Pond Life Thematic Unit: Frogs

Life in a pond is filled with some of the most fascinating characters you can find. Consequently it makes for a great thematic unit!. Frogs, duck, turtles, alligators, butterflies, dragonflies, and other pond life are among some of my favorite creatures to study, because they are not only fascinating, but pretty cute!

The study of pond life offers great opportunity for building vocabulary such as Living — Nonliving, life-cycle, observation, record, habitat, pond, environments. These vocabulary words are a great springboard for active experience with scientific principals.

Frogs

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Today I am going to talk about Frogs! Frogs are easy to purchase! Did you know you can even purchase one on Amazon? I have purchased each of these in the past and they are quality products. You have to send off for the frog friend after the container’s arrival (which comes pretty quickly), so allow ample time for the purchase before you need the little frog friend to come to your classroom, or home learning space! These frogs are really hearty, have a long life, and grow quite big!

Bring in some cute songs, fingerplays, and videos to enhance the learning.


There are tons of examples of thematic fun you can add into your curriculum when it comes to frogs. Here are a few examples: Construction Frogs, Write about frogs, Frog subtraction or addition, Frog Frosties, Frog on a Log, Frog songs, Frog science.

Create a science center. A place for students to learn independently the joys of scientific discovery.

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Add the academics. This pond thematic unit and supporting writing activities will have everything you need for frog fun, and strategic-academic learning that is linked to common core standards.

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Product Description

Enjoy learning about animals and insects that live in a pond as your use this engaging "Developmentally Appropriate Thematic Unit" about Pond Animals.

Life in a Pond is filled with authentic play-based learning activities that your students in your classroom and/or homeschool setting will love. All activities are strategically linked to Common Core Standards.

Contents include: 

Songs/Fingerplays

Five Little Ducks

Oh I Want to Be a Frog

The Little White Duck

Art Projects

Handprint Duck

Fingerpaint Ducks Portfolio Sample

Frog Construct

Science

A Frog’s Life: Sequencing Map

A Duck Grows Up: A Science Booklet: Duck’s Life Cycle

Kitchen

Frog in a Pond

Frogs on a Log

Guided Reading Books

The Pond

A Frog Grows

Writing

Pond Word Wall

Writing Prompts: The Frog, Ducks

Writing Center Activities: 

How To, Write It, Label It

Math Activities

Hopping Frogs: Solving Equations

Where’s My Mommy: Matching Equations to Decompositions

Frog Subtraction: Subtracting Objects

Turtle Race: Adding and Subtracting Fluently 

Teen Duck Lotto: Matching Teen Numbers to Quantity

Literacy Activities

Frogger: Decoding CVC Words

Pond Phrases: Reading & Matching Phrases

Turtle Snap: Decoding Nonsense Words

Punctuation Pond: Choosing End Punctuation Marks

Pond Hunt: Write the Room Sight Words

At the Pond: Writing 3 and 4 Sound Words

Pond Sort: Word Family Picture Sort

Pond Theme Independent Writing Practice

Spring Thematic Unit

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Your classroom or homeschool students will love these Spring Themed Guided readers.

Having an authentic paper book for your students to use at school and then take home will extend the learning.

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Make your writing center effective, challenging, and fun, by using these ready to use writing center materials.

Frogs: Can, Have, Are Anchor Chart
Frogs: Write a Story
Ducks: Can, Have, Are Anchor Chart
Ducks: Write a Story
Label-It I Can Chart
Label-It Student Worksheets
Make a List I Can Chart
Make a List Student Worksheet
Pond Life Word Wall
Write a Story I Can Chart
Write a Story Prompt Worksheet
Write The Room Anchor Chart
Write the Room Word Cards
Write the Room Worksheets
QR Sight Words
QR Letters
Write CVC Words

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This Spring Themed "Developmentally Appropriate Thematic Unit" is filled with authentic active learning activities that will thrill your classroom or homeschool students as they learn important academic skills.

"It's a Spring Thing" is strategically linked to the common core standards. It is divided into areas of literature, music, art, literacy, math, worksheets, science, creative writing, word wall, and guided reading. The activities are clearly written, easy to use, and need limited amounts of preparation. 

Contents Include: 

Literacy Games

Lambs & Lions: Naming Letters Quickly

Let's Go Fly a Kite: Naming Sight Words Quickly

Abracadabra: Decoding CVC Words

The Bird's Nest: Building Familiarity With Punctuation Marks

Odd Duck: Word Families

Independent Literacy Activities

Spring Words: Distinguishing Between Similar Words

Math Games:

Fly Away Birdie: Solving Subtraction Problems

Spring Fling: Solving Addition Problems

Runaway Chicks: Solving Mathematical Problems Using 5-Frames

Chicks Together: Developing Mental Math Using 5-Frames

Bountiful Bunnies: Decomposing Numbers

Independent Math Activities

April Showers Bring May Flowers: Decomposing Numbers

Who Is Ready For Spring?: Connecting Numbers 1-43

Hippity Hop: Connecting Numbers 1-47

Songs/Fingerplays

Springtime

March Wind

Put Up Your Umbrella

Science Projects

Jello Mixing: Mixing Colors Tactilely

Color Mixing: Making Secondary Colors

Paint Mixing: Recording Data From an Experiment

Art Projects

Lamb & Lion: Portfolio Sample

Under the Umbrella

Vase of Flowers: Artist Study

Easter Bunny Hat

Writing

What I Like About Spring

The Easter Bunny

Guided Reading Books

Mix It Up

Pond Thematic Unit

Pond Independent Writing Center Activities

Spring Themed Guided Readers

Spring Themed Intervention Games

Lamb and Lion Spring Themed Activities

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Treating Children With Respect and Encouragement.

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As I walked by a classroom yesterday, I heard a teacher yelling at a student with a very forceful voice and exaggerated body language. This immediately took me to another place and time, the time when Mr. Black karate chopped me so hard in the back of the neck that I peed my pants instantly in front of the entire class. Why, you might ask? Because I ran on a corner of the grass instead of the sidewalk. You see, Mr Black, had a very strict rule that grass was not a place for children. I was playing tag with my friends and in the chase, I took a short-cut across the grass to place the tag. And there he was — I froze in fear. He chopped, and I peed. “Go clean yourself up he growled.” (I wonder how my head stayed attached to my body with that forceful chop).

