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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.

Sometimes there are obstacles that get in the way of teaching centers the traditional way. Teachers may have district or school regulations that can prohibit the way we address hands-on learning. Or we may have a group of students that learn and respond differently, and we need to get creative about how children can access learning in a way that suits them best. 

Wondering how you can set up centers to work well in your classroom? I’ll show you how you can give students access to great math centers while fitting them into the way your classroom is run. I’ve got strategies to adapt your math 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.

Troubleshoot Math Center Limitations

Sometimes we run into issues that prevent our math centers from going smoothly. Whether it’s a budget issue, a storage issue, or a classroom management issue, here are a few ways you can make centers simple and accessible. 

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. Manipulative Math flipbooks 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 flipbooks help stretch out the amount of time kids access each center and keep kids engaged while working independently! You can stretch this out across the school year, or at least until you have time to increase your supplies over time.

…if you’re looking for another alternative

Hands-on learning is important,  but it’s time-consuming for teachers who are already feeling overloaded. Between storage, classroom management, and sanitation (many teachers recommend bulk cleaning in the dishwasher or washing machine in a mesh bag to speed up the process), you also might be a teacher who just doesn’t have the budget for all these manipulatives for each student. 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, and the whole point is making learning accessible right? So why not incorporate what works for your unique classroom situation in a way that increases engagement, and will keep your classroom running smoothly?

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