Saturday, July 30, 2016

My favorite teaching products

I've done a number of posts on products that I absolutely love and use everyday in the classroom (like this one, this one, and this one) but I love a lot of stuff, so here's one that's specifically geared towards back to school! (All links are affiliates)
I'm never without a legal pad - meetings, professional development, planning, I always have one with me.  A padfolio like this one is a great way to look professional without taking myself too seriously!

Flair pens are my favorite because they make color coding easier and my notes so much more fun to review. I just restocked my collection with a new pack of the classics and a tropical set too.

I never have enough Post-It Flags! I use them in my planner, to mark pages in books, on documents, and to leave myself notes on my computer.

My Kate Spade tumblers are my favorite - I actually got rid of all of the other ones that I had laying around.  These are durable and I always get compliments on how cute they are. I use them every single day.

I use binder clips like it's my job, I was drooling over a mixed metal set in the store the other day and now I'm kicking myself for not getting them, so I may or may not have this gold set in my Amazon cart...

I bought myself one of these tassel chargers this summer and it has quickly become one of my all-time favorite purchases. I can use it to charge my phone in my car, at my desk, and if I have the wall plug in my purse I can use it anywhere that has an outlet.  I never worry about my phone battery dying anymore.

I buy these Avery Labels in bulk, do you want to know why?! I use them to color code events in my planner - but they aren't colored right - that's the best part about them, I can color them any color that I want with Crayola markers and they will always match my color scheme!

I love making these lists, but they always get me into trouble because I shop while I'm doing them - I just bought a few too many things on Amazon, but at least I know I'll use them all this year!

Friday, July 29, 2016

Friday Freebie - Reflection Checklist

Happy Friday! I've shared a lot of information and ideas relating to documentation this week, and today's freebie fits right in.

This Reflection Checklist is one of my favorite products that I've ever made for the classroom.  It has been helpful in so many ways.  It makes it easy to collect your thoughts at the end of the day, while continuing to track any patterns and make sure that you are taking note of important events.  Not only does it help you document what happened that day, but it gives you a couple of minutes dedicated to really reflecting on what all of it means.  Download your copy and print a stack so that you always have them right at your fingertips!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Documentation round up

Are you planning for next year yet?! Here are some great posts on documentation - if you start planning for it now and get all of your systems in place it will take a lot less time to create when you sit down to get down to it;

Documentation in the preschool classroom 

Types of documentation

Classroom documentation - know your audience

How to create a documentation panel 

Creative ways to display work

Enjoy your prep time and check back tomorrow for a documentation freebie!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Creative ways to display work

Preschoolers are prolific - they create a ton of work and every single piece is the most important! This is great for making sure that there is always enough work to display in the classroom, but when you don't have a ton of wall space it can make life really difficult.  So what do you do with all of that work that you want to display and just can't find room for? It's time to get creative.

Some of my favorite solutions include hanging work from the ceiling, using it to create suncatchers in the windows, and stands made from unexpected items.  Here are some inspiring photos that I've collected over the years:

If you're still looking for inspiration take a look at this post, and then be sure to check out my Documentation Panel Templates!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Reggio Classroom Decor

My favorite thing about back to school is drooling over all of the amazing classroom decor that I see in all of the best teacher blogs.  This fun stuff doesn't really fit in my Reggio-inspired room, which is probably a good thing because I would spend way too much money on all of it! But that doesn't mean that a Reggio classroom has to be boring - far from it in fact.  

I have a ton of great tips for decorating a Reggio-inspired classroom; 

1, Have the children help you create artwork for the room.  These masterpieces can be incredibly artistic and meaningful at the same time.  The act of working together to create something for the classroom builds pride and community.  Check out my Preschool Art pin board for some great projects that the entire classroom can work on together.
2. Use nature! Natural elements play a huge role in the Reggio philosophy, and they can be incredibly beautiful.  They also add interest to the classroom.  Have you ever considered hanging a tree branch from the ceiling - you should try it! Maybe something a little smaller, like this leaf garland (Source) is more your speed, why not include it?!

3. Get creative with recycled materials.  We always encourage our students to use materials in new ways, why not try it out yourself.  I've made an incredible bunting with recycled paper bags, and this wind chime with canning jar lids.

