Saturday, December 23, 2017

Happy Holiday!

It's here!

The holidays took over last week! After all, we base our lessons around children's interests.

On Friday, we sent home an activity for the parents to work on with their children. We asked them to draw a building in their neighborhood and label it. We were really hoping to get more than two, but at least two is better than nothing. Next time, I'll probably remind the parents.

For our sensory table, we made cinnamon playdough. We used flour, water, and copious amounts of cinnamon, then had the children mix it together. We talked with them about the consistency and encouraged them to add more water or flour as needed. The children loved mixing it together and we were even able to keep the playdough around for a couple of days in our art center. 

The mess was totally worth it!
In Dramatic Play, we set up a Post Office by adding a sign, a few blue shirts, a bag, and our recycled boxes. We paired it with Writing Center and by encouraging the children to write cards and stamp envelopes, then take it to the Post Office to be delivered. The students loved using the Christmas stickers and writing cards for their friends; meanwhile, the students in Dramatic Play loved looking at the packages and sorting them from the envelopes that came in.


I love encouraging children to use items from other centers, as long as they put it back in the right spot! 

In Art Center, we incorporated some math by making candy canes. We gave them cutouts and encouraged them to make a pattern using red and white paint. For some, it was also great practice using their prewriting skills as they made short strokes from left to right and up & down. 

Who needs worksheets with fun activities like these?
The highlight of the week was the Polar Express.

My co-teacher worked hard putting down tape to look like a train track, then set up a cardboard box tunnel so the children could crawl through it.

We set up chairs to look like seats on a train, then gave the children tickets that we punched when they got on the train. We served popcorn and hot chocolate, then held up the book as Liam Neeson read it to them with sound effects. 

Whew!  Do you have any holiday traditions in your class?

Whether your break is short or long, I hope you have a fantastic one. Relax, take some time to be happy, and look after yourself. 

Happy Holidays!


Sunday, December 17, 2017

Look at our Word Wall!

Hello all!

Christmas break is almost here!

We didn't focus much on curriculum this week, since we had our Winter program on Friday. The children sang a few songs, they had a gift exchange, and they had a blast.

We were able to talk about buildings a little. We read this book:

I snuck in some critical thinking skills. At the end of it, we reviewed the types of jobs mentioned in the books and turned it into a word wall near the writing center.

The kids helped cut out the pictures, which I photocopied from the book. Fair Use is amazing.

The kids did great remembering the vocabulary and it sparked a discussion about construction tools. Then of course we had to get out the tablet and look up machines on YouTube. Isn't technology wonderful? 

One day, our talk turned to Christmas trees during our morning discussion. The children started talking about what their trees look like at home, so I brought out the green paper and they decorated triangles. For some of them, I drew the triangles for them and had them cut out the lines because that's still a skill they're working on.

I love the one on the left! 

I also brought out a grid game from last year so the children could continue working on counting skills. They rolled the die, then added that many bottle caps. Most of our children can do this already, so we extended it by turning it into an adding activity.

The children were helping each other!

Next week is a short week, so we'll probably end up focusing more on holidays than buildings, although the children still love building with tools in Blocks. We'll probably also talk about machines a little, following up from Friday's discussion. We're hoping to turn Dramatic Play into a Post Office, so I'd welcome any ideas you have.

In the meantime, break is almost here! Hang on and until then,

Happy Teaching!


Monday, December 11, 2017

Build it Up, Tear it Down, Build it Up Again


I hope you're all taking time for yourself during this busy holiday season. With winter programs and Christmas presents from the class and for your own families, it's easy for the stress to build up. I'm providing some links here to encourage you to take 5 minutes and just breathe. Relax. It's ok. They'll also be on the homepage in my Links section.

This one's fantastic for finding free ways to destress instead of eating your feelings like one teacher I know (hey, I really needed that latte!).
Lifehacker self-care

And here are a few if you feel overwhelmed and need to talk or just want some self-help links:
7CupsofTea is a free chat service with lots of great resources
BetterHelp has some wonderful links and if you feel like you want professional help, you can either set up a chat with a therapist through them or have them find one in your area.

