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...)