Video segment about me, by the school district

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Rockin' Resources Linky Party

Kelly Dolling over at Teacher Idea Factory is having a great Rockin' Resources Linky Party, and this is so timely for me because I just got back from a week-long Lego Education conference in Kansas City!  I have used Duplo and Lego products in my classroom for years.  I love the way the kids are so motivated and excited to learn math, science, language and social skills that are essential in kindergarten and in pre-k.  At the convention I found out that they make many great products that I never heard about.

1. Duplo Early Simple Machines

Duplo Early Simple Machines

I feel that science should not just be something that is talked about, but that the children should have their hands on the materials, actually seeing and feeling how things work.  What better way to teach about Simple Machines such as pulleys, levers, gears, wheels and axles than to experiment and build with working parts?

2. Duplo Wild Animals

Duplo Wild Animals

The Wild Animals Set is also absolutely fabulous for combining language and science in a uniquely special way.  Children can build different habitats while cooperating with others and having a tremendous amount of fun at the same time.  I know it's a big investment, but this product will last forever.  I have worked with Duplo products and the kids can't break them because it's hard plastic.

3. Measuring Motors

Measuring Motors
A friend bought me Measuring Motors for my birthday and I can't wait to use it in kindergarten this year.  Measuring toys are so hard to find.  This one is so kid-friendly!  It's rubber cars in three different lengths (small, medium and large) with tracks.  Children can place different combinations of cars on the tracks to see how many 1-inch cars it takes to fill the track, how many 2-inch cars it takes, and how many 3-inch cars - or a combination of them.  I like this toy because it shows the children that there's more than one way to arrive at an answer to a problem.  I hate it when students are not allowed to find different solutions to problems.  The cars also come in different colors so they can additionally be used for sorting and patterning.  This is such a multi-purpose tool for mathematics!

4. King School Books

King School Books
These King School books are simply phenomenal.  The books portray friendly, multicultural kids in a kindergarten or first grade setting, depending on the reading level of your students.  Another great thing about these books is that the characters repeat throughout the stories.  So your children are so excited to see Derek or Jasmin in their kindergarten classroom, and then later as they progress in reading they can see those same characters in first grade.  The topics the author chose to write about are things that kindergarten and first grade children actually experience.  If you buy the set, it also comes with a teacher manual, a poster and storage bins.

I'm very curious to know how many of you use Duplo or Lego in your classroom, and what you use.  Please leave a comment below.  I would greatly appreciate it!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Gentle Superheroes

"SuperHero ABC" by Bob McLeod
Alright, my secret is out!  I LOVE superheroes!  Many of the students in my class speak Spanish as their primary language.  The most fabulous thing that I discovered is if I start to talk to my students about superheroes, suddenly they're speaking complete sentences in English.  Now, I'm not saying it's perfectly grammatically correct English, but the point is that we're having a conversation.  And isn't that what we want for our pre-k and kindergarten-age students?

SuperHero ABC by Bob McLeod is a really cool book.  Each page has a beautifully illustrated superhero who has a phonetic connection to what the superhero's power is.  For example, "Danger Man does daring deeds every day."  When I read this book to my class, the kids were SO excited!  It sparked a great deal of conversation about which superhero they wanted to be, and what powers they would have.  At the time, I did not have a followup activity for this book - it was just read for fun.  But now that I'm going back to kindergarten, I'm going to have the students illustrate and write about their favorite superhero on a T-shirt.

Superhero T Shirts

This year, I really discovered the joy of playing ABC Bingo games as a way to reinforce connections between letters and sounds.  I commissioned an up-and-coming graphic designer who I know (he loves comic books, too) to make me an entire set of superhero clip art, carefully designed to motivate young children.  I wanted to have a Superhero Bingo Game that would be gentle and appropriate for my new kindergarten classroom.  I really don't like a lot of the violence (guns, swords, claws, axes, etc.) that are used in today's animated characters.

