocks are the soft foam blocks because there is no noise when they fall. I found that a pack of 100 blocks is perfect for a group size of 6 to 7. I hope to purchase a rug so students may do this center on the floor. 

Centers #2 Rules:  Sit on your bottom
Get 1 block out at a time
Share when you are not using a block
Build no higher than your head

Drawing, painting, collage and more! This is the center where I spend most of the time. All my art lessons are conducted here. 15 minutes is the perfect amount of time to teach short attention spans. This project center involves a short instruction that is broken down into the simplest of directions. You may even have students make the project step-by-step along with you. Also, this center is always closest to the sink for washing hands. My project table may even be 2 tables next to each other if it is a project that involves a lot of materials or more space is needed.  I sometimes use a small dry erase board to hold examples and demo. If we don't have time to finish a project then we will continue the next week. 
As you can see, it is easy to fit 3 baskets of any material on my long rectangle tables. I may even use 2 tables next to each other if more space is needed like this picture >
This center is by far the favorite especially when paint is involved. 


More about Art Centers
  • Depends on class time
  • Try simple centers the first time so students will get in the groove and learn the center rules. 
  • Each group always starts class at the same center and learns through repetition what center to go to next. After week 3, most have this down. 
  • Use signals for cleanup and when to change tables. (I use a bell)
  • I choose tables that are cleaned up first and sitting quietly to line up at the end. I also choose an art helper from each table to put supplies away. 
  • Two centers will need to be simple do-it-yourself if you will be spending most of your time at the third center. Never turn your back to the other 2 centers. Always keep vigilance. Walk around to check up on them when project table is working well on their own.
The centers above were the 3 main ones I use, but here are
  • printing
  • collage
  • puzzles
  • reading
  • games
  • chalk boards
  • art toys
  • origami 
  • etc....


Angie said...

I have used centers with my pre-k (i see the same class every day.) It seemed rather chaotic, so I didn't keep doing it. I think I made things too complicated. I really like how you describe this. I am at a new school next semester. I think I will try it with both pre-k and k.

Becca Ruth said...

Yes you do have to think a bit too much about it because with PreK and Kinders a lot can happen and go wrong. I think what works best is that students understand that they will not get to change centers until they are completely cleaned up and quiet. I use a lot of positive praise to pull this off. I also teach Prek and they also do wonderfully. Of course it always depends on the day and whether they have had recess or not. LOL

Becca Ruth said...

This comment was made by Lori- funart4kids.blogspot.com.
I accidentally deleted it. Sorry Lori. Here's what she wrote:
For certain lessons, I agree that stations break up your time...keeps kids focused on a specific task. I use them to rotate kids through steps to a project...so rather than stopping kids, re-explaining something, and so on...I just do one demonstration of each table in the beginning and off they go!

Becca Ruth said...

That's an awesome idea to demonstrate and complete steps during centers. I never thought of that! Thanks

taramarie88 said...

Thanks for this! I have heard of other art teachers using centers with the little ones, I kind of do them in my class. When we paint I will call 6 over at a time while the rest color or draw. So far we have only done very quick paintings, like marble painting, or water color wash over crayon. I was looking for more detail on the centers and you just gave me it!! Yay! P.S. I usually have 30 Kinder at a time without an aide, and 32 Pre-K with an aide. Yikes!

Angie said...

I used this idea and blogged about it http://inartclass.blogspot.com/2011/02/art-table.html

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I have a large kindergarten class and teach art "on the cart" at one of my schools and it's starting to make me crazy. The room is set up so poorly for a whole class program, and 50 mins. is way too long for most of these kiddos. I've tried centers in the past. But, I really like your system. I'm going to give this way a try starting this week.
I actually came into your blog through Angie's link. So, thanks ladies!

Barbarasthoughtoftheday said...

I mentioned this post on my blog today, Becca Ruth. I hope you will stop by and check it out.

Barbarasthoughtoftheday said...

Hi Becca Ruth! That's my comment right above. Not sure why it posted as anonymous. I wanted to add that I mentioned this post on my blog today and hope you'll stop by and check it out.

