Monday, May 4, 2015

Balloon Painting & Farm Sensory Table

We finished up our Farm theme last week, although our chicken eggs won't be hatching until May 11th (cross your fingers for us!). I took some pictures of two of our favorite activities last week:

Balloon Painting:

This was inspired by this pin, and I was happily surprised that a) this was a Pinterest craft that worked exactly like it was supposed to and b) my kids did such different things with it!

 I filled each of the paint trays with one main color and then several drops of the other colors. Note: don't over inflate the balloons or it will be hard to fit them into the paint!

 Some kiddos were just random with the paint and colors and just piled it all on top of each other.
 Some chose to do rows of splotches so that the colors didn't mix.

 This little guy figured out how to make huge balloon splotches rather than the smaller ones his classmates were making.

 The results were all unique - on some pictures you could see each individual paint splotch, while others had an almost tie-dyed effect!

The kids loved the novelty of painting with a balloon, and the pictures came out so beautifully that this is definitely a must-repeat activity! I'd call this a Pinterest-Win lol.

My kiddos also loved our Farm Sensory Table:
A little bit of Easter grass, a pizza pan painted blue for the water, a container of dirt and another of corn and beans made this just the right home for our Farm Animals!

About halfway through the week one of my little guys came to me and said "Where's the farm guy?" Once I clued in that he was thinking the table should have a farmer, I was able to go and grab the farmer figure from Block Center to put in the table. It's amazing what the kids think of that as a teacher you say "Duh! Why didn't I think of that!" And really, why DOESN'T the farm animals set come with a farmer or two??

As a final note, look how stinking cute my neighbor's hallway display is!
Those are handprint caterpillars and handprint butterflies - adorable!

This week we're doing an Ocean Theme - wait till you see what's in our Sensory Table for that! Plus we're taking down all our Spring crafts to do an Ocean hallway display - which will be a great preview for next year since our school theme with be "Seas the Day! Children arrrghh special!" at our school! Its a combo Ocean/Pirate theme! Does your school do a school-wide theme? Do you know what your theme will be for next year? Rustle up a response below and tell me your theme (or what you wish it would be!)

Sunday, May 3, 2015

10 of the Best FREE Kindergarten Language Arts Videos

Last week I posted about my favorite FREE Math Videos for kindergarten. This week, its time to look at Language Arts videos!

Again, if you don't have YouTube access at school, check out this tutorial to learn how to download the videos at home so you can transfer them to your work computers! I do this even though we have YouTube access through a filter, because you can't always count on the internet being up!

Now, I don't believe in sitting the children in front of a video and calling that learning, but I do believe that using a fun song or showing a funny clip can help engage them. Normally I try to intersperse the videos throughout the day, so that we're not sitting watching videos for more than 5 or so minutes at a time. 

Let's start with alphabet videos and work our way up:

KidsTV123 has a bunch of phonics songs (and some great math ones too!). This song focuses on the letter names, but there are several pictures for each sound. It's a great one for calming the kiddos down and getting them to focus. My kiddos now ad lib their own lyrics "A a a a a is for Alex and apple A a a a" lol! At the end of the video I pause on the scene with all of the letters on the screen, get out a pointer and have students come up to the board to point out a letter, make the sound and say a word that starts with that letter. Sometimes a kiddo will come up and say the same letter, sound and word as the person before them did - this is OKAY! That's where they are in the learning process - give them a few weeks and they'll soon be able to think of a new word for that sound or choose a different letter on their own!

This song focuses on the letter sounds and again is a nice, calming song, great for after recess! I put it on and by the end everyone is ready to focus on a story or lesson! Your kiddos need that transitional time to switch mental gears.

If you need something a bit more energetic, check out this "What Do The Letters Say?" video which is a parody of the ever popular "What Does the Fox Say?" song. We throw in some simple dance moves - crossing the mid-line with arm pumps, doing shoulder shrugs, arm circles, toe touches etc.

When you're focusing on an individual letter, there are some great choices:

Sesame Street has "podcasts" for each letter of the alphabet. These are each about 6 minutes long and contain some great old clips (I remember some from when I was little!) plus lots of new content! There is nothing like watching Cookie Monster eat the letter of the day! The use of humor makes the letters "stick" in students' heads better - we tend to remember things that evoke an emotional response!

