FREE First Day of Kindergarten Activity

Handprint Craft for the First Day of School

    This year I tried something game changing. You see, we always do a Classroom Scavenger Hunt at our Meet the Teacher event. We have families sign up for different 1/2 hour time slots so there's no more than 5 children at a time. The children and their parents complete the scavenger hunt, finding different things in the classroom. This is to familiarize the child with the classroom and teacher and hopefully make them more comfortable when the first day of school rolls around. What I realized though, was that by having the parents guide the students through the activity, I was missing out on precious time where I could be instructing them on basic routines, while assessing their processing speed, their ability to follow directions, their attention span and their basic socialization skills! So this year, I treated the Scavenger Hunt like a mini-lesson in Kindergarten for my students. 

    I started by introducing myself to them and then introducing them to each other. I built camaraderie by telling them that this was their Scavenger Hunt team and if they worked together they would complete the Scavenger Hunt and earn a prize. I then lined them up and had them walk to the entrance of the classroom where we do our Morning Greeting each day. I talked to them about picking a greeting and had each one choose a greeting and respond to me. After they greeted me they moved to a table in the room with the Scavenger Hunt sheets laid out. I asked them to write their names at the top. This was a quick assessment of pencil grip and name writing. I then walked them through the steps of the Scavenger Hunt, which coincidentally taught them: where the bathroom is, that the toilet automatically flushes, where the sink is, how to get the automatic taps to turn on, how to get the soap and where to put the paper towels when they're finished, where their drawer is with their supplies, how to get their pencil box out of their drawer and close it behind them, how to bring their pencil box to the table, how to put their pencil box away when done and close their drawer again, how to choose a spot at the carpet and turn to face the speaker (further lesson on crisscross, mountain or mermaid sitting will be covered the first week), they know where our reading center is and how to sit and look at books, they know where our math games are and how to get a bin out and then return it when done, they know how to line up at the door in a straight line when its time to leave the classroom, they know how to clean up their center when the chime rings, they know where their cubby is and where to put their backpacks and folder each day. 

    In just 11 steps, we covered some of the most important routines in the classroom. Of course I'll have to reteach and refine on the first day of school, but they're coming in with a baseline knowledge of how to function in the classroom. More importantly, they feel more comfortable with me and with following my instructions. I'm more aware of who is impulsive, who needs time to warm up, who is a natural leader, who is easily distracted. They're also more comfortable with each other, and have started the beginning of friendships with at least the students who were in their Scavenger Hunt group. On Monday I can group them together in those same groups, to give them a bit more familiarity and comfort. 

    Since I have all of those building blocks in place now, I feel like Monday won't be AS chaotic and stressful as previous years' first day of school. That means that I can add this handprint poem into the plans for Monday, and feel confident that our day will go smoothly:

This poem page is editable so you can add your students' names, your school name, location and date. You can also change the grade level, so you can use this for Pre-K, Kindergarten or any other grade level! 

I hope you can use this freebie, and that you have a great start to your school year! 

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom STEM Activities

Storybook STEM Activities Kindergarten

I love to start off my school year with easy stem activities, to give my students an introduction to engineering concepts like identifying a problem, brainstorming ideas, sketching to communicate, selecting an idea, building a proto-type and testing it. These are all part of the problem-solving process and can be applied throughout life, not just in engineering! 
While I love using Nursery Rhyme STEM activities, I also like to design STEM units around story books like "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom" to create cross-curricular activities that will engage my students throughout all subject areas! Keep reading for some fun stem activities for kindergarten that revolve around "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom"!
For my "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom" STEM unit, I start off with reading the book of course! I read it multiples times, until my students can chant it with me. I also set up my Listening Center with different read alouds of the book. My students scan the QR code to go to a SAFE link of a YouTube video! This way they're not exposed to any ads and they can't click any other links and fall into a YouTube rabbit hole! For example, this card has 2 QR codes - one that links to Ray Charles retelling the story, and the other to an animated version. 
And of course, this is the perfect time for some vocabulary and schema building, so I also have QR codes to videos about the life cycle of a coconut tree, a coconut tree directed drawing they can practice, as well as some fun coconut songs. 

