Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Storing and Organizing Loose Parts

Organizing all of those loose parts is important because they are usually smaller objects. If you don't keep on top of that organization you can easily have a great big mess of loose parts. Here are some of the strategies that I've used to keep my loose parts organized;
Bins with drawers - these are perfect because you can choose the size of drawer that works best for the items you need to store
Tubs with lids - when I buy tubs with lids I'm very intentional to purchase the ones that my materials will fit in best. Storage space is a hot commodity and I hate to waste it with empty space inside of my tubs. The shallow tubs are my favorites for the smallest pieces because I can stack them on my shelves. I'm also a huge fan of clear tubs (for storage, not for the classroom) because I can see what's inside really easily.
Zipper bags - sometimes Ziploc bags are the best solution for the space available. This is especially true if I'm storing materials of a similar type, I can put my aquarium stones in one bag, small pebbles in another, and glass gems in another, then I put them all in the same tub.
It's helpful to invest in a good label maker and clearly label all of your containers. I always have the hardest time when I'm putting things away - what went in that empty tub? Where is that bag that I need? The labels really save me time and frustration when I need to rotate my materials.
The best tip that I can give you is to set up an organization system and stick too it. Put materials away where they belong as soon as you are done with them, so that you don't end up with a mess that takes a lot longer to clean up and put away.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Where to find loose parts

As preschool teachers, it's in our nature to hold onto things. We just can't help it, we might be able to use that for something! I know how deep this runs, I've been out of the classroom for almost two years now and I still have a collection of empty containers in one of the cabinets in my office - they might come in handy one day!
Collecting loose parts plays to this piece of our "hold onto that" mentality. The most difficult thing about loose parts is that you often need a fair amount of whatever item you want to use. You need enough that the children can actually do some creating with it, and enough that more than one child could work with the item at a time.
Here are some of the ways that I've gathered loose parts quickly and effectively;
  • Go for a walk - natural materials are ideal loose parts because their supply is seemingly endless and they are usually free. I've been known to take the entire class on walks around the neighborhood so that we can collect pine cones, acorns, stones, twigs, and leaves. I've also collected natural materials from my home - the river rocks in our landscaping, soy beans from the field next to my house, if I can put it in a bag its come to my classroom!
  • Ask parents for donations - you'd be amazed what parents are willing to collect for your classroom, I've asked for lids off of plastic jars and bottles, old CD cases - and old CDs too for that matter, nuts and bolts, ceramic tiles, and packing peanuts. Families are happy to get rid of all of these things, especially if they can be given to a good cause. They will also be curious to see what the children do with these items, which makes this a great family engagement opportunity. I also love to ask my families for help because you never know when they might have a connection, I had a parent one year who worked for a contractor and he would bring us the most incredible tiles from bathrooms and kitchen back splashes, these were all extras from jobs that were going to be thrown away.
  • Find sources in your community - do you have a local business that will donate materials? Can you take items that others have dropped off at the recycling center? It never hurts to ask! A couple of communities in my area have retail stores that specifically designed for people to drop off random things (empty containers, empty spools, corks, fabric scraps, paper tubes, etc.) and then others can come in and purchase these. Often these places will have teacher discount days so you can really stock up!
What are your favorite sources for loose parts?

Monday, August 29, 2016

Loose Parts Inspiration

I am a huge fan of loose parts for a couple of reasons;
  1. They encourage creativity - if you give five children a basket of pebbles, a bucket of twigs, and a collection of old keys they will all find different ways to use the items.
  2. They are easy to gather - loose parts are usually natural or recycled. They won't cost you a lot of money and often the children can be involved in collecting them, which motivates them to explore these items after they've been gathered.
  3. They fit into so many different centers - use your loose parts as counters in your math center, materials for exploring weight/volume/mass in your science center, collage materials in your art center, and building details in your block center. The same collection of loose parts can go a really long way!
  4. They let children be in charge - the very best thing about loose parts is that there is not a right or wrong way to use them, so children really have the opportunity to plan their own experiences, carry them out, and then reflect on them. 
The rest of my posts this week will be all about loose parts, everything from where to find them to how to organize them. Before we get into all of that though, I wanted to share one of my favorite loose parts photos - this is a great one that I captured in my classroom:

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Friday Freebie - Open House Signs

Happy Friday! I'm all about natural decor for the classroom, I've shared this preference often! There's one popular material that has made it's way into my room in more ways that I ever could've imagined is burlap. It's versatile, it's pretty cheap (especially if you can find it at the home improvement store), and it holds up really well to children who are not always gentle.

