Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Questions to ask about clouds

I am not going to complain about the beautiful summer-like weather we've been having lately! It's made me want to spend every waking minute outside - which has resulted in a lovely sunburn, but that's not the point. I wanted to share one of my favorite activities that you can do with any of the children that you happen to be around this summer, while squeezing in some extra outside time.

I love to explore the clouds, but I don't really take a traditional approach to learning about clouds.  I don't teach the children the proper names for different types of clouds, and while I might do some experimenting with the water cycle, I don't really expect them to understand it fully.  I encourage them to pay attention to the clouds as an exercise in noticing the world around you.  I just want them to look up and take some time to stop and watch.

Here are some of the questions that I might ask about clouds in order to get the children to think critically:

  • Where do clouds come from?
  • How do they get up there?
  • What are they made of?
  • Why are they shaped like that?
  • How do they move?
  • Why are there clouds sometimes, but not other times?
  • Are there clouds when it's dark?
  • Why are some clouds light and fluffy, but others are dark and gray?
  • What else do they look like?
The children's answers to these questions lead to some really interesting discussions that make them think a little harder about the same things that they see every day. Their answers will also give you something to build off of as you have additional conversations about clouds.  Stop back tomorrow and I'll give you a couple ideas for encouraging the children to capture their observations. 

Monday, May 30, 2016

Friday, May 27, 2016

Friday Freebie - Pinwheel Printables

Happy Memorial Day weekend! I hope that you have some fun plans for ringing in the summer!

This freebie is perfect for your parades and backyard barbecues, but your students would love to make them too.  I love it when activities can be used at home and school! The free printable is from Skip to My Lou, you can print the color version or use it as a template on scrapbook paper. Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

I LOVE Kindle!

*This post contains affiliate links*

I am a huge Kindle fan - so much so that I find it difficult to read a regular book now, I love that no matter where I am, I can always read - either on my phone, or on my tablet.  I also love that I don't have to actually carry a book - I've got enough other stuff in my bag!

Amazon has a great deal this weekend - their Kindle for Kids bundle is on sale.  The bundle includes the newest Kindle, a special kid-friendly cover, and a warranty that protects against drops and spills.  The package would be perfect for a weekend road trip or summer vacation, load it up with multiple books and your little readers will never get bored.

My favorite thing about the Kindle is that all children can do with it is read, no movies, no games, just books, so you can feel good about this kind of screen time.  And I love it for little ones for the same reasons that I love it for myself - you only have to carry one device, but you can have tons of books right at your fingertips.  This is a lifesaver if you have to pack light!

Make sure to check out this great bundle, I think it's the perfect compromise for any child who is begging for technology that you are quite ready for them to have!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Which type of food coloring to use?

There are a few different kinds of food coloring, but the two that are the most readily available (read: easy to find in the store) are your traditional liquid food coloring, and gel food coloring.  Both can be used in the classroom to add some color to your art projects, but there are different materials that each work best with (the following links are affiliates).

When you're using liquids, you want to use the liquid food coloring - makes sense right? Liquid food coloring is easy to mix with water, thin paints, vinegar (if you're doing the project that I posted about yesterday), and soap.  It's also perfect for recipes that use quite a few liquid ingredients, like play dough, flubber, homemade paints, and whenever you're making colored ice.  I love love love this basic McCormick food coloring set.  They're cheap, you can find them in any grocery store, and the bottles are little so children can use them easily without making huge messes.  They also come in fun neon colors.

Gel food coloring, on the other hand, is best used when mixing things that are a bit thicker - like frosting, play dough, and heavier paints.  Gel food coloring is also better when you want a really bright, vibrant color.  Liquid food coloring requires a lot of food coloring to make strong colors, which can ruin the consistency of whatever you're mixing it into. Gel food coloring can create those same strong colors without adding additional liquid.  But use the gel food coloring sparingly, it definitely stains worse than the liquid! Wilton is my go-to brand because you can find them in any store that has a cake decorating aisle.

There are other fun food safe products that can be fun for adding to your classroom products.  These tend to be a little on the pricier side, so you may want to try them out for special projects like holiday gifts.  Here are a few examples:

Pearl Dust can be added to salt dough for extra shimmer, or you can mix it with water and paint it on your creations for a pearl-look.

Edible glitter is just as fun as regular glitter, but I think it's a million times easier to clean up because it's edible, so its water soluble.

