Sunday, January 31, 2010

Homework, Worksheets and other musings.....


I've read a lot of different theories on sending homework home for young children. Some say it helps reinforce concepts taught at school and helps build responsibility. Some feel that homework should be spared in early learning. Students should play more, worry about school less.

Many of my students asked for homework to do with their siblings. One of the requirements of our Pre-K program is to build home school connections. I do send take home kits and library books, and newsletters, but it was suggested that homework was a good way to build home school connections. Since my students need parental guidance for homework anyway, I assign things that will help students and parents have fun together. Once a week or once every couple of weeks, I ask my students to find a picture in a magazine related to a theme, or read the library book they've chosen with their parents. Sometimes the homework is to ask parents a question and report back to school. During fire safety week, students were asked to help parents devise an escape plan in the event of an emergency. My homework is never graded, students who miss homework are never penalized. I know that if homework doesn't get done that families have other things going on.

I still agree that kids should be allowed to be kids as long as possible and there will be plenty of time in later years for the stack of homework to be completed, graded and returned. Okay, so I guess I am assigning homework. But it has a purpose and I hope it will give our families a chance to send a little quality time together.

Worksheets and Coloring Books

Today I've read some great perspectives on what some folks are doing in their classrooms. I participated in a discussion earlier about the use of worksheets in the Early Childhood classroom. I stated that our Georgia PRE-K guidelines strongly prohibit the use of worksheets, duplicated material and coloring sheets. I do on the very slight occasion (maybe 2 times a year) send one home for homework.

Although I can't use them the way they are intended, but I find I can turn some of them into file folder games for independent practice---works great for some the cute Mailbox printables I've collected over the years.While I agree that there are so many more valuable experiences we can have our students doing, I know that my kids go on to public kindergarten where they do several worksheets per day. Sometimes I wonder if I am possibly doing a disservice to my students by not exposing them to this type of work. I do think they can be a good addition to a writing or art center, although my Pre-K consultant tells me I cannot use them there, either. I think it is kind of sad.

One of my favorite activities as a child was coloring with a good coloring book. My sisters and I could travel cross country and take nothing but a small doll and few coloring books and crayons. And, usually a big trip meant a new pack of crayons! I can remember how it felt to pull the first pointy crayon out of the box and put it to a crisp page of a new coloring book.

This year for Christmas, I gave each of my students a picture book and a crisp, new coloring/activity book. I guess I've got a little of the rebel still in me!

More Polar Pal Activities!

I recently posted some of the “special” polar activities I do with my students. We don’t have snow or ice very often, so we improvise. When I taught in New Jersey, there were a lot of fun activities that involved real ice and snow. Here’s a snippet of some of the other activities we do with this unit:

Fine Motor Activities

**Cut snowflakes, or for smaller ones, practice cutting skills by allowing kids to cut white paper into little bits. Think SNOW!!!
**Write or draw in shaving cream.
**Tear white tissue to make a snowy picture.
**Make “snowballs” with recycled paper crumbled into balls. Use for snowball fight (see below).
**Cut out pictures of things that begin with “P” to make a collage.

Large Motor Activities
**Walk on all fours like a polar bear
**Walk on hands dragging legs behind, like a walrus
**Waddle like a penguin
**Ice skate indoors, using a little wax paper under each foo. This is a great large motor activity and the kids just can’t get enough. I can’t tell you how many rolls of wax paper we’ve used in the last 2 months---and it only takes 2 small squares for each kid!
**Winter Hokey Pokey:
You put your mitten in, you take your mitten out
…boots …coat
….hat ….scarf
**Slide down a small hill on a piece of cardboard to simulate sledding.
**Make “snowballs” with recycled paper crumbled into balls. SNOWBALL FIGHT!!!! Always fun and gives great range of movement! Can be done with rolled socks or cotton balls, too!
**Build an igloo with large cardboard blocks. (If you don’t have a set, make your own from covered Capri Sun boxes. They are the perfect size for little hands to build large structures without fear of injury during crashes!)
**Read “The Mitten”. As each animal crawls in, students can take turns being the animals and crawl under a white sheet or large piece of bulletin board paper.
**HIBERNATE Game: Sort like the “Freeze Dance”, but when I stop the music, I call "HIBERNATE!". The kids crunch up and pretend to sleep. I change this up and use it for many things, including working some phonemic awareness activities into the game.
**A few of my favorite large motor animal songs include: Greg and Steve’s “The Freeze”, and “Animal Action” parts 1 and 2, and
“Sammy” by Hap Palmer.

