Monday, December 24, 2012

Upcycled Big Blocks

Upcycling is my favorite. Using something old for something better. We've found that something as worthless as Capri Sun blocks make the best big blocks. Not only that, but they have words and letters on them, and it gets you extra points for environmental print. 

EVERY child should have a set of blocks. And there is no excuse when the blocks are so free!

The wooden blocks are more popular, but the Capri Sun blocks make frequent appearances. 

They make great tunnels. 

This looks suspiciously like a coffin... but I think it's just fun to enclose someone. 

Castle making with both kinds of blocks. 

A Classroom from the Past

I have a record of changing physical classrooms often. In three years of teaching I have had four classrooms. Here is my 2011-2012 room: 
The room. 

The entryway. 

Calendar/Schedule & Reading Chair

Carpet Area (Dramatic Play is in the back right). 

The Writing Center

Paint chips from Lowe's used for "The Wall of Art & Color." 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Craft

Christmas is a time when we all pull out a few more craft projects than usual. After all, you can't grow up without at least one kindergarten ornament hanging from the tree. 

Here are the two projects we did this year in kindergarten: 

Invitation to decorate your own construction paper tree
-using glue with buttons, sequins, stars, etc. 

Invitation to Make a Wreath
-using green tissue paper and red circles
I put the glue in cups and let them use Q-tips to smear it on. Of course, a picture of each kid with a Santa hat on went inside the wreath circle. Then we added a ribbon for hanging it. The children get to wrap their own gift and make a tag. I always let them choose who they give it to. Usually it's mom or dad, but occasionally Cousin Bob or Sister Susie are the lucky recipients instead. 

Monday, December 17, 2012


Run, run, as fast as you can.
You can't catch me, 
I'm the gingerbread man!

Gingerbread is a big unit in our classroom around Christmas time. No, it's not just a cutesy theme. We study summarizing the beginning, middle, and end of these stories.

It starts by reading aloud each different text. We make a chart writing the Beginning/Middle/End and then someone illustrates it for us. We do probably four or five different charts.

The students get to choose their favorite story. They write their own three BME sentences and then illustrate them.

We do some comparing, too, of course. What did you notice was the same about these stories? Wow, you all seem to have a lot of ideas. Maybe we should write them down to help us remember. Did you notice anything that was different? How was the story changed?

We have some pure play fun with the gingerbread theme, as well. Our favorite new song right now is Jack Hartman's "Gingerbread Man." Boy, is it a catchy tune.

We play with gingerbread playdough. I smells good enough to eat. 

And... when there are very few days left in December, we decorate our own REAL gingerbread cookies.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Fergus the Elf

I hear a lot of concern about the Elf on a Shelf. People are rightly worried, I suppose, that children should not only be good because an elf is watching them. Rest assured, our elf, Fergus, has just been hanging around for pure FUN these past few weeks. He wrote the boys and girls a note that said he needed a place to stay until Christmas. We are a fairly inclusive group, and we welcomed him into our classroom family. He doesn't go back to the North Pole every night, because he lives with us and is just supposed to hang out in his basket at night. Of course, he never listens to that idea and is always doing SOMETHING when we arrive at school.

When one student loudly accused, "It's YOU moving Fergus!!!!" I did not try to deny it. I simply responded with, "It's still a lot of fun. Would you like us to keep doing it?" He said yes, and we continue to do it.

So here's what little Fergus has been up to SO FAR this holiday season:

He built himself a thrown with the MagnaTiles. A bit full of yourself, eh there, Fergus? 

Another morning we found him sleeping in the tissue box.

Once he spent the whole night trying to work out our science experiment. He's checking what is in the bottle and asking, "Can it float?" OF COURSE, he didn't forget his safety eyewear. 

Sometimes he's not so studious and gets into a little mischief. 

Relaxing in a homemade hammock. This elf has the life. 

Everyday when we find Fergus, somebody has the job of "Elf Helper." That person simply documents on paper what Fergus is doing and then returns him to his basket home. We write some words with their illustration and add it to our book called, "Fergus the Elf."

Over Christmas vacation, I am sending home an elf cut out. Students may color & name their own elf. It is their job to keep a journal of what he/she does over the vacation and bring it back to share when January arrives. (Disclaimer: We NEVER do coloring sheets. That part is a rare occurrence).

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Can it Float?

We do a series of "classifying" science experiments in the fall.

