Incorporating STEM in Kindergarten

I think my most popular session at SDE's I Teach K this summer was my Through Nursery Rhymes! It's such a hot topic right now, but there isn't a whole lot out there for making it truly accessible in kindergarten. Today I'm going to share a little bit of that session with you!

One of my favorite ways to incorporate technology into teaching nursery rhymes is by using a Green Screen app!  I use Green Screen by Do Ink on my iPhone, it's $2.99 in the App store. Here's a quick clip of my son, Sullivan, reciting Baa Baa Black Sheep.


I simply hung a piece of green felt on my wall and googled a picture of a sheep in a field. Sully was totally not into being filmed (I bribed him with Dum Dums, if you look he has two fistfuls!), he hates the flash on my camera so even when I promise him it won't flash he tends to look away anyways. However, once he saw the finished product with the sheep behind him he was enthralled! He wanted to do it again and again and kept asking to do different rhymes to see what would pop up behind him! It works the same with students, they LOVE seeing themselves on screen, and putting together some video clips of students reciting nursery rhymes is a great way to start an Open House or Parent Teacher Conferences!

Engineering challenges can be hard in Kindergarten! Their little fingers may have difficulties manipulating the materials, so often we call in our 5th grade friends for help. However, I like to start the year with a challenge they can complete on their own so they have some experience before calling in older helpers. I find this gives them more confidence in their ideas, so its not so much the 5th graders leading the challenge as being directed by the Kinders. One of the easiest engineering challenges for Kinders is this Building a Tuffet challenge for the Little Miss Muffet rhyme.
This challenge requires just some paper towel rolls, tape, glue and construction paper, along with a doll or two to play Miss Muffet!
I have my kinders work in groups, but you could easily have them complete this challenge on their own as well. You can see that there were several different ideas for creating the "tuffet"!

Incorporating art into nursery rhymes is easy, but I always try to move away from simple crafts to actual process art. For our Tiny Tim nursery rhyme we used different sizes of bubble wrap to paint our turtles and the kids loved it!

Tying in math concepts is easy with some of the nursery rhymes. For example, for Hickory Dickory Dock we combine retelling with learning to tell time! I made this clock out of a cereal box and the mice from felt.  As we retell the nursery rhyme, we use a different clock face and change the time in the rhyme!

And of course we can't forget the Science aspect of S.T.E.A.M.! I incorporate a demonstration or experiment with each of my nursery rhyme units:

Like this demonstration on what fire needs with the rhyme Jack Be Nimble  - perfect for Fire Safety in October!
Or an experiment on gravity for Humpty Dumpty using sand, flour and marbles! 

Another way that I incorporate STEM ideas in my classroom is through our center materials. I have so many different types of building materials from blocks to magnetic tiles to 3d shapes to natural wood pieces to plastic cups! You'd be amazed at what the kids can build with these materials! However, while I was at I Teach K this summer I saw a great, new product at a booth and had to have it!
Meet BlocksRock. This product was created by a group of 6th graders! It comes in a handy, zippered carrying case for easy clean up and storage. It includes 2 levels of cards along with a bell. There's a free app that extends the fun even more!
This is me with at the BlocksRock booth at I teach K with their incredibly friendly staff!
Angie from BlocksRock was gracious enough to allow me to try a set out for myself. I brought it home and started playing it with Sullivan. Since he's only 4 and his spatial awareness is still developing, I allowed him to build at his own pace rather than racing against me.

He loved being able to ring the bell when he was finished! Initially he played for 20 minutes straight, which was awesome for a 4 year old's attention span! We've played with the set several times in the past month and I can already see a big difference in his ability level. We started with the Level 1 cards and he is now able to easily complete the Level 2 cards and even some of the Level 3s! 

Here's a picture of what I built with the app!

