"In this classroom, relationships are fostered, families are respected, and children are honored.
In this classroom, nature's gifts are valued and children's thoughts are captured.
In this classroom, learning is alive and aesthetic beauty is appreciated." -Unknown

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Getting Ready for the New School Year; Setting Up the Physical Environment


Each year organizing, setting up and getting ready for a new school year is always an adventure. During the course of the year things get so busy that things don't stay super organized. My first year teaching one of the parents was teasing me and commented that my office was a disaster. I told her that my office was a disaster and I could keep it neat and orderly all the time and not do all the wonderful learning experiences I offered to her son or my office could be chaotic and we could do lots of fun stuff. She laughed and told me that she didn't care what my office looked like, not to change a thing about the program. 

Having said all that, of course I do like it to be neat and orderly when possible, so during the summer program or prior to the new school year starting in the fall, I always try to organize things. This makes it feel like a fresh start and is a great way to inventory just what we have available.


These are storage cabinets in the classroom.
Having all of our collage and stamping materials
sorted helps us know what we have available
and what we may need to replenish.

Love putting the construction paper in rainbow order with
skin tones on the end. We purchase the 12 x 18 packs and
I cut them in half for our daily use.

Hard to believe that when I began here there were virtually NO books.
Probably 95% of the books are mine
and have been purchased through Scholastic.
 I went through all the books and reorganized them.
There is actually almost one full shelf on the backside
 with Science/Nature Non-fiction books, as well.

These are the cubbies by the front door. I do put each child's
name and a photo in their cubby. I also post photos I or someone
else have taken with inspirational quotes around the room.

Here's the Manipulative Area for the beginning of the school year.
There are Ocean Animal finger puppets on the top of the shelf
 along with a marble maze. Puzzles, shape stackers,
Magna Tiles, Connecting Pieces, and Potato Head People.

I transformed our train table into a base for the dollhouse and firehouse.

This is the view from the other side.

Got the Block Area ready. Hollow blocks, block area people,
beaded blocks, colored window blocks, forklift.

The Writing Area is almost ready. I have large crayons on order.
I will add another small shelf on the bottom left that will have paper with lines on it.

Colored rice in the sensory table with magnet wands
and little color plastic discs with metal bands around the edges.

They run the wands through the rice and it pulls all the color discs to them.
Then they pull them off the wand into the bowl.
 From the bowl they get poured back and mixed into the rice.

Dramatic Play is a Bistro/Restaurant: cash register, phone, dolls,
pizza set, sandwich set, customer clothes, and work clothes.

The Dramatic Play provocation. I'd want to sit down and play.
An overview of the Dramatic Play area. 

Working on the Art Area. Will fill the tape dispenser with
the colored tape coming from Discount School Supply.
There are wooden sticks/stars, different sized pompoms,
felt shapes, glue, crayons, colored pencils, colored paper,
 foam letters, punches, calculator paper, scissors, and colored tape.
Will add construction paper and stiff paper for bases.
As you can see from the other interest centers,
 I don't usually put out plastic tubs.
I prefer baskets and wooden containers.
However, in the Art Area I want them to be able to see what is available.

These are a couple of the provocations that I put out to
inspire creativity based on the items available on the art shelves.

This is the beginning of the year library shelf.
I try to keep it minimal, so it won't be overwhelming
and try to include books about animals, colors, children,
numbers, a current theme (ocean) and comfort.
I try to make sure diversity is shown of cultures, ages, abilities,
and the like. We have books in the library, the reading loft,
 and in a basket in the room, as well as in a variety of areas around the classroom.

Science Area table: Books, shells, posters, starfish,
abalone shell, driftwood, Ocean Life chart.

The rest of the Science area focused on Ocean Animals:
 shells galore, ocean finger puppets, field guide,
nature observer, and block puzzles. Oh, and don't
forget the aquarium with live fish.

I have three of these magnetic books,
but in the original format only one child
at a time can play with them and I wanted it to work for two.

I color-copied some of the pages, laminated them,
and taped them on the side of the file cabinet AKA our Magnetic Board.
The face parts are stored below in the wooden box for them to peruse.

So excited about the light table. Found the glass bowls at the Dollar Tree.
 Purchased the translucent shapes from Discount School Supply.
 Found a double-sided adhesive and adhered a shape
on the side of each bowl then spread out others for sorting.