Sink and float is by far my favorite. For most of the experiments, I just let the students do it in the science center, but for sink and float, we do it small group style. I like talking about being a scientist. I like emphasizing what good scientists do. "Good scientists ask questions. Good scientists write down things that they learn. Good scientists use the word 'predict' Good scientists wear their safety goggles." Doing this experiment in a small group gives me the opportunity to model good vocabulary. "You made an observation. I observed that the cork floated on top of the water. I think I'll write that down. What do you predict will happen to the rock? Does anybody disagree? Why do you disagree? Give us your idea."

Each student gets a turn or two putting objects in the water. Everybody has a sheet to record their findings. The ultimate question of the day was, "Can it float?" We circled yes or no... and practiced our sight words while we were at it.

Since I can't post pictures of the students doing sink or float, here is Fergus, who practiced the experiment later in the science center. After our small group lesson, I put little clear bottles with objects in them for the kids to practice some more classifying. It's not as fun as putting it in the water yourself, but for us it was helpful for independent practice.

Grocery Store

In circle time we've been discussing goods and services a bit. So, during centers we've been playing with some goods. Our latest addition to the play environment is a store in the "bonus" center. The bonus center has already been a post office and a pet store/veterinarian office. I like the grocery store, because it's somewhere EVERY child in my class has always been and can personally relate to.

Usually I put a lot of thought into opportunity for literacy, both reading and writing. It's the busy Christmas season though, and I just quickly put out some grocery store props. They loved it anyway, of course. We brainstormed a list of jobs before we got started. They came up with "Register, Boss, Shopper, and Bagger." I added "shelver" in hopes to inspire putting things back on the shelves occasionally.

The aisle where you can find most things you'd like to buy.

The produce section. This trunk typically my light table, but closed up it serves great as a grocery display, as well.

The check out counter. I like having a cash register that is also a calculator so they can see the numbers when they press them. The check out is just a tall mirror flipped over and set on two crates.

No center is complete without a few dress up accessories- an apron, some purses, and grocery totes.

Fergus the elf even decided to stop by and do a bit of shopping. Of course, he made a list of things he wanted to buy. (Inspired a LITTLE bit of literacy... MAYBE??)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Writing Center

One portion of my writing center is made from the railing of an old crib. I used the rest of the crib to create a science center. Of course, the huge dry erase board is a big plus, too. It provides a magnetic word wall for class names and a place for vertical writing. There is also a writing easel. But the crib rail holds the majority of the supplies I keep in my writing center.

Crib rail and low shelf. 

There are two 2-section holders in the middle of the crib rail. This one has both pencils and colored pencils.

Chalk and dry erase markers for using the boards in our writing center.

Dry erase boards are always accessible for writing. 

The chalk boards don't seem to be as popular. I'll have to think of a way to market them as the next biggest hit. 

We add different letter charts to our book when we brainstorm. Students can flip back to any letter they want. 

Under the crib rail is a low shelf. The students keep their letter journals in them. Each page represents a different letter, and they draw and write pictures and words. Last week, we started adding sentences.

 A writing center is a place that can take a good bit of teacher effort in kindergarten. That's only because it TYPICALLY isn't a child's first natural pick, though it can be be for some children.  I find that when I neglect the writing center, the children do, too. It helps to talk about it a lot, and it helps to add new things. I recently added teaching supplies to my writing center, which drew in a HUGE amount of student interest, and I'm pleasantly surprised to see that they're gradually sticking around that center to do some writing, as well as playing "teacher."

In Rebekah's Room
Rebekah's writing center is a small corner against a wall. It is extremely space efficient. She used circle pockets on the back, which are a no-sew DIY project made from securing two pieces of fabric into sewing circles

Friday, November 23, 2012

A "Better" Third Grade Classroom

Better Classrooms and Playgrounds is always looking for a classroom we consider better! In fact, our original blog idea was to go around finding great classrooms to feature, and we just haven't gotten around to that yet. The name of the blog was not meant to be about us!

That being said, this week we're featuring Susan, from NC, who has some awesome ideas in her third grade class. Being kindergarten teachers, we don't know a lot about third grade, but here are some things we think are pretty great about her classroom: 

"Synonym Pockets" 
In the writing center, students can always find another way to say an old boring word. Check the "good" pocket for awesome, amazing, great, wonderful, fantastic, excellent, etc! 

"Book Nook" 

Susan converted a unique bookshelf into a bench. Old milk crates are under it filed with books, and flowers, lamps, and pictures give the reading corner a homey look. 

Like us, Susan likes plants in her classroom. Her terrarium offers a whole environment with soil layers, rocks, plants, etc. 

 "Listening Center" 
These four bar stools came from Ikea. With a splitter, four kids can plug into a story here. You might notice, Susan adds an international flare to her classroom with African materials and world maps.

***Want to be featured? Email with your six best classroom ideas and pictures!