Friday, August 22, 2014

5 Ideas You Can Use to Start your Schoolyear Off Right

Hello again!

Are you ready?

They're coming...sooner than you think...soon, your classroom will be full...of...children!

I hope you're having lots of success getting everything ready for the new children in your class. Maybe some are moving up from a younger class; maybe they're brand-new.  It's always a nervous time for teachers as we prepare lessons and materials, wondering what new challenges the new class will bring.

Fortunately for you, this blog isn't called "Pursuing Fear;" it's called "Pursuing Wonder."

 Do you remember your first year as a teacher? Or maybe this is your first year. There's a lot of uncertainty as you wonder what the staff will be like, how you'll get along with your directors and work under them, what to expect from the kids.

All this can feel like a big, scary monster and is especially true for the kids.

I have a monster of my own this year: a new job! Remember when I said that if you don't like your job, you should be grateful that you have one? Don't be afraid to look for other opportunities, too!

But have you noticed something about monster movies lately? In the past few years, there's been a glut of movies
featuring "nice" monsters: Warm Bodies, Twilight, Life After Beth. Monsters don't scare us as any more.
Even children's books have plenty of monsters that aren't scary.

So this year, banish your monsters and help your kids banish theirs with these 5 simple ideas:

1. Tweak your first lesson plan

     It can be tempting to wing it the first week; after all, you've taught the same thing year after year. But even if you have a lesson from previous years, try tweaking it. There are lots more ideas out there than when you created it.
     My first lesson plan, available soon, is strictly about rules. We're spending one day on each rule, with 2 days on Helping Hands.
     I have lots of monster books lined up to help me: The Love Monster, Leonardo the Terrible Monster, and Go Away Big Green Monster.
     There's also a fantastic resource on TeachersPayTeachers (not mine) about teaching Monster Manners. At the end, there's a mini-book about listening that I've already used with great success with the younger children transitioning into our classroom.

3. Revitalize your Mat chart

      So now you've got the perfect room arrangement. The problem with this is, that means moving the mat placement. Again. And re-drawing the mat chart. Again.

This year, I decided to use magnets.

         I used to create all of the objects in the classroom; then, I saved a screenshot and printed it out on magnet paper. I laminated the whole thing and cut it up. Now, whenever I rearrange or move a child, I jut move the magnet!

         It's not a perfect system; when I test-drove it with the assistants, they were a little confused about where to put the mats at first. But with some tweaking, I think it will work.

3. Rearrange to create a new classroom

         I don't know about you, but I love rearranging my room. I do it at least once a year so that it feels fresh. Think about it from the perspective of your students: do you leave the same toys and props in the centers throughout the year? The same pictures up on the walls no matter what the theme? Of course not! Students need variety to feel engaged and the adult brain is no different.  
         You can read more about it here, but the fact is that changing our environment helps keep us creative and motivated.

I recently revamped our quiet center using a fantastic find: a giant cardboard box! 

4. Bulletin boards

         I discovered something great to do with bulletin boards: section them off.
As you can see in the picture, it breaks up big boards and organizes needed information into something bright and uncluttered. That's my visual schedule there at the bottom, using pictures of the classroom and attached with velcro. 

5. Desk

         It finally happened: my desk has nothing on it! I moved all of my resources out of sight to a file cabinet and kept out only the day-to-day forms. My library books and "To File" folder are nearby on a shelf.
(By the way, my "To File" folder is fantastic for me, a natural piler. I toss papers in it, then set aside one day a week to file everything in it.)
It feels good, but it looks so lonely now.

Need more easy tips to clean your space? Try this Lifehacker article:10 Simple Ways to Make Your Office Look Clean

Bonus Tip! 

         Initial conferences are a wonderful way to start the school year. Even if your school doesn't require home visits, make it a point. 
         While you're at it, give them your info on a laminated business card. I simply used a free Avery template, put my contact info on it, and printed it on bright paper. A magnet on the back makes sure it doesn't get lost. 
Questions sheet, calendar, and contact info

What are your best tips for starting out the schoolyear right? What do you absolutely need to do before you feel that you're ready? Share in the comments below!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Happy "Admit You're Happy" month!

Hello, all!

I hope you're having a great summer so far!  Are you planning for the next school year? Wondering what your kids will be like? Stressing about your boss? Well, in the immortal words of Douglas Adams:

You'll get there!

Today I found out that August is "Admit You're Happy Month." This seems like an odd concept at first. "How do you even know I am happy?"  My theory (and the purpose of this blog) is that there's always something to be happy about. Don't like your job? At least you have one in today's tough economy. Don't like your boss? Just be the best you can be. Do you have a home? Food on the table, however meager? There's always something to be happy about. 

Just remember as this school year starts: you're not alone. 

 A great resource I've found for getting myself motivated this year is this infographic from An Ethical Island:

When you follow that link, then you'll find that each area is clickable and takes you to a different resource about that topic. It can really help sometimes to re-think why you want to be a teacher and consider what else might be out there.

You can find more inspiration on my Pinterest board here:

Sometimes it can help to share our accomplishments with others and be lifted up by others. In the comments, we'd love to know: what keeps you motivated? What are you happy about this year? 

