Wednesday, August 28, 2013

All About Me Star, Poem, and Portfolio Page!

The first real "theme" we do every year is All About Me. It's a great way for me to get to know my kiddos and for the students to get to know each other. 

School & Home Connection

One of the activities I do is a star. I just cut a big star out of yellow construction paper and send it home with a note asking parents to work with their child to fill it with things about them. They can put their name on it, age, pictures of them, things they like, etc. Then, each child gets a chance to share about their star in front of the class. 

Last year, instead of the star, I drew each child's silhouette and had them decorate it with things they liked.

Shared Reading

This poem is our first shared reading of the year. It's a very simple poem and the kids always think it's funny. (I apologize for the horribly drawn monkey, I never claimed to be an artist. . . )

Portfolio Page

Here is the portfolio page I'm using this year (from Miss Pam's Room). I usually change which one I do every year. We have mixed ages in our classes so I usually have a handful who were there last year. I've come across so many different versions on pinterest. You can follow my All About Me board on pinterest here.

This is just a small taste of my AAM unit. More to come! Leave a comment and let me know your favorite all about me activities!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Name Writing in Preschool

The best way to teach name writing is through tracing. Most of my students don't know how to trace when they come into my room. So I start with a lesson on how to trace. I model the three points below. 

When we trace we:
  • start with the FIRST letter in our names
  • trace each letter in order 
  • do our best job to stay on the line
When they start tracing on their own, they will usually need reminders about how to trace. 

Rainbow Writing

I start the year off with rainbow writing. I've learned if you say it has to do with a "rainbow", you can get the kids excited about anything! For rainbow writing, I print off the student's name in a handwriting font (aka one that doesn't have funky a's or g's). Print Clearly is one of my favorites, you can download it for free at Then, I have the students choose three colors (crayons) to trace their name with. They have to trace their WHOLE name (otherwise they'll trace their m three times then their a three times. . . ) with one color and then they can switch to the next color. When they finish their name looks like a rainbow!

Hand over Hand

Hand over hand is a great way to teach tracing and improve handwriting. It is very important to find the balance between guiding/helping and being overbearing. If students are always being corrected and controlled they will get frustrated and hate writing. Here is my mental guide for finding that balance. 

  • Learning how to trace - If they are not able to stay on the lines, I help them trace their whole name one time through. Then, they do it the other two times themselves. Whenever their crayon touches the black line I given them lots of praise about staying on the black line. 
  • Tracing well, but writing letters incorrectly - for example, many students will draw a circle then add a line for the a. This looks like an a, but as we know this is not how you write it "properly". Why is this important? In the long run, we want our students to have neat, LEGIBLE, handwriting. So, I choose one letter at a time to focus on with each child. I help them trace that letter, pointing out where to start the letter and explaining how we move our pencil. I use hand over hand and trace that letter with them a few times and then have them write it a few times by themselves. I praise them for the how great their letter looks! It's very casual! I don't expect them to write the letter the way I showed them immediately. Which is why I model it for them and write it with them so many times. It usually takes about 2-4 weeks of working on the letter for my students to break their habit and write the letter correctly. Then I start focusing on another letter. 
  • Tracing and writing letters proficiently - I switch from rainbow writing, to writing with a pencil. They write their name once with pencil and then once all by themselves. 
  • When it comes to grasp, I try to only correct them once. If they switch back to what is more comfortable to them, it's okay. I use lots of fine motor and prewriting activities to strengthen their fingers and all of mine are naturally holding their pencils correctly by the end of the year. 
I only use hand over hand during our structured name writing time which is at the beginning of the day. When they write their name independently on their art, during play, etc. I praise their efforts and I don't correct them. If they have trouble spelling their name, I do encourage them to grab their name off the writing shelf (pictured below) and look at it to help them remember all of the letters in their name. 

More Handwriting Fun

My students go crazy over dry-erase markers! I just write their name on sentence strips, stick a little picture on it (you can read my tech tip here), and then laminate it. Then, the students can use dry-erase markers to trace their names. When writing on lamination, it is important to erase it as soon as their done, or it will become less erasable. The pom-pom on the lid tip I found on pinterest is THE-BEST-IDEA-EVER!!

You can read more name activities here:

Thanks for reading! Please leave a comment on your thoughts or your tips for teaching handwriting.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

In Defense of the Stoplight System

I know I'm opening up a can of worms, but I keep seeing article after article about how horrible the stoplight system is and I decided it's finally time to add my two cents into the conversation. 

Many of the articles that I've read against the stoplight system use the argument that it's humiliating, hurts the child's self-esteem, the same children are always on red, children aren't taught how to act, other children tease students because of them, and more. 

I have to respectfully disagree. I do not think the stoplight system is "bad". I DO think that it can be (and probably often is) misused. Sometimes it becomes a crutch, a threat, an "easy" way to solve a situation and "demand" cooperation. BUT if it is used CORRECTLY, I do not have a problem with it. In fact, I use it myself. 

