Friday, April 1, 2016

Quiet Boxes

     For those of us who teach Pre-K, one of the stressful times of the day is rest time. Many of your students sleep, but then there are those who just can't be still or can't be quiet. After all, they are 4 or 5 and their minds are growing and curious! Who can sleep with so much going on?
     There is a solution to creating a quiet rest time. We all know that is the teacher's time to get stuff done! The way I approach it in my classroom is that my students have to rest quietly on their mat for 'half' of rest time (15-30 minutes). Then I pass out boxes with quiet activities in them. While this concept is not my own (I heard it at training many years ago in the Georgia Pre-K Program), I have made it my own, and based on my students' interests. I have used items such as shoe boxes, baby wipe boxes, small food storage containers, and most recently, baby formula cans, to store these quiet activities.
     You may be thinking "I can't do this. It costs too much!" I am here to tell you that it can be very cheap, even free!  All you have to do is collect old containers (food storage, baby wipes, formula cans, cereal boxes, etc) and fill them! You can easily purchase items from either "Dollar Tree" or use items you already have on your shelves! With kids this age, when something is used in a new way, it is exciting!
     I created mine using old formula cans. The newer cans are plastic. Back when my first child was born, (over 10 years ago) the cans were cardboard and round. Now they have a fun oval shape and are a durable plastic.  I covered them one summer in the only contact paper I had at home, which happened to be zebra print. Then all I did was fill them! Below are some ideas you can use that are free (using items in your classroom).

      1. Laminated word cards and Dry Erase Markers (below  is one of my higher students. She enjoyed writing the words and putting them in alphabetical order.) For lower students, they can practice reading the words and using fine motor skills to trace the words.  

     2. Foam blocks/Unifix cubes: The student below first sorted them by color, then created patterns, and finally built with them.
      3. Shape Erasers: First this student sorted them into piles. Then he stacked them by kind. Finally he acted out stories with the various shapes.

     The possibilities are endless! Below are some more suggestions of how to fill your Quiet Boxes:
                      -Word cards and magnet letters to spell out the words
                      -Counting games
                      -Note pads and writing tools
                      -Small puzzles or various sizes (24-100 pieces)
                      -MINI BOOKS: I copy mini books based on letters, numbers, themes, or sight words. Some years I send them home. Others, I have students keep them in a small food storage box and they can use them at rest time to color, read, or circle sight words.

     The option to my students is simple: You get one box for rest time. You can either use the box and be creative and have fun, or you can close it and rest. I have enough boxes so that my students don't get the same box twice in a month. When they are faced with sleeping or using a box creatively, the possibilities are endless!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Displaying our Love of Reading

One way I've been able to encourage reading in my classroom is through keeping track of books we read. I read anywhere from 3-5 books a day in my classroom, whether it be me reading or books on CD. I expose the students to as many books as I can on our topic for the week. They get excited about reading and ask to read books again or listen to them independently in the listening center.

For each month, I create a reading display to keep track of what we read. The students can see our display grow, and they get involved in helping with it. I assign a job as a library helper. This person is not only in charge of keeping the books in order on our library shelf, but also in charge of helping to hang the display each day. Once we get into the routine of writing books, the students always remind me to write the book down after we read it. They get excited to see our display grow daily!

To start, I create a monthly display for our reading center. I usually base it on either holiday themes or our major monthly theme. Next, I create a simple design that I can cut out from paper. This will be the shape we add to our display with each book. Finally, I write down the title an author of the book we read and hang it on our display. The rest is "literacy"!

Below are some examples of displays I have used. Some I use each year, and others I change. Some years I do a seasonal display, and others are monthly.


 The options are endless! Other ideas are:
               Back to school: Write book titles on a book cutout
               Fall: Write titles on leaves, then attach to a tree
               Pumpkins: Create a pumpkin patch by writing book titles on each pumpkin
               Thanksgiving: Create a turkey in the middle and write book titles on a feather
               Space: Use stars on a black background

When I first started this idea, I did one to match my classroom theme of trains. We used a train car for each book, and the display grew quickly, as did the love of reading! That is when I decided to expand this concept. Giving the students a visual helped them to see how many books we read, and it made them want to read more. Give it a try, and see for yourself how students will grow!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Magical Magnet Stories: "Behind the Scenes"

          A little over 3 years ago I came up with the idea for "Magical Magnet Stories". As technology has changed over the years, I saw that there was a move from flannel board stories to magnet stories. Basically, it was laminated clip art with a magnet on the back, and it was easy to make. As I created more of them, I realized it was still kind of boring and wondered how I could make it more exciting. That's when I began experimenting with paint. I've always loved painting, and I decided to try to paint on a cookie tray. The result was "Magical"!
         As the years have gone by, I have added so many boards to my collection. My students enjoy seeing and using the boards in the classroom. What encouraged me even more to create them was the fact that the students who usually did not use puppets or tell stories were now asking for a new board to play with next. They now spend a lot of center time retelling familiar stories or poems with the boards, and are so excited about it!
         When I make my magnet stories, I start with a poem, song, or book. I like using songs because it makes it easy for the students to act it out. They either sing it themselves or we play a CD to show the story. I also like to use the $1 books from Scholastic. I especially use those around the holidays and the end of the year because I give a board and book as a gift to all my students.
          So far, I have created over 25 "Magical Magnet Stories". You can see them all by following my link on the right. Below you will see just how I go from cookie tray to magic! Each one is hand painted and takes about 2-3 hours to make, including drying times in between.

