Saturday, October 22, 2016

How to survive Halloween in Kindergarten

I know, I know, everyone LOVES Halloween. But here is my deepest, darkest, secret-I don't.  It wasn't always this way, I mean I love candy, I love hanging out with friends and Halloween is basically kid nirvana.

 But  I am a kindergarten teacher, and if you teach in an elementary school the treats of Halloween have now become the tricks. It's the hardest 2 days of the year. Yes, TWO days. Halloween is what everyone expects, kids all hyped up but honestly it's the next day that I dread almost as much. The Halloween hangover. The kids stayed up way too late, they are tired, cranky, and ate a snickers bar for breakfast. Halloween is on a Tuesday this year, that is basically losing the calendar lottery.  (Not as bad as Monday last year, but not good either.) You'll be staring down the eyes of a long long week.
Here are my tips to get you through;

#1 Stick to your routine. I know, I know, you want to have a party or a parade for the little darlings. What child doesn't love the idea of a parade. So do it if you must, but keep it short!!! Take a quick walk to the office and back and call it a parade. Do it at the very end of the day.  You've been warned. Once you get back to the class Elsa will want to take her crown off and chances are it will get lost along with Batman's cape.

There really isn't any way to avoid it, the kids are just too excited not to bring a little Halloween into the class. 
#2 My answer is Halloween centers. I add a couple simple activities to my centers and call it a celebration.
Here are my favorites: 

Popcorn in a glove. 
I usually bring in an electric stovetop and we pop corn the old fashioned way. In a pot, with oil, and kernels. Most of my kids are from the microwave popcorn generation so they have never felt the thrill of hearing that the oil sizzle and that first kernal pop. To add to the fun I always add a little too many kernals so the cover pops off.
Once the kernals are popped  ( have extra, always have extra) place the popcorn in a glove. Add a candy corn to each finger and you have a fun witches hand. My kids never get tired of this activity. Year after year they just love it.

#3 Carve a pumpkin
Most of my kids have never had the thrill of feeling the slimey goodness of the inside of a pumpkin. This is a real treat. Don't forget to pull down the shades and add a light. The squeals of delight never get old.

#4 Ditch the cupcakes
One of the hardest parts of Halloween is all the junk food. Don't get me wrong I love a snicker bar as much as the next guy, but the mess and hyperness that comes from Halloween cupcakes is a headache in the making. I found this idea from and it's a great idea. I now bring in clear plastic cups and I have the kids draw a creepy face, then we add green grapes to the cup. Tadah Frankenstein snacks!!! Best of all: no one is allergic to grapes. You can also do this with an orange to make a cute Jack-o-Lantern.

#5 Add a new center. 
This year I'm adding vamire math task cards with clothespins. Simple to make and fun for the kids. I don't know what it is about clothespins, but any time I put out a center with them, my kids love it. As an added bonus this easy activity increases finger strength. Check it out here.

#6 Good ol' cut and paste.
 I love color, cut, and paste activities. To be honest a simple coloring page usually lasts about a minute and a half. Once you add in cut and paste you've just increased the time to about 15 minutes. These are perfect for hangover Wednesday. Grab them here.

#7 Go Digital! 
Honestly, I was late to the Google Classroom party but now that I've tried it I just love it. I always thought Google Classroom was for older kids, wow I couldn't have been more wrong. My kids love using the chromebooks and I pads. Using Google Classroom is a dream. I can give the kids an assignment and they sit quietly and complete it. That's worth reading again. They sit quiety while they complete their work.  Google is my new favorite way to end a day, especially a day with lots of excitement. A quiet assignment that the kids love that gives me a few minutes to clean the pumpkin pulp off the table. Everybody wins. Halloween Google can be found here.

I recently found a new favorite, Boom Cards! 
Oh my Boom cards are the BEST! Just open an account, add your kid's names and they are ready to go. Boom cards are perfect for the IPad. They self correct AND they take data on rate and accuracy. Seriously if your admin wants more and more data Boom cards are going to make you fall in love. It's so easy to progress monitor with Boom- because Boom does it for you! Grab the Bundle here.

My advice is to enjoy this fun time with the kids. You can give them a day that feels special without making yourself feel exhausted. Remember they will be in on Wednesday, cranky and tired. So pace yourself. 
Good Luck

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Using robots to teach reading

I love robots, I mean I REALLY love robots. I love what it does for kids. How it amazes them, how it empowers them, how it reaches them like nothing else. I don't consider myself "techie" ( my own kids will agree), but somehow this "no tech" person has been coaching robotics for the last 8 years. Prepare for the shamless plug... all of those years my team made it to the state championship. I have had a front row seat to what robotics does for kids. 

I was able to see, literally you can see, the wheels turning in kids heads. Kids solve complex problems using robotics. So it makes perfect sense to use robotics to teach kids.....anything. Kindergarten is the perfect time to get started with robots. I never met a kindergarten child who was afraid to push a button. Their willingness to take risks with technology is far greater than people (ahem) of my generation. 
So where do you start? I start with BEE-BOTs. If you haven't tried BeeBots check them out here. I am an affiliate of BeeBot and can you can use my code Dellasfreeship to get free shipping.

