Monday, January 30, 2017

Baby Doll Dramatic Play

When we get to the middle of winter, the last thing that I want to do is pull out the same dramatic play materials that we've been using all year.  That means I have to get a little more resourceful to make my dramatic play centers interesting.

Now you can definitely buy some amazing printables and supplies at the Dollar Tree to add to your dramatic play area, and I've done that too, but I'm talking about using what you've already got.  Baby dolls were always popular in my classroom, and I tried not to keep them out all of the time so that it was special when they were available.  I also spent a lot of time raiding the infant for additional supplies.  Here are some great things to add to your baby doll dramatic play:

  • Blankets - plenty of blankets, and bonus if you can find two of the same because for some reason the children will all fight over that one blanket...
  • Real baby bottles - borrow them from families, I'm sure that someone has a couple of extras they would be willing to share.
  • Real baby spoons and bowls - There is just something about the real thing, as opposed to the tiny plastic ones that come with doll sets.  Many preschoolers don't ever get to play with the real baby bowls and spoons because their parents need them for younger siblings, or they get put away as soon as they are outgrown.
  • Pacifiers - even if they can't actually put them in the dolls' mouths they will still enjoy playing with them.
  • Newborn diapers - go buy a pack and it will be well worth your investment, even better if you can get a parent to donate a pack that their little one has grown out of. Your preschoolers will spend hours putting these on and changing them.
  • A Changing Pad - Yet another example of when the real thing seems far superior to a play or homemade version.
  • Multiple Diaper Bags - You'll be amazed at the stuff that will disappear from your classroom shelves and wind up in these diaper bags, but it will be worth it because it will keep them occupied!
  • Empty baby food containers - self explanatory
  • Infant Daily Sheets - If you use these in your programs then the children are probably pretty familiar with them. Run off some extra copies and let them fill them in. 
While I'm a huge fan of the real thing, in the case of doll furniture, strollers, and baby carries it definitely makes the most sense to use the play versions. They're cheaper and they won't take up nearly as much space in your classroom!

What items do you make sure to include when you have baby dolls in your dramatic play center? If you're looking for some more strategies to make your centers more interesting, check out my Center Challenge Books!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Friday Freebie - Science Experiment

Happy Friday! That's about all I have left in me this week, so thank goodness the weekend is here because I am so ready for it!

I've shared all kinds of science experiments this week, and today's freebie fits that theme too. This "What Dissolves" science experiment and recording sheet from Science for Kids is another very simple experiment that is perfect for helping children explore basic scientific principles.  Go download your set and try it out with your students!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Easy Science - Frozen Bubbles

I could've sworn that I've shared this activity before, but when I went back through the archives to look for the photos I couldn't find the post anywhere - which means I need to share it with you!

Have you ever attempted frozen bubbles?! This is an activity that I have put on my lesson plan every year since I started teaching, but the weather really has to cooperate, so I've only been able to try it once, but it worked like a charm!

All it takes to make frozen bubbles are bubble solution and a very cold day.  First, a note about the bubble solution. I've always loved Dawn dish soap an water, but for this specific experiment you want to add a little more dish soap than you usually do. This helps to make the bubbles a little stronger so they don't shatter as soon as they freeze.  The next thing that is really important is the outside temperature.  You want the air to be cold enough that it freezes the bubble solution. In theory, any temperature below 32 degrees Fahrenheit should work, but if you want really dramatic effects then the colder the temperature the better.

I also found that it is really difficult for preschoolers to hold onto a bubble wand when they are wearing heavy ski mittens, so you may want to keep some extra knit gloves on hand for this activity so that everyone can participate fully.

Once you've blown the bubbles they will start to crystallize as soon as they touch the air.  They are extremely fragile, but it's really ok if they shatter because you can make as many as you want! My last bit of advice is to take a lot of pictures, of both the children participating in the activity and the actual frozen bubbles.  It will be cold and you won't want to stay outside very long, so the pictures will come in handy as you talk about the experience in the classroom later.

I'd love to know if you try this activity, and what kind of results you get!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Easy Science - What will freeze?

This week is all about my love for simple science experiments.  This time of year lends itself perfectly to all kinds of ice experiments because they are relevant - nature is certainly making ice, so why not explore it?

One way to go beyond just exploring ice is to look at all kinds of everyday items - both liquid and solid - to see which ones will freeze and which ones will not.  This experiment will give your students the opportunity to  make hypotheses, you can ask them which items they think will freeze before attempting.