Speaking of building. How often have you started a study based on what the children were doing? We were all set to start Clothing, figuring the cold weather would spark their curiosity about coats and warmer clothing. But then, one child started drawing a house. And then another. And then another. And then one child decided to make a house out of craft sticks.  So my co-teacher and I looked at each other and said, "We need to start a Buildings study!"

So we brought out the hot glue gun and we didn't put it up the whole week, as children were inspired by each other to create their own houses. One child made a rollercoaster house and a few of them worked on their projects over several days.

Look at that gravity-defying chimney! Imagine if we'd just said it couldn't be done.

It was a great opportunity to incorporate other higher functions like planning, as we asked the children to draw what they wanted to build while they were waiting. One child's ended up looking very similar to what he drew and he even made sure to include the round window. Problem-solving, planning, creativity, fine motor skills, this project had it all. And it was entirely child-based! I love those!

By the way, Building is a great way to talk about perseverence with students. Teach them that anything that falls down can be built up again.

We did our usual KWL chart to start the week and gain an idea of children's knowledge. As children asked questions throughout the week, we added to it. To learn more about our process, you can read this post.

In the Blocks center, we added some tools. The children loved building with the blocks and pretending to hammer, sand, and drill.

On Friday, we started reviewing the week and adding to our KWL chart when all of a sudden, we hear, "SNOW!" I know it's not a big deal to northerners, but in NC, we get excited over every inch. This is also earlier than we usually see it, which is about February or March. So we brought out the Snow activities.

The children's favorite was acting out 5 Little Snowmen. They independently continued it this week and passed the snowmen to each other.

For the last verse, we said:
"One little snowman all alone,
One little snowman made of snow."

In the sensory table, we brought out instant snow! If you've never seen it before, it starts out as white powder. Water starts a chemical reaction that makes the snow grow and get cold! We had to make a waitlist for it. More name writing practice!

We also had a great discussion about where the snow came from and what we could build with it. We didn't get quite enough to build our own snowmen, but it was nice while it lasted.

This week we're busy getting the parents' gifts together and hopefully it won't be another 2 months before my next post (sorry!)

Happy Teaching!


Monday, October 16, 2017

We're Going Green!

Bottles and cans, just clap your hands! It's time for a post on reusing materials!

Can you tell this is one of my favorite concepts to teach? And I'm so glad we decided to focus on it early in the year instead of spring, like we did last year. I think this will set the stage for some great projects and STEAM ideas throughout the year. My only regret is not taking some more pictures.

You can find the lesson plan for this unit here.

Let's dive in!

I added some pictures to our memory book from when we made paper. They're included below so you can see the process. The paper we made last week was finally dry this week, so we observed and described it.

I forgot to take a picture of the finished product, but here's a piece of it that we sent home with the students. It was very thick, a lot like cardboard.  

We started the week with a giant box full of objects like bottlecaps, bottles, boxes,etc. I called their attention to a comment a student had made on a KWL chart that we could reuse objects. We held up several objects and asked the students what they could make with them. Responses were sparse; they hadn't really thought about it before.

The next day we made a junk band. I invited the students to pick an object that would make music, then we just played and had fun. We talked about counting to 2, to 3, and to 4, then we counted out loud as we played. The students copied rhythms from each other. We went around the circle and added instruments one by one. I didn't get a good picture, but here's a music video featuring people making music with coffee cups:

A few of the students took their "instruments" to the Music center and continued to play.

Wednesday, I set aside some cardboard and asked the students what they wanted to make for Dramatic Play. They colored a sign and said they wanted to make a shop, but it didn't really take off. I didn't devote a lot of attention to it because we made these instead:

Those are the 3 Little Pigs houses. The students have loved that story this year. One morning, a student grabbed a box from our junk collection and said, "I want to reuse this!" I asked him what he wanted to make and he said, "A house!" I suggested the 3 Little Pigs and with most of the students, we got to work wrapping the boxes and painting them. The brick and sticks house still need some work, but the straw house is finished. If you look closely, you can see clouds, windows, and doors.

We worked on some paper mache, which has so many great skills. Tearing, crumpling, painting, planning. The best part about these and the houses above is that they were multi-day; in the picture above, you can see our sign that says, "Work in Progress." I love encouraging students to come back to something to work on it some more.

