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Monday, February 6, 2017

Apron Lady: Will You Be My Valentine?

Do you know The Apron Lady? Her name is Sandy Welch and I am so proud to call her my dear friend. If you have attended any I Teach K conferences in the last few years you've probably noticed the crowd of teachers chatting and laughing with her in her booth. She is the creator of the Show and Tell Aprons. 
Grab a cup of coffee and sit down to read the story of our friendship. I promise that you will be glad you took the time to know her better. We are just 2 kindergarten teachers, who live in opposite parts of California who found out they had much in common.
This friendship started in Vegas when I was sitting with a group of bloggers I knew from the internet, chatting over lunch. This darling lady came over and asked me if I thought teachers would buy her apron. She was a total stranger. I looked at the apron she held up and I was shocked at how clever the design was. It took me 2 seconds to fall in love with it. OMG I had to have one. I went into a class on writing with Deedee Wills and she had one in her hands. We both agreed it was brilliant. This is where it all started for me. What happens in Vegas can change your life... right? It sure changed mine. I loved the apron but I really loved the teacher behind the design and wanted to see her succeed. We kept in touch through our blogs during that year but I don't think she had started a FB page yet.Check out her blog known as Kinder-gartening to get a glimpse of her students and how she runs her classroom. It will make you "belly laugh" when she shares her latest crisis or classroom disaster. She is so real about life in a kindergarten classroom but full of great strategies for helping young children learn. Her love for our youngest students just makes her more endearing.  Check it out.
Time moved on and I decided to drag my poor husband to the next I Teach K conference and he convinced me to set up my own booth.  He was willing to work the booth while I went to classes and watched my favorite Teacher to the Core, Katie Knight present. Guess who had a booth across from me? Yup, Sandy Welch. Her principal and the secretary of her school attended  this conference so they could help her sell aprons. Can you image your principal doing this? Both of these women loved Sandy and were  happy to support her  new business. The two of us talked constantly between customers and found out we had  much in common. We become even closer friends, sharing a few meals and just chatting about all kinds of things... educational and personal. She was so supportive and kind about my materials that I wanted to pack up the whole booth and hand it to her. I love this picture of us that my husband took! We promised to stay even more in touch and we did.  Before I left Vegas she handed me an apron and insisted that is was a gift. I wanted to pay her. She would not take my money. Around the Christmas holidays she sent me an apron (beautifully wrapped) with Kindergarten Crayons embroidered on it and I was speechless. That does not happen too often. 
There is more so hang in there...
 We saw each other again at the California Kindergarten Conference and my booth was right next to her! Woohoo! Both of our husbands were with us and bored out of their minds (truth be told). Steve Welch is a gem. He is a great guy and the perfect compliment to Sandy. Our friendship grew stronger and I helped her sell some aprons when I could. I had no trouble convincing teachers this was the best purchase of the conference! If you have never attended this conference it is my absolute favorite. Get a ticket right now if you live anywhere in California. It is fan. tas. tic. I can't talk Sandy into presenting but I "forced" her to sing her 3 Bears song to a group of teachers and they each bought an apron... I swear- true story. This year she is part of my presentation!

Over time we exchange phone numbers and chat about all things to do with our families and kindergarten. We try to calm each other down about testing... report cards... testing... limited time for kids to play. You know- all the issues that make us crazy as teachers. As the months went by she told me Steve could not come to Vegas with her and she was worried about going solo. I offered to go in his place and we decided we women could handle this with no problem. We had a blast... It was so much fun with Katie Knight staying one night in our room and seeing other bloggers we loved. We stayed up for endless amounts of time and talked. Sandy has the best sense of humor but she is also a worrier and I just tried to reassure her. Yes, we could pull this off. No problem. We sold aprons like wild women and even ran out of some designs. 

Teachers fell in love with her personality and she spent time talking about this apron and how it kept students engaged. Teachers crammed into the booth, asked questions, and I convinced them that they would really regret not purchasing one. We took pictures of kinder teachers in tutu aprons and just had such a great time being with "our tribe." It was incredible fun. Principals bought aprons for their whole kindergarten team and we told them their teachers would love them forever. Can you imagine? We talked and drank coffee and Sandy even had special granola bars for us to snack on. It was exhausting but well worth the effort. Our friendship only grew closer and each purchase was thrilling to me! 

Sandy brought jewelry rolls with her to show teachers how they could display their cards. This was a game changer for me. Game changer. Now I wasn't walking in my room at 7:00 AM wondering where my letters were or the retelling cards. She taught me how to organize myself so I wouldn't pull my hair out. Can we all agree this is pure genius? Leave it to a kindergarten teacher to simplify life.