If you love burlap, and general rustic loveliness, this freebie is for you! These beautiful Open House Signs are from Allyson Sutton.  It looks like she's given you everything you need to organize your welcome back night.  Even if you've already started school, make sure to download these and save them for next year!

Color Palettes

I've written a lot about classroom design this week, so I wanted to share one of my favorite sites for inspiration, have you checked out Design Seeds?! Don't click on that link unless you've got time to waste, because I guarantee that it will suck you in! The site is a collection of color schemes inspired by photographs. They are fascinating and I could spend hours exploring the different combinations.

My favorite thing about the site is that it will let you choose a color, and then give you all of the different palettes that include that color. This makes it really easy to find color schemes that go with colors you are already using - like if you are trying to match a specific piece of artwork or an accent wall.

I also love that the color schemes include the original inspiration photo - this has helped me make sure that I am using natural colors in the classroom because I can choose inspiration photos that are taken in nature. It is also eye opening to see all of the colors that you can pull out of natural objects.

Here are some of my favorite Design Seeds at the moment:

I'm only going to show you four because I really shouldn't spend much more time on that site, I'll want to redecorate my living room!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Decor Inspiration

Yesterday I promised to share the classroom photos that I've been drooling over.  I've gathered these from all kinds of different places and I've tried my best to find the original sources for all of them, so please click the links to check out other amazing, inspiring decor ideas!

I love the use of color and the awesome alphabet on that beautiful green wall! KLA Schools North Bay

These bare walls feel anything but institutional - and I have that exact teal cart in my home, but that's not the point... Kids Collective Preschool

This room feels so homey and comfortable! Charlestown Nursery School

This is 100% my dream classroom, but I can't find the original source, HELP!

The light in this room is incredible! Little Sprouts Child Enrichment Academy

What photos have inspired your space?!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Classroom Decor

I have honestly gone back and forth on whether or not to publish this post, because I know teachers who feel very strongly about both sides of the issue, but I decided to go for it.  My thoughts on the classroom decor debate shouldn't be a surprise to those of you who have followed Preschool Ponderings for a while. It's no secret that I am a huge advocate for the Reggio Emilia approach, and my own personal opinions about classroom decor are closely aligned with Reggio teachings about the environment. But as you read this please remember that my opinions are just that - my own personal opinions.  This is what has worked well for my classroom and my personal style. I completely respect experiences to the contrary.

Whew, now that we've gotten all of that out of the way, can I just say that my facebook and instagram feeds have been full of adorable classrooms over the past couple of weeks. I look at these beautiful rooms and I'm pretty sure that they are more impressively decorated than my home, some of them are truly works of art that Have probably been a long term investment.

At the same time, I've seen a few articles about Bare Walls Theory (like this one) floating around cyberspace too.  I can't say that I agree with that argument entirely either.  I think that the idea of no decorations or displays feels a little cold and institutional.

I tend to fall right down the middle - you know I'm a huge fan of neutral tones and natural colors. I also firmly believe that classroom displays should celebrate and draw attention to the work that the children are currently doing. This doesn't mean that I think a classroom has to be boring.

I think that it is entirely possible to choose colors that encourage calm and still make the room a beautiful place to be. I just advocate for using subtle colors in accents that don't draw attention away from student work. Pillows, rugs, framed artwork created by students, even curtains, are the perfect ways to introduce color.

It's really easy for the room to look cluttered when you start displaying student work, so I'm a huge fan of rotating displays. Once something is more than a couple of weeks old, take it down - send it home or put it in a portfolio. This always helped me make sure that only the most recent, relevant work was given precious wall space.

This article from NAEYC's Young Children says how I feel much more eloquently! If you've found yourself pondering this argument it's definitely worth the read.  Make sure to come back and check out the blog tomorrow because I'm going to share the classrooms that have been my inspiration lately!

Monday, August 22, 2016


Did you hear?! Teachers Pay Teachers is doing it again - they're having a second back to school sale! Today you can get special discounts on any of those items that you need to start the school year (or those things that you wish you'd had when you started a couple of weeks ago).

Make sure to head over to TPT and make some of those purchases that have been sitting in your wishlist - if you are in need of inspiration, here are some of the posts that I've done about items on my own wishlist:

Back to School Wish List 2016
Back to School Wish List 2015
Back to School Wish list 2014

Happy shopping!!!!!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Friday Freebie - Back to School Teacher Gift

Happy Friday! The week really flies by when I'm as busy as I have been lately, if this whole back to school season has snuck up on you just a little too quickly I have the perfect freebie for you today.