The highlight of the week was our Maker Day.  We invited parents to come in and make something out of junk with their children. We stayed back as much as we could and asked a few guiding questions if the parents seemed to be struggling. We also had some questions in English and Spanish on the table. Look below for our setup and creations.

One student said that she wanted to continue learning about recycling and I told her, "Don't worry. We'll reuse parts all year long!"

If you want to learn more about loose parts, I've included some links below:
What are loose parts?
Loose parts Toolkit
Loose parts on Pinterest
Find a reuse store near you! My hoozits & whatsits (like the green bottlecaps & black cylinders) came from Scrap Exchange, which also offers fantastic workshops. I encourage you to look near you for similar resources.

Happy Teaching!


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Why Didn't I Do This Earlier?

Hello all!

This week, there's a lot of slapping my own head and wondering how I ever missed doing something so obvious. Have you had those moments? Let's dive in!

Way back when I taught fifth grade, I had a lot of classroom management issues. My mentor told me, "You have to be a little mean. But it's just not in you, is it?" And it's not. My style tends to be more nurturing; I use lots of positive commands and do my best to use praise effectively. The problem is that some children don't respond to that as well as someone who's a little more firm.

This week, I tried something I hadn't before: I taught children the difference between a command and a question. I always tell my students that if I ask whether they want to do something, they can say no. We played "Question or command" a few times, where I asked them silly things. "Do you want broccoli for breakfast?" "Put your hands on your head." "Did you ride a unicorn to school?" "Stand up." I explained that my role is to keep them safe and their job is to help me keep them safe.  If that sounds familiar, you're right; it's straight from Conscious Discipline.
They responded well to it and it gave me a springboard to use for the next week. "You're not cleaning up; why do you think I would tell you to clean up?" I also plan to incorporate bucket filling as soon as I get a copy of the book.

Something else I wish I'd done earlier was to put storytelling elements in Blocks. I got this idea from the NCAEYC Conference this year and instantly fell in love. You might remember from last week that we read "I Stink" and the children loved it. We didn't have a dump truck, but the children had lots of fun making this:

They were involved in the process as far as how we could make the shape of the truck and cutting. There was a lot of guiding, but then it's their first attempt. Here's the completed project with wheels:

I put that and a copy of the book in Blocks, then modeled how to look through the book and pretend to be a dump truck. Some of the students were interested in storytelling, but most had fun seeing how many blocks they could fit inside the hopper. I will definitely continue storytelling in Blocks any way I can.

Finally, I have to give my co-teacher all the credit for this one. She put a recycling center in Dramatic Play so the children could sort objects. 

She also made a conveyor belt, which I don't have a picture of. The children loved dressing up and learning to sort by material, which is a great way to incorporate real-world math!

This next week, we'll be extending the topic and encouraging children to make more with cardboard and junk.

How do you teach about reusing and recycling in your centers? Do you have a recycling bin?

Until next time, happy teaching!


Monday, September 25, 2017

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the KWL Chart


I hope everyone is having a great start to the school year!

We've had a fantastic month so far. We dedicated three weeks to learning the centers and each other, which we've had a chance to review since some new children started. It's given us an opportunity to let the students become leaders; for example, we can say to a child having trouble making friends, "Will you show them the art center?" So far, they've done well with the concept and it's a process.

Last week, we dove into the curriculum with a unit on Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling. The students loved the book "I Stink," about a dump truck. We started discussing the book and making the appropriate grossed-out noises.

And I realized that I've been doing KWL charts wrong for 7 years.

All through school and trainings, I've heard about the importance of doing KWL charts. They explained that K means "What we know," W means "What we want to know," and L means "What we've learned." And I hated them. Getting children to come up with questions was like herding cats.

You see, I'm 34 and my brain is fully developed. I have the executive functions, including metacognition, or the ability to think about my own thinking. So if you ask me what I want to learn about computers, I might say coding because I'm able to think about what I know already and realize what I don't know. I've been introduced to the idea of coding and what it is and I'm curious about it.

But children don't have this knowledge. So I would introduce a topic and ask them what they want to know and I'd get stares. Usually I'd have to generate a few questions for them and model the process, which would never really take by the end of the year.
So what was different this time? It was natural.