I still fully feel the deep humiliation and shame that a small first grader should not have experienced. Still, 50 plus years later the experience brings tears to my eyes. I spent the remainder of that school day in soiled clothes, watching the clock. When I arrived home I went up to my bedroom and put on my pajamas and crawled in bed. I told my mom that I was sick. I was simply too ashamed to tell her the truth. “Come down and I will make you some supper.” My mom said as she lovingly put her arms around me and took me down the stairs to each some of her delicious cinnamon rolls.


We live in a perilous world. A world filled with disadvantage, sadness, and inequity. A world where a young child does not always go home to a clean house with warm cinnamon rolls and  loving reassurance from a caring family. Sometimes a loving and caring adult at school is the only safe person in a child’s world. William W.  Purkey, the author of Invitational Education, addresses a 12 to 1 Ratio (Blue Cards: Positive, beneficial, rewarding interactions --  Orange Cards: Negative and/or toxic feedback and interaction) . According to Purkey's research, "Each person (even those with the best of circumstances) require at least twelve blue cards (positive experiences) for every one orange card (negative experiences) just to "make it through the night." This ratio indicates the strength of orange cards (negative or toxic experiences), and the actions needed to counteract them. When too few blue cards are received, or too many orange, the ratio falls "below minimum" and terrible things begin to happen. Individuals begin to lose self-esteem, optimism, and hope. This loss is coupled with the appearance of pessimism, hostility, and terrible anger. "Nobody likes me, respects me or cares about me, so I don’t like, respect, or care about others either."  When children have experienced trauma, the ratio of blue to orange needs to be a staggering 19:1!

Teachers: Please give out the blue cards freely!

"The reason the blue and orange card metaphor is a valuable one, is that it serves as a constant reminder that everything people do, and every way they do it, is either positive or negative, beneficial or lethal, inviting or disinviting." says Paula H. Stanley of Radford University, VA (Read her full article here).

Purkey reminds us further in his research that everything counts!  "The way a phone is answered, a letter written, a word spoken, an office painted, a colleague treated, a policy established, a program implemented is either helpful or harmful."

Maslow (1970) captured the essence of the blue and orange card metaphor when he wrote: “Let people realize that every time they threaten someone or humiliate or hurt ... or dominate or reject another human being, they become forces for the creation of psychopathology, even if these be small forces. Let them recognize that every man [sic] who is kind, helpful, decent, psychologically democratic, affectionate, and warm, is a psychotherapeutic force even though a small one."

Teachers please treat your students with the caring and kindness they deserve. Be the kind of teacher who sends a child home happy and full of positive experiences. These blue card experiences have lasting effects, that can change the pathways of life. Thank you to the countless educators who are handing out blue cards to the point of exhaustion! A kind and caring adult makes all the difference in a child’s life.


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Zoo and Jungle Thematic Units

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Two of my favorite thematic units are the Jungle and the Zoo. These two units are such great companions! I begin with the study of the jungle and then move into study of zoo animals.

Kids love learning about animals, their habitats, and way of life. These fun units weave academic concepts into STEM in fun and engaging ways. Exciting and engaging academic content is also enhanced with this animal based theme. My kids love playing games such as Monkey Food, Zoo Zap, and Zero Zebras to practice targeted skills.

I begin by purchasing a roll of jute and then ask my students to construct large leaves. I staple the leaves to the vines (jute), and weave across the ceiling of our classroom, or learning space. The magic immediately begins at this point. As we create snakes, toucans and more, the vines come alive with jungle life. Many of the students become so engaged with this transformation, they ask to take supplies home so they can create a jungle space in their own home.

Next we move to the transformation of our dramatic play area. This space will now be filled with safari costumes, books, pictures, and realia of jungle animals. Binoculars, sketch pads, and more. I love to have my students involved in the set-up. The space has so much more meaning than if it is magically transformed in the evening when they are at home.

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Because we house animals in zoos to study and learn from, the science center is a great place to set up a zoo with a lot of STEM benefits. I have dozens of small plastic zoo animals that I place in the sensory tub, a box of small blocks of varying sizes and shapes, and some other zoo-making supplies. My students love creating and re-creating a zoo each time they step into the science center. I have plenty of books and photos of real zoos, paper pencils, and more, to help those creative juices flowing.

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There is always time for some high quality art projects. Creating the animals of the jungle is not only fun, but is a great way to extend reading experiences and build story comprehension skills. These activities below have been created at the end of each animal study.

Hopefully, you have a zoo close to your home you will be able to take a field trip to enhance the learning. These field trips are some of my fondest memories of time-spent with my students. Since I no longer live field trip distance from a zoo, I now take them there virtually by visiting kids.sandiegozoo.org. Although it is not quite the same as that real-life, up-close experience, it is the next best thing. The live video cameras do allow students to see the animals interact with each other in their zoo habitat.

The learning games in our high-quality thematic units are academically challenging in a play-based way, and reach across the curriculum for inner-connected learning. Here is what people are saying about these units. “Wow!! This is an amazing interdisciplinary packet. The children thoroughly enjoyed all of the activities that we used. It was a great resource for me. It is so well organized.”


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And don’t forget to top off your study of amazing animals by celebrating with my all time favorite Ms. Frizzle as she takes that bus to the rain forest. *Full episodes are generally found on Netflix and/or Amazon Prime.

St Patrick's Day Thematic Unit

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My mom told me that she wanted to name me Kathy, but she went with Kathleen because I was due on St. Patrick’s day. I also took a DNA test that told me I’m 4.9% Irish, so I guess there is nothing to do but embrace this lighthearted holiday, which is based on a patron Saint in Ireland that died in 461. Wow! That is a long time for a celebration to survive. The community where I currently live has a giant St. Patrick’s Day parade, started by a an Irish settler in the community four decades ago. His goal was to give opportunity for everyone to act like a kid again, which is something I do every day!

Gather The Books

What better way to celebrate the luck of the Irish than a great thematic study of the holiday! The best way to start any thematic unit is by finding great books! Here are some of my favorites.


Find The Music

There are so many great songs you can use to bring St Patrick’s Day to life in your classroom. One of my favorites to use is Michael Finnagen! This Singlish version is a lot of fun! Search Youtube and you will find many other great versions.