Sandy has the best sense of humor. Her friend Carolyn Kisloski who blogs at Holding Hands and Sticking Together wrote a book with Dr. Jean Feldman. Yup, the Dr. Jean. We both loved these two books and wanted teachers to purchase them. Check out the sign she created at her booth to push sales. We talked about these great reads and teachers listened to us. If you don't have them they can be purchased here and you can thank me later. Carolyn and I have become friends and she has been so generous we these books when I want to do a giveaway for a presentation. Buy them. They are worth it. They are all about engagement. We took pictures of teachers who had purchased them and sent them to Carolyn throughout the day. Teachers helping teachers...

Here is a list of reasons I've come up with for why you must have this amazing apron. Stick with me because I am never wrong about crucial teacher resources. Even if your teaching closets are ready to explode you need this hot little item. Trust me, I know.
Is this getting too long? Hang in there and this part will make you laugh. Let's all agree I am ridiculous but you will understand if you scroll down and continue reading. It can be a life changer. 
We have all done this at one time or another, rushing out the door with a thousands things in our hands. There is no time to go back home and those stains down the front of your shirt are staring you in the face. Not attractive at all.  Solution... just slip on that Show and Tell Apron and no one is the wiser. Problem solved.

Every time I receive a district email about testing I reach for something to eat. Is this your reality too? I swear the amount of testing in kindergarten is directly related to teacher weight gain. I'm just being real with you. Now nothing really fits right and yes those buttons are pulling a little more than desirable. Yikes. What now? You should already have been at work. No worries. That apron is waiting for you in the classroom and no one will know the difference.

I had a principal a few years ago who thought this apron was the best thing since peanut butter. When I had it on she would scream across the courtyard, "What's our star word today?" I was convinced she liked me because I looked the part... super kindergarten teacher on campus. She grinned from ear to ear when she watched me use it for teaching. My evaluations were glowing. It's all about student engagement people! 

Have you ever stood in front of your closet hating everything in sight? Sometimes I get so sick of my own stuff and can't even make a decision about what to wear because I am so exhausted from doing report cards or entering data, data, and more data. Finally I just grab two dark things and throw them on. I am not attractive- trust me. I head for my classroom and I jazz myself up with that cute black and red apron that is a favorite of mine. Attitude change. I return to the human race.

There are days when I know I need to do laundry but I just can't drag myself away from that 33rd episode on Netflix. Can you relate to this? Or maybe I sat on FB for some ridiculous amount of time just letting time slip by. Yikes! I get up the next day and those same black pants are staring at me with no other choices to be made. Let's all agree this is not a problem for a man but woman notice stuff. It's a lot of pressure. Grab an apron and no one will even notice. Another problem resolved and it's barely 7:00. Now for that 4th cup of java. 

Some kindergarten teachers dream about being a princess and Sandy has come up with the cutest apron to help make this happen in your classroom. This is her tutu apron and she highly recommends getting a tiara to accessorize properly. It is adorable. The girls in your room will be so in love with this look and Halloween will be a no- brainer. It is tutu cute. We sold a zillion of these in Vegas this year.

We have had some serious rain here and the kids have been hanging off the rafters. Okay that is a bit of an exaggeration but you get my point. Let's just say I had good reason to question my management skills. What does a teacher do to calm 30 wiggle worms down? Sing songs using apron cards, duh. Tell stories. They are fascinated by this and I am convinced they think you are a YouTube video. Gotta do what ever it takes...
Now I am ready to be serious. Okay just a little bit serious. I love using this apron to practice subitizing skills during small group instruction. I have the kids write their number on a white board and hold it up. You snooze, you lose. They love it! Grab some cards from Sandy's TpT store. They are well worth the few dollars.

Do you have that kid in your room that can never remember the sight word you have hammered on all week? Sometimes I want to pull my hair out but that's just me overreacting. You can have kids read the word as them come into the room and when they are ready to go home. They love this but I always like the 19th child who hears all the others say it and has no idea what the word is. Do you have one? Sandy also mixes the cards up (they are out of sequence) and has the children help her put them in the right order. I have to try that. You could also have them write the word on a dry erase board, spelling it correctly to make it more interactive.

I use picture cards to help students learn to track from left to right. It is also a great way to build vocabulary for a theme you are working on. It has really helped my ELL's build language. Sometimes I turn one card over to see if they can remember what it was. Visual memory practice made easy.

Sandy sent me a child's version of the apron and I had to come up with rules for using this during independent work. They were desperate to wear it. I have them work in partners and retell a story we have worked on. This is a huge favorite and great fun for the littles. Watch out of the corner of your eye for kids ripping it off of each other... just sayin'.
 If you ever come to a conference and meet this wonderful lady please force encourage her to sing you a song and use her magical cards. It takes real talent to do this quickly but she rocks it out. She is a total show stopper when she does her version of The 3 Bears. Don't let her try to squirm out of it. She is hilarious. Remember I said this. You don't want to miss this. Trust me.