4. Make your decor useful.  Use colorful ribbon curtains to separate classroom spaces or woven placemats instead of carpet squares.  Check out the beautiful classroom below for ways to make decor intentional (Source). 

5.  Make your artwork interactive.  One way to guarantee engagement is to grab the children's' attention with art pieces that can be interactive.  This weaving piece (photo #2)  is something that they could work on all year - and imagine the feeling of accomplishment when it is finally finished!

I'd love to see some of your favorite Reggio-inspired decor pieces, share links to photos and ideas in the comments!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Friday Freebie - Anecdotal Notes

Happy Friday! I've noticed that summer weeks seem to fly by a lot faster than the rest of the weeks throughout the year.

Today's freebie is for those of you who've already begun to think about next year's assessment systems.  I've been talking about this subject all week so I wanted to  share my anecdotal notes freebie with you.  This is an easy way to track and organize your anecdotal notes and other important information.  Check it out before enjoying your weekend!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Assessment strategies for preschool

My first "real" job was teaching toddlers at a NAEYC accredited child care center, so I jumped right into a position that required teachers to complete assessments for every child, I've never NOT done assessment.  So over the years I've come up with some strategies that have helped me keep track of all of the evidence and data.  Within the last couple of years I've turned some of those strategies into really great products that you can get from my TPT store, so you don't have to reinvent the wheel, or use your valuable time developing these things on your own!

Here are my favorites:

If you're looking for a complete assessment, these include both the standards-based portfolio pages and the developmental checklist.  They're available in Infant/Toddler and Preschool versions. 

This evidence collection kit will help you solve the problem of where to store all of your assessment evidence.  The set includes the checklists for all of the domains and instructions on how to create easy to use portfolios out of file folders.  This is the perfect way to store work samples, photos, and anecdotal notes. 

This project work planner is one of the very first things that I made for myself when I started teaching. I love it because it has a place for everything - lesson plans, field trip notes, to do lists, reflection checklists, planning webs, and observation notes. It is so helpful to have everything in one place!

Make sure to check back tomorrow because I have an assessment freebie to share with you too!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

What does preschool assessment look like?

Yesterday I shared some thoughts on how to talk to families about assessment, but part of explaining assessment is talking about what it looks like in the preschool classroom, and that can be really difficult.  It's so hard because there isn't a right or wrong way to do it.

That's the beauty of preschool assessment, it can't always be scheduled - you certainly can't sit down and say "I'm going to observe Kate's positive social skills today" but that gives you freedom to make it work for you.

You might collect work samples from your writing activity on Tuesday, jot down a couple of anecdotal notes on Wednesday, and take some amazing action photos during outdoor play on Friday.  These are all going to inform your assessments, and each will give you a different insight into a specific child.

Whether you're new to assessment, or you're an experienced pro, my advice is always to go easy on yourself.  Don't be tempted by the pressure to hit it hard right from the start, let your students (and yourself) settle into your routine before you begin documenting your observations.  From there, do what works best for you; if you're one of those people who needs a table to help you see which children you have evidence for or which objectives you still need to see, then create one, if it's easier to look at piles of work samples and see who needs more then do it that way.

Most importantly, use your results! Don't do all this hard work and stuff it away in a folder somewhere, take the information and use it to help you plan your lessons.  If half of your class can't hold scissors properly then plan some fun cutting activities, if your group this year is especially quiet or shy then plan some social activities.  Your assessment results should make your job (at least when it comes to planning) easier, not harder!

Check back in tomorrow to see some of the items I've created to help myself complete assessments!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Explaining assessment to families

Assessment in preschool is definitely a thing - it's a huge part of what early childhood educators do every day, but most casual observers would never know that.  This is because it's not obvious.  As teachers it important to be able to explain this unique assessment process to parents and family members so that they have a clear understanding of how we know what skills and concepts their child has mastered.

There are two things that make preschool assessments just a little different;

First, preschool assessments should be formative assessments.  This simply means that you are using the results of any assessment to plan further activities and learning experiences. These assessment results help you understand which students are ready for more challenging tasks, and which students need extra support.  This information helps you tailor your lesson plans to specific students, to ensure that everyone is getting what they need the most.

