Saturday, April 15, 2017

Earth Day

I don't know about you, but I just love teaching my little ones about Earth Day.  I love their sense of right and wrong - of course it is wrong to pollute the earth!  Of course we should recycle and use both sides of our paper!  There is something so powerful when they learn that they too can make the earth a better place.  

The struggle I had the first few times I taught about Earth Day was helping them to understand the trickier abstract concepts such as pollution, landfills and WHY people hurt the earth.  After a few years, I have my Earth Day lessons down pat.  Here is how I teach children to be stewards of the earth in Pre-K and Kindergarten.

1.  Quality Read Alouds
Many Earth Day texts are simply too advanced and abstract for young learners.  I LOVE The Earth Book and The Earth and I.  Both books are by beloved author/illustrators and are developmentally appropriate.  They have beautiful, engaging illustrations and very clearly teach children why it is important to take care of the earth.  The Earth Book is a must because it tells children exactly what they can do, such as turning off the water while they brush their teeth, to make a difference.  I have a complete list of Earth Day mentor texts here.

2.  Quotes to Provoke Discussion
Each day while we are learning about taking care of the Earth, I display a different quote poster.  During our morning meeting we read the quote together.  The children turn and talk with a partner to discuss the meaning of the quote.  After the turn and talk, pairs share out about the meaning of the quote.  This always leads to rich discussion.  I am always so impressed by how insightful my little ones are! 

3.  Help and Hurt the Earth T Chart

I love this sorting activity.  It is very straightforward but gives a clear picture of your children's understandings and any misconceptions they may have.  In fact, I like to use this anchor chart both at the beginning of the unit and again toward the end as a measure of my students' growth over the course of the unit.

In our class, I cut the prompts out and students take turns coming up to the anchor chart and placing each item in the "Helps the Earth" or "Hurts the Earth" column.  This is also a great way to spark discussion and monitor students' knowledge.

I love that I can use this chart with or without the included prompts.  It is perfect for differentiation!  I printed out two copies of the prompts - one to use with the anchor chart and the other to use in the writing center.  I LOVE that my kids became much more independent once they started using these to help with spelling and ideas.

For me the best part of this activity is the print and go anchor chart.  I literally just printed it out, glued it onto chart paper and drew a line.  Voila!  An adorable anchor chart in about 3 minutes.

After completing the anchor chart as a class, my students complete their own Help or Hurt the Earth sort.  This activity is always a huge hit, and couldn't be easier to prep!

4.  We Can Take Care of the Earth Bubble Map
My little ones always love creating this anchor chart, and I love their amazing ideas of how to care for the earth.  Can you believe that this anchor chart took me less than 5 minutes to prep?!  Just print, glue and voila!  It looks adorable hanging up in my classroom.

Students also complete personal "I can take care of the earth" bubble maps after creating the anchor chart as a class.  This activity is a great pre-write for the final written piece.  I particularly love it for my English Language Learners.  Because we have done the activity as a class, they are more confident with the vocabulary and are able to complete the activity with a greater amount of independence.  For those who struggle with writing, there is plenty of space to draw their ideas.  What's better than easy differentiation?

5.  STEM
After discussing how to take care of the earth, my students were particularly fascinated with the idea that growing plants helps the earth.  We did a super easy planting activity, and they were so proud to bring these plants home to their families.  All you need are cups, soil, seeds and a little bit of patience :)  This activity was perfect preparation for our upcoming planting unit!

6. Art and Writing
My very favorite part of this unit is the culminating activity... art AND writing that look adorable and shows the world exactly how much your kiddos know.

This shaving cream art is a bit messy, but is always a HUGE hit.  All you need is blue and green liquid watercolor or food coloring, and some shaving cream!  Super easy, and a great sensory experience for your little ones.  
My students are in pre-k, so I chose to use the half sheet version of the writing prompt.  There is also a full sheet version included for more advanced writers.  Isn't that invented spelling just to die for?

So sweet and cheerful!  I just love how this bulletin board brightens up the hallway outside my room.

Two years ago we went with a sightly different variation of this craftivity, inspired by the song "We've Got the Whole World in our Hands."  Instead of adding hearts to the earth in order to look like The Earth Book, we added hands.  The children traced their hands onto multicultural construction paper, cut them out and glued them onto the earth.  I love how the earth truly is in their hands.

This plain Jane anchor chart was before I created the print and go anchor chart.  It may not be as cute but it certainly still does the trick!

