Monday, August 31, 2015

Systems for tracking anecdotal notes

Anecdotal notes are incredibly helpful, they provide evidence that shows which skills children have mastered, and which skills need additional practice.  They also give teachers the opportunity to write down direct quotes from children, which can be insightful, hilarious, and adorable.  Being able to access all of this information when it comes times for conferences is invaluable, and parents love to hear what their children have been up to.

The main issues with anecdotal notes are;

  1. storing and organizing all of those random little notes
  2. remembering to write them in the first place
When it comes to remembering to write them down, I've found that it works best if you can build it into your routine take five minutes each day, or 15 minutes at the end of the week to write down what you've notice, or be sure to keep your notes close by as you work with the children in small groups.  

I've got a couple of different ideas to share with you for keeping your notes organized.  If you want to have access to all of your students' notes in one small file, try this:

I found a cute file folder and lined a bunch of post-its up inside.  I put each child's name on one post it, and i can carry the folder around or pull it out and make a quick note whenever I need to.  The great thing about the post-its is that I can take them out of the folder and stick them on a portfolio page.  The post it can be my reminder of what I want to write in the portfolio for that particular piece of evidence.  

I like this idea, but I wanted something that would let me keep all of the child's important info in one spot, while still helping me organize anecdotal notes, so I put together this:

There is certain student information that I find myself needing constantly - phone numbers, parents names, emails, birth dates.  I like to have all of this at my fingertips so that it is super easy to access.  I also like to be able to constantly remind myself of each child's goals, this helps me keep track of them better, so I put a goal sheet in each folder.  I might laminate the folders so that I can write the goals in with dry erase marker and update them easily.  Then I added a small stack of post-its and a place for the child's photo.  I love these and I think they'll be really helpful, so I made them a freebie for you. Download yours here, and let me know how you plan on keeping track of anecdotal notes this year!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

When Educators believe in each other

Have you seen the TED talk by the amazing Ms. Rita Pierson.  It is powerful.  She puts into words every single reason that most of us became teachers in the first place. This quote from her talk hits me to the core every single time that I read it;

I fully believe that every child needs a person in their corner.  A person who tells them they're worth it, they can be great, and do amazing things.  A self-fulfilling prophecy can be a powerful thing, when you tell someone that they are incredible enough times, they start to believe you. I will give that to any child in a heartbeat.  

The last few months my focus has shifted a little. I've always loved working with teachers, and now I get to do it all the time. I see the same things when I'm working with an educator, when they know that I support them, and believe in them, when I tell them that they are doing wonderful things in their classrooms, they believe it.  As teachers we have so much pressure, we need to live up to parents' expectations and make sure that we are meeting all of the required standards and completing all kinds of assessments to prove that we are being effective.  We could use a little support, so why can't it come from each other?

Lets take care of each other.  Instead of competing with each other to have the cutest bulletin boards or the highest test scores, lets be each others' champions.  Take a minute out of your day to recognize the awesome things that your fellow teachers are doing.  Build each other up and your entire school will benefit.  

This is my challenge to all teachers, lets show each other a little extra love this year!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Ideas for classroom centers

Are you setting up your activity centers and interest areas for a new group of kiddos? Here are some great ideas from previous posts;

For more great ideas, check out my Preschool Pin Boards!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Planning the Classroom Environment

There are some many things to consider when you think about setting up a preschool classroom.  It can be very overwhelming!  I've found that it helps to break that job into a number of small(ish) tasks.

1. Think about your activity centers.  Some centers need specific furniture - a writing center has to be near a table, and a classroom library needs a place to store books.  Other centers work best in specific areas of the classroom - you might want to keep your art center near the tile floor.

2.  Arrange the furniture.  This is my favorite part, I can look at a piece of furniture and know exactly where it will fit.  If you aren't quite as comfortable moving your furniture then draw a picture or two first, and remember, if it doesn't work out you can always keep moving things until it all fits.

3. Add materials to one activity center at a time. Focusing on one small space makes the job feel much easier.  When you work in just one center at a time you can make sure that all of your baskets and bins match and that the materials are easily accessible.  when you feel comfortable with one center, then move on to the next.

4.  Pay attention to the large group areas.  Spend a little extra time in the spaces that your entire class will use together.  Is there enough room for all of your students on your circle time rug? When children are sitting at the lunch tables will there be enough room to walk between the chairs?  These details can be the difference between a classroom that works and one that doesn't.

