Do You Teach Early Childhood Ages? This List Is For You

Around the time my daughter was 18 months old, I had an epiphany moment. I was a full-time stay at home mom. The majority of my focus was on raising and teaching her, so I needed to treat it more like it was at least my part-time job. I spent my day running my own errands, dragging her around with me, and when I needed to accomplish tasks around the house I would try to pawn her off to her room to play with her toys. 

Well, her toys eventually were boring to her and she spent more time clinging to me than ever before. That’s when I realized something needed to change. If my job was to raise and teach her, then that’s where I needed to shift my focus. 

I researched age-appropriate, educational activities for her, built up a good stash of supplies, and got to work. In the year I have been doing these with her, I have also come up with a decent list of tips that I believe can benefit everyone, whether you’re also a stay at home mom like me, a working mom, or a teacher of littles. 

Without further ado, here are the crucial tips I’ve learned. 

1. Everything can and will be cleaned up- Sensory bins are messy. Painting for the first ten times is messy. Even playing with stickers can be messy. This was so hard for me and I would have to just take a deep breath and remind myself that it will be cleaned up, but for now, she’s learning. 

2. Cleaning is fun for toddlers, take advantage of that- My daughter LOVED wiping up the table after a small sensory activity. She’s two years old now and still loves it. I’m taking full advantage of her help for as long as possible. It’s also teaching her some cleaning skills. Double win!  

3. Don’t overfill the sensory bin with too many tools- The first sensory bin I did with my daughter was a giant bust. I filled it full of fun tools she could use to play in the water. Right away she became overwhelmed with the number of things in front of her and refused to play with it. Too many options and information can overwhelm any child, even into kinder and first grade.

4. Just because they weren’t very good at a certain activity or bin the first time, doesn’t mean it’s a bust. They’ll get better and have more fun every time you pull it out.  

5. “Taste Safe” does not mean it’s an afternoon snack. It means you don’t need to try poison control when it’s put in their mouths- Especially small kids are notorious for eating EVERYTHING. So taste safe can be best, sometimes even into Kindergarten, because five-year-olds are just as guilty at placing anything in mouths, noses, and ears! This doesn’t mean they have free reign to eat cornmeal. It just means you don’t need to worry when it’s in their mouth, you just need to respond with, “yuck!” so it doesn’t continue happening.  

6. Don’t underestimate their abilities. 

7. Messes mean their learning. It’s hard, but it’s true.  

8. They don’t have to do an activity exactly how you envisioned for it still to be fun for them.

9. Some activities are a bust, and that’s okay. Try again later. 

11. Tape. Construction paper. Markers. You don’t need a lot of supplies, or even expensive supplies to make it fun and educational. In fact, the activity on repeat in our house is painting with water on construction paper. This takes construction paper, some sort of paintbrush, and a cup to hold water. So. Easy.

12. 1-2 drops of food coloring is all you need. 

13. Water play is the cleanest play. Nervous about sensory bins in your house or classroom because they are notorious for being messy? You’re not alone. If you have access to a non-carpeted area, water sensory bins are great because they can only do the floors a favor when all it needs is a good mopping when it’s over. 

14. They’ll never learn the responsibility of playing in a sensory bin or with messy activities if you never give them the opportunity to. 

15. You don’t have to understand what concepts they are learning, you just have to understand that it’s important that they really play. I used to be nervous about making hands-on activities for my daughter because I wasn’t exactly sure what she was learning or how to explain it to her. The good news is- you don’t need to either. In this photo, my daughter is experimenting with baking soda and vinegar. She doesn’t need to know that what’s happening are the hydrogen ions within the vinegar react with the bicarbonate in the baking soda, causing a reaction, creating new chemicals, which lead to a second reaction. All she needs to know is that when the vinegar hits the baking soda, it makes bubbles. Don’t feel daunted by the minute details. Just let them play. 


Let’s Talk Time Management: My Tips To You

Over the years my role has changed. I went from a high school student to a college student, to a teacher, to a parent. As I transitioned to each new phase in my life, I found that I struggled with learning time management again. This is something I have always prided myself on being exceptional at, and to struggle with it was tough. I eventually compiled a list of tips on managing time to help myself during these transitions, and now I want to share them with you. 

