Friday, July 31, 2015

LOTS of Ideas for Start of School

This is the next post in my Start of School series. I use Doodle Bugs'  Five for Friday linky to share a BUNCH of back to school stuff. You'll find various freebies sprinkled throughout. I think there's a new idea or two in this meaty post, so let's get going.

1. Are you overwhelmed with all the STUFF that has to be prepped for the start of school? Student folders labeled, bulletin boards put up, laminate cut, and the list goes on. Well, for years I was overwhelmed, too. Until I started Work and Mingle Night. Each year I send out this notice to parents.

As well as cutting the work I have to do to a fraction of what it would be, it has become very popular with parents... maybe not because they like cutting so much :) but because they get to know both me and the other parents. True friendships have started this way. As I say on the flyer, these parents are going to know each other for a long time to come.

And parents really like to get a sense of me, too. I like parents, and I like getting to know parents, so this is a two way street.

Two small cautions, though... you do need to put in a LOT of prep to have everything in a state where people can actually help you. You'd have to do it anyway, so for me having a deadline of the meeting time is a good thing, even as it is another push on me. And, you might find yourself in the hot seat that night. Parents ask all sorts of questions and your responses will be heard by many, so you need to be able to think on your feet and know your own mind... or be able to gracefully say "I'll think about that."

My favorite time to hold this gathering is the Thursday before school starts, but some years I have to do it the first or second week of school, which is still helpful, but not quite as much. I hope you'll give it a try. It has a LOT of good features. I didn't make the flyer downloadable as you'll need to change it for yourself. But if you Pin it, you can come back to it and type up your own if you like my wording... note those last little lines... I highly recommend that part!

2.  We all know that teaching routines is VERY important. One of the most important is the routine of lining up to get from place to place. Let's face it, our pride is on the line here because everyone can see how it's going when we're out in the hall. Here are some little tips to how I teach hallway behavior.  I think there is no one good way to do this, but many, and I like to mix it up a bit. Once kids know the expectations, you can use different sayings and techniques to spice it up and keep it engaging.

Slinky dog is our model of how to move down the hall as a group. Each week on our rotating job board we have an assigned Head, who is the line leader, Paws who holds  the door, and Tail, who makes sure no one falls behind as he brings up the rear. We might spread out a little as we walk, but we always "slinky up" back together again as we stop at our stopping spots in the hall... oh, official stopping points that everybody knows are good to have, too. Usually at corners, but sometimes at other hall landmarks, just in case I'm not at the front of the line at every moment.

There are several ways we talk about keeping our hands to ourselves and keeping quiet so others can learn... that whole reason of WHY we stay quiet is something we talk about a lot. Rules are better learned when the reason is in the forefront at all times.

I keep a multi-bubble wand near the door. I wave it and the kids know to "catch" an imaginary bubble in their mouths and hold it without letting it get away. They have to hold their lips closed and make a funny face like they have a big bubble in their mouth.

I made up this little saying as we rest our hands at our hips and say,

Hands off friends and wall, 
On ourselves, that's all.

A Freebie from Sweet Kindergarten- click
This Freebie is a real goodie. I printed and laminated the cards and keep them on a hook near our door. As we line up we say choose one to say. The kids know lots of them by the end of the year. You can go to Rachelle's TPT store to get them by clicking on the picture above.

And one common but effective models for walking down the hall is the old "Hands on your hips, and fingers to your lips." The nice thing about this one is that after the kids use it, you can simply do the motion and they know just what to do. I think I first heard about it on Little Minds at Work. You can click on Tara's photo to go there. We use this little chant, too.

We put a hand on our hip,
and a finger to our lip,
So we won't get in trouble,
as we take our little trip.

One last hallway tip I leave you with is that we talk about going in "stealth mode" so no one hears us or even sees us. The kids love it. It looks something like this... hee hee hee.

3.  Does your classroom have words to live by? Over the years I've honed mine to one simple sentence that fits EVERY thing we do in class. I had this sign custom made on Etsy and it stays at the top of our white board where we refer to it all. the. time. It is very much a living statement.