                     1.  Pick a book, song, or poem. It can be a book or song you have, or you can do a search for poems and YouTube songs for whatever topic you want. I have picked "Chicka   Boom Boom" to show you. Scholastic Reading Clubs have them on sale for $1, and I have already bought them for my end of the year gift.

                    2. I begin by painting the background of my board. For "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom", I painted the sky and the sand first. (It's all about layering the paint to achieve the look you want.)

                    3. I then paint the tree trunk and the leaves.

                    4. Next I add the coconuts, as well as glitter fabric paint on the sand.

                    5. Finally I seal the board with ModPodge mixed with a little water. You have to get the consistency just right so that the board is sealed, but it it will not be tacky when it dries. (***For boards with clip art images on them, this is the time that I add those on with ModPodge.)



         Add the magnet pieces (you can add laminated clip art with magnets) and you have an awesome prop to engage and encourage students to build their literacy skills! Depending on the board, you can reinforce skills such as:


                               * Retelling stories
                               * Letter recognition
                               * Rhyming
                               * Sequencing  
                               * Comprehension skills
                               * Building vocabulary/language                                     
                                * Number recognition
                                * Counting
                                * Addition
                                * Subtraction
                                * Shape recognition
                                * Ordinal numbers/sequencing      
          These are just a few of the skills! The magnet stories also help build social skills and address science and social studies concepts. Experience the Magic yourself by visiting my page, Magical Magnet Stories. Create your own board or contact me to purchase one so you can see your child or students light up with excitement and a love for learning!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Make Colored Pasta for Under $5

              Colored noodles. A 4 year old's favorite material to explore with! Add a little glue (in art) or some cups and scoops (in the sensory table) and you have a bright and fun item for your students to use.  However, it is SO costly. In a recent search, I found 2lbs of colored pasta for $13. I'm going to show you how to make your own for around $5 or less! Its easy and inexpensive. Plus once you buy the original materials, all you need to do is buy more pasta (at $1 per box) and you can make more colored pasta than you know what to do with!

                       1. First you need to gather your materials:

                                * a bottle of rubbing alcohol ($1),
                                * a box of food coloring ($2)
                                * Pasta ($1/box)
                                *quart size zip baggies (1 per color)
                                * Tin foil
                                * Large cookie sheet

                      2. Next, you want to start with one color. Take a quart sized bag and squeeze in some food coloring. The more you use, the deeper the color will be. I usually just put 1-2 squirts in, rather than counting out drops.

                      3. Pour in some rubbing alcohol into the bag. I usually try to put in 1/2 inch in the bag. If you don't use enough, it wont cover the noodles. If you use too much, the color will be diluted.

                      4. Next you want to pour in your pasta. I made 2 types today because that is what was in my pantry. You can always do more. If you have a lot of liquid in the bag, you can fill the bag up 2/3 with pasta.

                     5. Zip up the bag and shake it around to mix it up. Then I lay it down (still in the bag) on a foil covered cookie sheet so the colors can soak in. After a few minutes, I flip the bag over so it can soak into the other side of the bag. ***The bags can sometimes leak out the top, so make sure your pan is covered. You also might want to wear gloves.

                     6. The next step is to pour out each bag, one at a time, onto the lined cookie sheet. After you pour out the bag, use paper towels to spread out the pasta in an even layer on the sheet and absorb extra liquid. I keep similar colors together on the same sheet. The colors may bleed a little if you have excess liquid in the bag. The result is cool multi colored pasta.

                       7. The last step is to let it dry. You want to keep it in a well ventilated area. That is the downfall of using the rubbing alcohol. However, the alcohol speeds up the drying time AND it prevents the pasta from getting mushy. (It's really the secret ingredient because it also makes colors pop!) I place my trays in my garage (with the door cracked outside) and point a fan on it to speed up the dry time. After about an hour, I rub or stir up the pasta to make sure the under side gets fully dry too and let it sit by the fan another 30 minutes.

          The total prep time is only about 10-15 minutes. Dry time is 1-2 hours. When it is through drying, you can either bag it up by color, or mix it all together. I use the colored pasta in my sensory table, as well as in my art center. I also have the "Ditalini" pasta that I dye, and it turns out to look like pony or pearler beads. Students are able to easily lace them up with yarn. Yay! One less art item to toss money away on!

        So the next time you need to add some bright pasta to your centers, make it yourself! This works for all types of small-medium sized pasta, as well as rice. If you make several boxes at a time (tossing in a handful of each pasta into one colored bag), you will have more than enough pasta to last you the whole year! Ive also made special pasta for different themes. Ive made green pasta for St. Patrick's day, colored shells for an ocean unit, and red bow ties for "The Cat in the Hat". The possibilities are endless!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

New Furniture Part 2: The Finished Product!

