Sunday, December 28, 2014

EZ Ways to Use Those Holiday Leftovers!

Happy Holidays! I hope you are all enjoying a restful break. Today I want to share some easy ways you can take some of the holiday leftovers into your Early Childhood classroom to create some engaging learning activities. 

As teachers (especially primary and early childhood teachers) we tend to have some hoarder tendencies...but it's only because we know there is a learning opportunity in almost anything! Am I right? Less waste, more's a win win! In my post today I'm going to offer ideas targeted for pre-K and K but you can take the idea and easily modify it for first, second and even third grade.

Let’s start with holiday cups. If you threw a party at your house or you still have leftover cups from your classroom holiday party, don’t throw them away! Depending on how many you have you can do several things with them.

If you have a lot, you can place them in a math center for stacking and building. The cups can be used in your sand table or sensory table for scooping and measuring.

For a math station you can number each cup with dots or a numeral and have kids place pom poms or counters in each cup to match. In the photo above I numbered popsicle sticks with sets of either 3 or 4. I arranged the dots in different patterns so kids will have to count each dot and they will also have to understand that 3 doesn’t always look a certain way, sometimes three can be three dots side by side and sometimes it might be 1 dot here and 2 dots over there. This is the foundation for composing and decomposing numbers. For this center kids grab a popsicle stick, count the amount and place it in the correct cup. Cheap, easy and purposeful!

Napkins or Wrapping Paper

I loved creating napkin books with my kids, they are so easy and the kids really like them. All you have to do is staple blank pieces of paper inside the books and the kids can do anything with them: stories, lists, counting books, vocabulary books, sequencing, etc.

In the photo below I used wrapping paper to create a book.


Leftover holiday gift bags are great for counting, sorting, or as a prop in your dramatic play center. To use them for a sorting decide on what you want kids to sort and label the bags appropriately. In this picture I made a rhyming game, you can pick up cards for the rhyming game here.

Greeting Cards

When I taught kindergarten we always saved our leftover greeting cards and used them during our measurement unit. We would have kids use tile manipulatives and measure the height of the cards. Place a sticker on each card with a letter so kids can record how many tiles tall each card is. You can also use the cards to teach area and perimeter. You can pick up a greeting card measurement sheet here.


Holiday plants are very popular in most areas. In south Texas we are big on poinsettias. I always have some hanging around the house after Christmas. If you have some that you can keep alive (I’m a notorious plant killer….eek!) bring them into your classroom. They make an engaging piece to add to your science center. Place the poinsettia there with magnifying glasses, art supplies and paper and let kids observe the plant. You can have them touch and smell the plant and record their observations.

This activity can also be done with parts of leftover Christmas trees!

Holiday Plates

I always have a random assortment of leftover plates. Depending on the size and strength of the plate you can either create lacing cards, counting cards, subitizing cards or even puzzles.

I hope you got some ideas to take back to your classroom this January. How do you reuse your leftovers?

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Using Poetry in Kindergarten: Why It’s Awesome and How You Can Use it to Teach Everything

Hello friends! I hope you are all enjoying the holiday season. I’m SO excited to blog today! It’s becoming a rarity that I get time to myself to share ideas and creations with you. My two little boys take all of my time, but they are completely worth it!

Today I’d like to share how I used poetry in my kinder room and why I think every teacher should use it. I started using poetry because I found that a lot of my students couldn’t rhyme and when I would try and sing nursery rhymes with them, they had never heard of them. I remember growing up and learning nursery rhymes at home and it being a pretty common thing. Times are a changing because kids aren’t exposed to them as much anymore. Good or bad, it’s just how it is.

Knowing that my kids had not grown up with nursery rhymes I figured I should probably start there to give us a base. So I started teaching them, using one rhyme a week. Humpty Dumpty was always a favorite of mine, the kids love that silly rhyme. Now I bet you’re wondering how I fit it all in because we all have so much to cover in such little time, right? I would use the nursery rhyme as either my phonics/phonemic awareness lesson, sight word lesson or comprehension lesson, it just depended on what I needed to teach. That’s the beauty of using poetry, you can do anything with it. Here is an example of what it might look like in a week:

Shared Reading: Read aloud Humpty Dumpty (I always wrote the poem on sentence strips and placed in a pocket chart), model reading with rhythm, have kids listen to you sing the rhyme twice and ask them to chime in with you. Talk about the poem, what they visualize, what the poem sounds like, what does it remind them of? (In this shared reading activity I’m modeling fluent reading, I’m emphasizing rhyming words and then I’m strengthening comprehension by asking them to tell me what they visualize and make connections. I didn’t add pictures the first time we read the poem because I wanted them to visualize the poem first.)

Phonemic Awareness: Reread Humpty Dumpty for fun using choral or echo reading. Use purple highlighter tape to highlight the rhyming words. Ask students to help you identify the words that rhyme.

Sight Words: Reread Humpty Dumpty, emphasizing rhyming words (whisper the rhymes or say them with silly voices). Use yellow highlighter tape to highlight sight words for the week.

Phonics/Phonemic Awareness: Highlight some beginning sounds such as H and D. Have kids help you create a list of words that begin like Humpty and words that begin like Dumpty. What’s nice about this lesson is that you are teaching both phonics (beginning sounds) and phonemic awareness (alliteration).

Students get their own copy of Humpty Dumpty to place in poetry binders or poetry notebooks. They use purple crayon to highlight rhyming words and yellow to highlight sight words.

Another version of this is to send home a “poem in a bag” that students can have to practice retelling and singing the rhyme with their parents. If you send it home in a paper lunch sack with the poem on the outside and the retelling pieces on the inside, the kids don’t have to bring it back, easy peasy! (You could also use the poems in a bag for RTI!)

I truly feel that using poetry in my classroom everyday helped my kids to become strong, fluent readers. My personal belief is that poetry is so important in building prosody that it deserves more than just a few weeks a year, I think it should be a staple in all classrooms.

If you’re at a campus where kids can take home poetry binders on Friday to read to their parents and you know they will bring the binders back on Monday, you should totally try it! Your kids and parents will love them and it will give your kids that extra practice with familiar text that they need. If you’re at a campus where you won’t get the binders back, use the poems in a bag and it’s a win-win.

I created a nursery rhyme pack that includes 13 weeks of nursery rhymes, retelling pieces, pocket chart pieces, poems in a bag and more! You can view it here.

If you want a nice sampler check out the Humpty Dumpty unit here.

Do you use poetry in your classroom? What does it look like in your room?

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?