  1. Time management is fluid. We are constantly moving from one phase of our lives to the next, so we cannot expect what we were using during college to work as a mom. Embrace the change.
  2. It looks different for every person. Just like it changes with different phases of life, it also changes from person to person. You cannot manage your time the same way someone else does and expect it to work. You are you, they are them.
  3. It takes a plan. It’s not something you necessarily need to write down every step unless that’s your style. But it is something that takes conscious awareness and practice.
  4. Dedication and effort are crucial. It’s easy to make a plan, but to follow through and stick to your plan will be the deciding factor of success.

Very few people have one or two parts of their lives they need to manage. The majority of us are juggling work, school, families, social lives, religion, and more. It can be a hard balancing act, but here are the tools that have helped me. 

  1. Set a day to plan. Every Sunday afternoon I sit down with my husband, pull out our calendars, and discuss what our week will look like, who needs to be where, and how we will work together to accomplish it. This is not a big planning meeting for us, it’s usually casually done sitting on the couch while a TV show plays. The weeks this doesn’t happen, it usually turns to madness.
  2. Prioritize your week. I walk through everything I need to do for the week and make a decision on the importance level. Either I absolutely have to be there, it’s flexible when it happens, or it’s not a need. The work commitment I made for midweek? That’s an absolute. My son’s doctor’s appointment in the afternoon? It can possibly be flexible if needed, those can be rescheduled. Going to the waterpark with friends on Friday? Not a need, but definitely a want.
    When I take the time to categorize these events, it helps me in those moments of feeling overwhelmed with my load for the week. As my Friday fills up with other work commitments or obligations to my church I made last minute and I start to wonder how to make it all work, I remember that going to the waterpark is not an absolute, it can and will be dropped if needed. That leads me to my next point.
  3. It’s okay to say no. If adding more to your plate is causing problems or making it harder to keep those non-negotiable commitments, start by cutting out the events in your life that are not needed.
  4. Delegation is your best friend. No, I did not say “making everyone else take care of your problems” is your best friend. But giving others opportunities to help themselves and you can have a high payoff. For example, while I was teaching first grade, I offered to stay after school to help a student read. With everything on my plate, did I have time to help this student? Absolutely not. But did I anyway? Absolutely.
    A few weeks in, my principal caught word of what I was doing, and while he admired it, he helped me find an alternative solution. He told me there was a free after school club that the student could attend where someone could sit with him every day, one-on-one to read. I passed the torch to the after school club and it was so freeing to know that the student was still being helped, and I had an extra half hour every day. Delegation at its finest.
  5. Be organized. Organization is placing something in structure or giving it order. This means for some people, like me, a neat planner with straight lines and color-coded highlights for each event is “organized”. For others, that may mean a messy notebook with everything written sporadically throughout. Find your definition of order and go with it. Trying to manage your life the same way as someone else will not make you organized, it will make them organized.

For me, these are tried and true tips that have guided me through every different stage of life. I’ve been prioritizing events for years now, they have just changed from college classes and social events with friends on the weekends, to my kid’s activities and park play dates with neighbors.

My last tip, which I find the most important to remember, is that you can start today. If you need better time management in your life, there is no need to wait for a new year, just start with a new day! Tomorrow, prioritize your events. The following day, delegate a few to-dos. On any given day of the week, sit down and plan out the next 5-7 days. Don’t wait for some big moment to organize your life, it can happen any time!

What methods do you use for time management? How has it changed over time for you?                

10 Meaningful Student Self-Assessments: A Pinterest Curation

 

With an abundance of clever crafts, cute bulletin boards, and coordinated decor, Pinterest generates much that is adorable in classrooms. But the meatier stuff is out there, too–if you dig a little deeper. Below are 10 Pins to brainstorm better self-assessments for your students.

#1: Create a hard working turn-in system:

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 (also, a file folder version)

#2: Practice Visible Thinking Routines together:

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#3: Evaluate Personal peer teaching level: 

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#4: Take exit tickets to a new level: 

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#5: Reflect on IB Learner Portfolios for End of Unit: 

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#6: Cultivate networking & smart peer tutoring:

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#7: Structure Authentic Student Analysis of Reading Fluency: 

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#8: Lend words for reflecting on personal emotional well-being:

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#9: Lay out guidelines for a Writing journal snapshot assessment: 

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#10: Design a Student led conference survey:

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(after all, you know how we feel about student-led conferences…)

And WHATEVER you do, PLEASE don’t let your assessments ever resemble this: 

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What are your favorite self-assessments? How about your most outstanding Pinterest boards on teaching? We’d love to hear them!

