Sunday, July 23, 2017

Kindergarten... Let them be little.

Let me tell you about my dad.  He was a wonderful man that raised a family of 6 in a small town in the midwest.  As a young man, before he married my mother, he was in the army, assigned to a special "top secret' photography unit during the Korean War.  After his military duty ended, he married my mother, started a full time civilian job, and began his family.  He had many hobbies: photography, collecting cameras, woodworking, camping, and attending auctions were just a few.  He was incredibly intelligent, and as a child and young adult I sincerely thought that there was nothing that he couldn't do.  As a seasoned adult, I know that there was almost nothing that he couldn't do. He was an honest, hard working, law abiding, contributing citizen that raised 6 children who are also hardworking, honest, law abiding, and contributing. He worked hard so that each of his 6 children could have a college education. He passed away a few years ago after having lived a marvelous life filled with all the things that he loved, leaving behind 6 grown children, and many grand-children, who were blessed to have been taught by his example.

Not long after he died, I found his kindergarten report card among some of things, and being the kindergarten teacher that I am, you would have thought I found gold! 
Image result for gold clipart
 As I looked at his report card, and saw the things that he learned during his kindergarten year, and thought about the kind of man he was, it made me wonder if what we are teaching in kindergarten classrooms in 2017 is so much better.

I look at the men of his generation.  The man I described above is the norm for my dad and his friends.  They weren't learning to subitize, or to read CVCe words, or writing in complete sentences beginning with a capital and ending with appropriate punctuation in kindergarten.  They were learning to keep clean, and be polite, and respect others, and find original ways of doing things. They were allowed to be young, to play, to grow, and to mature.

And yet they grew and matured into one of the greatest generations ever.  It just made me think.  It made me think that this year, in my classroom, I will teach kids how to subitize.  I will teach them how to read CVCe words, and all kinds of other words.  I will teach them how to write sentences so that they can later write personal narratives.  I will teach them all that, and more.  But I will also let them play.  And I will encourage them to treat each other respectfully, and to be polite, and to find original ways of doing things. I will let them be little.  Because having another generation of young men (and women) like my dad would be a great thing.


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Classroom Birthday Celebrations

I would really love to get into my classroom and start getting things ready for the new school year.  I hope I'm not sounding too nerdy when I say that setting up my classroom is so much FUN!   I would tinker away in my room all summer long if they'd let me!  Cleaning schedules are keeping me out of my room for now, so I'm doing the next best thing....getting things prepped and ready at home for my new group of littles!

My latest project has been to update my classroom birthday goodies.  Kindergarten birthdays are something special!  Like all teachers, I like to recognize my littles on their special days.  On the morning that we are celebrating a birthday, I leave a favorite candy, a card from the teacher, and a crazy straw balloon at the little's seat.  Here's what they see!!

During our morning calendar time, we recognize the birthday while we're singing our song about the date, adding in a line about the birthday.
Me: Today is Monday
Littles: (Today is Monday)
Me:  April 8
Littles: (April 8)
Me:  2017
Littles:  (2017)
Me:  It is Andy's birthday
Littles  (It is Andy's birthday)
Me:  That's the date
Litles: (That's the date!)

After we sing, I give the little his "It's my birthday badge".  I used to use stickers, but those would be lost by our morning recess, so I've gone to these necklaces instead.  They generally make it home at the end of the day.   (I do have the littles take them off when we go our for recess for safety reasons. I don't want them to get caught on anything!)

At snack time in the afternoon, we sing the traditional birthday song to our little friend, and then (because we are a private school and we can) add a second verse:
"God's Blessings on you,
God's Blessings on you!
God's Blessings on Andy.
God's Blessings on you."
The littles sprinkle blessings with their fingers while they are singing and it never fails to melt my heart.  :)

At then end of the day, I send home the Classroom Birthday Bag with the birthday friend.  The birthday bag is a simple canvas bag that I stock with a few books about birthdays, and a Classroom Birthday Book.  The littles take the bag home, share a few stories with their families, add a page to our book, and then return the bag on the following day.  At our morning meeting the next day, we read the newest  page in our Classroom Birthday Book!

