Monday, March 31, 2014

Let's talk about guidance...

I've spent the last hour on Pinterest looking for the perfect quote to go along with this post, or at least, that's what I told myself I was doing. I'm pretty sure that what I was really doing was putting off writing this.  I've been thinking about this post for the last week, and I'm still not sure what I want to say, or how I want to say it, but I will get the thoughts out of my head, I promise.

Classroom management. Those are two words that can strike fear into even the most seasoned teacher, because the way that you manage your classroom works for you, but there are still those who will judge. Teachers can be harsh on each other! That's the thing about teaching, there are so many ways to do it, and each theory, philosophy, and personal preference is effective for a different reason.  What works for one teacher isn't always going to work for another, because we have different personalities, different life experiences, and different students.

I often feel like I am finding new classroom management strategies for each group of students that I work with. It can be like running on a hamster wheel, you keep going forward, but you don't ever really get anywhere.  Some groups of students are wonderful, and others make me want to pull my hair out, at least until I figure out what works best for them.

So why has this been on my mind? Let's just say that it has been a really long winter. I have been in my classroom with my kiddos from 9 in the morning until 6 at night all winter long.  We are all going stir crazy, myself included.  My #1 classroom management plan relies on positive reinforcement, I am constantly trying to be appreciative for all of the little things that my students do well, I want to catch them being good friends and good helpers and recognize these qualities.  I try so hard to focus on the positive and show them that they are wonderful little people who have so much to offer.

Unfortunately, last week, I realized that I hadn't been trying so hard.  I've let everything going on in my life turn me into a grumpy teacher.  Last week broke me.  I'm not sure if it was just a culmination of everything that I've been struggling with, both personally and professionally, or the recognition that I felt like I was trapped in my classroom, but I honestly just broke down and cried, a lot.  It's no wonder that my kiddos have been so irritable, because I've been irritable.  It shouldn't surprise me that they don't want to do any work, because I don't want to do any work.

I'm not saying that I think I'm a bad teacher, I'm just saying that I'm human.  I let my moodiness take over the classroom, and now that I recognize it, I have to figure out how to change it.  Luckily, the weather seems to be working in my favor. I am one of those people who really feels happier in the sunshine, I can feel it soaking into my skin.  I am so looking forward to getting outside with my class, digging for worms, exploring new places we can walk to, chasing them around the playground until I'm out of breath.

As for all of those other things that are going on in my life, I can't get rid of them, but I can find the old me, the one who used to see the good in every single situation.  I have a Pinterest Board for quotes, it's called words to live by, and I do live by these words. I just need to spend more time reminding myself of them!

Thank you for letting me vent! I know it was a long an winding rant, but I honestly feel so much better, and part of me knows that I am not the only teacher who has ever felt this way, so if you can sympathize please let me know!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Friday Freebies

Who doesn't love Friday?! Seriously, I LOVE Fridays! In honor of the awesomeness that is the weekend I am making every Friday officially Freebie Friday here at Preschool Ponderings.  Some weeks I will share freebies that I have created, while others will feature amazing freebies from all over Teachers Pay Teachers.

I'm going to start it off with the most popular freebie in my own TPT store, my Preschool Classroom Labels. These are great for promoting literacy in the classroom, and children can be active participants in helping you to label all of the items that they know. If you love these as much as I do, and have a passion for things that are matchy-matchy (like me) then you should also check out the larger Classroom Organization Pack for items like center labels, job titles, and organizational signs. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Tape maze!

Oh. My. Goodness.  My students absolutely loved this new game, and it is so easy that we may just make it part of our regular rotation. All you have to do is tear long pieces of masking tape and place them at varying levels across a hallway (if you don't have a hallway I'm sure that you could set up some chairs that would work too).  Then the children have to get through the tape without getting stuck to it.

My kiddos pretended to be spies, they didn't want to get caught by the "laser tape." They rolled underneath some strips, tiptoed over others, and stretched to get over some that they probably should've gone under. This is a great activity to practice balance, coordination, gross motor skills, and self-regulation, which is exactly what we need since we still can't quite get outside to play every day.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

What's in my Writing Center?

Here it is, another installment of "What's in my Writing Center?"

We are really focused on rain and the weather. My kiddos are obsessed with tornadoes, and I am trying to build a foundation for general understanding of the weather through our project work so that they can form a better foundation for what makes tornadoes.  To me, this means giving them the vocabulary to use to talk about weather phenomena. I also love that I can use their interests to attract them to other activities!

