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!  

Monday, November 19, 2012

Elf on the Shelf

So many families I know are getting ready to have a good time with their little elves during the Christmas season. So, I decided to let my little kindergartners join in on the fun. Every morning after Thanksgiving, we'll have to find our new little buddy in the classroom and see what he's been up to during the night. This tradition is, in most ways, purely for fun... but we'll be journaling all about his adventures, so it's also motivating  student writing! Or, at least, I hope it will. 

What's he doing around so early? Offended he was never invited to enjoy Thanksgiving! I hardly recognized him in his 1621 disguise! What a tricky little guy. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

DIY Science Center from a Baby Crib

Interested in how to refurbish a crib into a science center? It is not one of those DIY projects that you get into and don't finish until months later. Once you've got supplies, it takes maybe an hour. Perhaps even less.

When we set out making our science centers, we put them on the lowest setting to get them down on floor sitting level, and, of course, we detach the front crib rail.

Next comes neutral colored burlap. Cut it into strips and twist/weave it around the back of the crib.
Then hot glue the mirrors to the back. You can get them at Hobby Lobby or Michael's.  

Attach hooks to the sides for whatever tools you need. We use these simple Command hooks for safety goggles and giant magnifying glasses. 

A matching set of baskets, one on either side gives a place to store natural materials, an observation notebook, or books for reading. A pencil cup holds writing tools, tweezers, a magnifying glass, etc. 

A plant really makes the center have a natural "sciencey" look I just switched mine out to a bigger one, to fill up the space even more. 

 At first I used the original crib bottom, but this year Rebekah laminated black butcher paper to use as a base. It gives it a fresh and cleaner look, and you can wipe it clean!

Last add a body pillow or seat cushions to the floor for kneeling during your explorations. Sometimes my kids are more interested in sitting IN the crib, but we try.


And... ta-da! Your science center is created! Adding new fresh materials and experiments keeps the kids coming back interested in more. Pictured on top is: "Classify by size. Does it fit through a paper towel roll? Yes. No." Below: Canisters to shake and match by sound. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

"The Game"

I use a couple of different board games in my room, like Blokus and Connect Four. Except I just use them as toys, not as actual games. When I was growing up, I developed a lot of skills from board games. For instance, I'm fairly certain that a large part of my understanding of ten-ness comes from the Monopoly board.

I decided, because of this, to create "the game" for my students. The game has no limits. It is simply a pathway of squares. I think I googled "game board template" and cut out the pieces I could find.

If you've played a lot of board games, "the game" has very few rules. For kindergartners, though, there is actually a good bit to keep up with.

You start at the beginning. You roll the die. You count the squares. You don't, however, count the square you are already on. You count even the squares that you friends are on. Oh, and did I mention you count the squares in order? You also roll again if the square says roll again. But for the most part you have to let another person roll after you do. It's a concept called taking turns. If you persist in rolling enough times, you may end at the finish.

Unless, of course, you start at the finish or you skip half the squares or you roll again just because you wanted to or you forget what order everybody was going in to begin with.

I started playing the game because I wanted my children to practice subitizing by rolling the die and knowing the number without having to count. I wanted them to practice counting, too, though... thus the squares they moved their pieces along. I liked the idea of them taking turns, too, of course.

We played the game in small groups and mostly followed the rules... because someone with a good bit of experience (ME) was playing along. It was turned over to independent centers though, and now, quite frankly, I don't care if they make up new rules or create a whole new purpose of the game. In fact, if they can do that cooperatively, that's even better than the things I was trying to teach them.

Another reason I created the game was to pass on something that I love to my students. In my family a game is not on a screen. It's in a box... a CARDBOARD box.

The great thing about the game is that elements can be added. The pink and green squares easily turn into two card drawing piles with any number of things on them. For today though, we're just playing "the game." That is simply all that it is.

Colors and Droppers

Using droppers to tie-dye coffee filters is a standard project in my room. This year we still hadn't done in. In fact, I'm ashamed to say we haven't done much truly messy art this year. So, with a little extra help in my room the other day, I decided to go all out. We painted cd's and picture frames. Then we got out the old favorite. 