Happy teaching!

--Amy Latta, KidatHeart

Friday, July 18, 2014

Congress Has a Bucket, Too

As a teacher, you face many issues: conflicting regulations, Common Core, low pay. You may be wondering if there's anything you can do about it. I'm here to remind you that everyone has a voice!

Have you ever read the book How Full is Your Bucket to your kids? If not, you should. It's a wonderful book about how compliments and kind actions fill someone's happiness bucket throughout the day. One kindness may not seem like much, but eventually they add up.  You can probably see where I'm going with this.

Congress has several buckets that need to be filled. This means you, personally, can do one of two things: (1) you can sit in the back and complain, letting those with opposing views fill that bucket instead. Or (2) you can stand up for what you know your children need.

It doesn't have to be anything big. Start small. Talk to your team about the change you'd like to see. Write letters and let you kids draw pictures. Make a phone call.

And for all the doubters I know are still reading, here's proof that it works:

NC House Votes to Replace Common Core

"As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.” Ghandi

Happy teaching!

--Amy Latta

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Potato Salad and Risk

Hello, all!

I hope you're having a great summer so far. My organization has come to a grinding halt; it seems there's always an emergency in the classroom these days. You know how it goes. We lost a few students to kindergarten, so we'll have lower numbers next week and hopefully I'll have some time then.

How many of you have heard of Danger and his potato salad?

It's the story of one man and his quest to crowdfund a $10 potato salad. Kickstarter, you see, recently changed their terms. They don't moderate projects anymore, instead opting to allow any project within reason. As a result, someone decided to Kickstart potato salad. He's not a chef; he's simply asking for $10 to make some potato salad. As a result of taking this risk, he has raised over $40,000.

Here's a link to an article:
and here's the link to the actual Kickstarter:

This got me thinking about risk. In the classroom, we teach our students risk all the time simply by challenging them in their natural play. "Can you build that tower higher?" "What happens if you do this?" We provide risk in a controlled environment because we know it's good for their development and self-confidence. If they fail, they try again, developing perseverance and self-confidence.

Children aren't the only ones who benefit from risk-taking, either. In adults, it can mean a new career, a new life partner, or simply reaping the rewards of an investment. When we take risks, our brain actually releases dopamine that gives us a sense of happiness. Taking risks actually makes us happier!

Now let me ask you: when was the last time you took a risk? When you built that tower up as high as it could go, even when it seemed like it couldn't hold another piece? Think about when that was, whether it was recent or long ago. What was the result of it?  Share your reflections in the comments below.

Happy Teaching!


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

"In Summerrr!"

Hello, all!

First of all, I apologize for getting "In Summer" stuck in your head for those that have listened to Frozen on repeat like our class has. For the past 3 months. Every. Single. Day. 

I hope you're having a great summer, whether you're with kids or not. And if you're going on any field trips, I feel your pain; best of luck to you. 

I'm going to have some exciting things going on in my shop! First of all, if you've seen my newest "Aloha" lesson plan on TPT and TeachersNotebook, you may have noticed Rosie tagging along. She's my little Google+ avatar and you'll be seeing a lot more of her in the months to come. I'm going to add her to my lesson images little by little so that no matter where you see them, you'll automatically know where it's coming from. I'm also going to work on expanding my TN shop. They have a lot to offer and while I'm loyal to TpT, I love the interface and feel of TN. 

When I'm not working on my shop, I'm organizing!  If you knew me, you'd know what a gigantic undertaking this is. During our workdays, my assistant does a fantastic job of organizing the centers, but of course they never stay that way. Meanwhile, the teacher's areas get neglected so the children will have something nice at eye level. With our numbers low, I'm taking this challenge head-on! 

 I didn't take a "Before" picture of the art cabinet, but it looked something like this: 


But I worked on the art cabinet today and here it is now!

By the way,I recently discovered a place called the Scrap Exchange.  If you're in Durham, I suggest you check it out. If you're not, look around and see if you can find or start something like it. They sell recycled materials for cheap. If you can think of it, chances are they have it. I got grocery sale signs, a sign that said, "We go nuts for healthy eating," and some great printing materials for art, and an entire pack of folders. All for $3.50! 

How are you spending your summer? 

See you soon!

--Amy Latta

Friday, June 13, 2014



Well, this is it, everyone: the last week of school before our summer program starts!

 This means that I'll be blogging a little less since I won't be planning this summer. I'm going to use the time to work on my TpT shop and keep you posted on happenings and ramblings in general. Look for a freebie soon!

This time of year is a bittersweet time for us as teachers, especially since we're in the unusual position of knowing exactly who we're getting from the younger classes. But that's a good thing! Use this time to talk to the teachers about which strategies have worked. And hope that they'll rise to the structure in your classroom as they continue to grow. 

       We have to remember too that this is also a confusing time for the students. We had some good conversations about "aloha" meaning "Hello" and "goodbye." As a group, we talked about saying goodbye to old friends and saying hello to new ones. They got a little sad thinking about losing their friends. It helped that we had talked about making friends previously, so we were able to draw on that knowledge and review it. The week before, we'd talked about kindergarten and visited a class next door to our center. We took along scavenger hunt sheets and the kids had a blast. It's hilarious how shy even the most rambunctious ones get! Overall, it was a good week. 

