Video segment about me, by the school district

Monday, May 28, 2012

Simple and Sweet Birthday Ideas

"The Secret Birthday Message" by Eric Carle
Yesterday was my birthday and I started thinking about all the things I've done in past years to teach pre-k and kindergarten students about when their birthdays are and how people in America and various other cultures celebrate their birthdays.  This is the first of a series of posts that I will be writing about birthdays.

The Secret Birthday Message by Eric Carle is really special because it has that treasure-hunt-type feel to it.  Students have to look at shape clues to predict where the boy will go in the story to find his birthday surprise.  This book covers concepts such as shape identification, direction words and sequencing, and you could extend it to talk about map skills.  I really enjoy having my children guess what each shape represents in the real world.  Since we're always being told to include higher-level thinking for our pre-k and kindergarten kids, I think this is an excellent way to do it.

Throughout the year in pre-k I use the song "Happy Birthday Letters" by Dr. Jean.  I use the following book with the song, and my kids really focus on every single page.

Happy Birthday Letters

Another thing I do to work on one-to-one correspondence and number identification is to put straight candles and numeral candles in Play Doh Center so that children can put them in sculpted cakes.  It's easy, fun, and the students are learning how to match quantities with numerals.

In kindergarten, I use these birthday cakes with candles to teach months of the year, spelling, fine motor skills, and name writing.  Students write their names somewhere on the cake, cut out the appropriate number of candles, and glue them onto the cake.  You can use chalk, markers, crayons, paint, etc. to decorate these cakes.  I've also used sequins, foam shapes, and little paper flowers.  I always make a pre-made list to tell me whose birthdays are in which month.

Birthday Cakes and Candles 2

After we finish the cakes, there's a great song by Jack Hartmann called "Birthdays" where the children stand up and sit down when they hear their birthday month.  I've noticed that this song really helps children with focusing problems, because they have to listen to stand up for their birthday month.

For many years, I celebrated my birthday with the children and taught them traditions from around the world.  Here's one of my favorites:

Canada:  At birthday parties they serve homemade birthday cakes decorated with colored sugar sprinkles. Between the layers of the cake a wrapped coin might be found. Whomever finds it is the first to get a turn at all the party games. At the parties children receive colorful party favors called crackers. These are tubes wrapped in crepe paper. They pop when you pull a paper strip. Inside there is a small prize, your fortune or a hat.

I would really love to hear special birthday traditions or celebration ideas from you.  Please leave me a comment!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Toy Car Fun

"Beep Beep, Vroom Vroom" by Stuart Murphy
As the end of the year approaches, my students are a little wound up.  I have found that I really have to pull out all of my best tricks at the end of the year to keep their attention and their focus, and still keep teaching concepts.  Hold onto your seat belts as I race through a few of my best car ideas!

The book Beep Beep, Vroom Vroom by Stuart Murphy will really rev up your kids' engines!  It's all about patterns, but it's also a really cool story that allows your kids to make sound effects as you read it to them.  A little girl plays with her brother's toy cars and has to arrange them in the same pattern so she doesn't get in trouble when he returns.  Everyone in the family makes a different pattern with the toy cars, so it's a great tool to teach multiple kinds of patterns.  It's really perfect for pre-k and k.  I used construction paper cars (solid red, yellow and blue) to match the cars in the book.  The kids came up to the front and held the cars as they told me which car should go next.  I've also heard of teachers cutting out steering wheels of the same colors and have the children actually be the drivers.  If you place toy cars in your math center, your children can also further explore these concepts independently.  Here is a pattern assessment (for legal size paper, 8.5"x14") to check for understanding:
Pattern Car Long

I just went to a Dr. Jean workshop, and she mentioned a web site called Making Learning Fun.  It has the best highway mats that you run the toy car around so that students can actually feel how shapes, numbers and letters are made.  I made the shape set first, and laminated them, to see how my students would respond to this idea.  They absolutely loved it!  They kept saying things like "This is so awesome!  You're the best teacher!"  I figured the boys would enjoy it, but the reaction from the girls was also overwhelmingly positive as well.