Second, assessments in preschool work best when they are authentic.  Authentic assessments are completed using evidence that is collected regularly in the child's familiar environment.  Instead of sitting with each child individually and asking them questions, teachers observe them as they play and design large group, small group, and individual hands on activities to elicit the information that they wish to learn about the child.

Authentic assessments are valuable because they provide the highest quality results.  How many times have you asked a child about a subject that you are sure they are familiar with, only to be met with a blank stare, or a completely different answer than they gave you five minutes prior.  Authentic assessments use teachers' observations, children's work samples, and other first-hand evidence instead of traditional "testing."

When families have a better understanding of how assessments are completed, and what they are used for they tend to be more supportive of the practice in general.

It's also important to remember that even if you share the actual assessment tool with your families, that doesn't mean they understand it.  Educators recognize the jargon, acronyms, and technical terms that assessments are full of, parents don't use these terms daily, so they may need some explanation.  I always encourage parents to ask questions freely, and I answer them seriously. I want all families to know exactly what I'm talking about and leave a conference with fewer questions than they came in with!

How do you explain your assessments to parents? I'd love to hear your approach so feel free to share your favorite blog posts or product links in the comments!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Helping your child get ready for preschool

As a preschool teacher I spend a ton of time making sure that children are prepared to start kindergarten, but I don't always think about helping children prepare for preschool.  Maybe that's because there's so much that I can do to help once they start, but I don't often get to work with families before they start attending.

If you know any children who will be starting preschool this fall, whether they're your own children, new students that will be in your class, or even just friends' children, here are a few things that parents can do to help little ones prepare for those first few days:

  • Talk about it - share as much information as you can with your child, what their teacher's name is, who might be in their class, the kinds of activities that they will do, what special items from home they will take with them, who will drop them off and pick them up every day.  All of these are very important details to little ones.  Make sure that you also take time to let them ask questions, the things that they are most worried about will probably be things that you didn't even think of, like what they will eat for lunch, or who will help them zip their coat when they go outside. 
  • Visit the school - If you have the opportunity to visit before starting take advantage of it, and make sure to take your preschooler with you.  It will help them know what to anticipate on the first day, and it will let you see how they interact with the materials, the teachers, and the other children. 
  • Pick out something that your child can take to school - If they are allowed to bring a stuffed animal for nap let them pick out which one they want to take.  If the teacher requests a family photo, ask your child to help you find one.  These items will help make the transition smoother, and give your child something comforting when they get a little lonely.
  • Practice - Preschool is full of brand new situations that can be a little nerve-wracking for a child who has spent their life interacting with the same two or three adults.  Help them practice what they will do when they don't like what is served for lunch. Make sure that they know how to use the bathroom, or who to ask for help.  Teach them how to ask another child if they can play with them. 
  • Interact with other children - Preschool is all about learning social skills, and interacting with other children can be really intimidating for a child who hasn't had a ton of practice.  Make it a point to visit your library's story time, hang out at the splash pad with other families, and explore some family events in your town so that your child can experience interacting with other children while they are with you.  This will let you see how they react to other little ones, and give you some idea of what you might want to talk about with them before they start preschool. 
  • Give it time - Don't expect them to love everything about school on the very first day.  Morning drop off might not go well, they might be sad, or report that they don't want to go back the next day.  That's ok, this is new for all of you and it's going to take some getting used to.  Be consistent with your routines and talk to the teacher about the things that your child enjoyed each day so that you can talk about those things and give them something to look forward to.  
These ideas will help you and your little one feel better about starting off on the right foot! If you want to share any of these tips you can download this printable that I created to help new preschool families!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Friday Freebie - Preschool Teacher Print

Happy Friday! I've been feeling a little burnt out this week - that's not supposed to happen in the summer!

Since I've been in need of a little inspiration, I figured I would create my own, and then share it with you of course.  This is an exclusive blog freebie, only available right here - This cute little set includes this one print in 5 different colors so that you can choose the one that fits your classroom decor best, or share them all with your favorite preschool teachers.  I know how hard you work and how much you do because I've been there, this little print is your daily reminder that your work is important!