For our science connection to "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom" we use our 5 Senses to explore a coconut! This is a wonderful way to build vocabulary and schema! In my previous school, most students had never even seen a coconut, so this was a wonderful experience to share with them. Currently I teach on a semi-tropical island where coconuts can be found on the beaches, so my students are a little more familiar with them, but getting them to describe the coconut using a specific sense is still a powerful activity! And of course, you can't complete the 5 Senses exploration without a taste test, and taste tests are great for graphing!
Although these are whole group activities, I have students complete response sheets to help keep them on track during the discussion, and also to give them something to bring home to jumpstart conversations about what we are doing in class!

Since I teach this unit in September, this is usually our first Engineering Challenge, so I make sure this one is easy but engaging, so that everyone is successful AND learns how to go through the design process. 
This is my own sweet little guy when he was in my kindergarten class! 
Best year ever!

One of the ways I get my students engaged in an engineering project is to clearly state the problem by reading them a challenge message. I have them examine the materials they're allowed to use, and then draw or write about their idea in a booklet.
Once everyone has completed the challenge (and this one is short, because we know attention spans in the beginning of the year aren't the longest!) I gather everyone together to discuss how it went - what went well, what was a difficult, what they would change for next time. We complete the last page in the booklet, drawing or writing about how the challenge went. Then I hand out the Challenge Certificates! Students love being able to take these home to show their parents they were successful in beating the challenge! I also add the materials for this challenge into our STEM Center, so that if they want to revisit it during their free-play time it is available - and they tend to use the materials for weeks afterwards, coming up with ever-more-fantastic ways to build!

Of course, I have to integrate "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom" into our Math centers too! At the beginning of the year we're still working on 1-1 correspondence and number recognition, so counting activities are a must!
The coconut ten frame mats are a favorite - honestly, any activity where you can add fun manipulatives is automatically ten times more engaging! Students simply choose a card, and then build that number on the tens frame with manipulatives - in this case, those little flat glass gems! To differentiate, there's a mat for 0-10 and one with 2 tens frames, so students can go to 20. This also helps with place value and teen numbers, for those that are ready. 
I absolutely love Roll & Cover games, so I always have them as a Math Center option. The key here is that once students understand how to play, all you have to do is change out the mats to renew their interests, without having to spend valuable time teaching them a new game format! For this unit I made a mat for 1 dice, so students can practice counting and number recognition from 1-6 (this is also great for subitizing!) then there's a mat for 2 dice so students can count or add to 12! 
Pattern blocks are also an "always available" Math Center staple. Some students can create intricate, symmetrical designs, and some prefer to have some guidance. For those students, a coconut tree mat helps them get some practice with 2d shapes, while the response sheet lets them count and write how many of each shape they used! 

Finally, we create a class book. This is exciting for my students, because they each get their own personalized page with their name! Check out how cute the cover is: 
This page is EDITABLE, so you can change the name and year at the bottom! 

Then, you simply type in all of your students' names and how many letters are in them and you get precious pages like this:
I have my students color them and then add stickers or stamps to spell their name!
My students always love reading the class book over and over again in our Reading Center! Some years, when I'm feeling extra, I even add the student's photo to the top of their page before laminating it and binding it in the book! This book stays in Reading Center for the whole year and continues to be a favorite!

And then finally, once we've finished with "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom" and are ready to move on to our next storybook (this is usually after 1-2 weeks) we create our crowns to wear home:

"Chicka Chicka Boom Boom" is an amazing book that is perfect for the beginning of kindergarten because it lends itself to so many fun activities across the curriculum while still instilling concepts of print. This "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom" STEM unit is one of my favorite units to teach, and I hope it will be one of yours too!