It is also a lot of fun to teach your students an Irish jig to an original tune. Students especially love keeping their arms straight throughout the dancing. Again, you can find many other jig examples on Youtube.

Plan The instruction

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Planning all of the thematic learning across the curriculum is not only fun to do, it makes sense for the students! There are so many things that you can do with the connection of luck, green, leprechauns, gold, money, rainbows, and even parades.

Of course, don’t forget Leprechaun traps! My favorite way of dealing with the construction is to have this a take-home-project if possible. I find that some great creativity ensues. For those who don’t bring a box from home, I simply let them construct something simple at the art table during centers or free choice — they are just as happy.


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And if you are lucky, you might just catch that leprechaun as it is trying to get out the window!


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Go Bonkers ESGI Extended License & More: Use Code KathyBonkers

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The Three Little Pigs

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I love bringing fairy and folk tales into my classroom, I could focus on these tales all year long and still not run out of fun, rigorous, and purposeful material for my students!

These great tales are a fabulous way to study positive and negative character traits, other cultures, learn effective decision making, how to handle conflict, and natural consequences. It’s no wonder that these tales have been told for centuries!

As I begin my folk tale unit, I am always amazed at just how many students have never heard of some of my favorite stories such as the Three Little Pigs. They are in for a treat! I begin the study of such stories with a few props such as a few sticks, a handful of straw, and a brick. With props in hand, I tell the story orally. This is my favorite way of introducing these types of stories; children are captivated by the storytellers voice and steady eye contact. Listening to a story told orally is a very personal experience as students connect without distractions of pictures. They are able to visualize images mages in their own head. Listening to an oral telling will also stimulate language because the listener must process information through verbal prompts and gestures, allowing them to listen more closely to human vocabulary, grammar and syntax. They are also able to more easily connect to the real emotions of a story. These stories have lasted as long as they have because they first existed orally, with all the learning benefits which that entails, and I think it’s important to retain that history in my first telling.

My students enjoy the first telling so much and now they are ready for deeper study, such as story elements, author's purpose, and character study. After the oral introduction to the story, it is time to dive into some great book adaptations. Here are some of my favorites.


I also like to bring in this favorite video version of mine. There are actually several Silly Symphony Versions you will want to search for on Youtube.


Thematic Classroom Fun

Now it is time to bring the story alive in the classroom to make connections that will build important academic skills in an authentic way.

Here are a few of the activities that we enjoyed through The Three Pig theme week.

Dramatic Play

Read a CVC Word, but watch out for the Big Bad Wolf!

Shake a Pig. Which word will he land on next?

Making puppets for retelling at the art center.

Reading a Three pig “Just at my level” guided reader.

Retelling the story at the StoryBox Center.

Retelling the story at the StoryBox Center.

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The Three Pigs Guided Drawing

The Three Pigs Guided Drawing

Little Pig Writing at the Writing Center

Little Pig Writing at the Writing Center

Creating a Three Pig version at the STEM (Block) Center.

Creating a Three Pig version at the STEM (Block) Center.

Find The Pig Teen Number Game at the Math Center

Find The Pig Teen Number Game at the Math Center


Do you want to extend your student’s learning through a thematic study of folk tales? Don’t reinvent the wheel! I’ve already done the work for you!

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Winter Art Project

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I love constructing multimedia art projects with my students. Especially when it involves putting the child into the picture.

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Here is a winter art project that your children will love! You will need:

  1. White construction paper

  2. Colored construction paper

  3. Water colors

  4. White tempura paints

  5. Permanent markers

  6. Student pictures

  7. Paint brushes

  8. Q-Tips

Start off by having the children paint stripes of dark colors across the majority of the paper (I had the students use shades of blue, purple, and black). After the paint dries, they will use a permanent marker to draw thin, winter trees on the paper. Use white tempura paint to make snow using a paint brush to make snowy mounds at the bottom of the page and the Q-tip to make snowflakes in the sky. While the paint dries, take a picture of each child posing as if they are standing outside catching snowflakes. After the painting is dry, they can glue themselves on the page and use bits of construction paper to give themselves a winter hat, scarf, or boots.

I really love this art project for it’s use of different mediums and techniques, and the children love it because they get to incorporate themselves into the winter scene. I think your kids will love it too!


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Help! I am in Shut-Down Mode.

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Has anyone else extended themselves so far that they actually shut down? My guess is that I am not the only one. After all, feeling spread thin is actually the definition of being a teacher, wife, mother, husband, father, or simply put, human being.

I have to do something! My To-Do list is not going away any time soon. In fact if I don’t do something quick, it will simply get longer and longer. AH! Okay time to make my action plan.

  1. EXERCISE! I need some quick exercise. Okay, I don’t have time to go to a gym, and I moved away from my favorite Water Aerobics instructor, but there is something I can do right here and now. I can do a few quick minutes of Zumba or my 90’s favorite Jazzercise. (Just the still of this video brings a few endorphins to my brain). Now it makes me want to see if Richard Simmons and Jane Fonda are on youtube. 15 minutes will do the trick!

2. WORK! There is about 1/2 foot of fresh snow outside that needs shoveling! I bet if I bundle up and breath that fresh January air with a little quick snow shoveling, it will get me going. A short chore always gets the blood pumping.

3. EAT! What is going into my mouth? I have been cheating a lot with Christmas leftovers. It is probably time to detox my body and fill it with some high-quality fruits, veggies, and proteins.

4. DETOX from social media. Last night when I was working on a high stress project, I found at the end of a valuable 2 hours I had simply surfed Pinterest, facebook, and instagram. Time to set that social media timer. I have found that if I set a timer on my phone for 15 minutes, I look quickly at what I want to see and then move on. Timer it is!

5. SUN! So nothing like good old Vitamin D and the rays of the sun to make you feel energized. I wish I could book a cruise today, but I will have to settle for a Vitamin D pill and pay attention to a second hint that I need to get outside and shovel that snow.

6. CREATE! I haven’t pulled out my paints for quite some time. I need to take 15 minutes to set up a new project so that I can spend at least 15 minutes a day deep in artistic thought. I have about a billion hobbies to choose from, so I must be careful to select only one that I will use as my creative outlet on at a time. Painting! That is the one for now. (If I choose genealogy, the rabbit hole is hard to get out of. I must choose the creative outlet that can be time-bound when I am this busy).