Featured image: DeathtotheStockPhoto

4 Outstanding Alternatives to Private Student Blogging

An authentic and global audience of peers and professionals–what could be more exciting when it comes to students pursuing meaningful collaboration?  Yet in the name of safety, many schools still choose to keep student blogs private, viewable only to students and their families. And while safety is an essential priority, these schools must understand the importance of digital citizenship, and its role in enhancing students’ online safety.

Meanwhile, for those teaching under such restrictions, the good news is that there are a growing number of alternatives available to still foster global connections. Here are four we’re sure your students will love!

Quadblogging

Meet the digital version of pen pals. This is a great compromise with an administration that is wary of public blogging–ask for permission to connect with just 3 other classes so they can learn about their peers in other places. Your class will become part of a Quad of four classes. You each take week-long turns as the focus class, meaning the other 3 classes visit and comment on your students’ blogs. The year I did this with my fifth graders, our quad included fifth grade classes from the U.S., the U.K., and China, and our students couldn’t get enough of seeing comments on their work from their quad friends across the globe.

The Wonderment

The Wonderment is a new creativity-sharing platform that makes me want to be a kid again. It allows students to share and connect with kids around the world using their WonderBots. Students can share their work, participate in creative challenges, and participate in discussions with other kids–all while filling up a WonderMeter that opens up the Wonderment to new locations in the world. “When we create things together, good things happen.”

 

Class Twitter Account

Twitter allows teachers to easily share snippets of student learning throughout the day in just 140 characters. A group just brainstormed phenomenal questions for a project? Just snap a photo and share on your classroom Twitter account with hashtags that will help their ideas reach beyond just the walls of your classroom (ie, #comments4kids, grade level chat like #5thchat, etc.).  Invite parents to follow your class account to give them a window into your classroom, too! To see it this in action, check out Mrs. Cassidy’s first grade class account. (For more inspiration, check out “Unlocking Twitter’s Classroom Potential“).

MysterySkype

Can your class guess the location of another over Skype?  Not only does MysterySkype give your students an opportunity to connect with kids around the world, but it allows them to cultivate communication, problem solving, collaboration, and organization.  Before you launch a session, be sure to check out how other teachers have set it up, like fifth grade teacher, Paul Solarz.

Though none of these options allow students to create individual and flexible digital portfolios like student blogging does, they are a start. Meanwhile, maintain forward-moving conversations with your administration and/or parents by making the case for public blogging, addressing safety concerns, showing them how beneficial digital connections are for us all.

What are ways you help your students build an authentic audience?

Featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

How Kindergarten Prep Frenzy Changed My Teaching Perspective

I didn’t think the teacher/parent table would turn on me that fast. After all, not only I had just paused my teaching career in June–I was only back for a few weeks in September to mentor a student teacher–my own kids weren’t even in school yet.

As I sat in the teacher’s lounge listening to all the usual back-to-school lunchtime chatter, I overheard some kindergarten teachers anticipating their new batch of 5 year-olds. One exclaimed how many students failed to identify lower-cased letters of the alphabet in the initial assessments.

I froze. Normally, I’d commiserate a bit, perhaps reciprocating with how many students I had on behavior contracts. But it hit me: MY 4-year old didn’t know her lower-cased letters.  And she showed no signs of wanting to, either, despite the fact that she’d be starting kindergarten the following fall.

It was my first realization that in the school system, I was officially on the parent side of the table.

Preschool Pressure

I finished mentoring and went back to my extended parental leave at home. Over the course of a month or so, the stress in preschool-ing my stubborn four-year old grew.  Frustrations mounted each time she refused to sing her ABC’s or explore some carefully-crafted science station. Those fears finally came to light one evening when I realized that I had been subconsciously–yet intensely–internalizing the conversation from the teacher’s lounge all that time.  I remember actually saying out loud,

“What if she becomes the subject of her kindergarten teacher’s complaining in the faculty lounge next year?”

Once spoken aloud, I realized how silly the words sounded. However, as I began to conduct research to make preschool a more positive process, I also realized that I was far from alone when it comes to fearful parents.

“Preparation” on Steroids?

Wanting to give their children the best advantages, some parents have taken to “redshirting” their kindergarteners.  That is, they delay school a year in the hopes that their children will gain a “competitive learning edge.”

Other parents obsess over the school their child attends.  One article describes how parents went so far as to move to new neighborhoods, create spreadsheets, and attend Kindergarten 101–a prep class for parents.  But these preparations aren’t discussed as excessive, but as possibly helpful, citing a Harvard study that found that academic performance in kindergarten correlates to future earnings.

Top all that with an abundance of academics-heavy kindergarten readiness checklists, it’s no wonder that parents are inclined to worry.