Eskimo Indian Olympics:

BLANKET TOSS: Have students hold the edges of a baby blanket and toss stuffed animals in the air.

GREASED POLE WALK: practice walking on balance beam. We sometimes use sock feet for friends who are a little more skilled and wish to add difficulty.

ARM PULL: First express they must pull gently---we don’t want to hurt each other. Have 2 students face each other, feet touching, knees bent. Hold each others arma and gently pull back and forth to make a “rocking” motion.


I do this once every couple of years, as it takes a lot of advance planning, someplace to store jugs in between stages of building and a very large area for construction and play. Build an igloo from
recycled milk jugs.

Place milk jugs (lying down) side by side until almost a full circle is made, leaving a space for a door entry. Hot glue or use packing tape to secure together. Continue adding layers until a dome is formed. These turn out really cute, and I leave it up as a playhouse for most of the year. I have a relatively small room this year, so we make one. One of our Pre-K rooms is the size of 3 or 4 classrooms put together. If I ever move to that room, I’ll DEFINITELY do this again.

It helps to have parents begin saving jugs at the beginning of the school year.
I let the parents know in August that we plan to do this, and they send us
their jugs as they use them. We start building when we have enough to make one
layer. We have usually collected enough jugs by “Polar Pal” week to complete
the igloo and use it as a dramatic play area.

Polar Science

Talk about the size of an Emperor Penguin. When you tell them how big an Emperor Penguin is (avg. ht. 44 in.), they may not be impressed. First, have them build with blocks to the correct height to give them a visual of the actual height. Next, help students measure and draw a life sized Emperor Penguin. Measure how tall they are in relation to the penguin they’ve made.

Talk about how daddy penguins incubate the eggs. Explain how they stand still for very long periods of time, just holding the egg and trying to keep it warm. Ask the kids to try to stand still with a plastic egg on their feet. How long can they stand?

Now, try “waddling” with the egg in place. We make a relay game with it. (I don’t like to say race, because we try to find ways where no one loses”.)

Observe ice as it melts. Put a dish in a warm place like inside, one outside, one in the refrigerator and one in the freezer. Make periodic checks to assess melting. Which one is melting faster? Why doesn’t the ice in the freezer melt at all?

Talk about camouflage and how it is nature’s way to protect animals. Show a polar bear die cut in front of a black or green piece of construction paper. Then show the die cut against white paper. The camouflage of the polar bear’s coat helps him hide in the snow. What other animals can blend in to the environment?

Explore blubber. Fill a bowl with ice and water. Have children place hand in water and describe what it feels like. Once everyone has had a turn (and little hands warm back up), fill a quart Ziplock bag ¾ with Crisco. Have children place a latex glove on their hand and place in the
ziplock, zipping the bag as close as possible to gloved hand. Now place in icy water. The hand stays much warmer when insulated by blubber!

Sensory Table ideas

Fill sensory table with packing peanuts, chunks of ice, shaving cream, or cotton balls. Add polar animal toys and you are all set!

Insta Sonw from Steve Spangler is great, too, but a little expensive. Usually I make the InstaSnow in a small storage bid with a lid and allow them to use it at a table. (Plus, now you have 2 sensory areas!)