7. BREAK! I need to reward myself. I have been wanting to watch Crazy Rich Asians for a while. I have owned it on iTunes since Christmas. I need to schedule that much needed break — at true break from my to-do list of projects — guilt free. I have to figure out how to break without shame. Hum. maybe popcorn? Maybe as a reward for hours of solid work? Yep! I am going to set the timer this evening for 2 hours. If I have worked solidly, Crazy Rich Asians will be watched without shame of “You should be working on ……".

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8. BLAST OUT THE VOICES! Does anyone else have those voices in their heads that says “You should do more?” Or constantly compare themselves with another. Those negative voices in our head always push our thoughts to the worst-case scenarios or to the negatives of our perilous world! That negative inner voice can be our worst enemy. The best way for me to get rid of those thoughts is to simply keep a gratitude log. Every day (that I can) I simply write three things that bring me joy, for which I am forever grateful. Now you are going to see way fancier ones on Pinterest I am sure of that. Fancy isn’t my purpose. Some days I actually make real pretty pages filled with creativity. But most days it is simply a list or a quick page as is pictured. The point is for that 5 minutes of reflection of positivity! Goodbye negative thoughts and influences. Hello gratitude and positivity!

9. FUN! I love to schedule fun breaks! I always have a puzzle going or a game set up ready to play! It only takes about 15-30 minutes to completely loose myself in joy of genuine fun. Especially when I can talk someone into playing a game with me. Mystery Rummy is my all time favorite! It is basically Rummy with a twist!

10. PRESENT! Sometimes I am so bogged down with worries of future events and projects or with thoughts of things I should have done differently in the past, I forget that I can make right now PERFECT! I can make all the right choices, do the right things, accomplish the mounds of work, be there for everyone, be the best wife, be the best mother, be the best teacher, be the best of everything for 1 MINUTE at a time. Staying present as I go along helps fill my life with positivity.


Two Friendly tips: First make sure you wear your favorite hat, and more importantly, SHUT THE GARAGE DOOR before you snow blow that direction!

Two Friendly tips: First make sure you wear your favorite hat, and more importantly, SHUT THE GARAGE DOOR before you snow blow that direction!

I am off to tackle that snow, eat an orange, and then tackle some tasks.

I would love hearing how you self energize. Be sure to leave some feedback on facebook so I can hear your tips to get me out of this funk!

And you might also want to print my reminder sign. I’m printing three!


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You might enjoy listening to this podcast episode for a few pick-me-up ideas.



Developmentally Appropriate Teaching: Why Does it Matter?

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In America, there has been a rush for pushed-down academics to prevent the failures of students in older grades. The academics of preschools, kindergarten, and 1st grade have been pushed to a full year beyond the expectations of previous times. In fact, it is very common to hear people refer to Kindergarten as the new First grade, or Preschool as the new Kindergarten.

Can young students learn beyond the expectations of previous years? Can they work through skills with rigor? Yes! But young children do not learn in the same way that older children learn, and often the proper methodologies for teaching in developmentally appropriate ways are ignored. Also, not all children are ready for learning milestones at the same time. Just as it would be foolish to say that any toddler who is not walking by 12 months is automatically behind in their development, it is not prudent to assume that because student’s move at different speeds along the learning continuum, that they are “at risk” or they are “being failed”.

When teaching becomes an exercise in imposing the curriculum on a child rather than presenting a curriculum to enhance natural childhood, students are frustrated, early academic failure has been felt, school burnout at younger grades has occurred and the magical moments of childhood have been lessened.

The Ted Talk “What Do Babies Think?” by Alison Gopnik, a child development psychologist explores the development of the human brain and focuses on the relationships between the correlation of the length of childhood and the development of the human brain. For example, she compares the development of a crow and a chicken, correlating the length of their childhood. The crow, who is a very intelligent bird has a childhood of one year, and a chicken, less than a month. She states, “The disparity in childhood (of these birds) is why the crow ends up on the cover of Science, and the chickens end up in a soup pot.”

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With the information of science, experience, and common sense, why is the practice of pushing down the curriculum such a common theme? The human brain is designed to develop, expand, and grow in a sequential manner. Undue academic demands that are contrary to human growth can disrupt this development. Our goal should never be to move children faster through the academic continuum; rather, our goal should always be to deepen the academics and to make them impactful, joyful, and truly meaningful.


The Results From Escalated or Pushed Down Curriculum

Behavior

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With the push down of curriculum, students are expected to sit quietly for longer amounts of time, ignoring the fact that young children learn best through direct interactions, active hands-on opportunities, experiential play, in a classroom filled with love, music, and discovery.

The trend has become classrooms with escalated expectations, filled with passive and receptive experiences; moments filled with worksheets, and curriculum that is not purposefully foundational. These environments manifest a greater number of behavior problems than their Developmentally Appropriate (DAP) counterparts. Why is this? Simply put, students who are placed in inappropriate environments exhibit inappropriate behaviors. Children, especially the youngest students in the classroom, become frustrated with activities that involve being seated, being quiet, fine motor expectations beyond the growth of muscles, and curriculum presented above their level of cognition. Young children lack the sophistication of adults to verbalize their frustrations, consequently they become wiggly, disruptive, angry, and aggressive. Generally, this behavior is dealt with following school discipline policies rather that finding the root of the behaviors and adjusting classroom procedures accordingly. If we do not recognize those frustrations that are a result of pushed down curriculum as behaviors needing to be fostered in socially appropriate ways, are we not nurturing chickens rather than crows?

Disrupted Timeline of Skills Acquisition

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Another unintended consequence of pushed down curriculum is the disruption of foundational skills; those developed sequentially and naturally in early childhood. In an earlier post we compared the teaching of reading with building a house. We discussed when constructing a home, no one begins with the roof. You don’t need construction experience or a degree in architecture to know that this will not lead to a successful end. Just as the building of a house needs to follow a certain order, skills for reading (and math) also follow a sequence. In fact, research has shown that most students learn to read following the same sequence of skill acquisition.

When teaching with DAP methods, children have time to develop those crucial foundational skills such as phonemic awareness, alphabet knowledge, and number sense (all recognized as strong predictors for future success). In DAP classrooms, students are exposed to rich vocabulary, oral language experiences, story elements, deep literary experiences, dramatic play, experimentation, and rich moments of discovery. In the classrooms filled with pushed down curriculum, students are exposed to long moments of seat work, worksheets, way too many sight words, number problems at the expense of number sense, and laborious efforts of handwriting drills.