The littles love the traditions, and it'e an easy way for me to make sure each special day is recognized  and not lost in the busy-ness of a kindergarten day.

How do you celebrate birthdays?  I'd love to hear!

If you are interested in this Classroom Birthday Pack, it's available in my tpt store.  It contains birthday badges, birthday bag tag, classroom birthday book and pages, balloons for crazystraws,, birthday cards, and ice cream cones and scoops to to graph birthdays on the wall. It's easy, and it can  be printed year after year for your class of sweet littles.  :)


Thursday, July 6, 2017

Watch Them Grow With a Focus Wall!

"Focus Walls are displays to use in your classroom to show the skills you are currently focusing on. They are to be used as tools in your classroom."

I love my focus wall.  It started many years ago in my kindergarten classroom as just a cute way to display our letter, number, and shape of the week.  Now, it's an integral part of my classroom, actively used on a daily basis, to help my students retain what they're learning.  It's a form of spiral review.  What is spiral review?  Spiral Review happens when skills that have already been taught are re-visited and practiced regularly throughout the school year, and in my's every day with my focus wall!  Why is Spiral Review (and my focus wall) so important to my students?  The daily review offered by the active focus wall gives my students a quick reminder each morning of many of the important skills, concepts, and standards that have been introduced during the school year so that they will have a strong foundation for future learning.  It also provides for an opportunity to strengthen skills that may not have been mastered completely by a student the first time they were introduced and practice. Research shows that the average student needs four to fourteen repetitions to learn a new skill. Our fragile learners need forty or more repetitions!  In short, it keeps all the things we're learning actively swirling around in tiny little minds!

When the school year begins, my focus wall is very simple! We start by just reviewing our letters, numbers, shapes, and following words from left to right.  

During the first quarter, as we learn more things, we add more things!  Next, I'll add 3-D shapes, counting by 1's, sight words, and clapping syllables. When the littles are ready, I'll add simple cvc words, counting by 10's or 5's, and building our own sentences, complete with space people, before we follow those sentences from left to right.  

I can change what I want to review easily, and I do change things frequently.  I have my focus wall on a magnetic chalkboard (old school, I know, but it works!) and I use heavy clip magnets, wax clips,  and sticky tack to change things out easily.

My focus wall takes about 10-15 (longer at the end of the school year) minutes each day, and it's rapid, explicit, and direct.  We do it as a group, and I just zip right through it, reviewing each skill on the wall.  Once school starts, I can show you a video of how we use it, but for now you'll have to use your imagination!  It takes a little time each morning, but it is soooo worth it in the amount of learning that happens.  I love to watch these kiddos grow!   
Other things to know about my focus wall:  I use my reading series alphabet cards and sight word cards under the letter and word headings, I use picture cards for clapping syllables from my reading series. I use number cards from my math series.  I thought about making cute cards to match my theme, but it's so important for my little learners to have continuity in what they're seeing and learning, so I chose to use the same cards/keywords/etc throughout my day.  I DID make shape cards (both simple and 3-D) and word cards for use in making sentences.  
 If you would like to purchase my "Watch Me Grow Focus Wall", it's available in my Teacher's Pay Store here.  If you would like a freebie of the heading banner, click here!

Do you have a focus wall?  Tell me about it comments! 


Friday, June 30, 2017

Randomly Selecting Students

Pick Me Sticks!

We all have them.  Those two or three littles that ALWAYS raise their hands to answer every question or volunteer for every opportunity.  It's easy to get distracted by those eagerly waving hands and  the "oooh oooh oooh" noises!  We also all know that everyone needs a turn to participate in kindergarten for so many reasons.    My favorite way to randomly call on students is to use "PICK ME!" sticks in my classroom.  

