The largest challenge with learning centers in the primary classrooms is keeping them organized! What makes center organization such a challenge for teachers? We have limited space for centers and their storage, limited time for preparation, and limited funds for materials and storage containers. I have compiled some tips below for organizing learning centers that will help minimize these challenges.
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How to Maximize Space for Learning Centers
Toss the tubs, use bags!
Have you considered portable learning centers? Let’s face it, we teachers are notorious for ‘collecting’ bags! Put those bags to work for you!
If you do not have bags, ask your teacher friends for bags they are no longer using.
Also, most stores now have those reusable bags near the checkout that are very inexpensive! Some even change the theme for the seasons! Dollar Tree often has some interesting bags for just a dollar.
If you are in need of activities for literacy or math centers check out our store.
Label the bags for your centers. I usually just use sticky numbers, that way all I have to ever change up is the contents of the bag!
Project Boards for Portable Wall Displays
Limited wall space also makes center organization a challenge. As mentioned above, bags are great for portable centers, but did you know you can make your entire center portable? Use project boards for displaying materials for centers. Check out my writing center below that can be made portable by placing content on a project board!
Books and Libraries
Book bins are a lifesaver for keeping independent reading centers organized. If you are incorporating Read to Self and Read to a Buddy, these are a must! I recommend ‘flexible’ containers because they help maximize space and books come in all shapes and sizes and they accommodate most books.
Label Your Library
A book cart is a great investment, or perhaps your school has a few not in use. With your books on a cart, you can easily move your library at a moment’s notice! Label shelves with book levels and teach students how to select appropriate leveled books for their bins.
Hide Center Clutter!
Trade Tubs for Drawers for Common Center Time Materials
Instead of pulling out a dozen random tubs for more commonly used materials for centers, place them in labeled drawers. After discovering I was spending a ton of time pulling out a tub of crayons for this center, glue, and scissors for that center, I knew there had to be a more efficient method. I put all the most frequently used materials in labeled drawers and my students know where to quickly access them!
Place centers in Drawers instead of Tubs
Depending on the types of centers you incorporate in your classroom, it can be just as efficient to simply keep your centers in a drawer tower instead of tubs!
Since my kiddos fell in love with tic tac toe, connect four, and memory games, I just keep the materials in these drawers and all I have to do is switch out the game boards and cards as they progress. Tic tac toe is awesome because all I have to change is the word lists! This Sterilite 3 drawer storage drawer organizer has been my favorite because it can hold most sizes of paper and is deep enough to hold all manipulatives for a particular center. They also stack as well!
Quick Affordable Curtains!
Make quick curtains to hide materials while leaving them quickly accessible! As much as we teachers would love to ‘purge’ stuff, we know kids learn best when they can manipulate educational materials. To hide some of the necessary educational clutter on shelves, I made these quick curtains in less than 10 minutes. All it took was an old table cloth (Dollar Tree plastic ones work great), stapler, and tension rod. You can save money by leaving out the tension rod and just tacking the material to the shelf itself.
I have discovered the smaller tension rods with rubber tips work the best!
Tips for Storing Center Materials
Pretty sure I now own stock in these! If you have limited access to a laminator, these are the next best thing for center longevity and storage. Just tuck those reusable pages into a page protector, then keep them in a 3 ringed binder. Label your binders to save time and space. If the activity has cards or other small pieces that go with it, you can also tuck them right down inside the page protector as well!
Keep your word cards and picture cards on book rings. You can now purchase cards with holes pre-punched in the corners to save time.
Be sure to label all of your containers and drawers! This will save a huge amount of time!
I recommend labeling all drawers as well! This multicolored drawer cart has been instrumental in keeping my paperwork for the week organized.
A label maker is well worth the investment. This brother P-touch label maker has been one of my favorite investments! It has both thin and wide labels that are easily interchangeable. The best part of it is that it can save files! Type in your class list and save it, no more rewriting names dozens of times throughout the year! It is perfect for labeling files, containers, cubbies, student folders, and more! You can change the font, font size, underline, add borders, and make multiple copies of a label with the push of a button!
For more tips to help get you started with centers check out our post for Practical Tips for Starting Centers.