Here's what in my Writing Center this week:

Rain Boot Letter Match. This was one of my small group activities last week, but I wanted to make sure that more of my students took the time to explore this concept.  For this activity, students have to match the blue lowercase letter boots with the corresponding yellow uppercase letter boots.  It's a simple activity, but there are a lot of letters to sift through, so not only are the children practicing letter recognition, they are also working through frustration and persistence. For younger students I would only put out a few of these matches, switching them each day.

Short a CVC words. This is an extension of the -at family mat that I had out last week.  My students loved that they were able to create and read these words on their own, and they flew through the -at family so fast that I put out all of the short a word families for this week. This way they can try a different mat each day, and continue building that confidence!

Rainy Day vocabulary cards.  The weather has begun to warm up (and by warm I mean 37 degrees ass opposed to the mid twenties), and for us this usually means rain instead of snow.  I put out these vocab cards for the children to practice with because we will certainly be using these words a lot.

Gel Bags and Letter Cards.  My kids love these gel bags, I don't know if it's the colors, or the way they feel, but they are always a hit.  I've made them a few different ways, these are filled with hair gel and taped across the top for extra durability.  When I use these with younger kids I like to use corn syrup inside so that if they do end up chewing on them, its not a big deal. I put these out with letter cards and showed my students how to flatten the bags over the cards so that they can "write" the letters in the gel with their finger.

What's in your Writing Center this week? I'd love to hear from you!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

What's in my Math Center

This is the first installment of "What's in my Math Center"! Can you tell I'm just a little excited about this post?! When I was growing up I HATED math. I was not good at it, and it was not fun for me.  Because of my own personal experiences with math, I have vowed to make sure that math is fun for my students.  I do everything that I can to make sure that the activities I have available in my math center are hands-on and really engaging, so that my kiddos can see what numbers and quantities look like, and so that they have every opportunity to build real, concrete, understanding of math concepts, which will give them a great foundation when they start elementary school math and it all becomes a little more concrete. 

Here are the activities that I have in my Math Center this week:

Large Numerals and objects to count.  I LOVE these numbers and I use them all the time (these are old, but I have recreated them here).  They have the corresponding number of dots on them, so even children who are very new to number recognition can create the right quantity because they are able to count the dots as they count out the objects.  As we move into spring our class is really focusing on the weather, so the objects that I added to count are weather images.  These are FREE in my TPT Store!

Color Matching. These are actually paint chips, aren't they fun?! There are two of each color, so students can match the colors, or they can walk around the room with them and see how many things they can find in the classroom that match that specific color. 

Monster Math Dice Game. Who doesn't love cute monsters? This is a really easy dice game that kids of any age can play alone or with a small group.  Children roll the die and count forward that many monsters until they reach the end.  I usually put out a number of mats so that the children can play with as many friends as they wish. I have also printed these mats in a number of different sizes, so that they are easy for all children to use successfully. 

Raindrop Counting Practice. My students are finally starting to recognize their teen numbers, this has been a long process! This activity is one of my favorites for counting, and goes along with their interest in weather.  The children choose a cloud, and they have to count that many raindrops to fall from the cloud.  

Number matching.  These numbers came with a set of scrapbooking letters. I don't have much time to scrapbook any more, so I decided they were better put to use at school.  The children can match the numbers to the shape that they fit in, like a puzzle.

I try really hard to offer a lot of different options, which can be used a number of ways. The last thing that I want is for math to be boring!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Science is art

I've seen this experiment on Pinterest a million times, I actually remember doing this same experiment in my 8th grade science class. I could tell you a lot of things about that class, but I couldn't tell you why we did this experiment.

The idea is simple, you pour milk in a shallow bowl and drop food coloring into the milk, then use a toothpick dipped in dish soap to swirl the colors.  The concept that the experiment teaches is surface tension, and the idea that the soap glides through the milk, swirling the colors without actually mixing them. This was all over my kiddos' heads, but they loved it all the same.

We mix colors a lot, it's pretty much their favorite thing to do, so the fact that these colors didn't mix at first was really cool to them.  They did eventually get some murky colored milk, but they also made some really neat art while exploring scientific concepts!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Announcing a Giveaway!

Hi everyone, I just wanted to let you know that I am participating in a great giveaway.  You can check it out over at Schroeder's Stars, Kristen is celebrating 200 Teachers Pay Teachers followers with over 50 freebies to give away.  The drawing will be done next Sunday, so get over there and sign up, you could win my CVC Word Family Mats!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Don't mind the mess... the children are learning.