5.  Make it homey.  Use accessories to make the classroom aesthetically pleasing.  Add attractive pillows to the reading area, use picture frames to hold posters and class photos.  Fill a vase with flowers, or a bowl with decorative globes.  These touches make the classroom cozy and help children feel at home.

6.  Plan space to display student work.  You might not have any to put up just yet, but you will soon! Where will you put it all, and how will you make sure that your students know their work is special?

7.  Now that the physical pieces of the classroom are in place, think about your systems.  Plan for how children will use the bathroom, how you will have snack,  where you will post messages for parents?  These systems are all an important piece of your classroom environment.

Don't feel overwhelmed! Yes, it is a lot to do, but if you break it down into these steps and only let yourself focus on one piece at a time you will feel less stressed while completing this big job.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Friday Freebie - Calendar Practice

I've shared my love for traceable calendars before, so I feel like ABC Helping Hands made this freebie for me! Go download their free year's worth of traceable calendars and follow the link above to see how I use these in my classroom.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Developmentally appropriate ways to teach time

Teaching time is complicated and confusing - how can a number mean one thing when a long hand is on it, but something entirely different when a short hand is pointing to it? It just doesn't make sense, especially not to preschoolers who don't really understand symbolic thinking.

That doesn't mean that you can't use the clock in your classroom.  I am always an advocate for exposing children to concepts so that they feel comfortable with them when it comes time to learn more.  Here are some developmentally appropriate ways to use the clock in your preschool classroom;

Arrange your daily schedule as if it were on a clock - from Miss Nelson's Got the Camera

Make pretend watches with moveable hands - from Nurture store

Make multiple clocks and set them for specific times throughout the day so children can practice matching the location of the hands - from MPM Ideas

Make your clock something that children want to look at by including it in your classroom decor - from J. Alejandra on Pinterest

These are all great ideas for making sure that preschoolers pay attention to the clock, without requiring them to tell time.  These might spark curiosity in exploring different kinds of clocks and what they all mean.  

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Discussing Routines with Preschoolers

Every year my back to school activities include experiences that are designed to help my kiddos get used to our daily routine.  One of the activities that I do with them s to discuss routines, and help them put this idea into perspective by considering the routines that they follow at home.

I give them each the opportunity to tell me what they do when they wake up in the morning - the kinds of things they have to do to get ready for school.  This takes some prompting at first, but after they get going they have pretty good memories, and it's fun to see what their priorities are in the morning.  We also do the same thing for after school, I encourage them to think about the kinds of things they do when they get home, before dinner and after dinner.

Here are some of the things that the children have told me:

I made you a cute printable to write your students' daily routines on (FREEBIE!)

You can download your copy here.

Once the children are able to recognize that they are already following different routines throughout the day, it is much easier for them to understand the school routine, and follow it more regularly. These discussions are also a great way to identify similarities, when one child hears that another likes to watch the same shows or play the same games, they are able to start conversations about these things.  

How do you introduce routines? I'd love to hear your thoughts, feel free to share your own blog posts in the comments!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Using a picture schedule

A picture schedule is a great way to help all of your students anticipate what is coming next, which makes transitions from activity to activity a lot easier.  I created a set of schedule cards that include pictures.  These cards are designed for the preschool classroom, but they also include common activities for elementary school classrooms, so they are great for inclusion classrooms and students who need a little extra support when it comes to the daily schedule.

My favorite thing about this set is that it also includes smaller schedule cards that you can put on a ring for students to carry with them.  They can match the pictures on their rings to the pictures on the schedule cards to prepare for transitions.  The schedule cards also have a lot of blank space on them.  This space is for you to write the time of each activity, and any instructions that the children need to be aware of.

Picture schedules allow children to be a little more independent throughout the day. Instead of asking you "what's next?" They can refer to the schedule and use the pictures as clues.  They also serve as supports for children who are highly schedule oriented, or who do not transition well.  You can give the children a five minute warning while pointing to the picture card, making the warning both auditory and visual.