You are finally at the end of my post (are you whispering amen?) and I want to thank you for hanging in there with me. I use the apron a million more ways but I am sure you need to feed your kids or call your mom so I will end it here. Blogging changed me. Important friendships grew. I am a better teacher.
Note to Sandy...
You have been a blessing in my life, more than you will ever understand. Thank you for always being there for me and always supporting my crazy ideas. You are always willing to make time for me. My only regret is that we met  just a few, short years ago. We should have met in kindergarten. You will be my forever friend. I love you. Thank you for all that you do for teachers and most of all for our children. 
The best friendships are unexpected. Please be my valentine. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Post Vacation Winter Work

This is my last week of winter break and I have been really busy trying to create new activities for my students to keep them engaged after being home for endless amounts of time. What would help them reconnect and make them want to come back to school? 
I decided to wander around in Target where inspiration is everywhere and planned to hit the dollar spot to check out the Christmas clearance. I found these adorable erasers and could not resist buying them. They would make perfect math manipulatives and I knew the kids would love new ones. On top of this the snowmen, trees, and penguins were just 30 cents a bag. SCORE. 

Over the week I bought more of these as I found them and finally realized that I needed a container to hold and organize them. Joann Fabrics has these containers on sale so I bought 2 of them and realized I might have gotten carried away with my eraser obsession.

So now I had to come up with some way to make use of all these little erasers. Since January is the month where I hit "teen" numbers hard, making ten frame cards was an obvious "must-have." These look pretty cute with images on them to match the erasers. I can build numbers, ask them to show me one more or one less, and talk about strategies for counting these numbers quickly and efficiently. Make sense? These can be used with number cards as part of a center where they work independently with a partner.

I am hoping my students have been practicing their sight words over break but I am not sure this will actually happen (a teacher can pray) so I made a variety of these simple spinner games that they will be able to do alone or with a partner during center time. My kids love spinners and mini erasers so I think this will be a hot ticket item.

I knew my students would need more practice identifying teen numbers so I created winter themed bingo boards that could be played easily with a friend. The ten frame cards are placed in the middle and each person takes their turn flipping the card, identifying how many dots are on there and covering the number with a glass bead. Easy to make, simple to use. I color coded the cards to match the boards so the kids wouldn't mix the cards up! Who am I kidding? That will be a disaster the minute I walk away!
If you have ever read this blog you know that I am obsessed with pocket charts and routines that I love to play with students to help them learn the sight words. This time I am hiding a snowflake behind a card and have a snowflake chant ready to go. I have lots of pictures that reflect a winter theme to help them build important vocabulary that I want them to become familiar with. Many of them might not know thermometer, icicles, or various arctic animals. This is a game my class is very familiar with but they will be thrilled to see new cards with new pictures.
I love all "Write the Room" activities and this one will be a real challenge for my kids. They have to look at each card and decide how many more will make ten. I have been working on this for a while and will practice it in small groups before I release it to be done during center time. I love calling it "Slide and Glide" to go with our winter theme. 

January is when I start pounding teaching word families so now I am forced to be creative and really think outside of the box. Once I have introduced several sets of words I am putting these cards in my sensory table for the kids to pull out with tongs. Their job will be to sort them and link related words together to build their word families. I think they will love this activity and are ready for a challenge! I will take pictures of them using these when I get back. What do you think?

Our Common Core unit of study is about weather so once I finish with snow I will talk about other kinds of weather and made "write the room" cards to match sunny, rainy, windy, etc. I created flip books which are simple and only have the kids record the first letter of the word. I want to keep this simple and build on their knowledge over time. For my top kids I will differentiate this and have them write the whole word since this will be easy for them to accomplish. Word families are another opportunity to teach young students a strategy for decoding a simple word by looking at "chunks." Here is an example of sunny weather cards and the related activities. I love keeping it simple so kids can be successful and gain confidence. Right?

Have you ever taught your kids how to play SCOOT? It is so much fun and the kids are up and moving around the room, one seat at a time, solving a problem or answering a question. Kids love this and they are learning so much. It is important to practice how to move and be clear with your directions so it does not become chaotic. I have them STAND behind their own chair, SIT in their seat, SOLVE the problem, and stand behind their chair when finished. Then I call SCOOT and they move one seat over to solve the next problem. This is a blast and a great way to assess the skill reflected on your task cards. Try it! This is for math:

Here is another version of SCOOT where students have to count the number of syllables in a word based on the pictures provided. Be sure to go over this vocabulary ahead of time so children can identify the cards accurately. 
I need to work on counting to a hundred and my students need lots of practice with this. I want to use these charts as a scaffold to build their fluency with a counting sequence. I find that it's better to start off pretty simply and build on as students build their skills. For example, a starting point can be 15 and you can have them count to 35. Ask your students about one more or one less and show them how to figure this out. Have them discover number patterns and how they are helpful. You know this stuff but it might be a good idea to provide each child with their own chart in a page protector. Ask lots of questions and have students explain their thinking. 
That's it for now. I will add on a few activities as I come up with them. I hope you got a few ideas and this post was helpful. 

Happy New Year.

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.