Can you think of any other cake decorating products that would be perfect for classroom projects?

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Art that is actually science

Since I'm talking about using food coloring as an art supply this week, I really wanted to share a food coloring tie dye activity - but then I tried it myself and it was an absolute disaster. I'm currently trying to bleach the dye out of some white shirts that weren't supposed to be dyed...

Since I can't very well recommend that activity, I thought I'd share one that I know is a tried and true hit.  This one has been seen all over the internet, so I definitely can't claim the idea - nor would I try to - but I can show you some really great pictures of it and share my own personal experiences.

I've yet to meet a preschooler who doesn't love the old vinegar and baking soda experiment.  My favorite variation is to fill a tray (or cookie sheet in this case) with baking soda and use colored vinegar - colored with food coloring of course - and an eye dropper to explore the reaction and the subsequent color mixing.

I honestly let them go for it - after the vinegar had all been used they were still interested, so they stirred the wet baking soda with the eye droppers, eventually they forgot about the eye droppers and got their hands right into the mess.  They learned so much; the initial baking soda and vinegar reaction, the color mixing, the concept that all of the colors mixed together makes a muddy gray color, that they could make "rivers" in the baking soda by dragging the eye droppers through it, what wet baking soda felt like in their hands, how strong the smell of vinegar could be, and that the food coloring would dye their hands that same muddy gray for a couple of days.

So no, the finished product didn't look like the bright, colorful versions that you see on Pinterest, but it wasn't really about the finished product at all, it was about the process that led to all of these discoveries!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Things that you can dye using food coloring

Would you believe that one of my favorite art supplies is food coloring?! It's cheap, easy to use, and I know it's safe.  It does make a bit of a mess so I try to use it when I know we won't be touching it, but it comes off of skin better than most liquid watercolors.

My favorite way to use food coloring is to dye different objects with it, here are two of my favorites:

I've also seen it used to dye oats, rice, playdough, and homemade paints.  Check back each day this week for more activities and tips on using food coloring for art!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Friday Freebie - Picture Recipe

Happy Friday!!! This has been one of those weeks that has been so busy and lasted forever - so I am happy to celebrate Friday with all of you.

This week my posts have been about cooking in the classroom and I wanted to share a related freebie with you.  This picture recipe from Stars on the Spectrum is perfect because it's an easy recipe to do in the classroom and the children can really be a part of dictating the steps using the pictures! Download your copy and enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Baking with preschoolers

Since I've shared a couple of baking and cooking ideas this week, I thought I'd share some of my other baking posts too.  Here are a few fun ideas!

Cooking with a Solar Oven

Baking in the Classroom

Tried and True Teaching Tips (and a No-Bake Recipe!)

Making Ice Cream in the Classroom

And here are the other posts from this week:

Easy Dramatic Play Cookbook

Preschool Science: Exploring Ingredients

Check back tomorrow for a cooking-related freebie, and don't you love this Hape Play Kitchen?! (Affiliate link)

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Preschool Science: Exploring Baking Ingredients

I have always loved baking in the classroom because it's one of those hands on activities where children get to be involved and see changes happen right before their eyes.  When I cook in the classroom I try to be super prepared so that things go smoothly.  This doesn't leave much time to actually explore the ingredients.

If the children are extremely interested in the cooking experience I'll make sure to give them extra opportunities to play with and manipulate the ingredients that we use.  Here are some of the ways that I introduce these to the children;

Ingredient jars: I love these little containers (they're Tupperware)! The lids are difficult to get off, but if the children do open them the small amount of whatever you've put inside of them is easy to clean up.  The children can get a closer look at the ingredients without getting them everywhere and you can leave them on the shelf for them to explore for extended periods of time.

Compare and contrast on colored paper: So many white ingredients look the same after a quick glance, but when you put them on colored paper the differences are more obvious.  This photo shows salt, flour, and baking powder.  The children can see the different granules of salt, and explore how they sparkle in the sunlight, watch the clumps of flour break down in their fingertips, and feel the smooth texture of the baking powder.

You can also try putting out cookie sheets full of flour, salt, and sugar so that the children can really explore the textures of each ingredient and experiment with what happens when they get wet by dripping water on them with an eye dropper.

I love to introduce liquid ingredients too.  Their properties are so different from the dry powders that are so common in baking.  I place different amounts of liquid ingredients on sheets of aluminum foil and give the children popsicle sticks so that they can move the ingredients around with foil and mix them together without getting their hands oily or stick.

