Organize your room is specifically designed centers for example: building/ construction, house keeping, table top activities, arts and crafts etc. Define each area clearly using carpets/ rugs or shelving, tables etc. Either make a picture icon or take a picture of each area. Put each picture an assigned pocket on a pocket chart or use cans with a picture on each can Using Popsicle sticks with the kids name or head shot have them place their stick in the appropriate pocket or can when the select a center. Then you will know who chose what center. Another option is at each center with the picture put a limited number of Velcro squares and when each child enters the center they put their picture/name on one of the Velcro squares, when the squares are full so is the center.
Maybe try to incorporate colour schemes and keep the furniture as less cluttered as possible - this may be confusing them.
I did this when I was teaching Pre-K and it worked well. I took a picture of each center/area and posted it on a peice of poster board with the names of each area under the picture. I then attached clothespins to the label of each area on the dispay and colored the clothespins (There were only 2 or 3 per center.) On the label I colored a square to match the color/design of the clothespin so that the kids would know where to replace them.
The children were allowed to go to these centers or areas as they pleased but only if there was an available pin for that area. (They wore the clothespins on their shirts.) When they were done playing they had to clean up after themselves before replacing the clothespin on the display and moving to a different center.
It helped keep all of the children from playing in one area and cleaning up as well.
It took a while, but after about 2 weeks the kids had it down pat!
Hope this helps!
My son's preschool had a magnetic board.
It had a photo of each "center" as well as the words, then they had a magnetic tag with their picture and their name. You could use a pocket chart as well.
Each center had 2-4 squares next to it slightly larger then their tag. This corresponded to how many children could be in that center.
As children arrived, they moved their name to a center placing their name over one of the open squares. They could clearly see which one's were full without wandering around the room and in one glance the teacher could see where each child was "supposed" to be.
The teacher would monitor the children to try to encourage them to try new things and to make sure no "hogged" a center.
I had a sticker system of getting the children to keep the areas clean and it worked. I hope this will help. Other children would see this and they will start to clean up so they can get a sticker.
It can be really hard working out who has been in particular areas. One way I alleviated that problem was to play "musical pack up freeze". All the children had to join in packing up (and quietly so they could hear the music). When the music stopped they had to "freeze" in the middle of packing up, then the music starts again and they continued on. The children loved it, and it makes pack up time much more enjoyable for everyone. I got to the stage where the children were begging me to play it every single pack up time. Just before we began the game, I would call all the children to the mat area (leave the room as is) and we would briefly discuss where things needed to be put away etc. Also it is good to have them all seated before they start, as it brings an element of control back to the room, and gets them focused for the task/game at hand! It may take a few attempts before the children really get the hang of it, but they will love it!
I love the freeze game idea! I've done something similar and it works really well. The children love it! Here's another idea to help keep things under control: before the children begin their free choice time, have Planning Time. Ask the children to think about what they are going to do, and then excuse them individually to the area where they want to play. There needs to be a rule that when they are done in that area, they are to clean up what they played with, and come back to tell you their new plan. When they return to you, make sure the first thing you say is Did you clean up what you were using? And look to make sure they did...if not remind them to put away those books/blocks/dresses/crayons/w... and then come back and tell me your new plan. Eventually it becomes habit and you won't have such chaos when it's time to finish up and play the freeze game.
We made name cards and let the children decorate them. Then we laminated them and put Velcro on the back. Each center had a sign with the centers name on it and (depending on the center) had spots with Velcro that they could stick their name on the center when they wanted to change. They weren't allowed to leave an area without putting away some toys first. It took a while to catch on (they needed lots of reminders to "take their name with them") but it helped.
every toy has a box and a picture of the toy is on the box( a car box, lego box,and so on) if there is a shelving area you can put each box at certain spot on the shelf. with the same picture on the box on the spot on the shelf where that box goes. kids at that age need pictures for that is how they read
The management systems listed above are all fantastic.
You mentioned that the kids
"are all over the place bouncing from area to area and it is hard to keep track of who is/was where when it comes to clean up"
It sounds like they need to be shown how to play in each area and how to clean up each area when they are done. For the first two weeks of school as a small group activity I teach the kids how to use the toys and where to put them away. By modeling the proper use of the toys and giving them time to explore each area before free choice time the children learned how to respect the classroom. As for not knowing who was where when it comes time to clean up... I take a sticky note and write down who I see in each area at the beginning of free choice time and post it in that area. I then read the list of names to the children in the area so they know that they are responsible for helping when it is time to clean up. ( does that make sense?)
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