Learning centers in an early childhood special education classroom
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Learning Centers in an Early Childhood Special Education Classroom. Carrie Zaher SpEd 635-OL Professor Y. Morales. Definition.

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Learning centers in an early childhood special education classroom

Learning Centers in an Early Childhood Special Education Classroom

Carrie Zaher

SpEd 635-OL

Professor Y. Morales



  • Learning centers are spaces within the early childhood setting where materials or equipment are gathered and arranged in order to promote specific types of learning skills, such as large and small motor skills, literacy skills, creative thinking skills, and math and science problem-solving skills.



  • Safety is one of the major considerations in the arrangement of learning centers in the setting.

  • Noise level is another factor to consider. Active, noisy centers should be placed away from quiet learning areas such as the writing center, reading center and science/math center, if room allows.

  • Learning centers and the equipment in them should be accessible to all children, including those with temporary or permanent disabilities.

  • Teachers can promote positive social interaction and cooperative work by designing learning center spaces that are suitable for small groups of various sizes, because it is in small groups that children best learn to cooperate.

Basic learning centers

Basic Learning Centers

  • Science and Math Discovery Learning

  • Sensory Learning

  • Housekeeping and Dramatic Play

  • Large-Muscle Learning Area

  • Blocks Learning Area

  • Small-Muscle Area

  • Creative Process-Art Media Area

  • Music and Movement

  • Literacy and Library Areas

Science and math discovery learning

Science and Math Discovery Learning

  • In this area one would find:

    • groupings of plants, small animals such as fish, guinea pigs or snails

    • Items from nature

    • Pictures and books relating to current interests of children

    • Tubbing, graphing and counting materials

    • Tools for observation and measurement by children

What do children learn

What do children learn?

  • Children learn about the needs of other living things and beings by helping to care for plants or nonhuman animals.

  • This center also promotes problem-solving skills.

Sensory learning

Sensory Learning

  • This center would include a table or bins of sensory materials that are rotated for children’s exploration, as well as the sand table, the water table and clay or playdough.

  • Items used in the sensory table include:

    • Cups

    • Funnels

    • Sponges

    • Shovels and other containers for dumping and pouring

    • Rice and oatmeal (dry and wet)

    • Dry beans

    • Shaving cream

    • Goop

    • Dirt

What do children learn1

What do children learn?

  • They learn to use their senses through:

    • Smell

    • Taste

    • Touch

    • Sight

    • Sound

  • The sensory table promotes tactile exploration

Housekeeping and dramatic play

Housekeeping and Dramatic Play

  • This learning center usually includes:

    • Toy kitchen with appliances

    • Dishes, utensils, pots and pans

    • Iron, broom, dustpan

    • Telephone

    • Dress-up clothes and costumes

    • Baby dolls

    • Crib, stroller, high chair

    • Stuffed animals

    • Pretend food

    • Baskets and small shopping cart

    • Fake money

What do children learn2

What do children learn?

  • This area promotes children’s use of

    • Imagination

    • Dramatic play

    • Adaptive skills

Large muscle learning area

Large-Muscle Learning Area

  • Ample space, such as circle time area, is ideal for this area.

  • Active play equipment includes:

    • Climbing apparatus

    • Balance beams

    • Tumbling mats

    • Tricycles

    • Balls

    • Swings

    • Slide

What do children learn3

What do children learn?

  • Children’s motor skills are developed and enhanced through play

  • They have a certain amount of freedom of movement

Blocks learning area

Blocks Learning Area

  • This area is a good place to observe how children play.

  • Materials usually found in this area include:

    • Wooden blocks of various sizes and colors

    • Cardboard blocks

    • Toy garages, farm buildings, and other buildings

    • Cars and trucks of various sizes

    • Toy trains and train tracks

    • Boards

    • Toy people, action figures, or other characters

    • Snap together blocks

    • Building sets

    • Puppets

    • Toy nonhuman animals

What do children learn4

What do children learn?

  • The daily and appropriate use of unit blocks teaches:

    • Cooperation and social skills

    • Creativity and dramatic play

    • Spatial relationships

    • Perceptual skills

    • Math, science and language skills

Small muscle area

Small-Muscle Area

  • This area or learning center is defined for the use of:

    • Table toys

    • Manipulatives

    • Bristle blocks

    • Puzzles

    • Stringing beads

What do children learn5

What do children learn?

  • Materials should support both success and challenge for children.

  • It helps strengthen skills such as:

    • Strength

    • Eye-hand coordination

    • Dexterity

Art area

Art Area

  • The art learning center will include space for tables and easels and should be located near the storage of art media materials of all kinds.

  • Activities at this center can include:

    • Clay or playdough

    • Painting

    • Many types of collage

    • Fingerpaint

    • Construction with recycled materials

    • Drawing

    • Cutting

What do children learn6

What do children learn?

  • Creativity and individuality

  • Imagination

  • Master simple shapes and colors

  • Communication skills

  • Enhances prewriting skills, squeezing and gripping, enhancing muscle development and coordination

Music and movement area

Music and Movement Area

  • This is a learning area that usually doubles with the large-muscle/active play area, and which includes:

    • Tapes and tape player

    • CDs and CD player

    • Musical instruments

  • Accessories for movement such as:

    • Paper pom-poms

    • Scarves

    • Ribbons or streamers

What do children learn7

What do children learn?

  • During movement activities, motor skills are developed and enhanced through play.

  • Children learn new vocabulary and concepts through music, even when they do not grasp the meanings of the same words when those words are used in conversation.

  • Songs facilitate vocalization and increase the number and spontaneous use of vocabulary words.

Literacy and library areas

Literacy and Library Areas

  • The reading center should be:

    • Quiet, attractive and comfortable

    • Books and picture books should be:

      • Age-appropriate

      • Free of bias

      • Include multicultural subject matter

      • Accessible

      • Properly stored so that children can see their choices

Literacy and library area cont d

Literacy and Library Area cont’d

  • In the writing center children will need materials such as:

    • Old greeting cards

    • Paper

    • Envelopes

    • Big pencils

    • Crayons

    • Markers

    • Individual journals

Computer area

Computer Area

  • The computer can be can be used in conjunction with many of the learning centers themselves.

  • Computers can also be it’s own center.



  • The best thing to keep in mind is that the centers should make the children feel successful!

  • Remember to be flexible and change your centers to fit the children’s needs.



  • Dunlap, L. L. (2008) An Introduction to Early Childhood Special Education: Birth to Age Five. In V. Lanigan (Ed.). The Importance of Play (pp. 352-388). New Jersey- Pearson Education, Inc.

  • Petersen, E. A. (1996) A Practical Guide to Early Childhood Planning, Methods, and Materials: the what, why, and how of lesson plans. Where It Happens: Basic Elements of the Setting (pp. 112-130). Massachusetts-Allyn & Bacon.

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