Sunday, December 5, 2010

Homecoming Queen: Teenager with Down Syndrome

This story recently came to me from two sources: A CEC SmartBrief and the parent of a child I tutor.

I think it's worth sharing again!

Homecoming Queen: Teenager with Down Syndrome

Free Interactive Holiday Sites

I found this site a few years ago. It was challenging to navigate and then go back and find the activities you wanted repeatedly. They have re-organized and uploaded many free interactive boards and activities. They have many that are appropriate for December holidays. They've done a great job! It's so much easier to navigate and find activities appropriate to skill or grade level.

TES iboard player

Here's a link to a post from a few years ago too. My students still enjoy these links!

Interactive Holiday Sites

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Embedding Literacy

I'm wrapping up facilitating a very fast paced and intense course on language and literacy. Because of this, I have been engaged in a lot of thinking and reflecting about embedding language and literacy into daily lesson plans and routines.

I'd like to take a moment to share an idea that illustrates how a parent has embedded language and literacy into her child's day.

I drive through 3 school zones and countless bus stops on my way to work each morning. I often see parents waiting with their children at the bus stops.

One mom and her son (who appears to be 5 or 6 years old) used to wait for the bus each day in the manner that you would typically see....the boy had his backpack on, mom was next to him and they stood on the corner waiting for the bus.

For the past few weeks, as I have driven by, I have noticed that she now brings a camp chair (one of those canvas chairs that folds up and has a sleeve that it fits can buy them at Wal Mart for about $10) and a book to the bus stop.

Now, each morning her son sits on her lap as she is reading a story to him.

Wow! So maybe they wait 5-10 minutes for the bus each day. That means her son is getting and extra 25-50 minutes of literacy and language experiences a week. If you multiply that times 36 weeks in a school year that is between 900-1800 minutes a year (or an extra 15-30 hours).

I think this is just so cool! She has figured out how to take a "waiting" period and has turned it into a language and literacy experience.

Sometimes we go nuts trying to figure out when to fit everything "in." This mom has found a way to give her child more literacy and language experiences within a routine that already exists.

How many other ways could we, as teachers or parents also do this? I bet the ways are quite creative and the number is countless!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Free Early Literacy Activities

This site has recently been shared with me from our pre-k supervisor.

It has many, free printable activities that support literacy of infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers. They have a link for ideas for parents and another link for teachers. Check it out.

Center for Early Literacy Learning

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Cheap! Dinosaur Measuring and Science

In the current economy (and as far as being frugal and financially wise at any time!) I am always interested in lessons that can be enhanced as cheaply as possible.

My class has been involved in a inquiry based unit on dinosaurs for the past week. It seems to me that there are always easy ways to integrate language and literacy lessons in every unit, but sometimes it is more difficult to integrate math and science. Since this unit focuses on dinosaurs, science is not a problem either, but how can we integrate math concepts? Here's one idea we used.

I found these dinosaur figures at my local Dollar Tree. (Yes, it cost a whopping $1 for this lesson.)

I explained to my students that these dinosaurs were supposed to get bigger when we put them in water. We decided to measure them with a ruler, predict how big we thought it would get and then measure it after it grew.

Since I wanted to focus on some math skills, we made a big deal out of measuring the dinosaur. I left my finger on the number 4 after we measured and reminded the children that he should get "bigger." I asked them "How big do you think he will get?" as I ran my other pointer finger across the top of the ruler (showing them the most logical choices across the ruler.) They made their predictions as I recorded them and then we observed. The pictures show you where we are so far!

After we measure our dinosaur again tomorrow, we'll take him out of the water and predict what will happen. It will be interesting to see if any of the children will predict that he shrinks back to 4 inches (remember, that's where we started at our first measurement!)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Missing Pumpkin

One of my favorite lessons was designed to help a kindergarten-second grade class generate questions and improve their writing skills. We called it our "Missing Pumpkin Mystery."

For a week or so in October we had a pumpkin on display in our classroom. We were gearing up for the day we would scoop the insides out, count the seeds and carve it.

This particular group of students really needed to work on generating questions and using descriptive words within their writing. So some of the school staff helped me stage the "Missing Pumpkin Mystery."

One day after their specials period (art, music, phys ed, etc) the pumpkin was missing from the classroom. Once they noticed it, we decided on a plan of action to get our pumpkin back.

The first thing we did was to make "Wanted" posters for our pumpkin. The students took a brown paper grocery bag and drew a picture of our pumpkin on it. They then had to write three statements describing our pumpkin so "others would know if they saw OUR pumpkin."