If you have, you already know the power of this simple but amazing little robot. I start the year with simple straight mats. To begin, I just have the kids use the clear button, the forward button, and the go button. I give the kids cards that tell them where to go and then they program the robot to that spot. The cheers that erupt when the BeeBot makes it to it's intended target is a joy to behold. 

Here is a video of my kids using the BEEBOT to learn about the life cycle of the frog. 

Watch my kids reading sight words using their BEEBOT 

I just started using BEEBOTs to spell and read word families

Once the kids learn to program the robot in a straight line you can introduce turns. Now the fun really begins. You can use the robot  to teach reading, math science, anything you can think of. The kids love the robot so much that even if they struggle with a topic or skill they are so much more willing to make mistakes with the robot. If you don't already have a BeeBot make sure you check it out. It would make a quick and easy Donors Choose project. If you already have one check out my BeeBot resources.


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Where do I start with reading groups?

Kindergarten reading groups often don't involve any "reading" in the way that parents typically think.  Your students may not be able to "read" I see the fat cat until the spring. But don't be fooled, the ground work that is laid in the first half of kindergarten is crucial to being a successful reader.  


But where do I start? In the words of Glenda the good witch "My dear, you start at the beginning." Letter naming. Kindergarten students need to identify the letters out of order, in both upper and lowercase and in different fonts. A child's ability to quickly name letters is an indicator of whether they will be a successful reader or one that struggles. Don't race through this critical step, or even worse skip it all together.

We need to assess their letter knowledge and let that data drive our instruction. Use a data sheet to check for the number of letters a child can read in one minute. It literally takes 60 seconds. Just make it part of your routine. The first week of the month I monitor how quickly they can name letters. I assess the same 5 students on Monday, a new set of 5 on Tuesday etc. you get the idea. Don't try to assess everyone on the same day or you'll burn out. This simple little assessment gives you so much information about how fluent the kids will be when reading. The key is giving them only 1 minute. When you limit the time they have to respond you get a better picture of their fluency ability. Make sure you give those kiddos who struggle a double dose of letter practice.  

Grab these resources to increase letter naming fluency.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Counting and Cardinality is essential to any kindergarten math curriculum. Kids need to know how and why we use numbers.

There are 2 major  key concepts for kindergarten students at the beginning of the year. 
One to one counting and counting sets.
Counting isn't just as easy as 1 2 3.  Sure you're going to have kids who have already mastered this skill. But take time with those who haven’t. Mastering these skills now will lay the groundwork for a strong understanding in math.  Even those children who seem to have an understanding of counting may need extra support. 

What do my kids need to know?
The number 1 concept your kids need to know is the name of numbers in order. Can they count 1-20? What if they start at 4, will they know what comes next?  The best way to assess this skill is to observe kindergarteners as they count. Do they count each object only once? Do they have a strategy for keeping of track of what they have already counted? Do they know that the last number they say is also the amount? Do they understand this amount will not change? Can they make an equivalent set?  Are they able to subitize ( quickly identify an amount without counting)? These counting skills are truly the foundation for higher level thinking. 
How can I teach these skills?
I love teaching math because it is naturally all around us. We all start the day with calendar time, attendance, question of the day. These are all perfect ways to build mini math lessons into our schedule. 

     My tips for added math into meeting time. 
*Have an attendance stick.  Go around the circle and have each child add a unifix cube to a stick to represent themselves. To some of my kids "It's like magic, the number of blocks on the stick is the same as the number of us"- Jayden 5 yrs. old
* Count around the circle. This is one of those simple, simple activities you can do almost anywhere but tells you so much. Have the kids stand in a circle and count off. Choose a different child to start each time. You'll quickly assess which child can count on from a number and which child needs support. This is the fastest assesment strategy that I use. Once they have mastered counting by 1, start skip counting by 5's 10's and 2's.
* Question of the day. Do you ride a bus or walk? Do you like grapes or apples? Do you have a sister? The possibilities are endless. I like to have my question on a white board. The kids names are all on magnetic tags. You can also use a pocket chart with name cards. The kids have to find their name and answer the question. Then we evalute the data. How many answered yes? Which group has more?  

A great way to teach math skills are manipulatives. You need to get your hands onto objects.  I never met a kid who didn't love playing with counting bears or dinosaurs. They need to sort them, build with them, play with them. Move them around, hold them in your hands. Kids need lots and lots of time exploring objects.


 I love to give my kids egg cartons, and muffin tins,  ice cube trays, and of course ten frames. Any time they put one object into another container it helps them order the objects and helps keep track of their counting. My  kids love using play doh mats to work on counting. 

Now is the time to build that foundation all kids need to be mathematicians. Have fun and be creative. Please leave a comment below about how you bring math into your meeting time.

Here are some math resources to get you started.