Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Bats in a Cave

We played a math game today called Bats In A Cave.

Our Engage NY curriculum suggested playing a similar game with bears and individual tubs, but we changed it up a bit.  Our focus was on "Conservation of Number" where kids develop an understanding that if they started with 5 and put 2 on top, there would still be 5 all together... we just moved them around a bit. It's the same idea as having 20 objects all in a line and then messing them all up.  There are still 20 objects there, but the five year old brain doesn't realize that.

There are full directions for playing the Bats In A Cave Addition game on the LeapFrog Learning Path Website if you are interested.  The game we played in class was specifically focused on Conservation of number, while the game on the LeapFrog website has more of an addition/subtraction focus.  It a really simple and fun way to work on number fluency with your kids at home!

Happy counting!

The Importance of Play - Kindergarten Center Time

 One of my absolute favorite time of the day in Kindergarten is our Center Time.  Over the past 10 years, standards have changed, and in some ways (lots of ways) I feel that Kindergarten is the new First Grade.  Even with all of the pressure to have rigor in the classroom with regards to curriculum, I will always find time for play.  There is so much research around the benefits of play in the Pre-K and Kindergarten settings.  One of my favorite books is called The Importance of Play by Vivian Paley. So, twice a week we play.  We reserve our Center time for days when we don't have Music, Library, or PE.  Kids get to play and explore, use language to learn new ideas, practice sharing and working as a team, and just be messy and have fun.

There is a lot of messy play during Center Time. I want to be able to provide clay, play doh, paints, and things that splatter all over the tables.  I have no problem wiping up paint and shaving cream if it means the kids get that sensory experience.

The Sensory Table has been a fast-favorite.  Right now it's filled with wheat kernels.  My cousin is a wheat farmer and saved a big bag for me.  Right now, we are just working on taking turns, sharing materials, and learning to contain the mess just a little bit.  Soon, we will add measuring cups, scoops, and funnels.  It's a great way for kids to explore capacity.

The Lego table is always a hit, especially with the boys.  I've always wondered why Legos draw the boys, and not as many girls.  The kids love building spaceships and cars.  They are learning how to share the wheels because there are never enough to go around.  Legos are great for small motor development.  It's really hard work pinching those little pieces and taking them apart.  The language the kids use while creating their spaceships is impressive.  Today I heard someone say that the spear on their ship reminded them of a Narwhal.  That comment led to kids asking, "What's a narwhal?"  It's a perfect example of the way oral language is developed through play time.

I have to admit, it kind of made me sad the day that my son (who is now 13) told me I could take his cars into the classroom.  Kids LOVE playing cars.  Sometimes I pair the cars with a racetrack carpet and other times I put out the blocks and traffic signs.  I love watching the kids build a city out of their blocks and then drive their cars around.  The planning that goes into their city is amazing, and the various shapes of the blocks add an extra challenge to the construction.  Meanwhile, kids are reading the signs and talking to their friends about the "rules" in their new town.

My philosophy on parenthood goes like this:
"When all else fails, make some play dough."

I'm telling you, friends, play dough has saved my life on many occasions.  I will share the recipe soon.  Sometimes, on rainy days when my kids were young, I would whip up a batch of homemade play dough and the peace would be restored to my house in two minutes flat.  

I love adding play dough to our Center Time because the rolling, squishing, ball forming, and snake making is so wonderful for developing those small muscles in our hands that we need in order to hold a pencil and write.  With this batch of play dough, I added some cinnamon, a pie plate, and real apples as our inspiration.  Suddenly, we had a pie shop right in the Kindergarten classroom!  It's amazing what a little play dough and some imagination can do!!

There are so many more centers that I have to tell about.  We open about 7 or 8 different centers each day, and each has a different learning goal or experience to provide the kids.  Center time is a happy time in Kindergarten, as it should be!

Happy Play Time!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Classroom Tour

I was so happy to have well over half of our families join me on Curriculum Night!  I appreciate you taking your time to learn what will be going on in the classroom this year.  I know, as a parent, my hope in attending my kids' curriculum night isn't to find out about the publishers of curriculum or even the text books the kids will use.  I want to spend time in the classroom!  I want to meet the teacher who will be spending more waking hours with my child than I will be. I want to know that my kids will be cared for, loved, and are being taught by someone I have faith and confidence in.   (If I were in church right now, I know I'd be hearing a few Amens!)