Hence this new product, Superhero ABC Bingo (view it on TPT or TN).  I also made a Superhero ABC Mini Poster (view it on TPT or TN) to send home with my kids so that every night their parents can help them learn a new letter of the alphabet.  Finally, I just finished a Superhero Sight Word Wall Folder (view it on TPT or TN) so the children can learn kindergarten and first-grade words that correspond to each letter of the alphabet.  I will give one of these to every child in my classroom so that they can independently spell the sight words and have a feeling of growing confidence instead of always asking me to spell sight words for them.

Please let me know your opinions about using superheroes in the classroom, and if there are other products you would like to see these characters appear in.  I really enjoy hearing from all of you!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Fun with the Five Senses

Since I talk so much about being a "five senses" teacher, I thought it fitting that I write a post specifically about books, songs, and projects related to the five senses and people who are differently abled.

There's a wonderful book, Lucy's Picture, about a little girl whose class is given an assignment to create a picture.  Lucy decides to make a tactile collage for her grandfather, who is blind.  You don't know that her grandfather is blind until the end of the book, and this is a story that is fun and keeps the attention of any pre-k or kindergarten class.  I like how the teacher encourages Lucy to explore in her own way instead of stifling her creativity.  I think that creating collages (using different types of materials) is an excellent way to teach new vocabulary, textures, colors and shapes.  When my students finish their collages, I ask them to describe their pictures to me using a variety of adjectives.  This is a great way to assess how your children's language has grown over time.  I also keep the finished collages in their portfolios, with the children's own descriptions of their work attached.  I have gotten into the habit of collecting scraps of material (denim, silk, corduroy, aluminum foil, sandpaper, and scrapbooking paper, to name a few) and cutting them into many different shapes over the summer, because one of our first units is about the five senses.  And I LOVE having the students make these collages!

Textured Collage Shapes from Lakeshore

Lakeshore sells an assortment of Textured Collage Shapes that makes this a thousand times easier if you don't want to sit and cut out the fabrics.  They're on sale right now!

Some fabulous songs for a five senses unit are:

Five Senses by Dr. Jean
5 Senses by Jack Hartmann
Listen to the Sounds by Jack Hartmann
Five Senses by Mar Harmon

I found that these songs are all very easy for the kids to sing after just listening to them one time.

The Listening Walk, from the carousel at the top of the post, is a marvelous book for focusing on hearing.  I collected many sound effects (by searching for and downloading them in iTunes) to match the sounds in the book, so that I could enhance the story telling by playing the sounds in my classroom.  One album that was especially helpful was "Greatest Sound Effects" by Audio Environments & Co.  The kids truly enjoyed guessing what sounds were on the CD.

Students exploring scent bottles in science center
I also created scent bottles for my science center by adding store-bought extracts and cotton balls (to help prevent the liquids from leaking out) to clear bottles, gluing the pull-out caps on, and letting children try to match bottles to picture cards.  My students loved playing with these in science center, and it was a safe way for them to explore their sense of smell.

Dog Bones Tactile Set from Learning Resources
I am always looking for new toys to put into my science center.  Last Christmas, a friend bought me this oh-so-cute Dog Bone Tactile Set from Learning Resources that fits into an adorable dog house for easy storage.  Again, this is a great way to have your students use their sense of touch while learning new vocabulary and comparing and contrasting textures.

Mystery Box from Lakeshore
This Mystery Box from Lakeshore is much larger than the dog house and can be used for years because it's wood and very sturdy.  Inside mine I have placed tactile pillows, letters, numerals, and a wide variety of objects found around the house for the children to guess based on feeling the items.  This center is always exciting for the kids, especially if you frequently change what's inside the box.  You can also specialize the activity for phonemic awareness, for example, by filling the box with items that start with one particular letter.

If you're interested in some really fabulous Graphic Organizers about the five senses, I've made a nice set on TPT that's easy to use with your children.

Please feel free to ask me any questions about the books or projects in this post.  I especially enjoy talking to people about this topic.  ;-)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Over in the Ocean

"Over In The Ocean" Book Cover

When I could still see a few years ago, I thought the pictures in Over in the Ocean by Jack Hartmann were simply gorgeous.  It's very much like the book Over in the Meadow by Ezra Jack Keats.  I think it's a wonderful book because it can be used it to teach habitats, one-to-one correspondence up to ten, new vocabulary, sequencing, and numeral recognition.  Another nice thing about this book is that it changes which family member is talking to the sea creatures each time.  On one page it might be a mommy, on another page a daddy, on other pages an auntie, stepmom, etc.  It covers 10 different family relationships in all.  Jack Hartmann has also written a beautiful song called "Over in the Ocean" that matches the book perfectly and encourages your students to perform different motions such as paddle, dive, slither, hunt, and more.  I believe that this really helps them to stay focused on the book.