This week, we're relaxing. We had our end-of-year luau last week and have already lost one student for the summer. So I'm digging into my Pinterest page! You know the collect all these great ideas and then they just sit there. Maybe you can't find a theme to fit it in or maybe it just got buried. We're having a blast.

So far, we made tape-resist letters with gloss paint (corn syrup and food coloring), drew pictures and painted them with gloss paint. The kids loved it and asked for it repeatedly. It turned out to be a great sensory experience since it was so sticky. We found out quite on accident that it resists crayons and makes great stained glass if you paint on white paper and hang it in the window.

 Later in the week, we drew what was missing from various pictures.   

We had a nice circle time beforehand about what was missing and what might complete it. Some responses included "turtle shell," "wings," and "tentacles." All for the same picture of a person. There were quite a few students who opted simply to create rather than extend, and that's ok too. 

I'm going to miss these kids. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Look! A Classroom Post! An exploration of plants

Hello, all!

Is this a hard time of year for you? I know I usually start feeling a little overwhelmed. Transition meetings, increased energy from the kids, and just a general feeling of denouement from the rest of the year (thanks, English concentration!) It's hard to stay motivated. So we talked about plants!

I have a black thumb; the daisy in one of the pictures is outside, but I don't think it's doing any better there. That doesn't stop me from enjoying nature and helping children enjoy the beauty around them.

I'd like to say we did lots of fancy stuff like food coloring carnations, but we didn't. And that's ok. Sometimes the best thing you can do if you're feeling unmotivated is to do something simple and manageable. 

First, we talked about Plants.  I got some opinions from the class about what plants are. How do we know they're plants? I got some great responses: "they have leaves," "they grow in the ground." 

One of the best days on this topic came from the circle a few days later. All week, I'd been building up that we were going to eat plants, with the predictable funny reactions of "Eww! No!" They were left to wonder for a few days while we worked on Handwriting without Tears and IY Dina. On Friday, finally they got to see what I was talking about. I pulled out our list and reviewed it. Then I pulled out some nectarines and showed them the stems along with pictures of nectarine trees. I showed them some grapes. The kids gave some examples about where fruits and vegetables come from and it turned into a very long circle time. On reflection, I think I let it go a little too long because by the end, the kids were restless and excited and we had to channel that energy during centers. Or maybe it was just a warm spring day.

I love doing taste tests because the kids are more apt to try food that's part of an activity than they are if it's served to them. Plus, you never know what the kids get at home. During lunch, we had several kids trying "tangerines" (they had trouble saying "nectarines") and grapes and loving them.  No pictures because it was lunchtime and we were all busy preparing for naptime. 

As part of the week, I found some discounted flowers at the local big box store. (This is why preparation is important; I ended up running to the store that morning and had to throw out some of my flowers because they were poisonous! Oops.)   Before small groups one day, I asked them questions helping them to observe the flowers. Then they all went to small groups and drew what they saw. We really have some "budding" artists in our class!

This one has "rain falling on the flowers to make them grow."

 I put one of the flowers in Science center with a clipboard and the other in Art. Here's a boy who spent the entire time drawing the flower in Science:

We "rescued" it after the weekend because it wasn't doing very well in its small pot inside. I'm still hoping it will get better.

Another fun observation we did was "picked" vs. "live" flowers. What are your thoughts about flowers outside? I want to encourage the children to explore the flowers on our bushes on the playground, but if they pick them all, there won't be any left.  I picked one of the blooms and asked them what they thought would happen. We got some good answers, like "it will die." "It won't look good." At the end of the week, we looked at them both again and the students saw the difference. 

Last week, we talked a little about what plants need and how they use roots to get them. I also added in some birds because some of the students were interested in them. We talked about birds living in tress and what would happen if all the trees were cut down. I also got to read one of my favorite books, "13 Words" by Lemony Snicket. If you don't use big words in your classroom, start. It's amazing how quickly children can pick up context clues and meanings. They love being detectives. "Look at his face: what do you think 'despondent' means?"

This week, we extended the roots idea because I wanted to show them the food coloring/daisy experiment. We wrote down our predictions and on Friday, we'll talk through them and record our observations through drawing. 

Do you have plants at your center? How do you incorporate them into your lessons?

Hey, look! A shiny new Links page at the top! Let me know if you have any great sites you want to add.

Stay positive!

--Amy Latta, KidatHeart

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Call to Action


A post about my latest classroom activities is coming, I promise. This past week I've had meetings with my boss, parents, and a staff meeting. Plus I've been calling UNC and bothering them about how I can afford school. I decided that it's not really feasible this time around and will try again in 2(!) years, when the program's offered again.

And now for something completely different.

Last year, I took this fantastic workshop called "Lifting Voices," about how we as teachers have the power and the responsibility to enact change. I'm part of their email list and received this email today. Even if you don't live in NC, check your state to see if they're meeting as well. Get involved and make sure your voice is heard!

