How to Make Awesome Math Centers Using the Guiding Principles

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Crafting Early Childhood Math Centers

Post was written by Chrystal Bissing

Math is a lively and beautiful discipline. It is interwoven into our everyday lives.

As, early childhood teachers, we craft experiences for our students that highlight the playfulness and beauty of mathematics.
One way we can encourage students to experience the creativity of mathematics is through our vibrant math centers.

In my experience, math centers can be a place where students are excited to experiment, engage, and play with math.
Here, they participate in math discourse with others, problem-solve, and intrinsically enjoy the challenge in front of them. 

Math Recovery’s Guiding Principles can make it all happen.

Even if you are already familiar with the Math Recovery Guiding Principles of instruction, it is still worthwhile to take a minute to read through each one. We are going to help you bring these principles to your math centers.

However, if you are unfamiliar with the Guiding Principles, it is important to know that these principles are at the heart of Math Recovery Teaching, and are appropriate in ALL domains of teaching numeracy.

Even Early Childhood? – Absolutely! In fact, we can craft our math centers so they bring math to life by applying Guiding Principles of Instruction

Math Recovery’s
Guiding Principles and Math Centers

Here are examples of utilizing the Guiding Principles while thinking about center development.
The math center can incorporate a number of games that you have learned from your Add+Vantage Math Recovery® (AVMR) courses. You can also find the game in Free Resources.

Many students love Treasure Hunt, Great Race, Go Fish, Make 5 Bingo, Number House, Snap, and so many more!
In addition, the great thing about these activities is they can be tailored to meet the needs of your students.

Differentiate by adjusting the range of numbers

Treasure Hunt

For example, Treasure Hunt (see blog post) is a wonderful game to rotate in your math centers because we can base it on what our students need. 
Therefore we can utilize our classroom observations along with our assessment data to determine a range of numbers to support students while advancing their current understanding and skills.

Here we can ground our instruction in Guiding Principle 2Informed by assessment and
Guiding Principle 6Ongoing observations to inform continual fine-tuning of teaching.

Based on observing your students, who has the forward number word sequence to 5?
Who can say the forward number word sequence to 10?
What numbers are students skipping when they are counting?

By gathering and documenting this information you will learn to be intentional about the range of numbers you are working with for your students.
We want our instruction to be just beyond the “cutting edge” as stated in Guiding Principle 3.
From there, we can set up Treasure Hunt to work within the range of 1-5, 1-10, 11-20, etc.

The Great Race

children in math centers

Another favorite game to include in your math center rotation is The Great Race I love using the blank board game and laminating it.

Laminating the blank board game gives me the flexibility to change up the numbers being used for the game.

For example, I can have the game be in the range of 1-6 and have the dice we roll be spatial patterns. While this group is working with spatial patterns, other groups could be playing in the

Being intentional with the tasks we pose to students will support student growth

Add the Guiding Principles to Dramatic Play and Math

Dramatic play is a great place to bring in our Guiding Principle 1 Inquiry based.
During the springtime, many early childhood classrooms like to include a garden or pond theme in our dramatic play.

With an intentional eye, we can have students create bouquets with different combinations to make 5.

Engaging with these combinations to 5 is working on structuring numbers.
While some students may be working on combinations to 5, other students could be creating bouquets to 10, 7, or even 4.

The truth is, structuring knowledge is a skill that will support students through their addition and subtraction strategies. 


Whenever students can experience nature, learning becomes natural. Start by asking students to count the number of seeds on the flower bed, and put that many seeds in the “dirt” (cupcake liner).

As a result of these counting experiences, students may work through emergent counting, to perceptual counting, to figurative counting.


Ask students how many fish are in different parts of the pond? How many pieces of duck food should each duck have?

This question also supports early multiplicative thinking through grouping.

Play and Mathematics

Dramatic play themes allow students to experience the beauty and play of mathematics in real-life, fun scenarios. Consequently, intentional moves in planning the dramatic play centers allow students to experience how problem-solving is intrinsically satisfyingPrinciple 9.

Thinking about our Guiding Principles allows us to see how we can create meaningful mathematics experiences for our young learners.

In summary, we love to have fun in our classroom centers. With an intentional eye, we invite students into the lively, creative, and beautiful discipline of mathematics.

What other centers can you think of that would welcome the beauty and “play” of mathematics? Share in the comments.

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