We'v all seen that quote right - "Please excuse the mess, the children are learning" (or something of that nature).  This is so true in my classroom.  At home, I am a neat freak; everything has a place, and it should always be in its place unless you are using it.  I learned early on that this does not work in the classroom, nor do I want it to.  Not only do I have far too much to do to worry about each and every item staying in it's correct spot, but children learn best when they experiment, when they use different materials to create new items, or make up games using pieces and parts from different centers.  Clean up time is when we put everything back.

I also love kinesthetic art projects. I have a classroom full of boys, and sitting at the table painting a picture just isn't going to cut it for them, which is fine with me, because other kinds of art projects always turn out so cool!

We had some balloons left from our Leprechaun friend, so I took a leap of faith that my students would be able to handle this, and said "let's paint with them"! Honestly, it was awesome.  They laughed and giggled the entire time, and the end result was so cool.  Yes, it absolutely made a mess. There was paint on the walls, paint on the chairs, and paint in their hair, but that's why it's washable right? If you don't want to clean up the classroom then you absolutely have to try this project outside when the weather gets warmer. We'll definitely be doing it again!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What's in my writing center

While there are no shortage of preschool lessons and activities on Pinterest (Follow me!), sometimes it is harder to find great activities that can stand alone in a center.  I thought I'd start a new feature where I shared what is in each of my classroom centers.  I rotate the materials in each center every two weeks, so these change constantly!

Here is what I have out in my writing center at the moment:

Lowercase letter shape match-up. This is a simple activity that is easily differentiated.  Children who are struggling with their lower case letters simply match up the shapes of the magnet letters with the outlines on the paper - like a puzzle.  Children who have mastered recognizing each letter can make the letter sound as they match each letter to its' outline.  This is also super easy to make, just trace your magnet letters on a large sheet of paper and laminate for durability.

St. Patrick's Day vocabulary cards. St. Patrick's Day was on Monday, and my students are still talking about their experiences trying to catch a Leprechaun.  These cards are great because not only do they help children practice new vocabulary, associating the word with a picture, but they also encourage the children to look at the way the word is spelled. My students love to get out blank paper and write all of these words themselves.  This set also comes with a set of cards that has only the pictures, so the children could make their own set if they want.

St. Patrick's day letter tracing.  These letter tracing sheets are part of the Pre-K Packs from Over the Big Moon. I try to always have some kind of tracing available in my writing center. Even though I don't love work sheets, my students enjoy these because they feel like "big kid homework".  And they love anything that you could possibly do with a dry erase marker!

CVC Word Family mats. My students are just getting to the point where they are able to read these CVC words all by themselves.  THey love these mats because they can easily change out the first letter and create a whole new word.  We started with the -at family, but I am planning on putting out the rest of the short a families next week because they are so good at it.  This is honestly one of my favorite things about teaching. I love to see my students start reading because they get so excited about it!

These are the items that are always available in the writing center - A variety of pencils with a variety of grippers, name cards, fun pens (they would rather use these than pencils, and I'm all for anything that makes writing fun), and crayons.  Of course, I always have paper available too, but I didn't think you needed to see a picture of that.

It doesn't seem like much, but when you consider that I also have daily language arts lessons, and I switch it all often, my students get a lot of experience, with a lot of materials, over a long period of time. Hopefully my ideas will help inspire something new in your own writing center!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Already thinking about next year!

St. Patrick's day is officially over (thank goodness, because I only have one green shirt!) but that doesn't mean you can't plan for next year. I'm part of a great linky party with all kinds of amazing March resources, and tons of activities for St. Patrick's day.  Go check it out at Dr. Clements' Kindergarten and grab some great stuff so that you are prepared for next year!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

I hope that you are having a great day full of good luck and mischief! My students didn't catch anything in their Leprechaun traps, but the Leprechaun did leave us quite the surprise!

We enjoyed the party atmosphere, along with some rainbow chips cookies.  I love this holiday because it gives me the opportunity to let my students just be kids.  I try to take advantage of any opportunity to make things magical, and inspire just a little extra fun. I could go on and on about how many standards we met while building Leprechaun traps, and doing St. Patrick's day themed math and language activities, but sometimes what we really need is a little magic and a little mischief. Enjoy your day! 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Finished Leprechaun Traps!

My students looked forward to building Leprechaun traps all week long. I drew out the process a bit by having them experiment with specific materials, and draw out their plans, but when the time came to actually build the traps, I was still surprised by their intense focus!