Kids playing with shape highways

So that night, I made the highway numbers, adding traffic lights so the students would know where to start and stop for each one.  These are such a treasure for me, because my students tend to make numbers backwards.  Being blind, I wanted something that they could play with independently in centers that would be motivating and that would help them learn the correct way to form numbers.  Here is what I used:
Highway Numbers

I think it's important to introduce the mats in large group or in small group, show the children how to play with the mats, and then place them in the math center.  My students did a really great job in centers for the last two days, using the cars and mats appropriately.

"Vroom Chugga Vroom Vroom" by Anne Miranda and David Murphy

Vroom Chugga Vroom Vroom by Anne Miranda and David Murphy is another great book, which focuses more on numbers.  I have found many books that go up to 10, but not as many that go up to 20, like this one does.  I'm thinking to put stickers with numbers on the cars so the children could line them up before they race them.  I'm still going to only have 4 children in the center at a time, but each child could be in charge of 5 cars.

Here is a Level 2 guided reading book for those children who are working on their color identification skills:
I See The Cars

I would love to hear what all of you do with toy cars!

Finally, Miss Nelson is having an "All-Time Favorite Read-Alouds" Linky Party.  My favorite read-alouds change so often, but Beep Beep, Vroom Vroom is my favorite book for the end of the year because it holds their attention and it really solidifies the concept of patterns.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Puff the Magic Dragon

"Puff the Magic Dragon" book cover
When I was little, most nights my mom sang the song "Puff the Magic Dragon" to me before going to bed (my mother loved Peter, Paul and Mary).  I was so thrilled when I found out there was a beautifully illustrated storybook, Puff the Magic Dragon by Peter Yarrow and Lenny Lipton, that matches the classic song.  When I was little, I always cried at the end, because of the message that we all grow up and leave things behind.  Well, this new book doesn't change the original song, but it adds a part to the end that shows a little girl approaching the dragon so that children will feel that Puff will not be alone for the rest of his life.  I personally really like this addition.  This is a splendid book with which to do a picture walk and have your students tell the story before you read it to them.  I played the song for my students as we turned the pages in the book.  My students especially liked the pirate ship page.

My pre-k students are really into fantasy books right now, so they asked me if I could make a dragon book that they could read by themselves.  I loved this idea, since my kiddos are really beginning to spell words.  Since color words are so important for the beginning of kindergarten, I thought I could prepare my students by making them this book:
Color Dragons

This book reminded me of a whole series of books that I made for my kindergarten students that moved them along from reading at DRA level 6 to level 18 in some cases.  The whole fantasy genre is so fascinating to young children, both boys and girls alike.  I decided to put up on TPT an entire Fantasy Guided Reading Unit that is ideal for advanced kindergarten students but also useful for first grade.

I hope your students enjoy taking a pretend visit to Honalee!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Paper Bag Princess

"The Paper Bag Princess" by Robert Munsch

A dear friend of mine introduced me to the book The Paper Bag Princess, by Robert Munsch, several years ago.  I don't know how I could have forgotten about it.  It is absolutely fantastic!  The story is about a princess who has to go and rescue a prince from a vicious dragon.  All of her fine clothes get burned up, so she has to go tromping through the countryside in a paper bag.  Nothing stops this princess!  She's smart, she's brave, she's a problem-solver!  She outsmarts the dragon and rescues the prince.  The twist comes when the prince treats her very unfairly.  He insults the princess, telling her that she's a mess, and dirty, and that she smells bad, after she's been through so much to save him.  She cancels the wedding and calls him a bum at the end of the story.  I really think this book promotes empowerment of girls, independent thinking, breaking stereotypes, and looking beyond the physical into the heart of a person.

Here is a book that I created for guided reading that follows a simple and easy-to-read pattern.  My kids loved this book and begged me to let them take it home.  I had six copies, and ended up having to make a copy for everyone in my class because they wanted it so badly.
Up In The Tree

My students have been asking me over and over to make them a Fantasy Bingo game.  I can't refuse my little darlings anything!  Here is a picture of us playing the game.  I used a fantasy picture for every letter of the alphabet.  So, although my kids think they're just having loads of fun, I'm really teaching them letter identification, and letter sound connections.  This Fantasy ABC Bingo game is up on TPT, along with a new product that I just put up today: Kindergarten Word Family Posters

Kids playing Fantasy ABC Bingo

Thanks for stopping by!