Random Acts of Kindness Ideas for the Classroom

Random Acts of Kindness Calendar for September 2022

Incorporating kindness activities into your back to school lesson plans is one of the most important things you can do to build classroom community and practice positive classroom management!  Rather than spending your days redirecting and reacting to behaviors, you can build connections with students by encouraging kindness in the classroom. One of the best ways to do this is to MODEL kindness and help your students find ways to be kind themselves.

A fun way to start of the school year is to do a Random Act of Kindness every day. I created this FREE calendar for September 2022, with ideas for random acts of kindness acts that you can do with your students in the classroom, as well as simple kindness acts they can do on the weekends too! 

You can display the full color version in the classroom:

Or send home this b&w version so students' families can follow along at home!

Either way you choose, these simple (and affordable) ideas will soon have your students thinking about ways they can kind every day! 

Here are some links and ideas for the acts marked with a red *:

September 12th: Check out my Pinterest Play Dough Board for recipe ideas for the homemade play dough. The apple pie play dough is perfect for September!

September 20th: If you need a quick way to make bookmarks for your library, check out my Pinterest Free Bookmarks Board for lots of FREE, fun options! Just print your choice, and then have students color and cut out!

September 29th: Kindness stones are so fun to make - in the classroom, I paint the rocks a solid color with acrylic paint (available in any Hobby store) and then let students write positive words, flowers, hearts and stars on them with paint markers or Sharpies.
Or join the #share100smiles movement by painting happy faces on your rocks!

You can also check out these fun resources in my TPT store to help spread the kindness even further!

FREE Kindness & Character Songs Songs & Chants to Teach Kindness & Character Traits - 8 easy-to-sing songs for teaching kindness, respect, honesty, manners, and fairness. Use these songs during your morning meeting and throughout your day to help build your classroom community!

Spud-Tastic Behavior Management System - this system makes positive behavior management EASY and FUN! Students will love building a Potato Head by following the classroom expectations!

And nothing makes a kindergarten student happier than their name - seeing it on a First Day of School crown will start their year off right!

Have a Back to School season everyone and remember, kindness is free - sprinkle it everywhere!

Name Practice Activities for Kindergarten

What's in a Name? 

A lot! In fact, names are one of the first ways that children are exposed to letters and sounds! Name practice activities can be an engaging and easy way to teach children letter recognition while at the same time helping them work on the important skills of recognizing and writing their own name. It’s important to teach children how to write their names correctly as the first step towards developing writing skills. Being able to recognize and write their name helps to build confidence and self-esteem as well as improve their fine motor skills. Whether for preschool or for kindergarten, name activities are an important part of the first weeks of school! 

When I teach letters and sounds, I try to make it personal for my students. We start with names because learning the letters of their name and their friends' names is very motivating to students. 

Starting on the first day of school, I use a personalized crown for each student:

Coloring their name hat is a fun activity for my students, and gives me a few minutes when everyone is sitting and coloring so that I can speak with any parents in the room, do attendance and lunch count and then take a few moments to touch base with individual students as they finish their name crown. Bonus: since they're wearing their names on their foreheads, I learn their names a lot faster! 

There's nothing like play dough for engaging students AND strengthening fine motor muscles! 

But, many students have to be taught how to manipulate play dough - rolling it into balls, stretching it into snakes. These editable name mats give students practice with rolling and stretching the play dough before they use it to spell out their names. Students will stay engaged longer and work their finger muscles more! 

Next, students have to practice forming the letters of their name correctly. Using a variety of tools helps to keep students engaged! Whether its dry erase markers, crayons, paint or cutting out and manipulating letters, the more novel ways you can find for students to practice tracing their names the better!

And what better way to show student progress in both writing and drawing than with Self Portraits? I have students make a monthly self portrait and then bind them together at the end of the year for their parents to see how far they've come over the school year! It's amazing to see the growth in their handwriting and drawing skills!

The best thing about all of these name activities is that by entering my list of student names just once, all of these activity pages autofill with the names! It takes me less than 5 minutes to type in my class list and then I can hit print! 