I love writing charts and lists with the children based on what they say; I believe this tells them that what they contribute is important. For example, we explored what we threw away and as they talked, I wrote a list of their comments.

We wrote a group story that started off slow, but they quickly warmed up to the idea and were able to illustrate their sentences. Again, their comments were written down.
So we read the book "I Stink" and they started talking about the book and what they knew. Then they asked a few questions and I realized, "I need to write this down!" Then I thought: this is the KWL chart.
So we came up with the below chart and as they talked about what they didn't know, I wrote it down as a question. You can see the chart below. It was very natural and now we have a springboard for what we want to talk about next.

If you're struggling with the KWL chart, next time try recording conversations in large group. You might find something surprising.

Do you use charts in your classroom? How do you write KWL charts?

Until next time, happy teaching!

--Amy Latta

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Happy New Year!

Hello, everyone!

I hope everyone is having a wonderful start to the year so far. We've been back for 3 weeks already, but it certainly doesn't feel like it.

That means it's time to buckle up; this is a long one. But you'll love it; I promise hope.

First, let me give you the grand tour of the classroom. I can't really claim credit for it; we had someone come in who set up the classroom for us so we're ready to be rated. Still, I'm happy wih the way it looks and hopefully you'll get some great ideas!

The Grand Tour

The Details

Here's the first thing you see when you walk into the classroom. We usually set out the book we read that day. The children sign their names in a laminated notebook and there's some Conscious Discipline information up top for the parents. The red board is our family board with pictures of children's families.

Here's our Parent Volunteer (Wish) Board. I'm proud of this one; it's a corkboard covered with black fabric. The parents have really responded so far. One of the kids even made a suggestion to bring in a board game, so we added it to the board. How do you encourage parent participation?

Here's our Birthday board, using an idea found on the blog KeepinItKrazy. The kids did great copying and tracing the number of their birthday and were really excited to have their picture taken.
And here are their cubbies. Our director decided to use these fabric cubes and they are just gorgeous. They make the room feel more homey.

Here's our visual schedule. I know it doesn't look like much; we just wanted it up. I'll make it look pretty soon with some of the owl border from our family board.

And here's our job board. We used pockets and tape found at the dollar store. 

And a few signs for our group time. Have you noticed yet that we love Conscious Discpline? Well, we do! The children helped generate the rules and we copied them out onto posterboard. The sign in the middle is a "Wish You Well" ritual for our friends who are absent or upset. Let's take a moment to wish each other well. Ready? 
(To the tune of Farmer in the Dell)
We wish you well, we wish you well, all through the day today, we wish you well!

This was an ugly chalkboard covered with some beautiful fabric. (At the time of this post, it's fallen off and been replaced by contact paper. Does anyone have a solution for this? Share in the comments!)

The Centers

First, here's our Music Center, with lots of Conscious Discipline CDs. 
The kids love the drums. Love them. They like playing them over and over, all day long. 

I don't have a picture of it, but we have a Hatch computer with a touch screen! It's pretty neat-o.

Next to the computer is our Safe Space. We were lucky to find some gorgeous sheer curtains to make the cube a little cozier. One child says he likes the beanbags because they "crunch."

Next to that is our Literacy center. On the shelf, we have a Califone listening center, which currently has Pete the Cat in it. We also have a phonics flip board, some labeled pictures for matching and exploring, and some cute alligator letter matching/storytelling materials. There's plenty of space for themed books and relaxation and you can just see our Feelings chart next to the Safe Space.

And our Writing Center. The organizer was $4 from Scrap Exchange and we rescued the hutch from another classroom. We've added some name tracing activities since this picture was taken. The kids recently discovered the cards and envelopes and have started writing notes to each other. Such great teachable moments!

Here's our Blocks center  after we opened it. We were very intentional about opening centers this year, taking time to talk about rules about centers and how to play with them. So far, the children have responded really well and we haven't had many behavior issues in those areas.
Those curtains let in a lot of natural light; I love it!

The first week we opened up our water center, we dumped some citrus tea into it. It was such a lovely, calming smell and the kids loved it.

Our very colorful (and easy to mantain, which is great since I have a black thumb) plants. We also planted some "Bright Lights" Swiss Chard outside. 

