Curriculum Approaches

A Step-by-Step Guide to Transitioning Your Kindergartners to a Choice-Based Program

kids working

Introducing your students to a new way of learning can be overwhelming. When I began incorporating the Teaching for Artistic Behavior philosophy into my classroom, I had so many questions. After reading a lot of articles and books to help me better grasp the philosophy, I decided to start slowly.

The first semester of school, I used a traditional approach to teach the basics such as primary colors, geometric shapes, and various art techniques. Then, during the second semester, I begin transitioning my kindergarten students to a choice-based program. This allowed students to ease into working in a studio environment as well as making choices about subject matter and materials.

If you’re looking to incorporate choice-based learning but aren’t sure where to start, this guide is for you!

Here are 7 steps to help you start to transition your kindergartners to a choice-based classroom.

Step 1: Decide which centers you will offer.

It is important to think about which centers you want available for your students. Try to choose mediums they are familiar with using in the classroom. Also, feel free to throw in a few new things. For instance, most kindergartners are used to drawing with crayons and markers. So, adding in new drawing materials such as charcoal pencils or oil pastels can help them take their skills in a new direction. Drawing, collage, and painting are great centers to start in your classroom. You can begin with two or three centers and add more once you feel your students are ready. Additional centers can include but are not limited to, sculpture, clay, technology, printmaking, and mixed media.

drawing center

Step 2: Choose how you will introduce centers to your students.

If your room is already set up in centers for older students, you can absolutely have your kindergartners use those same centers. Or, you can make the transition more gradual by bringing the centers to them. For example, I set up small boxes with different types of supplies and place those at tables to act as temporary centers when the kindergartners visit my room. This way, they get used to different types of materials before being let loose in the room.


Step 3: Gather your materials.

Once you have decided which centers you will provide, it’s time to gather your materials. It’s important to provide an assortment of materials so there are enough to go around. This way students can choose what they are interested in. These articles provide a nice overview of some materials you may want to put at different centers.

Step 4: Inspire your Students

If your students are not used to making their own decisions when it comes to their subject matter and supplies it is a good idea to give them inspiration before you demonstrate various ways to use their materials. This should not take up a lot of your time. A mini-discussion for about three minutes is enough. Share a theme, big idea or even a Studio Habit of Mind such as “Envision” or “Express.” Have a group discussion or let your kindergartners talk among themselves with their table groups. This will allow them to get ideas generated before creating. If you have a specific idea students need to try, allow them to have choice with their media.

student painting

Step 5: Demonstrate different techniques.

After your mini discussion, take one minute at each center to go over a few techniques students can explore. Designing an anchor chart with examples of the techniques you demonstrate is a great way to remind students about their choices. For your kindergartners, make sure the visuals can be understood even if students can’t yet read. Photos of your actual room and supplies are very helpful. You may also want to leave the anchor charts right at the tables for kindergartners so they are sure to see them. If you’re unable to do this, make sure you point out where they are hanging up elsewhere in your room.

Step 6: Have your students choose centers to work.

When it’s time to start, there are many different ways to let your kindergartners choose their centers. Typically, in my classroom, I have them get their own paper and go to the table of their choice. You can also have them to go to specific areas in the room and get their own supplies to take to a designated work area. If your students all gravitate toward one area, you can close the other centers and bring out additional supplies for the high-interest center. Or, you can have students rotate to different stations for a specific amount of time. You truly have to find what works best for you when it comes to how students choose their centers.

students working with paper

Step 7: Guide your students in reflecting and sharing about their work.

Reflection is another Studio Habit of Mind beneficial for all students. It allows for critical thinking, appreciation, and growth. Make sure to leave a few minutes at the end of class for reflection. Have students discuss what they created with their table or with the class. Also, make sure to walk around during class to speak with your students about what they are creating so you can stay on top of what they are doing and see the design process through their eyes.

Step 8: Clearly communicate cleanup procedures.

Cleanup time is such a task for kindergartners, so make sure you teach your routines and procedures at the beginning of the year. Through repetition, students will get better and quicker with putting their supplies away. In my room, I’ve found cleanup sometimes can take a long time because students do not want to stop their work. Giving your students a five-minute warning so they know cleanup time is approaching is a great way to help them transition. Don’t be surprised if they need more time than normal as they learn a new way of doing things!

I hope this helped you see that transitioning your kindergartners to a choice-based classroom is not as difficult as you may have thought. Yes, this is just the start to transitioning your students into a choice-based classroom and it has so much potential to grow. Allow your students to come in for a few weeks using this model and build upon it. You can add more centers and even let them choose their own subject matter without a big idea or theme if you would like. If you have certain topics to cover, allow your students to choose the medium of their choice.

I love how excited my students get when they get to have choices regarding their artwork. Each week will bring new discoveries, exploration, and student engagement. Embrace the trials and errors just like your students and continue to mold your program as you see fit!

If you’re looking for even more information about incorporating choice into your classroom, be sure to check out Choice-Based Art Education, the AOE course where students explore the power of a student-centered curriculum!

What other tips do you think are helpful when transitioning kindergartners to a choice-based program?

Have you tried using a choice-based program with kindergartners? What was your biggest “aha” moment?

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Wynita Harmon

Wynita Harmon is AOEU’s Chair of Faculty Development and a former AOEU Writer and elementary school art educator.

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