Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Wooden Blocks

On days when my kids seem to just play the "see how many blocks we can take off the shelf" game, I'm not going to lie... I feel frustrated. But then there are those days when a student or two or three take the time to remove each block, one at a time, and intricately place it in its spot. That's what one of my boys, I'll call him "Stewart", did today. It got me thinking about good block play, the kind where students really ARE thinking critically. Stewart tried five or six ways before he got the "slides" in his city to stand up properly. He wasn't frustrated, but he WAS patient, and he was most definitely persistent. He didn't back down from his goals. He just kept right on working. The neat thing is that Stewart has been making block buildings with this same type of structure for several weeks now, but every time he makes them they get more and more elaborate. Today he was left relatively unbothered by the other students, and I could really tell he was in the "zone." 

Not sure where my train of thought is going. I was just impressed by this little boy today. It made me glad that my siblings and I played with blocks into early middle school. You're never too old to make that wooden block structure just a little more intricate. 

Of course, that got me thinking about some other neat things I've seen from time to time with wooden blocks. For instance, this football stadium is an all time favorite. Please note the red line they positioned in the middle with two teams facing off against each other. Down. Set. Hut.

The spring class trip to the zoo last year brought about many zoos in the block center. This one was my favorite. The arches at the entryway. The different animals each in their areas. The spectators sitting by watching. You can't tell me these kids weren't thinking more here than they were during their guided reading group. 

Of course, ramps never get old. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Postal Project

I love special centers. I love having ideas in my head and scavenging for props that go with them. I love preparing the new center and making it just right. I love imagining how the kids will play there. And THIS year, I love SEEING them play there! Which, I admit, is a tribute to having a great group of kiddos.

I mentioned a couple of posts back that the writing center wasn't being used much,  and I turned it into a center for playing school for the time being. My plan had been to make a post office anyway, so this was a perfect time to promote a new writing area.

Rebekah's class and my own met up on a field trip a few days ago. (Our schools are about five miles apart). To plant the excitement of this trip, we began making cards for her students, as well as writing a class letter.

We were so excited to get our package of homemade cards and a class letter from our friends!

But I digress... the real story here is that our letter writing led to the post office center.

Of course, you can't pretend to work in a post office without the proper dress up:

And you need a lot of good supplies for writing and mailing. There were different tubs with envelopes, one cent stamps, note cards, and writing pads. 

It's important to address our letters. Most of us need help knowing how to spell our friend's names, so name cards are in the box. 

Ms. Rembert won't deliver any letters that don't have a stamp on them:

The mailbox gets pretty full sometimes by the end of the day:

Of course, somebody might want to send a package, and it MAY need to be delivered across the room on a cart. 

Much mail has been sent over the past two weeks. Many names have been written, and a "good time was had by all." 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Felt Food

When I started my kindergarten job, my school increased from three teachers to four. That means my class needed all new supplies. This means three things:

1) A lot of supplies were scrounged up from old classes around the district... extra, leftovers, broken things, etc.
2) Some supplies they couldn't find were ordered brand new.
3) Certain things were never acquired at all, and after a few months I gave up hope getting them.

One of those things was play food. I ordered a few things with my classroom money, but play food is rather expensive, and that didn't amount to much for cooking.

 This is the background of why I set out to make felt food. I was pretty excited about the felt food adventure, because when you make your own food you can make INGREDIENTS instead of entire food. For example, I made pizza crust, sauce, shredded cheese, and toppings. I didn't sew it all into a finished dish, because it is my students' job to do the cooking.

All of the flat pieces I cut two felt pieces and one white quilting piece. For the pizza crust, for example, I cut out one circle of felt and one circle of white quilting. Then I sewed those two pieces onto a large piece of felt BEFORE cutting the circle around the third piece. (It's easier than lining up the two pieces exactly).

When I say, "I" sewed, I actually mean, "my mom" sewed... while I did the cutting. Thank goodness for her skills.

We made a lot of fun things.
Breakfast: the most important meal of the day. DISCLAIMER: The banana is from Ikea. It slipped into the breakfast demo. We didn't make a whole lot of 3D foods.

The cookies were pretty easy to make... since they are circles.

Tea time! It was interesting to see which kids knew what the tea bags were for. Luckily, the ones who knew modeled and now tea bags are a commonly used item in my kindergarten kitchen.

Burger buns and burgers are fun to build. Bun, burger, cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, bun!