Someone makes fun of someone else– uh oh, remember we are a CARING community. Someone is talking during listening time– uh oh, we can't learn and our friend can't learn if we are talking. Someone is being rough and breaking crayons– uh oh, we are a caring community that takes care of our things. Some kids are not letting other kids play– uh oh, we are a community, which means we all interact in ways that effect each other so we need to be kind to everyone. Caring. Learning. Community. Key words that cover it all.

Starting on the very first day of class we discuss our words to live by and what it means to us. It really is our class behavior plan in a nutshell. No matter what words you live by, I recommend you, too, start it the first day and live it until it becomes second nature in your classroom.

4.  There are few things so valuable to me that years after a class moves on I still have for every student. It's my student information card. The aren't just any student info card, these are ones I've put together to get exactly the information I need to best meet the needs of my students all year long.

First of all, I make sure parents know that this card, unlike all the other paperwork they've filled out for the school office, will be just for me. And I tell them I carry the cards with me, and refer to them all year long. If they want me to know it, they need to get it on the card.

Stuff like who may and who may NOT pick up their child, the names and ages of siblings, religious practices that may effect their child's interactions at school, schedules for kids living in two households, toileting issues, and much more.

And it fits on one half sheet of paper. I run it front to back on bright green card stock, then cut it in half for two cards.

You can get a copy, completely editable, by clicking on it above. It took some finagling to fit in on there, and allow room for writing, but I did it. If nothing else, it may give you ideas of things you want to ask your parents, too. If you're like me, years later you'll still have cause to look up some little bit of info on one of your kids who is now big.

5. And if you're thinking about back to school, you won't want to miss yesterday's installment in the Start of School series. It was about the crucial first minutes of the first day of school. Go to it by clicking below.

Whew! If you've made it this far, you deserve a medal :) I hope you found some new ideas and they got your wheels a'turning as you anticipate the Big Start! 

Click on Kacey's link now to find all sorts of ideas on all sorts of things.

Enjoy your final weeks or days of summer break. For those of you who are already back, I hope your launch went well. More posts ahead in my Start of School series are coming up, including ideas to get EVERY parent involved in your classroom. See you soon.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Crucial First Minutes of the First Day


How do you start the first day of school? I mean the very first twenty minutes of the first day. These minutes are all-important, so I am very mindful about what happens. Today I'm going to share what works for me.

The Goals

• Greet each child individually
• Start to establish the entry routine
• Check backpacks
• Make quick connections and positive impressions with parents
• Keep things moving along and parents out the door in a timely way
• Keep everybody HAPPY on the. big. day.

Whew! That's a lot. But it can be done– I've come to love our routine.

First of all, I hand out or mail this list to parents before school starts. It let's them know what to expect as they come to my door on the first day. I also keep a big poster of it by the door in case somebody didn't read it. It is written to the child, so that an adult can read it to them.

You can download a completely editable copy by clicking on it.

Before the Bell  I have my start up assistant stand by our coat hook area to help with hanging up backpacks, and then redirecting kids to the tables where a blob of playdough already waits at each place. Our district gives kindergarten classes five days of paid help each year... Thank Goodness! If they didn't I'd be begging and bribing a friend or relative to come in!

I do assign names to the coat hooks as I need these to be somewhat alphabetical. I keep the first two spots empty, so if it becomes apparent someone needs closer proximity to my help or further proximity from a friend, I can move them.  I do not put out name tags at table spots as I need to get to know kids a bit before we pick spots.

Greetings  I sit at my chair at the door so I can be at eye level to greet each child and peek in backpacks, removing what is inside for me. I do this EVERY DAY all year long. It is SO important to starting the day with a personal connection– you learn so much about how the day is going to go with kids just in a quick exchange! On this day I expect parents who brought their child to school to come in with them. On the first day of kindergarten most parents do drop off, and those few kids who don't have an adult with them are quickly caught up in the flow and given a bit of extra help by my assistant.