Growth Mindset

Young children have a natural, intrinsic motivational system. They are born with determination, perseverance, problem solving, and a natural ability to learn from mistakes using, problem solving, and cause and effect. In fact, most young children feel they can accomplish about anything they set their mind to. Classrooms that are developmentally appropriate tend to foster that notion and allow children to blossom and grow in natural ways. Conversely, children who are subjected to environments not conducive to development become easily discouraged, anxious, begin to lose confidence, and learn to rely heavily on extrinsic motivators.

Academics and Developmentally Appropriate Practices

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Teaching with Developmentally Appropriate Practices does not mean you are not teaching children academics, in fact, I have seen children flourish in classrooms that are teaching appropriately. Common Core Standards can be easily met in Developmental ways. In fact, the authors of the Common Core always intended for children to be learning through DAP. The Common Core states: "[T]he use of play with young children is not specified by the Standards, but it is welcome as a valuable activity in its own right and as a way to help students meet the expectations in this document" (CCSS-ELA, 6, #1)

According to David Liben, of Student Achievement Partners, play is not listed in the CORE because it is a method of teaching, not a goal. But the developers of the CORE fully expect teachers to be using play as a way to best teach the goals in the CORE.

DAP and academic rigor are not opposing concepts. In fact, there is often more rigor in classrooms that are appropriate with a child-centered approach. The push-down of academic content is not going away any time soon, so it is up to the educators of young children to take that content and deliver it in ways that are experiential, playful, presented in a way young children learn.

We must teach children academic concepts in a manner that makes sense to the world of a child; thematically and playfully. Using appropriate lessons, activities, games, art, music, science, dramatic play, writing, and more weaving them together to create beautiful moments of rigorous learning presented with the development of a young child in mind.

If you would like to keep DAP in the early grades, please consider joining the Kinder Guardians facebook group. A place to ask questions, offer support, and collaborate with like-minded DAP teachers.


You might also like:

Purposeful Play: Interview With Kristi Mraz

Purposeful Play: Interview With Kristi Mraz






Fostering the Five Domains of Human Development and a Freebie!

Teaching is a performance skill. Like a dancer who practices muscle movements daily until his body can perform intricate dance routines with ease, an actor who studies unconscious body movements until she can recreate them on the stage, or a writer who knows all of the elements of a well written tale so well that she can construct a page turning novel, teachers learn and practice the elements of lesson design, behavior management and modification, and lesson delivery, until these become second nature.

While studying Early Childhood Education as an undergraduate, I received tutelage from great instructors who were true early childhood theorists, Dr. Barbara Taylor and Dr. Sally Pena.

Both of these women taught me the importance of including the five domains of early childhood development into every lesson plan. I remember the time I spent writing exhaustingly detailed lesson plans made specifically to include all five domains. The time turned out to be invaluable practice for my performance art, however, as now it is ingrained in me to be mindful of these important aspects of the learning of young children. Although I don’t write these mega-detailed lesson plans anymore, those domains of development are always fore-most in my mind when planning my kindergarten day.  

So what are those important areas of development?

  1. Gross Motor Development: Are the young children in our care using their large muscles daily? We must give students the opportunities to crawl, walk, run, skip, climb, and climb.

  2. Fine Motor Development: Do we give children opportunity to develop hand-eye coordination? The opportunity to control precisely the small muscles in their hands? We must give students the opportunities to color, write, use tweezers, tear paper, glue beans, build with small objects.

  3. Language Development: Are our students hearing stories with rich vocabulary, participating in vocabulary rich dialogues, participating in enriching phonemic awareness activities, and strategically practicing phonics skills? We must give our students a rich auditory and oral environment and be keyed in to their needs in vocabulary.

  4. Cognitive Development: Do we challenge our students with cause and effect, reasoning and problem solving skills? We must make sure that our teaching affords opportunities for neurological development and that we are helping to wire and in some cases, rewire, their young minds.

  5. Social/Emotional Development: Are we giving our students opportunity to be social? Do we have adequate opportunity for play-rich experiences? Do we foster a classroom environment of caring? Do we explicitly teach important life-skills? We can never underestimate the importance of social development to a young child.

As I learned from Taylor and Pena, crafting lessons that include all of these domains takes practice, but after time, it becomes second nature.

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And, sometimes, you just might find a kind blogger who gives one away for free!

Like this game, "Day Traders" that includes all five of the domains: Gross Motor (walking), Fine Motor (writing words), Language (Oral Language and Sight Words), Cognitive (Problem Solving) and Social/Emotional (Play Based). 

Homework That Is Flexible and Fun.

Homework has become a hot button issue lately. Is it appropriate? Should it be sent home? Does it help academics? The truth is, that on Hattie’s scale of Visible Learning, homework only has an effect size of .16. Meaning, it really doesn’t matter if you send it home or not. Either way doesn’t have a large positive or negative effect on student learning.

But…

And this is a big “but”. Hattie scored parent involvement at an effect size of .50. Which is more than a year’s worth of learning!! That’s why the goal of any work I send home isn’t to extend the learning at home, it’s to get parents involved with their child. And the ideal way I’ve found to help involve parents is though games!

With games, parents can engage with their children with letter recognition, sound identification, rhyming, blending, segmenting, decoding, sight words, important math skills, and more. Most children willingly play games with their parents, in fact, they generally beg for more.

Most parents enjoy a game approach to homework because they are not only helping their children with academic learning and seeing firsthand where their child lies with academic skills, they are also having fun with them and enjoying quality family bonding time.

Each packet features literacy and math games that are aligned to Common Core Standards. In addition, a version with Spanish directions is included with the kindergarten packets. I also have a different levels of difficulty. I always have at least a few kids in the class that end up going home with the “first grade packet” and, since the packets look nearly identical, they never know the difference. Make homework a positive and fun experience for your students!

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Each monthly packet has an easy to use parent guide to keep track of games played. There is no order the homework must be completed — completely flexible for busy family life.

These packets are now on sale at a greatly reduced price, and are available in three levels: Preschool, kindergarten, and 1st grade.

Homeschooler? These are also perfect for you. These homework packets will lay out an easy curriculum for you to follow throughout the year!