I DO NOT use it when the child is developmentally unable to meet an expectation. Sometimes students have developmental delays or areas where they are UNABLE to meet the same expectations as their classmates. I put modifications and interventions in place for these students.

I DO NOT put the same child on red day after day. If a child is on red or yellow everyday (or a majority of the time) then this system IS NOT working for them. I come up with a different system to use with them. It might be a daily sheet where we "conference" multiple times during the day to see what kind of choices they made during that specific time. This allows me to celebrate the good choices the child makes, even though they might still have a couple times in the day where they messed up. 

I DO NOT use it as a replacement for discipline or teaching alternative solutions. 

I DO use it when a child is CAPABLE of following the expectation but is intentionally CHOOSING not to follow it. If a child is acting out of character (they're not feeling good, didn't get enough sleep last night, etc) I will conference with them first (I'm not heartless), they'll probably even get a few extra warnings, but in the end even when we're tired or not feeling good we still have to do the "right" thing.

I DO still use natural consequences (you were throwing blocks in the block carpet you are all done in the block center today because you are not making safe choices). So why, you might ask, do I use the stoplight system at all. Well, I don't move their stoplight for EVERY little thing they do. If there's a logical consequence, I use that first. But sometimes they don't care about that consequence or what they did was a "big deal" (such as hitting.) It's also a visual for them. They can see that they are making sad choices. Some may say this visual is not needed, but I've gone with and without the stoplight system and I definitely notice a huge difference. It also gives me an easy way to communicate with parents. I have a calendar in their folder where I mark their color for the day. This encourages parents to either celebrate their good day or opens up a conversation for the parent to talk to the child about how they can do better the next day. 

I DO talk to my students about what choice they could have made instead. What could you have done differently? What words could you have used to solve your problem? Also if I have them move their color, then I'm fairly confident they knew what to do and chose not to make the "happy" choice. They chose the "hurtful" choice instead. But we do still talk about it, because I'm their teacher and I have endless patience (HAHA) and I will talk to them about the different choices they could have made a hundred times if I have to. 

I DO set my students up to be successful. I can count on one hand how many times I had a student on red last year. Overall, I'd say my students are on green 90% of the time. That's 9 out of 10 times (and for many of my students they're on yellow 0-2 times a year) and the students have the biggest smiles on their faces as they tell their parents they had a green day! They make choices that make themselves, their friends, and their teachers feel happy inside. Like I said before, If I notice a child is on red or yellow often and I'm not seeing improvement in their behavior. I take down their stoplight and try a different system. 

Just a couple more points that apply to ANY classroom management system:

  • There will always be teachers who misuse classroom management systems. Who don't take the time to love and nurture their students. Who don't take their students feelings into account. BUT THIS IS NOT ALL TEACHERS.
  • There has to be some form of classroom management. Students must be held accountable for their actions. Every year teachers are more limited on what they are "allowed" to do. Some of these changes are for the better. BUT TEACHERS HAVE TO HAVE SOME WAY TO KEEP STUDENTS ACCOUNTABLE FOR THEIR ACTIONS. In the end, students come to school to learn (this includes learning about appropriate behavior) and when a teacher is spending 90% of their time on the same 3 students, it's a disservice to all the other students in the class. (I was a student once. I know how it feels to be on the other end)
  • Praise does not solve all problems. I have had plenty of students that I could praise to the moon and back and it wouldn't change their behavior. (and for the record their are plenty of articles stating what phrases of praise are bad, or too much praise is to bad, or any praise is bad) And I do praise my students A LOT, which is why I don't have to change their lights very often. 
  • In order to function in life, students have to learn how to abide by rules and expectations (we have laws in our country, rules at our places of employment, etc.)
*Also, in defense of all teachers, when you stick 29 Kindergartners (or any grade) in a classroom with one teacher, don't allow them to use developmentally appropriate practice, and require them to teach way above the children's zone of proximal development . . . well that's a whole nother issue! Makes me so happy that I teach preschool and the state has laws in place to make sure our kiddos are taken care of!!!!

Once again, I want to restate that I UNDERSTAND why so many people have negative feelings about this system. It can be (and often is) misused. I just wanted to offer a different point of view, that the stoplight system, as with any classroom management or discipline technique, it can be misused or used appropriately. I know some people will still disagree and that's okay! Isn't that what we're telling our kids all the time? It's okay to disagree? 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Preschool Schedule

Here is our daily schedule. I have a full day class (8:00-4:00). I tweak our schedule and routines a little bit every year (and sometimes throughout the year), to meet the needs of my students and try new things, so who knows how long THIS will be our schedule. 

I display a picture schedule on our white board. I have a little button I move down as we move from one thing to another. This helps students know what is coming next. Also when there is a change in our schedule, I can just flip the cards around and they still know what's going on.

