All About Decroly Centers of Interest

In order for people to learn, it's important for us to be taught in a way we find attractive and interesting. In this article, we'll look at how Decroly Centers of Interests sought to do just that.
All About Decroly Centers of Interest
María Matilde

Written and verified by the pedagogue and trainer María Matilde.

Last update: 27 December, 2022

Born in the city of Renaix, Belgium in 1871, Ovide Decroly was a pedagogue, psychologist, and doctor. Decroly centers of interest were part of his pedagogical approach. They arose out of the need for teaching that values children’s interests and is organized with children in mind.

Decroly’s pedagogy

Decroly’s didactic pedagogical development arose amid the New School movement. It began in the 19th century and brought together a series of principles steered at renewing former traditional teaching methods.

Decroly’s educational approach was based on respect for children and their personalities. The is true for some of the basic principles of the New School movement. Decroly claimed that the objective of education is to prepare children to live freely.

Decroly suggested the need for scientific substantiation in educational interventions. Therefore, he based his contributions on disciplines related to childhood and society, including psychology and biology. These sciences helped him develop his particular methodology based on meaningful centers of interest for children.

All About Decroly Centers of Interest

What do Decroly centers of interest involve?

Decroly affirmed that these centers were the fundamental motor behind teaching. Furthermore, he sustained that they should be mobilized in order to satisfy the particular needs of childhood.

In other words, it’s important to know what the needs of children are, as well as their interests. This information allows us to attract their attention and cultivate a desire for knowledge and learning.

According to Decroly, children have four basic natural needs, which centers of interest should address:

  • Nutrition.
  • Shelter from the cold and inclement weather.
  • Defense against danger and enemies.
  • Recreation, self-improvement, and opportunities to act and work with a spirit of solidarity.

While the author suggested these for basic principles, he also mentioned light, rest, and mutual help.

That said, centers of interest involve with Decroly called principle of globalization. This principle constitutes a didactic procedure that also applies reading and writing.

Consequently, Decroly based his principle of globalization on the idea that children perceive the reality around them as a whole. Therefore, it’s important to know what parts of reality capture their attention and what stimulates their learning. It also involves tending to previous knowledge.

Therefore, to put this globalization into action, there must be interest. However, interest doesn’t exist if there is no need. With this in mind, stimulus in the environment gains importance for children. They achieve meaningful learning that contributes to their physical, psychological and social development.

The organization of Decroly’s centers of interest: The Decroly Triptych

First of all, Decroly suggested that classes should be relatively homogenous in order for his centers to function correctly. In other words, the children that make up a class should have similar learning paces, and the same age and development level. Second, classes shouldn’t contain more than 30 students.

All About Decroly Centers of Interest

Furthermore, learning centers should follow different phases or be organized around three types of exercises. These phases – called Decroly’s triptych – are the following:

  • Observation. This is fundamental in awakening children’s sensesIt’s also key in putting children in contact with objects, beings, and events. It’s a starting point for intellectual activities departing from knowledge about the world around them.
  • Association. This is a process of the association and coordination of ideas. Children should learn to relate space and time dimensions, like cause and effect relations. What’s more, they should perform comparisons, classifications, and establish similarities and differences.
  • Expression. Children need to be able to express themselves in order for children to communicate their knowledge – what they have learned. This refers to two different types of expression: Concrete expression and abstract expression. The first involves manual work, drawings, and even music. The second involves the translation of thought by means of symbols and codes (letters, numbers, symbols, etc.).

The importance of Decroly centers of interest in modern education

Organizing learning according to the interests of children is fundamental. Furthermore, these interests are products of the needs of children.  

What’s more, it’s important that educators take children’s prior knowledge into consideration. These are all major contributions that Decroly made to modern education.

Centers of interest focus teaching on themes that are attractive to students and cover their basic needs. For example, rest, diversion, or needs related to their surroundings, like family and environment.

They consist of work units that articulate all the learning that a child should achieve around an operative nucleus, in a holistic way – without the need to break the content down into subjects or courses.

Furthermore, these centers place personalities, individualities, temperaments, knowledge, and contact with one’s environment in the foreground. Taking all of these factors into account is essential in making teaching effective.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Dubreucq-Choprix, F., & Fortuny, M. (1988). La escuela Decroly de Bruselas. Cuadernos de Pedagogía163, 13-18. Recuperado de
  • Gervilla Castillo,  A. (2006): Didáctica básica de la educación infantil: conocer y comprender a los más pequeños.  Editorial Narcea. Madrid.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.