You can get your copy of these Picture Schedule cards in my TPT Store, and please let me know if there are additional schedule events that you need. I try to be as comprehensive as possible and would love to add any additional events that may be missing from the set!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Scheduling your preschool day

As a preschool teacher, one of the most important things that I had to consider each year was my daily schedule. I am the kind of person who follows a schedule closely - there are always exceptions, but most days the schedule kept the day from dragging o, and ensured that I was able to get everything done.  My kiddos needed that schedule too.  After the first couple of weeks they were able to anticipate what was coming next, and when certain important activities (like lunch, nap, and outside time) were.  

While preschool teachers everywhere recognize that having a schedule is important, making your schedule is not necessarily easy.  There are some things that you may be required to do at certain times (ugh, like the year that my outside time was 9am), and other things that you have the freedom to schedule whenever you want (like bathroom breaks, which depending on your age group may be frequently).  The best schedule is one that works for you and your students, so there are a few factors that I suggest teachers consider when creating a daily schedule; 

  1. Think about what time your students arrive.  If the majority of your class arrives after 9:00 in the morning, then it probably isn't the best idea to do circle time at 8:00, most of your class will miss it.  On the other hand, if your students all arrive at the same time - promptly at 8:00 - then starting circle time at 8:15 is perfect for you.  
  2. Consider meal times.  If your program serves breakfast then you want to make sure that your students all have the opportunity to eat before your start your daily activities.  It is always a good idea to plan a large motor activity - whether it be outside time or music and movement - before lunch so that children can get all of their wiggles out before you sit down to eat.  
  3. Plan your transitions.  If you know that coming in from the playground can get a little chaotic make sure that you plan something for children to do as they wait for others to take off their coats and wash their hands.  This could be an audio book or a table activity, something that children can do independently while you help the others.  
  4. think about when your children leave.  Does everyone leave at the same time or do some stay longer than others? You may have to plan activities for those who stay later, but you'll want to make sure that most of the children have the opportunity to participate in the majority of the activities. 
  5. Leave ample time for unstructured play.  Children need this time to be creative and learn to work together.  Unstructured play should be more than half an hour long, if you cannot justify allotting this much time during the bulk of your day consider blocking out time in the early morning or late afternoon for children to play during your pick up and drop off times.  This will also allow you to be available to parents during these times. 
As you begin to create your schedule remember that it should also be flexible.  It is okay to make changed if the schedule you planned just doesn't work for your group.  Every once and a while learning opportunities will come up that don't fit into your schedule, that doesn't mean that you shouldn't take advantage of it, your schedule is meant to be a guide.

I hope these tips are helpful! Share yours in the comments!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Friday Freebie - Parent Letter about Holiday Celebrations

It's a little early for this particular freebie, but it fits really well with this week's parent communication theme, so you can download it and file it away for later in the year. 

This is the letter that I send out every year before winter holidays (usually the beginning of November so I have plenty of time to get it out, get it back, and start planning). It lets parents know why I like to include holiday activities on my lesson plans and gives them the opportunity to share what their preferences are when it comes to discussing holidays in the classroom.

This is a great way to make sure that I am taking all of my students cultural backgrounds into consideration and to make sure that my lessons don't cause any unintended consequences or difficult conversations. Feel free to download the letter and share it with your own families

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Family Photo Paper Bag Albums

When I was in the classroom, family photos were a huge part of our classroom decor. I wanted my students to be able to share them with each other, and use them to help transition in the morning. I also love that they make the children feel like their families are always a part of the classroom, and are welcome at school anytime. 

This is an easy (and economical) photo album project that you can send home at the beginning of the year. Each family can help their child put the album together and then you can do a special show and tell so that the children can share them with each other before storing them in a place where they will be readily available.

You will need:
2 paper lunch bags per child
Staples and stapler
1 copy of the printable album pages per child
1 ziplock bag per child

Cut the bottom of each paper bag out, then place the paper bags on top of each other and fold in half. 

Use two staples along the folded edge to secure the pages

Cut out each page of the album printable and secure it to a page in the paper bag album (or cut out each page and families can secure them to the album pages).

Place the album in the ziplock bag with the instruction sheet and a glue stick. Send the bag home with the children to complete and bring back (make sure to write a due date on the blank on the instruction sheet).

I always make one with my own pictures and share it with the children before sending the project home. This helps get them excited about completing their own.

For other ideas on how to use family photos in the classroom check out my Preschool Social Emotional pin board.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Building Relationships with your Students Families

Communicating with parents and families is always easier when you've built a relationship with those families. This can be really hard if you rarely. See them - whether you have student who ride the bus to and from school every day, or you aren't the teacher in charge when your students are dropped off or picked up, there are a million reasons that you might not get as much time with parents as you would like.

