Learning Centers: Self-Directed Learning Through Active Involvement

14 Feb

Learning Centers: Self-Directed Learning Through Active Involvement
by Janet Westlake

Imagine a Sunday school classroom. At one table, children are working on a mural that illustrates the Bible story. At another table, children are looking up Bible verses to complete a puzzle. In a quiet corner, a boy is reading a Bible storybook. Occasionally he refers to a Bible atlas. Meanwhile, the teacher answers a question one of the children had about the video of the day’s Bible story. These people are actively involved in exploring the Christian faith through learning centers.

Benefits of Learning Centers

Learning centers expand the learning options available to your students. Students are actively involved in the learning process. They work at their own pace and can explore a subject in as much depth as they desire. Learning centers allow students to learn in the most effective manner for them.

Teachers of large classes will find learning centers particularly useful. With the class divided into smaller groups, teachers can interact with students on an individual basis.

Designing and Scheduling Centers

Learning centers are most often areas in a classroom with different activities in each area. On a large scale, learning centers may be rooms throughout a building with different themes in each room. Sometimes a teacher may set up one center where students can work when they finish their projects early.

Learning centers work on a variety of time schedules. Some teachers develop two or three areas each week for students to use while the other students arrive. Sometimes students rotate among the centers for the entire class period. Another option is to have several ongoing centers where students could work on a weekly basis.

The number of teachers needed to supervise centers depends on the age of the class. Younger children need more supervision. Older children, youth, and adults can follow instructions included in the center after a brief overview of the session is given. The teacher primarily operates as facilitator.

People who teach alone can often find someone interested in a certain activity who will supervise a learning center during a specific period of time. This occasional learning center will provide variety and interest to your class.

Guidelines for Centers

While learning centers allow students to explore the biblical story through activities of their choice, students need an environment that is safe, comfortable, and orderly. Teachers foster an effective learning environment by providing guidelines for learning centers. Guidelines may include:

  • Respect one another’s learning. Students may assist one another, but they should not interrupt another’s learning. Noise is often an indicator of the students’ level of enthusiasm for their work. However, rowdiness distracts others from their activity.
  • Finish what you start. Students should finish the projects they begin before moving on. Random movement from one area to another breaks down the learning environment.
  • Share what you learn with another person. Teachers of children will want to include a time for sharing insights and new learnings as a total group. You will discover ideas that need to be reinforced, activities that are enjoyable to your class members, and other ideas helpful for future planning. This time might be scheduled prior to closing worship. Youth and adults can be asked to find one or two other class members and to talk together about the learning activities and any insights gained.

Suggested Centers for Young Children

  • Active Play: Include activities such as Bible board games, rolling a ball, a rocking boat, group games.
  • Home Living: Include a kitchen area, doll beds, dress-up clothes, and possibly a workshop.
  • Art: Include materials for coloring, painting, and doing other crafts.
  • Music: Include records or cassette tapes, a record or tape player, songbooks, and rhythm instruments.
  • Audiovisuals: Include videos, 16 mm films, or 35 mm filmstrips.
  • Books and Pictures: Include storybooks for reading to one another or alone.

Suggested Centers for Older Children, Youth, and Adults

  • Audiovisuals: Include films or videos.
  • Drama: Include puppets, role play, and acting out Bible stories or contemporary situations.
  • Research: Include reference books such as Bible atlases, Bible dictionaries, and concordances; paper; pencils or pens.
  • Dialogue: Include open-ended stories or Scripture passages with discussion questions.
  • Problem-solving: Include exercises in creative thinking such as brainstorming ideas for resolving a conflict between two friends or making a list of ways to live the Christian faith every day.
  • Action: Include art projects, banner making, planting flowers, picking up trash, and so forth.
Learning Centers with Children: A Sample Lesson Plan Learning Centers with Youth and Adults: A Sample Lesson Plan
Scripture: Genesis 37 — Joseph and His Brothers Scripture: Matthew 6:9-13 — The Lord’s Prayer
Centers: Audiovisuals — Listen to a cassette tape of the story of Joseph. Older children might create a puppet script to act out the story. Centers: Audiovisuals — Create a video illustrating the prayer.
Art — Create a coloring book about Joseph. Older children might make puppets to use with the script written in the Audiovisual Center. Action — Illustrate a comic book to explain the prayer to a friend. Or write a contemporary version of the prayer.
Home Living — Set up a tent. Invite children to pretend to be Joseph and his family, caring for sheep, cooking. Research — Compare the Matthew version of The Lord’s Prayer with Luke 11:1-4. Use Bible commentaries to learn about this prayer.
Research — Draw a map showing Joseph’s travel with the caravan from his home to Egypt. Include rivers, mountains, and other geographical features.  

When this article was written, Janet Westlake was the director of Christian education at St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church in Metairie, Louisiana.

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