I took my set to my first day of in-service training and soon had all of the teachers playing it too! Our 3rd grade teacher is using some leftover grant money to purchase some sets! You can buy them either through the BlockRock website or on Amazon (affiliate link) There's a discount for buying 2 sets, and if you buy 5 you get a set free! These are perfect for after school Science Clubs, STEM Nights or even in your classroom Block Center! I honestly can say that this product can go from Pre-K all the way to at least 5th grade in a classroom setting. Not only has Sullivan played it, but my 10, 13, and 18 year old kiddos also tried it out and enjoyed it! I even got my 18 year old to put down her phone for a full twenty minutes to play it with me!

Want to win your own BlocksRock set AND your choice of one of my Nursery Rhyme STEM packs? Enter this Rafflecopter drawing for your chance to win! 

Three ESSENTIALS For Math Center (FREEBIE)

At my Fun-tastic Games & Activities for Building Early Math Skills session at SDE's I Teach K in Vegas this summer I presented about some of my favorite Math Centers. Oriental Trading Co. was generous enough to sponsor some giveaways during the session for items that I use in my centers, so I wanted to give a shout out to them, they always have great, inexpensive materials for my centers! Today I'm sharing a little bit from that session, to help save you time and make your Math Centers more engaging this school year!

One of my biggest Aha! moments was when I realized that it was way easier to change the CONTENT of a Math Center rather than having to teach a whole new set of rules/procedures each time because I changed the activity. Today I'm sharing the 3 essentials for my math centers - I change up the themes frequently, and differentiate the skill level or content, but once I teach my students how to use these essentials, I'm set for the year! I can change the look of the games and my students' engagement is renewed, yet I'm not wasting time teaching how to use new materials!

#1 Dice
I love dice because they're so versatile, and you can get so many different kinds - dice with numbers, dice with dots, dice with shapes, dice with 6 sides all the way to 20! Once I teach my students the rules of using our dice (shake once, roll gently, keep dice on the table) we are good to go with whichever dice fit our game! One of the first games I introduce is Roll & Cover. I love this because depending on the mat and dice you use, students can be practicing one to one correspondence, number recognition, shapes recognition, addition or subtraction! When we introduce addition, students play with 2 dice, adding them together and finding the sum.
 Later in the year, my students play with 3 dice, adding them all together for sums up to 18!
When we introduce subtraction, the game play changes slightly so that they roll the dice and subtract the smaller number from the larger number and find the difference.

We also use our dice to play Ten Frame Fill-Up! In this game, each child rolls a dice an places that many tokens onto their ten frame, filling them from top to bottom, left to right.  The first one to fill up all 3 ten frames and reach 30 wins!
For all of these games, we just use dice and tokens from Oriental Trading Company. They have these round, colorful stacking blocks that are perfect to use as tokens - they come in a ton of colors and with 400 to a pack, there's enough to even split a pack with a teacher friend!
 We also use Geometric Dice from Oriental Trading to play Roll & Cover with shapes, and even Roll & Graph!

#2 Dominoes

I also love using dominoes in the classroom - they're great for one to one correspondence, subitizing and more! They're inexpensive so I've even had some luck with asking parents to donate a set or two to the classroom (in case you need ideas for a Wishlist!). My students love my Domino Math pack too!
 Creating number bonds is easy with dominoes!
We also use dominoes when comparing numbers!
I use them to help students learn vertical addition as well!

#3 Playing Cards

Playing cards are a must-have for Math Centers because there are so many no-prep games you can play with them! Go Fish is an easy game for number recognition for example. (I get my playing cards donated by the local casino, so that's why there are holes punched in the cards.) You can have your students sort them, place them in numerical order, even create 2 or 3 digit numbers! 
I love using playing cards for fact families. Just draw two cards and the students write the addition and subtraction equations to match! Using the cards means that if students get confused they can count the shapes on the card, so it supports my lower students.
Comparing numbers is easy with cards as well - just remove the face cards!

