Early Childhood

Set Up Your Classroom For Success

When setting up the classroom for young learners (students from Preschool to 2nd grade), it is paramount to remember who the classroom is for--the kids!

Educators are responsible for teaching a slew of academic standards, while celebrating each child's unique needs as he/she is strengthened academically, socially, morally, physically, and emotionally. A challenging task indeed! But with a thoughtful classroom setup designed with areas for discovery, play, practice, and more, we as teachers can promote learning success while keeping students excited about and engaged with learning.

Following is a checklist of "Must-do's" when setting up an early learning classroom.

Does Your Classroom Have?

defined areas for learning

Children needs to be taught in a way that allows them the opportunity to grow and develop through play; the way children learn best. There should be areas in the classroom dedicated to science, social studies, writing, building, dramatic play, technological skills, math play, and reading. All of these areas should show evidence of hands-on learning. Young children learn best from hands-on discovery and  participation with academia, rather than hands-off lecture or rote style worksheet learning.

Discovery Based Learning Materials

When first entering your classroom, discovery learning should be evident. One should easily see things like puzzles, magnets, magnifying glasses, and other important learning manipulatives. Young children learn best through hands-on learning where they can make discoveries about the world around them. The materials that make this possible should be stored at their level where they are able to access.

Areas To Promote Play


Research provides evidence that play is the work of children. Academic performance is improved when learning tasks are presented through playful situations. For example, children can understand the elements of a story better (characters, setting, etc) if they are asked to dramatize the story. There should be a playhouse or a play area in your child’s classroom as well as a block center and a sensory table. Areas like this show that the teacher is dedicated to teaching in a research based, age appropriate way.

Areas For Artistic Expression

Is there an area for painting, cutting, gluing and creating? Art strengthens spatial awareness, motor skills, problem solving, and persistence. Think of the child who has to work out how to cut up pieces of paper and glue them together in a way that makes a picture, not only is that child building the strength of his/her hands, he also needs to learn patience in completing the task--a skill that he can transfer to other academic areas.

Areas To Display Student Work

Seeing ones own work in the classroom shows a child that he/she is valued and that stamina, persistence, and accomplishments are worthwhile. It gives students ownership of the classroom and ownership over their own learning if work is displayed and valued.

Print Littered Across The Classroom

Children need vast exposure to print in order to learn to read. The classroom should have evidence of literacy everywhere. There should be words around the classroom as a friendly invitation to reading.

Areas for Literacy development

Create a classroom library. Have comfy chairs with books and book buddy pets. Have a listening center, and read the room activities easily assessable. Children love to practice reading. Encourage this natural desire by having song posters, poetry charts, name charts, birthday charts, and more at a level for students to easily reach with their pointers.

Areas For Writing

Create a space for students to experience and practice newly acquired writing skills independently. Have the area well stocked with all types of writing and book making supplies. Provide anchor charts and word walls that will offer students support.

When setting up your classroom, resist the trends. Don't give into the academic pressures that become ever greater each year; this leads many to think that they need to remove anything from the day that isn’t strictly academic. This is faulty thinking. Research has proven that young children actually do better academically when taught in a way that reflects their need to play, experiment, and create. Teaching to the whole child actually leads to better results. You will be surprised. Your children will thrive in an early learning classroom that has been strategically set for play-based discovery learning and is led by a teacher that scaffolds student learning in appropriate ways.

Classrooms Should Reflect A Child's Natural Active Learning Style.

Today I ask a few kids what they wanted in their next school year. The answers all echoed the same theme. "I want to do fun things!" "I want my teacher to be fun." "I want my teacher to be nice to me." "I want to do a play." "I want my teacher to read funny books." "I want to have lots of friends." "I want to make fun things." "I want to play lots of games." "I want to go on fieldtrips." "I want lots of recess."

Interestingly enough, not one answer was "I want to do worksheets." "I want to sit quite at my desk." Rather, all of the answers reflected the active learning styles that children crave, because children instinctually know how they learn best; through active, hands-on discovery learning opportunities. We need to listen to them!

Enjoy this free poster. Just grab the picture and drag the jpg to your desktop and print. If you want a larger size, simply slip that jpg onto a thumbdrive and take it to a photo center. I have found that Sam's Club has really great prices. I can print a poster for only $3.00. This is going on my classroom door.