Take Action. Now.
NC General Assembly Returns for Short Session on May 14, 2014
The NC General Assembly returns to Raleigh on Wednesday, May 14th to start the 2014 legislative session, called the "Short Session."  And Governor McCrory is likely to announce his budget this week as well. There’s a lot at stake for early childhood education and now it’s time to lift your voice for young children and families.

The NC Child Care Coalition will be working hard to preserve the early education system and ensure that its three signature programs—Smart Start, NC PreK, and Child Care Subsidies—remain intact and fully funded. Sign up for the Coalition’s Action Center at to receive critical updates and action alerts, and send a message directly to your own state legislator.  Invite your colleagues and others to subscribe - its open to the public and a free service. 

During the session, please contact your legislators to let them know how important early education is to you and your community.  Write letters to the editors of your local media and showcase a local program or a child or family that benefits from early education.  Save the date for Child and Family Advocacy Day on June 10th and come to Raleigh to show your support for early childhood education. 

We’ll be counting on you - our partners, members, and early childhood education advocates—to remind policymakers that the first 2000 days in a child's life have a lasting impact on later learning, health and success. Let them know that early investment produces a lifetime of results and is the key to North Carolina’s future prosperity. 

Don’t delay – take action today to support thousands of young children and families and ensure the future of early childhood education in North Carolina. Please let us know if you have any questions, concerns, or stories to share about your work for early care and education.  We look forward to working together this legislative session. 

Michele Rivest
Executive Director
NC Child Care Coalition

If you no longer wish to receive e-mail from us, please click here.

Have you ever lifted your voice for change? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Get great products and help me get my Master's!

Hello all!

Yes, this is a sob story. It's also a great opportunity for you to get customized products and a shameless attempt at begging :) If you want, you can skip this post and I'll have a regular classroom post up soon.

The good news is, I've been accepted into the graduate teaching program at UNC Chapel Hill. It's a Master's of Education focusing on Early Childhood, leadership, and National Board Certification.  This program includes reflection, research, immigration issues, and everything I would need to become a more effective leader and in turn, share my knowledge with you.

I've been struggling since February to get my grant application in, references submitted, entrance application, the whole thing. The only thing I've been waiting on for about a month now was Financial Aid.
Today I found out that federal aid doesn't exist for graduate students. Just a big, fat NOPE. I'm applying for as many scholarships as I can but right now the only options are to either eat into savings or get another loan (while still paying my old one off).

SO. What I'm going to do from now until the end of the month is run a series of 20% sales on my TPT store. You'll get some great products while knowing that you're helping out a fellow teacher.

As always, if there's a theme you would like to see or materials you'd like me to make, just ask! I'll be putting up some assessments geared towards preschoolers in the next week.

The first sale starts tomorrow and runs for the next 4 days (5/8-5/11). Keep an eye out for the next one.

Thank you all!

Friday, April 25, 2014

I'm an introvert and a teacher. (And that's ok.)

Hello all!

I've been doing some introspection this week and thought I'd share my thoughts with you.

I'm an introvert, through and through. Put me in front of a crowd and I love it. Organized notes, shiny pictures, sharing my experience: I love it. But put me in a one-on-one conversation or a party situation and I freeze up like a deer in headlights.

This has made being a teacher a challenge. I like quiet and order. I've come to terms with the fact that some areas of the classroom are just going to be messy (like my desk. And Dramatic Play center). I let the kids get messy in art and allow extra time to clean it up.  I've learned to ignore behaviors that don't hurt anyone else or interfere with learning, although there are days when everything seems to bother me and I need to take lots of deep breaths.
    My biggest challenge is working with my team. Don't get me wrong: I have a great team that's creative and loves the kids and works hard. My problem is that if they don't directly tell me something's wrong, I might miss it because I'm more focused on the activity in the classroom.
    I'm not great at talking to people on the best of days; in a one-on-one conversation, thoughts just fly from my head and I have trouble thinking of things to say. I love working one-on-one with kids; probably because I'm not worried about being judged by them.
        I've read some great articles online about being an introverted teacher and looked through my resources. My boss has been helpful, too, in helping me be more of a leader with my team and realizing what they need.

To get around this, I've found some strategies that might be useful to my fellow introverts:

1. Accept it. It's ok to be an introverted teacher. There are lots of us out there and it can be a really useful style, especially when it comes to working in small groups.

2. Use resources about parent relationships and child relationships to help you with your working relationships. It's a process. There's a ton of information out there about Active Listening, making sure you use praise, talk to each of them about something positive every day. The conversations with your coworkers don't need to be long; it's a matter of "faking it til you make it."

3. Interact with others in ways that make you feel comfortable. I prefer large groups, preferably around eating or gaming. That way, there's something else to focus on besides conversation, which I don't have to carry.

4. Recognize your other qualities and strengths. The world values extroversion, but introverts are awesome too! We get lost in good books, we can be good listeners, we can have inner strength. Focus on the great things about yourself and how you succeed at work.

5. Make time for yourself.  I need my lunch. I sit in the back and crochet and if I don't get it, I get cranky and exhausted. If you don't have a lunch, try taking a minute or two longer in the bathroom or work some time in at the end of the day. Every day, do something that makes you happy that's just for you.