I'm trying to keep the wall items limited to natural colors and meaningful.
I ordered this kraft paper and trimmed it with green corrugated border
 behind our helper chart and calendar.

Our 3 Classroom Rules: Be kind. Be safe. Be neat.
Everything else kind of falls under those three.

Our Science Area is set up with Ocean Things
 to begin the school year so I posted some ocean pics/words.

ASL chart and Number Chart

Here's the room from several angles. From the front door.

From the group area. 
The completed Parent Board is
pictured below.

From the back wall by the sink

From the right corner in the Science Area

From one side of the room...

and the other side.
This is our Parent Information Board. I used more of the
kraft paper with a green corrugated border  to keep with
the natural colors. It includes our daily schedule, our
yearly calendar, our weekly curriculum plan, our
monthly classroom set-up, our monthly calendar,
our monthly lunch calendar, and staff bios.
You can see our digital frame that we keep going
all during class time.

A new year is always so exciting. I love seeing how much my old friends have grown over the summer and getting to know our new friends. I love having the room set up in a way to be inviting and engaging when they step in the door. Let the year begin!!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Helping Children Understand the Value of Their Words

I have a very strong belief that a child’s words are valuable and that when they realize it, they will take ownership of them and discover a new found pride in them. One way that I do this is through Sticker Stories. I take a brightly colored 8 1/2” x 11” piece of paper and cut it in half. I then provide some stickers, usually about a theme we’re studying or something that’s been particularly interesting to the kiddos. This past summer we did a whole month on Dinosaurs and there was LOTS of interest. When we did sit down with lots of stickers they had prior knowledge about dinosaurs, so it was also a great way to check their comprehension of what we had been learning. Each child chose three stickers and placed them at the top of the paper. I had the child sit beside me, since I’m right-handed, I had them sit to my right so I they could see the letters being formed correctly as I wrote the words. I then wrote down what they said EXACTLY as they said it. If the mispronounced words or used incorrect grammar, it didn’t matter. The important part was writing EXACTLY what they said, thereby reinforcing how valuable their words are. It’s also important for the adult to write in their best teacher/preschool print so the letters look like the ones the children see in the environment and in books. After they concluded their story, I read it back to them, running my finger under the words. This is a great way to show them the left to right progression of words in the English language.

You will notice that I only capitalized the proper words and all other letters are lowercase. This is something that is VERY important to do with small children. Sadly, many parents and other adults write children’s names with the letters in all caps. This can confuse children when educators try to show them how their name looks in writing. They are convinced that all caps is the correct way. It would be a much easier progression in the learning process if we could all get on the same page.

When we have group time I place the letter carpets out for the children to sit on. I place them so that children walking up to the group will see each letter right side up. It’s just another way to ensure they are learning the correct orientation of the letters. 

Back to reinforcing the value of their words, at our last group time of the day I have each child come up to the front of the group, if they are comfortable doing so. Prior to this we have discussed the role of an author and an illustrator. I tell the children that this child is the author of this story. The child stands there as I read their story to the other kiddos. When the story is complete we all acknowledge it with a polite golfer’s clap (small and quiet claps beside the face). You should see the pride and joy on the face of the author during this time. Another level of this activity would be for either the teacher or the child to choose other kiddos to be the actors in story as it’s being read.

Recently we’ve added a new dimension to the activity. Over the summer I visited the beach and acquired some smooth stones. I brought them home, washed them, then placed stickers and fabric pieces on them with Mod Podge. You can see the variety on our Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=262539450524262&set=a.184452911666250.34612.170943436350531&type=1&theater

I then placed them on a raised wooden plate and put them in the writing area. 

Today the kiddos began asking about them. I explained to them that they could take 3 to 5 stones of their choosing and tell me a story that I would write down for them. After they finished their story and I read it back to them, I took a photo of the stones they had chosen. We’ll read the stories and share the photos at group time, but I also plan to post them in the room and make them part of their portfolio.

Another thing I do that reinforces the value of words is our photo of the month. I take LOTS of photos!! I’m sure you’re all shocked to hear that. lol At the end of each month, I choose one photo of each child, print it out in a 4x6 format, and mat it on an 8 1/2” x 11” piece of cardstock. Then I sit with each child and ask them to tell me what they were doing in the photo. I write down whatever words they say along with their name and the month and year. The next month I do the same, just flipping the cardstock over to use both sides. These pages are displayed in sheet protectors on the back of our shelving units for families to enjoy and are sent home in each child’s portfolio at the end of the year. This not only shows their physical growth, but allows the parents to see the growth of their language skills, as well.

