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 (At the time of this post, it's fallen off and been replaced by contact paper.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


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