We then decided to report our missing pumpkin to our principal to see if he could help us. (I had given him, the media specialist, our cafeteria assistant and our day time custodian their scripts so they would lead us to the next person to help us find the pumpkin.)

The children had to explain what happened, ask their questions and then describe out pumpkin to each person. The principal suggested we ask the media specialist "because he saw a lot of pumpkins in the media center." She suggested we ask the cafeteria assistant because "maybe they needed it to make pumpkin pie." The cafeteria assistant suggested we ask the custodian "because he sees the whole school make cleans up all the messes." As it turns out, the custodian "put it in our refrigerator because he was afraid it would get rotten."

We had great fun with this activity and it provided the kids with a real reason to use the skills I wanted them to practice.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

"Post It" Graphs

Here's a simple strategy that we use a lot in my classroom. I write each child's name on a post it. Then I write a question on a piece chart paper and usually add visual supports for each column of the graph. Below is a picture of our most recent graph:

I like to use the post it graphs for lots of reasons:

1) They help children learn literacy skills by reading their name and their peers' names.

2) They help children develop language skills by answering questions and making choices.

3) They help children develop task related skills and focusing skills because they are actively involved and then they physically get to place their own name on the chart.

4) They help children develop social skills by learning how to take turns and wait for their own turn.

5) They help children develop math skills as we count the number of votes in each column and discuss concepts of more, less and the same (equal).

6) They help children develop literacy skills by becoming part of our environmental print in the classroom.

7) They are quick and easy to prep for! That means I don't spend more time preparing the materials than it takes the children to actually engage in the activity.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

PBS: "All" means all

When I was in college and learning about the social foundations of education, I remember being surprised to learn that the word "all" meant different things to different historical / theoretical contributors. Sometimes "all" included landowning men, sometimes it included women, sometimes it included children and sometimes it include people with disabilities, but very rarely did it mean "all."

A few weeks ago I attended a train-the-trainer workshop to teach PBS strategies to families. As I reflect more on the tenets of PBS and begin to schedule our family workshops, I came back to a slide that a friend and I created when we were training new teachers how to set up their V.E. classrooms. We came to the conclusion that when implementing positive behavior support systems and philosophies, "all" should really mean "all."

the kids who raise their hand and the kids who yell out

the kids who bathe every night and the kids who need to

the kids who write with their pencil and the kids who throw their pencil

the kids who say “I love you!” and the kids who say “ $#@% you!”

the kids who use a tissue and the kids who wipe their snot on you

the kids you’d take home in a heartbeat and the kids you hope are absent

the kids with parents that support you and the kids with parents that challenge you

the kids who respond to your interventions and the kids that exhaust your bag of tricks

the kids who consistently get their meds and the kids who don’t

Our main purpose of posing the above statements was to encourage teachers to reflect upon the following question:

Am I providing a safe learning environment for all learners?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Memorable Moment # 9: I Need the Keys

Today was the first day of school for students. Since I learned my Harry Wong lessons on the importance of procedures long, long ago, the first few weeks of my pre-k classroom are spent on learning the centers, how to play in the centers and how to clean up the centers. That means I don't open every center every day at the beginning of the year.

Today one of the new students in the class asked if he could play in our puzzle center today. My assistant told him that "puzzles are closed." He stood for a second or two and then replied to her, "Ok, I need the keys."

I thought that was a pretty clever response. :-)

image from stopnlook@

Monday, August 16, 2010

Positive Behavior Support: Solution Board

Throughout my district (as with many others) there is a large push for the implementation of school-wide positive behavior support (PBS). I am also fortunate enough to work in a community that has received a large grant to support strategies that increase mental health for children in early childhood settings. One of the initiatives funded through this grant is PBS training and materials.

Our early childhood PBS training is based on the pyramid model and training modules from CSEFEL.

One of my favorite strategies that I learned from my PBS training is the "Solution Kit." The solution kit is a strategy that teaches young children the options they may try when a conflict or disagreement arises. It helps them to learn how to independently (or with less prompting) solve problems.

You can watch a video of a teacher modeling the "solution kit" here.

Two years ago, I started using the solution kit with my pre-schoolers. I had a small plastic suitcase very similar to the one in the video and housed the kit at child level near my circle time area. While I loved the concept of the solution kit, I found the implementation to be difficult for my students. The suitcase with the clips was difficult for some of them to manage with fine motor deficits and the solutions all in a pile became quickly disorganized and overwhelming for them. I didn't want to give up on the positive aspects of using the solution kit, so I had to figure out a way to make it work for my population. Our solution kit evolved into a "solution board."