The mixed greens make a lovely salad. When my mom came to visit my class, she kept saying, "I can't get over how Beth just kept tossing that salad and tossing that salad. She sure was intent!" (IKEA TOMATO... another impostor).

Miscellaneous pieces for this and that.

The pizza has a crust, sauce piece, mushrooms, pepperonis, peppers, and cheese. I made the cheese by sewing clumps of little pieces together. Each shred cluster has about ten pieces, and there are probably 15 clusters. 

We also made noodles, sushi, and sock donuts that are not in the pictures. Maybe they'll surface sometime. I got all of my felt in squares from Hobby Lobby. It takes time, but it sure it a cheap way to get some great play food! 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Sensory Fun!

Sand in the sensory table is an ever constant battle. The children love it, but it literally ends up everywhere. This year I've gotten really pumped about changing out the sensory center, and I've managed to avoid sand entirely so far. (Though, I promise, I WILL break it out eventually!) When my students play in the sensory center, they have access to a wide variety of tools. (Funnels, spoons, scoopers, turkey basters, tongs, measuring cups, strainers, etc.) Last year I found that they would leave all the toys IN the bin, and it was unsightly and crowded. This year we have seriously organized, and the children know that each item has a matching picture where it hangs. There are a few leftovers, and they go in the crate underneath the table. 

My wall of tools was actually created by my awesome Mom, whose original sensory tool display was featured on the cover of this book. Pretty great center their class had going on, eh? 
We started the year out with the insides of an old bean bag chair. I literally cut it open and dumped it into the table. They eventually lost their high static, and the kids loved them. I like starting the year with something very simple in the table and building up later to more messy things, once the children understand how to use the center. 

Our second round was when we played with water beads. We bought the dehydrated kind that come from the Dollar Tree for plants in vases. The kids loved watching them grow and then playing with them for several weeks after. "Slimy" is a whole new genre of fun. (Honestly, they started to smell after awhile!)

Our latest adventure was the fall sensory fall tub, which will probably get good use for at least another week. 

In the meantime, I've been adding pictures of the children to the documentation panel that was mounted on the blank wall above the sensory table after this picture was taken. More on the evolution of this fun center will come!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Pretend School is Real Learning

Watching your students "play school" is like watching yourself on a video recording. Sometimes you smile at yourself, and, more often than not, you cringe and say, "Do I really sound like that?" For better or for worse, my students this year LOVE imitating me AND each other. (Thankfully I do see the 5 year teachers asking questions and discussing things with their 5 year old students... not just lecturing!)

 So, I noticed a couple of things while I was watching them play over the past couple of weeks. The first one was that the writing center, which I put a lot of work into this year, was largely abandoned. (Even more than last year, when, in my opinion, it wasn't nearly as cool). That being said, I was at the same time noticing a love for playing school. I believe one of my students, I'll call her Martha, has been spreading this around the room. You can find her in any center- blocks, book nook, science - teaching the other children. She's pretty good, too. When Martha is around, the other children are ALWAYS the students, and they don't seem to mind, but sometimes she's off elsewhere, and they still continue on the pursuit of playing school and changing the roles between teacher and student. 

I solved two problems on the Friday night that I stayed late imagining the play that was to later unfold in my room. The first was that I created a post office center in the bonus area to encourage the writing that wasn't happening in the writing center. (another post, another day). The second was that I brought some life back to some really good space in our room by setting up a classroom center. 

The result was this: 
(note: the other half of the center is still writing supplies!)
Invitation to play school. Art easel made into a mini big book stand, big books, a written morning message, calendar numbers in an old sentence strip pocket chart, tens frames & dots, pointers, dry erase markers, and a "mystery bag" with different objects in it from time to time. 

All of the things in this center are based heavily on things we do. They are familiar to the children. For instance, we have a morning message every day with blanks in it. We also write our friends' names on the board next to tens frames and count/compare how many letters they have. Throughout the year, these things evolve, of course. 

The good news is, the next time I need to be out of school, I won't need to call a sub. I'll just leave Martha in charge. She's had enough practice, after all. 

Playing with Fall

Whatever we are learning about, we usually play with it. This week... we've been playing with fall! I've been loving it, and it's made me realize that if I didn't stay late sometimes setting up projects, I would probably not love my job as much as I do. Because, it's during that peaceful time that I get really excited about my children discovering what I have planned for them in the days and weeks ahead. Luckily, what I've been loving, they've been loving, too!

