Library Center Bins: Let’s Get Organized!

Taming Center Time Chaos: How to Manage Library Center Materials

I love using makerspace centers in my library! The students stay busy with the endless possibilities for creativity. The reward of seeing their ideas move from their brains to their hearts and hands is priceless. (Thanks, Brene Brown for that beautiful thought!) But let’s face it. Creativity is messy! How do we tame all those wonderfully creative manipulatives and supplies?

I felt the Mess Monster frustration so strongly a couple of years ago that I was determined to find a creative solution to make center time planning and management go much smoother. Now I can plan centers once and use them on a rotation basis all year. This system has given me so much time back, it was totally worth the hours I put in to designing it! You can read more about this time saving center time system in my previous blog post

Y’all know how it is. As elementary teachers we put so much time, energy and creativity into how we organize and decorate our classroom every year. I love organizing and decorating my library over the summer so that it is just right when teachers start back to school. Because who has time for that during the back to school craziness? 

Last year I made centers my main focus to improve upon because center prep and management ate up so much of my planning time. So I set to work to create cheerful bin labels for my new Ikea Trofast bins I was using for my makerspace centers. I picked some of my favorite coordinating colors and a fun new font and made all the labels. They looked great (at least to me) and I finally had working labels so I could find all the center materials quickly in one place.

Empower Students to Locate Maker Supplies with Easy to Read Bin Labels

We are taught to put the student at the center of all we do as educators. Well, the first labels I made were not at all student centered! Ha! While I could find everything easily, the font I chose and the fact that there were no visuals to help early readers meant that every time a student went to the bins they had to ask for help to find the one they wanted. This got old fast! So around mid year I put “make kid friendly bin labels” on my to do list and there it sat until the summer when I finally had time to change it up.

This simple change of adding easy to read font and child friendly visuals looks much more cohesive and matches the same fonts and visuals on my center signs. The best part is, they help the students and adults in the room find the center supplies they are looking for much more quickly. An added bonus is the pictures on the new labels spark interest from the students so they are more eager to create with the materials inside. 

Plan once for the whole year and enjoy stress free library centers

If you are looking for a simple way to manage your library centers I highly recommend a system like this with not only child friendly bin labels but also center signs that guide learners while reminding them of expectations for each center. This set also comes with numerous student printables for center activities like pages for making their own comics, book review forms, research organizers and more. Make your own or save time and snag a copy of Library Centers for Anytime Bundle plus Center Bin Labels from my TPT store. These resources are available as a bundle or you can purchase them separately.

Tips for organizing library center time

There are no two elementary libraries alike and chances are, your library schedule is not just like mine. The beauty of incorporating library centers into your library program is how flexible centers can be.

At my school I have students for an hour and we still don’t always have time for centers. I explain to all of my classes at the beginning of the year (with the exception of Kindergarten – more on that later) that we will always check out books. Every single library class. (Yet there will be one in every class that will ask, “Are we checking out library books today?” We will always have a story and a mini lesson unless our schedule is affected by a fire drill or something crazy. And when time allows we will also have centers. It is an extra. We have to get the other have-tos done first. This provides a bit of extra motivation for student cooperation during the lesson or class activity.

I will say that sometimes I do set out 6 centers with a required task in each for students to complete. Otherwise some of them would never try anything but LEGO Engineering. Give yourself flexibility to change it up for what works for that day or class. Some classes can handle more than others. Some classes will need twice as long to clean up than others. You will quickly learn which ones need adaptations for your own sanity.

I use my center signs in these clear dry erase pocket sleeves and just pop the sign right into the bin wiht the center materials. It all fists so nicely. For several of my centers I also have a set of the center signs to place on tables in clear table sign holders like these from Amazon.

How to organize student groups for centers

Should you assign students to centers or let them choose? Great question! The anwer is: Do whatever works best for you and is the easiest for you to manage over time.

Bin labels for Library Centers

I have used makerspace centers in four different school libraries I’ve worked in over the years. In years past I have used a pocket chart with student names or numbers to rotate them through each table or center area. If you think this method would work for you, you could use the center bin labels right in the pocketchart as center choice headings.

This may work beautifully for you but I found it too hard for me to manage. With so many different classes and schedule interruptions througout the year, I finally ditched the pocketchart method. Instead, I let the students choose their own centers from the 6 or so choices I got out for the class. Later, when students proved they could handle center time and meet all expectations I gave them more freedom to go to the shelf and choose the center bins they wanted to get out. I quickly noticed that when students got to choose their own centers, their behavior was way better because they were doing what matched their interests.

4 rules for center time

We go over these 4 center time rules at the beginning of the school year and every single time we have centers in the library. Every. Single. Time!

  • 4 and no more (We practice how to say “try again later” or “you can have my spot” when too many students want the same center. For extra popular centers, we add a timer for how long a group can stay there.
  • If someone asks to join you and there is room, the answer is always, “YES!”
  • Be responsibile. Clean up your space before you move on to another centers.
  • Be respectful: Use kind words and helpful hands.

At the beginning of the year I spend at least 2-3 weeks on library expectiations and center expectations. During these first weeks, I choose the centers students may go to after checkout and cozy reading. I model, model, model (and model some more!) how to use the center materials that I have already set out on the tables. After they do this well, we move on to practice with other center materials and eventually get more freedom during center time.

Pro Tip: The timer is your friend!

Pro Tip: Have centers set up as students are checking out books. You could enlist the help of a few trusty students for this. Set a timer on the board. Let students know that after checkout is cozy reading. When the timer goes off center time may begin or they may continue reading. This encourages students to not rush through book checkout just to get to their favorite center before someone else. Once center time begins, set another timer. Remind students that when that timer goes off it’s time to clean up. That way they can get upset at the timer instead of mad at you for ending their creative fun.

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