With these 3 inexpensive items, you'll easily cover all your Math Skills throughout the year! Your students will also love getting to "play" with dice, dominoes and playing cards, so they'll remain motivated and engaged during centers - it's a win-win! All of the above games can be played easily with a whiteboard and dry erase marker, but if you'd like to grab my Math Bundles to make it easy on yourself, you can see them here: Math Centers for Dice and Playing Cards  and Domino Math!
Visit my store and grab this Roll & Cover Sampler pack for FREE - perfect to go with The Kissing Hand!

Next blog post will be about teaching kindness and character traits to your students - something I think we all really need to focus on!

The First 3 Procedures To Teach In Kindergarten (with freebies!)

It's already Back to School season and I feel like just yesterday school ended! This summer has been so busy! I spent most of the early part of it prepping for my sessions at SDE's I Teach K Conference. It ROCKED! It was so exciting to meet so many teachers and share my ideas! To keep the momentum going, I'm going to do a series of blogposts on each of my sessions - so if you attended you'll get even MORE ideas on those topics, and if you didn't get to go this year then at least you'll get a little taste of what is was like!

First up is Routines & Procedures! I cannot stress enough how important it is to take the first 2 weeks of school and devote it solely to teaching Routines & Procedures. This will be the foundation of your whole year. Teach your students what is expected of them and how to function in your classroom and you will reap the benefits ALL YEAR LONG!

My first bit of advice is on which procedures to teach first! Many of our kinders have never been to school before - some may not even have attended daycare! There will be a few "experienced" kinders - those who attended pre-k or even those who were retained. Regardless of their experience level, regardless of their personality or socioeconomic status, they will all come in worried about the SAME 3 THINGS! It will save you so much heartache and hassle if you address those 3 items FIRST!

Kinders don't care about about where to put their completed papers or how to push in their chair when the leave their table. They need to know about how to sit at carpet, but that won't be causing them any anxiety on the first day of school. Instead, they want to know:

#1 How do I get home?

When their parents walk out the door on that first day, our kinders are going to be stressing about the end of the day! How will their parents find them? At what point will they be able to get out of this place? What happens if their parent forgets or gets lost? What about taking the bus - how will they know which bus or daycare van to board? It is super important to ease that anxiety, and if you start your first mini lesson with "Here's what we're going to do at the end of the day to make sure you get home." I GUARANTEE you will have every kiddo listening raptly!

Now, this doesn't mean that you need a big long lesson about ways to get home. I sing a song about the different ways we go home, and use some felt board pieces as I sing. Then we do a simple pictorial graph where each child colors an icon about the way they get home and adds it to the class graph. Later on in the week we'll continue the lesson with an emergent reader and then we'll create our first Class Book! Tip: make sure parents fill out the going home info at your  Back To School Night, so if a child is unsure, you can refer to your list! Here's an example of our "How Do We Go Home?" graph - I always have my kiddos color their picture and write their names on the back!

At the end you have your first class graph to display, which you can refer to throughout the week - counting how many kiddos walk home versus ride the bus etc. So you're incorporating your first Math Standards at the same time as alleviating their Number 1 Fear! Later on in the week we'll continue the lesson by having each child color their own emergent reader to take home and read, and then we'll create a class book where every child gets their own page!
  Grab all of these activities in my How Do We Get Home? pack!
#2 Where's the bathroom?

The next thing you'll need to teach, because at this point in the morning it's going to be a NECESSITY, is Bathroom Procedures!  At the beginning of the year, kinders have bladders that are about the same size as a Chihuahua's. As the year goes by, you'll be able to train them to "hold it" for longer periods and to almost go "on schedule" but at the beginning of the year, that potty sees a LOT of use! And of course, to kinders, knowing where the bathroom is and preventing embarrassing accidents, is high on their list of anxieties. 

