Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Top Ten Things to be Thankful for When You're a Preschool Teacher

Top Ten Things to Be Thankful For When You're a Preschool Teacher.

10. A wonderful assistant who seems to be able to read your mind at times, and who doesn't mind helping clean up a giant mess after an activity that doesn't quite go as planned.

9. Rest time, need I say more?

8. Washable paint, markers, dry-erase crayons, otherwise many pairs of pants would end up in the "work-only" stack.

7. That one creative co-worker who is always there to bounce ideas off of, or put a different spin on something. Along those same lines, that one co-worker who knows what you're going through with that one child and is always there to lend a hand.

6. Parents who "get it"- the ones at the end of the day don't ask their kids, "what did you learn at school today?" instead they say "tell me what awesome things you did today, did you play with so-n-so, go outside, or get messy?" Those parents who thank you at the end of each day and appreciate the fact that managing a room full of preschoolers is sometimes hard.

5. A boss who also "gets it". Early Childhood is not school! Okay, well yes it is, but it's PRE-school for a reason! Skill & drill just isn't appropriate. Having a boss who gets this and supports developmentally appropriate practice makes a world of difference!

4. A spouse or significant other that also "gets it"-- he or she doesn't mind the fact that there is that special corner of the house where you are hoarding tp rolls and boxes and milk jugs. Who gets that "I need to run into the craft store/teacher store/Wal-mart" could turn into a hour and $100. Who listens as you explain how today Johnny finally asked for a turn instead of clobbering the kid and stealing the toy.

3. That reliable substitute assistant or teacher who you trust your classroom with 100%.

2. The fact we are PRE-school and there are no worksheets, homework, and tests. We get to do what comes natural to kids- PLAY- and teach at the same time.

1. Those 10 or 15 or 20 snotty nosed, germ infested, loud, creative, wild children you call your class. While they can push your buttons, and don't seem to remember that we don't pick our nose (no matter how many times you explain it), they are the reason you love your job. They are amazing "sponges" dying to try out whatever new manipulative or activity you bring in. They are the ones who accidentally call you "mom" or "dad" but call their parents by your name. They are the ones who pick up a book and want to read it just like you do at Circle Time. They are the ones who are growing & learning every day making your job worth it.

Until Next Time & Happy Thanksgiving!!,

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Backwards Lesson Planning

(First off, I know I keep promising to get this blog going, and it will happen! I was just promoted to Lead Teacher at my Center - which is the equivalent to Assistant Director- so I've been busy learning that role!)

This post is intended for new preschool or day care teachers who find lesson planning overwhelming. I know when I first started I was overwhelmed-- having come out of college where we had to write ridiculously long, detailed plans for just 1 activity, now I was expected to put an entire week onto 2 pages! Awk!

Fortunately for me I had a wonderful mentor who taught me this method, and over the years I've fine-tuned it and the documents that go with it and want to share this method with others. And so I introduce:

First I want you to think about how you plan now. What's the first thing you think of? In most cases, it's the theme (or study, or topic, or whatever). This theme usually has to do with what season it is, or hopefully what the students are interested in, or whatever you decide you want to learn about this week.

Then you come up with activities around said theme. If your theme is Dinosaurs, you'll probably plan to paint a dinosaur, count dinosaurs, read a few dinosaur books, maybe even teach different dinosaur names. You'll get through the week and then move onto your next theme and continue like this. For holidays, you'll make cute crafts and decorate your room, and maybe you'll throw in some handwriting practice. Occasionally though you may run into problems finding ideas for a certain theme- like Fall, or Rain Forest, or whatever you've decided upon.

Well, I'm here to tell you this is the wrong way to go about planning. When the most important aspect of your planning is the theme, you may be missing the bigger picture: the child's development. Which is more important- a child leaving your room with vast knowledge about leaves and community helpers or a child leaving confident in their writing, counting, letter recognition, or social skills? We need to stop planning to the theme, and start planning to the children in your classroom.