Walrus/Penguin Adding Game

Helper rolls large die –that # of students waddle to front.
Roll again that many join.
3+3=6 count total of walrus or penguin friends
The kids love to come up with scenarios, which inevitable lead to more math problems!

Phonemic Awareness Activities

Here’s a few quick things that can be done anytime. I tend
to use them as time fillers for transition times or waiting times.

“P” is for polar pals- each student gets to say a word with the “P” beginning sound.
“W” is for walrus- each student gets to say a word with the “W” beginning sound.
Clap syllables of polar animals.

“Hibernation Rhyme Game”
Children pretend to sleep while the teacher says a pair of words. If rhyming words are said, students “wake up” and come out of
Saturday, January 30, 2010

What do you teach as Kindergarten Readiness Skills?

As a Pre-K educator, part of my job description includes helping students acquire the self help skills they need to be successful in a larger elementary school setting. I have a Kindergarten Skills Club that meets regularly, usually on the playground for the first few minutes of recess. We practice skills like putting on jackets, zipping up, shoe tying, and "inside-outing" a coat (the kiddos' term, not mine).
Later in the year, we also learn our address, phone number, parents first and last name ----yes, they do have names OTHER than "Mommy" and "Daddy"! When we do this one, parents are always surprised that their children DON'T know their parents' first and last name. This can be very important information for a preschooler to know in an emergency! There are lots of other safety skills we practice along the way, such as looking both ways to cross a street.
I am looking to expand my club topics and would love any ideas you have to share. What do you do to get your students ready for kindergarten?

Tune In – “Temple Grandin” on HBO- Autism Speaks: Blog

If you are interested in learning more about autism, specifically HOW they think, this special should be interesting. Temple Grandin is AMAZING!!!
Tune In – “Temple Grandin” on HBO- Autism Speaks: Blog
Thursday, January 28, 2010

Oreo Cookie Penguins Again?!!

This morning as my students arrived, one of my little guys stopped to see me on the way to unpack his backpack, and says in a sweet singsong voice, "Mrs. Ayn, we are going to have penguin snacks again toda-ayy!". I gently replied that we would have a lot of fun today and would probably have a cool snack like goldfish today. I said I was so glad he really enjoyed them yesterday, but that was something special and we couldn't do it again today. While I was explaining all this, he was struggling to unzip his backpack by himself and I reached over and helped him get it open. He reached in and pulled out a full package of Oreos and said, "See? I got my mom to give us some Oreos so we can have the penguin snack today!" After which, he threw himself toward me and wrapped his arms around me in a giant bear hug. What teacher in her right mind could refuse that offer? So we made Oreo Penguin snacks again today, and they loved them even better today! Since I polished off the last few circus peanuts yesterday during my planning time, we just used the goldfish we already had for snack (and a full sized Oreo for the head this time). They turned out pretty cute---even cuter than yesterday's penguins!

And my little guy who brought the Oreos to share? This is his penguin---he was so excited that had it completely constructed before anyone else got their Oreo unscrewed!

And a few more pictures of our polar theme.....

A closeup of Ookpik

The paper igloo we made in our dramatic play area. Accommodates 4-5 Eskimo friends comfortably!

Our ice fishing game made from existing classroom materials

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Polar Pals

Okay, so I say this almost every week, but this is my favorite week to teach! Although I consider myself a Southern girl through and through, technically I am a transplanted Southerner. You see, I was born in Alaska. My mother's family is from Alaska and she grew up there. We moved to Georgia when I was a baby so the South is really my home, but Alaska calls to me. For birthdays and holidays, my grandmother would always send Native Alaskan gifts and trinkets. My first stuffed doll was a stuffed owl called "Ookpik", made from seal fur by Native Alaskans long ago.

Ookpik is a native literary character, similar to our teddy bear. There are many stories and books that tell stories of this beloved little owl. I have a little Golden Book version from when I was little and it was one of my favorite books of my childhood. If you knew my love for books, you'd know that is really saying something!