Developmentally Appropriate - Child Centered Homework Packets: July

Tired of Worksheets? Are you looking for some great homework that is Developmentally Appropriate and Child Centered? You will love this NO-PREP option. These July packets will allow students to revisit important skills that should be mastered in order to be successful in the upcoming grade in school. This product is great from summer homework sent by teachers, parents looking to enrich learning in the summer, or homeschool parents that maintain a year round schedule.

Click on the links below to find these products at a low-price of $4.00 each on Teachers Pay Teachers.

The Case for $320,000 Kindergarten Teachers (NY Times Article)

This is my 22nd year of teaching kindergarten and consequently I have been able to see the fruits of my labor as I follow the lives of former students (of whom I all love, by the way)! I have seen my students become professional football players, businessmen, teachers, loving mothers and fathers, (sadly) prison inmates, and of course much much more.  

Was I able to predict what their future held for them in kindergarten? 

I love this article that was published in the New York Times on July 27, 2010, written by David Leonhart.  

The Case for $320,000 Kindergarten Teachers

How much do your kindergarten teacher and classmates affect the rest of your life?

Economists have generally thought that the answer was not much. Great teachers and early childhood programs can have a big short-term effect. But the impact tends to fade. By junior high and high school, children who had excellent early schooling do little better on tests than similar children who did not — which raises the demoralizing question of how much of a difference schools and teachers can make.
There has always been one major caveat, however, to the research on the fade-out effect. It was based mainly on test scores, not on a broader set of measures, like a child’s health or eventual earnings. As Raj Chetty, a Harvardeconomist, says: “We don’t really care about test scores. We care about adult outcomes.”
Early this year, Mr. Chetty and five other researchers set out to fill this void. They examined the life paths of almost 12,000 children who had been part of a well-known education experiment in Tennessee in the 1980s. The children are now about 30, well started on their adult lives.
On Tuesday, Mr. Chetty presented the findings — not yet peer-reviewed — at an academic conference in Cambridge, Mass. They’re fairly explosive.
Just as in other studies, the Tennessee experiment found that some teachers were able to help students learn vastly more than other teachers. And just as in other studies, the effect largely disappeared by junior high, based on test scores. Yet when Mr. Chetty and his colleagues took another look at the students in adulthood, they discovered that the legacy of kindergarten had re-emerged.
Students who had learned much more in kindergarten were more likely to go to college than students with otherwise similar backgrounds. Students who learned more were also less likely to become single parents. As adults, they were more likely to be saving for retirement. Perhaps most striking, they were earning more.
All else equal, they were making about an extra $100 a year at age 27 for every percentile they had moved up the test-score distribution over the course of kindergarten. A student who went from average to the 60th percentile — a typical jump for a 5-year-old with a good teacher — could expect to make about $1,000 more a year at age 27 than a student who remained at the average. Over time, the effect seems to grow, too.
The economists don’t pretend to know the exact causes. But it’s not hard to come up with plausible guesses. Good early education can impart skills that last a lifetime — patience, discipline, manners, perseverance. The tests that 5-year-olds take may pick up these skills, even if later multiple-choice tests do not.
Now happens to be a particularly good time for a study like this. With the economy still terribly weak, many people are understandably unsure about the value of education. They see that even college graduates have lost their jobs in the recession.
Barely a week seems to go by without a newspaper or television station running a report suggesting that education is overrated. These stories quote liberal groups, like theEconomic Policy Institute, that argue that an education can’t protect workers in today’s global economy. Or they quote conservatives, like Charles Murray and Ramesh Ponnuru, who suggest that people who haven’t graduated from college aren’t smart enough to do so.
But the anti-education case usually relies on a combination of anecdotes and selective facts. In truth, the gap between the pay of college graduates and everyone else grew to a record last year, according to the Labor Department, and unemployment has risen far more for the less educated.
This is not simply because smart people — people who would do well no matter what — tend to graduate from college. Education itself can make a difference. A long line of economic research, by Julie Berry CullenJames HeckmanPhilip Oreopoulos and many others, has found as much. The study by Mr. Chetty and his colleagues is the latest piece of evidence.
The crucial problem the study had to solve was the old causation-correlation problem. Are children who do well on kindergarten tests destined to do better in life, based on who they are? Or are their teacher and classmates changing them?
The Tennessee experiment, known as Project Star, offered a chance to answer these questions because it randomly assigned students to a kindergarten class. As a result, the classes had fairly similar socioeconomic mixes of students and could be expected to perform similarly on the tests given at the end of kindergarten.
Yet they didn’t. Some classes did far better than others. The differences were too big to be explained by randomness. (Similarly, when the researchers looked at entering and exiting test scores in first, second and third grades, they found that some classes made much more progress than others.)
Class size — which was the impetus of Project Star — evidently played some role. Classes with 13 to 17 students did better than classes with 22 to 25. Peers also seem to matter. In classes with a somewhat higher average socioeconomic status, all the students tended to do a little better.
But neither of these factors came close to explaining the variation in class performance. So another cause seemed to be the explanation: teachers.
Some are highly effective. Some are not. And the differences can affect students for years to come.
When I asked Douglas Staiger, a Dartmouth economist who studies education, what he thought of the new paper, he called it fascinating and potentially important. “The worry has been that education didn’t translate into earnings,” Mr. Staiger said. “But this is telling us that it does and that the fade-out effect is misleading in some sense.”
Mr. Chetty and his colleagues — one of whom, Emmanuel Saez, recently won the prize for the top research economist under the age of 40 — estimate that a standout kindergarten teacher is worth about $320,000 a year. That’s the present value of the additional money that a full class of students can expect to earn over their careers. This estimate doesn’t take into account social gains, like better health and less crime.
Obviously, great kindergarten teachers are not going to start making $320,000 anytime soon. Still, school administrators can do more than they’re doing.
They can pay their best teachers more, as Pittsburgh soon will, and give them the support they deserve. Administrators can fire more of their worst teachers, as Michelle Rhee, the Washington schools chancellor, did last week. Schools can also make sure standardized tests are measuring real student skills and teacher quality, as teachers’ unions have urged.
Given today’s budget pressures, finding the money for any new programs will be difficult. But that’s all the more reason to focus our scarce resources on investments whose benefits won’t simply fade away.

