I found myself rethinking one of my most basic "center time" decisions today - the one about how many children can be at one center at a time.
The truth is that I'm one of those teachers who doesn't like to put restrictions on how many kids play at one center at a time. We don't have those handy charts in our room showing how many stick figures can be at each table. I don't provide keys or name tags to be able to play at a certain place (with the exception of objects like tents where the Little People can actually hurt each other as they pile in on top of each other without restriction, and occasionally brand new toys during their first days out in the room). In general, I just don't like to restrict their choices like that.
However, today, in the midst of much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, I began to rethink that. The flannel board manipulators were shrieking about who got which piece. The manipulative builders were elbowing newcomers to the table out of the way as they encroached upon their building area. The carpet players were in an uproar, pulling out their most high-pitched voices to protest that others were driving their cars on their road. In fact, I had one Little Person plant himself in the middle of the Carpet City as Godzilla would have, holding up what he thought was a "No Passing" sign and hollering, "NO! NO! This is a CONSTRUCTION ZONE!" (It was really a Hospital sign, but that in no way decreased his vocal and emotional intensity.)
Yes, in the midst of this, I began to think about what it would be like to have controlled amounts of children in each center. I could train the Little People to follow and respect the Center Restrictions. I would tailor each center to have just the right amount of people in it. Everyone would have equal access to the materials.
In fact, I could just increase my number of centers so that only one or two children could be in each...
Or, we could just set the timer and rotate everyone through the centers. Everyone could start in one place, and would have to stay there until the bell rang - then they could move as a group to the next...
Perhaps while I was at it, I could try and help the Little Person who seems to think that all toys that he has touched during the course of a day are his and squawks in anger if he returns to a previously-visited center and finds someone has moved "his" toys. Perhaps I could just set up a separate play zone for for him...no - for everyone, with enough toys to occupy them, and then I could prevent the kids from crossing into someone else's zone...
Obviously, these ideas (while marginally attractive) are bordering on ridiculous. The fact is that I don't limit centers because a)I don't want them restrict their choices, and b)I want them to learn how to get along with others, no matter how hard it is.
Obviously, I'm not going to toss out one really cool dump truck out on the carpet in the midst of them and tell them to share. I'm going to provide many, many interesting choices, and then I will sit down beside them as they figure out how to navigate their play paths. I'm going to watch carefully as some learn that they would rather go find something else fun to do than become squished at the sand table. I'm going to teach some deep breathing techniques to those who return to previously-played-with toys and find they have been transformed into something else. I'm even going to do some deep breathing myself as they forget and fight and feud and need to be reminded all over again.
Because that's what we do at Center Time - and at school in general. We remind and reinforce and readjust. And one day the Little People will get it.