A good preschool learning center is one that the students really want to do. It grabs their attention when they walk through the door, and the center is full of children all day.
A great preschool learning center is one that helps them practice a skill (or two!) in a developmentally appropriate way.
A perfect preschool learning center combines both, and is quick and easy for the teacher to set up as well.
The invitation to play is very simple: carpet squares, giant push pins, and card stock squares with letters written on them. We programmed our squares with the first letters of our students’ names. Learning the letters of our names is our top priority in literacy instruction.
I don’t know what it is about the giant push pins that is so enticing, but our students love them! I think that they are unusual because they are so big. Plus, I make a big deal when we introduce the center about how only our “big kid class” (Pre-K, 4-year-olds) is allowed to use them because they are sharp like a shot. That really gets their attention! We put carpet squares at each place. (I got them for free from the home improvement store.) If you don’t have carpet squares, a piece of foam, styrofoam, or cork board would also work. The pins just need something to stick into!
The wonderful thing about these giant push pins is they force young learners to use a tripod grasp. There is no way to grab them with their entire fist, like they often do with pencils. The way that they have to hold the pin mimics a correct pencil grasp.
So, goal #1 of this learning center is fine motor control and pencil grasp. Goal #2, then, is to work on letter identification and correct letter formation. Because we are focusing on each student’s first letter, they are all capitals. (We actually think it is not just okay but developmentally appropriate to let students write in capitals. You can read our rationale HERE.) Later in the year, most of our Pre-K students are ready to start transitioning to the lower case letters.
The students use the push pins to poke holes in the letter, all along the line. When they are finished, they place the push pin back in the carpet square safely and hold their card up to the light. It’s fun to see the sun shine through the card in the shape of “their” letter!
We hung all of the cards on the glass door as a display. Of course, after they punched out their own letter they wanted to do the letters of their friends’ names too. It turned into a literacy center, as the students spent time there pointing to each letter: “Look! There’s Jack’s J! Look! We have 2 O’s for Olivia!”