What Should Young Children Be Learning?

Dr. Lilian Katz has certainly shaped me as an educator. I think I have read and studied everything she has written, and  I could listen to her words of wisdom all day long.  Following are but two bits of wisdom she imparts...

“If you do not build a foundation properly, it can be dangerous and very expensive to repair.”

“We must resist the temptation to start our students on the 3rd floor.” 

This video is lengthy, but well worth the time for all educators and parents of young children! Dr. Katz uses the analogy of structural engineering and foundational education.

The Development of a Child's Brain

A longer childhood equals a smarter brain, take the African Honey Badger, they live 14-18 months with their mother, an unusually long time. In fact, Honey Badger juveniles are usually still with their mother, learning from her, when they have reached or surpassed her in size. This is so unusual that when they were first observed, it was assumed that Honey Badgers hunted in mating pairs. The result of this long childhood is an amazingly smart animal. Just how smart are they? Well, just watch:

The long childhood of the Honey Badger is nothing compared to the long childhood of Human Beings. Childhood is a gift that has been provided for the development of our brains. Playing, pretending, building, and all of the activities of childhood are necessary for the development and growth of the brain. These things are the work of childhood.

Most children are going to have a great childhood, but what about the children who will not have that chance? What about the child who has delayed speech? What about the child who has been exposed to too much technology at too young of an age? What about the child who doesn't have adequate nutrition? What about the child who doesn't get enough sleep? All children can benefit from a classroom that supports their social and emotional growth, but for these children, it is essential. 

Now, to address the elephant in the room: the Common Core. There is a movement that is very against the Common Core. I am not against the Common Core, I do not believe that expecting academic rigor is the problem, but, I know where this movement is coming from. In the same vein, I am against Charter Schools (because the system is deeply corrupt) but when a parent wants to take their child out of public school and place him/her in a charter school, I absolutely know where they are coming from. 

You are worried about the emotional health of your child, aren't you? I am too.

Kindergarten can be a place of academics, but that should not and should never be it's main concern. I recently saw a post by a fellow Kindergarten teacher that read something like this, "I have a child who constantly needs praise. It's interrupting my teaching! What do I do?" Do you see the problem in this statement? A child who needs to be taught intrinsic motivation, a child who has an emotional need, is interrupting the teaching. If we are truly doing the job of early educators, teaching a child emotional and social skills should always be the primary goal of our teaching it should never be secondary to academic goals and it should definitely never be thought of as an intrusion to them.