And here is how you do it. :)

1. Observe & Assess

 What do your children need work on? Observe daily interactions (this is important for Social Emotional learning, Gross Motor, Fine Motor, well, everything!), ask students to do some basic things (like recognize the letters in their name, or count, or identify a shape), and decide. Look at your curriculums' standards or objectives (the Creative Curriculum has an entire book devoted to this!). If you do not have any standards or objectives the state of Georgia has some pretty incredible ones here: They go from Infant-Three Years Old, and are easy to look through. They come with examples of each objective so you know what to look for. The state of Illinois has also has comprehensive list of standards/objectives for 3-4 year olds, here:

2. Decide

Now that you've started to notice what skills your students need to work on, you decide where to start. Obviously start basic and work your way up. Do not try to teach number recognition to children who have no idea how to count. Write down your goals for all of your children in the following areas...
  • Social-Emotional Development (example: interacts with peers positively
  • Gross Motor Development (example: jumps forwards and backwards)
  • Fine Motor Development (example: uses fingers to manipulate objects)
  • Language Development (example: uses verbal language to express needs)
  • Cognitive Development (example: stays on task despite distractions)
  • Literacy Development (example: recognizes name in print)
  • Math Development (example: counts using 1:1 correspondence) 
These are fairly broad goals that can be broken down for different abilities which is important for groups of children with a wide range of abilities. If you need to record specific goals for specific children (children with special needs, children who are beyond the general development of the whole class, etc), then you can write specific goals for him/her. Remember not to post publicly the individual childs' goals as this is a violation of privacy.

3. Plan Activities

(Side note: Notice so far we have no mention of a theme, and we're keeping it that way. Don't worry theme-lovers, it's coming!)

When planning your activities you need to make sure you offer open-ended activities that address the following areas:
  • Literacy
  • Math
  • Science
  • Music & Movement
  • Art
  • Gross Motor
Your development goal for Math is counting using 1:1 correspondence. Your activities in Math could be: using counters and number mats, or a game where a child draws a card with dots on it, counts the dots, and then counts out the same number of counters. At circle time, you could have a bag with some new materials and have the class count how many there are. Take inventory of the cars or blocks in your block area. Use two of your goals and have every one count how many letters are in his/her name (Math & Literacy). There are tons of activities for counting.

Another example- your social emotional goal is interacting with peers positively. This isn't necessarily you can plan an activity for but more of an on-going thing you pay special attention to. When you notice two students fighting or disagreeing instead of taking the toy/material away, take the time to teach them how to appropriately negotiate turn-taking. Another idea is to incorporate books about interacting positively, how to be a good friend, share, etc. Purposefully only set out 3 pairs of scissors for 4 children and see what happens. Make a lesson.

Now you have activities that address your developmental goals.

So finally, 4. Choose a theme.

All of your activities can fall into theme, or not. Like I said, we're planning to the children's developmental needs not what time of year it is. It may be Christmas time so your counting activity can be ornament erasers as counters and a Christmas tree mat. Or my students' favorite, pom poms as counters and a pig as the mat (feed the pig!). Your gross motor game could be jumping from lily-pad to lily-pad like a frog during your Spring theme. Cater your theme to your development-driven-activity.

If you have an activity planned that doesn't really fit into the theme, do it anyway.

Now I have two free documents to help you with your planning process.

This guide will help you record your developmental goals, and then activities by curriculum area. Download available here from Google Drive.

Remember we talked about individualizing the goals for students. This sheet helps me keep track of goals for students who may need different goals.

This document can be downloaded for free from here.

I sincerely hope this helps you and makes the planning process easier. Before I learned how to do this I would spend hours looking for activities to go with the theme. Now I just determine the goals, and then find activities to work on the goals. Super simple.

Please leave me feedback on this process or if you need further explanation! I'm happy to help. :)

Until Next Time, (which will be soon!- not in 3 months...)

Saturday, September 29, 2012

What Do I Do When My Kiddos Are Stressed Out?

Have you ever had one of those weeks? They usually occur when you are preoccupied by something else (either work-related or personal) and you manage to get by, but then once it's over and done, your kiddos get stressed out? Well, I just had one of those weeks.