At this point I quickly go over how we ask to go to the bathroom - what terminology we use (cause no one wants to hear "I gotta booboo!"), where it is and what we do inside the bathroom - and what we don't do! If you have a single classroom bathroom, your procedures will vary from those who have to walk the entire class down the hall to the bathroom. I'll tell you a secret though - I have a classroom bathroom but STILL have class bathroom breaks where I take the entire class to the bathroom! This is part of "training their bladders" and it also deals with the "cascade effect" because when one kinder asks to go to the bathroom, suddenly EVERYONE has to go. I use the "Fill Them Up, Then Empty Them Out" philosophy, which means that after breakfast, we have a class bathroom break. After lunch, we have a class bathroom break. After afternoon recess when everyone comes in sweating and drinks a ton of water, we have a class bathroom break. 

That's 3 dedicated times a day that we are all using the bathroom (my rule is that you have to at least "try to go" because if you ask me to go 5 minutes AFTER our bathroom break, then I'm going to have to take 5 minutes of your recess or center time to go over bathroom procedures with you again) so most kinders won't need to go to the bathroom but maybe once or twice more throughout the day, although medication and other issues can sometimes increase that (which should be a question on your Back to School survey so you know about any issues in advance!)
We talk about closing the door, wiping, flushing, and hand washing. I actually demonstrate our handwashing because I'm somewhat of a germaphobe and  it makes me cringe to see children get a handful of soap and then stick their hands under the tap and rinse it all away before they even had a chance to lather up! I created a Handwashing Procedures Pack which includes pocket chart sequencing pieces, a poster to hang by the sink, a printable b&w reader and a cut and paste sequencing sheet. You can nab that here:

 # 3 Am I going to get fed?

After you've taken care of their most pressing biological need, its time to focus on their stomachs! Every child wants to know when they will be fed! It's especially important in Title I schools, where some children may not get regular meals at home, to  reassure children that you WILL feed them every day. Once you've covered that basic fact, you'll have to go over Cafeteria Procedures because it's a totally different experience than they're used to from eating at home. 99% of your students  have never held a tray in their lives. Don't let the first time be when it's full of food and a milk carton AND they're attempting to walk AND find their seat in the cafeteria! That's just going to lead to disaster (and extra clean up for your custodians!). I have an EDITABLE Cafeteria Procedures FREEBIE for you here:

I play the Cafeteria Procedures powerpoint on my Smartboard and we discuss each slide. If you don't have a Smartboard, print each slide and show them to your students as you discuss the different points. Also, talk with your cafeteria staff beforehand and get a few trays to practice with. Ask if they'll let you do a "dry run" of the salad bar so your kiddos can see it all beforehand. Ask your Special Ed, Speech and Counseling coworkers who aren't yet pulling their students to come down and help out with the first couple of lunch periods.Game Changer Tip: when your students get their lunch trays, lay their milk down on its side rather than standing it upright! We tried it last year and we had fewer dropped trays without that unwieldy milk carton causing issues!

Once you've gotten through those first 3 procedures, chances are you'll have just enough time for an ice breaker or a read aloud before lunch - there's your whole first morning already planned for you! If you want some ideas for a good Back to School read aloud, check out this post about Polka Dot Fixes Kindergarten, one of my faves! 

Don't forget to grab your FREE Line Up Chants too - they make lining up a treat! I put mine on a ring and hang them by the door so we can choose a new one periodically - keeping it novel means that your kiddos are more likely to pay attention!

I hope you have a wonderful Back to School season - come back later this week for some STEM ideas!

Spring Life Cycles (Crown FREEBIE!)

As the end of winter approaches (at least here in Oklahoma!) it's time to start thinking ahead to Spring Life Cycles! It's wise to think ahead, because sometimes it can take a few weeks to order and receive specimens to observe in the classroom. Affiliate links are included for your convenience.

Here are some of my favorite animal life cycles to observe in the classroom, and some resources to make them even better!

Frogs: very careful as to the species of tadpole that you order. Some frogs have an extremely long tadpole stage, and your students won't be able to see the metamorphosis before the end of the school year! has some kits that promise quick metamorphosis, or you can order tadpoles in different stages of their metamorphosis!