You can still build relationships with families that will make them feel like they are involved in the activities and events that take place in the classroom. Here are some ideas:

Invite parents to participate. They may not be able to take off work to come in and do activities, but that doesn't mean they can share photos from home, favorite stories, or snacks. Parents might also be able to donate materials and supplies, and if they do, be sure to send them pictures of the children using these materials.

Share photos. Parents love to know what their children are doing all day, and children aren't known for sharing daily events. Use a site like smilebox to create easy slideshows that you can share with all of your families at once.

Ask for photos. Children love to show off their families so choose a theme like family photos, vacation photos, or holiday photos and let each family share the ones that are important to them. It's a great way to share family stories and give children the opportunity to see how different families do different things.

Send home notes. Parents are always happy to hear about the great things that their children do, send home happy notes to let them in on what you see all day.

Plan family events. One year my entire class took an evening trip to the zoo, yes I used my own time, but I built relationships with those families that I never would have without that trip. The parents appreciated the opportunity to meet their children's friends, and all of their parents, and they loved that it was in the evening. I had 100% participation and the children talked about it for weeks.

Share a little about yourself. Write a welcome letter or include a tidbit in each month's newsletter, these little facts about yourself help remind parents that you are just like the 
M, and give them things to start conversations about.

Take interest in the things that are happening in their lives. Is one of your parents expecting a new baby? Send home a book they can read with their older child on the subject. Did one of your families just move into a new home? Send a housewarming card. These thoughtful touches will warm their hearts and remind them that you get to know your students on a personal level.

All of these ideas will help build a relationship with parents and family members, and if you do have to have more difficult conversations throughout the year they will be easier because parents will have an understanding that you are on their team when it comes to their child's future.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Sharing Positive Messages with Families

Kids do great things during the day - they share, they tell funny stories, they help without being asked, they melt our hearts with their sweet comments. In an effort to share these great moment with parents I created Happy Notes, which you can download for free!

I really need to be better about sharing great stories with parents, so the idea behind Happy Notes is that you can write down something great right when it happens, then share the note with the child, and they can take it home and share it with mom and dad. 

These are a great way to reinforce positive behavior, and a perfect way to let parents in on all of the really wonderful things that happen in the classroom. In an effort to make sure that I am catching great stories for every child I also added a tracker, so I can mark who has received a happy note, and who I really need to watch to make sure I catch something positive.

I've always found that when you really make an effort to focus on the positive,the negative behaviors seem to diminish. They won't go away entirely, but your perception of them will probably change because you are spending more of your time and energy on positive behaviors.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Best Way to Communicate with Parents

That's a pretty intriguing title isn't it - what is the best way to communicate with parents? Unfortunately, you're probably not going to like my answer; there isn't one best way to communicate with parents. What worked for you last year might not work this year and that's because each group of parents is very different. 

That doesn't mean that you have to use your precious time covering all of the possible means of communication. When I realized how much time I was spending on parent communication (newsletters, notes home, emails, phone calls, and posted messages in the classroom) I started something that made my job a million times easier - I put together a communication survey. 

I asked parents which ways they preferred for me to communicate with them. Only give them options that you are willing to use such as a note sent home, emails, texts, updates to the class website. If you don't want to call every single parent on the phone, then don't make that an option they could choose.

I also asked where they were most likely to see important information. Some of my options included reminders posted in the classroom, on their phone (anything digital, such as an email, private Facebook group, text reminders, etc.), or in their child's backpack or take home folder.

Once you have the survey use a variety of communication reminders to make sure that all of your parents see it - email it to them, send home a hard copy, post a reminder in the classroom letting them know where they can find it and when to turn it in, and send a text or digital reminder letting them know when to turn it in. 

Once you have the results it should be easy to see where you need to focus your communication efforts. If your parents are most likely to pay attention to notes sent home, set up a system - like all of the important communication will be printed on a certain color of paper - and let parents know about it. If your parents are most likely to respond to emails make sure that you have all of their emails, and that you have a system in place for families that don't have email or Internet access. If your parents are most likely to respond to text messages find an app like Remind that will help you manage this.