I love the Have Fun Teaching videos because they identify each letter as either a vowel or a consonant and they include tons of letter sound repetition! 

Hooked on Phonics has some free videos on YouTube, including this rhyming one. I like this one because it focuses on the pictures without confusing the kids with the written words so that they have to concentrate on the sounds.

This video from Jack Hartmann will get your kids up and dancing while they learn their vowel sounds!  I love how the chorus has students crossing the mid-line by tapping their knees and patting their heads.

Once your kiddos are ready to read, you'll appreciate these next ones:

There are a TON of sight word videos on YouTube. Some, like the one below from Have Fun Teaching, feature just an individual sight word, while others, like this Harry Kindergarten one, cover several sight words in one song.  You can choose what works better for your class!

If you're going to focus on one word at a time, I recommend coming up with some dance moves and having your students up and moving while they watch the video. This will make it much more effective than just sitting still watching. If you're not good at dancing, think about an exercise move - toe touching, shoulder shrugging, knee tapping etc. Come up with a set of moves for 2 letter, 3 letter and 4 letter words so that you have some moves ready to go. Also, ask you students to get involved - they can come up with routines for individual words and that will help everyone in the class learn the words!

ELF Kids Videos has a ton of educational videos on YouTube. This one introduces a ton of consonant blends with great picture support and a chance for students to repeat each blend. At the end of the song I would pause on the screen with all the blends listed and have students use a pointer to select a blend, say the sound and name a word that started with it. 

This is a fun song for teaching digraphs, my kiddos always enjoyed it, although it can get stuck in your head, so beware lol!

This is a great story video for giving your students a hook to remember the sh, th, wh, and ch digraphs.

Alright, I'm cutting myself off here, that was more than 10 videos! Again, please support the people who make these videos by subscribing to their YouTube channels and checking out their websites! 
Did I miss any of your favorites? 
Rustle up a response below and share it please!

Monday, April 27, 2015

End Of School Year Books!

I think everyone has a go-to list of Back to School books (my favorite is Polka-Dot Fixes Kindergarten!) but very seldom do you hear about books to read at the end of the year. This could be because we are all simply too exhausted to even think about it, but reading aloud some great EOY picture books is a good way to wrap up the learning, set the tone for the summer and encourage kids to discuss how they're feeling about being out of school or going to the next grade level.
Often times, as we take things off the walls, pack up items and prepare for the summer a bit at a time, we forget to address how this is going to make our students FEEL. Especially for those children for whom school is a safe refuge, where they know they will be fed regularly, encouraged and valued, the EOY can be stressful! For those that truly enjoy school, it can be wrenching to have it all come to an end. And for those that just can't wait for summer to start, it can be hard to contain that excitement and still follow procedures through to the end!

Here are some of my absolute favorite EOY read alouds that address all of those issues - you can click on the pictures to see the books on Amazon! If you buy through one of my links I will get a small amount from Amazon (like 10 cents lol) to help buy things for my classroom. It's not a lot, but every little bit helps - as you all know!

If you've read aloud any of the other Miss Bindergarten books, this one is a must (and even if you haven't!) This books summarizes the whole year and covers EOY procedures like washing tables and emptying cubbies!

This book also deals with EOY clean up, but it also addresses the fact that the last day means leaving behind everything that is familiar and dear. It does have a graduation ceremony in it, so if your school doesn't do graduations that might be something to discuss - how every school does things differently!

This one is for those kiddos that love school and don't want it to end! In this story, the student and teacher end up at the same summer school, so the fun learning experiences continue!

This is a sweet story that also deals with EOY clean up which students and staff engage in as they think about the coming summer vacation.

This one captures that  last day of school excitement! But, it reminds students that they still have to follow the rules...until that last bell rings!

More than likely your students are already familiar with "The Night Before..." series, so this book will have a familiar format for them. Great rhyming text and although it doesn't mention school, it does deal with vacation time. If you're at a Title I school and most of your kiddos won't be going anywhere over the summer, you might want to be sensitive to that and skip this one.

This Berenstain Bears book has ALL grade levels graduating - something that wouldn't happen anywhere but Bear Country! Still, its a cute read, especially if your school does have a K graduation ceremony!