We had a big "inspection" of sorts for a major source of our funding for the organization we are a part of. I mean "your job depends on the outcome of this inspection so you better have your stuff together" type things. We prepared basically all summer for it, and then had a whirlwind of a week before putting in long hours both at work and at home. This past Monday they came, they loved us, and they left. And then we were left with what I like to call stress hangovers.

So, what do you do when your kids are stressed out?

First, throw your lesson plans out the window. Just do it, you'll thank me later. When preschoolers are emotionally out of it, they aren't going to learn a thing! (Except how maybe you handle your own strong emotions and handle theirs!)

Second, if you can, take them away from the classroom. My assistant and I were lucky enough to be able to take them to our gym for 20 minutes and let them run some of their pent up emotions out. Take them outside, for a quick walk outside or even around your building, anywhere! If you can- sneak back to the classroom to set up some stress-busting activities.

Lastly, set up a stress busting environment in your room. Hopefully you can do this while your kids and assistant/co-teacher are out of the room-- tidy any leftover messes, put on some music that is soft and mellow, and put out activities that you know your children will engage in. My favorite stress busting activities are:

1. Play-doh: there is just something about play-doh that melts away frustrations and stress. Add something different to it to keep their attention longer. Try scissors, plastic knives (supervise!!!), googly eyes, tangram blocks, cookie cutters, legos... anything!

2. Water in the Sensory Table: Unless you've had water in your sensory table every day for the last month, kids are drawn to water and it also helps relieve stress. We have had dry materials in the sensory table for a bit so I knew that my kids would engage and mellow out with water. I added some rocks, plastic frogs, eye-droppers, and bowls. This wasn't on the lesson plan of course, but like I said, throw them out!

3. Stringing Beads: Messy art can add stress sometimes, so I threw out our messy painting activity and got out the pipe cleaners and beads. The concentration that this requires almost always "tricks" kids into not remembering why they were so cranky five minutes ago.

4. Chill Time: Grab some new books and let them get their blankets off their cots and have "chill" time (this is especially helpful if they are tired!). We have quite a few stuffed animals in our reading area that my kids love to snuggle and read with when they are tired.

My last bit of advice: fake it until you make it to nap time! When I went to rejoin my kiddos I was composed and calm and ready to play and engage with them despite the crazy morning I walked into and the hangover from the last few weeks. When we got back to the room and they started to act out, I calmly redirected. Once they were down for nap, I took a huge sigh of relief, got a candy bar and a huge soda and regrouped for the afternoon. Needless to say my kids woke up rested and happier and hopefully (fingers crossed) back to normal.

Now that said inspection is over, I hope to be blogging regularly!
Until Next Time--

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

DIY Light Box

I vaguely remember three things about my preschool experience--
1. At snack time my teacher would make "Tinkerbell" dance around the ceiling (now I know it was a flashlight, but where was she hiding it?)
2. The sand table-- oh, I loved the sand table. (Probably because my parents built my brothers and I a sandbox out in the backyard.)
and 3. The light table.

There is something about water, sand, and light that children adore. And who can really blame them? I have just as much fun experimenting along side them with those three same things!

When I started coming across ideas for DIY light tables on Pinterest, I was excited. Most preschool/day care programs these days just don't have the funds to get a $200-$500 piece of equipment they may see as "frivolous". As I searched through the blog posts hoping to see the right idea jump out at me, I became disappointed. I am not a carpenter, and neither is my husband-to-be (however, this is something I'm really interested in exploring). And the plastic box ones... something was just... missing.

Until I saw this post: "The Perfect DIY Container Light Box" at Caution! Twins at Play. Jackpot! I had found the simple solution- a storage box from IKEA, and a light from Walmart was all I needed!

Now, I'm not one of the fortunate ones who has an IKEA within reasonable driving distance. This is probably better for my pocket book because I've been once, and I love that place. (In fact, I'm going again this weekend.) I researched where the "local" IKEAs were and low and behold, there was one not far from a racetrack the husband-to-be was dragging me to. So that problem was solved.

Total cost- the SNÃ…LIS box & lid at IKEA was about $8, and this LED Remote Control Light light at Walmart was $15 (plus batteries). So for $23 this is a very practical DIY Light Box and really it couldn't be any simpler to make. Putting it together is really quite simple: add batteries to light and remote, secure light to bottom of box, put on lid, whala! You're done.