Kindergarten Readiness Tips & Checklists

Kindergarten prep is indeed all the rage these days, especially for those who believe the Common Core standards mandate five year olds to read. But parents and teachers alike would do well to step away from the frenzy and examine what is truly developmentally appropriate for their children.  Below are tips for both to help them regain calm and clarity in learning with their preschoolers and kindergartners.

Parent Tips
  • Correlation does not equal causation. Remember that there are always a lot of possible causes for any given outcome.  Studies that find correlations for later successes are likely just picking up on the simple benefits of involved, loving parents.
  • Consider the effects of rushing your child.  The author of The Hurried Child, Dr. David Elkind, shares research that “students are more likely to have academic success if they are not hurried through their early childhood by parents who overestimate their competence and overexpose them to academic pressures.”
  • Travis Swan
    Travis Swan

    Step away from the workbooks. That’s not to say that if your child demonstrates genuine interest in more academic concepts, you should deny them.  But it’s essential to understand that play is absolutely critical for developing the most basic skills for kindergarten readiness and beyond–including problem solving, passion, experimentation, and more.  As Richard Lewis, founder and director of The Touchstone Center in New York City, explains:

“Play is the great discoverer, and its discoveries are the frontiers and landscapes of our imagining mind.” [“I Made It By Myself,” by Richard Lewis]

Teacher Tips
  • See each new student. Don’t allow your initial benchmarks or any other number to define your opinions of any child. Instead, make it your priority to discover their interests, strengths, quirks, etc.
  • Step away from the workbooks. (see parent tip above).
  • Evaluate what the Common Core State Standards are really outlining. If you are among those stressing about the perceived advanced standards for early elementary, remember that the political agendas and loud voices of a few have skewed interpretations of the standards for some. In our most recent post on the Common Core, we shared J. Richard Gentry’s example of what easily misinterpreted standards really look like:

For example, one contested language arts standard reads, “Read emergent-reader texts with purpose and understanding.”  Gentry explains that this refers to memory reading in which, “The emergent-reader text is first modeled by the teacher for the students, then joyfully read over and over with the students until eventually the easy book is independently read by the students with great joy and confidence.” (We highly recommend his article, “An Ode to Common Core Kindergarten Standards.”)

Kindergarten Readiness

One of the best kindergarten readiness lists I’ve ever encountered was on a university’s laboratory preschool blog, prefaced by the following:

“Don’t be overly concerned with academics right now…You read to your children, you go on family outings, you model a love for learning, but most of all you are very involved in the lives of your children. This will make kindergarten a wonderful time for your child, and start him/her on the road to a good education.”

Here is their list, which I heartily second as a teacher and parent:

  1. Feel capable and confident, and tackle new demands with an “I can do it” attitude.
  2. Have an open, curious attitude toward new experiences.
  3. Enjoy being with other children.
  4. Can establish a trusting relationship with adults other than parents.
  5. Can engage in physical activity such as walk, run, climb (children with handicaps can have a fine time in kindergarten if school and parents work cooperatively on necessary special arrangements).
  6. Take care of their own basic needs, such as dressing, eating, and toileting.
  7. Have had experience with small toys, such as puzzles and crayons.
  8. Express themselves clearly in conversation.
  9. Understand that symbols (such as a stop sign) are used to provide useful information.
  10. Love books, stories and songs and can sit still to listen.

Whether a parent or a teacher, remember to ask yourself the following question:

With what kind of tone do I want to introduce formal education to my kindergartner? 

Photo Credit:

 

5 Small Habits that Will Transform Your Classroom

Flipped classrooms.  Project-based learning.  BYOD. Homework & standardized testing overhauls.  These are some of the big-picture aspects that help define the 21st century education landscape. But when we approach it with only these kinds of large-scale changes in mind, the shift will be daunting and slow. Here are five minor 21st century habits to try out for major potential for change!

Continue reading “5 Small Habits that Will Transform Your Classroom”

5 Business-Inspired Tips for Progressive Classroom Management

You’ve probably noticed that approaches to education and business tend to clash.  After all, we spend about 13 years training students to memorize and then produce results in bubble sheets (which tends to untrain them from their natural tenacity, creativity, and passion), and then we suddenly hope they’ll be innovative and creative leaders once they join our workforce.  One way to help beat this paradox: find applications for improved educational practices among the advice columns in the business world.  Below are just a few examples.

Continue reading “5 Business-Inspired Tips for Progressive Classroom Management”