Playdough on this day is crucial– better than books or a worksheet of any kind. Kids can keep themselves occupied, yet look around and interact with the kids beside them if they choose. I don't put out any tools, just the dough. For this one occasion I allow myself to buy it, as at this time of year because I just don't have time to make it. My playdough moms will make kool-aid scented batches later in the year. (Four-packs are on sale now at Target for $2.99, and I usually get three packs with the same colors as I have four tables, and three cans will do five or six kids.)

Attention Getter  As soon as all kids are seated, and parents are standing nearby, I use one of our attention grabbers. Often Chicka-Chicka, Boom-Boom is a good one because so many of the kids know the book. I point to myself and say, "Chicka-Chicka" then point to them and say, "Boom-Boom." We practice a couple times until they get the call and response pattern.

Start the Routine  I welcome everybody to Kidpeople Kindergarten and point out that everyday when they come to school they will do just what they did today. "Everyday you'll greet me at the door, show me your backpack, put your backpacks away, and sit down to the table activity, and to greet your friends. Then everyday we'll take attendance, just like we're going to do now." As the year progresses the way we take attendance will morph, with the responsibility shifting more to the students, but they don't need to know that on this first day.

Taking Attendance  I show them how to raise their hand high and say "Hello" in their big voice when I call their name. Not all of them will do this the first time, but enough will that expectations are set and attendance taking moves along so that only the quiet ones need help. It's another little bit of input for me, too, as I get to know the kids as fast as I can in the first days. I say "Hello Cameron" or "Hello Abby" as I call their names from the sheet, so they are prompted to respond "Hello" back, which I like better than just the word "Here."

Our Agenda  I then say, "Raise your hand to tell me Who likes to read books together? Who likes to have snacks? Who likes to play? Who likes to use markers?" I raise my hand in an exaggerated way in answer to each of my own questions and pretty soon enthusiastic hands are shooting up. I say, "Well, it is really good that so many of you like what I like, because we are going to be doing that stuff TODAY, and most days in kindergarten. And we're also going to be having meetings! I bet your parents have meetings at their work, too. Our meetings will be right up there on the carpet. At our meetings we sing songs, and read books, and count, and all sorts of fun stuff. I bet your parents don't get to do such fun things at their meetings."  Lots of parent grins and head nods at this.

The Big Send Off  I go on to say, "It's time for our meeting now, and time for our parents to go, maybe to their own meetings, so I'm going to show you how we send them off. They sometimes need our help on this first day."

Then I give a big exaggerated wave with my whole arm with each of the following,

"Hope you have a nice day!" and I give a prompt and time for the kids to repeat my motion and words.

"We're gonna have a good day!" wait for kids to echo.

"We'll see you at the end of the day!" Kids repeat.

Then I say "Mwaa!" as I put a hand to my mouth and throw a big kiss, which the kids repeat. I start waving to parents and saying see you later, as the parents give last minute waves or hugs to their little people and they move en masse out the door.

There is real beauty in this send off. The message is very clear to both the bigs and the littles that it is time to go. The words and actions engage the kids, give them something to focus on and do. I keep it upbeat and happily matter of fact, and almost by magic both kids and parents move along. Very rarely do we have any tears as I've set the stage with what to do, what we'll be doing next, and what expectations are for behavior. As parents walk out I am ever watchful of who might need a little extra help, and my aide is key again in this, as she watches and assists, too.

And We're Off  Even before every parent is out the door I'm already asking kids to take their blob of playdough and push it with the other kids' blobs into the middle of the table, and prompting kids to come to the carpet. I start singing our Hello song, my assistant gathers up the playdough, and our day is on its way.

As you see, this routine allows me to meet all the goals I set for the first minutes of kindergarten. Written out, the steps seem long, but it goes quickly in under twenty minutes. I hope you found my plan helpful. No matter what you do, those first minutes deserve special planning, so I'd love it if you'd share with me, too.

Hope you'll come back in the next few days for more posts in the Start of School series. Coming up are ideas for getting parents to help in the classroom, even if they can't REALLY come in!