Today I introduced my class to the Light Box and boy, it was a hit!

I found some simple manipulatives at the Dollar Tree for the introductory period: glow in the dark stars, ocean animals, and other animals. As well as a pack of six simple tops (my kids LOVE tops-- spinners they call them-- so I knew these would be a hit). I also picked up some clear plastic plates to maybe draw on with dry erase markers later.

I have a thicker fleece blanket hanging over the light box-- being supported by our stacked cots and Discovery shelf. This helped, but ultimately it was best when the lights in that part of the room were off.

I had a two-year-old visitor from my old room and she figured out if you spun the top and put the flashlight (we have four flashlights in our Discovery Area) that it made a cool color pattern:

Trying to capture it was hard with my camera. She was fascinated by it. :)

I have more plans for my little Light Box and my Threes-- gel bags with glitter, water beads, slime, wikki sticks, maybe sand. I also want to purchase some more manipulatives, like the Magna-Blocks, but right now I'm keeping it simple. I'm also looking for more ideas, so if you have any, please leave a comment! :)

Until Next Time-

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Yes, I'm another Pinterest-addicted Teacher!

I have been very busy getting things ready to go for the new school year. We have decided to switch from "Summer Camp" to "School" the day after Labor Day. While I've been getting the room ready, I've had kiddos coming & going as well. Some are leaving to start Preschool at other programs, and some have officially "aged out" of my room. This also means I've had some brand new threes start. Needless to say, it's been a busy & wonderful few weeks in our room.

I wanted to write a post about this wonderful addiction most everyone is aware of: Pinterest.

Seriously, if you work with preschoolers in any capacity: day care, home day care, school district, private school-- whatever!-- you NEED to be on Pinterest. Why? Because it is full of great ideas from teaching lessons to free printables to classroom management to classroom set up to things to do that break you from your every day boredom. It has proven to me to be a valuable resource over and over again.

I have at this moment in time almost 3,000 pins on my Pinterest boards, and most of them are Early Childhood related. Don't believe me? Check out my boards: Learning With Threes on Pinterest

Now if you aren't familiar with how this site works, here's the quick simple explanation: all of those pictures represent links to websites, or blogs with information about the picture. This information has always been out there, but Pinterest makes it way easier to locate and file. In addition, I'm a visual person so if I see a picture I'm more apt to remember I have a resource on that topic.

So you sign up for a brand-spankin' new Pinterest account and now what? Here are a few tips for newbies to Pinterest who want to get the most out of it:

- Don't use broad headings for your board. You can have as many boards as you need. Avoid using "Preschool" to name a board then pinning everything related to Preschool to it. Try narrowing your boards down by category- "Preschool- Art", "Preschool- Gross Motor", "Infant Classroom Ideas", etc. You'll thank me later when you have 3,000 pins and need to find something quick!

- ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS click the picture to make sure it actually goes to the idea. I don't know how many times I've gone to a blog post and it's not the right one. It's frustrating I know, but there are tricks you can use to find the original source.

-You can follow all of some one's boards, or just a few of their boards. I love my friends to death, but some of their boards just don't interest me-- "Pretty People" for example, I really don't care about "hot" celebrities. You can unfollow boards if it doesn't interest you-- and don't hesitate to do it! This keeps your feed things that interest you!

- Use the search bar at the top left of your Pinterest header to search for pins, boards, and people. Type in what you're searching for, then it will take you to a new page. Directly below this search bar is this: "Pins * Boards * People". Click on them to change what you are searching for.

- Pinterest has apps for smart phones, & I use mine a lot. But sometimes I want to just save a pin until I can get home and get on the laptop before I check it out. For this Pinterest has the "like" button. I click the "like" button when I want to save something but don't necessarily want to pin it just yet-- what if it turns out to be spam? or not the right blog post?-- these pins are saved in your "Likes" and you can go back and look at them, then decide to re-pin or not.

- This is just a personal preference of mine but if you link your Facebook & Pinterest, please do not post your pins to Facebook. This eats up your friends' timelines and odds are if you are friends with them on facebook, you will follow them/they will follow you on Pinterest. This is also true of Twitter!