The very first product that I ever purchased on Teachers Pay Teachers was an editable planner from A Modern Teacher (it was completely worth it, and if you're in the market hers are beautiful!), and to this day I still turn to her when I really want to up my game.  This gift tag freebie is beautiful, and comes with an easy idea for a teacher gift that is a little different.  Download your copy and go find some golden goodies to add to it!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Cleaning tips

I spent most of today cutting out things that had been laminated, and when I was done my scissors were full of sticky lamination adhesive and I could barely use them.  Do you want to know my trick for cleaning sticky scissors? Clorox wipes.  I'm not joking, if you carefully rub the wipe along the blade of the scissors over and over, all of the sticky stuff will come off. Since I'm sharing that random cleaning tip, here is another post that has even more great cleaning tips for the preschool room:

What are your secret cleaning tips?

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Best Freebie Ever!

I know I've shared this resource on here before, but I found myself using it again today and thought I'd better tell you about it again. So here it is, my all-time favorite resource for preschool printables:

I discovered Over the Big Moon the first year that I taught preschool and since then I have used every single one of their Pre-K Packs in one way or another.  They are perfect for activity centers, holiday parties, take home activities, and even gifts for preschoolers.  There are 26 different themes, giving you plenty of options, some of the themes are seasonal, some are character or movie related, and some can be used year round. Each pack contains 13 different activities of varying difficulties, all of the activities can be aligned with a math or literacy standard.  The best part - every single one of these packs is free!!!

If you haven't seen them yet please go check them out, it will be well worth your time!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Sanity Savers

This time of year is stressful, so I wanted to take a minute to share a tip that has saved my sanity time after time.  It's really simple, I keep a list on my phone of all of the things that I love to do when I need some "me time." Things are all things that help me unwind and relax a little. I pull out the list on tough days and pick one of those activities to help myself unwind.

The key to this particular list is that I'm very specific about including activities that help me unwind that my budget can handle. I also make sure to include activities that require differing amounts of time - so on days when I'm slightly irritated I can take 30 minutes to wander Target and on days when I am at the end of my rope and really need a pick me up, I'll spend over an hour getting a pedicure.

The other important thing about this list is that it has to be completely personal. All of these activities have to truly be things that you find relaxing, or they won't work. I'll share my list so that you can get the idea, but then it's up to you to dig down deep and come up with your own list of sure-fire stress relievers.

My stress-relief activities:

  1. Buying new nail polish and giving myself a manicure
  2. Wandering around target and checking out the clearance aisles
  3. Reading a book
  4. Stopping at Starbucks for coffee in the evening
  5. Driving a hour to shop at my favorite store
  6. Watching the sunset with a glass of wine
  7. Working on a quilt
  8. Baking cookies
  9. Organizing my closet
  10. Eating ice cream for lunch
Now it's your turn! Go make your own list and when you have a rough day make sure to pull it when you have a rough day and pick the activity that fits the situation the best! This is all about taking care of yourself, and sometimes even the simplest thing can make a really big difference. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Tips for the first day of Preschool

Whether you've already started the school year, or you're still gearing up to it here are some tips for helping your first few days go a little more smoothly;

Stick to your regular schedule: Following your regular schedule right from the start will help the children get used to it more quickly. It will also help them begin to feel a little more comfortable because they will always know what is coming next. For help planning your daily schedule take a look at these posts on the topic.

Make time for each child: Build those relationships now.  Take time out of your day to talk to each child on-on-one.  This is a great way to show each child that you care and that you will be there for them when they need you.

Plan community-building activities: Help the children get to know each other by encouraging them to work together in order to create something amazing. Check out these community building art projects for more ideas.

Start parent communication strategies: Plan which strategies you want to use in order to communicate with families and start using them at the beginning of the year.  This will help parents learn where and when they can expect to get information from you. It will also help you define your boundaries when it comes to parent communication. This post, this post, and this post might be helpful!

Be prepared: Plan your activities and make sure that you have all of the materials that you need.  This will help you feel less frazzled and make sure that you have time to deal with whatever else needs your attention. Check out my lesson plans for the first week for some ideas.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Friday Freebie - Name Song

Happy Friday! This week has been a whirlwind, have you ever felt like you need a vacation to recover from your vacation? That was definitely me this week, so for today's freebie I turned to a very trusted source.