Welcome (3 minutes)

I greet students when they walk in the door and help them through our morning routine.
  1. Daily Folders in the black box.
  2. Backpacks in cubbies. (Put rest time things away on Mondays)
  3. Sit down and work on Morning Work.

Morning Work (15 minutes)

Every morning, students come in and complete their morning work. At the beginning of the year we do rainbow names. Each student traces their name with three times with different colored crayons. This makes their name look like a rainbow! As the year progresses, we do journals during this time as well. We also switch to writing our names with pencils later in the year.

Choice Time - #1 (45 minutes)

After students complete their morning work, they can choose a center. My TA and I try to reserve this time for being in the centers with the kids asking questions, facilitating conversation, teaching play, modeling social skills, etc. 

Outside Time - #1 (30 minutes)

I'm pretty sure outside time is every child's favorite time of the day! Although this year, we had to wear jackets on the first day of school! CRAZY (and now it's back up in the high 90's . . . St. Louis weather!)

Calendar Time & Math Mini-Lesson (10 minutes)

Our calendar time (5 minutes) consists of singing the days of the week, saying the month, counting to find the date and adding it to our calendar, looking to see what color or shape comes next in our pattern and singing our seasons song. Then we have a short mini-lesson (5 minutes) on a math topic, such as an estimation jar, counting objects, skip counting, rote counting, etc. 

Snack Time & Independent Reading (10 minutes)

A preschoolers second favorite time of day!

When they are finished with snack, they choose a book to read independently while they wait for our friends to finish snack. 

Literacy Time (10 minutes)

This time looks very different each day. We do shared reading and a letter song every day. Throughout the week we cover reading, writing, phonemic awareness, and phonics through a variety of different activities.

Choice Time (90 minutes)

This is our loooong choice time! This is when we do small groups, art, and more teacher directed/needed activities.

Large Group (15 minutes)

Our large group is when we focus on social skills, science, the theme, or more literacy and math. 

Lunch (30 minutes)

Hey, we have to refuel from our full day of playing and learning! In our school, we have a lunch room we eat in. So we have to be very punctual, as other classes come in to eat after us.

Outside - #2 (20 minutes)

Missouri standards recommend a minimum of 50 minutes for outside play! Which is fine by me, my kids loving playing outside and it is essential that they develop their large motor skills.

Rest Time (120 minutes)

The teacher's favorite time of the day!!!! :P

Snack & Independent Reading (30 minutes)

Our snack time in the afternoon is a little longer, since it takes awhile for everyone to wake up and put their things away. It also allows all of our students to get independent reading time. 

Repeated Reading (10 minutes)

We read the same book everyday of the week. This increases student comprehension, vocabulary, and ability to retell. After we've read the book a few times, I start letting the kids finish the phrases in our books. They think it's so cool that they are an "expert" on the book. 

Dismissal (15 minutes)

During the warm months, we dismiss from the playground. When it gets cold, we dismiss from the classroom. 

*This is the third time I've edited this post because I keep finding mistakes. It's not even 10:00pm yet, but it feels like 2am. The first week of school is exhausting!!!!

Friday, August 16, 2013

A Look into My Classroom

The 2013-2014 school year has officially started! After hours and hours and hours of working on my classroom it's finished and I've survived the first week of school. I always forget just how young they are when they start in August. They grow and mature so much over the year. Now on to pictures of my classroom! Please note that some of the shelves may seem pretty empty. That's because I add items gradually at the beginning of the year to give me time to teach my kiddos the proper way to use them.

Here's my little "office". I'm trying my desk in a new spot this year. In the past I had it against the wall and out of the way, but then during rest time my back was to my kiddos. So this year I can see the whole room while working on lesson plans, checking e-mail, preparing activities and all that other fun teacher stuff.

The block center 

Easel/Art Shelf 
I love the green tree beside the easel. (A new addition this year)

Kitchen Center
I love my polka dot curtain covering my storage area under the loft. (also a new addition this year.) It adds just a little punch of awesomeness to my classroom.

The Loft
The loft is our dramatic play center. We switch out this area usually once or twice a month. You can check out our beanie baby zoo here.

Writing Center

Library Center
I love all the space I have this year to hold books! I only start out with a few topics and add more when I think the kiddos are ready for more choices. You can read more about setting up a library center here.

Large Group Carpet

My Teaching Shelves
These shelves are between the cubbies and white board. It gives me a place to hold my teaching materials so they are easily accessible during group time.

Sensory Table
It's set up for meet the teacher. (that's why their is a shirt hanging on the wall) The laundry basket underneath holds our playground toys. It makes it so easy to take out bubbles, chalk, playground balls, etc. 

Our Welcome Board

I have a set of shelves right inside the front of my classroom. This is where we keep our clipboard for signing in and out, store student portfolios, and our books.

Science & Math Shelf