Here are some common baking ingredients that are interesting to explore:
Dry ingredients

  • Sugar
  • Flour
  • Salt
  • Baking soda
  • Baking powder
  • Cocoa powder
  • Powdered sugar
  • Corn starch
  • Dry milk
  • Corn meal
Wet ingredients
  • Vegetable oil
  • Corn syrup
  • Evaporated milk
  • Vanilla extract
  • Sweetened condensed milk
How do you extend your cooking experiences? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Teaching when you're sick

I would get sick in the middle of May - it never fails, whenever I happen to be busiest, Mother Nature gets me.  It doesn't help that the weather has taken a sudden turn back to winter and it is cold cold cold. All I want to do is curl up under a blanket and spend the day on the couch.

Luckily, I've come up with some pretty good strategies for teaching when I'm not feeling my best.  Those can be the longest days! Of course, if you're really really sick - and contagious - stay home! But if you're just uncomfortable, here are somethings that will help you out:

I try to dress as comfortably as possible. I fully believe that everyone needs to own a pair of black yoga pants that can pass as dress pants, they are a necessity.  Over my yoga/dress pants I wear a loose, comfy sweater. You can still look professional even when you're miserable, this helps to hide how horribly you are feeling! While they may not be professional, my moccasins are a must.  I tend to be freezing when I'm sick and if I can wear slippers that pass for shoes, I totally will! I also refuse to wear my contacts when I'm sick, my glasses are my best friends, and they make me look just a little more put together when I throw my hair up in a messy bun.  

The last thing I want to worry about when I'm sick is how my hair looks - who cares?! I'm absolutely in love with pretty ponytail holders, pick one that matches your outfit and it looks like you tried a lot harder than you did. I have to start the day with a nice warm latte, it will sooth your throat, give you a little caffeine, and warm you up.  If I can bring some soup - or grab a bowl from Panera for lunch then I know I can make it through the rest of the day.  

Hand sanitizer is a must.  I already feel bad enough that I got sick, I don't want anyone else to feel this miserable because they caught it from me. I've got one of these Bath and Body pocket bacs in my desk, one in my car, and one in my purse!

When it comes to getting through the day in the classroom, I have a few tricks up my sleeve.  I've got to have kleenex, of course and for some reason I'm more likely to use them if they're in a cute box... Audio books are my secret weapon. They save what's left of my voice and my kids seem to pay better attention to an audio book than they do to me.  I'm also a fan of pulling out the "special" art supplies - these are usually reserved for the teacher stash, things like glitter crayons, smelly markers, and colored glue pens. Kiddos will work much longer with supplies that they rarely get the opportunity to use.

Soothing music helps keep the room calm, and I love the Piano Guys - classical meets pop - means that it's still fun to listen to while we work, even if it is helping set the mood for the day. Finally, Magna Tiles.  These are my go-to activity whenever I need something that the children are sure to be interested in for a long time.  I've blogged about them a number of times, but I can't possibly tell you how much my kiddos love these!

What are your secrets for getting through the day when you feel less than 100%? If you want to ward off the bug that I caught, be sure to take a peek at my tips to keep from getting sick!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

DIY: Easy Dramatic Play Cookbook

I have the easiest DIY ever for you today! I always struggle with making materials for the dramatic play area because I know how much wear and tear they are going to take, but this one is perfect,

I encourage teachers to add written materials to their dramatic play areas, and cookbooks are an easy fix for any kitchen or restaurant theme. You could find cookbooks at Goodwill or garage sales, but I really love cookbooks that have plenty of pictures too, and these can be harder to find.  So for this "cookbook" I just used the recipes from the backs of boxes!

There are a couple of ways that you can do this. You can collect boxes and cut all of the backs with the recipes off - which is ideal because the cardboard makes the cookbook "pages" more durable, but I didn't want to cut the backs off of all the boxes in my pantry, so I did a Google image search for back of the box recipes and printed the images.  They came out really nice, you can't tell they they are printed images if you don't look that close.

After I printed the recipe pages I made a cute little cover for the cookbook. I'm sharing this with you - so download it here! I put the cover in the front of a three ring binder - these seem to hold up the best, and it is a good way to put the boxes together since they are all different sizes.