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Christmas & Winter Themes For Early Learners

Look no further for some great Christmas and Winter Thematic units for your kindergarten, preschool, Pre-k, T-K or 1st grade classroom. All of these units are cross-curricular, strategically linked to the common core standards, and scripted for easy use.

We have designed these units to be cross-curricular, filled with strategic, developmentally appropriate, and purposeful activities. We know you will love the convenience of planning and lesson delivery. Everything included has been time tested with thousands of students in our classrooms. We know these activities work, and that kids love them.

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Also check out our companion sight word readers with some Christmas or Winter flair.

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Here are a few other supporting products with a Christmas or Winter theme.

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Making A Christmas Shape Book: Mathematical Art

Your students will love making this adorable book of Christmas shapes. Not only is it a great and memorable keepsake, it is a great way to teach mathematical shapes to mastery. At the completion of the project my students usually pass off this common core standard with 100% accuracy; even the tricky hexagon!

I have made this book with my students for years, each of them turn out unique and adorable. I simply use what I have available to complete a cute work of art made from a common shape. I vary the pages from construct (using construction paper), painting techniques such as marble painting, finger painting, etc., use fabric, felt, lace, ribbon, yarn, or whatever I have handy. I do create a page for students to use as support to scaffold their own original rendition. If you are lucky enough to have a die-cut at your school, cut out all of the shapes beforehand, along with all supporting pieces such as small strips of black for the reindeer antlers. Gather all supplies and have them easily accessible for your students.

Some of the pages can be completed whole group, others are best to complete at a center with some adult assistance. You can complete some of the pages using guided art methods, some can be free creations (using the template die-cut shape). I have found the cookie and the ornament are two pages that lend themselves to creative freedom.

Glitter is the secret ingredient on each page. I teach the students how to make small lines of glue, lay the piece in a flat tote and then sprinkle the glitter (or pinch the thumb and pointer together to pick up excess from the tray and sprinkle it on the page). Next, pick up the piece and dump all glitter back into the tray.

If you teach your students this technique, glitter stays at bay. In fact, I am able to use glitter all year because they know how to correctly use the art product.

If you are making a book that is already stapled or attached, as in this pre-purchased blank book, simply fold the other pages back and allow it to dry for a few hours or overnight. I generally do one page a day until my product if completed.

This little crowdpleaser makes a great gift from the students to their parents! Yes! A gift that is cute, easy to make and even fulfills a Common Core Standard!


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Creating Christmas Memories

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I found this Santa in a box when I was cleaning this weekend. I made it in elementary school in the 1960’s, so it is 50 + years old. It has brought back some great memories of the past. Here are a few Christmas school memories that I remember...

Decorating a classroom tree with paper chains and popcorn.

Drawing names and exchanging presents with my classmates.

Lining up to present our presents to the teacher.

Spending afternoons making crafts (like my cute Santa) and yes sneaking a taste of the paste.

Learning how to sing “Silent Night” in German.

Performing the Nativity as our Christmas Class Play.

Making a Reader’s Digest Magazine into a tree and spray painting it green.

Making a bowl out of clay as a present for my mom.

Obviously the things teachers take the time to do with their students at Christmastime will create lasting memories, mine have survived over five decades. So as teachers work to make it through the exhaustion and chaos of the last week before the holidays, remember, you are creating memories that will not be forgotten.

Here are some of my favorite activities I love to do with my students. These products are packed full of future memories.


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How To Make Digital Student Portfolios For Free!

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I have been making Student Portfolios for a long time and it’s always been one of my favorite parts of the school year. I love keeping track of the student’s progress and recording their growth, but the best part about student portfolios is watching the student’s faces light up when they share them with their parents for the first time. You can see some of my ideas here.


This year, Lyndsey has decided to try doing her portfolios digitally for a change. After looking around for options, she decided that the best way to do it would be through Google Slides. Google Slides supports images, works on both computer and tablet, can easily be shared with and printed by parents at the end of the year, and is free to use.

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To start, make a folder in Google Drive called “Student Portfolios”, then go to google.com/slides and click on “Start a new presentation”.

At this point, click on “File” and then “Page Setup” and then chose “Custom”.

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After choosing “Custom”, change the page size to 8.5 x 11.

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Next, add a few blank slides to work with by choosing the + “New Slide” option.

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Next, give your portfolios a cute cover. Open our “Portfolio Essentials” product in “Preview” (on Mac devices) and click “View” and then “Thumbnails”. This allows you to see all of the pages in the document in a side bar. Then chose the cover you want to use in the side bar and chose “Edit” and then “Copy”.

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Then go back to your Google Slide and paste the image on the first Slide. To add student work, simply take a picture of the page or artwork you want to use and then paste it into the slide. It is super easy and fast! If you would like to know more about how to set up digital student portfolios, you can watch Lyndsey walk you through the steps in the following video:


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Biographical Book Buddies

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One of my favorite ways to engage my students with print is to send home "Book Buddies". Each Book Buddy bag contains a book, a journal, and a matching buddy. The children keep this bag for a night and (with their parents help) they write down the adventures they had with the buddy and then share their adventures with the other students the next day.

This year I decided to send home buddies with a biographical bent. These book buddy bags contain a stuffed historical figure, a biographical picture book, and a journal. I'm so excited to introduce these new friends to our class as I help them get to know some amazing people from history.


Mae Jemmison


Our first book buddy is Mae Jemison, the first female African-American astronaut, created in doll form by Kathy at A Button and a Stitch and her beautiful picture book Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed. The pictures in this book are absolutely stunning and children can relate to Mae's childhood dreams and aspirations and the love of supporting parents who encouraged her to follow her own path.

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Jane Austen


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My next book buddy is Jane Austen, genius author, whose love of writing inspires of love of language in my little learners. I love the book series Little People, Big Dreams, and their Jane Austen book does not disappoint. It's beautiful illustrations and simple story is a perfect introduction to Jane Austen for my Kindergarteners.