To make your own, you need: popsicle sticks, a plastic container with a lid, tall enough to hold your sticks (I used a 16 oz peanut butter jar),  some spray paint, painters tape, clear packing tape, and a permanent marker.

Remove the label from the container and clean the container very well.  If you would like to use my label, you can print it here for free.  Remember this was made to fit the container shown above, so it may not fit exactly if you're using a different size of container.   Attach the label to the container using clear packing tape.  Your container is done!

To make the sticks, lay the amount you need for your class side by side, across a piece of cardboard (or inside a box favorite way to spray paint!)  Place a long piece of painters tape across all of the sticks like this:

Spray paint one end of the sticks, being careful not to let paint spray down to the other end.  Let the sticks dry, then turn them over and do the same thing,  Let the second side dry, and you will have sticks that are plain on one end, colored on the other.

Label each stick with a child's name.  You can write directly on the stick if you'd like. If you want to reuse them each year (because who wants to re-invent the wheel each year!), place a small paper label on the stick and then write the name on that.  You can replace the label each year, instead of making new sticks.  I always throw a good listener or two in the jar to keep the littles on their toes!

Place your sticks in the jar, colored end up.  When you need to call on a student, pull out a stick and read the name. Place the stick back in the jar, colored end down.  When all the sticks are colored end down, you know everyone's had a turn.   It's like magic!  They wait so intently to see whose name is on the stick.  And there's no more  "I never get a turn!" because they all know that they will get a turn.

How do you randomly choose students in your classroom?  Let me know in the comments section.


Monday, June 26, 2017

What to do when they're just not recognizing letters!

First Aid for Fragile Learners: Alphabet

I love summer-time learning opportunities!  Today, my generous principal sent me to an Orton Gillingham Workshop that I've been wanting to attend forever!  If you've never heard of Orton Gillingham, it's a multi-sensory approach to teaching language.  I've picked up bits and pieces of the approach over the years, and I'm excited to learn more about the approach and apply what I learn to my classroom.
Image result for orton gillingham image 

Today's workshop made me think of a resource that I created a few years ago for use in my own classroom.  It is a simple, direct, multi-sensory resource  to use with my own littles.  (It's NOT Orton-Gillingham, but it does have that multi-sensory connection!)  I have used it every year since with my most fragile learners. 

 I created the resource several years ago when I had a class that had a small group of littles that just couldn't grasp alphabet recognition, and we all know that it's impossible to learn all that we need to learn in kindergarten until that standard is mastered!  
It's not fancy or complicated or even super "cute."  It is direct, simple, and explicit teaching of the names of the alphabet.  I've been using ever since with any of my fragile learners who struggle with alphabet recognition.

Here are some pictures of some of the "tactile" things that I do with these littles.  They use simple word cards as a visual clue, and then trace the letters in something they can feel while they say the name of the letter.  Their brains get the information three ways..visually, as they look as the card, orally as they say the name, and kinesthetically, as they feel it!  Plus, they have fun doing it!

This little was using salt in a simple plastic plate.  Cheap and effective!

 This little liked to use the colored sand in the pencil box.  Usually, I place the card, standing up, in the lid of the box.  These plastic boxes are less than a dollar at Wal-mart right now!  I got the bag of green colored sand at Home Depot.

...and a fan favorite...Shaving cream!  I have a large plastic tray that I bought at Dollar Tree, and I just put in a few squirts of shaving cream and we're off and learning!

I also like to use plastic embroidery canvas for my fragile littles to write letters as they they are saying them.  It's another fun, tactile way to get that alphabet information to the brain!  I bought my plastic canvas as Micheal's for less than a dollar a sheet, and they come in lots of fun colors!
plastic embroidery canvas,
 I have letters printed lighty that I place on the canvas, and  I have my littles pick three crayons.  I usually use old crayons, because I encourage the littles to press  hard, and I don't want to break their new ones!