This one is a bit ironic - as the kids are worried about their teachers missing them during the summer, the teachers are thinking about vacation plans! It is great way to bring up the point that you will miss all of your students and encourage them to come back to visit you next year - but that you will ALL be fine over the summer!

I hope you can grab a new story or two to help your class process the EOY!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

10 of the Best FREE Kindergarten Math Videos

Yesterday I shared Dr. Jean's poem "What's the Point?" which encourages all of us to SHUT OUR DOORS and bring the singing, dancing and playing back to kindergarten! Of course this applies to all grade levels - I've seen pre-k classes where children are filling out tracing paper after tracing paper but spend very little time at centers. I've seen 1st grade classrooms where everyone is sitting quietly - in the dark! - working on a worksheet packet almost too thick for normal staples! Walking into these rooms felt like being sucked into a depressing bog, the students were apathetic, disengaged (for all that they were quiet) and just dying for the bell to ring.

But, what if you're not a singer or dancer by nature? What if you ARE but you just don't know what songs to teach the children that will help them learn? What if you want to make learning fun, but still cover your butt with your admin because you NEED your job?!

Well here are 10 of the BEST FREE Math videos I've found! These are all free to watch on youtube. If you don't have youtube access at school check out this quick tutorial for how to download the videos at home to transfer to your work computer. If you have a Smartboard, you can project these directly to your screen and then have everyone stand up to sing and dance along! Don't have a Smartboard? Play them on your computer and make up your own movements!

This is a great song for learning to count to 20 - and the kids love the movements! Play this at the beginning of the year until everyone can count to 20 and recognize those numbers. I love how Matt claps out the syllable too - cross curricular bonus! And how about all the midline crossing he does?! Dream English has a ton of ELL friendly songs!

I love the message of this song "Numbers Help Me Count" it's one of those "Duh!" things for adults but so important for children to learn -we have numbers for a reason! And of course the kids love the hip hop style of Mark D. Pencil!

 I love all of the Have Fun Teaching videos! Here's their counting by 1's video for 1-50, they have lots of other skip counting videos too!

Ready to count to 100? Jack Hartmann has this great video that combines exercise with counting! This is a great brain break or indoor recess song too!

Note - if you play the same video every time, kids WILL get bored! It's important to have many different songs/videos that address the same concept - you never know which one a student will connect with! Not to mention, what kid wouldn't want to be a counting super hero?!

How about counting to 100 macarena style (meaning lots of midline crossing!) plus this video explores the concepts of 10s! My kiddos always love this Dr. Jean video!

This big numbers song is so calming! Its great for when you first get back in from recess, to help kids settle down. The kids LOVE the big numbers at the end! Sometimes I pause and ask someone to come point out the ones, tens or hundreds in one of the big numbers!

This year my pre-k kids learned how to write their numbers simply by using a dry erase board, markers and this video. We never used a worksheet or tracing paper and now almost everyone can write their numbers 0-10 with proper formation!

Teaching skip counting? This video is one of my all time favorites for counting by 10s!

 How about addition? Harry Kindergarten has this great Pirate themed video - plus there's a matching subtraction song! 

This is a quick, fun video for comparing numbers! It user the proper terminology while still giving the kids a visual they can connect with!

My kids love this one for learning 3d shape names, especially because I hand out some of these 3d Shapes and during the song if they have the shape being sung about they get to hold it up! 

Now remember, this is just a SMALL sampling of the songs and videos that are out there! And, please remember to support those who share their talents on youtube by following their channels, visiting their websites and consider purchasing a dvd, cd or song download so that they can continue providing us with these great videos!

If you know of any other great, free kindergarten math videos, please "Rustle Up A Response" and share them in the comments below!

Now, if anyone says anything about how "kindergarten is just dancing and singing all day" you can say "Yes! and we're proud of it, because that's how children LEARN!"

Saturday, April 25, 2015

What's The Point?

Recently I cam across a Dr. Jean poem that really speaks to me. It is called "What's The Point?" and although it references kindergarten, it could really describe any primary grade. It speaks to this "top down" curriculum that has teachers pushing more and more developmentally inappropriate academics on students so that one day they might do well on a standardized test.
 Read the blog post where she shared this poem here!
And if you click on the pic you can download this version of it.

