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Primary Math Centers in a Socially Distanced Classroom

We all know math centers are a great way to differentiate and personalize learning for our little mathematicians. They give kids the chance to apply strategies and math thinking independently while staying motivated to learn. They’re also a great way to help students build skills independently while teachers are focusing on managing whatever we have going on in the rest of the classroom—be that assessing, reteaching, or working on another task.

Covid has put teachers’ flexibility to the ultimate test, but we won’t let anything get in the way of learning! I’ll show you how you can give students access to great math centers while following safety guidelines in your classroom. I’ve got strategies to individualize centers and give everybody the hands-on learning experiences they need. And I’ll share the resources you need to make sure you can incorporate centers in a way that works best for you and your students.

Individualizing math centers for young learners

I love the idea of using photo boxes to separate individual centers for each student. They’re small and easy to keep in a student’s desk, cubby, or basket. And you can help kids build stamina by assigning two centers per student for the week. That way, you can rotate them out when you’re ready. Yes, this means students complete fewer centers in a week than they normally would, but even limited access to great centers will help increase student achievement.

Take away the guesswork in stocking your math centers with engaging activities, and check out This Math Centers Bundle. It’s already designed perfectly to fit into photo boxes for the socially-distanced classroom. It’s a great way to keep things organized while helping students work independently!

This math bundle includes 13 sets of centers with 4 games in each set. Centers included are:
Number Sense (1-20)
Number Sense (11-20)
Addition to 10
Subtraction to 10
Addition to 20
Subtraction to 20
Skip counting
Fact Families
Hundred Chart
Place Value
– Fractions
– Graphing

The themes work all year round so they’re easy to incorporate whenever and however you want. 

Help kids safely use math manipulatives

We all know manipulatives get touched often by many sets of little fingers, popped into pockets, and sometimes even into mouths. Instead of sharing all those pieces, and all those little germs during math center time, try giving one type of manipulative to each student for the week. There are a variety of different tasks kids can do with each of them. My Manipulative Math flip books will give kids the choice between 10-12 tasks that will sustain their learning until you’re ready to switch them out.

There are 6 flip books for each of the following manipulatives:

  • counting bears
  • dice
  • snap cubes
  • number lines
  • pattern blocks
  • base ten blocks

The flip books help stretch out the amount of time kids are accessing each center and keep kids engaged while working independently—and keeping the germs at bay!

Tips for cleaning manipulatives

Even when you’re keeping them as separate as possible, you’ll still want to make sure you’re taking extra precautions to keep your manipulatives clean. Handwashing will take DAYS, and with tight school budgets, and stores running out of cleaning supplies, a lot of teachers want to use their disinfectant spray and wipes sparingly.

A quicker way to sanitize manipulatives is to put them in mesh bags and throw them in the washing machine. Alternatively, you can get those little pieces nice and clean by putting them in the steam basket or silverware tray of your dishwasher. Run it on the light cycle with heated dry settings, and they are sanitized and ready to use!

…if you’re looking for another alternative

Thorough sanitation is important, but it’s a time-consuming step for teachers who are already feeling overloaded. You also might be a teacher who just doesn’t have the budget for all these manipulatives for each of their students. If that’s the case, have you considered doing centers without using hands-on manipulatives at all?

Yes, you read that correctly—you can do effective centers without hands-on manipulatives! Try these digital manipulatives instead! They’re Google Slide files that can help with small groups, digital learning, extensions and more. 

You can even mix it up and incorporate both digital AND hands-on manipulatives in your classroom. Some students will benefit more from different types of centers, so why not incorporate as much as you can, while maintaining safety guidelines that will keep your classroom running smoothly?

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