This Name Song freebie is from Play to Learn Preschool.  This song would be perfect for circle time the first few weeks of school. You can help the children learn each others' names and work on name recognition at the same time. Make sure to download this cute set and enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

My personal philosophy

One of my favorite Early Childhood blogs is Let the childrenplay. I love it because Jenny’s educational philosophies are so closely aligned with my own – she has great love for loose parts, hands on learning, and getting messy! She posted this week about the big ideas behind her philosophies, and why she connects with each of them (you can read it all here).  Her post got me thinking about the philosophies that I value, and more importantly, why I value them. 
I’ve shared many of my values related to education here, but I’m not sure that I’ve ever written about why these particular methods and ideals resonate with me.  I think now, as we're all thinking about a new school year, is the perfect time to revisit and reflect.  So here are the big picture kinds of things that I value in early childhood education - and why:
Sensory learning experiences
I almost typed hands-on learning there, but I changed my mind, because getting your hands into materials is great, but I've seen children learn - really learn - from experiences where they got to use more than just their hands. I think that the best learning experiences are those that stimulate multiple senses.  Children should have opportunities to smell new smells, and hear new noises, and connect these smells and noises to what they are seeing and feeling at the same time.  When my toddlers were fascinated with coffee, the entire project started with smell, and many of them made the connection that it was something they had smelled at home.  Those experiences lead to deeper understanding. 

Making standards meaningful 
I am grateful to have a set of standards guiding my practice, but I believe that standards are there to help me provide focus to the things that the children are already curious about.  I could list a hundred different ways to introduce size sequencing, but my students really got the concept when we explored different sized marshmallows while engaged in a camping investigation.  The marshmallows were relevant to topic that really truly interested them, so they were motivated to explore them and I was able to help them focus on a concept that was developmentally appropriate. 

Authentic learning
Authentic learning comes in the form of real-life experiences.  When my students wanted to know where ants lived, we didn't turn to Google immediately, we went outside and looked for them ourselves. When the children determined that they must live underground then we had to do a little more research from additional sources to see how they lived underground, and what those underground spaces looked like, but this information added to the understanding that they created by following the ants. 

Whole language environments
This fits closely with authentic learning. I strongly believe that children should be surrounded by words - but more importantly that there should be specific reasons for those words to be displayed.  Vocabulary should be related to children's interests, teachers should write down the things that children say, and children's writing should be displayed the same way that we display their artwork. 

Process art
Art shouldn't be about talent or skill, art should be about expressing yourself and enjoying the creative process. I've had students look at my drawing and say "I can't draw like you do Ms. Erin" and I remind them that I have had a lot more time to practice, but then I always remind them that all that really matters is how much fun they have doing it. I don't want to show a child something that I made and expect their finished piece to look exactly like mine, I want to celebrate differences and encourage children to try new things. 

It's been a long time since I've thought really critically about the way I teach, and how strongly I feel about all of this, I need to take time to reflect on specific practices more often!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Whats Happening?

I know that it has been August for over a week now, but this month always seems to get away from me - Here's what I've been up to:

Current Favorite: Amazon has saved me so many times  in the past week! I can't get enough of Prime two-day shipping - I ruined a pair of black sandals, the one pair that I wear to work at least three times a week, and I had a new pair in two days, even though I had no time to go shopping. I also may have started my Christmas shopping with the help of Amazon last week.

Current Project: Last month I finished my first Craftsy class and it was incredible. I made a beautiful quilted travel bag and I've already used it a few times. It was easier than I expected and the class video walked me through every step. I can't wait to try another one, but for now I want to use all of the techniques that I learned to make a tote bag to go with my travel bag.

Goal for the Month: I try really hard to post something here every week day, but August is always the month that I struggle with. In August my busy personal life collides with a crazy work schedule, and all of those fun activities that I try to squeeze in before summer ends. It makes finding time to create and research and write harder than usual. So if things are a little sporadic here, that's why - but by September I'll definitely be back on track!

Friday, August 5, 2016

Friday Freebie - A gift for new kindergarten families

Happy Friday! These last few weeks of summer are flying by - a little too fast.  If you're thinking about heading back to school this freebie is perfect for you!

I designed this First Day of Kindergarten gift to give to my preschoolers and their families when they head to Kindergarten for the first time, but it is also perfect for Kindergarten teachers to share with families at back to school night, or on the morning of the very first day. The freebie includes notes to families in a variety of colors, a list of things to include in the treat bag (which correspond with the note), and a template for little felt hearts.  The note explains that the parent gets a felt heart to keep in their pocket, and so does the child, this way if they feel lonely throughout the day they can put their hand in their pocket and give the heart a little squeeze. 