Once the cover was done I punched the recipes with a three-hole punch and put them in the binder.

How easy is that?! You could turn this into a really fun family engagement activity too, introduce the book to the children and then ask all of your families to add one recipe to your book. It would be fun to see what each child or family chose to bring in!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Friday Freebie - Garden Numbers Scavenger Hunt

Happy Friday! Is it summer yet?! Not quite, but I am so ready - If you haven't been able to tell with
all of my summer themed posts this week.  Today's freebie fits right in!

This Garden Number Scavenger Hunt from Margaux Langenhoven is adorable - and such a good idea! Children choose a number and an outdoor item, then they have to look all around the yard or playground to find that many of the item (i.e. 7 rocks or 4 twigs, etc.).  I also love this set because it fits perfectly with the Gardening Activity Bundle that I posted this week.  Check them both out and have a great week

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Fun summer activities

Have you started planning for summer yet? Whether you're looking for lesson plan ideas or fun things to do with your own children, here are some amazing ideas that I've been collecting:

Twirling Twig mobile from Babble Dabble Do

Aluminum foil river from Filthy Wizardy

Outdoor play food from Munchkins and Moms

Block Shadows from the Pinterested Parent

Pineapple ice pops from Eats Amazing

It's no coincidence that all of these are outdoor ideas - we had a hint of beautiful summer weather for about a week in April, and ever since then it's been rainy and chilly. I'm ready for sunshine and grass between my toes - I think everyone is! If you're still looking for more summer ideas make sure to check out my Preschool Summer Play pin board!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Summer Ideas for Year-Round Preschool Programs

I've learned more about the preschool world in the last year than I ever thought was possible, and the one thing that never ceases to amaze me is the sheer number of different schedules for preschool programs.  I've always taught at year-round programs, which pose their own challenges:

  • The children rarely get a break or vacation from the program
  • The teachers rarely get a break
  • Teachers have to engage the children in more activities because they are there for more days
  • The teacher and children's day are often longer than a typical school day
They also come with some really great perks:
  • once children learn the routine they don't have to relearn it because there aren't extended breaks
  • teachers and children are able to form strong, lasting relationships because they spend so much time together
  • Each day can be a little more relaxed because you know that you have more time with these children - you don't feel as rushed or pressured to squeeze everything in
  • similarly, there is time to do fun projects and special events
Since I've worked at year round programs, I have a special place in my heart for teachers who deal with these challenges day in and day out. I know how hard it can be to make summer really feel like summer, and not just another day at school. I know that it is difficult to walk that fine line of planning fun summer activities that are still valuable learning experiences. I know the struggle of wanting to spend the entire day outside in the sprinkler when you really have to follow your daily routine. 

Since I've got a special appreciation for year-round programs, it was important to me to create materials that lend themselves to summer themes. I know how hard it can be to find activities for the summer, so here are some of my favorite themes, and a bunch of activities to go with them. 

Ice Cream
Ice cream just screams summer, and it's as much fun for the teacher as it is for the kiddos. Here are some of my past blog posts about ice cream activities:

I also have an Ice Cream Activity Bundle, as well as Classroom Decorations for an Ice Cream Party. All of this will get you through one or two fun filled summer weeks!

Nothing says summer quite like camping, and what's not to love?! Tents, campfires, lanterns, and s'mores all fit into this theme, and children get to explore the opportunity to go on an adventure! Here are some posts about camping activities:

Along with my Camping Activity Bundle, you'll have everything you need for the perfect camping experience!

Gardening is an incredible learning experience! Children get to see growth and change happen first hand.  Here are some of my posts related to gardening and the outdoors:

I also just finished a brand new Gardening Bundle, with a tong of language and math activities that can compliment all of your scientific exploration!

Some other fun summer themes include:
  • The beach/the ocean
  • Bugs
  • The fair or the farm
  • Amusement park
  • Vacation/travel
  • Water and swimming
  • Pool party/luau
  • Barbecue
  • Picnic
What are your favorite themes to explore during the summer?

Monday, May 9, 2016

Google Drive Student Portfolios

I originally shared this post a couple of years ago, and it has been the most popular post that I've ever written. It was time to give it a face lift, so I've updated the photos, but all of the text is the same!