Here is a guided reading book (approximately DRA level 1) that you could use with your kiddos:
What Lives in the Ocean

If you're not aware that National Geographic has a great link for kids, please check this out:

Animals on National Geographic for Kids

From this site you can show your children great videos, play real animal sounds, view maps that show where each animal lives in the world, and print out fact cards for animals from any habitats that you're studying.  I even used this site with pre-k, and my children were so excited by the videos, especially the one showing baby scorpions climbing all over their mother!  I was sort of glad I couldn't see it - it was creeping me out just hearing about it!

This is a unique graphic organizer your kids can use to place things below and above the water.  The first page is a model that they can color in, and the following pages provide opportunities to cut and paste.
Ocean Above and Below

Coloring by numbers was one of my favorite activities when I was five years old.  It just seemed so magical to me - I don't know why.  Here are two color-by-number papers that are ocean-related:
Color by Number Fish

Finally, if you're looking for a great way to save money, I made a few free table nameplates that are on TPT, including dolphins and happy faces:

Dolphin and Happy Face Nameplates

If you prefer a free butterfly nameplate that also has numbers 1 to 20 and the alphabet, pick it up from Teacher's Notebook here:

Butterfly Nameplates

As always, I LOVE hearing from all of you.  Please feel free to leave a comment, critique, or question below.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Teaching Smart

Tammy over at Live, Love, Laugh is hosting a great "Teaching Smart" linky party that you can find here:

Teaching Smart Linky Party

One of the best things that I have learned, for any grade level, is that preparation is critical to having a happy, organized, fun-loving classroom.  So, with that said, I have been working diligently on making centers that will be interesting and effective for my kinders.  The center ideas and activities that I'm going to show you are for the beginning of the kindergarten school year.

Color Pizza
The first idea is a color-matching word game that can be placed in a center or in a station.  Students match colored pieces of "pizza" to the corresponding color word on the circular "pie".  I picked up some unused pizza boxes that I thought would be a great way to store these pieces.

Shape Placemat
The second game is a shape-matching activity where children place the correct parts of a table setting on a laminated place mat.  This game really helps develop visual matching and shape identification and can be used for cutting and gluing if you don't wish to laminate the pieces.  Here is the download:
Shape Placemat Long Free

Fantasy Folder
Finally, I have found that my students at the beginning of kindergarten do not wish to go to writing center as much as math, ABC, or science centers.  Therefore I really accommodate their interests by making mini word walls that they can use to label their own drawings.  I truly believe that the beginning of kindergarten should be all about instilling in the children a real love for reading and writing.  Later months can be used more for expanding labels into phrases and full sentence writing.  I know philosophies about this may vary, but I also know that kids who aren't excited about reading and writing can only be taught so much.

I just put up a collection of 10 mini word walls on sale at Teacher's Notebook for a really great price.  I also have some free products that you may be interested in on TN as well.

Sharon's Shop

Let me know what you think!  :-)

Sunday, July 8, 2012

USA Symbols: Books & Materials

I'm writing this post because I often had trouble explaining United States symbols to my kinders.  I couldn't find many age-appropriate materials related to this topic.  After much research I did find some wonderful resources, but I had to dig.  I really hope that these books, songs and materials help you in your units about United States symbols.

F is for Flag is a fantastic book for kindergarten because it describes what our flag looks like now and what it looked like long ago.  It discusses nicknames for our flag, the holidays related to the flag, and what the flag means to people who live in America.  I found some wonderful songs that really get to the heart of the United States symbols lessons: "America", "Yankee Doodle" and "You're A Grand Old Flag" sung by Cedarmont Kids.  These songs all bring tears to my eyes.  It's easy to forget how powerful music can be when we're singing about our country.