Mary Anning


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Mary Anning was an English fossil collector who help to discover the first species of Ichthysoaurus. I couldn't find a good stuffed animal to represent Mary, but both of her picture books Stone Girl Bone Girl  by Laurence Anholt and Sheila Moxley and The Dog That Dug For Dinosaurs by Shirley Ray Redmond and Simon Sullivan feature Mary's dog heavily, so I am sending home a stuffed dog with Mary's books. Now the children can take the dog "fossil hunting" just like Mary Anning used to do along the cliffs of Lyme Regis


Albert Einstein


My next biographical book buddy is Albert Einstein and the picture book On A Beam Of Light by Jennifer Berne and Vladimir Radunsky. The illustrations in this book are so beautiful and almost pointillistic, a fitting art style for a man whose scientific thought centered on atoms and energy. I especially enjoyed how the author drew attention to Albert's early years, where student's can instantly relate to the way he was dismissed by some because he has a different way of thinking.

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I'm so excited to introduce these new book friends to my class and I'm already itching to find some more to add to the fun!

Why Traditional Homework Doesn't Work... and How to Fix it.

In 1995 Betty Hart and Todd Risley conducted a study which revealed a language gap that exists between families of different incomes, and shed light on a disparity of parent/child interactions that follow children through their lifetime. It seems the greatest gift that parents can give their children is free and readily available: quality and substantive interaction.

 
In four years, an average child in a professional family would accumulate experience with almost 45 million words, an average child in a working-class family 26 million words, and an average child in a welfare family 13 million words.
— The Early Catastrophe: Hart and Risley
 

Dana Suskind of the Thirty Million Words Initiative and author of Thirty Million Words: Building a Child's Brain explains: "Why is the effect of parent talk so profound? Because its results are not only predictive of academic success in general, but on reaching potentials in math, spatial reasoning, and literacy, the ability to self-regulate behavior, reaction to stress, and even perseverance."

Other studies have also shown that time children spend with parents engaged in positive, quality experiences have great benefits upon their future success. Things like family meal times, emotional involvement, and one-on-one interactions are proven means for student success. Studies have also shown that children need time for both unstructured play, and family game time, during which children build academic skills at the same time that family relationships and communication skills are strengthened.

Although the research is clear in describing the elements that will build children who are strong both academically and emotionally, the actuality of modern life seem to run increasingly contrary to what is best. Parents are busy with demanding jobs and schedules and children are involved in activities that are mostly passive (such as television shows and video/tablet games). While these activities have benefits, they are input activities, which do not generally require the unpredictable demands of interpersonal interactions. In other words, a game or television show is much easier to predict than a person, and far less demanding.

Fortunately, a 2015 study shows that it is not the amount of time that parents spend with their children that makes the difference, but the quality of the activities that occur during that time. Apparently, if we use the time we have with our children wisely, we can achieve great things.

Is it any wonder then, that homework has become a source of debate for both parents and teachers? With our time so limited, and so important, every activity counts, and that's where traditional homework fails. A worksheet of practice activities sent home only for the purpose of fulfilling an obligation of daily homework just isn't going to cut it.

There is compelling argument for doing away with homework altogether, especially in the younger grades, but I would argue for something more moderate. After all, homework can serve as a bridge between teacher and parent, a method of communication that can inform families about classroom academics, children's abilities, and teacher goals. Additionally, when teachers build homework that fits the oral and cognitive needs of children, it can become a tool for parents to use to help them have quality interactions with their children.

I've stopped thinking of homework as extra practice that students take home. Instead, I treat homework as my way of sharing activities that provide families with tools they can use to have quality time together. Instead of sending home a vocabulary page, I send home an activity where students talk to their parents. Instead of sending home a page of math facts to practice, I send home a math game that children can play with their siblings and parents. I ask children to practice reading skills with their parents, and I send them home with a paper book to practice with. I try to make my homework about playing, cooking, painting, making, building, sharing, experimenting, and experiencing; the time that familys have together is valuable, and I want to respect that. I also respect time by sending home my activities as a monthly packet, instead of daily or weekly. That way, parents can use the activities in a way that fits their needs and individual schedules.

The response from parents to this homework has been incredible. They enjoy the time they spend with their children, and their children enjoy the time they spend at home learning and practicing skills. When we use homework in a way that respects parents and their important role as the primary teacher of their children, we are using it in a way that is powerful for student achievement and empowering for families.

So maybe it's time to rethink our goals for homework, and what we're really trying to accomplish by sending it home. My goal is to add to family life, not to take away from it, and to give parents access to materials that help make the most of their time. I hope that's your goal too.

If you would like to see exactly what I mean, here are three homework packets at different levels, designed to teach important skills for March. They are on SALE until the end of March.


Looking For Flexible Play-Based Homework?

Our homework comes in three levels: Preschool, Kindergarten, and First Grade. They can also be used as Below Benchmark, At Benchmark, or Above Benchmark for any of the above named grade levels.

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Flexible Seating In First Grade

In March we had a chance to interview Patti Clark, the Vice President of Product Development at Lakeshore Learning Materials, about Lakeshore’s new product line of flexible seating furniture options. This month, Lakeshore sent some of their Flex-Space Comfy Floor Seats and Flex-Space Wobble Cushions to our friend, first grade teacher Wendy, to try out in her classroom as she tries her first year of flexible seating. Here’s what Wendy has to say:


One the first day of school I had my 18 first graders gathered around me at the carpet.  I said, “You know how sometimes in a classroom each person has their own desk… and that’s the only place they get to work.”  All the kids were nodding and saying, “Yeah, yeah.”  I told them, “This year in our classroom, ALL the desks, seats, and places to work belong to ALL of us!”  They thought that sounded like the best thing ever.  Throughout the first 4 days, the students took turns sitting at each area in order to get them used to my expectations for each type of seating.

To get ready for my first year of flexible seating, I lowered 4 desks by taking the legs off so that students would be able to sit or kneel to use these.  I raised 4 desks so that students would be able to stand at them. As a side note, I have always had kids who preferred standing, and I never thought to get rid of their chair! I would just keep tripping over it! I decided to keep 4 “normal” desks with regular chairs. Not every kid is going to want to sit in a different way and that is okay too! I already had 6 scoop rockers that I had used previous years for kids to read to themselves in and now I am allowing students to do any assignments in the scoop rockers (if they need a hard surface, they can grab a clipboard). I also have 3 crate seats that I made last year for kids to use when working on an iPad, and now the kids are allowed to use these as an option as well.