6. Open up to your coworkers. Be honest and say, "I may have trouble communicating with you until I get to know you. Make sure to let me know what you need and I'll make sure to check in with you."

Are you an introvert? How do you cope at work?

Until next time!

--Amy Latta

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Come Fly with Me!

Hello all!

First, here's a midweek pick-me-up from Frank Sinatra:

I know I was quiet last week. I was recovering from vacation and finding my groove. I've also been crocheting a bit more lately as I've had some ideas from the beach! 

So I didn't take many pictures last week. We talked about wheels and how they make cars go. We looked at the differences between a truck and a racecar, then drew a fast car. The students had to tell us why their car was fast and we dictated it.

In art center, we set up mini cars and paint. We encouraged the children to run the cars through the paint and then on the paper. Quite a few of them had qualms about it, probably because we've had other students draw on cars before and they got in trouble. They had fun once they got into it and were crashing into each other in no time. In block center, students set up ramps and had lots of fun jumping cars off of them and seeing how far they could go. It was a great chance for experimentation and changing their environment to test hypotheses (one of the NC Foundations!)

This week, we're studying air and its effect on vehicles. We started to track the weather by letting one student draw the weather on a chart. Science and writing integration for the win! Yesterday, we looked at what the weather had been like the past couple of days and the students drew a picture of what they thought it would be today. Without prompting, we heard some great weather words: "Stormy," "Cloudy." I found a blanket with a map of the US on it, so I'll start filming the students talking about weather with a cardboard microphone. 

My favorite activity of the week was turning Dramatic Play into an airport. I found these great signs from the Sparklebox site and put them on some shelves in the center. I printed out boarding passes and put them in their own labeled container. Food was available near a restaurant sign and I had chairs set up nearby for an airplane. The kids loved handing food out to the passengers on the plane, packing their bags, and handing out tickets. I guided the pilots through what pilots would normally say on a flight and let others who wanted to fly be a copilot. The best part is, it took maybe 10 minutes to set up while using resources we already had (bookbags, a hat, and an old pair of headphones). 

We're exploring air, too. We blew paint through straws and talked about how the letter "P" makes a puff of air on our hands. Tomorrow, we're going to create boats from styrofoam and paper and set them afloat in the water table. 

We have a long weekend this week, so I'll update and share once I get the unit plan up on TpT and TeachersNotebook.  I should be able to have some great pictures for you then, too.

Reach for the stars!


Friday, March 28, 2014

Post Number 50! Let's Celebrate with Rainbows!

50 posts already!  This blog has grown a bit since the first post and I hope it will keep growing. Thanks for all your support! 

So it's been a busy week! My last post talked about teamwork. We continued rainbows this week and had a few surprises.

My favorite part of the week was making the Cloud in a Bottle. I got this fabulous idea from Pinterest and we ended up using it for 3 days straight in order to let as many children try it as possible. If you've never done it before, try it! Just put shaving cream on top of water in a jar (closely supervised) and let children drop watercolors onto the shaving cream. It's a great way to talk about clouds and why it rains. We had a limited number of pipettes, so I'll have to make sure I have more next time. It was a great way to strengthen fine motor skills by squeezing the dropper. When they were done, the children used their scientific skills to observe the jar and record (draw) what they saw. Some pictures are below:

Wednesday, we were visited by Dina from the Incredible Years program. She talked about working together and we paired the children up to put a puzzle together according to skill level, strong skilled with weak-skilled. I was really proud of the way the children helped each other. Some of the children I was worried about were encouraged by their teammate and did a fantastic job sharing and working together. 

Yesterday, we had an unexpected writing activity.  We read "I am a Rainbow" by Dolly Parton, which is about various feelings using colors of the rainbow.  When we were done, one child commented that the color orange is missing from the book. We had a short discussion about what "orange" would feel like and wrote our own verses to it. I wrote the responses down. I wish I'd had time to let them illustrate it, but it was time to go out. 

Some of my favorites:
"I feel orange when my mom plays ropes and ladders with me."
"I feel orange when my mom gives me Raffi."
"I feel green because I'm happy."
"I feel orange when I play with R."
"I feel green when I play Skylanders and Swampforce." 

Today we read "It Looks Like Spilt Milk", which is about seeing different shapes in clouds.
Since it was rainy out today, the children mixed white, black, and grey paint and made clouds out of squish art. They dictated to us what they looked like. When they're dry, we're going to put them in a class book with the same cover as "Spilt Milk." I'll show you some pictures when it's done!

Whew! Next week, I'll be on vacation. Well-earned, if you read regularly. When I come back, it's time to talk about transportation! We're spending two weeks on it so it should give us a chance to really study it and see how everything works.

What will you be working on this week? Let me know in the comments! 

Monday, March 24, 2014

There's no "i" in "team," but there are an "m" and an "e"

First, an exciting announcement:

I've been accepted into the Master's of Education program at UNC Chapel Hill!

It's focused on classrooms that include children with disabilities or are in low-income families. I can't wait to share everything I'm learning with you!  Of course this also means my posts might become more sporadic starting in May and they might be shorter, but they will still be uplifting. Make sure you follow me so you're in the loop! Email signups are at the bottom of the page.