Happy Start of School!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Great FREE Music and Vid!

Go. Fast. Make your fingers run not walk to this Target site where you can download the Tori Kelly Version of ABC, the classic Michael Jackson hit. Kids are gonna love it in the classroom!

Click on the picture above to go to the Target page where one more click downloads it for FREE!!! And BONUS– Target donates five dollars in supplies to the Kids in Need Foundation with every download. Free music for you– free stuff for needy kids. Do hurry, though, as this is a limited time gig on the site.

I think the Target ad that features the song is so good with it's peppy beat and diverse little dancers, that I pinned it to my Brain Break Pinterest Board. I don't usually pin ads for the classroom but this one is way good. Gotta love Target!

Click on the little dancing girl and you can pin it from my Pinterest board, too. While there, click the follow button– great movement videos for your kiddos. Storing brain breaks on Pinterest keeps them so handy.

Do you know of any music freebies? Share, share!

Scootch on back to the linky to find more stuff!

Thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

New Back to School Linky

Yippee! A new linky to show you some of my teacher faves! I'm linking with Layla, Courtney and Jamie for their Back to School in a Flash linky. Thanks, Ladies! This linky party goes for four weeks to share four different sorts of back to school tips with everyone.

Yep, I write with them.
They're not just for kids any more.

I know, I know, I know. Every teacher likes Flair pens. I do, too, and I have quite a stash. However, I might be the only teacher on the planet who actually prefers to write with good old cheap, fat Crayola markers most of the time. Sometimes the Flairs just make too skinny a line, and with the Crayola I can vary the size of line better. Ten colors are plenty- though I have a love of red, purple and black. And they are ONE BUCK a box at this time of year. So as I pick them up for the kids, I pick them up for me, too. I get the classic kind– I don't know why the washable even exist. Again, I might have the only classroom on the planet that doesn't use any washables, but I find they smear WAY too much as kids use them. And the classics have never been a problem when washing off the kids or clothes.

Restickable glue stick opens up new possibilities

Do you know about THIS glue stick? It's restickable! It turns any piece of paper into a sticky note. I keep a couple handy all year and find all sorts of use for them. I posted about building a start of year name chart that teaches abc order, among other things, where they play a key role. You can read that post here.

These are GEL highlighters 

Okay, so for me, these are a new find– Sharpie GEL highlighters. I've used them a bit and they are way cool. Entirely different than traditional highlighters, they are a gel stick, like a twistable crayon. They never dry out, so if you lose the cap you can just twist down the tip when you are done. The edge changes as you use them, like a crayon, but you can get all sorts of lines out of them. When they highlight you can see even very light text underneath. They take some getting used to, but I think I'll always have some on hand.

I've added this linky party to my Linky Party page, which I update regularly. So if you are a link-a-holic like me, you can find more by clicking the image below.

Hope you had fun on my page! Now it's time to party with the rest of the linkers. There are lots of new ideas to be found to carry you back to school and into the midst of the short people, when you click on the button below.  

Thanks for stopping by.

Friday, July 24, 2015

KinderTribe All the Way

It's so great to network with other teachers and one way to do that is through #KinderTribe. I link up today to add my name and a little bit about me to the list.

There's not a whole lot else to add to the list... well, except to say that it is impossible to list just. one. favorite. book! If I were on a desert island with nothing but little monkeys... I mean the real kind... I would still have to have kinder books. And those few I listed were just off the top of my head. My books don't all fit at school... my husband is now lining our halls at home with yet more bookshelves. 

Also, it's hard to choose just one favorite blog, but Carolyn wins today. She was one of the first bloggers I connected with, and she remains soooo helpful. It is so nice to have cyber friends. I always find some meat in her posts, too. I like to see us as similar, but that's me giving myself a big pat on the back :) Check her out.  

Click on the button below and you'll find other kindergarten bloggers in the tribe. 

Thanks for stopping by!

Start of School Name Chart Building Is Great Learning

Sad but true!
Whoa! Can we just slow summer down a bit? This stunning poster was in the window of Wild Birds Unlimited, a delightful store with everything for bird lovers. It made me pause for both the image and the sentiment.