Flex-Space Comfy Floor Seats

In addition to my other flexible seating options, we now have Flex-Space Comfy Floor Seats. They are AMAZING!  We got a blue one and a green one for our first grade classroom.  The colors just pop and brighten up the space. The seats are so comfortable and thick.  You can pull the back up to different levels depending on how far back you want to lean while you work.  The seat can be easily laid flat to put out of the way if you need to. My students have loved every opportunity to work using the Flex-Space Comfy Floor Seats. They are great for working using a clipboard, reading a book, or using an iPad.  They are light-weight so the students can move them anywhere in the room that they would like to work. I love this option for flexible seating!

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Flex-Space Wobble Cushions

We are also trying out Flex-Space Wobble Cushions. They are a fantastic option for students who just need to move a little bit while they work, or who want to work on the floor but be comfortable.  They are easy to clean and ready to go right out of the box.  My students mostly use them on the floor, but they can also put them on a chair.  Getting their wiggles out while they work really helps them to focus!  I would buy enough for every student to use one!

 So far my students absolutely love the flexible seating! It is interesting to see who gravitates to which seats. 1 or 2 prefer the regular desks, but the other 16 love the options and depending on the task, they choose different spaces.  There have been no arguments about who gets to sit in which seat.  I’m so pleased with how it’s working!

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Want to learn more about flexible seating options from Lakeshore Learning? Listen to our podcast interview with Patti Clark!

Play in Kindergarten? YES!


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Another kindergarten teacher came into my classroom lately, saw my dramatic play center, sensory table, and building center and said, “I used to have all of that a long time ago, but I had to give it all up.” I’ve been thinking about that exchange over and over since then and there is a single word I keep coming back to:

Why?

Dramatic play is an important tool in building a student’s social and emotional development, as well as their oral language. According to researcher Doris Bergen, ”Several researchers have argued that play and language promote children’s development of expressive tones as well as their perception of the rules underlying the use of voice or conversation patterns of language." (2002)  Vygostky also shows that young children need to be able to learn through play because play serves as the scaffold that helps them reach higher levels of cognition:

”Play creates a zone of proximal development in the child. In play, the child always behaves beyond his average age, above his daily behavior; in play it is as though he were a head taller than himself. As in the focus of a magnifying glass, play contains all developmental tendencies in a condensed form and is itself a major source of development. (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 102)

Sensory play develops cognitive function, as students work with multiple senses simultaneously. Sensory play also develops fine motor skills as children practice grasping, picking up, and squeezing fine objects. It calms children’s anxiety, helps them develop creativity and balance, and broadens their knowledge base through interactions with real objects.

Block play helps children develop the basic principles of engineering and spatial awareness. They learn cause and effect, social skills, and problem solving.

All of this playful interaction helps wire a child’s prefrontal cortex and grounds their learning in deep and meaningful real world experiences.

Why would you ever get rid of that?

We can keep "learning through play" in kindergarten if we, as early childhood educators, stick to what we know is best for the young children in our charge. Our kindergarten classrooms must be filled with play, song, discovery, movement, games, experiments, choice, dramatization, and excitement. Academic concepts should be delivered in the ways that are most developmentally appropriate for growing children and their growing brains.

In 2012 I made the sign below, and posted it on Facebook. The sign has reached over 300,000 shares, and the number keeps growing. Every time I look at how many teachers have seen this sign, liked it, and spread it, I am given renewed hope in the future of developmental appropriateness of kindergarten! In 2012 I didn't think I would ever see the pendulum move back towards play-based kindergarten, but six years later I think we are getting back on track!

 

 

I am in Kindergarten

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Perhaps what we have needed all along is the language to explain to our share holders what we are doing in our spaces and why what we do is so important.

I love my center signs that justify play in a kindergarten, t-kindergarten, or preschool classroom. They inform the viewer the importance of play-based activities in regards to the learning that is taking place at each defined area around the classroom and help give teachers the language they need to share the importance of real world, engaging, playful interactions in the classroom. These signs (available in two styles) are quickly approaching the status as our top selling product.

In the end, you are the architect of your own early childhood/early elementary classroom, and you know what your children need to being doing in that room. Don’t ever let someone tell you that a “playhouse” is just fun and not rigorous. One moment of eavesdropping on the work going on in that space and it is clear that statement is false. Don’t ever let someone tell you that your art center is just “cute”. Behind that cuteness is deep thinking about lines, space, geometry, color, individuality, and fine motor development. The work that young children do is important. It matters. YOU matter. Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise. DAP is rigorous!

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Vocabulary Development: And the Achievement Gap

Today I took a city tour of a major US city. While all of the tourists were taking in the city sites, I couldn't help looking at the city with teacher eyes: those eyes teachers use every day as they lovingly work for the equality of instruction. I reflected on several books that I have been reading and of what I know as a teacher about the affects of systemic poverty on education. I know that I can't single handedly fix the 30 million word gap that faces our nation, but I will do everything in my power to help the students I teach have a fair and equal shot at public education.

 


One way that I continue to strive for an equitable education is through the explicit teaching of oral language. These activities are important in all grades, but to help lessen the gap for young children, it is an absolute must for teachers of preschool and kindergarten to strategically teach oral language.

One game I love to play with my students is called "What's in your bag?" To play this game, divide students in pairs (matching high vocabulary with lower vocabulary students). Give each student a baggie of "stuff." Find things that are common to home or classroom settings. The dollar stores, garage sales, amazon, etc. have great small objects that are perfect for the baggie. Ask each student, one at a time, to describe the contents of their baggie to their partner. Instruct students that if they are unsure about an object they can ask their partner, another student nearby, or the teacher to explain what the object is.

Model this "describing." Pull an object out of a baggie. "This object is a jack. (Or what small object you choose to describe). A jack is a small toy that belongs in the game Jacks! To play the game, you have 10 small jacks and a little ball. To play, you throw a ball in the air, grab and jack, and then a ball all before the ball drops!

After pairs have about 5 minutes to share and describe objects in the baggies, switch pairings if you have time.

Keep these baggies in a container within easy reach because once you try this activity you will want to do it again and again. Each time your students play, you will see greater development in vocabulary. At times, I have students with advanced vocabulary pull out a bag of their choice and demonstrate describing objects. Actually, these little bags are filled with possibilities. So, my suggestion, hit some garage sales this summer and fill about 30 baggies with 10 objects!

You will also find some more great vocabulary building games below.


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