For those who attended, I hope I was able to give you a glimpse into our classroom life and I hope you feel a bit more confident in your child's teacher this year.  For those of you who were not able to attend, I have the next best thing.  I've already sent out a link to our Curriculum Night tab, at the top of the blog.  That link will have all of the information I went over.  As for the other part... spending time in the classroom... I have a mini-photo tour for you.  There will be many more pictures to come, but here's a start:

Our classroom is not "done" by any means.  There is a lot more "cute-si-fication" that needs to happen.  (Yes, that's a word.)  Bulletin boards need to be completed, curtains need to be sewn, and art work needs to be hung.  My goal in showing you the almost-finished product is to show you where the kindergarten magic happens every day.  I'm hoping that your child comes home every day saying that they had fun here.  I guarantee you that there is learning and hard work happening here too, but I'm hoping they will remember the fun parts over the hard work.  

After almost 20 years of teaching, I have a pretty large classroom library.  I have books in several places in the room for kids to access and I also have my seasonal books hidden, which I bring out as the months change.  The little table in the library area doubles as a small motor/art station.  I found pictures online of Andy Goldsworthy's artwork and set them out with a sand, rock, and shell tray for kids to explore.  

There are a couple different "teaching spots" in the room.  We have an easel set up for modeling writing and a rocking chair for our main story time.  We also have the area, above, to do flannel board stories and practice letters and sounds.

I love my little nature table, by the back door, too!  Last week we had sunflowers set up for the kids to explore and this week it's rocks.  Right now I'm changing things out pretty quickly.  I'd like to find out topics the kids are most interested in learning more about.  I really LOVE the natural curiosity of kindergartners!

There is so much more to explore in our little corner of Cascade View Elementary, but that will have to do for now.  It's a happy place, filled with music, laughter, and learning.  

Thanks for taking the classroom tour!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Starting the Day

I know, because I have my own children, that the daily conversation about school goes something like this:

"How was your day today?"
"What did you do?"
"Well, I'm sure you did something."
"I don't remember."

One of the reasons I love a classroom blog is that it shows you what is happening in the classroom through pictures.  It's a perfect opportunity to sit down with your child and and say, "Tell me about this!"  Usually, kids will get excited when they see something they recognize and become eager to tell you all about it.

So, here are a few snapshots of our typical start of the day.

Calendar time is on the Smartboard.  We talk about days of the week, months, and the year.  We work on counting and patterning.

Part of the phonemic awareness portion of our Treasures program suggests reciting Nursery Rhymes.  The kids love the felt board, so we use our felt pieces to retell familiar Nursery Rhymes.

Every. Single. Day.
That's how often we will practice our letters and sounds.  I promise we will work on letters and sounds so much that your kids will be able to say these with their eyes closed!

Our classroom is filled with books and we usually read several each day.  Right now we have camping, back to school, and fall books on our little shelf by the carpet.  We will read just about every book on this shelf as a read aloud and then they will be replaced by the next season's books.

I love, love, love Heidisongs!  Heidi is a teacher who makes up cute little songs and dances to teach letters, sounds, sight words, and even math concepts.  I use these in my classroom as often as I can and I really feel it helps certain kids retain their learning.  After all, we know people can remember an amazing amount of material when it's set to music.  867-5309. That's all I need to say about that.  (Maybe the parents out there are younger than I am.  I may have just dated myself.)

Kindergarten is a fast moving place!  That seems like a lot of ground to cover, but that is only the first 20 minutes, or so, of our day.  There is much more to come!

Happy learning!

Monday, September 15, 2014

We All Begin In Different Places

Hands down, Kindergarten is my favorite grade to teach.  I love the fact that I'm the kids' first stepping stone on their elementary school journey.  I love working with parents to help them figure out their role in their child's education.  I love the varying levels of development the kids come into the classroom with, and watching the progress the kids make over time.  

On the first day of Writer's Workshop it's easy to see which kids LOVE to sit down with markers or crayons at the kitchen table and spend time coloring, and which kids would much rather ride a bike or play outside.  

This year will be a journey for kids in my classroom.  Some have experience with writing and drawing and others have experience with numbers, music, or physical activity.  The great thing about kindergarten is that there is no right or wrong way to come in.  Kids just get to come as they are and know that we all begin our journey at different places. 

Welcome to Kindergarten! 

Connecting Experiences to Writing

One of my favorite things about teaching is providing "experiences" for young kids.  During our first full week of school, I set up a sunflower table.  We weren't planning a big sunflower unit, but simply exploring a bit.  The kids have absolutely loved pulling seeds out of the dried sunflower head, using the magnifying glass, and learning a bit about these beautiful plants.

During Writer's Workshop, as I'm sure you can tell, one of the boys drew a picture of a sunflower field, a sunflower growing, the sun shining, and the farmers coming out to take care of the field.  He even wrote some letters at the top, and when I asked him to read his work to me, he told me that it said sunflower.  

Just like that, a few flowers and a couple of books have inspired one of our young authors.  I always say that experiences are key to good writing, but it's important to remember that there are plenty of different ways to provide those experiences.  A trip to my garden and a few books off the shelf inspired this little guy's work!

Happy writing!