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

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

On Child Tragedies

Hello, everyone! 
I'm sure you've all heard the news by now about the two-year old who is missing after begging dragged away by an alligator after wading in a pool. This comes only a few weeks after a child fell into a gorilla pen.
It's very easy and therefore tempting for our first thought to be, "Where were that child's parents? Didn't they see the signs? What were they thinking?"
But take a minute to think about child in your classroom. You know the one that needs a little extra love. The one that's across the room cutting hair in the blink of an eye. The one that keeps making escape attempts. The one who feels like they take every minute of your eight hours a day, because they never sleep. The one who of course you love, but are secretly relieved when they're out a day. 
Now imagine the parents. Imagine them spending 12 hours with this child, attempting to get them to sleep, get them ready in the morning for their big trip. It doesn't help that the child is excited. Imagine the long car ride and the battles, large and small, that must occur constantly.
My own nephew  (turning 3 already in July!) is like this. I love him and I know his parents are great people who only want the best for him. But he has tons of energy. Last time they visited, we all had to keep a very careful eye on him or he'd be across the street before we knew it. 
So next time you hear about a tragedy like this and someone blames the parents, remind them what it's like. Because we've all been there. 
Until next time!
Love, Amy

Friday, May 20, 2016

Farm Life

Hello, teachers!

I don’t know about yours, but our students lately have been fascinated by growing things. They love digging in the garden on the playground and watching plants come up. We’re starting a container garden soon, so I’ll edit this post with pictures once they start coming up!

And where do we grow lots of plants? On farms, of course! It doesn’t help that I have been playing a LOT of Stardew Valley lately, so my mind is right there on the farm along with the kids. Come join our class as we journey onto a farm and get a glimpse of what life is like there.  


One thing you can tell about our classroom is that we love art. For farm week, we let the kids do some marble painting on some cow shapes. 

The next day, we started a project to work on cutting skills, something our kids really need practice with. They tore and cut green paper, then glued it all over a giant piece of white paper. The next day, we provided cutouts of farm animals and encouraged the students to choose some and glue them on. Those who were able cut out their own animals. As you can see from the picture below, our farm animals don’t like to follow the rules of gravity!

We also sang Old MacDonald had a farm and encouraged them to draw their own animals. We put them into a class book called “Old MacDonald had a Farm!” They loved looking at their pictures in the book and singing the song.

Then, since some of them were interested in flowers, we printed out some paintings of flowers. The kids loved looking at them and were inspired to make their own paintings. I didn't get any pictures of these, but one girl took the time to put her green right below a spot of red, just like the painting.

Motor Skills

This was a fun one. Have you ever pretended to milk a cow using a rubber glove? No? You should try it. I know it’s one that keeps popping up on blogs and that’s because it’s so much fun for the kids and great for fine motor strength! We mixed up a little bit of white paint with water, then filled a rubber glove with it, tied it off, and poked tiny holes in the fingers. The students loved squeezing the fingers and figuring out the best way to get out the “milk.” Some of them got literal and thought it really was milk! We let them smell it to find out the truth.


Something that worked well with music this week was printing out the lyrics to “5 Little Pigs.” We went through the song a few times as the kids kept requesting it. Then we posted the lyrics on the wall. Throughout the week, children continued to request it and we saw some of them pointing to the lyrics on the wall as they sang it to themselves.


Do you know how easy it is to create grid and number games? It’s so easy, I ended up making 2: one is a grid game in which children roll a die and put that number of horses in the barn squares using one-to-one correspondence. The kids loved counting the pips on the die, counting the horses, and seeing how many horses still needed to go in their barns. Click on the picture below to download it for free!
The other one is a numeral matching game. Students matched the number of eggs in a basket with the numeral on a chicken. To help them out, I also wrote the numerals on the backs of the eggs so that children could match them directly. Self-help skills! Click on the picture below to download it. This one's free, too!


I saved the best for last. We told the story of the Little Red Hen and had lots of fun deciding whether or not the animals should get any bread at the end of the story. Then, we made our own bread. But first, we made our own butter.

We put heavy cream into a recycled container and shook. “Shake it off, shake it off!” Ok, we shook more than the kids did, but they had fun trying. We looked at it several times throughout the process. “Is it butter yet?” Then we stuck it in the fridge.

The next day, we made bread!*
Using this recipe, the students watched and counted as a teacher measured the ingredients. The children were able to stir a few times and watch them turn into dough. I had brought in my mixer with the pastry attachment to mix it up properly. When we were finally done, well. A picture is worth a thousand words.

*Now, I do have a warning for you. This took ALL DAY. As in, we started in the morning and weren’t able to bake it until the afternoon. Part of that is my fault for not reading the directions and finding out that it needed to rise twice (once for the dough, once again when you pinch the dough into rolls). So if you use the linked recipe, read it all the way through and make sure you let it rise twice. It might even be better to let it rise on the first day, then stick it in the fridge and bake it the next day.

For lots more activities about farm life, I have a lesson plan available for the price of a cup of coffee on TeachersPayTeachers.

What kinds of activities do you do with your class while studying about farms? Comment below!

Happy Teaching!

Love, Amy