Have a wonderful weekend!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Great Gadgets for Teachers

Since I shared how wonderful and amazing my sewing machine has been for the classroom in yesterdays post, today I wanted to share a post that I originally wrote for the blog two years ago about some of my favorite gadgets for the classroom.  I still love love love all of these items so I'm sharing this post from July of 2014 below:

There are a few tools that I have collected over the years that have made my job a million times easier. Now is the perfect time to share my list of awesome tools because you still have time to splurge on a couple of these before school starts.  Some might be fairly obvious, but if I use it every day, then it warrants a spot on the list.  There is a pretty large range of prices as well, so even if you don't have room in your budget for a new color laser printer (my summer splurge!) you should still be able to find something on this list that you can add to your stash.

1. The one tool that I can't teach without is my 3 Hole Punch.  I don't know a teacher who doesn't have a 3 hole punch, and for obvious reasons of course.  BUT all 3 hole punches are not created equal.  This high capacity punch is a monster, and completely amazing! It can cut through 45 sheets of paper at one time, and of course, the nice little drawer to catch all of the punched pieces.  Time is a precious commodity to any teacher, and being able to punch all of the pages that you would need for an entire class at one time is incredibly valuable!

2. My favorite fun tool is my binding machine.  I make class books all the time, I also use it to bind my own planners, put together portfolios and memory books, and make gifts for other teachers (personalized notebooks, planners, etc.).  I have a Zutter Bind-It-All, which I originally got for my personal scrapbooking projects, but it has proven far more useful in the classroom.  There are so many pros to this machine - it is compact so I can easily take it to and from school with me, it will bind any size project, the blades can cut through chipboard and plexiglass, and it uses wire bindings so projects look really professional.  The supplies aren't exactly cheap, but I buy my bindings at Hobby Lobby, so I can always use a 40% off coupon.  

3. One of the most convenient tools I own is my personal laminator.  It doesn't make sense for me to use this to laminate everything that I need for the classroom, but for little projects it is so nice to have.  I have a Xyron Creative Station. This machine does cold lamination, and while I can definitely see how a heat laminator would be nice to have, I also don't have to wait for this one to heat up before laminating.  The best thing about the Creative Station is that it has removable cartridges.  When I'm done laminating I can take out the laminating film and easily switch to an adhesive cartridge to make my own stickers, or I can use the adhesive magnet cartridge to make my own magnets.  The versatility of this machine is what makes it perfect for the classroom. 

4. The one tech tool that makes my list is the iPad. I know that many classrooms have sets of iPads for the students to use, but it is so helpful to have one dedicated for teacher use. I don't have iPads for my students, but I do use my personal iPad for school.  It is so much easier to send a quick email, check the weather before recess, find a you tube video to share with a small group, and take notes during a meeting on an iPad.  I always have mine with me, and I love that I am able to work on projects anywhere. I can read documents, look up articles, and collaborate with colleagues, all while I wait for an appointment to start or right from my comfy couch at home.  

5. Ok, I lied, there is one more tech tool on my list, a color laser printer.  There is just no way that I could possibly print everything I need for my classroom at school, but with my Brother Laser Printer, I might have a little too much fun printing stuff at home.  I actually just bought a new model because my 6 year old printer bit the dust, and I am so excited to hook up the new one.  In the long run, the laser printer is much cheaper than an inkjet, because you can print so many more pages with one set of toner cartridges.  The reason that I had to have one of these was so that I wouldn't have to worry about smudging the ink after it printed - and because I love to print full color documents and decorations for the classroom.  This printer is so fast, which is great because I happen to be very impatient!

6. The tool that saves my sanity is my miniature paper cutter. I am honestly terrified of the giant guillotine cutters.  When I was in third grade I watched my student teacher cut off the tip of her finger with one and have refused to use them ever since.  This little paper cutter may take longer, but at least I know that my edges will be straight and my fingers will remain intact! 