As we say the name of the letter, I have them trace the letters, one time with each color.  They are saying it, seeing it, and feeling it!  After they've traced three times, they can "feel" the letter that they've written with crayon,  It's bumpy!  They love it!  (And I love the learning!)  I use this also with sight words later in the school year.

If you have a student who could benefit from this, check it out here:First Aid for Fragile Learners, Alphabet Edition

First Aid for Fragile Learners:  Alphabet Edition
It includes alphabet cards with pictures, tracing sheets for the plastic canvas, optional writing paper, an alphabet book, fluency sheets, and an alphabet chart. 

Thanks for stopping by!  

Friday, June 23, 2017

Write the Room: a Work Station Activity (and a freebie!)

My littles love, love, love our Write the Room station during our work station time.  There's something about giving a child a cliipboard and a pencil and the freedom to walk around the room that just makes everything right with the world.  (To see how I run my work stations, click here .)

I generally have a "Write the Room" Station once a week for my littles.  When I start the school year, the first one I use is my "ABC Write the Room". This activity can be used two ways, but I start off with the simplest way during those first few weeks.  To use the activity, I hang up the first five (or so) cards around the room, arm each little with a pencil, a clipboard, and and answer sheet, and they're off!!  

Here are some examples of the alphabet cards.

                        And here's an answer sheet!

As they roam the room, the littles search the walls for the picture on the answer sheet.  When they find it, they write the letter they see.  And they feel awesome and soooo grown up!!!

I use the ABC Write the Room Station for the first full month of school, just changing out the letters on the wall and the answer sheets.  By the end of the month, all the little have practiced each letter of the alphabet, and they are PROS at "Write the Room!"

If you would like a copy of the "ABC Write the Room" Activity, click here )

To try a freebie "Family Write the Room" Activity,
check my free download here)

Do you use "Write the Room" in your classroom?  Tell me about it in comments!


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Station Time and Small Groups

My Work Station time is my favorite way to differentiate learning during my language block each day, and it's really one of my favorite times with my littles. 
 There are so many ways to do learning stations, and after quite a few years of teaching, I've finally figured out the way that works perfectly for me. I just recently made a new station board and a few things that I use to run and organize my station time, and I'm so excited to share it with you!

First, a little background about my station time.  I have stations every day for an hour, usually in the morning because that's when my littles are the most ready to learn.  They rotate through 4 stations (although I can easily change the number of stations on days that my schedule might not allow for a full hour!)  EVERY day, one of the four stations is Teacher Time.  This is where I do direct teaching with small groups.  I love the flexibility of this, and the ability to really tailor each 15 minutes to the small group of littles that I'm working with.  In addition to Teacher Time, the littles rotate through 3 other stations to practice whatever skills/standards we're working on.  Some of the stations that they may be working on include:  iPad/computer station, seatwork, sight words, phonics, puzzles, games, read to self, pocket chart, write the room, and craft.  Plus, it's super easy to just print out a new tag if there's something else I want to add!  :)

Here's a picture of my station board in action. (The clipart that I used is from  This site has THE most adorable, royalty free clipart for use by teachers.  Love, love. love!)

I change the names in each group frequently.  The white rectangle stays there on the station board, but the names are on with sticky tack!   I love using ESGI (check it out if you haven't heard of it!)
and I print my names from the "classroom management tools."

I change the stations every day, which sounds overwhelming, but it's really not hard.  It's easy to physically change the board (check out my cute clips!) and most of the activities that I choose take very little prep.  

I have a binder that includes templates to plan Teacher Time for each day of the week, a place to jot down notes about what each group/child is ready to learn next, places to record mastery of  ELA standards, and places to organize groups.  A note about my groups:  they are fluid, and they change dependent on the individual needs of each child.  I gave my groups animal symbols, and I was careful not to choose animals that would somehow convey the old-fashioned notions of a low, medium, and high group.

Coming soon:  I'll share some of the station activities that keep my littles learning, how/what I teach in that 15 minute teacher time, and what's in my binder!.

How do you organize your station time?  I'd love to hear from you!