We've been talking a lot about teamwork lately in our classroom, but it can be hard to know where to start.  I've had a lot of help from the IY Dina program , where the class spent two days focusing on how to work in teams. First, they worked together to build according to a model, and then something more freeform the next day.  In between days, we encourage teamwork in the centers.

Most of the kids show teamwork in one way or another; they've had almost a year to make friends and learn how to play with each other.  Of course, there are always some that need a little bit of help.  It's amazing to see the other students step up in this area.  I've noticed several times where a child has had trouble and another child was already helping them when I walked over. It can be easy to guide children who are fighting over toys to work together on it instead; when they do, they learn problem-solving skills and the good feeling that working together brings.

Saturday, March 8, 2014


It's Dr. Seuss week this week and I have a great freebie in Spanish and English on TeachersPayTeachers! I'm hoping it will inspire parents to read with their kids; I'll let you know next week. We got off schedule this week due to snow and an ice storm that knocked out power in my town and the ones surrounding it, so hopefully next week I'll have some great items to share as we make books and rhymes. I'll also share some actual pictures of the Pets.

The last two weeks have been dedicated to Pets. A lot of the children were talking about what they have at home and one just got a new puppy. Perfect!

We made a chart we made of animals that we thought would make good pets and bad pets. I drew a line down the middle. On one side, I wrote "Good" and drew a smiley face; the other was marked "bad" and had a picture of a frowny face. "Snakes" shows up twice, in both columns.  Debate is an amazing tool to jumpstart thought.

Some of these animals showed up as 'good" pets, like the zebra. Jellyfish was a bad pet because of the stingers.
Pic from
After we talked about it, the kids drew in their weekly writing journal a picture of an animal. They told us whether it would be good or bad and why. Some of my favorite responses:
"A shark would be a good pet because you can pet its scaly skin."
"A spider would not be a good pet because it bites."
"A lion would make a good pet because it's nice." (I would love to know what nice lions he's seen!)
One child recreated the chart with happy and sad faces, then drew an animal under each.

What are some ways that you inspire critical thinking in your classroom? Post in the comments below!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Midweek cheer

Hello all,

Sorry I've been neglecting this blog lately.  I've been: working on an IEP for a picky parent. Trying to get my Personal Statement together so I can apply to grad school (2-3 pages single spaced).  Catching up from snow days with parent letters in both English and Spanish. Whew!

So I heard some good advice today and thought I'd share it. It's March, it's Wednesday. Spring isn't here yet and you might be running out of ideas and patience. Don't worry! That's why this blog is here.

Today and the rest of this month, I want you to think of 3 positive things that happened in your classroom and one thing that made you smile.
Here are mine to get you started:

  1. A kid that's normally aggressive wasn't as aggressive today.
  2. A boy that never comes is going to get bus transportation.
  3. The kids were focused after a day out and we got some great work done wit the Handwriting Without Tears program
   One thing that made me smile: A boy that's usually very quiet told me all about a shark movie he watched. It was great to hear the excitement in his voice.

Your turn! Spread the joy in the comments below. And remember:  3 months until summer. You can do it!

Monday, February 24, 2014


Hello, all!

TeachersPayTeachers is having a big sale Feb. 27-28.  As a bonus, lots of teachers (including me) are opting to let you get an additional 20% off of products. Don't be shy; if you don't see something you want or if you want a bundle, just ask.

Click the giant picture below:

Thursday, February 20, 2014

We Got the Blues (and we love it!)

Hello, all!

Well, it's Thursday. 1 more day until Friday. To help you get through, let me introduce you to one of my favorite pieces of music: Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin. Don't be put off by the length; leave it on in the background as you read and browse.

Listen to that soaring clarinet in the beginning. Doesn't it just lift your spirit? Make you feel just a little bit more relaxed and happy? As the music gets faster, doesn't it also increase your mood? 

Tonight's Presentation

This week, I introduced the class to jazz in honor Black History Month. I don't do a lot for this month; instead I spread multicultural influences through the topics throughout the year. But in February, when the weather's dreary, it's time for a boost.

By the way, if you want to see a complete set of ideas for jazz or just music in general, you can go here

A Short Musical History Lesson 

You may think you don't like jazz; in fact, it influenced modern music. Let's take an example: Justin Beiber. I hate his music, but he says he was influenced by Stevie Wonder. His influences? Ray Charles. His? Blues, gospel, and jazz, including Nat King Cole. Wonder was born in 1930, so he would have been 9 when Benny Goodman was popular and 12 when Rhapsody in Blue was commissioned for a third time. 
Then you have Jerry Lee Lewis, who listened to gospel growing up.
What were you listening to when you were 9? 
Do your own experiment: how far back can you trace your favorite modern artist? 

On With the Show!