With only one more week left in July my mind drifts more and more to school. There are a couple start-of-school activities that I find SO important. I post one of them today.

Making our class name chart is something I look forward to each year. Children's names are a high interest hook to learning, so this activity is very popular with the incoming kiddos. Classroom name charts can look many different ways, and it is not so much what ours looks like, but how we get there that is important. Over the years I've been able to tweak our routine so it is learning packed, yet quick paced with active participation. We learn classmates' names, and practice letter sounds, syllables, capitalization, and abc order– how many standards does that meet?? Whew! Perhaps best of all, it gives each child a turn to shine and be the leader. The resulting name chart with it's shared ownership is happily used all year long.

The name chart we build together lives on our word wall all year.
I'm linking with Doodle Bugs Teaching's Five for Friday to explain this little gem in five steps, more or less. Thanks, Kacey.

1. What you'll need: I begin on the first day of school, and doing two names per day, we complete the chart in under three weeks. It's important to have the materials ready to go before the kids come through the door. You'll need:
• a cup or small pail from the dollar store
• lowercase magnetic letters
• a large, standard size piece of poster board
• each student's name printed out so it fits horizontally on a colored sheet of paper, two to a page. I do this on the computer using one of the typefaces that best represent kid printing– good old Comic Sans works just fine. Cut the two names on the page apart and put all the names in a large size business envelope.
• a restickable glue stick- this is very important! If you don't know about this stuff, you need to check it out. It turns any piece of paper into a sticky note. You can find it at your favorite office supply store or by clicking on the pic. You'll find all sorts of use for it.

2. Set up: I give extra thought to choosing the first group of students who will do the activity. I watch to see who my early readers are and who can write their name– they usually become apparent in the first hours of kindergarten. If you assess your kids before they come to kindergarten, you'll know that way, too. I also take personality into account– shy kiddo are more comfortable after they've seen the routine a few times so they go later in the process.

I put those kids' names at the front of the stack in the envelope. I also pull the magnetic letters needed for those first names and put them in the cup– this saves time when I do the activity with each child. I put the empty poster board on the white board where it will stay for a couple weeks.

3. The routine: As the kids come to the carpet I put the magnet letters for the first student's name on the white board out of order. I begin the activity by pointing out the group of letters, saying each one as I point.

Then I ask if anyone in our class is named "Mada" or whatever nonsensical word the letters make up which never fails to get a chuckle from the kids. Then I ask if anybody sees letters in their name. Many kindergartners will raise their hand and I acknowledge as each one says a letter in their name, usually their first letter.

Then I ask if anyone sees all the letters in their name. I call on the correct student and say we'll check to see if they are all on the board. I ask them to spell their name for me (helping as necessary) as I point to that letter on the board. Then that student comes up and puts their letters in the right order. I sit right next to where they are moving letters so I can whisper in their ear if they need help.

Once the name is in order I say it's time for the name cheer. I have the student point to each letter in turn and say, "Give me an A." The class pumps the air and says, "A." After all the letters have been said in this call and response way, I prompt the student to ask, "What's that spell?"  The class answers with the name and one last fist pump. It's a fun ten seconds of excitement.

Then I say, "Whisper it" and the class whispers the name... you understand why we need to whisper next.

Then, "Clap it" and we say and clap for each beat.

Then I say, "Count it."  The first few times I explain what a syllable is and we figure out how many are in the name, counting as we clap.

4. Making the chart:  I pull out the student name from the envelope where I had set it on the top of the pile, and quickly cut around the name, following the shape that the letters in the name make.  I hold it up and point out that some letters are tall and some are small, and some have tails.

*News Flash* Since writing this post and thinking about the name chart yet again, I've decided this year I'm going to draw a line under the name on the paper at this point in the process. That way the students will get a better sense of tail letters. I get as many ideas from my own blog as I share sometimes :)

Then I hold it up next to the magnetic letters and compare those letters to see if they are indeed the same. I point out that all the magnetic letters are lower case, but when we write a name, we always use a capital letter, like the name printed on the paper.

