Monday, October 3, 2016

Keeping Centers Super Simple


Hi there. I have not blogged in a long time but I am begging for forgiveness. I am trying to wrap my head around a new classroom structure known as staggered day. This might not seem like a big deal but for 25+ years I have worked with a partner. So now I am totally on my own and have to rethink how to set up for this. It took me a long time to figure out a functional room environment down to where to put my tables and how to set up my centers. I struggled and kept changing it up until some of my friends came in and tossed half my furniture out the door and reconfigured my room. Thank goodness they took pity on me! Without another adult in the room I had to change up my lesson plans and plan activities in a very different manner. Centers could not be monitored by another adult and we are not given aides. With that being said I had to fly solo and figure it out. 
I realized that my centers would really need to be super simple or they would crash and burn which would be a total disaster. I also saw from my roster that I had a roomful of boys that needed to be more physically active before I hit them with the real work of kindergarten. So I want to share some of the ideas I came up with and you can see what you think...

First I realized that I needed to store these ideas in a notebook with photographs and any files necessary to make these again if they got loved "to death." So I made several notebooks which are filled with Getting Started Activities that do not involve much academic background. My students are ELL's with limited preschool experience. I wanted them to love school and sneak in some of those crucial skills to make them successful in school.
Most of those adorable little boys have not held a pencil or scissor and this becomes a struggle right from the start. Many of our students cannot write their name and need to strengthen their fine motor skills. I don't want them to get discouraged and this is an easy activity to help build their muscles without being too painful. The tweezers are from the Dollar Tree but you can change this up with tongs which are a bit easier. If they are not ready for counting then just let them put the pompoms in containers or sort by color. I used an old muffin tin (I will hate myself when I want to bake) and I glued bright papers inside. Finally I added the numbers for those that can handle this. Differentiate as needed. Easy to throw together right? 
Lacing cards are another tool for building fine motor skills and most kids love doing these once they get the hang of it. Why did I make these? I made them much bigger and easier to manage. The cords can be purchased in any craft store. We talked about school supplies before I modeled how to do this and put kids with a capable partner to keep things moving. All you need is clip art, cardstock, and lamination to make this happen. It took no time to throw together. Grab a hole puncher and just make holes around the image. No sweat!
Playdoh is always a huge favorite in my room but I found kids getting a bit restless after a few days of using rolling pins and making snakes. They were not ready for letters yet but I was doing guiding drawing with them and they were loving it. That gave me the idea of making mats where they could add details to the picture. They loved this and I am working on a packet that might become available. It was so much fun to watch them as they thought about how to make each mat more interesting and their creativity was amazing! This was super easy to slam together and can be used throughout the year. I can connect them to each theme too!
Some of my students knew some of the letters of the alphabet and were ready for a more challenging center but not something that required too much interaction from me. We all love all the font sorting cut and paste activities that we can grab. I even have one in my store. However, I love that this is more interactive and I have a colored sticker on the back of each letter so they become self checking. My students love playing this with a partner and taking turns turning over a card and placing it on the right mat. Students can be partnered strategically so they do not struggle with this. This center is easy to make and can be used for many months, as you introduce the letters. This is simple and not too complicated to put together. I store all the pieces in small ziplock baggies.
Here is a peek at a few of my kinders playing this. What do you think?
This is one of my favorite centers and I did a lot of kid watching when I had students doing this activity. Students had to decide what 2 pictures went together. Some students did this with ease but others did not have the vocabulary to support this and had a more difficult time. My ELL's obviously found this more challenging. I made this center self checking too by putting matching stickers on the back of each set that formed an apple. Easy peasey... Students made some combinations I might not have thought of and this made for interesting conversations.
I knew I HAD to create centers that would be fun for the boys so I made these alphabet roads that kept them busy with the matchbox cars I provided. They loved finding the first letter in their name or their friend's. Boys and cars go together like peanut butter and jelly so I kept brainstorming ideas that would float their boat as the saying goes...

More centers on the same order: I added racing flags and monster trucks to these numbers and I found that running them just on colored paper saved me ink and they were just as happy doing this. Many of them knew their numbers and this was an easy way for me observe that without stressing out using an assessment. I made several sets of these to keep the whole gang happy. I laminated some sets and put others in page protectors. Easy, right?

Okay this was my best center, ever. I took jumbo sticks (Walmart) and painted them black. Then I made white dotted lines using a paint marker. I made zillions of these and the poor hubby was non too thrilled that dinner was not even on my radar that night. Then I decided to make signs and buildings so the roads would be more interesting. How could I make these stand up? No problem, I used binder clips. I taped the signs to smaller sticks and even used a photograph of the front of the school. Obviously I just added a bunch of little cars and they let their imaginations run wild. This was a hit! Score.
The more academic kids enjoyed putting these simple fishy puzzles together and helped each other put them in alphabetical order too! It was a challenge that they enjoyed if they had the background knowledge to be successful. This could be done as a guided activity in your guided reading groups too. The template is simple and took very little time to put together. 
Tracing is another worthwhile activity for those littles that still need to strengthen those hands in a non threatening way. All you need is an expo marker (pull out those fancy colored ones) and a small eraser. This takes little prep and was another center the kids really liked. I punched a hole in the upper left hand corner and used a ring to keep them together. 
Finally, I used those dollar frames from Ikea to post the "I Can" statements that go with each learning station. Now my administrator will have a clear understanding of the purpose for each of these activities. Many of them also require creativity, problem solving and learning to work with a friend. 
I model each center before releasing the students to use these and at the beginning I kid watch as they use these. This helps me trouble shoot any problems that might occur. I hope this is helpful when you design your first set of centers. I hope your year is going well as we face the challenges of CCSS and limited resources for implementing programs.