So how did the children do with jazz? They loved it! I pulled out the laptop during circle. After I had them guess what instrument was on a flash card, I pulled up videos of Neal Peart, Benny Goodman, Santana, and Thelonious Monk. I pointed out different instruments as they used them and challenged them to listen for them.
After they were done, we did music BINGO. 
*One little boy warmed my heart. He's hardly ever here, but when he is, he tries so hard and picks up on things quickly. He's currently in speech therapy. He was one of the first to pick up on instrument names and did extremely well at BINGO!*

Earlier this week, we did art to music. A blue collage to Rhapsody in Blue with fabric, paper, yarn, pencils, and crayons. Here are some pictures:

I usually don't like ditto sheets, but I found this great puzzle mural at the dollar store and decided it would be great for cooperation and teamwork:

I love the distinct style each child brings!

Tomorrow, we're looking at our favorite songs on sheet music. We'll be focusing on the rhythm and finding the rhythm in our names. The students will be learning syllabication, directionality, one-to-one correspondence, counting, and even some division! That's a lot of skills for "Old MacDonald."  I put the links on my Pinterest page under "Literacy."
After that, the kids will get music notes (quarter and eighth) and they can create their own rhythm. 


To top it off, the kids reached their class reward (with a little extra encouragement and rewards from me) so they got to bring in a favorite CD this week. We've had Willy Wonka, Bob Marley, Jesus Loves Me, and traditional kids' songs. 
One kid didn't bring in a CD, but he wanted me to play "Cum On Feel the Noize" by Quiet Riot. I played him KISS' "Rock and Roll All Night" instead.
Next week, if the kids are still interested, we might extend music a little. I have the feeling that even if we move on, we'll still talk about it against the backdrop of the topic. 


How do you celebrate music in the classroom?

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Red Letter Day

Hello all,

Valentine's Day is one of my favorite holidays to share with the kids. Recently I looked through my sensory table resources and saw an idea for a monochromatic sensory bin. Nothing groundbreaking, to be sure, but I spiced it up a little bit and thought I'd share.

Sensory tables are great for exploration, but my class is very task-oriented. Some children simply will not stay in a center if my assistants and I don't guide them a little and say, "Why don't you try...?"  So when I saw this idea, I added lots and lots of different red materials from around the classroom: shredded crinkle paper, fabric of different textures, tissue paper, construction paper, shiny crinkle stuff. This is what it looks like:

 I knew this wouldn't be enough for my kids, so I added letters, shapes, and any red object I could find. Then I made this:

I'm quite proud of it. It's laminated so as they find the items, they can cross them off with a dry erase marker. Math, literacy, persistence, and sensory all rolled into one! Here's one boy testing the concept:

He was so engrossed, he didn't want to transition to the other classroom.


What do you do for Valentine's Day?

Until next time,

Amy Latta

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Mythical Magic

I love having a flexible curriculum! If you're ever stuck for ideas, just ask your class what they want to learn about.
Mine said "monsters."
We had just finished up our Ocean topic, so my first thought was "Sea monsters." Then I started brainstorming. Obviously, we couldn't talk about zombies or real monsters, but we could talk about mythical animals. We had a lot of fun, even with some snow days. You can view my lesson packet here soon for the full set of ideas.

It really is amazing what can happen with a great book. Here are some books we read and the ideas they inspired:

Cock-a-Doodle Moo: a Mixed-Up Menagerie 

This book introduces the children to some classic mythical beasts: gryphon, hippocampus, and a few other mixtures of animals. It then went on to combine animals in new ways.  The children loved the pictures and silly names.
The next day during circle time, I reviewed the book and talked about how they came up with names. Then, they got to make their own. I gave them heads and bodies from magazines and they creations they came up with hilarious! Some of them even came up with great names for them. I think my favorite was "Cat Monkey Bomb." Sorry, I didn't get any pictures of them.

Where the Giants Hide

Some of the children got philosophical yesterday. We had been reading this book, which talks about reality and imagination . I wish the other children had not been so antsy; we were done with the book and they wanted to go outside. Two of the children got into an argument about what is real and what isn't. I asked, "How do you know?" One of them said, "You can't see it!" I said, "You've never seen my house. I could live in a box." "NOOoo!" they chorused. The other child said, "Well dragons are real to me!"  I guess that settles that.

The Boy Who Cried Bigfoot

This is a funny take on a classic tale. We carried that discussion over into the next day, when we talked about unsolved mysteries. I got some great gasps that day. Inspired by a giant Kraken I saw on Pinterest, we made our own giant sea monster.

Giant sea monster! It ended up being about 10 feet long. Some children drew a monster instead, so we gave it friends. The head is on the right and the tail is on the left.

Outside Over There

Banned book bonus! It also inspired the classic 80s movie Labyrinth. My kids liked it well enough that they remembered what would happen the second time we read it. They liked pointing out small details in the pictures.  

We also created some great art:

Making themselves into monsters

Chinese Dragon after reading "The Seven Chinese Sisters"

Have you ever had a book inspire you and your students? Please share in the comments section.

Until next time!

--Amy Latta

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Pursuing Wonder

The name of this blog is now "Pursuing Wonder." I think it gives a better sense of what my classroom and this blog is all about. Make sure to update your feeds!

Legos for Girls

Hello, all!

We had a few days out because of snow last week, so next week, I'll post some great activities we've been doing involving mythical creatures.