Once everyone knows what the system will be stick to it, there may be an adjustment period, but if you are consistent with your means of communication then your parents will be more likely to get your messages because they will know where to look for them. You will then have more time to spend on all of those other teacher tasks.

If you are looking for some websites that might help you communicate with families, check out my Tech Resources E-Book (a freebie!) for some ideas on blogging, using Facebook, and creating classroom websites. 

Friday, August 7, 2015

Friday Freebie - Reading Logs

Happy Friday! Many of you are in full back to school mode, so I wanted to share a great idea for keeping track of all if the books little ones read. 

I am all about encouraging readers, I created this reading log last year, when the children I was working with were participating in our local library's summer reading program. Don't get me wrong, I love any program that promotes reading, but keeping track of all of the books they read was not fun. This log is one that even preschoolers can complete independently - they just color in one of the pictures each time they finish a book.

August is a freebie for you to try out (these would be perfect for kindergarteners at the beginning of the year too), but I have a full set with different pictures for each month in my TPT store. Enjoy your weekend, I hope you can soak up a little more summer before you get back into the school year!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Encouraging Preschoolers to Read Aloud

One of my favorite things to do with preschoolers is to have them read to me, and by read I mean look at the illustrations in a book and make up the story to go with them. It's fun to see which part of the story they remember, and what kinds of things they come up with to fill in the gaps. I also love to see how they interpret the illustrations. 

I've noticed that toddlers and young preschoolers are happy to read to me, but as those same children get older, they become more reluctant. They understand that the words have meaning, and they know that they can't read those words. They've listened to their teachers read the same stories over and over, and they understand that there is a specific story associated with each book, they don't want to get it "wrong."

Here are some things that I've done to encourage preschoolers to read aloud, while also recording their stories;

  • Make copies of the pages of a familiar story, cover any words on the page (an easy way to do this is to put a post-it over the words before you copy the page) and write in the words that the children narrate. Preschoolers love it when you record their words, and these "books" can be read over and over.
  • Ask the children if you can record each of the reading a story, when you've recorded them (either video or audio - most smartphones have some kind of recording device that is perfect for this) the children can watch or listen to the recording, and to their friends' recordings. You can also share them with parents, or use them for special events.
  • Use a website like to help children write and illustrate their own stories, then they can share them with their friends and family members. Children are often more confident when reading a story they have written - because they know the story.
  • Checkout library books with popular characters - superheroes and Disney character books were never my favorites to have in the classroom, but every once and a while I get a few because the children love them. They know these characters and their stories from seeing them in movies and on TV. They feel more confident telling stories about these characters because they are familiar.
  • Ask families to bring in children's favorite books from home to share with the class. At least twice a year I have "share a book from home" day. The kids love to share their favorite books with their friends, and often these are books that I don't have for the classroom library, so we all get to experience new stories. 
I will go out of my way to make sure that children enjoy reading. I want them to be confident in their skills, even before they are able to read the words in a book.  For some other great read aloud ideas, make sure to check out the rest of my posts from this week:

Read Alouds that keep them interested

Dealing with difficult behaviors during read alouds

Tips for reading wordless books

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Tips for reading wordless books

Some of my favorite books to read have no words, on the other hand, some of my least favorite books to read have no words. The illustrations in a wordless book make all of the difference, and my personal comfort level with the book helps too. If I know that I'm going to read a book with no words to the class, there are a couple of things that I like to do to prepare;

Flip through the book and familiarize myself with it. I pay attention to the sequence of events, the characters, and the ending. This way, I will be able to use my verbal and nonverbal communication skills to add to the story - because I know what is coming next. 

Choose one character to follow. It is usually pretty obvious who the main character of the book is, but it can be harder to tell with a wordless book. If there is a character you can follow throughout the pages, it will help you develop a consistent story.  

Tell the story differently each time. You can make up all kinds of stories with the same wordless book - they will generally follow the same plot line and sequence, but you don't have to use the same words every single time you read the book. My goal in doing this is to help the children understand that there isn't always a right or wrong way to tell a story.  

Wordless books are great for encouraging children to practice their storytelling skills. When I ask preschoolers to read to my they usually respond "I don't know how to read!" They can't use that excuse with a wordless book because there aren't any words to read.  

Here are some of my favorite wordless books to read aloud (all links are affiliates)

Tuesday (David Wiesner) 

Hug (Jez Alborough) 

Tell me about your favorite wordless books in the comments!