Monday, November 24, 2014

5 Ways to Connect With Your Most Challenging Child

It’s that time of year…the leaves are falling (well…not really here in Texas, we just like to pretend they are), the cool winds are blowing (by cool I mean 75 degrees) and your classroom is in full swing. It’s also that time of year when that one little friend in your room is really showing his personality. You have taught and retaught procedures and expectations and this little guy is still really struggling. In other words…He. Is. Driving. You. Bananas. (I say “he” because too often than not, it’s a little boy.)

Well I will tell you my friend…you are NOT alone. In my new position as an early childhood specialist I see this happening in almost every room I visit. It doesn’t matter if you are title one, middle class or upper middle class, every classroom has its challenging personalities. Today I’m here to help add some tools to your behavior toolkit because as many of you already know, what works for one, will not work for all. The most effective teachers I see are the ones who understand that and truly take the time to get to know their children and work from there.

That being said, it all begins with knowing the child. I am very purposeful when I use the term “child” because I want us all to remember that these students are children. They are somebody’s baby boy or baby girl and they all come with their own unique little brains and personalities. In the heat of the moment, when we are at our wit’s end and we are working deep in the trenches (the “trenches” are what I lovingly call classrooms) we may easily forget that this being that is driving us absolutely bananas is still at the end of the day, a child.

Before we can redirect and guide our challenging students we have to take time to connect with them. This idea is backed up by brain research that tells us when children are exhibiting defiant behaviors or are in a stressful emotional state (anger, disappointment, frustration, sadness, anxiety) they are very unlikely to respond to redirection. This is because when they are in stressful states they are not using the “upstairs brain” or the part of the brain that is in charge of reasoning and logic, they are functioning with the “downstairs brain” which is what some people refer to as our “reptilian” brain that puts the child in survival mode (fight, flight, freeze).

In order to help our little ones begin to function with their upstairs brain we need to connect with them. Connecting with them helps them feel safe and secure. Once they feel safe and secure, then their downstairs brain can shut down in a sense and allow the upstairs brain to take over and help the child make more logical and rational decisions.

When I first came to understand this it made a LOT of sense. I have a 2 year old and oh. my. word. That child really knows how to push Momma’s buttons…and when he is having a meltdown, there is really nothing I can do teaching wise…I learned quickly all I can do is comfort him. When children are in stressful emotional states they need you to connect with them.

With all of this in mind, I’d like to share 5 Ways to Connect with your Most Challenging Child:

1.       Get To Know Him and Let Him Know You

Think about your most challenging child. What is his favorite color? What is his favorite sports team? Does he have a favorite book, movie, cartoon? Who are his close friends? What are his strengths, his weakness, his fears? You may be able to answer some of these questions off the top of your head. If not, take some time to find answers to these questions. The answers might surprise you.

You can collect information several ways:

·      Have a conversation: One way is to take time in the morning, when kids are doing morning work or getting unpacked to start a casual conversation with him. Jot down what he tells you on a sticky note and stick it in your data binder. Doing this over time can help you get snapshots of what is life is like at home, what his interests are and other important pieces of information.

·      Observe him in the “wild”: When your kids are at recess, take your clipboard out and watch him interact with his peers. Who is he playing with? How is he playing? What social skills does he excel with? Which social skills are difficult for him?

·      Use a formal inventory: This can be done with all of your kids or just him. Use this formal inventory to collect information on his interests, hobbies, friends, family, etc. To make it even more interesting, fill it out yourself and share it with him. You’ll be amazed at some things you have in common and he will appreciate the one on one time with you. (Remember that many of the unwanted behaviors we see in kids are cries for help and attention. They are going to get your attention one way or the other, so why not pay it forward and give him some positive attention?)

2.     Identify His Strengths and Build On Them

Too often we look at what kids CAN’T do instead of what they CAN do. Unfortunately most of our challenging kids are usually our most academically struggling kids. That makes a lot of sense when you think about the time they spend being in trouble or getting into trouble compared to the time they are actively engaged in learning. It’s a simple math equation. Less time learning equals less time acquiring academic skills. Look for strengths not only in academic areas such as reading or math but in all subjects areas: art, music, science, problem solving, social skills, etc. When you find that strength, latch onto it and focus on it. There is a saying, “Where attention goes, energy flows.” The more attention you give him for his strengths, the more likely he is to play up to them.

3.     Give him important tasks in the classroom

I know this may sound VERY scary to you. “You’re telling me let my most defiant child pass out the milk during snack time? We will have milk all over the place! NO way!” Ok…so what I’m going to say about this is make sure you are setting him up for success. Whatever task you give him make sure you do the following:

·      Ensure that this is a task he WANTS to do…if he has no intrinsic motivation to do it, he won’t do it well and he won’t feel honored that he gets to do it

·      TEACH him how to do it. Children (and adults) learn best when they are taught a skill through multiple modalities: visually, auditory, kinesthetically, tactically. Model the task, have the children practice the task with your guidance, take photos of the child doing the task and create a mini anchor chart to refer back to

·      Emphasize the IMPORTANCE of the task so that he feels honored and has a sense of urgency to complete it correctly. Say something like, “This is one of our most important classroom jobs because if it doesn’t get done then…”

4.     Teach the Skills He Needs to Be Successful

I’ve been to several Dan St. Romain trainings. He is AMAZING. I highly suggest going to one of his workshops if you ever get the chance. Dan speaks about the importance of approaching behavior management just like we approach the teaching of language and math skills. We don’t punish children for not being able to count to 10 so why do we punish them for struggling with behavior? When he made that statement it was quite an eye opening experience for me.