Monday, June 20, 2016

That's A Wrap: My Kindergarten Year

Yes I am still around but it has been a crazy year with a teaching partner out on medical leave and lots of littles who needed a program and activities to meet the standards and keep them engaged. It was a tough year but now that it is over I can catch my breath and share those last few days with you! How did I manage? I had lots of help from amazing parents, a principal who provided as much help as she could grab, and a few friends who came out of retirement to lend a hand when they could. It was a stressful, hot mess but I survived to tell the story. I even had one sub that the kids fell in love with that we are hoping to hire this year. That is another story for another time. Basically I learned a lot about myself and how hard I am capable of working when necessary. So here are some ideas I came up with to bring the year to a close.
We had a beach theme on our final day together and wrapped it up with "Finding Nemo" which I loved move than the kids. It is adorable. "Finding Dory" came out the day after school ended which was such a bummer. I made the sign that you see above for each student to hold and a parent snapped a picture. The frame is from Ikea and only cost a couple of dollars. It was cute to give this final shot to parents. 
I also made an autograph book with each child's picture on it with a line for a signature. The kids went nuts over this activity and had so much fun with it. I was shocked that they thought this was so great. I was going to give them each a beach ball but at a dollar each I really did not want to spend so much money on this. So if money is an issue try this idea! I posted the template on my FB page so go check it out.

We had a variety of centers related to our unit on ocean life that I created for that special day. This was ocean bingo and they loved it. I had them cover each creature with an glass gem. This is always a great unit to do at the end of the year. I made tons of games, centers, art activities, and little books to help them build knowledge. We watched some excellent You Tube videos and their are amazing non fiction books that are available too. I mainly used the Capstone series on ocean animals. We even learned how to draw these creatures using Whimsy Workshops units that I just adore. Please check them out in her store. 

We did a huge study on sea stars and on the last day they used magnifiers to find the sight word on each fish and record it. Then they got to color this in. Did you know that sea stars come in all colors of the rainbow? What is it about those magnifiers that make little students so excited? They loved this activity too!
Now I realize that if I was really on my game I would have filled this tub up with sand (staying with the beach theme) and had them dig for sight words. However, I really could not get sand that easily and decided popcorn would still make this activity challenging and fun for them. Picking up the sight words with tweezers made this activity twice as hard and a recording sheet was provided for those with more capability. There was no mess and students had a blast doing this center. 


 This activity was the favorite for the day. I grabbed a huge tub, filled it with water, and added light weight plastic balls with cvc words on them. Yup, no random activities on my watch! The more capable kids got sentences which I wrote using a permanent marker. I threw some in with the cvc words too. Students fished out the balls using little nets and read the words to me. They loved doing this but I did it outside my classroom door to avoid a possible water disaster. Now I want to buy a million of these plastic balls for all kinds of activities! Right?


Each student got a certificate of completion and a matching necklace which I created using beads from Dollar Tree. As I handed out each award I had a parent put this necklace around each child. This was the highlight of their day.

I would never have survived this year without the amazing parents who helped me. I was so lucky to have them. It made me realize that I had to ask for help and depend on others to run a successful program. I think we pulled it off... I hope so.

The room is packed up. It took about a week with many helping hands. I hugged 51 children goodbye, I talked about first grade, I bought all of them bubbles and best of all I hugged all the parents. I closed the door and walked away. Another year is over. It had so many challenges but it ended on a happy note. Goodbye kindergarten. I will be back in August. I will be rested and ready for the next group. My eyes were filled with tears. The end of each year is always bittersweet.


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Be Inspired

Look around your classroom. Are there things you wish you could change? Are you tired of the same old activities? Be inspired and come check out some new activities that will make you the best teacher you can be in 2016. Dream, reach for the stars, set your goals, and teach at the top of your game:

Grab your bags and head on over by clicking on this picture. Happy 2016! Cheers to you.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Learning About Kindness and Being Fair


It has been a  crazy few weeks since winter break (desperate for another vacation) and we have been working on a variety of projects related to the seasons and weather. On Friday I took a break and focused on Martin Luther King Jr. This is an important leader and I like to stop and spend time on this. I remember Dr. King as a child growing up in Baltimore and his words had a huge impact on me and the world I lived in.
I think I own every childrens' book written about this great man  but this is my favorite, by far. It is written authentically but in terms a young child can understand. When I was a Common Core coach I did a close read with first grade students using this text. It lends itself well to a cause and effect map and children are able to find evidence to support their thinking with ease. I recommend purchasing it for next year or adding it to your library now. Check it out here on Amazon. 

I really like this video and have used it for several years. If you want to check it out just click on the picture to watch it. We all love Reading Rainbow... right? It might have been the only time my class was quiet all day!

Then we talked about what their dreams are for the future and what goals they would like to achieve by the end of the year. This is a little book  I love to use for this purpose and one that the kids can really relate to. If you want to purchase it for next year you can grab it in my TpT store for just a few dollars. My students loved this reader.

We had a great day, filled with important conversations about kindness, being fair, and standing up for what you believe in. It was well worth the time it took to do this. I even squeezed in a hit of writing just because we need more work on this.

I love 3 day weekends. Don't you? 

Martin Luther King Jr Story Read by LeVar Burton Reading Rainbow Stor...