L is for Liberty is an excellent book to read during any unit on symbols of America, because it really focuses on definitions of liberty and freedom, explaining it in a kid-friendly manner.  This book has about 22 pages and just a few sentences on each page, making it very appropriate for any K or 1st grade classroom.

Red, White, and Blue: The Story of the American Flag concentrates on the story of Betsy Ross, how the flag has developed and changed over the years, and some of the meaning behind the design of the flag.  It also talks about the poem that Francis Scott Key wrote, and how it became the song "The Star-Spangled Banner".  I purchased a version of this song by Cedarmont Kids to teach my children after reading this book.  It was very surprising to me, but none of my students had ever heard "The Star-Spangled Banner".

America Is... has colorful, full-page illustrations that include a wide diversity of people.  I especially like the line "America is... teachers and their students in schools in every state, and miners and factory workers, artists and musicians, bakers and bankers.  And millions of other people who work at many different kinds of jobs at every hour of the day and night."  This book also covers United States symbols and various land forms in the country, as well as holidays and why we have them.  It's just right to read in a kindergarten classroom.

Of course, the book America the Beautiful is based on the song of the same name, and it has gorgeous illustrations.  Ray Charles sings a version of this song that is very popular on iTunes.  Blake Shelton also sings a country version of it, and Barbra Streisand does a lovely rendition as well.  It just depends on what your own taste and style of music will lead you to.  There are many versions!

A fabulous toy that I purchased for my classroom is an age-appropriate Talking USA Puzzle.  When you correctly place a state where it belongs, the puzzle speaks the name of the state, its nickname, and its capital city.  My children were enchanted with this toy, and it's such a wonderful way to teach map skills and geography - there are not many toys that do this!  It costs about $25, and to me it's well worth the investment.

The Time for Kids web site has lots of useful resources and downloads such as a USA Landmarks activity and maps of the United States that are simple enough for kindergartners and first-graders to understand.  I've also made a couple of resources of my own that might help you.  Feel free to download these:
USA Symbols Graphic Organizer

I Love The USA

What resources have you found for a United States symbols unit?  I would love to know!  Please leave a comment below.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Alphabet Books

"The Letters Are Lost" and "A Gardener's Alphabet"

Two books that I feel are "must-haves" for an ABC shelf are The Letters Are Lost by Lisa Campbell Ernst and A Gardener's Alphabet by Mary Azarian.  Both books are really appealing to young children and feature letters prominently on full-page spreads in their own unique ways.

The Letters Are Lost has a little bit of a plot to it.  In the beginning, all the letters are together.  Then, one by one, they disappear to have different adventures.  I like the way the author connects the letter to where it is or what it's doing.  For example, "B tumbled into the bath" and "K hitched a ride in a kangaroo pouch."  I'm planning to put letter "P" in a bowl of popcorn, just like it's presented in the book.  I'm going to ask the children what letter they think is in the popcorn and why they think it's that letter.  I'm also going to have a treasure hunt outside, where I will hide plastic letters around the playground and have each child find one and see if they can tell me the letter's name or something that starts with that letter.

A Gardener's Alphabet introduces really neat, new vocabulary words for young children, words like "compost", "Japanese garden", "fountain" and "harvest".  I believe that children can soak up so many words when being read and shown a book.  The pictures in this book are also bold, featuring bright colors and high contrast.  There is just one word on each page, which makes this book a quick read, but there are so many wonderful ways you can integrate science as you read this book.  You can talk to the children about conservation, habitats, living things, parts of plants, and more.

Alphabet Scramble 5

I made these letters for two purposes.  One is to laminate and place in the ABC center for permanent use, and the other is to use at the beginning of the school year for the kids to glue the matching letters on the paper as an alphabet assessment.

Hands Up For Letter Sounds" by Jack Hartmann and "Who Let The Letters Out?" by Dr. Jean are really great songs to use with these activities.because they say the letters in order, they say the letter sounds, and allow the children opportunities for movement.

I made a really cool set of ABC books for guided reading that are on sale now at my TPT store.  The product is called Grocery Alphabet Books.  Click the link and take a look if you're interested!

I'm really interested in finding out what your favorite letter books are.  Please tell me about them in a comment below.