7. The biggest time saving tool in my collection is my circle punch.  I own three different circle punches, all in different sizes because I use them so often.  Cutting out circles by hand takes forever, and they never look like perfect circles, but punches take care of all of that! I use my circle punches to create game pieces, cut out circles for lessons and activities, make garlands for bulletin boards, and to make tags for artwork or parent gifts.  My favorite punch is theFiskars Squeeze Punch because it is so easy to use, it was actually recognized by the arthritis foundation.  

8. The most surprising tool on my list is my sewing machine.  I've always loved to sew, and thank goodness too, because this machine has saved me a ton of money! I've used my sewing machine to make pillows and curtains for my classroom.  I've also sewn play mats, garlands, dramatic play costumes, and even tote bags for myself and my students.  Last year I made a class mascot for my room, and I've taken my machine to school to make scarves with my students.  Sewing is not hard, and many stores that sell sewing machines also offer introductory classes to help you learn how to use your machine.  You can really do a lot if you only know how to sew a straight line!

9. Another crafting tool that has migrated to my classroom is my hot glue gun.  I can make anything stick together with my hot glue gun.  Whether I'm fixing something that has broken (which happens a lot in a preschool room), or making something completely new, this is my go-to adhesive.  I firmly believe that you can make just about anything for your classroom with a hot glue gun!

10. The last tool on my list is an adhesive runner.  I hate glue. hate it.  I can't stand glue sticks because half the time the glue dries before I can stick the papers together, and the other half of the time I end up sharing them with my students, who get the glue all over their hands, and all over the outside of the glue stick.  School glue drives me crazy because no matter how hard I try, it always leaves wrinkles in the paper after it dries.  My solution is my adhesive runner. This thing is great because I don't have to use a ton of adhesive to know that it will stick.  My hands are never going to get sticky while using it, and I don't have to wait for it to dry.  I've used this for everything from classroom projects to wedding invitations.  I started out using the little one-use runners, but I went through so many of them that I finally broke down and bought the Glue Glider Pro, so that I just buy refills (again, thank goodness for Hobby Lobby Coupons). 

I love every single one of these products, and own each of them.  I do think that I may have a problem though - is it normal to ask for cardstock, adhesive refills, cutting blades, and hot glue sticks for your birthday?! I would love to know what gadgets have been lifesavers in your classroom, let me know in the comments!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Sewing for the classroom

This beautiful piece of equipment just arrived at my house and I cannot wait to get it out of the box, but I promised myself that I would post something before I get sucked in by the sewing machine and no one can find me for the rest of the week!

Since sewing is just about the only thing on my mind right now, I figured I'd share a list of all the wonderful things that I've sewn for my classroom.  The photos below aren't mine, because I'm notoriously bad about remembering to take classroom photos, so if you want more info make sure to click on the links!

I may not be the most talented seamstress, but I certainly enjoy it, and it's a skill that has come in handy many many times. Over the years I've made some version of all of the following for my classroom;

Pillows - I've probably made hundreds of different types of pillows, but this is the easiest, perfect for a beginner, or for someone who just wants the project done quickly!

From DIY Ready

Curtains are so easy, and I've made curtains for windows, to use as room dividers, to cover cluttered shelves, and for dramatic play center accessories.  You only need to be able to sew a straight line, anyone can do this and it is so worth your time for the money that you will save!

Decor - This sewn circle garland has become my decoration of choice because it is so cheap and easy. It takes less than an hour and you can use any colors that you want.  I have these everywhere and they make any space fun and a little whimsical. 

I used this tutorial to make aprons out of Christmas dishtowels for a holiday cookie party and they were a hit. Every play kitchen needs a couple of aprons, mine have been well loved. 

One year I brought my sewing machine to school and the children got to help make their own scarf like this one.  The scarves were their holiday gifts that year and they loved that they got to use the sewing machine!

I'm sure I've made more great stuff, but these have definitely been the most memorable sewing projects that I've created for the classroom!

Friday, July 8, 2016

Friday Freebie - Planning Pages

Happy Friday! This week flew by, and I'm not complaining about that but I would definitely love for summer to slow down just a little!

Of course, this next freebie is sure to get you in back-to-school planning mode, so I suggest downloading these free Preschool Teacher Planning pages, storing them somewhere safe, and walking away from the computer before they suck you in.  Enjoy your summer weekend and come back to them another day, like maybe when it's raining!