The most encouraging thing about a child's brain development is that it is not set in stone. Neurological development is capable of fixing past deficiencies and of forming new pathways at any time, if given the right experiences. There are children who desperately need us to give them those experiences, but if we are not consciously focusing on their needs, if we are only focused on the things that can be measured (by those who make money off of measuring), then we will never give those children the experiences that their brains really need. 

Because the truth of the matter is, that every child is born with the same exact brain capability as Albert Einstein, Ada Lovelace, Steven Hawking, or Emilie du Chatelet. The only thing that sets us apart is the experiences each of our brains is fed. So if we are really concerned about the academic growth of our children, we shouldn't be concerning ourselves so much with what level a child can read at, or how far he can count. What we really need to concern ourselves with is this question:

How rich are their experiences?

Meeting Common Core Standards through Dramatic Play

Kathleen's castle!

Do you have a playhouse or dramatic play center in your room? Many principals, as well as parents and even kindergarten teachers, don’t understand the purpose of a playhouse. They hear the word play and understanding ends there!

The value of a dramatic play center cannot be overstated. In this center, students can take on the role of mom, dad, baby bear, chef, doctor, teacher, or post master. Shy students are often more willing to participate when they can “be” someone else. Students have multiple opportunities to take turns, share, and negotiate as they play together. Language and vocabulary development are increased through speaking and listening in the center, especially if it is changed throughout the year to be a hospital, restaurant, a 3 Bears’ cottage, etc.

Reading and writing skills can be practiced in the playhouse. Students can write restaurant orders, grocery lists, or letters to mail. They can read in a hospital room or a playhouse kitchen. With alphabet or number flashcards Baby bear or Goldilocks as well as students in a school room can review letters, sounds, or numbers. 

In order to capitalize on the benefits of a dramatic play center, include a variety of materials for students to use, change the “scene” occasionally, and determine which standards are best addressed by the activities that you anticipate in the playhouse area. Check out the standards for Speaking and Listening, Reading Literature and/or Informational Text, Reading Foundations, Writing, and Counting and Cardinality. Post some of the specific standards that are being met or include the standards in your lesson plans. In addition, or as an alternate, post an explanation of the learning benefits of the dramatic play center.

Whether you have an actual playhouse or a defined area in your room, students can thrive in a dramatic play center. Deliberately incorporate this center in your weekly plans to meet learning objectives and state standards.

Here is my learning center poster that is posted by my playhouse.

Want to learn more about why play is so essential to learning in the early grades? Listen to our interview with Kristi Mraz, author of the book Purposeful Play.


Television Viewing and Young Children

American children view an average of four to six hours of television daily (which may not even include time spent playing video games). Researchers can now document the effects of extensive television exposure through studies of the human brain.  This Research indicates that TV viewing and Video Gaming are  linked to  a range of negative behaviors: Violence, aggression, obesity, poor academic performance, stubbornness, limited communication skills, and behavior that is not age appropriate.

Each time a child is watching  television or playing video games, time for other activities that are imperative for a child’s natural development are severely limited. Childhood is a period of growth and development; when kids need to play both alone and with peers. Playing is a child’s work! Children also need to talk! Talking with adults as well as other children develops imperative oral language skills.

The amount of violence on television and in video games is increasing and experts agree that this violence is harmful to young children. Children who see violence on TV or in games can become frightened, worried, suspicious, withdrawn, or may develop bullying behaviors. Researchers also have found that children who watch violence on television (including cartoons and gaming) are encouraged that bullying and aggressive behavior is acceptable.

Many research studies indicate that excessive television viewing and video gamin has a detrimental effect on learning and school performance. The hours spent viewing television interfere with homework and with natural learning opportunities. If your child is not performing well academically, ask yourself if your child is watching too much TV or playing excessive and/or  violent video games.

The average child sees 20,000 commercials a year. That means 700 million dollars are being spent introducing your child to heavily sugared products. This gives your child a distorted picture of how they ought to eat and causes unhealthy eating habits.

Television is a fabulous invention with numerous educational and entertaining programs. However, when it comes to young children, it must be used wisely. Set limits! Replace that extra time with alternate activities such as sports, games, play, chores, reading conversation, homework,  or hobbies.

Kindergarten and the Common Core

The expectations for kindergarten have gotten higher and our five year olds are expected to do more and more. Of course they are! They should do more and they should learn more. The amount of knowledge that is available to them in this modern world is tremendous, and they should be prepared and able to access all of it.