Both of the owls on either side of the front Eskimo are versions of "Ookpik". The small darker one is my beloved childhood treasures!

Over the years, I have collected several native artifacts that I treasure. As I became interested in education, it was only natural that I would start collecting children's literature from the region, as well. When I began teaching, I found that by adding and sharing my artifacts and books to the usual "winter, snow, polar animal, Eskimo" theme that most teachers delivered, I had a wealth of great information to share with the little friends I teach each day.

I now combine a lot of the wonderful ideas I've seen over the years with my "special" ideas and props!

Here are some of the cute things we've done this week to compliment our theme!

Oreo Cookie Penguin Snack
1 Regular Oreo
1 Mini Oreo
edible embellishments (I've used orange decorator frosting in the past, couldn't find a suitable color this year, so after looking through the candy aisle, I found orange marshmallow circus peanuts. We cut them into several slices--they were perfect! We used raisins this year for the eyes--had some leftover from a project last week.)

Remove one side of the large Oreo. Break the side without creme in half. Place on as wings. Add small Oreo on top to make the head. We added the circus peanuts for a beak and feet and raisins for eyes. Very simple and very cute! Our modifications worked well this year since I have two sensory challenged students who do not eat frosting. We always let the students do all of the project with only verbal prompting (their creations, not the teacher's), so when we have used frosting in the past, they usually go a little crazy and the penguin is not always identifiable as a penguin. This time the students could clearly "see" the penguin in the creation they made!

Shoeprint Penguins
Most of the art we do is student directed. They choose the medium and the subject. Art materials are available for them to explore at will. Occasionally we will do a "project", meaning we suggest the topic and materials, but even then we only suggest. Our school likes us to post a "project" every other month or so, so I usually reserve "projects" for this. Our assessment portfolios are supposed to only feature the student's art, so as cute as projects are, we don't do them often.

We told the students they were going to "buddy" up and trace their partner's shoe. After tracing, they were to cut out their own shoeprint and make it into a penguin. I know, not a lot of direction, but we're allowing for creativity and individuality. If they want to think outside the box, who am I to stop them? Maybe they have a better idea! We had black and white paper available, but had someone asked, I probably would have allowed them to use whatever they chose. One child asked to put googly eyes on hers and within minutes, most of the class wanted them, too! Several went into the scrap box and got orange paper to make beaks. I was a little surprised none of them thought to add feet.

I think they turned out really cute. Some of them may not look like a perfect penguin to someone else, but I am as proud of them as the students themselves!

I'll try to add some of the other activities, songs and books we used in this unit soon!

Counting Caterpillar

Here's a couple of pictures to show how our Counting Caterpillar has grown!
Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Hip Hip Hooray! It's the 100th Day!

It was a momentous occasion in my classroom today--- we celebrated our 100th day of school!

We have worked hard to make this a special day in our class. On the first day of school, we talked about some of the events we would experience in our Pre-K year, I explained we would count our days and have a party on the 100th day. One of my sweet little girls came eagerly to school on the second day and said, "My daddy's getting pizza for our party on the 100th day." I knew her family owned a pizza place, but I didn't want to get my hopes up. I really thought she would forget as time went on, but she frequently would "remind me" about her promise. Today, her family very generously donated and delivered pizzas for our party. It was a such a treat!

We made a snack mix today, using 10 each of items like M&M's, Cheerios, Goldfish, raisins, etc. The children counted and made their mix. We did is as a whole group activity this year. I didn't think it went as well as when I have small groups in sort of an assembly line. I'll try to remember that for next year!

We made crowns with sentence strips with a large 100 stapled on and decorated them with whatever they students wanted to use. Some colored with markers or crayons, some used collage materials.