Today I wanted to share this article from Kotaku I came across:
"LEGO Gets Told Off by a 7-Year-Old Girl"

How are the Legos set up in your classroom?  Our Block center happens to be far away from Dramatic Play, but I'll probably change that next year and put them together.  I do, however, keep a small box of blocks in our Dramatic Play section and the girls like playing with them just as much as the boys. They're not pink and purple, but bright primary colors that all children like.  We also have a box of giant legos we pull out and dump on the floor at least once a week. 

There's lots of research that says that girls in general are behind in science and math careers. Building with blocks helps build spatial skills, fine motor skills, and social skills like teamwork.

Do the girls in your class play with blocks? How can you encourage them?

Until next time,

Amy Latta

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


I'm having a sale! Go to TeachersPayTeachers and celebrate with me.

Click the links above or this big shiny button below.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

"We Need to Go Deeper"

Hello fellow teachers!

Let's stop for a second and admit that we live in a fast-paced world. (If this isn't true for you, bear with me for a minute. Also, please share your secret in the comments) If you're a parent, you rush to get the kids up in time for school. You rush to work in the morning.  You rush to meet deadlines at work, however big or small. You rush home and maybe rush your children off to karate or dance or sports.
Is it any wonder that our classroom feels rushed sometimes?  You may be rushed right now.
Take a minute. Fold your arms up like a pretzel and literally unwind as you breathe out. Close your eyes and think of something that makes you happy while you breathe in and out, slowly. Here, have a kitten.

There. Better?  Good.

There are lots of great activities out there for whatever your theme may be.  The problem with many of them, and I've been guilty of this too, is that they only last a week.  Even theme books that have each month organized by topic are broken down into weekly themes.  You spend a week on caring for babies and the next week, you've moved on to something else. Are some of the children still interested? Too bad. Now you're doing dinosaurs because some of the girls said they like dinosaurs.

Rush rush rush. Rush to centers, rush to lunch, rush to get home. Rush through themes.

Sound familiar?  So what can we do about it?

The answer is simple: slow down.
 I recently got some materials about connecting Preschool to Kindergarten. One of the big ideas from it is that children are required to do a lot in Kindergarten but what teachers really want to see is children who know how to think and be independent.

Believe me, I was skeptical. Aren't we supposed to give these kids a good foundation? Don't we have to focus on helping them learn their letters and being able to count to 20? Don't we have to build on the children's interests constantly? The state Foundations say...

Trust me, I know.  Look, forget about Foundations and Common Core and Teacher Standards for a minute. You're in this job for the kids.

What the kids need to learn most is how to learn. Think about your favorite teachers. Did they give you facts or did they give you tools?  Did they cram information down your throat as they tried to make things fun by saying, "But the rest of the class is interested?" Or did they say, "I see you have some questions. How are you going to answer them?"

Two weeks ago, my class started a unit on animals.  We made a list of animals we wanted to learn about. I modeled questions and as children naturally asked questions through the day, I wrote them down.
Sorry, I wrote on the other side before I took a picture of it. You can see the animal I drew along with types of animals and some rough sketches inside. The questions I modeled are on the bottom; theirs are on the sides.

I asked, "What animals have we learned about so far?"
"What can you tell me about them?" This led into
the discussion about gills and breathing underwater.

Last week and this week, we're finding out the answers to those questions. If you look at the chart, you'll notice that lots of the animals live in the ocean so this week we extended that and started focusing on animals that live in the ocean.  Now, I still don't have everything perfect. But the discussion has been carried over.  This week I felt that some real learning has taken place.

Day 1 of a 2-day project: painting a watercolor ocean while
listening to Handel's "Water Music"
I've had kids start writing about ocean animals. I made a book that I wouldn't have had time to make otherwise. We had children use big words like "camouflage" and "mammal." We looked at gills and had a discussion about animals that breathe underwater for ten minutes. The best part of that is that it was led by the kids. It helped that I had the laptop for instant research and gratification.

Part 2: creating and cutting animals for their ocean. You can see
a purple smiling fish on the left.

Last week, I realized something: I've had time to breathe.  My center toys are staying out longer. I'm slowly adding more pictures because now we have time.  My biggest worry was that the kids would no longer be interested, but they've been diving into it right there with me, getting more excited about it.
One of the kids decided to teach the class about the whale poster on the wall. He was asking questions to them.

Not every child is interested in the theme, and that's ok.  Because these past few weeks, my focus has been on skills that I wanted the children to learn.  Of course they've always been there, but they've been closely tied to the theme; this week, my objectives are more general. Observe and record. Question.
Making animals from shapes. I wish I could show you his face; he was so proud when he made one!

I went to school to be an elementary teacher, where the focus was on what students needed to learn. Themes were secondary and only there to help the children learn the material in an interesting way.
I used to think that preschool was completely different but as I've had time to prepare more materials this week and focus less on "activities," I realize they're not so different after all.
I provided paper, watercolors, and glitter. They made a beach.

As for the NC Foundations, we've covered them. Explore. Question. Write for various purposes. Research. Observe. Learn letters and phonics skills. Use technology.

Of course you know all this, but it can get easy to get bogged down in the rush.

So, again, I remind you.  Breathe.  Relax.  Play. Explore. And the learning will come.