Uninventive Innovations

When I was a small child in Canada some 35 years ago my classroom was organized around themes. There was the reading center where we could curl up with a book and read as much we liked, provided we periodically completed a certain amount of reading assignments and put them in a folder. We had an arts and crafts center where we could draw, paint, or build models using things like old egg cartons, butter tubs, plastic lids, toilet paper tubes, and so forth. We had a folder where we kept our paintings and drawings and checked off the date that we’d completed an art project. We had a math center. I’m not sure what went on there because my math folder was empty, much to my poor teacher’s chagrin, but that’s another story.

When I was just a little older some 30 years ago my mother and a friend of hers reorganized the Sunday School department and classrooms. They used learning centers. The classroom was arranged by theme, with activities and games to do in each area, or center.

When I began homeschooling, some 20 years ago, I arranged learning centers throughout the house. I had a story center in one closet. I put a tape player, head phones, books on tape, and a comfortable beanbag in there. I had a puzzle center with a small table and all our puzzles. I had a music center in another closet on another floor where I kept toy musical instruments and things to use to make musical instruments- rubber-bands, cardboard boxes, sand paper, glue, blocks, pan lids, toilet-paper tubes, wax paper, rise, and so on. I had the dress-up center- a trunk full of dress up clothes and props in one corner of the bedroom, and a math center with number puzzles, flash cards, counting beans, cuisenaire rods, and a stack of index cards with activities to do. Periodically the Equuschick, who really wasn’t ready for ‘school’ yet, but sometimes interrupted her sister’s math lessons with plaintive requests for me to find her something to do, would have to choose a learning center and spend at least fifteen minutes there, working on the activities available.

When we adopted the Cherub some dozen years ago I visited her public school classroom to see what her educational program was like and whether or not I could or should duplicate it at home. Her teacher met with me first and gushed, “We utilize an innovative method in my classroom. It’s very cutting edge, and we just love what it’s doing for our children. You probably haven’t heard of it before, and it’s very important that young Cherub’s education continue along the same lines, so you should not homeschool her, she needs to be in public school, preferably one as interested in this creative new approach as we are. And I am very sure that once you visit our classroom and see our unique program you will agree with me. What we do is organize the classroom by themes, so that the puzzles are all in one area, and the domestic role-playing tools (and by this she meant ‘stuff for playing house,’ oh Best Beloved) are in a different area, partitioned off by room dividers at just the children’s height. We have another area just for sensory stimulation (by this she meant sand and water play). We’re very excited about it, and we call this new technique ‘learning centers.’

“EDUCATIONISTS are entertaining. We can always find a good laugh in their prose, with its special, ludicrous combination of ignorance and pretentiousness. It’s always amusing to watch them reinventing the wheel every few years and announcing, for instance, as some of them recently have, that children who know the sounds of letters can actually read words they’ve never seen before, by golly.”

Richard Mitchell, The Graves of Academe

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4 Comments

  1. jquinby
    Posted November 8, 2005 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    Coming soon: the study carrel!

  2. lady laura
    Posted November 8, 2005 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    How funny! We had learning centers when I was in kindergarten too, each with a colored shape (art area was red square for example) and we were assigned to a small group and rotated every so many minutes until we had spent time in each area. If I remember correctly, there was a science center, drama center (dress-up, props, etc.), building center, art center, library center, and listening center.
    When I’ve taught in institutional preschools, to a one they have been set up the same way. Nothing particularly innovative about it:-)

  3. Firefly
    Posted November 19, 2005 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

    We call it “home” around here. We have a center for cooking and other experimental play, a center for laundry, a center for reading, several centers for naps and general sleeping activities, a center for eating which also doubles as a center for arts and crafts. We even have a center for socialization, in case anyone is concerned about that. Unfortunately, we are rarely ever able to contain socialization to this one particular area. I could go on about our nature center, but I wouldn’t want to sound overly pretentious.

  4. Headmistress, zookeeper
    Posted November 19, 2005 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

    Firefly, you crack me up!
    When we investigated special education for the cherub one of the things we noticed was how much everything that happened in the classroom was a feeble attempt to educate about home life. Matching activities involved matching pictures of socks and shoes, washers and driers, forks and knives. We figured, why not use socks and shoes?

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