Identify one social skill that your challenging child needs the MOST. Does he struggle the most with taking turns, following directions, using kind words? I would start with one skill and really dig deep into that skill with the child. Have a mini conference with that child and discuss the skill explicitly and set goals. Explain that this skill is something we have to practice many times until we get really good at it. Make sure you teach this skill at a time when the child is not upset and has done nothing wrong. If you try teaching him when he is operating with his reptilian brain, he will not be responsive. Work on one skill at a time until he masters it, then move on to another. This is RTI right here folks! Document what you do, how he practices and track his success rate.

Make sure that once you teach the skill that you are constantly reinforcing it and praising him when he uses it. Give him positive attention for using the skill as soon as you see it, “John I saw that you used your kind words when you ask Bobby to scoot over.” That will get you a lot further than the generic, “Good job.”

5.     Have fun with him!

Connecting with your most challenging child may be difficult at first. You may feel reservations about this child, you may worry that he won’t be able to “handle” fun with you. Just try and remember that at the end of the day he is just a child. Children learn best when they feel safe, secure and when they are having fun. You may be able to help them feel safe and secure but don’t forget about the fun! Here are some easy ways to have fun with your children:

·      Play games whole group and purposefully partner up with your challenging child, this way you aren’t doing anything extra in your day, you are just purposefully giving your challenging child your one on one attention

·      Tell silly knock knock jokes with your child, ask them to tell you some silly jokes they may know

·      Find time during the day to read a silly book or poem to your challenging child, this give him your undivided attention and can help him feel connected with you

·      Try implementing a Love Ritual; Dr. Becky Bailey has an amazing book with tons of love rituals you can try with your child, I do these with my toddler and it is really strengthening our connection

What other ideas do you use with your most challenging children? Have you tried any of these strategies before? What are your experiences with challenging children?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Kindergarten Math Notebook {Freebie!}

Hi friends! Do you use interactive notebooks in your classroom? Today I have an awesome freebie to get your notebooks off to a great start!

Kindergarten is my absolute favorite grade of all time and I love creating resources for my kinder friends. This year my bestie asked me to create a math interactive notebook for her kinder kids. I told her “OF COURSE!” because I LOVE creating for the little ones. Right now I’m working on a number and operations pack. Luckily (for me) things go slowly in kinder at the beginning so all she needed from me right now was a number of the week set.

I created 4 activities that her kids can use to build a concrete understanding of numbers 1-10 and hit the math standards:

·      Counters on a ten frame
·      Flip flap template with the numeral on top, students record a set of that number under the flap
·      Tracing the numeral
·      A “zoomed in” number line for students to discuss what comes before and after that number

Here’s what it looks like:

So far the kids are doing really well (my friend teachers year round so they are in week 4). I’ll be adding more activities for the notebook soon and you just might see me blog about it! For now, I’m offering numbers 1-10 as an interactive notebook freebie!! (I've included headers with the TEKS and the CCSS!)

 You can pick it up here. Notebooks can be a little scary with kinders but just like many things, start slow, MODEL, MODEL, MODEL and you’ll get there before you know it! Leave me a comment if you plan on using these in your rooms! I LOVE PICTURES!! :)

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Pretty Teacher Giveaway Winners!!

Hey Y'all!! Thank you so much for entering our pretty teacher giveaway! I am here to announce the winners!

Winners will be contacted soon! Thank you for entering!!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Teacher Deals and Dollar Steals!

I am so excited to announce that I am joining forces with some of my favorite bloggers to bring you a new collaborative blog called Teacher Deals and Dollar Steals! With this blog, there will be approximately forty teachers sharing their excellent work in what we are calling a Dollar Steal!

What is a Dollar Steal, you ask?  Each day, one of my bloggy friends will be sharing a post about one of their products.  In their blog post, they will share a link to their product where you can purchase it for only $1.00.  Now here's the catch, you'll have to act fast because their sale will only last for THREE days.  After the three days, you can still grab their fabulous product, but it will be at it's original price.

I would love for you to hop over by clicking the button above and follow our new blog through email or Bloglovin in order to ensure that you catch all of our deals in a timely manner.  We are also giving away a $25 TeachersPayTeachers Gift Certificate.  You can enter by following us!!!

Thank you for joining me on this new and exciting experience.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

How to use DIY big books in Kinder!