However, at the same time that we are trying to expose our children to more knowledge, we are also losing important aspects of childhood development. We are giving up the practices that have always defined early childhood learning. But correlation is not causation. Just because these two events are happening in our education system at the same time, it does not mean that the one is not causing the other. In fact, if we truly want to increase the amount of knowledge that our children acquire in their early years, our teaching should become more developmentally appropriate, more hands on, more sensory motivated, and more directed by play. We know through countless research studies that this is the best way to disseminate information to a young mind, and if we want young minds to grow, these are the practices we should be using.

If we are not using these techniques in the classroom of the young child, then we are wasting precious time and opportunity. If we do not allow our children to paint, then we are missing a chance to teach about shapes and geometry. If we throw out our building blocks, then we aren’t teaching the spatial skills and divergent thinking needed for jobs like computer programming and engineering. When there is no playhouse in the classroom, children lose a chance to engage in activities beyond their current level of understanding (as proven by the research of Piaget) and develop persistence in problem solving and coping with changing situations. If we teach children only through direct instruction (or worse: worksheets) instead of games, then we have lost a chance to expand their memory and logical thinking. If we don’t sing, how can we expand a child’s vocabulary? If we get rid of the puppets and toys, we have lost the chance to expand a child’s comprehension of a story through retelling in a medium they easily understand. If we take out the sensory play, then we’ve lost a chance to help a child understand the science of the natural world, to problem solve, and to take chances. Why is it that in the current school setting, where expectations are so high, we are voiding ourselves of the very tools that would make our jobs easier?

Yes, it is true that kindergarten is becoming less and less appropriate, and the repercussions are frightening. However, blaming high expectations and the Common CORE are not going to solve the problem because expecting our children to do and think remarkable things is not, and has never been the problem. 

If teachers teach what they are required to teach using proven early childhood methods, the results will be astounding. Yes, it is more demanding of talents, time, and energy to teach in this way. Yes, it takes more support from other teachers, parents, and administrators to teach in this way. Yes, it takes better educated teachers to teach in this way. And, yes, it takes more guts to teach in this way. But, it is worth it. And our kids deserve it.

To All Kindergarten Teachers

My grandson is going to start Kindergarten in just  two weeks. I have taught Kindergarten for 23 years, so why am I so trepidatious about it? It is because of what I know as well as every kindergarten teacher knows. Kindergarten is a BIG step not only in the life of the child, but in the life of his parents.

Every new kindergartner's parents are feeling mixed emotions. "I am excited, but...". Parents need to know that their child will be loved and cared for. They need to know their child will be spending a huge chunk of time in a developmental setting -- experiencing the joy of learning, creating, and discovering.

I asked my daughter to write down her thoughts to remind each and every Kindergarten Teacher what it is all about. If you know a Kindergarten Teacher, please pass this on:

To my child’s Kindergarten teacher,

Please remember that I am trusting you with the most precious, beautiful, important part of my life. Please keep him safe. Please see what I see in him. Please don’t try to label him. He is who he is. Celebrate that. Please don’t focus on his test scores too much. They really don’t tell you much about him. For example, they don’t tell you that he’s a perfectionist. That he has an imagination the size of a nation. That he thrives on smiles and hugs. That he loves to paint--but never inside the lines. That he’s afraid of being ignored and alone. That he loves to work with his hands, but gets impatient that they’re not as strong as he’d like. There is so much more to him than how many letters he knows and how far he can count. Please see him. Please look at him.

When the school year starts and he’s in your care, will you please smile at him? Will you pat him on the back and tell him he’s doing okay? It’s okay to tell him he needs to behave, it’s okay to tell him he needs to do better, but please tell him that everyone makes mistakes sometimes--mistakes are how we learn--and you know he will do better the next day. Please help him pick himself up and try again.

Will you make sure he has fun? I’m not worried about the academics. I know they will come. I’m more concerned about what this year teaches him about school. Please make sure to teach him that school is a place where we take care of each other’s feelings, where it’s okay to try and fail, where it’s okay to make messes and mistakes, where it’s okay to play. Please let him play. It’s how he learns.

This is a big step for him and me. We are walking out into the world and you are his first brush with life outside of the safe place I’ve made for him. I will cry when I put his little hand in yours and walk away. I will be thinking about him the whole time he’s gone, but I hope you have him so engaged he doesn’t have a chance to think of me.

