There are many different special interest centers that you can choose to add to your home daycare. Perhaps you want some variety in what you’ve already established. Perhaps you have some extra space and need some ideas on what to do with it. Perhaps your age groups have changed and you see some needs that a special interest center might fill.
The Writing Center is wonderful for family daycares that have children in the ages 3 and up crowd. Children begin to recognize and emulate the letters of the alphabet. By providing a space for just this activity, you can encourage greater exploration. Include items such as plain paper, lined paper, handwriting paper, pencils and pens. You can set up your writing center on a desk, on a table, or just provide a box of these materials that can be taken to the table. Be sure to have the letters of the alphabet on or near the table, as examples for new learners. You can do this by laminating alphabet letter strips or by providing alphabet flash cards. You could even hang a small alphabet chart above the table or desk. However, it is recommended that you use something the child can lay on the table next to where they are writing. As your group gets a bit older, you can add bookmaking materials, such as construction paper for book covers and staplers. You could even have pre-made handmade books ready for the younger group to “write” their own stories.
The Computer Center is a great selling point during these times of high technology. Software is available for children as young as age 2. My own two children were both proficient at these programs at age 2. It is preferable to have a computer just for the home daycare, to eliminate “accidental child hacking” of your own programs or business records. There are excellent titles available for young children. Some of my personal favorites include the Jumpstart programs, Humongous brand software, Sesame Street software and Blue’s Clues software.
The Listening Center is often an overlooked center. It seems parents are always complaining their children never listen. What a selling point during new interviews that you will teach their children to listen! A center of this type is very versatile. You could set up a small, sit-on-the-floor area with tape recorders and books on tape. You could also use a small table with two chairs and include listening games such as Sound Lotto and Tongue Twister, both from Discovery Toys.
The Music Center is a fun and noisy center. You can set up a single bookcase with music materials for a music center. There are wonderful children’s instruments available. The closer the instruments are to real instruments, the more attractive children will find them. You have to be a highly tolerant childcare provider to allow a music center but its long term rewards are wonderful. Include two of each instrument if you can: cymbals, xylophone, triangle, tamborine, rhythm sticks, and drums. If you have space, a real piano is a fabulous treat to a child.
An Afterschooler Center is a place in which only those children ages 5 and up have their private space. Here you can place games such as Scrabble, Chess, Battleship, Operation, Checkers, Connect Four and Yahtzee. Include two decks of regular cards and several card games such as Old Maid or Go Fish. There are wonderful 50 piece puzzles that a couple of your afterschoolers could complete in a afternoon. Also place some age appropriate reading books and puzzle books in the Afterschooler Center.
If you are a really brave childcare provider and have an assistant, you could even add a Woodworking Center. Constant supervision is a REQUIREMENT for this type of center, as safety is the number one concern. Introduce tools one at a time, training the children on use and safety of the tool. It is recommended that you start with wood blocks, sanding paper or sanding blocks, glue, and paint. Later, add hammer and nails and c-clamps. Finally, add a saw. Only allow one child at a time at this center and the adult who is supervising must not have any other duties at the time. There are many wonderful articles on woodworking, that can give you highly detailed instructions on how to introduce this center to your home daycare. Do not attempt this if you do not have an assistant.
There are several ideas here for special interest centers. Give them a try and see if they work in your home daycare. Depending on the age group and the dynamics of the children currently in your care, timing may be a key issue in introducing these ideas. Evaluate what your home daycare could benefit from and invite the children to submit some of their own ideas to helping you to improve your program! Children love to feel important and when an adult asks for their ideas they feel respected and loved.