These name practice activities will help your students learn how to write their names in fun and engaging ways, while building fine motor muscles and self-confidence!

Using Sound Boxes in Kindergarten

Using Elkonin Boxes for Small Group Reading

Hello everyone! I began dipping my toes into the Science of Reading last summer. I knew there had to be a better way to help my kindergarten students learn to read - and there is! I've been working hard to incorporate more phonemic awareness activities (Heggerty is AMAZING!) and more phonics activities (Decodables for the win!). One thing that really helped my students this year is using Sound Boxes. These are also called Elkonin boxes, but that's a big nonsense word for a kindergartner, so we just call them Sound Boxes. 

How do we use sound boxes? When we are just starting out, learning to segment sounds orally, we use our sound boxes with colored chips. I give each student 2 colors - one color for consonant sounds and another color for vowel sounds. We segment the word orally, pushing a chip forward for each sound. For example, "fan" would be /f/ /a/ /n/ and we would push forward 3 chips. then we tap each chip in turn, saying the sound that it represents again:  /f/ /a/ /n/. And then, we swoop our finger from left to right and blend the sounds back together to say the whole word: Fan!

Once we know how to orally segment words into individual phonemes, and we have a good grasp of letter-sound correspondence, we move from using colored chips to using plastic letters! I like to use Learning Resource's lacing letters because there's 275 in a pack so I have enough for everyone in my small group, plus they're all lower case!


We follow the same steps as before - orally segmenting the word and counting the sounds. Then we say each sound separately and identify it "Bug, /b/ /u/ /g/. The first sound, /b/, is spelled with a b. The second sound /u/ is spelled with a u. The last sound, /g/ is spelled with a g." Once we have each letter on the card we say the sounds again and blend them together to make the word: Bug!

This has been amazing for my students - not only for their reading, but for their writing too! Being able to segment and blend phonemes is a foundational skill for both reading and writing - and its amazing when you can hear students doing it independently, whether while writing in their journal or while reading a Mo Willem's "Elephant and Piggie" book from our classroom library!

And the best part? When we use REAL PHOTOS, we are building our vocabulary! This is especially powerful for my English Language Learners! I don't know about you, but a lot of times I am puzzled by clipart, but there's no guesswork when using photographs! 
And of course, you don't stop at CVC words! You can use sound boxes for CCVC and CVCC words too!

But wait, what about CVCE words?? Yep, sound boxes are effective for those words too!

We use the same familiar process - segmenting each sound and then representing them with either chips or letters. Since the "e" is silent, it doesn't get its own box, but instead snuggles in next to the last consonant. This year, after using the sound boxes, it was so much easier for my students to remember to read the long vowel sounds in CVCE words correctly and to use the silent e in their writing.

If you're interested in trying out sound boxes in your  classroom, you can grab the bundle with CVC, CCVE, CVCC & CVCE Words here:

Orthographic Mapping

What is Orthographic Mapping and why is it so important?

      Hello! You may have noticed that this blog has taken a backseat lately! There's a very good reason for that! You see, last Spring I started working on my Master's of Education in Literacy from American College of Education. Now, I have to admit that in terms of workload, this has been easier than I anticipated - I'm not drowning in homework, but neither am I living a life of leisure. I'm still teaching kindergarten full time, plus I have 3 boys at home. Teaching, schoolwork, and family were my priority (not in that order!) so I had to let my blog rest for a while.      
    The reason I decided to go back for my Master's was to help me become better at teaching reading. I've known for a while now that some of the things teachers are doing in the classroom (me included!) were not optimal. Teachers always say "When you know better, you do better." but it takes a concerted effort to try to "know better"! The reason I decided to go back for my Master's was to help me become better at teaching reading. I've known for a while now that some of the things teachers are doing in the classroom (me included!) were not optimal. Teachers always say "When you know better, you do better." but it takes a concerted effort to try to "know better"!      

