Saturday, January 24, 2009

Recess in winter

There is an old saying that "play is a child's work". I was considering this one winter's day out at recess when it seemed like the children had an abnormal amount of fighting, arguing and tackling each other. I looked around and notice that there wasn't a whole lot for them to play with. Balls and jump ropes don't work well in the snow and create a mess when brought indoors. Playground equipment is slippery and monkey bars are impossible to do with glove or mittens on. What were the children to do? Well, being the recycler that I am, I was cleaning out my "plastic container bin" and I discovered a number of container with odd shapes or no lid. I put them in a bag an brought them out to recess. They were a hit! The kids got busy making snow cakes, snow castles and moving snow from one area of the playground to another. They had meaningful work!

I also started to reflect on my role as playground supervisor during my recess duty. My classroom overlooks the playground so I get to observe how other teachers approach recess duty. More often than not I see the teachers standing together talking to each other while kids go off to unobservable corners and well, I've seen girls decided to exclude each other, boys beating the snot out of each other.( Not out of anger mind you but out of the tiger cub mentality that comes so natural to boys)

I don't blame the teachers for wanting a little adult conversation. We spend all day with little people and we are "on" teaching and entertaining and keeping the peace in general.

The point of this reflection is that kids still need us at recess duty to engage them, play with them and organize games that don't involve tackling your friends to the ground. We are "on" during recess duty too.

I teach in an urban environment and I am aware that many of my student don't know how to play. They watch T.V and play video games because their parent are overwhelmed with survival and it may not be safe for them to play outside. In a way, we teachers have to teach kids how to play.

So next time I'm out at recess duty I will be aware of this and think of a fun game for all of us to play.

Dream Snow by Eric Carle

Here is a celebrate winter idea that incorporated reading, writing and recycled materials. We read the book Dream Snow by Eric Carle. If you don't know the book, Mr Carle create a guessing game by overlaying each page with a transparent page containing a "pile of snow" that covers an animal. When the transparent page is turned the animal is revealed.After reading the book, each student receive a piece of construction paper and glued on the type written words "The snow covered a ". My students then drew an animal and labeled it. Then I stapled a piece of excess laminate film,(from the end of a laminating job) cut to the size of the construction paper. Then each student cut a snow pile out of white typing paper and taped it on top of the laminate film.

The result is a lift the flap activity and an engaging class book or bulletin board display.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Letter Eaters

Sometimes it just takes a new twist on a familiar idea to re motivate students. This is an idea to get students working independently on letter recognition and word building and it is totally free and easy to make out of recycled materials.First I took yogurt containers and measured around the top and bottom with a measuring tape. I drew an outline of the measurements on a 11 x 14 piece of paper. I wrote several high frequency words on the outline and cut it out and attached it around the yogurt container.After collecting all kinds of plastic bottle caps and washing them, I wrote alphabet letters on them with marker. I made sure to include a full set of letter in each letter eater and added an extra e and o. I decorated the lid with mini paper plates and cut a portion out to look like a mouth.
Student are then invited build words and feed them to the letter eater. The can also feed the letter eater individual letter. When the letter eater is full, it can throw the letter up for an extra added thrill.

Velcro, moveable word wall

This is one of those ideas that is so simple I wondered why I didn't think of this! I got this from Judy Ellis. You get a tri fold cardboard display board, cut out high frequency words, laminate, and Velcro them to the board. The result is a word wall that can be moved anywhere in the room.
I chose to leave the background white and cut the words out of multi-colored index cards. The Velcro sticks well to the display board without ripping it. I only display the words that we have covered in class. I add new words after they have been introduced during class time. At the end of the year I can remove all the words and save them for the next year.

During independent work time my students are scattered throughout the room on pillows and at tables. They can't always see the main word wall so it is very nice that they can bring this one wherever they are working.

Snowmen from recycled materials

Recycled materials are a great way to save money and the environment. It is personally one of my life's missions to reduce waste whenever possible so I love this snowman project. It all begins with toilet paper tubes. I chose to glue 2 together but this can be done with a single tube. The students painted their tubes white.
When the tubes dried we decorated the snowmen with all sorts of odds and ends left over from previous projects. I save these in a container labeled "bits and pieces" so these kinds of things are always on hand. I also find it handy to cut any left over pieces of construction paper into 4 squares. I keep the squares on hand for all the projects that require multiple squares of paper or to use with a die cut machine.

I took twigs from my back yard to use are snowman arms. I had to hot glue those on for the kids but the end product is fun and stand on it's own.

