This post originally appeared on the blog The Kindergarten Smorgasboard.

What is the one question I get asked more than any other?
“How do you set up centers for kindergarten? (or any grade!)”

So, today I am answering that question! (I realized I don’t have a blog post that really spells out the goods on my center system… well, we’re fixing that now!)

Some things you will see throughout this post and our center management system is: CHOICE! FREEDOM! CONTROL!

In order for our centers for kindergarten to run smoothly and for my ‘staches to stay engaged, I give up control! Yes, people, in order to keep control, I give up control! You’ll see what I mean and why it works…

The key to our center management system is THE CENTER WHEEL!

centers for kindergarten
Literacy Centers

math centers for kindergarten

Math Centers

The wheel is a simple visual way for my students to know what centers/workstations/hippopotamuses they go to. It’s kid friendly. It’s teacher friendly.
The wheel is divided into 4 sections because I have 4 groups.
The wheel is color coded.
My groups are color coded.
centers for kindergarten
The color coding makes it super easy for the kids to know exactly what group they’re in and what centers they can go to! Again… kid friendly. Teacher friendly. The students have the control!

The groups are NOT the same as my guided reading groups.

My center groups are skill based. So I’m looking at data and grouping my students based on what skills they need to work on (letters, sounds, cvc, etc). The groups are fluid and change every couple of weeks or so.
As my students are working in centers, I call guided reading groups by reading level. For this, I just call the names of the students I want. They leave their center and come to my table. When finished with me, they go back to their center and I call my next group.

So, it’s time for centers. How do centers for kindergarten work?

1. Check the basket.

2. If you have work to finish, you must finish the work first.

3. If you don’t have work, check the wheel.

4. Get to work!

Check the basket!
The basket holds any unfinished centers/workstations from the day before. So if you’re working on a center and it’s time to clean up but you’re not finished, you put your work in the basket (pink for reading/literacy and purple for math). The next day, you must check the basket FIRST! If you have work, you have to finish it. THEN you check the wheel. If you don’t have any work in the basket, you can check the wheel.

Check the wheel!

The center wheel tells you what center to go to. Mr. Greg does not. I am not a wheel. And because I am not a wheel, I cannot tell you what center to go to. CHECK THE WHEEL! When my students ask me what center to go to my response is: “Do I look like a wheel? Go ask the wheel!”
Tionna is in the pink group. Tionna checks the wheel; she sees that the pink group has two choices:
Write The Room and Read To Self/Library.
Tionna is free to choose either one of those two centers. She has the control, the freedom, and she makes the choice. Tionna gets to do what she wants to do so she’s empowered and engaged. When our students are empowered, they have buy in. When they have buy in, their behavior is better!
So Tionna goes off to write the room. Let’s say she finishes her write the room. She can choose to do another write the room OR she can choose to go read. If she reads for a while and chooses to go to write the room, that’s perfectly ok. It’s that choice and the freedom that keeps them engaged and keeps them from getting bored at 1 center.
The students are free to move freely between their TWO CENTER CHOICES. They cannot go to any other choices. The expectation is that if they choose an activity, they must do that activity before they can move to their other choice or choose another activity.
We do not transition. This wastes precious learning time. That is why they have the 2 centers to choose from. CHOICE! And within those 2 centers are more choices! CHOICE! That keeps them going and engaged. Engaged=less behavior issues. This system also eliminates the early finisher problem. Because technically you never finish centers. You finish activities but you never finish the center.

So our center choices are: Read To Self, Write The Room, Technology, Sensory Bin/Light Box, and Tubs.

The tubs are where all of our word work, sight words, letters, sounds, writing and sentences practice happens. The tubs are my favorite center and they are the heart of our centers.
You see the same color coding as the groups and the wheel. So if the center wheel tells you to go your tub and you’re in the pink group, you can choose ANY PINK TUB! CHOICE! Each tub contains 1 activity/center/game. There is no expectation that you complete all the tubs in your color. There is no order to do the tubs. Students choose which tubs they want to work on. Because the tubs are differentiated, no matter which of their tubs they choose, they are working on skills they need to practice!
When they finish the activity in the tub, they can do it again or put it up and pick another tub! CHOICE!
I also do not care if they pick the same tub each day. It’s their choice and they have control. (If I see this happening, I might suggest a different tub but I won’t tell them to get another one!)
The key to this system being kid friendly is color coding!
When the wheel says write the room, the kids grab a write the room paper from the basket for their group!
The baskets are on the wall using Command hooks! BAM!
So you can see the choice and freedom are the keys. In the read to self/library center they can choose any books to read. CHOICE!
In technology, they can choose computers or iPad! And the iPad can be an app or QR codes!
In the sensory bin/light box center, they have a light box, a light table and a sensory bin to choose from. The light table gives them multiple choices to work with!

Give them control and the choice.

So what about math?

It’s the same! I run both math and literacy centers the same way with a few variations! The consistency is great for students and teacher friendly!
The wheel. Four groups.
Our math centers are: math baskets, math the room, technology, and ten frames and graphing.


Math baskets! These work very similarly to the reading tubs. The difference is that each basket contains 2 or 3 activities. Instead of taking the basket, they choose 1 activity from a basket. (Why? Less baskets so this gives them more choices!)
Math The Room is lots of dice games and count the room activities. CHOICE!
These are differentiated. Count the room will have less pictures to find and count (to 10 or to 20) depending on where we need to practice. These are also copied on colored paper to match the groups. So you know if you’re in the blue group, you get blue paper!


Ten Frames and Graphing! This center contains thematic/seasonal ten frame cards so we’re always practicing our 1 to 1 correspondence. This center also always contains See Count Graph and other graphing games so we’re always practicing graphing and data.
There are always several different sets of ten frame cards and several See Count Graph activities so they have CHOICE!



A few other tidbits of information…

I only change out centers every couple of weeks. When I do I only change out a few by moving some activities from the pink tubs to the purple. Then some purple to the blue. And blue to green. This keeps it fair so everyone gets the same skills and activities AND it takes the burden off of me if someone needs help! Because they’ve seen the centers/games/activities before the kids help each other!
I will remove seasonal/holiday centers when that season or holiday is over.
And about once a month or so, I’ll wipe out everything and replace the centers to keep it fresh and exciting!
Students are free to work with a friend or by themselves. This is their choice! Free to choose!
I teach centers during whole group and small groups. A lot of our centers are things we’ve done in whole group or small group. BUT a lot of them aren’t. Because I create all of our center activities, they are very kid friendly and don’t require reteaching. I AM VERY DELIBERATE WHEN I create all of my center resources so that once you’ve seen a few of them, you can do them all year with very little or no instruction at all!
It really is a matter of the brain loving novelty and that’s as simple as changing the clipart from a pumpkin to a ghost! For a five year old, that’s a whole new activity! Same skill…same activity. No instructions needed!


And for more on how we run centers, check out these videos!
centers for kindergarten

Kindergarten Smorgasboard: Teacher-Author on TpT Mr. Greg has been teaching for 12 years; the last 9 years have been in kindergarten. He received his bachelor’s degree from Indiana University and his ELL certification from David Lipscomb University. At the beginning of his career, he spent 2 summers teaching in Ecuador which only helped fan the flames of his passion for teaching. He is the author of the Kindergarten Smorgasboard blog, hosts his own teaching conference called ELEVATE!, and is a full-time kindergarten teacher. He lives in Nashville, TN and when he is not in the classroom he enjoys blogging, creating curriculum and resources for his classroom, and conducting professional development to help teachers around the world make their classrooms a more fun, effective, and interactive place to teach.