Here's our Science center in front of Blocks. So far, the kids' favorite thing has been weighing rocks and exploring natural items outside. They love asking if we can bring items inside, including a stinkbug that they wanted as a class pet! (I had to veto that one, but we're voting on a pet this week).

Our Dramatic Play area is right next to Blocks. Everyone loves pretending to build and cook. Last week, one of the kids even created a menu and sign for a restaurant. A few others grabbed some paper from Writing center and pretended to take orders while another one manned the cash register. We have a great group this year.

Here's our Math area.

And there's a Manipulatives area on the other side. This is one of our more popular centers, since it includes Legos. If we had the space, I'd add some Legos to the Math center, too.

The Lessons

Week 1

We started out by limiting the centers and toys available. We spent time in the centers with the children, interacting with them and showing them how to use the materials.

Week 2

This week was spent teaching children social-emotional skills. Our center is a huge advocate of Conscious Discipline, with good reason. We taught children the belly breath and the balloon breath.

Do it with me now. Hands on top of your head, fill your belly with air, then blow out pbbbbb! (Fun fact: babies naturally take belly breaths.)

There are lots of strategies we've been using to develop relationships with the children.  One is the use of different greetings hung on the door. It's amazing what happens when you give children the simple choice of how to be greeted in the morning. You learn about the children and establish a connection.  How powerful is it for children to know right when they come in the door that they already have a choice?

Here are the greetings we use:
Big Hero 6 Fist Bump

In the movie, Hiro loves to end fist bumps with his brother with an explosion sound. When he tries to teach it to Baymax, the robot is unable to reproduce the sound and instead says, "Fadalalaala." This is the one we do with the kids.
Each person makes a fist, touches it to the other person's fist, then pulls it back while saying, "Fadalalala." There's a video here.

Butterfly Hug

Each person puts up a thumb, hooks it with the other person's, then stretches out and wiggles the fingers to make a butterfly.

Wave Hug

Each person raises both hands, then waves them back and forth.

Rainbow Wave,

This one's based on the ASL for rainbow.
Put arms in front, hands touching elbows. Raise one hand from the elbow and say, "Hi!"

Keep in mind that the most important component of all of these is eye contact. The children love them and have even started to request them on their own. They've helped some reluctant children enter the classroom. You don't have to use these; feel free to create your own based on children's interests.

During the second week, we also talked a lot about feelings, especially the idea that all feelings are valid. I borrowed a concept from Dr. Christina Christopolous at Duke Unversity, who taught the Incredible Years Dina program in our class a few years ago, and used the terms "prickly" and "warm fuzzy" to describe how negative and positive emotions feel. We had lots of fun acting out emotions with "If You're Happy and You Know It."

The student teacher in our room did a wonderful job of introducing solution cards to help solve conflicts. They've really been helpful and some of the children have started to use them on their own.

Finally, we talked about filling our bucket! First, we read "Have You Filled A Bucket Today?" by Carol McCloud. We had a great conversation about kindness to others and learned some good terminology. 

The best thing that came out of it was our class reward system: filling a bucket with fake flowers! Every time the children do something kind, they get to put a flower from baskets scattered around the room in the bucket. When it's full, the whole class will get a reward, such as going to a different playground.

We got to incorporate some literacy during small groups, too. 

Week 3

All About Me

This week we started learning topics in earnest, starting the unit of learning about each other. This includes the children themselves, their "school family," where they live, and pets. Throughout, we're reinforcing the social skills we've already taught them.

Here's a name graph they did:

We didn't take a lot of pictures this time around; we were having too much fun! We added laminated name tracing to the Writing center. During art, we added some mirrors and let them do some self-portraits. There's a packet of lesson activities on my store. Just click the picture below!

We're also talking about the concept of classroom jobs and that each one is important. The children are still working on getting this second concept.

The most important thing I've learned these past few weeks is that social skills are exactly that: skills. Just like some people need more help in math or reading, some need more help with social skills. Even teachers! Every class is different and comes with a new set of personalities to learn. At the end of the day, children just need time.

How's your  classroom so far? What do you do to encourage participation? Let me know in the comments below.

My goal is to write every 2 weeks. So I'll see you Oct. 14!

Happy teaching!

Love, Amy