As you can see, I’m very passionate about instilling a sense of ownership of their words to each child. Words are powerful and what a great way to impress that power to them at such a young age.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Kool-Aid Dying Play Silks: A Colorful Adventure

When I began teaching preschool, a dear friend of mine, who also teaches preschool shared her wisdom about dying play silks with Kool-Aid. I had seen how her play silks had turned out so vibrant and beautiful and already knew the possibilities for use were endless with a child's imagination, so I knew I had to do it for myself. That was five years ago and I can't tell you how many hours of play have occurred due to the presence and possibility of these items. Needless to say, my original play silks have seen better days and I decided to embark on this endeavor once again. My friend, Shannon has a Facebook page for her preschool and I invite you to pay her a visit and check out all the fun she has going on over there, as well. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Small-Wonders-Preschool-of-Fall-River/131075993649811

We started by ordering the silks. We get ours from Dharma Trading Company. The more you order the lower the price, so usually Shannon, my dear friend, Jula, and I usually order together to get the lowest price. I believe Shannon ordered the 30" x 30" Habotai scarves and since we ordered more than 12 our price was lowered from $4.39 to $4.12 per scarf. The arrival of the items after order is very quick and I've always been extremely pleased with all products I've ordered from them. http://www.dharmatrading.com/html/eng/1741-AA.shtml?lnav=scarves_silk.html

Once you have received your silks, you'll need to gather all the other items for the process.

I usually do 6 scarves in the rainbow colors: Red, Orange,
Yellow, Green, Blue, and Purple. Purchase two packs of each
color. I purchased three of the lemonade trying to get a
deeper yellow. It didn't really make it darker, so two is enough.
For blue, you'll need the Ice Blue Raspberry Lemonade.
The Tropical Punch comes in a blue pouch, but it's actually
red, so be sure to get the raspberry lemonade.

You'll need 1/4 cup of white vinegar,
1 1/4 cup water, a small bowl,
a medium microwavable container with lid,
and gloves.

Combine the vinegar and water in your bowl and submerge
one silk in it for 10-15 minutes.

After 10-15 minutes, take out the silk and wring out all of the
liquid that you can.

Loosely place the scarf in the microwavable container and
sprinkle the chosen color of Kool-Aid on it. With your
gloved hands mix the Kool-Aid powder into the damp
silk trying to cover as much area as possible by rotating
the scarf, rubbing the silk against itself, etc. Flip the scarf
over and sprinkle the second pack of the same color on as
before, trying to cover as much as possible.
*While doing this place your second silk in the
vinegar/water mixture to be soaking.

It should look something like this.

Loosely place lid on container so that it doesn't close and
place in microwave on high for 30 seconds. 

**Remove from microwave VERY CAREFULLY. It will be hot.
Carefully remove the lid to let out the steam and "smoosh" the
scarf a little to make sure the color is distributing well.
Place back in microwave with loosely fitting lid for another
30 seconds. **I have a high powered microwave so
I only put the scarf in for the 2 30 second cycles. If your
microwave isn't high powered, it may take 3 cycles.
**You want the scarf to be somewhat dry, no loose liquid in
the container. **If you cook it for too long it could CATCH
FIRE, so be very cautious with this step. 

Remove the scarf from the container.

Rinse the scarf out completely with cold water. (No, the red
scarf didn't turn orange. I forgot to get a photo of this step
with the red scarf, so I captured it with the next color)
Wring out all water, then hang to dry, making sure the scarves
don't touch each other while drying.

After mine were dry, I placed them together for a photo.
You can see that the yellow still didn't get extremely brilliant
using 3 packets, so I'd just use two. The blue isn't a primary
blue, but a brilliant blue still. And the purple is really cool!
When you put the purple KoolAid powder in it looks black,
but don't worry, it will make a deep, violet for you.

I spread them out on the railing for you to see how they look
side by side.

Play silks have the potential to be anything you and/or your child imagines them to be. I've used the blue for water in the block area and the green for grass/forest, as well, but most of the use has been in wearing them. They've been dresses, skirts, superhero capes, princess headdress, pirate headdress, and more. I'd love to see your your play silks turn out! Please send a photo to me at the For the Children Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/For-the-Children/170943436350531?ref=hl

A huge thanks to my friends, Shannon and Jula for sharing this fun project with me!