Take care of him.

He’s only been around for 5 years.



Developmentally Appropriate Kindergarten Teaching

Anyone that knows me, is a reader of my blog, or a purchaser of my products knows that I cling to the developmentally appropriateness of kindergarten teaching. Also, I am very academic, I believe that each child can and should reach their their full learning potential in the kindergarten setting. How can you mix the two? Easy! Teach learning skills through play using proven developmentally appropriate methods.

I found this article written by Diane Marie entitled "The Disturbing Transformation of Kindergarten." I think she is spot on! Here is the link: http://truthabouteducation.wordpress.com/2014/03/06/the-disturbing-transformation-of-kindergarten/

Valentines Dramatic Play and Writing

Probably one of my favorite Dramatic Play opportunities of the year in our playhouse is The Valentine Post Office. 

I purchased the postman costumes years (and years) ago from Lakeshore. They are adorable, and consist of a jacket, a hat and a mailbag. If you do not have costumes, you can find many templates for postal worker hats online and simply make your own as a headband. Or, do the Post Office without costumes.

Next, fill the playhouse with TONS of writing paper. I have scraps of paper, paper cut as hearts, paper that is ran as cards, and so-on. Then add some markers, pencils, crayons, stamps, or anything else you can think of.

I then give the students one main rule. The post office is for writing letters! You  can add pictures to finish your writing, but you must write first!

This is when my independent writing moves to a new level, love it!

Do the Finn's have it right?

More from my "Early Childhood" Soapbox

Children in Finland go outside to play frequently all day long. "How can you teach when the children are going outside every 45 minutes?" a recent American Fulbright grant recipient in Finland, who was astonished by how little time the Finns were spending in school, inquired curiously of a teacher at one of the schools she visited. The teacher in turn was astonished by the question. "I could not teach unless the children went outside every 45 minutes!"
The Finnish model of education includes a late start to academics (children do not begin any formal academics until they are 7 years old), frequent breaks for outdoor time, shorter school hours and more variety of classes than in the US. Equity, not high achievement, is the guiding principle of the Finnish education system.
While we in America preach the mantra of early intervention, shave time off recess to teach more formal academics and cut funding to non-academic subjects like art and music, Finnish educators emphasize that learning art, music, home economics and life skills is essential.
Why it's better: American school children score in the middle of the heap on international measures of achievement, especially in science and mathematics. Finnish children, with their truncated time in school, frequently rank among the best in the world.

Every Child Deserves a Developmentally Appropriate Education

Yesterday while listening to the radio a commercial for a local school came on the air, this was there selling point:

"Our students read at 3 years old!"

Excuse me while I tear my hair out. Setting aside the fact that there is no research or evidence to show that early reading has any kind of tie to academic success, is this really what we want for our children? There was a time when early education was about learning to play, about exploring one's environment, about painting, and singing, and growing socially and emotionally. When did we decide that this kind of learning wasn't important anymore? When did we decide that pushing strict academics on younger and younger children was the most important thing? And in this world of children who are lost, who are bullied or bullies, who are lonely, who are struggling, can we really say that we are better for it?

I think this story told to me by a friend, using her words, sums things up nicely:

"I have a lot of friends that have kids in preschool and kindergarten and their biggest focus is their kid's knowing all their letters and sounds and their ability to read at an early age. They talk as if a kid isn't reading by kindergarten they're behind! I went to (_____) School when I was little. That was where I learned I was dumb. It took 'til I was in high school to realize I wasn't. I worked hard and did great. It was hard to be so young and feel like everyone else was so much better than me.
That's one thing about this system that is so bad. These kids that are just as smart as everyone else go through school thinking they're dumb because they couldn't read well in kindergarten and first grade.
Because I was given the title "not as smart" I really did stop trying because I felt like I couldn't do it anyway. I don't exactly know what changed in me. I do know there were a number of teachers I had in high school that knew better and expected more of me. I'm sure they played a big part. I actually graduated on the honor roll. It starts young. If only people knew how important it is to build a kid up in those early years. It effects EVERYTHING!!!"
Sample...The frustrating thing: We can do both!! We can teach necessary academic skills and do it at the appropriate level for each child and in the appropriate way. Children are only young once and deserve a childhood. They deserve the chance to learn through the guidance of caring adults that value the importance of early childhood education and value the proven developmental techniques of play, scaffolding, and discovery.