The last step is to use my "magic glue stick" and swipe across the back of the name and place it on the poster board.  All the kids want to know why the glue stick is magic, but I say I can't tell them yet.

5. Finishing the chart: I do two students each day, morning and afternoon. I used to do just one student per day, but it spread out over too many weeks. When I get to about the fourth day and we have six names already up on the poster board, I point out that it's getting sort of messy and I want to be able to find names fast on the chart, instead of having to hunt for them. I explain there's a way to make words easier to find, called abc or alphabetical order. I look for an A name, then B name, etc, and move them around until the names are in order. We even learn how to alphabetize names that begin with the same letters. I keep a mind to where each name will probably end up on the finished chart, based on my class list, so names don't have to be moved everyday. (All the kids are surprised when I move the names around the first time because they were glued down! I tell them that is the "magic" part of the glue stick.)

About every other day I choose who the next four or five kids will be and bring their names to the top of the stack in the envelope. Then I empty the cup of letters and pull new letters for these next names, making sure all the letters I'll need for each are in the cup.

Once all student names are on the chart I do a little behind the scenes work one day after school. I move the names to their final spot on the chart, clustering them by first letter. I take a fat marker and draw a square around each cluster of names. I add a title to the top of the chart and laminate the whole thing. The laminate keeps the names with their non-permanent glue from coming off, and gives a nice finished look to our student made chart.

We love our finished name chart and the lessons that stick with it.

The next day we have a good discussion about why the names are now in squares and I get to reinforce one more time all the concepts we worked on while building the chart. We place the chart in an area of our word wall where we use it all year.

I am always pleased at how much "sticking power" these fast and easy daily lessons have. This differentiated group activity teaches on many levels– whether a child's next step in learning is letter names, or alphabetical order and capitalization, there is a full range of learning opportunity. Going through the routine twice a day, learning about our friends' names, and getting a turn to be the leader makes for highly engaging good first learning in kindergarten or first grade. Even my struggling or shyest students, whose names we do later in the process, can do the activity with minimal help once they see it done by the students who came before. They all love it. I hope you do, too.

Thanks to Irene Fountas, Gay Su Pinnell, Pat Cunningham, and the miriad of teachers who have added ideas to the routine.

I'll be writing about more activities and routines for the start of school. Look for this icon in upcoming posts and search by the label "Start of School."

Scootch on back to the link-up now and find more great ideas!

Thanks for stopping by and see you next time!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Let's All Eat Cake

I see my friend Deb Maxwell at Not Very Fancy in 1st is doing a cooking link-up. Yum. Some of the recipes that have been posted on the link are really good, so I'm going to be a teacher in the kitchen and share a family favorite, too.

Today's share is Died-and-Went-to-Heaven Chocolate Cake... hmmm... I wonder just HOW MANY cakes are called Died and Went to Heaven... Well, that really was it's name when I first got the recipe long ago.

There are many good things about this cake, in addition to it being chocolate, of course. It is easy to make in a bundt pan with no frosting to spread– just pour on a glaze. It is super moist every time thanks to buttermilk. It tastes rich, maybe because of a little bit of coffee, but it is only 220 calories and 5 grams of fat per serving. You can serve 16 with one cake... well, sometimes, for some reason, we don't get quite sixteen pieces.

Now, for the cheat part of this post. The recipe is already on my blog! It is under the "Other Stuff" tab. I have a few new readers since I first posted the recipe, so in case some of you are not blog stalkers who check out every little tab on a site, I give a little heads up to find it. Just click on the picture below and you'll magically find the directions.

On fourth of July I put little blueberries and strawberries around the plate edge and they go really well with this cake. I have also been known to fill the bundt cake hole with fruit or whipping cream, too... oops.

Click on Deb's icon below to go back to her Linky.

Have a great week! Hope you'll stop by again for a little back-to-school series I'm posting this week featuring activities and routines to get the year off to a great start. See you around.

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