I just love the tie dye effect of the shaving cream art!  I always get lots of compliments on our Earth Day bulletin board, and parents love the finished product!

Thanks so much for reading!  Click on the image above to download your free Earth Day poster!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Celebrating Easter in the Classroom

I teach at a very diverse public elementary school.  I don't know about you, but at my school we have to be careful about celebrating holidays for a few reasons.  First, we need to make sure that all of our kiddos feel welcome, respected and included.  Second, our school has a culture of rigorous instruction.  Celebrating holidays just for the sake of celebrating holidays is a big no no - we need to make sure that all activities have a purpose and help our little ones learn.  

Personally, I LOVE holidays.  One of my favorite things to do is figure out how to incorporate holidays into my curriculum in a way that is inclusive and teaches.  Here are a few ways that I incorporate Easter and Spring into the curriculum.

One of the easiest ways, of course, is through a good read aloud.  I am a HUGE Kevin Henkes fan, and Little White Rabbit* is one of my favorites.  My students always love it too.  We use this text to practice identifying our favorite part of a book.  It is perfect because it has lots of different parts for kiddos to choose from.
The students draw their favorite part, write a sentence and add this cute bunny craftivity.  I love all of the language and writing that goes into this project, and it looks super adorable on my bulletin board.  Win, win!

Another favorite is tie dye Easter egg art.  This project is a little messy but couldn't be easier!  They also make great classroom decorations to make your room feel Springy.  For step by step directions, click on the photo above.

Another fun and easy way to incorporate Easter is through math centers.  My little ones BEG me for "math hunts."  This center is easy to prep and can be used year after year!  It also reinforces one to one correspondence and teaches children how to use ten frames while getting them excited about math.

To check out this center plus five additional Spring math centers, click {here} or on the photo above.

 Last but not least is our very favorite Easter activity - the Easter egg hunt!  That pesky bunny sneaks into our classroom while the kids are at specials and leaves tons of eggs and snacks around the classroom.  Even Pete the Cat* gets in on the action!
 See those eggs peeking out of the bookshelf?
 To make it fair, each child is allowed to collect only a certain number of items.  When they find them, they drop them into a hula hoop in the meeting area.  After each child has found his/her number of objects, they can help a friend or take a seat.  When all of the eggs and snacks are found, we count them and figure out how to divide them equally between all of our friends (math!).  You could also practice sorting by color or graphing the eggs.  At the end of the day we all enjoy our special snacks and get to bring our eggs home.  You could also add them to your sensory bin!  They make great scoopers to use with sand or rice.

Hoppy Easter!

*contains affiliate links

Friday, November 4, 2016

Teaching Thankfulness

Thanksgiving has always been one of my very favorite things to teach.  My first few years teaching, I had such a difficult time figuring out how to teach kindergarteners, especially my sweet ELL friends, the meaning of being THANKFUL.  It is such an abstract concept for them!  

After a few years of trial and error, I am happy to say that I figured out the best way to teach my little ones about Thanksgiving.

First, we read books to understand what the word thankful means.  So many books focus on the story of the Pilgrims meeting the Native Americans, and everyone joining together to have a peaceful, delicious meal.  There are two problems with this.  First, my pre-k students cannot understand the concept of life 400 years ago.  They do not understand persecution, why the Pilgrims chose to come to America, why there are no cars, apartment buildings or streetlights, and why these books feature people wearing "funny" clothes.  According to this article, children cannot understand these concepts until ages 9 to 11.  Second, I do not want to teach students something that is not historically accurate.  

After reading these three books over the course of a few days, I ask the students to define the word thankful.  Then we compare the definition they have created to the definition to our thankful definition poster.  The two definitions are usually quite similar.

We also review the synonym subway art, and I share something that I am thankful for, displayed on the example poster.  These three steps ensure that children are learning the vocabulary and it's correct definition, and that they are able to understand it in a concrete way.

After that, students think-pair-share to come up with things that they are thankful for in their own lives.  Now they are making connections to their new knowledge.  We add all of their ideas to a class bubble map.  I recently started making my anchor charts on the computer and printing out the pieces.  Then all I have to do is cut them out and glue onto chart paper.  The anchor chart on the right took me about three minutes to prepare!  If you want to save the chart for next year, just laminate it BEFORE using it with students.  Then use a dry erase marker to write down their ideas.  At the end of the unit, just erase and you are all set for next year!