Here are some items that you probably already have that you can experiment with:

  • Water
  • Juice
  • Milk
  • Dish Soap
  • Corn Syrup
  • Vinegar
  • Vegetable Oil
I suggest trying to have the same type and size container for each item so that you can keep the amount of liquid constant.  Clear containers will work the best because the children will be able to see more of the item both before and after you had them in the freezer.  Make sure to leave the items in the freezer plenty long enough to make sure that every item has the opportunity to freeze if it is going to. I suggest starting the experiment and making your hypotheses on day, putting the items in the freezer and leaving them there overnight, and then finishing the experiments the next day. 

After you've taken the items out of the freezer you can have some wonderful discussions about which items froze and which ones didn't, as well as why they may have frozen - or not frozen.  

Monday, January 23, 2017

Easy Science - Exploring Sugar Crystals

My Favorite science experiments are often the simplest, like the opportunity to get a close look at sugar crystals.  These easy experiments are a first opportunity to ask questions and try new things with materials that are familiar and safe.

Sugar offers a couple of opportunities.  The first being the chance to explore crystals.  If you place a small amount of sugar on top of a dark piece of construction paper or cardstock, it is easy to see each individual crystal with your bare eyes.  This is also a great time to practice using a magnifying glass to get a better look.

Some things that you can ask the children while they're looking at the crystals;

  • What shapes do you see?
  • What colors are the crystals?
  • Are all of the crystals the same size?
  • Can you find one that is bigger than the others?
  • Do they look different when you pile them up?
The other interesting property of sugar is that it dissolves when it gets wet.  After you've taken some time to look at the crystals, give the children eye droppers and small bowls of water and ask them what will happen when the sugar gets wet. 

Some things that you might want to point out as the children are exploring:
  • What happens to the crystals?
  • Watch the sugar slowly dissolve and move through the sugar.
  • Look how the color of the sugar changes when it gets wet.
  • What does the sugar feel like when it's dry? What about when it's wet?
If you're feeling really brave then you can add some food coloring or colored water. See if the food coloring reacts differently to the wet sugar than it does to the dry sugar.  

Here are some photos that are similar to what you can expect from your own investigations:

As you're working on these very simple experiments, make sure that you write down the questions that they are asking and the things that they notice.  These notes will help you understand what the children want to learn more about - and what they already know!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Friday Freebie - What's on the Inside

Happy Friday - I swear, sometimes the short weeks feel like long weeks! TGIF!

Today's freebie is "What's on the Inside" a mini-lesson from Kindergarten Chaos that would be perfect for any discussion about diversity.  Go download a copy and add it to your stash! Have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Exploring Physical Characteristics

Yesterday I shared an article with some great tips for talking about our differences, you can read that post here.  Today I wanted to share some of my favorite activities related to physical characteristics so you could add them to your plans!

I've shared this one before, but I'm just going to keep sharing because I love it! The visual makes a great impact for all ages.

This EASY activity helps children learn to pay attention to subtle differences, which is what makes all of use unique.

Use these printable pieces to give children opportunities to explore what different hair and skin colors look like together.

What a great idea! This would be especially meaningful if the children had the opportunity to mix their own skin-tone paint before painting with it.

Share your favorite activities for exploring physical characteristics in the comments!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Standards related to MLK day experiences

It's been a while since I've talked standards here (but if you want to go back and read all of those posts, they're right here).  There are a number of holidays over the next few months, and sometimes it can be hard to justify celebrating them, or spending time exploring related concepts.  I've become quite skilled at aligning just about any activity to related standards, so I wanted to share with you in order to help your lesson planning.

Here are some preschool standards related to Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

  • Recognize and identify own emotions and emotions of others - when discussing how being treated differently makes us feel. 
  • Identify the diversity in human characteristics and how people are similar and different. 
  • Compare own characteristics to those of others.
  • Show awareness for the consequences of the consequences of his/her actions - when discussing how we can make others feel.
  • Demonstrate socially competent behavior with peers - When treating each other with respect.
  • Express concern for the needs of others and people in distress.
  • Ask questions to seek explanation about phenomena of interest - when discussing race and cultural differences, feeling open to asking questions.
  • Identify similarities and differences of personal, family and cultural characteristics, and those of others. 
  • Demonstrate cooperative behaviors and fairness in social interactions.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is very much social-emotional and social-studies related, making this time of year the perfect time to focus on these standards that can be difficult to incorporate throughout the rest of the school year.  