I simply printed and laminated the visuals from the solution kit and then taped them to the side of my desk. They became a permanent fixture in the classroom. The board allowed me to organize the solutions in a manner that was easier for my students to track visually and also eliminated the need for them to be able to open the kit. Towards the end of the year, for many of my students getting ready to transition to kindergarten, I could be across the room and just verbally prompt them to try using the solution board. I even had two parents who saw us using the solution board in the class and asked for the visuals to use at home!

I think the power of the solution board or solution kit (however the concept evolves for you) is that it teaches the children skills for managing their own conflicts. It gives children a measure of control over the resolution to the conflict and does not require an adult to intervene and "fix" the problem. And, ultimately, that's what we want.....for children to independently be able to come to a peaceful solution to a conflict.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Moving Before and After

Last year my pre-k program was moved to another elementary school in my district. I had a choice to move with my program or teach a different grade level at the current school. I chose to move.

Since it was a district decision to move the program, they provided staff to physically move all of the boxes and furniture, but I was responsible for the packing and the unpacking.

When I walked into my classroom after the movers had all of the boxes placed, I knew I had my work cut out for me. This is one of the before shots:

Clearly, I had to figure out a plan of attack to get everything organized and ready for the first day of school. I started with my necessities: iPod, coffee and Gatorade and then got to work.

I organized my actions by prioritizing what HAD to be in place for the first day of school and what materials I would be using. I keep most of my units of study in large Rubbermaid tubs with labels. You don't see it in the picture, but in one corner of the classroom is a storage room.

I needed to to get some space in the room to move the furniture, so I started by taking all of the tubs for my units and organizing them in the storage room. Once that was done, I could push the tables to the middle of the room, put all of the other materials on and under the tables and start working on the physical layout of the perimeter of the room. Here's the start of that:

Thinking about the physical layout is HUGE! Your physical layout in the classroom can either help you diffuse problems or can actually make the problems worse. The following are some of the things I think about as I set up a new room:

What is age/grade appropriate?
What areas need to be included?
Where are materials stored for the teacher, assistant, students?
How are materials accessed? Does it support independence?
Is there a quiet space when needed?
Where are the electrical outlets and computer drops?
Traffic patterns to and from:
  • bathroom and fountain
  • backpacks and lunchboxes
  • time out, chill out chair, etc (if needed)
  • teaching tables and support materials
  • fire exit and alternate routes
  • line up
And most importantly,
  • Do I have visual supervision of all areas at all times?
At this point, I started moving centers around, figuring out how to address all of those questions regarding the physical layout and then unpacking materials that belong in each center.

It finally came together like this:

After living with it for a year, there are some changes that I'll make when I go back into school next week. But, I have found by thinking about the physical layout questions, I can address the most important issues first and do so efficiently....without having to do tasks twice because I "forgot" I needed to have a computer table near the computer drop or that I needed a wall for my housekeeping unit because it is too high to see over.

Moving and organizing a new room takes an enormous amount of energy and time. (That's why this post did not get posted last year when I actually moved! I was too busy attending to other things.) Make sure to ask your principal, department chair or mentor what is your responsibility and what the school/district provides. In the course of fifteen years of teaching I probably had to move classrooms 6 or 7 times before I found out that the district would provide boxes and I earned a comp day for moving. It took 3 days to organize my classroom last year. While the district didn't pay me for every bit of time I spent in there, it sure was nice to enjoy that day off that I did earn!

If you are moving or re-organizing your classroom this year good luck!

Counting Backwards and Subtraction

I'm working with a little girl who is learning how to subtract.

The touch math strategies were very successful in helping her learn to add, so we are continuing with those materials and cues. However, when she was learning to add, she
had already mastered the skill of counting up. She has not yet learned how to consistently and accurately count backwards from 20. So while she is learning the concept of subtraction with differences from 5 and manipulatives, we are also working on counting backwards from 20.

I created a simple power point that she likes to "play" when we practice. I have her manually click to forward the slides. You can download the manual click power point here. I also added an automatic slide transition for those of you who may want to use this in the classroom. You can download the automatic transition power point here.

In addition to using the power points during our tutoring session, her mom is also helping her count backwards during the many opportunities to wait during the day. They count backwards in the grocery store line, while waiting for her brothers at baseball practice, while the microwave is heating something, while a DVD is loading, etc. She has found lots of times during the day to practice with her!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Free Stories about Anger Management and Impulse Control

This site offers two free books that address social skills.

The first book teaches students a strategy to manage anger using deep breathing and "train yoga." I like how it actually teaches children the words and the actions to take when they are angry and then encourages them to think of a solution. (It's very similar to Tucker Turtle from the CSEFEL site, but it's nice to have another avenue to teach the strategy.)

Jennifer (the author) is planning to add two more books to the site in September.