Fall sensory tub:
-Beans of all kinds
-Clear plastic counting pumpkins
-Corn Kernels (from Indian cobs)
-Small Gourds
-Dollar Tree Leaves
-Fake Fall Plant (cut up from the Dollar Tree) 
Two students sorting all of the pumpkins out into a container. 

The Science Center: 
-Indian Corn
-Leaves on a sorting tray 
-Miniature pumpkins, gourds, etc.
-Books about fall, harvest, and trees
-Science tools for exploring (googles, magnifying glasses, pencils, notebook)
Invitation to explore fall. (all real items.. unlike the sensory bin!)

Indian Corn with tweezers: An invitation to remove the kernels and improve fine motor skills

Fall Playdough
-Pumpkin spice playdough (with pumpkin spice & orange food coloring)
-4 pie tins
-1 pie spatula
-2 pumpkin cookie cutters
-Pumpkin ice tray mold
-Playdough number stampers
-Clear plastic counting pumpkin
(Rolling pin and pizza cutter should definitely be added!)


Saturday, October 13, 2012


It's easy to find ways for children in the classroom to see, touch, and feel. Smelling is something a little more difficult. In a recent unit on the five senses, we celebrated smell week with the ultimate smell challenge. During large group, we passed a can around describing what we smelled. I put tissue over the can with a rubber band and poked a hole in it for our noses. As we shared, I instructed the children to say anything they wanted about it... except what is WAS. I wasn't sure if they could handle this, but they did nicely. "It smells bitter." "It smells strong." "It smells delicious!" "It smells yucky!" 

After that we made guesses about what we thought it was. Then the coffee was revealed. "How did you know it was coffee? Where have you smelled it before? Oh, you made a connection to something you've smelled your mom drinking!" 

In the science center, we set up a miniature version, which was the week-long challenge. I am lucky enough to have a collection of old film canisters, and we soaked different cotton balls with different smelly things. (vanilla, dish soap, lemon juice, etc.) Then we used some things that we simply put in the bottom of the canister and covered it up with the cotton ball. (peanut butter, chocolate powder, etc.) Pictures of each item were printed, cut, and laminated. The goal was to match all of the smells and pictures. During large group I modeled how to smell, how to refrain from touching, and how to match the pictures. "I think I'll smell this one! Wow, it smells sour! I know lemons are sour. This reminds me of lemonade. I'm going to match it with the lemon picture." The children had to wait to smell until they were on their own, so I wasn't spoiling the answers! 

Peanut Butter, Garlic, Lemon

Look, Ms. Rembert! We matched them all! 

Examining the chocolate picture with a magnifying glass

"Mmmm! It smells like cinnamon toast!"

For the past five weeks we've also been singing this song, to the tune of "There Was a Farmer Who Had a Dog." 

I have 5 senses that I know
They're pathways to my brai-ain. 
See, hear, smell, taste, touch, 
See, hear, smell, taste, touch, 
See, hear, smell, taste, touch, 
They're pathways to my brai-ain!  

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Science Center

I saw an idea on pinterest to refurbish a crib into a writing center. I had other ideas for my writing center, so instead I decided on a science/exploration area. The students rotate here for 15 minutes a week, but they can also go back and revisit the area anytime during free centers. I put different things in every week, so it is almost always popular. Often it's something as simple as rocks. Other times it may be a praying mantis egg case to watch hatch. The idea is that the students touch, hear, smell, experiment, etc. They write their observations down in our "observation notebook," and they share with the class what they've found. We usually have a mini lesson on Monday and Friday to discuss what's going on the the science center.

The science center is rarely this full- this was a demo Rebekah and I set up during a summer workshop.
You are looking at: books, notebook, owl, plastic bugs, wood pieces, rocks, magnifying glass containers with butterflies & bugs, a turtle shell, an ostrich egg, and safety goggles.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Rebekah's Classroom

In many ways, Rebekah's classroom is a lot like Jen's. Except the whole lime green thing. There are 10 learning clubs. Most of them are featured here. The ones not pictured are table toppers, math, and book nook.

Big Books and Songs. The students love using the pointers!

The Light Table with rainbow and mirror blocks. 

Dramatic Play

The Writing Center

Calendar Time

Block Center

The Science Center- EXPLORE!

Sand & Sensory