I've always used three-ring binders to compile my students' portfolios, but this year my classroom did not have the extra space to store all of them - 1 binder per student takes up a lot of precious space! I decided to do digital portfolios, and using Google drive to store them has been an absolute lifesaver.  Having all of the portfolios on Google Drive meant that I could work on them any time I wanted to - whether I was at school or not, and I was able to share each folder with the parents online, then they could look through the portfolios whenever they wanted to.  This meant less time going through portfolios at conference time because many of them had been checking them regularly on their own.  

I think every portfolio should be done this way - you can scan in work samples, add assessments, and include photographs, without ever having to print anything.  I'm going to walk through how to use the Drive today - because it can take some getting used to if you are unfamiliar with it, and tomorrow I'll share the documents that I include in my student portfolios. 

1. The first step is to get to your Google Drive. If you have a Gmail account or a Google+ account then you already have access to Google Drive. If you do not already have a Google account then you will need to sign up for one (It is completely worth it!).  Your Drive will look very similar to the way that all of the files on your computer are stored. The picture below shows my Google Drive. If you are just getting started you will not have any files or documents in your Drive yet. 
2. Next you'll have to create a folder for your portfolios. Click on the red button that says CREATE. This will then show a drop down menu that asks you to select the type of document you would like to create.  All of the choices are fun to play around with and useful for many different purposes, but for right now just create a folder.
3. When you create your folder it will ask you to name it. I create a separate folder for each of my students, and title the folders with their first and last names so that it is easy to find the folder I need. For this tutorial I named my folder "Student portfolio".  Once you have created the folder it will show up on your Drive.
4. Now that you have created the portfolio folder you can begin adding documents to it.  Click on the red box with the arrow pointing up to upload documents from your computer. You can choose whether you want to upload a single file or an entire folder. When you click on file or folder it will open your computer files for you to browse through and select the files that you want to upload.
5. When you have selected a document to upload it will show the upload progress in a new box in the bottom right-hand corner of your screen.  You can continue selecting additional documents even as others are uploading. 
6. After the documents have uploaded, they will appear in your folder.  At this point you can click on them to view them larger. 
7. When you open each document it will appear in larger view on your screen. The buttons at the top of the screen allow you to print the document, share it with others, or download it. If you want to edit the document you will have to download it to your computer in order to make changes, and then re-upload the edited version to your drive. 
8. You can share any document that you have stored on your drive at anytime.  I share each individual student portfolio with the parents of the child.  To share, check the box in the upper left-hand corner of the file or document, and then click the share button (the person with the +).
9. Clicking the share button will open a new box with a lot of options.  You can choose to share the link to the document or folder, or you can email the link to the parent. I like the email option because they can easily save the email, and use it to return to the folder any time they want.  Parents do not have to have a Google account or a Google Drive to view the portfolio, the link actually leads them to the portfolio in your drive, because you have given them permission to view this part of your drive.  When you add email addresses there will be a box next to each address where you can choose if you want this person to be able to edit the contents of the folder, or just view them - make sure you choose "view only" so that you are the only one who is able to edit the folder. 
I have also created files that I like to share with my co-workers (pictures from special events that other classes participated, forms that we all use, etc.) this makes collaboration really easy because we all have access to the same documents any time that we need to use them.  I also have my Drive synced with my computer, this is a huge time saver because I don't have to upload each document to my Drive, I can just save them to the Google Drive when I save the document, and they will automatically upload.  

I chose to create portfolios for my students using Google Drive because it allows me to share them with families easily, however, many schools have policies regarding uploading student data to online file storage sites for security reasons. It is still possible to create a digital portfolio without using Google Drive, Dropbox, or a similar website.  Simply save the portfolios on your computer, or to an external hard drive or flash drive that can be securely stored (to ensure that student data is not compromised).  These files can be emailed directly to parents in the form of a zipped file. 

Hopefully this was helpful for you! Tomorrow I will share the documents that I include in my student portfolios so that you can get a better idea of what my digital portfolios look like!

If you're still looking for portfolio ideas, check out these other posts!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Friday Freebie - Diploma

Happy Friday! I am loving May, it just feels good to be able to say that it's May! This month is always a whirlwind of activity - personal and work-related, so it goes by so quickly. Today's freebie is one less thing that you'll have to worry about.

Whether you have a graduation ceremony or not, you can use this free diploma to mark the end of the year for your preschoolers.  It is designed to match all of my other graduation materials! Download and print your diplomas and fill in the information for a quick keepsake, and have a great weekend!