We mixed water and food coloring in cups.

For some of us, it was our first time really using eye droppers. 

We worked on top of towels, which are looking a bit tie dyed now, too. In the past it has worked better to put each one on a paper plate instead of directly on the towel. 

Eye droppers are notorious for their ability to attune children's fine motor skills. 

The yellow food coloring was all out, so we mixed regular tempera paint with water. It worked just as well, if not better. 

It's days like this that remind me we need more exploratory art in our schools. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Things I stumble on.

I stumbled on this in the scene in the dramatic play center the other day. 
Before I put out the felt pizza in our room I modeled how to make it at least twice. I also read this book, Pizza, while I modeled. Each page has a word such as, "Pour, mix, spread, sprinkle, bake, smell, eat." I figured it would help them to know how to make the pizza and a couple of them might even use the book while they made it. 

Modeling. We don't want it to limit children. We just want them to have a foundation for building a higher level of creative play. 

As it turns out, I see my kids using this book a good bit while they make pizza. In fact, on Friday, Reagan spent about five minutes getting it just right. While she was doing it, Beth and Martha were literally sitting completely still with their hands in their laps at the table. I, for one, was confused about why they were doing nothing, but shortly after Reagan came to the table with a smile and said, "Excuse me, ma'am! Your pizza is ready. Be careful. It might be a little hot!" Ah, then I understood. They were simply waiting at the restaurant, as polite people do. Waiting more patiently than ANY other two children in my class would wait, mind you. (However, within several minutes, Reagan was waving dessert in the air while Martha squealed and tried to grab it from her. Oh well, we catch the picturesque moments when we can!) 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Pet Store

I'm lucky enough to have enough space in my room for a rotating themed center. It's interesting how these centers are extremely popular for a few weeks and then interest begins to wane. In the block center, which is just next to this, interest literally NEVER wanes. 

But today the pet store & vet clinic remain untouched, meaning that Monday morning it will undoubtedly be the most sought after space in the room. We'll read books about choosing pets and what veterinarians do. I'll model how to treat the animals and what roles there might be in this new center. I only have so much time to do that though, and largely the children will be left to figure out for themselves how these new things are to be used. Some of them will bring prior knowledge and share it with their friends. Some will know little and, hopefully, take cues from others, but possibly, just want to touch everything. 

Undoubtedly, it will not go just exactly as I had in mind. I may be disappointed. Or I may be overcome with how intrigued I am with their play. Until then the pet center sits waiting, waiting for some serious work to be done.

The pet store portion of the center houses the animals. Each one is labeled. I'm vaguely hoping to promote beginning letter sounds since all of them are different, with the exception of horse & hedgehog. 

If the veterinarian is busy with another patient, it  may be necessary to spend some time in the waiting room. Luckily, there are plenty of pet books and magazines for the reading pleasure of those patient enough to actually sit down. 

While waiting, there is always paperwork to be filled out. Circle your pet and indicate his or her ailment. This idea is not an original. I printed this awesome vet form from this blog:

The receptionist desk. Or the checkout counter. This could serve a duel purpose with the idea of a pet store or a vet's office. 

The receptionist may want to file any patient requests that are received in the vet clinic.  Of course, there may be zero interest in my filing system, but it was another great idea from ikatbag. 

 Animal pictures and words promote writing and literacy. In my mind the students will use these for helping them to write their animal's name on the patient form. 

Just thought I'd post this picture of a fish in a pretzel container that was donated by a student. It made me chuckle. 

The vet clinic gives the students a bit more to do than just a pet store. I pulled out most of the same things that will be used later in the year with my doctor center: a stethoscope, gloves, bandages, shots, etc. 

I have a pair of scrubs I got at the thrift store. The pants are drawstring and have been hemmed short. We took a large tuck in the top. They are great dress up for any healthcare professional that may be practicing in our K room. Also, my local hospital was kind enough to donate caps, shoe covers, gloves, and face masks, so we have a plethora of those. 

Can't wait for Monday! (Wait, it's the weekend? Never mind, I'll wait just fine!!)