Building Opportunities For Independent Practice

Whether you have helpers in your classroom or not, students must have time for independent work. They need time to explore, experiment, and investigate. They also need time to practice skills and strategies that you are teaching them. Along with modeling and guided practice, independent practice is a crucial component of instruction.

At the beginning of the school year, independent practice can be very procedural. Students can paint, play with playdough, use computers, put puzzles together, trace names, listen to stories, play in a playhouse, explore at a science center, etc. The skills and instruction needed for these activities is minimal; your focus can be on how to work through problems (e.g., what to do if the computer quits working), how to share materials, and how to pick up. Through these independent centers, students come to understand how to work without the immediate guidance of an adult.

Within a short time, your independent centers can include some skill practice. Students can play syllable, rhyming, alphabet, and number games. It is important that students understand exactly how to complete the activity. To that end it helps to play games that fit similar formats and follow the same rules and procedures. 

Independent practice is only beneficial if the students practice the skill correctly.  Before presenting a skill as an independent center, provide multiple opportunities for guided practice featuring that skill. If possible have at least one student in each group who has mastered the skill that the students are practicing, also.

If you are looking for independent center ideas, check out any of our units. Each unit includes games that you can play with your students in small or large groups; later they can play these same games independently. 

One of our goals in education is to help our students become independent learners. Using independent centers in your classroom will help you achieve this goal.

Book Bag Buddies Build Excitement For Reading!

Your students will love having classroom book bag buddies! I have had buddies in my classroom now for 20 years and they are always a hit! Here are my current 25 buddies packed and ready for their turn. For easy management I have found it best to get them ready all at the same time, but as you build the program, simply prepare them as needed.

I generally send home two pets at a time. One for the helper and one for the caboose. You can organize it however you wish, and send home one or two at a time. I have found two to be the perfect number for me.

To start, simply find a book you love and then find a pet to match. You can usually find a pet at a thrift store, a garage sale, on amazon, or department stores (such a Kohls). I will also add an informational or nonfiction companion book if the story lends itself that way. For example if the story is Brown Bear I will include a real book about bears.

Next, make a journal! Copy the cover (add a picture that matches your pet), and then copy the inside front and back so that it will open from the top showing the next page when the page is lifted. 

Now, gather a vinyl backpack. Once again these can be found in all of the places listed above. Place the pet, the book(s), the journal inside of the backpack and it is ready to send home with the first student. 

Remember to introduce your class to the pet, set your rules with the pet, and build the excitement!

Developing Fine Motor Skills

Build your child’s (student's) fine motor skills as well as develop confidence by using these fine motor activities. Each category begins with novice activities and then moves forward in complexity; aiding development.

Table of Contents:

Cutting with Scissors:

Help the Airplane Fly
Chugging Train
Astronaut Journey
Alien Adventure
Frog Hop
In the Pond, Dragonfly
Robots I
Robots II
Vroom I
Vroom II
Cowboys I
Cowboys II
Cutting Shapes I
Cutting Shapes II

Using Glue

Glue Practice
Gluing Zig Zag
Glue a Star
Glue a Smile
Glue a Robot
Glue a Bear
Glue a Tree
Glue a House

Drawing Practice

Dot to Dot 
Drawing Vertical Lines 
Drawing Horizontal Lines
Drawing Curve Lines
Drawing Circles

Drawing, Cutting, & Gluing

Make a Tree
Make a Car
Make a Castle
Make a Dog
Make a Bird
Make a Person

Building Brain Power By Hand

During our exploration of insects, I challenged the students (during rotation time) to build a bug city at the Construction Center. It's amazing to me to watch what the students come up with when given a task like this because it's a clear demonstration of their level of critical thinking. For example, these pictures show what one of the groups was able to construct:

Notice how they have built up from the table, how they have made nooks for individual bugs, even how they have sorted the bugs by type to let bugs of the same family "live" together. 

It is of great importance to have activities such as this available in my classroom; because our hands are so important to our brains. By using our hands to build, to touch, to explore, we form connections that help us not only to understand the world around us, but to think about the world around us.

Here are some other skills the children are developing by working at the Construction Center:
--Respecting the work of others
--Making choices and decisions
--Negotiating ideas
--Using creative, divergent thinking
--Dialoguing and problem solving
--Determining how real objects fit together
--Experimenting with the properties of physical objects, such as gravity, weight, stability, and balance