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Talking about differences

I know that many of you will be talking to your students about physical characteristics and differences this week.  Some of these conversations may be unplanned, between Martin Luther King Jr. day on Monday and the inauguration on Friday, children are certain to be hearing things that they don't understand or need help processing.

I wanted to tak a minute to pass along an article that I read a couple of weeks ago that offers great advice for handling these touch topics.  Take a minute to head over to Edutopia and read Teaching Young Children about Bias, Diversity, and Social Justice.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Books for Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is one of those holidays that I always plan to introduce to my students, and then the closer the day get the more I struggle to find the right way to discuss it.  In some ways, they understand, and in other ways, it is way over their heads.  In my experience preschoolers have a hard time comprehending why people would be treated differently because of the way they look - which is one thing that I love about them.

So, I've rounded up some books that have been really helpful for me, here are my favorites (all links are Amazon affiliates):

What are your favorite books for Martin Luther King Jr. Day?

Friday, January 13, 2017

Friday Freebie - Life Skills

Happy Friday! I hope that some of you are going to get to enjoy a nice long weekend!

I've spent a lot of time this week talking about responsibility and planning ahead, and these life skills posters from Amy Marshall Are the perfect way to introduce some of these concepts to your students.  These would be a great way to introduce social studies vocabulary and start a discussion about each character trait.  Go download your set and have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Books about responsibility

I've been sharing more of my favorite children's books lately, and these posts have been something that I've really enjoyed putting together.  I'm planning on continuing these posts throughout this year, and I can't wait to round them all up at the end of 2017 and look at all the great books we've talked about! All links are Amazon affiliates.

Since I shared an idea for classroom jobs yesterday, I thought I'd put together some books about responsibility, here are some of my favorites:

Do I have to? By Nancy Loewen

Just a Mess by Mercer Mayer

Don't Forget! By Anastasia Suen

I Wanna Iguana by Karen Kaufman Orloff

Not Norman by Kelly Bennet

Are there any books about responsibility that you would add to this list?

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Classroom Responsibilities

On Monday I shared some of my favorite tools for getting all of my routines and procedures back in place after the holidays. I look at this time of year as a perfect opportunity for starting fresh.  In addition to getting back to routines that may have gotten a little relaxed over the last month or so, I also like to introduce some new responsibilities. At this point of the year I've built relationships with the children, they know my rules and they're getting back into the regular routines.  Because the children have worked through all of this already, I take this opportunity to add more of a challenge.

One of the things that I almost always add after winter break is classroom jobs.  It has taken me years to figure out a system of classroom jobs that works for me, and for the children.  I have a few requirements for this particular system:

  • It has to be easy for me to remember who has what job.
  • The jobs have to be tasks that the children can complete independently.
  • The tasks have to be incorporated into our daily schedule so that the children remember to do them.
  • There have to be cues in place to help the children remember the steps of their tasks so that I don't spend my entire day helping students complete their jobs. 
I finally ended up creating a fool-proof system, so of course, I have to share it with you!

There are a couple of things that make this Classroom Jobs set a little different:

Each job has a name tag. On the front of the tag it lists the name of the job, along with a corresponding illustration. On the back of the tag it gives all of the steps that the child needs to complete in order to do their job, with illustrations. This means that each child can put on the name tag that goes with their job and then go do it all by them self. 

There are nice large tags to write down who is responsible for each job. I would laminate these and write names on them with a dry-erase marker so that it is really easy to switch jobs.  This also helps the children recognize which job is theirs.

Finally, each job has little tags that you can place around the room near the items or locations that the children need in order to complete their jobs. These are visual reminders that can help the children match the steps on their name tags and make sure that they are completing each step. 

This is honestly one of my favorite things that I've ever made for the classroom because it has so much thought put into it. It really is designed to help children be independent, which is a plus for the children and the teacher!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Personal Goals

I know that I posted last week about my one word resolution, which is prepare, but that was pretty much a general thought for both my personal and professional life. I wanted to take some time and share some of my more specific goals for this year.

I refuse to call them resolutions, because I think that term brings to mind something that is a little too big and probably unrealistic.  These are goals, things that I know can be done, and in most cases they will help me feel less stressed and less rushed!

