How To Save Your Sanity with Math Centers in Kinder & First Grades - Down River Resources | Your Elementary Math Guide

How To Save Your Sanity with Math Centers in Kinder & First Grades

There's a phrase that is becoming all too popular in education right now. Have you heard? It's #teachertired. It's a silly question to ask you if you've heard of it, because you ARE living it. Whether you go to your classroom early in the morning or stay late in the afternoon, you are #teachertired. As a new mom, my perspective has changed about how I approach the resources that I use in my classroom. I no longer have time to cut, laminate, cut, and repeat. Not all of us can rely on volunteers or others to help us. This struggle has helped me hone in my vision for math centers for kindergarten and first grades that will save your sanity by simply printing and placing in a center!

Yearlong Math Centers for Kindergarten & First Grades 

These English or Spanish math centers cover various skills including: reading, writing, and representing numbers 0-20 (games were created in number sets 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, and 16-20 to use year-round and for differentiating math centers,) collecting and organizing data, identifying two-dimensional shapes and three-dimensional solids, and identifying U.S. coin names and their values. All of the skills are bundled or they can be found individually. 

Here's how you can save your sanity with these centers. (Print, add a large paper clip + pencil and

1. Decide how you will set-up your yearlong center and place it on auto-pilot! Here are your options for setting up this center:
  • Print one copy per center. Place copy in a sheet protector and store in a binder or dry erase sleeve. (Add paperclip, dry erase marker, + cleaning wipe)
  • Print one copy per student, partnership, or small group. Place copies in a basket or bin for students to grab. (Add large paperclip + students bring them school box)

    • TEACHER TIP: If two or more students are working on one game board, have each student write their names at the top in the color they will be using. They should do all of their work on the page in that same color. Each student will use a different color. The teacher can keep track of each students' work by a quick glance.

2. Choose if you want this to be a "free choice" center or if students will practice a specific game each time they visit this math center.

  • Some schools are moving to student-directed selection of centers. If you fit into this category, print sets of each game, place the sets in different binders, folders, or envelopes (as shown in the photo to the right.) Label each envelope with the skill or number set that it contains. Putting a completed version on the front can help students who need a visual support.
  • Most other teachers want to hone in on a particular skill after it is taught so students can practice and apply their new learning. If you fit into this category, select the game board that you want to use for the week, print the copies you need, and go! (See the photograph with the yellow basket above. This is most likely what this would look like in your classroom.)
    • TEACHER TIP: These math centers are great for differentiation too! If your class is working for Spin and Write numbers 16-20, but you have a mathematician who is struggling writing numbers 6-10, provide a game board with those numbers for him. 

3. BEFORE you allow the students to play these games within math centers. It is essential to model the appropriate behaviors and run through a practice session where a small group of students go to the center and model the appropriate behaviors that you have already discussed with the group.

>> This one classroom management component will save you an inordinate amount of sanity! <<

  • Think about all of the desired behaviors that you expect during math centers. The more specific you are at labeling the correct behaviors and reinforcing those labels during the practice session, the better the students will be at following the desired behaviors.
    • How will the students know that they are to be in the Spin It! center?
    • Will they play alone, with a partner, or in a small group?
    • Do they take the materials to their desk or work in a designated space?
    • What will this center look like when students are done with the materials? (The above photograph shows a student cleaning the sheet protector before returning the materials back to the center.) 
    • TEACHER TIP: Used children's socks work great as erasers for dry erase markings!
  • I know this part might seem time-consuming, BUT if you teach your students correctly the first time, you will not have as many disruptions to your math time in the future. It is worth the investment now. I promise. One of the biggest problems implementing centers is not teaching the students the step-by-step systems they need in order to be successful. I was guilty of this when I started teaching. We have all been there. Let's face it, it is our problem ALL YEAR LONG if we do not get them completely the task correctly. 
By incorporating these steps to stepping up a sanity-free math center, you can run this center on auto-pilot by simply changing out the pages each week for your students.

I hope this post has inspired you to incorporate no prep math centers in your classroom and if you want to use my no prep math centers, they're in my TpT shop.

What saves your sanity during math centers?

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