Lyndsey Davis said...

Wednesdays were my Pre-K kids favorite day because they got to come to your class. You know you're good when you beat the gym teacher. haha!

Cristi said...

I used centers in my all of my art classes last year and it worked really well. I didn't use them everyday, but often enough that the students were familiar with the materials. I have 6 tables and I make sure 3 have art materials to use and 3 have an art game or puzzle. I found that centers were a great way to get through assessments with Kindergarten. I sat at one table and when a group came to me I was able to able do a verbal or pictorial assessment with each one in about 5 minutes and then we changed stations. Most K kids aren't ready to read a test so this was a good way for my to find out what they knew!

artteacher said...

How did you train them to use the centers? I'm thinking of using centers this year with my kinders and that is the one point I'm stuck on. How often do they rotate centers during a class period. I see my classes once a week for 45 minutes. Do you have centers every week?

Becca Ruth said...

Repetition, repetition, repetition. I also have the Kinders once a week for 50 minutes and do centers everyday. The first day I tell them about centers and we go through the routine. (Keep it simple) I give rules for each table and demo. Students go to the first center I have assigned to them. Next, I teach that when they hear the bell ring 2x that means to clean up. I praise the table and student that is doing well. I have them raise their hand to "Give Me 5" when they are ready. If there is still talking or a table not ready then I tell them we can't go to the next center until everyone is quiet and giving me "5". I say, "When I ring the bell 1x you will go to this table..." I have them point to the table they are going to next and then I ring the bell to switch.
After about 3 weeks they have it down. You can rely on peer pressure and praise for them to do the right thing. And at the end of the class I pick the table who was finished first to line up first.

Praise, Praise, Praise, and good luck!

artteacher said...

Thanks! Do you also do whole group lessons or only small group?

Becca Ruth said...

I will do whole group occasionally at the carpet. Just to introduce a concept. Then we proceed to the centers.

Anonymous said...

Have you ever tried centers with older elementary students? This year my school has reduced our art sessions from 60 minutes, to 30 minutes. I'm trying to re-plan my class routine, and think of new tactics that can be meaningful in a short 30 minutes. This year our art program has been reduced also, to only students in grades 3-5 receiving art instruction. I'm wondering how students in grades 3-5 would do with centers. If you have tried it, are there any specific center activities that you found successful with students in these grades?

Becca Ruth said...

I have done centers with k-5th. I usually have centers for older Elementary on Art Party days where I set up 6 tables with 3 different centers. 2 tables to each center. It was always a success. One was painting, one modeling clay and the other drawing. THis is a great site I have referred to when thinking about center ideas: http://teachingforartisticbehavior.org/ it talks about teaching for artistic behavior and self discovery. You may also want to try activities at two centers that help enforce the project objective.

peaches said...

In our small district in Ohio, we don't have an art teacher until they are in 7-8th grade. As a "regular" classroom teacher, where can I start teaching my kids art? What are the basics? Any advice would be appreciated!! Thanks! Deborah

Becca Ruth said...

I start out teaching how to use art materials. I do that by exploration lessons first. Like coloring with crayons, scissors, paint, glue. All process and not product.
Then I teach the Elements of art. One or two lessons with each element. Here is a great link to the Elements: http://awesomeartists.com/ART/mTableOfContentsTheABCsofArt.htm
After element lessons I get into more product based projects. I tie them to either the medium (painting, printing, drawing, clay) or an artist. Check out all the awesome blogs I have listed on my page and you will find some great ideas.
Hope that helped.

Anonymous said...

I moved from K to K/1st art this year. My classes are each 60 minutes long.
Today I used art centers with great success. I started the whole group at the carpet to go over classroom procedures and to read 1/2 of a story that tied into the lesson I was teaching. Two of the tables where puzzles and two of the tables were books. During this time I pulled small groups. At the end we returned to the carpet for the rest of the story and review. I have to say it all went remarkably well. Thank you for validating the art center concept!

Ms. Rachel said...

I really like this idea for Kinder. I'm going to try this ASAP! Thanks for posting!

From a fellow TN elementary art teacher, Rachel

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