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FAVORITE CENTER ACTIVITIES
I have made a round-up of our favorite hands-on activities. I used these in the classroom as centers, and I use them at home with my own children. I have included FREE printable labels to keep everything neat and clean.
The trick with activities like the ones I show in this post is to be organized and to clean up after every time we use them.
I cannot just let my students have these activities in a play area. Pieces get lost and the activity just isn’t as engaging for them if they see it every day.
I rotate my centers in and out, and when kiddos see an activity for the first time in a few weeks, their eyes twinkle with delight.
I hope you love these as much as we do!
How adorable are these tags?
Having both the pictures and the words allows students to clearly see what is supposed to go in each drawer/bin. This way they can clean up themselves and I can hold them accountable for putting center supplies and manipulatives away correctly.
WHAT CENTERS DO WE USE?
So many moms and teachers have asked me what I recommend for center time (or at home - for quiet time.) Over the years in the classroom, and then at home with my own children, I have gone through so many activities. Here are our favorites!
These are the centers and manipulatives we use that correlate with these FREE printable labels.
By far and away, Magna Tiles are the most played with center - both in my classroom and at home with my own four children. They are also the most expensive manipulative I own, but they are 110% worth it.
There is something so attractive about these tiles that kids just can’t get enough of. They are magnetic and fit together in so many ways so kiddos can build houses, cars, animals, towers or anything else they can think of. They are incredibly well made, and I have never once had a tile break with all the wear and tear.
Just my word of warning is that there are cheaper brands of these magnetic tiles out there, but we have had both, and you get what you pay for. If you happen to have supply money at the beginning of the year, or a parent asks what they can donate… do not hesitate and ask for Magna Tiles! It is money so well spent and you will not regret it. This is one of the only centers I leave out all the time…. from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.
If you’re looking to incorporate STEM activities in your centers, we love Gears, Gears, Gears. The kit comes with step by step instructions to build a complex garden, and some kids are up for the challenge! Other students enjoy just seeing how to gears work together and come up with their own creation. Either way, this kit is very engaging for the kiddos and it really sparks their interest in gears and how they work.
Wikki Stix are so versatile and we use them in so many ways throughout the school year. Students enjoy using them so much because of how they feel, and I love them because they do not leave any sticky residue and they are so easy for students to manipulate.
When I am teaching students letters, numbers, shapes, etc. I will laminate activity mats and students can use the Wikki Stix right on top of them.
I change the laminated mats at this center, but the Wikki Stix can stay there all year! This is another activity the kids never tire of, and the new activity mats give it just enough change to keep them engaged with whatever we are working on. I have even put laminated mazes in this center and the kids love the challenge!
Pattern Blocks are always an easy go-to center. They are perfect for the beginning of the school year, and then I bring them back throughout the year as well.
Sometimes I give the kids task cards with them and sometimes I use them just for students to free build whatever they want.
Time is never wasted when students are using pattern blocks, and there is so much research to back this up!
This hands-on letter construction kit is so neat! It comes with big lines, little lines, big curves/little curves, magic c, little push ups, etc. so children can actually see how these pieces fit together to make all of the letters of our alphabet.
This kit really helped my own daughter see how so many letters are very similar in how they are formed.
Have you used these Read and Spell kit from Melissa and Doug? The kids love these puzzles and so do I!
If you’re teaching pre-k or kindergarten, I wouldn’t put these out until mid year. At the beginning of the year, you can definitely use them with your higher kiddos though.
I love that the pieces are all wooden and they use lowercase letters and no uppercase.
These Water Wow Kits are an absolute favorite with my own children as well as with my kindergarten students.
These are perfect for the beginning of the year, but I also bring them back throughout the year because the children enjoy them so much. There are a ton of themes to choose from, so it is easy to switch them up.
I love that they are almost zero prep for me and no mess. You simply fill the brushes with water and the kids “paint” away! The picture will appear as they paint with water. The pads dry and then you can reuses them over and over again.
Each themed book has four different pages for students to complete. This will keep their attention for a good 15-20 minutes which is about our center rotation time. Then they can toss them right back in the drawer and the water brushes don’t leak. So easy and fun! Some of the themes include alphabet & numbers, dinosaurs, ocean, occupations, jungle, or they even have quite a few variety packs.
This center is also perfect if you’re looking for ways to incorporate STEM in your class.
I enjoy seeing how creative students can be with these building blocks. They are not simply “playing” rather they are being mini engineers! This kit gets incredible reviews and I love how they are not too huge and heavy like other kits we have used.
My kiddos love using geo boards! Be sure to teach students exactly how you expect them to use these, or you will have rubber bands flying all over.
But there is a huge benefit to using these, so it is worth the work to train them how to use this activity. I love this kit because the geo boards are doubled sided and not so huge. I slip each board with a set of rubber bands in a quart size bag so each student just grabs a bag out of the drawer.