  1. Make sure that I'm ready for the next day before I go to bed - this includes packing my lunch, picking out my outfit, and making sure I have everything gathered that I need for the day.  These are all things that I started doing at the end of 2016, and they have changed my mornings. I'm less forgetful, and I usually get to sleep a little longer, which is always a plus!
  2. Check and double check my planner - Every day looks different for me, so my planner is my life and I need to be better about looking ahead and making sure that I'm prepared for the next couple of days. I've gotten a little too relaxed about this and I've found myself without the materials that I need more times that I would like to admit, so I need to make sure that I know what is happening and when for at least the week ahead of me. 
  3. Schedule down time - My days are crazy, like I said no two days ever look the same and I find myself picking up a lot of last minute tasks, so I'm making every effort to schedule time to organize and prep every week.  I definitely did not do this that last couple of months of 2016, and I was overwhelmed and burnt out. I can't afford to let that happen now so I'm making sure that I have one day each week (or most of one day) to help myself catch up.
  4. MOVE - getting up and moving always makes me feel better, even just a short walk gives me energy. I've stopped making time for this, mostly because the weather turned so cold so quickly, but I am looking forward to burning some calories and getting my blood pumping 
I'm trying not to overwhelm myself with things to work on, so I'll stop there and really focus on those. I'd love to hear what you're working on this year!

Monday, January 9, 2017

Re-establishing Classroom Routines after the Holidays

I may have gone back to work last week, but last week was all about survival. This week, on the other hand, is about getting back into routine and evaluating those routines as I think about the rest of the year. That means making sure that I'm planning ahead, following the schedule, and setting up systems that are helpful - not ones that create more work for myself!

If you're thinking about some of those same goals, here are some of my favorite tools for re-establishing routines and organizing all of my plans:

Picture schedule cards are perfect for this time of year.  They help the entire class get back into the routine using visual cues.  If you've followed a similar schedule for the entire school year, then the children should be able to use the photos to figure out what is coming next.  This is also a great tool for those children who have a hard time transitioning between activities because you can warn them that they need to check the schedule and see what's going to happen next, giving them the opportunity to independently prepare for the transition. 

I can always tell when something isn't working, but that doesn't mean that it's easy to fix.  Whether it's my daily schedule, an activity that didn't go well, or a reoccurring behavior issue, taking time at the end of the day to reflect helps me to see patterns and begin to formulate a plan. This little one page Reflection Check Sheet freebie has been a life saver, not only for helping me remember to take the time each day, but also for helping me track my thoughts. 

I created my Circle Time Mega-Pack specifically for this time of the school year. By this time in the year I tend to have gotten a little relaxed with circle time, mainly because I've run out of fun ideas.  The materials in this pack help me plan for this particular period of the day, and they help the children recognize what is going to happen during circle time because we use similar materials and activities each day. 

This classroom recipe book has changed the way that I plan. All of the basic recipes that I need are right here, and I can make variations based on themes and seasons.  I love having this book in the classroom because I don't have to search for a play dough recipe on my phone, try to track down the piece of note paper that I scribbled the bubble recipe on last year, or scramble to remember all of the ingredients for slime the morning that I need them.  

My center challenge books were meant to help children learn how to use the materials in the different classroom centers.  They are also perfect for the middle of the school year, when the children are starting to get a little bored with the materials in the classroom.  These are a great way to encourage children to try new things with the same materials - or to remind them how the materials are supposed to be used!

I don't know about you, but I do a lot of my planning while I'm in the classroom doing a million other things.  This means that my notes often get written down on a post-it, in a notebook, or on the back of whatever piece of paper is closest.  Then, when I need to write it all down, I can't find all of the pieces in order to pull them together.  These free planing pages have changed all of that because they can be made into their own notebook, or put on your clipboard with your attendance so that you always have them. Thank goodness for notes that are easy to find!

I hope that some of these tools will be as helpful to you as they are to me!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Friday Freebie - New Year Organization

Happy Friday! If you had to go back to work this week like I did, then congratulations! we made it to the weekend!

Today's freebie is for those of you who's New Year's Resolution is to get organized! These classroom labels are one of my most popular freebies, and for good reason.  They're cute, and large enough to read from a pretty good distance. Go download your set and enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Children's books about New Year

There are children's books about every single subject imaginable - and thank goodness for that! I use books to introduce new subjects and to help children reflect on their own experiences, so books about New Year are especially helpful because I don't always see my students right before or right after we celebrate the New Year.