Students then make their own individual bubble maps as a pre-write activity.  This helps them focus their ideas and decide what to write about.

Last, each student creates a page for our class book, titled My Thankful Book.  I make a page as well, and photocopy a book for each child.  Each child decorates a cover page for his/her book, and voila!  This book is always a favorite keepsake, and the parents LOVE it.

These examples are from my pre-k students last year.  We used Thanksgiving word cards so that they could do some of the writing independently.  

I am thankful for books because I like to read!  So precious!

Here are a few pages that I made as examples for my students:

Here is one way to create a book.  Just place the cover into the front of a clear binder, then each page into a page protector.  Voila!  You've got a book in just a few minutes.  You can also pop the pages into a report cover, or use a good old fashioned stapler.

Here is a closer look at how you can easily differentiate this activity to best meet the needs of your students. 
The horizontal pages have more space for drawing and less space for writing, which make them more appropriate for younger or struggling writers.  The vertical pages have less drawing space and more lines for writing, making them better for older or more advanced students.

Have you ever noticed that behavior problems seem to pop up when children are bored or not sure what they should be doing?  A fast and easy way to prevent this from happening is to provide activities for your fast finishers.  A writing and coloring activity allows students to be creative while still keeping them focused on the lesson.

To see each page of this unit, please check out My Thankful Book.  You can also "gobble up" some Thanksgiving freebies.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Martin Luther King Art

I don't know about you, but I just love teaching my little ones about Dr. King.  He is so inspiring!  I also find it quite a challenging subject to teach about.  Almost every year, none of my students have heard of Dr. King, nonetheless segregation or civil rights.  It is so difficult for their sweet little minds to understand how anyone could hate another person just because of how they look.  

One way that I make this complex topic a bit more kindergarten friendly is through art.  My wonderful para came up with the idea for these adorable portraits of Martin Luther King.  I love how they use both painting and collage, and that they all look a little different.

The children worked together to fingerpaint large sheets of paper brown.  After it dried, they each cut out an oval for Dr. King's head and a small circle for his nose.  They then added hair, eyes and a moustache with black construction paper.  Last but not least, a smile with red construction paper.

After their masterpieces were completed, each child wrote "M is for Martin" beneath his face.  The M is cut from scraps of the brown fingerpainted paper.  I love that this not only added a bit of literacy to the art, it helped them to remember his name.

Happy Birthday, Dr. King!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Simple and Easy Way to Pay for Field Trips

In years past, my grade level team has collected money for each field trip as it came up.  $7 in January for the Aquarium, $8 in April for the Children's Museum and $12 in June for the Farm.  This meant that at least three times each year we were keeping checklists of which child had paid how much, making change to send back in folders, and chasing down parents who hadn't paid the day before a field trip.  It was STRESSFUL to say the least.  It was also tricky for parents to come up with exact change for these random amounts of money.

Then one day I read a blog post that changed my whole perspective.  Maria from KinderCraze wrote about how she and her teaching partner charge $25 per child for fun classroom extras like t-shirts, magazines and a Mother's Day Tea.  A lightbulb went off for me.  Why not do the same for field trips?!

I brought it up with my team, and they loved the idea!  Our next step was to calculate exactly how much all of our field trips for the year cost per child, and to check with our principal to make sure this was an acceptable plan.  I should also note that I work in an inner city school where many families struggle with poverty.  We knew that our approach needed to be sensitive to the needs of our families while also providing the best possible educational experiences for our little ones.

Here are a few tips that were crucial for making it work:

Tell Families in Person
We announced our new plan at Fall Open House, then followed up with a letter the next day.  Be sure to focus on the positive.  Parents want to know exactly what their child will receive in exchange for this money.

Give Plenty of Time to Pay
We gave about six weeks, or three pay cycles, for parents to contribute.  We also offered struggling families to pay in $5 increments every one to two weeks.

Realize that not Everyone can Pay
Realize that for many families, especially those with multiple children, $25 is a lot of money.  These little ones will still be included on our trips.  I wouldn't be able to sleep at night knowing that a child was excluded because his or her parents couldn't pay.  In this situation the other children's funds will cover the cost.

Grab a copy of the letter we sent home with each child (in English and Spanish) by clicking the image above.  The document is fully editable so that you can change it to suit your needs.

You can also check out my tips to make your field trips simple and easy on the Kinder Tribe blog.