Today we read several books, but apparently I put some of my favorites away safely and will probably find them next month! Some of the titles we read were "100th Day of School" by
Angela Shelf Medearis and "100 Hungry Ants" by Elinor J Pinczes. I'll definitely find "100th Day Worries" by Margery Cuyler and "Fluffy's 100th Day of School" by Kate Mcmullan in time for next year!

I have a caterpillar that we have added to since the first day of school. The picture above was taken the 2nd week, so he has gotten considerably longer and his body trails all over our circle time area. I'll try to post a picture later of how much he's grown. We have had a lot of fun learning with the "Counting Caterpillar". Our "Counting Caterpillar" has opened the door for many "teachable moments". We've counted, used one-to-one correspondence, patterned, predicted and had many talks about large numbers.

Each year, the Governor chooses a book and gives it to all students enrolled in Ga. Pre-K. This year's book, "How Much is a Million" by David M. Schwartz has posed a particular challenge. We were asked to extend the book by participating in numerous activities to correlate to the book. I felt that this would be difficult, since so much of the suggested activities are geared to a MUCH older audience. We are in Pre-K, and many are struggling with the barest of number sense. I did manage to find some thing to extend our understanding. I discovered and ordered "How Big is a Million?" by !

Now that tomorrow will be day 101, the party will be over, but the fun continues. We will continue to pattern, count and do various activities each day as we add numbers to him to see how long he will get. (I'm not telling them that I know that he will grow to be 180 days long!
Monday, January 18, 2010

Matin Luther King, Jr. Day

As we are out of school today, we will learn about the great civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr. tomorrow. In Ga. Pre-K, we don't do worksheets or coloring pages, so sometimes we have to be creative. I have several activities that will focus on Dr. King's philosophies. Some of our activities will include:
  • Working in collaborative pairs to trace each others hands on colored construction paper. Students will cut out the hand print and paste around the outside edges of a picture of Dr. King. All the hands together will form a "friendship wreath".
  • Talk about dr. King's DREAM and what it really means. Students will write or dictate their dream for humanity (we encourage an altruistic response) on one side of a pre-cut cloud shape. They will illustrate the dream on the reverse side. We will hang these from the ceiling.
  • Present bags as presents: old crumpled lunch sack, crisp new sack and fancy gift bag. Each bag has 1 item inside, all the same. We will talk about which package they would like to receive and why. Then have students discover items are all the same inside. I then ask students to pair up with someone who looks different than themselves. After they are paired, I ask them to discuss with their partner and find out ways the are similar (likes, dislikes, age, number of siblings,etc.) After a few minutes with partners, I ask student pairs to share findings with the rest of the group.
  • I ask students to imagine what it would be like if someone in our class did not have the same rights we have. We talk about how hurtful it is to be excluded.
We work on our social/emotional skills all day every day, so I incorporate alot of Dr. king's teachings into our day to day activities. Every moment is a teachable moment!
Sunday, January 10, 2010

Awesome article!

Can the Right Kinds of Play Teach Self-Control?
Published: September 27, 2009
Can imaginary play teach children to control their impulses — and be better students?

Tips to Help Toddlers Develop Language Skills - ABC News

Tips to Help Toddlers Develop Language Skills - ABC News


Several months ago, I started a website primarily as a way to organize some of the ideas I have found and used over the years. After some technical difficulties, I realized I would have to wait to work on it until summer, when I can devote more time. I have since found several blogs I've been following, and have been inspired! I hope to use this blog as a forum to connect with others in Early Childhood education. Please bear with me as I learn the ins and outs of the blogger's world!

A little about me:
I have been teaching early childhood for about 18 years. I love what I do---it's the best job in the world!!! Where else can you go to work each day and do art, play games have snack and get hugs regularly AND get paid for it?! I love to share ideas with other teachers and see what they are doing in their classrooms.

I teach Pre-K in our state funded lottery Pre-K program, called "Bright From The Start". I have an inclusion class with 20 students, several with special needs. Our program includes a combination of student led and teacher directed activities.

Thanks for stopping by!

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