Here are some of my favorites to include in the classroom library (links are Amazon affiliates):

Some holidays are harder to find books for than others. New Year happens to be one of those holidays, but I hope this list will help you out if you're looking to add a few to your collection!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Fun Stuff for a New Year Celebration

I know that New Year's Eve has come and gone, but I love to welcome the children back to school after the holidays with a small New Year celebration.  It's hard to come back to school after a break, especially since the last week of school before we left was all about celebrating the holidays. Coming back to the regular routine can be a little boring.  This is my way of helping make that transition a little more fun.

Here are some of the things that I've come up with over the years to put out for the first week to ensure that we have something new to explore while celebrating the New year:

It's not a celebration without decorations! The New Year's decoration set is my favorite because it features so many glitter graphics, which are really the best of both worlds - you get the look of glitter without the mess! All of my decoration sets include a printable bunting, name plates, cupcake picks (which can also be used as stickers), treat bag toppers, and a door decoration for the classroom door.

Vocabulary cards are my favorite way to introduce a new topic.  We talk about each word at circle time, and then I put them in the writing center so that the children can explore them on their own.  Children love to write the words that they are learning, so it is helpful to have these when we are starting a new topic because I don't have to spell the words for them over and over - they can do it independently.  My vocabulary sets also come with cards that have letter spaces instead of the word so that children can create their own set of cards to practice the letter formation and spelling.

Alphabet books are one of my favorite things because they introduce new vocabulary that may not be as commonly used as those included in the vocabulary sets.  They also help children begin to isolate beginning sounds and notice the differences between letter sounds.  The New Year Alphabet book is one of my favorites because it was a huge accomplishment to be able to come up with a New Year - related word for every single letter of the alphabet!

I also spend a lot of time reflecting with the children on how they spent New Year's Eve.  This is one of those holidays that people tend to celebrate very differently, so it's exciting for them to hear about each others' celebrations and find similarities and differences. It also gives me a chance to get to know the families a little better.

How do you address the New Year at school?

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

What is a New Year?

This whole idea of a new year can be pretty confusing to a preschooler.  Nothing feels majorly different - they went to bed one night (probably later than usual) and when they woke up in the morning they were told it was a new year.  That can be pretty confusing when you don't really understand what a year is to begin with.

Helping young children understand what a year is has a lot to do with making sure that they understand the calendar, and even smaller unites of time.  These are incredibly abstract concepts, and with the exception of smaller units of time (seconds and minutes) they can't really be observed.

I created this set to help my students visualize all of these units of time so that they can begin to understand the vocabulary and sequence the units of time correctly.  While fully understanding these concepts will take time and actual life experience.  Being able to use the vocabulary correctly is helpful as they begin to explore.

The set includes:

  • A ring book with visuals and explanations of time (i.e. "a minute is 60 seconds" etc.)
  • Vocabulary cards with the same visuals
  • A dice for additional games and practice (can be used to match what is rolled with the correct vocabulary card, or the corresponding page in the ring book)
  • A Fill in the blanks page - you can print this as a worksheet, or print on cardstock and laminate so that it can be part of a math center and children can fill in the blanks with a dry erase marker. 
I love these activities because they build on each other and encourage further understanding, while also ensuring that there is something every child in your class can be successful with.  If you are interested in more details you can check out the entire set HERE.  

Monday, January 2, 2017

One Word Resolution

For the last few years I have found a focus for the year in just one word.  The idea is that instead of a traditional resulution, you choose one word that will help you focus your efforts for the year.  In 2016 my word was care, and in 2015 my word was celebrate.  This year my word is:

The last two years have been all about my professional life - new business, new job, and really finding the place that I want to be career-wise.  This year my personal life is going to get a little more of the focus because we are welcoming our first baby in June!

I have always been super organized, but the planning has taken over, so "prepare" is the perfect word for this year.  I am preparing for some huge changes, while also making sure that all of the wonderful teachers I work with are prepared for my time off.  We are preparing our home at the same time that I am preparing my calendar and files for others to be able to take over in my absence.  And I'm definitely preparing this little blog so that I can take some time off. I will definitely keep the posts coming, although they will be scheduled a little farther in advance than I typically like, and I am also thinking about having some guest bloggers pop in too.

I hope that you'll all enjoy the journey with me - I promise to stick to my typical preschool topics and not go all baby overload on you! Here's to 2017, I'm looking forward to new experiences - those that I can prepare for, and those that I can't!