I hope that whenever your first day back is, it goes smoothly, and I hope this freebie will help!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

What's in my desk

When I got the job that I have right now and realized that I would have a desk for the first time in my working life I was excited to fill it up with stuff! I read tons of blog posts about great things to keep in your desk, some of which were helpful, and some of which were a little weird.  Since I've been using many of these items regularly for the last year I thought I would share what I've love having at my fingertips. 

One of the first things that I did was to find an organizer that would fit really well in my desk drawer. I settled on a set that stacks on top of each other, so I keep the office supplies on the top (post-its, white out, 3M hooks, glue sticks, extra tape, etc.) and all of this stuff on the bottom:

Earbuds: When I need to block out the distractions I put these in and find a Pandora playlist that goes with my mood.  When I'm really distracted The Piano Guys are perfect, I also love my Pitch Perfect playlist.  I also use these when I'm watching webinars so that everyone around me doesn't also have to listen to my webinar.

Gum: Two reasons for this - obviously, if something that I ate for lunch had a strong scent, but it's also what I need when I've eaten far too many little snacks and I can't seem to stop!

Hair ties and bobby pins: There is inevitably a day when the rain completely ruins my hair, or it is just to hot to keep it down. I'm always grateful to have these because I never know when I'll need them.

Excedrin and Ibuprofen: These two have saved me countless times! I definitely suggest keeping whatever you use regularly on hand.

Mini Hairbrush: This is one of those things that I threw in my bag to bring in as an afterthought.  I really didn't think I would use it that much, but I was wrong. I couldn't tell you where I got this one, but it is one of those that folds in half and has a mirror in the handle part. Both the mirror and the brush have been well used.

Chapstick: I have different varieties of chapstick hidden all over - every bag and purse that I use regularly, drawers all over my house, so it was a no brainer to keep one in my drawer and I use it all the time. Especially on days when I have to train or present because I find that I need it more when I talk more.

Fingernail clipper and file: I used to bite my nails, so now I use both of these obsessively!

Battery charger: I love these and often take this one with me to conferences or trainings, when I know my phone will die and I probably won't have time to sit somewhere and charge it.  So while I don't technically use this at my desk (because I can plug my phone into my power strip or my computer) I am glad that I have it and it does get used often.

Lotion: This is a lifesaver on days when I have dry skin or lots of static, it gets used a lot in the winter!

Hand sanitizer: This was another one of those items that I threw in at the last minute, just because I have a ton of them laying around my house, but I use it a ton! I visit a lot of different classrooms and training locations and sometimes I just need that clean feeling that hand sanitize can give you. I also love the way it smells.

Lip gloss: I don't use this a ton, but sometimes I need to refresh - at the end of long days a little lip color can go a long way!

A couple of things that weren't in the picture: A regular phone charger that I use almost every day and band-aids (I'm pretty sure I had used them all when I took the picture).

What's in your emergency kit? Is there one thing that you can't get through the day without?

Monday, August 1, 2016

Back to School Wish List

Image from Glitter Meets Glue

It's that time again - time for the massive Back to School Sale on Teachers Pay Teachers!!!! As is my tradition, I'm sharing what's on my wishlist to help you add to your wishlist. Here's what will be going in my cart:

The dramatic play sets from Play to Learn Preschool are my favorite, and this Library set is adorable, and perfect for getting children excited about reading!

Fire drills can be terrifying for little ones who are new to school. I love this Fire Drill set from Pocket of Preschool because it gives children the opportunity to explore the routines without the actual alarm.

These Open Ended Question posters from Teaching Preschoolers are a great visual reminder.  They are also really helpful for parents to see what kinds of things they can talk about their children.

Another piece of my sale tradition is to share my favorite products from my store, that would definitely be in my cart if I hadn't created them myself, here's what I LOVE for back to school:

I used to hate circle time, but then I figured out how to do it right, and I created cute matchy materials for all of my circle time activities. Now it's a great way to start of the day, and you can use this set to get your circle time routines under control right from the start!

Classroom jobs have always been as much a chore for me as for my students, so I put together this Classroom Jobs pack very intentionally. There are name plates for each job, labels to hang in the classroom that correspond to the jobs, and tags that the children can wear that list their duties in words and pictures.

I always want to celebrate the amount of reading my children are doing, but writing down all of those titles is something that I just didn't have time for.  Even the youngest readers can use these logs independently because all they have to do is color in a tiny picture for each book that they read. 

What is on your wishlist for the back to school sale?! I'd love to hear about your amazing finds!