We love these alphabet magnets for so many reasons. First off it comes with a carrying case to keep all the letters organized. I have bought other kits where the letters come in a tub, but students waste half of their instructional time looking for the letter they need. With this kit, students can easily find what they need.
I also appreciate that you get a few of each letter so students can spell multiple words at a time. Plus, it even comes with punctuation so at the end of the year students can write out sentences.
I get three sets so each student at the station can have their own kit and we don’t have sharing issues. These kits stay out most of the year and I just change the activities we are working on. At the beginning of the year it is more letter identification, matching capital/lowercase, etc. Then we move on to spelling CVC and sight words, and by the end of the year we are writing sentences! This is an awesome, must-have center!
I hope you love these centers as much as we do!
If you want to grab these FREE coordinating drawer labels, they are available in our Exclusive Member Library.
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SOME OF OUR OTHER FAVORITE CENTERS
Use this free Highlight a Letter pack to teach letter recognition. I print this pack and use the worksheets as reinforcement and extra practice. This is the perfect activity for fast finishers or on substitute days.
Each page focuses on a different letter. My kids love to use highlighters or even daubers to switch it up!
You can grab it for FREE here Highlight A Letter PDF
LEARN TO WRITE YOUR NAME
The highlighted blue area shows you where you can type! The blue will not show up when you print.
Simply open the file in Adobe 11 Reader and type your child's name! This can be edited as many times as you would like - so if you're a classroom teacher you can use this one worksheet for your entire class.
This editable name worksheet is FREE in my Exclusive FREEBIE LIBRARY for email subscribers!
Simply sign up HERE and you can access this FREEBIE, plus so much more right away.
This is the perfect go-to busy bag or center activity for patterns and sorting (and colors too!)
You can print these pages, laminate for durability and leave as a mat or cut apart.
Grab a pack of buttons and this activity is ready to go. There is something about buttons that kiddos just love playing with!
Print these adorable popsicle stick pattern puzzles for an an busy bag or center activity.
This activity works on so many skills including patterns, spatial reasoning, problem solving, following directions and more!
I print, laminate, cut apart and put these in a basket with a handful of colorful popsicle sticks. Super easy and the kids love completing them.
You can get coordinating color popsicle sticks HERE
Grab the FREE pattern cards here Free Popsicle Patterns
My free pack comes with 8 puzzles, but if you need more puzzles, you can get an additional 8 puzzles with this pack HERE
This is a super fun busy bag for little hands to work with. It requires them to work on hand-eye coordination, left to right tracking, patterns, problem solving and more.
This works great as a classroom center for preschool and kindergarten as well.
You can get a large tub of these chains (seriously - endless entertainment!) HERE
Print the FREE pattern cards here Linking Chains Busy Bag
There is something about these counting bears that kids just love to play with them. From pretend play, to patterns, sorting, counting and more... these bears are a must have for every classroom or busy bag collection.
I made both follow the pattern printable cards and complete the pattern printable cards. They coordinate perfectly with these bears found HERE
Grab these FREE printable activities here Bear Patterns
My girls all love using this fruit busy bag!
Children can match the fruit to the picture/word cards
Follow the fruit patternsand even fill up their baskets with fruit to match the pattern cards!
This complete kit is FREE and it addresses so many important skills such as matching, patterns, following directions, problem solving, beginning reading skills and so much more!
I made the cards to match this adorable fruit kit HERE
Grab this FREE printable busy bag kit here Fruit Busy Bag
NUMBERS & COUNTING
This is a fun activity for kiddos to practice number recognition and 1:1 correspondence. Lots of kids will say, "I can count to 10!" But they cannot actually count 10 objects. 1:1 correspondence is trickier than it looks for many children.
Print and use these adorable train cards to recognize number and practice "loading" the trains with the correct number of "rocks."
You can use mini pom poms, rocks, beads, etc.
Grab these FREE cards here Train Counting
To go along with my magnetic alphabet mats, I also have number and counting mats too. Print and use with cookie sheets and magnets - one practices number recognition on a train and the other targets counting fruit in baskets.
Grab these FREE mats here Number Mat Activities
We love using Unifix Cubes! They are so versatile and can be used for so many things. I especially like how they are easy for little hands to work with. They snap together and break apart easily.
These pattern cards work on 1:1 correspondence, counting, number recognition, following patterns, fine motor skills, and more!
Grab these FREE pattern cards here Unifix NUMBERS
If you need more activities to teach your kiddos numbers 1-20, click HERE to see my complete Counting and Cardinality Games and Activities Pack
We love to use long and short popsicle sticks to practice building shapes. It is so much fun to watch kiddos grow in their understanding and problem solving skills after practicing with this busy bag.I used this as a center in my kindergarten classroom, but now I use it as a busy bag with my 3 and 5 year old at home.Children follow the pattern cards using their popsicle sticks, and then can fill out a recording sheet (accountability during center time!)There is even an I Can directions poster included to help children be independent.
Try out four of the pattern cards for FREE Popsicle Stick Cards