The Life Cycle Of A Frog is by Bobbie Kalman. She has several Life Cycle books and Children's Science books. I like her Life Cycle books becuase they have a lot of information on the animal, before even getting into the life cycle. It's 32 pages, includes a Glossary and Table of Contents, and lots of great photos of frogs! Learning Resources has a great Giant Magnetic Frog Life Cycle Set that has 9 large pieces! This would be a great activity for your Science Center! Safari Ltd. has a Life Cycle of a Frog set with 5 pieces. This set is great for allowing students to examine the different stages of the frog life cycle up close and hands-on! The Folkmanis Mini Frog Finger Puppet would also be great for retelling ~ puppets are super at ensuring student engagement!

 My very favorite science activity is raising chicks in the classroom! I've done it every year I've been teaching, and it is the highlight of the year - the kids always remember how many chicks we had, their names and other details. This life cycle requires more expensive equipment than others, but its worth it! I usually get my eggs from local farmers via a Craigslist ad in the Farm section (please be careful when meeting or giving out personal information!) or by buying eggs off of EBay, but if you're lucky you might also have a an outreach program from a local university with an agriculture program that will provide fertilized eggs and even come do lessons on candling the eggs! Chick Life Cycle is a Science Vocabulary Reader with simple text and great photos. Count Your Chickens is a cooperative board game (meaning everyone wins or everyone loses) which I love for teaching 1-1 correspondence, turn taking and social skills. It also requires no reading, so it can be an independent Math Center activity for up to 4 students! I have a Hova-Bator Incubator that I've used for 7 years now - it is a great little incubator with an affordable price!
Where Do Chicks Come From? by Amy Sklansky is a great book with illustrations instead of photos. I like how it explains that the eggs that we eat can never hatch into chicks. It does refer to roosters and sperm, but in a very general way, without showing how fertilization actually occurs.

If you're tempted to order a butterfly garden and the live caterpillars, I advise you to check out your local Goodwill and garage sales first - you can often find the butterfly nets for very cheap! Next, instead of the caterpillars, I order butterfly eggs. We raise the plants that they will eat in our classroom so we can see the whole process - and the effects of insects on crops! I highly recommend that route rather than the caterpillars that eat the brown sludge - which is just confusing when you're teaching that caterpillars eat leaves! Carolina Biological  has butterfly eggs, but depending on your state, you may find other sellers, just do a Google search! National Geographic Kids has a Level 1 Caterpillar to Butterfly book that is a great read for young learners, with detailed photos and lots of info on the butterfly life cycle! Pinkalicious fans will love Pinkalicious and the Little Butterfly - its a fiction story, but contain facts about the butterfly life cycle. Folkmanis also has a Reversible Monarch Life cycle puppet that is beautiful - your students will love to act out the life cycle with this puppet! Insect Lore has a Butterfly Life Cycle Stages set for hands on exploration that is plenty durable for a classroom setting.

I happen to love Praying Mantids, although they can be tricky to hatch in a classroom - some years I have great results and others the egg sac never hatches. I always make sure to have another life cycle going on at the same time, just in case we are disappointed by a dud egg sac. Also, praying mantids are cannibalistic, so when they hatch, they do tend to eat quite a few of their litter mates. My students weren't upset about that, but be ready for that eventuality. If you have your fruit flies ready and in plentiful supply, it will cut down on the cannibalism. Again, Folkmanis has an adorable Praying Mantis finger puppet that you can't go wrong with (do you sense how much I love puppets?!) Manuelo The Playing Mantis is a must-have fiction story to go along with your praying mantis unit - great illustrations, lovely story and incorporates music and instrument making! 20 Fun Facts About Praying Mantises is a non-fiction book full of great photographs too, while Praying Mantises (Animal Cannibals) is a great non-fiction text with glossary, index, fact boxes, and table of contents as well as photos.

You can also check out my Pinterest Life Cycle Board for more great resources! I also have a fun freebie for you - life cycle crowns! There's one for every life cycle mentioned in this post, plus one for plants!
My son Sullivan was my model for these ;P

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