These are just a few tips and pointers I have as a self-proclaimed Pinterest addict. If you have any specific questions, please leave a comment and I will try to help!

Tomorrow I plan to post about the DIY Light Table that Pinterest helped me build for our room!
Until then--

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Classroom Organization: Parent Mailboxes

I'm almost positive I'm not the only Early Childhood Teacher who struggles with getting notes and things out to parents. I've tried many different methods of mailboxes, and it seems what works with one set of parents inevitably never works with the next set (sort of like classroom management with the kids!). My current set up does not have much space by the Parent Communication Board or the Sign In/Out Clipboard, so I had to think outside of the box and this is what I came up with:

Yes, this is a $5 over-the-door shoe organizer from Walmart. We have a door inside our class that leads to the next door class right next to our Parent Board, so this was perfect! I used Command hooks to hang it low enough for parents to reach. The pockets are clear so I can see easily who has mail. Parents like they can quickly check it too. So far it's worked in our room.

What are your clever ideas for Parent Communication? How have you gotten your parents in the habit of checking their mail?

Until Next Time-

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Sensory & Art: Shaving Cream Body Painting

It's fitting that my first post to this new blog is about an extremely fun, messy, sensory & art project: my two favorites combined into one! My three & four year old class absolutely loved this activity today, and even the four & five year old class enjoyed it.

What You Will Need:
-1 or 2 cans of shaving cream (I used the sensitive skin kind that's $1.14 at Walmart)
-Washable Fingerpaint in any color you want (red paint tends to leave a stain no matter how washable it claims to be-- we stuck to blue, yellow, and green).
- Water
-Small containers to mix in and paint from
-Paint brushes, but it's also fun to just use your hands
-A hose and baby soap for clean up!

Here's how we made the paint (yes, we-- my kiddos are always involved in the whole process of the activity! However, I should have put them into their messy shirts to do this).

1. Squirt some shaving cream into the bowl.

2. Add a spoonful of finger paint.

3. Add a little bit of water to make it the consistency you want. (Add no water-- you get a "cottage cheese like" consistency, add a little water for smoother texture, a lot for a soupy mess.)

4. Stir it up until it's mixed evenly.

We made 12 small bowls of paint, this was probably enough for my 15 kiddos, but we were being joined by another 14 kiddos from another class, so in hindsight, I needed to probably double what we made. (Mental note for next time.)

While they changed into their swimsuits of course I let them play in the shaving cream! :)
They made a pretty big mess, but it was okay-- it was a clean mess. :) These two figured out they could write in the shaving cream and decided to "write their names".

Next we took our shaving cream paint and paintbrushes outside and got to it. I apologize for not taking pictures of what the paint looked like, but when you have 15 preschoolers ready to go, they are ready to go with or without you!

They needed little instructions and dove right in. To keep it simple, they could only paint their trunks (no faces) and only themselves. Even those 2 rules were easy to follow with this activity. I wish I didn't have to blur their faces because the smiles on their faces were priceless. I can say with 110% certainty they enjoyed every moment of this activity.

Some of the final "products":

When we ran out of paint, we just hosed them off and used a tiny bit of baby soap to clean them up. The paint came off their skin and suits cleanly with no stains.

So what exactly did they learn?
I believe in art as a process over a product (craft) so this was mostly an art experience using a slightly different medium (puffy, smooth paint) and their own body as the canvas.

To tie in learning we talked about the colors they chose to use, body parts, how it felt to paint with the brush, how the paint smelled differently, what happened when we mix two colors together, and what happened when we rinsed the paint off.

Overall, this was most definitely an experience in self-control for some of my boys-- painting only their trunk and not painting other kids or the playground equipment. And as anyone knows who works with preschoolers, self-control is a big deal developmentally.

If you try this out, please leave a comment and let me know how it went for you! Also, don't forget to follow this blog... it's still in it's infancy, but I promise more fun activities! :)

Until Next Time,

** You have my permission to pin this post, but please do not pin the pictures with my kiddos in them. Pin the top picture with the text. Thank you!! :)