    I love teaching Math and Science - those are my jam and I understand how to build a solid foundation for my students in those subjects. I am confident that my students leave my classroom with what they need to know in those areas. My aim in getting a Literacy degree was to "know better" and become just as confident in teaching my students to read and write. And guess what?! I'm a week away from finishing my program and I've learned so much and I'm a much better teacher for my students as a result! I've been able to implement changes in my classroom throughout this school year, and the results have been so encouraging. That's why, when I was assigned to come up with an original, open-ended project, I immediately decided on writing a blog post so I could share some of this journey I've been on. 

    As I thought over all of the things I could write about, it became obvious to me that the most significant change I have made in my classroom has been orthographic mapping:  

                     One of the most difficult aspects of learning to read is learning to process graphemes accurately, automatically, and quickly (Ehri, 1987). It's a skill that distinguishes good readers from bad readers, and in my experience, this is a skill that many kindergarten students struggle with. 

    So now that we know WHAT orthographic mapping is, how do we get our students to DO it?

   As this chart displays, orthographic mapping occurs when students have sufficient letter-sound knowledge AND Phonemic Awareness proficiency. My takeaway from this is that I need to teach phonemic awareness skills explicitly and systematically. I’ve also spent a lot of time figuring out the best way to do this and decided that, for me, it’s by doing the daily Heggerty Phonemic Awareness Lessons. I do this as a whole group, and it only takes about 10 minutes a day! Heggerty gives me the biggest return on my instructional time – we hit so many skills during that 10 minutes, from basic rhyming and beginning sound to the more advanced skills of deleting and substituting phonemes! Our PTO was kind enough to buy this for my classroom, but since it’s only $89 and you can use it year after year, I think it’s worth it to buy it yourself if you can’t get your admin or PTO to purchase it for you. 

    Once your students can HEAR the sounds in spoken language and are learning grapheme-phoneme correspondence, it's time to start decoding. Interestingly, according to Dr. Kilpatrick (2015), reading practice can either be the key to becoming a better reader, or it can have very little benefit. Doesn't that just go against everything we've believed for so long?! For children who can orthographically map, reading practice is essential, but if a child cannot orthographically map then all the reading practice in the world will not make a difference. First, they need to develop phonemic and letter-sound proficiency so that they can start orthographic mapping (Kilpatrick, 2015).

    One of the BEST ways I have found for teaching students to orthographically map are the FREE Heart Word videos from Really Great Reading. So far there are only 26 videos, but they are working on more. However, using their format to introduce irregular words has helped my students to not only be able to READ these words, but also spell them correctly in their writing.! 

    As Scarborough's Reading Rope conveys, skilled reading is made up of multiple facets that are interdependent. Explicit, systematic instruction in phonics is a MUST, and orthographic mapping will flow out from that. 

    But what do we do for students who get stuck and cannot develop the skill of orthographic mapping? I'll address that next time, when I share some more of what's been working in my classroom! 

Ehri, L. C. (1987). Learning to Read and Spell Words. Journal of Reading Behavior, 19(1), 5–31. 
Ehri, L.C. (2005). Learning to Read Words: Theory, Findings, and Issues. Scientific Studies of Reading, 9, 167 - 188. 
Ehri, L.C. (2014). Orthographic mapping in the acquisition of sight word reading, spelling memory, and vocabulary learning. Scientific Studies of Reading, 18, 21 - 5. 
Kilpatrick, D. A. (2015). Essentials of assessing, preventing, and overcoming reading difficulties. Scarborough, H. S. (2001). Connecting early language and literacy to later reading (dis)abilities: Evidence, theory, and practice. Guilford Press. In S. B. Neuman & D. K. Dickinson (Eds.), Handbook of early literacy research (Vol. 1, pp. 97-110). 
Stroop, J. R. (1935). Studies of interference in serial verbal reactions. J. Exp. Psychol. 18, 643–662. doi: 10.1037/h0054651

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