I really should have left more time for this activity, they definitely would have used it.  Most of them really did use their drawn plans, referring to them often as they put together different pieces of their traps.  I ended up sacrificing the paper leprechauns from our Juggling Leprechauns counting set, to be used as "decoy Leprechauns" but they put the rest of their traps together independently.

This one has a rainbow and a pot of gold to lure the Leprechaun over, where he will fall into the hidden green bucket. 

This trap is hidden beneath our steps, and has a decoy friendly Leprechaun and fake gold to lure the "real" Leprechaun in.

To be honest with you, I'm still not quite sure how this one was supposed to work, but it had something to do with the Leprechaun getting stuck in a piece of tape...

This trap involves the Leprechaun walking on a tight rope to get to the hidden rainbow, where one of the buckets will fall and capture him. 

This trap was specifically place on our play oven so that "when the Leprechaun falls into jail, his butt will get hot." (Only a 5 year old boy would think of this stuff...).

I think that they turned out really well, and I'm so proud of the critical thinking and creativity that is evident here! We'll see if they catch anything!

Friday, March 14, 2014

St. Patrick's Day Jewelry

I had the best intentions of stocking up on some St. Patrick's day stuff for my dramatic play area when I went to the dollar store a couple of weeks ago, and I did end up buying a few things - some Leprechaun hats and shamrock sunglasses - but what I really wanted were some mardi gras-type necklaces, and call me cheap but I couldn't bring myself to spend $1 on two necklaces.  Anyway (I promise that I really do have a point..) today we made green necklaces to wear on St. Patrick's day.

We use beads often, so I really didn't think that this activity would attract that much attention, but apparently I underestimated it. My kids spent more time doing this one activity than they have doing any other activity all week. It may have been their extreme interest in anything have to do with St. Patrick's day, or the fact that our beads were really the same pasta that we had used in the sensory table last week - with a little twist, or maybe it was just a good day to sit and work on a project. I don't know, but I'll take it!

I colored the pasta to make it festive. If you've never colored pasta before there are a few ways to do it.  I put all of my dry noodles in a gallon size zipper bag, added a little vinegar (i didn't measure it, but it was more than a tablespoon and less than a quarter of a cup, roughly), and a couple drops of food coloring.  I zipped the bag and shook it all up, adding more food coloring until the noodles were the color that I was looking for.  Then I put some paper towels on a tray and spread the pasta out on top of the towels to dry overnight.  The next day they were ready to use. Usually when I make colored pasta I let the kids help me add the food coloring and shake it up, but since I was only making one color, I did all the work, there just weren't enough jobs to go around.  I love the way that these turned out because they are all a slightly different shade.

After the noodles had dried, the kids strung them onto a piece of string, I was ecstatic that they spent as much time, and strung as many beads as they did - usually we get a few beads on the string and call it a day! I thought about making one for myself to wear on St. Patrick's day (I'm having a hard time remembering if I own any green clothing...), but I didn't want to take the chance that the food coloring would come off on my clothes, because that would be my luck!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

To catch a leprechaun...

This morning our little leprechaun friend left us a note - our simple popsicle stick and pipe cleaner traps weren't enough to catch that sneaky Leprechaun, but his note suggested that we make a plan, so that's exactly what we did. We got down to business with some easel paper and brand new markers - because when you have serious business to attend to, you need new markers - and drew out some plans for our next attempt.

The children have the basics down, they are pretty sure that in order to catch a leprechaun they are going to have to lure it with a rainbow and a big pot of gold, but their actual traps are very creative. One involves a pan that will drop down and cover the leprechaun, another uses a decoy leprechaun who will throw the real one in jail, a third requires a giant orange hand to snatch the leprechaun, and one relies on a really big hole that hopefully the leprechaun will fall into while he is distracted by the gold.  This is pretty good stuff coming from a group of 5 year olds.

Here are photos of their drawn plans:

The real work starts tomorrow when we have to try and build all of these... wish me luck and lots of patience!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A little art anyone?

I'm enjoying a snow day at the moment :). This doesn't happen often so I really let myself get into it - slept in late and left my PJs on all day! Since I don't have any Leprechaun trap updates for you, I thought I'd share an art project that we did last week.

My students absolutely loved this one. I got the easel out and watered down some Tempera Paint, then let them use eye dropper to drip-paint.  We did it as a group project, so they built on each other's work - and yes, at the end it was all a lovely shade of brown, but as they worked it was really beautiful! You'll notice that the last photo shows drips that aren't exactly going down, this may have involved some "flinging" of the paint, which left quite the mess, but made for some really great art!