It's one of those things that is really hard to believe if you think about it. It's gotten to the point that I've seen teachers - good teachers! - go from having center time and cooking experiments and lots of songs and stories to having students sitting all day, filling out worksheet packs because "they have to be ready for 1st grade". And the 1st grade teachers are coming down and telling kindergarten teachers what they need to be pushing because the 2nd grade teachers are breathing down THEIR necks! Third grade teachers are asking 2nd grade teachers to start pushing more and more skills because of that darned test that assesses children in things that they just might not be ready for!

But the thinking becomes, "If they fill out a 120 chart every day then eventually they will master the number concepts involved." or "If they do 30 addition problems every day and memorize their facts then they will be prepared for the test." without regard to whether the child actually UNDERSTANDS why 4+5=9. Or "If we push sight words so that they can read 200 words in kindergarten it will help on the test." regardless of the fact that forcing the rote memorization of all those sight words might turn a child off of reading forever.

Students are held in at recess to complete those packs of worksheets that they couldn't focus on during class - because somehow, being forced to sit still for even longer will make them focus better the rest of the day or "teach them" to focus in the first place! It becomes a case of, "The brightest minds in the class can complete the worksheet packet in 20 minutes (meaning they probably didn't even need the practice!) so if I give the rest of the class twice that amount of time, they should be able to finish it. And those that are overwhelmed or lost or space out will just have to learn to keep up with the rest of the class or miss out on every social and/ or physical activity until they do!"

And God forbid that anyone come by our classroom and see that we are not knee deep in some kind of obvious learning activity - ie worksheet - because if it doesn't look difficult, serious and quiet then it can't possibly be teaching anyone anything. On the contrary! Our classrooms should be loud, fun, and organized chaos! Learning isn't quiet! It isn't solitary! It isn't boring!

When we want a baby to learn to roll over or crawl we don't shut them in a quiet place without distractions. No, we get them the shiny, noisy toys to attract their attention and we encourage them to scoot just an inch closer and then we celebrate like crazy so that they'll scoot another inch. How do we go from THAT to thinking that a child can possibly learn in a quiet room with just a pencil/paper?

In my pre-k class this year we do play-based learning. We have long recesses, even longer center times and nap time! And yet, my students are learning! On the playground they run up to me with sticks to show me how they can form different letters out of them. At the art easel they paint letters from their friends' names. They can be heard counting out blocks at the Lego table to make sure everyone has an equal amount of the coveted yellow ones so that its fair. At the dollhouse, the finger puppet theater was appropriated so that the dolls could put on a stage act of Little Red Riding Hood.

These are activities that the children think up on their own and CHOOSE to do, because they are allowed to explore and play and internalize the "lessons". And those "lessons" consist of reading stories aloud, singing songs, and dancing. Every child in my class has learned to write their name - with one capital letter and the rest lowercase - without a SINGLE name worksheet. Without a SINGLE actual lesson. Instead they see their name in print everywhere, they learn how to form the letters from fun songs and videos and they are encouraged to write with markers, chalk, crayons and paint brushes or even with sticks in the mud on the playground!

In fact, I recently purchased a HeidiSongs Alphabet dvd (love the children's artwork in the videos!). On Friday we sat down to check out the songs with our dry erase boards and markers. I encouraged the children to write the letters as we played the songs. I watched for the kids to get squirrelly or disinterested, but they loved watching the videos and hearing the different songs so we made it all the way to Z. This is what 4 and 5 year olds can learn to do without ever touching a tracing sheet!

 Not one of these babies was able to write a single letter in August!

So my message for today is to STOP and THINK and decide for yourself what the best way to teach is. I'm not saying to ignore your admin or to not do what your district mandates. I  AM saying that if you think about it, and work on it, you will be able to incorporate play and dancing and singing into your classroom and STILL achieve learning. In fact, the learning gains your students make will be even more dramatic than if you have them filling out worksheet packets every day, I promise!

I'm going to be doing a series of posts on play based learning, and what it can look like in your classroom, so please follow my blog and let's take this journey together - to prove that play belongs back in the classroom and that the ONLY way to get our children to "do well on the test" is by letting them engage in fun, developmentally appropriate activities that trigger their innate learning drives!

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