Free Children's Stories

Monday, July 19, 2010

Free Decodable Books

A friend on one of my Yahoo! listserves just shared this site. I thought it was a great resource for emergent and early readers. It includes free decodable books that are written and shared by teachers.

Free Decodable Books

Enjoy exploring the site!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Marshmallow Painting from

Shelley Lovett has a great variety of videos explaining her lesson ideas at ChildcareLand.

I thought this one using marshamallows for a painting activity was a fun summertime idea. Check it out along with all of her other great ideas.

photo courtesy FlickrCC;

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Spray Bottles

It's summer time, blistering hot in Florida and we are in the second week of summer school with a group of pre-schoolers with special needs.

I love spray bottles! We have had them out on the playground at least 4 out of the 6 days we've been in summer school. But, how are spray bottles educationally relevant and why would I use them in my class?

Using spray bottles addresses the following skills:
  • pre-writing skills (Look at the motions your fingers and hands use for squeezing a spray bottle. Now look at the motions needed for cutting and writing. Playing with spray bottles increases hand ad finger strength that supports writing skills.)
  • peer interaction skills (Our spray bottle rules are: 1) You have to ask the person before you spray them; 2) You have to spray only on their arms, legs or body, not in the face; 3) If the person asks you to stop, you have to stop. They spray bottles and play help and encourage children to initiate play and to respond to the words and actions of their peers.)
  • communication skills (Playing with the spray bottles naturally encourages conversation, especially if there is an adult supporting the play. We have had conversations about body parts, facial expressions, colors changing, opposites...wet/dry, high/low, hot/cold, playground equipment, actions...squeeze, spray, laugh, run, jump, etc. The active play generates many topics of conversation.)
All in all, playing with the spray bottles is just good summer fun! Actually, as I think about that, I'd challenge you to think about other activities that are just good fun! I bet you could find some educational relevance for pre-schoolers for those, too!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Another Building Structure

My nephews and niece are in town for the week and have been playing with the building pieces from the last post. They were pretty excited about their creation and wanted it posted on the internet, too. Here's what they created:

Monday, June 7, 2010

Memorable Moment # 8: Building Structures

Here's one of my recent memorable moments:

During the last week of school, I took a look in my storage room to see what materials we had not used yet this year and came across a bucket of plastic building materials. They have white lines and white curves and colorful couplings to join them together. I got them out and asked one of my assistants if she would support that center during our center time.

She and the kids ran with it! It was so much fun to watch.

For the first 20 minutes or so, they really explored and experimented with how the pieces fit together and what they could do with them. Then they decided to get a little bit more complex and I hear one of the kids say, "Can we have some paper and markers?"

Naturally, any time a child wants to write, I say yes. So they got the markers and paper and brought them over to the area they were playing. My assistant ended up showing them that you can make a plan for building structures. One little boy in particular really understood the relationship between the drawing and the structure. Here's what he came up with:

The first picture is the picture of his plan. The second picture is a picture of what he started building off of his plan.

My personal learning experience from this is a confirmation and gentle reminder to respect and seek the contributions and ideas of the assistants with whom you work. I didn't have a lesson plan for the children to talk about blueprints, architects, and builders. She introduced some really sophisticated vocabulary that they understood through their play and their plans. The lesson plan evolved as she responded to the children and was better for it!

My other take away is an appreciation for the personal interests and aptitudes of young children. While the plan does not look very sophisticated, it was drawn and then implemented by a 4 year old boy.

The level of symbolic representation of a concrete product that isn't even built yet is actually quite sophisticated! I wouldn't have expected this child to be able to do this, but his natural interest, his visual spatial skills and the support of an adult who was engaged with him helped him to reach a level of thinking and problem solving that surprised and delighted us!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Pizza Activities

My class is taking a field trip to a local pizza restaurant to make their own pizzas.

Here are a few pizza activities that will help us get ready for our trip!

My Very Own Pizza

Make a Pizza

Dividing Pizza Fairly with Friends

Pizza Making According to Orders Placed

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Rhyming Re-visted

One way I've introduced the concept of rhyming is to play nonsense rhymes with the students' names and pictures of familiar objects.

We sing just this line to Raffi's Willoghby Wallaby song and then let the kids fill in the pause/blank.

Willoughby Wallaby Wanny
An elephant sat on _______ (Danny)
(we repeat this so that all of the kids have a turn.)

Then I put up pictures of common objects on the felt board and sing it with those:

Willougby Wallaby Wable
An elephant sat on a ______(table)

Kelly's Kindergarten also has a power point you can download for free for the song Down By The Bay. She includes a link for the music as well.

You'll find other strategies that I use in this previous post.