          In an earlier post, I shared with you how to make over your old classroom furniture, using just colored contact paper and border. Below you will find the result in my classroom.

    *****Every shelf in my room looked like this before I began.


               * Art Shelf

              *Math Center

           * Writing Center (a chalkboard made from chalkboard contact paper on the back of a bookshelf)

           * Science Center

             *Block Center

          If these transformations inspired you, then start today! If you think you don't have time or money, start with just one color of contact paper and one shelf. Or you can cover the tops of every shelf and save the rest for later. Anything you do will be an improvement and make the room look more inviting!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Pocket Charts: Creative Ways to Organize Your Pre-K Classroom!

           In my elementary school teaching days, I used a lot of pocket charts. You know, the huge deep blue ones that cost a ton of money each. They were useful for writing things on sentence strips. They were also used for calendars and other classroom activities. However, when I switched to Pre-K, I found they took up space I didn't have, and I couldn't use them in the same way.
           Recently, I have fallen in love with the smaller, colorful, cheaper pocket charts. I find that they are more useful in a Pre-K setting. AND they are only $1 each! They are available at your local Target Dollar Spot for Back to School, or even sometimes at Dollar Tree in the teacher section. I have come up with several ways to use them in the classroom to aid in organization, as well as integrating them into the classroom routine.

            1. Job Chart
                *To make this chart, I bought the colored strips that fit this chart, also just $1. Then I found clip art online to match each job that I had. I attached the picture to the strip And then wrote the title next to each. I hung them side by side because of the location I wanted it to be. Then I added the "Helping Hands" border at the end.

            2. Schedule
                * This is a visual schedule for the students to manipulate each day. I started by writing down each main section of our day. I left off the clock time to allow for adjustment. It makes it easier to move the activities in case of an early release day or special events. Besides, most 4 year olds understand time as a sequence of events, not numbers on a clock. I added pictures of my students doing each activity to help them "read" each part of the day. To finish it off, I added a clock border. The student with the job of "Time Keeper" moves the car down the schedule throughout the day. I have it located near my circle time area so that it is easy for everyone to see.

         3. Small Group Organization
             *This pocket chart is located at our circle time. We review it each morning meeting so the students know which small group activity to go to for the day, following our morning meeting. I have the teacher names for the two teacher directed activities. Then I draw pictures of the independent activities. For the most part, every student does every activity through the week, though sometimes modified for their needs. Each day I rotate the activity cards by moving it up one row. I use the students pictures (index size and laminated) to make up each group. This makes it easy to switch out students so that the groups can be arranged by ability. I change groups at least monthly based on the growth of individuals.

         4. Center Signs
             *These charts are located in each center. For the first few months of school, they will be used to show the name of the center and show pictures of what can be done in each center. Pictured below is the one for the Block Center. We will go over the chart during the first few weeks of school during our small groups times. This is where we take a smaller group and introduce each center, the materials in it, how to use it, and how to clean up.

                *After we are well into the routines of the classroom (2-3 months into school), we will turn the center signs into various pocket chart games. I will post another article once we are into school to show different types of games I use.

         So RUN, don't walk, to your local Target to stock up on these great pocket charts! I mostly chose the blue charts to go with my wall color,  but there are more colors. Even if you still don't have an idea for them yet, get them. They do go quickly!

Monday, July 27, 2015

New Furniture! (Or at least make it look that way)

            One of the biggest problems with making your room look inviting is the furniture. You can decorate the room all you want, but if your shelves are old, scratched, and just gross, it ruins all of your efforts. However, there is a clean and easy fix! Below you will see a step by step guide to making your old furniture look new and amazing! 

STEP 1: Gather your materials. You will need:

                         *Colored contact paper or shelf paper                 

                         *Border to match the theme of the shelf

                         *Packing tape (easiest with a dispenser)

STEP 2: Remove everything from the shelf. (Labels, toys, dirt, etc.)

STEP 3: Measure and Cut

                        *Measure contact paper on each shelf for length, and cut to fit. Use the grid on the back as a guide. 

                        *Roll up your cut paper, then place on the shelf. Cut about an inch from the edge. This will allow a smooth cover on the shelf without any overlap of contact paper. 

STEP 4: Place contact paper on each shelf. 

STEP 5: Measure and cut the borders for each shelf. 

STEP 6: Tape the Border to the shelf. 

                       *Start with using a strip of packing tape overlapping the edge about 1/2 inch. This excess tape will help attach the border to the shelf, as well as create a seal so that the border will not lift up or be peeled off. 

                       *Seal the top half of the border by laying another piece of packing tape across the top. Again, make sure it overlaps about 1/2 inch to allow it to be sealed to the shelf.

                       *Depending on the width of your border, you may need to add a third strip of tape in the middle of the border. You want to be sure that all areas of the border are covered in the tape. This will help the border stay attached, as well as protect it for easy wipe down. 

STEP 7: Label your shelves, place the materials back on the shelf, and enjoy! 

****This can also be done on cubbies, or anything else that needs to be covered!