Hi friends! I hope y’all are having a fabulous weekend. I’m sure you are getting your wish lists ready for an awesome TpT sale tomorrow! I love back to school, don’t you?

Well with the idea of going back to school in mind, I wanted to share something I am really passionate about. I taught kindergarten for three years and I absolutely couldn’t live without my big books. I am a big fan of the balanced literacy model and I feel that shared reading is an extremely important part of the kindergarten literacy block.

When I first began teaching kinder, I realized my school’s big book collection was not the best. I found that most of the big books were really just enlarged trade books that had way too much text on a page and would easily fall apart. I wanted something that I could use as a developmentally appropriate shared reading experience for my whole class of kinder babies and something that they could get their hands on during daily five time.

So I began searching the internet for ideas. I came across Shari Sloane’s website and I was blown away by the way she incorporated music and literacy. I quickly began making several musical big books that accompanied Dr. Jean and Jack Hartmann songs. Then I thought, “Hello, duh! Make my own shared reading big books!!” I was already making my own big books for music, why not make my own big books for shared reading?!

This was back in 2009, way before TpT really took off, so the clip art choices were slim pickings! I don’t even have pictures on hand of my first big books because I gave them all to my friend Hannah. But they were ok, nothing like the ones I can create now with all of the amazing clip art you can find on TpT and Etsy.

So now I started making these DIY big books that were much more developmentally appropriate than the big books my grade level had. I was also able to incorporate any themes or seasonal activities that were going on in my classroom, which my kids LOVED by the way. My favorite part of creating my own big books was that laminating them made them super durable. I didn’t have to worry about the kids tearing pages out. Let’s keep it real y’all, five year olds are a little clumsy. There fine and gross motor skills are just not developed yet. They tear stuff accidentally all the time. Laminating these books helped my kids have access to a text that was on their level and gave me peace of mind that I would still have that text too! J

Creating my own big books also helped me to reinforce concepts of print: left to right, one to one correspondence, matching pictures to words, etc. The kids loved the opportunity to come up and “be the teacher” by using the pointer to point to each word as we read it. They weren’t afraid either because these big books were on their level, they were read every day and the kids were confident that they could read them on their own. I would use wiki stix, highlighter tape and counters to find words, count words and highlight certain letters or word parts. I didn’t have to worry about making marks in the book or tearing anything, which is always nice!

One of the best parts was that I could write my own text. So I could match the theme of the book I wanted with the popcorn word of the week, which was really awesome! As we went through the 5 day cycle of shared reading, I would have them do something different with the text every day to provide the scaffolding they needed. Sometimes I would use sticky notes and do guess the covered word activities, sometimes I would use wiki stix and have them find beginning sounds, sight words or punctuation, whatever skill I knew they needed.

In addition I would make student copies of the big books. These ROCKED y’all. I made a general book that matched the big book exactly and then I would make a supported version and a challenge version. I was the inclusion teacher so the abilities in my classroom ranged quite a bit. For the supported version I would add circles under each word to reinforce pointing to words as we read. For the challenge version I might add a line of text or a writing piece. On Fridays I would give my students their own paper copy of the big book, the pictures were the same for everyone but the text was differentiated. They had the opportunity to color the pictures, highlight popcorn words with highlighters, and read these books again and again during daily five time.

Now, I will say that it did take prep. It would take me about 20 minutes to assemble a book once I had the pieces in front of me (not including laminating time). Is that somewhat of an investment of time? Absolutely. Is this investment of time worth it? Oh my gosh YES!! Once I had the books, they were mine forever. I made them all one year and used them every year after. I even gave them to my friend who teaches kinder now and they are still being used. I promise this small investment of time will pay off in the long run. If you choose to create your own big books, your kids will read them over and over and over.

Assembly is pretty simple. Print out the pages you want and trim them down to fit onto your large sheet of construction paper or tag board. I purchased tag board from a teacher supply store in several different colors. You may choose to mount the pictures on colored paper and then glue it down but that’s not necessary.

When I cut out the text I would cut out each word. Why? Because it reinforced the concept of spaces between words. When I glued them to the colored paper the kids could literally see the space between the words. This was an awesome way to reinforce spacing between words and really helped out when I was teaching writing. I could use the big book as a model for spaces between words, two birds y’all! J

Once all the pages were assembled, they went to the laminator, got hole punched and book rings were added. Voila! Big book that is not only appropriate for your kids but will last forever!

Last year I created several big books for my friend Hannah’s classroom. I loved going to her room because her kids knew me as the author of their booksI was kind of a big deal, just saying

I have posted some of the big books I made for her to my TpT store if you want to see them. I have several more on my computer that aren’t quite TpT ready but if you’re interested in them send me an email at and I can give you a date for when they will be posted. (I have posted some big book files to my blog in the past year...look for posts labeled "freebies".)

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this post! If you’re a kinder teacher I HIGHLY recommend trying this out, you won’t regret it! Do you use big books in your classroom? Have you ever made your own?? I’d love to hear how y’all use them in your rooms!