Caught You Being Terrific

I don't know about your class, but about this time of year my students start arguing and generally feeling comfortable enough to drive each other CRAZY! I noticed that I was falling into the habit of trying to scold them into good behavior. Hmm, not really working all that well for me. So at a recent AKTM* I dawned on me to bring back a behavior strategy that I learned during my brief stint teaching in middle school. C.B.T. or Caught You Being Terrific. The basic idea is to notice when students are behaving positively and doing kind things for each other. When "good" behavior is noticed the student get a small slip of paper on which they write their name. The student then puts their name in a designated container. At the end of the week the teacher draws out several names and those students receive some sort of prize. I usually limit the names drawn to 5 names per week and I give out donated items as prizes. Prizes don't have to be "things" either, 10 extra minutes of choice time or even getting to choose which song to sing for group time can be a prize. I also only give a C.B.T if I notice the "good" behavior or a student tells me about something nice someone else has done. I don't give C.B.T's to students who say "I did ..." Because I am an avid recyler I make sure to cut up already used paper slips as C.B.T.s and I made my container out of a hot cocoa container covered with construction paper and stickers. I cut a slot in the lid for inserting C.B.Ts.
This strategies has made the kids look for ways to help each other and has helped me look for positive behavior in my students. Over all it is a way to improve the overall classroom climate in a fairly simple way.

*Archdiocesan Kindergarten Teacher's Meeting

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Writting Bag

I realize this is extremely Valentine red but this is an activity that I pull out for January to help put some novelty into writing during independent work time. The components come from Presenter Judy Ellis's idea called Fan Mail. I modified it to fit my classroom environment. Here is the Writing Bag. I found this tote bag in our supply room and I was intrigued by all the matching pouches. It makes a perfect mobile writing center. First I took photos of all my students, printed them and glued them on the back of envelopes. Then I laminated the envelopes and cut the openings with an exacto knife. I put all the envelopes in one of the pouches.

I added special paper, pens and markers for message writing to other pouches in the bag.

Finally I took Judy Ellis' message prompts, laminated them and put them in another pouch. These messages say things like: "I am glad you are my friend." "Let's play together at recess." "I missed you when you were not here". These messages include many of the high frequency words that we use and give students who need writing support a means to practice writing in a non-threatening way.
After a student writes a letter they place it in one of the picture envelopes. The envelope goes into a mailbox I have designated for delivery. After I deliver the letters and read the messages the student puts the message in his/her cubby and I keep the envelope. I put the envelope in a safe place until there are no more envelopes in the writing bag. This helps cut down on student claiming they never receive mail.

The Story Box

I have, in my personal collection, some excellent story props. Story props, if you are unfamiliar, are items that have been collected to use while acting out a particular story. Story props can be puppets, masks, items of clothing or objects.
I have made many of my own story props and I had an outstandingly creative Educational Assistant who made the story props for The Mitten by Jan Brett and Thomas' Snowsuit by Robert Munsch.

After I use the story props and we are finished with the story I put them in the Story Box. This box holds 3 to 5 stories and is intended for student use during independent work time. So, one student gets to choose the story box and practice retelling favorite stories. This helps with comprehension skills and vocabulary development (which is key for the English Language Learner).
These are clothing outlines for Robert Munsch's book Thomas' Snowsuit. This book is about a little boy and his refusal to wear his snowsuit and where that refusal takes him.

These are retell puppetts for Jan Brett's version of The Mitten. The large and small mitten are made of felt. All the animal puppets fit inside it and fall out readily when the bear sneezes.

Friday, January 9, 2009


It is the time of year for assessments. I have gotten to appreciate the importance of data collection over the years but I still don't really like to collect it! My school uses dibels and MAP standardized testing and I do a number of my own assessments like, letter and sound inventories, skill demonstrations and observations.
Assessing at the kindergarten level takes a lot of time because we have to meet with each child one on one in order that the child show us they have mastered a particular skill.
Once we have this information the next thing we need to do is to plan an intervention for those who have not masted the skill and to make sure the others are being challenged at an appropriate level.
I make the collection part more manageable by doing it in small chunks, assessing a few students each day. Then analyzing and planning with the data before starting the next round of assessments.
Most importantly though is using the data to drive grouping and instruction. The most comprehensive assessment in the world is useless unless the teacher uses it to give the child a better education.
Hang in there

Mitten Match

During the winter months I like to brighten up my teaching with these colorful mittens. To make them you need a few sheets of compressed felt, (available at craft stores, it is the kind of felt that is stiff), fabric glue, buttons, fabric paint and other assorted trinkets. Cut out pairs of mittens and decorate them so that they are identical. These are great to use for math activities like matching, teaching the terms: alike, same and identical. These are also great for pairing students for other activities. Once they have been used in whole group, they can be part of a center or a choice time activity.