Starting to Think of the New Year

It’s around this time – mid July – that I get the first thought of the new school year. Sure, I’m enjoying the summer – the fireworks, chilling on a “beach-ish” sandy shoreline, and enjoying an amusement park.

Still, the thought of the new school year creeps in. After many, many years of living according to the academic calendar, these fledgling thoughts of the new year has been turned into a formula. For next year, I think about what I want to carry over from the previous year, what I want to improve upon, and what I want to try that’s new. If I were teaching this school year, this is how the formula would play out.

Carry Over

I bring over all of my lesson plans. When I was teaching, I always kept all of my previous lesson plans in a binder. By the end, the giant 2.5 inch binder was a couple of pounds. It was always fun to look though the lessons, with immediate memories of successes and failures flooding in.

I won’t copy the plans verbatim for the upcoming year. Still, I put a lot of thought into these plans. Why reinvent the wheel? Use the previous plans as guidance for the new year. This will save you a lot of time on planning so you can spend more time on preparing supplies and making resources.

Improve Upon

I think about the lessons that didn’t go well or the skills I need to improve upon.

Despite all of the planning in the world, lessons will go wrong. Either children will miss the intent of the lesson, I didn’t teach it well, or it ended up just not being interesting or fun. Just happens. Some of those lessons are just so bad that I won’t do them again. But there are some that I know will be great with a little change or tweek. Those I want to improve.

I also want to improve my skills. I was good at a lot of things, but equally bad at others. I was known for taking tangents on my lessons. Sometimes the resulting product was spectacular experiences. Sometimes, they would utterly confuse the children or I would lose track of why I went a different direction and forget what I was teaching. A lot of my lessons would just go so long because I bloated them with a lot of additional stories or information that was not part of my original plan.

Staying on task is something I want to improve. That and better discernment between when taking an tangent is advantageous or when it’s not worth it.

Try Something New

The first place where I would trying something new is when I would start supply shopping. It’s not blind shopping. When I started looking for new materials and resources for the classroom, I maintained the perspective of how the item would work within my system of teaching and classroom culture. I didn’t want to get a new toy or resources just because it was shiny and trendy. I bought supplies that fit my teaching pedagogy.

With that in mind, these are the classroom supplies I would incorporate in my classroom this year…

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STEM is big deal in education and I consider it tremendously important during the preschool years. This is a highly-rated resource I would try out – Teaching Stem in the Early Years by Sally Moomaw, EdD.

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I’m a big fan of classroom timers. But the ones that work best in preschool are the ones where children can see time counting down. This way, they can anticipate how soon an activity will end or how soon an activity will begin. This is a timer I would try out – Time Timer.

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There are supplies that just lend themselves open to creative application. This is one of those supplies – shape bean bags. Shapes should be in a preschool classroom… period. The shape names or on them. Plus, they are bean bags. There are many ways to ways to use bean bags in the classroom. Plus, the opportunity to cross cognitive knowledge with a physical activity. This would be one of my most anticipated supplies to get in August.

So, that’s the formula: carry over, improve, and new. It’s starting to feel like a new school year.

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End of the Year is Upon Us

May, the final month of the school year. Sure, there may be a couple of days in June. But now the end of the year feels real!

It’s the last opportunity to do all of that paperwork. Make sure you have all of those observations finished. Schedule the final parent-teacher conferences. Get the kiddo’s portfolios together.

Most of all, it’s time to start thinking seriously about the end of the year celebration. My schools tended to call it EOY (we educators like our abbreviations). After many years of May celebrations, there were some resources that I keep going back for my final celebration of the year.

Streamers

Streamers are a must. For a little money, they add a lot to the feeling that this is a special occasion. Yes, it will take work, lots of tape, and maybe a sturdy chair to step up on. However, the effort is well worth the reward.

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Balloons

Balloons also signify special occasions. Think about all of the times when you had a balloon. It wasn’t just because it was Tuesday. It’s always special when there are balloons. Of course, observe special safety requirements when necessary. If you’re truly concerned, you can hang balloons in the classroom that is out of the reach of little hands.

Caps and Gowns

My classroom had caps and gowns every year. Usually, gold. Not because gold was our school color, but our staff felt the color most represented celebration in our school. There are a couple of places where you can get caps and gowns. Here is a cap and gown set on Amazon.

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Now, before you go out and buy these, make sure you take the measurements of the children. Yes, the caps and gowns come in sizes. The last thing you want to do is get an X-large for your petite kiddos. You can make the measurement process part of your end of year celebration routine.

Certificates

Document the moment with a certificate. Just know that the certificate is more for the parents than for the kiddos. Yes, the kiddos will be excited to keep that piece of paper, but you know that the certificate will quickly transfer to the parent’s hands (you’ve seen your kiddos handle paper before). The parents are the ones who will keep and cherish this document, reminding them of this precious moment in their child’s life.

Food

This is going to be controversial, but allow the kids to have some of their favorite foods – even if they are not healthy, but still adhere to allergy restrictions.

I know, I know. We promote healthy eating and practices. However, here’s my thinking. We are preparing them to be life-long learners and independent adults. And, in real life, when we celebrate major life events – weddings, graduations, birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, etc. – we all tend to throw our diets out the window. Not just because we don’t care, but because of family and cultural traditions – the memories we all have around a meal.

Healthy eating is meant to leave a lasting impact on the children’s overall eating patterns, but not restrict them from celebrations and special occasions. That’s just my point of view.

The end is near! Summer is coming! You’re almost there!

Tips for Writing Observations

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Observation notes is essential teaching. There are some best practices to make this daily task easier and more efficient. Here are some tips:

Record Time and Date

Time and date information is helpful. For example, you can spot trending behaviors, such as challenges always happening in the morning. Teachers can also use time and date info to make sure their intentional about taking notes throughout the day.

I noticed that I use to take notes only between 10am and 11am, which is free choice time. I needed to do more.

Abbreviations for Names

Write quickly because you may miss something. For information you write repeatedly, abbreviate. For example, teacher can be “T” or teacher assistant is “TA”. Draw a circle around it so it helps you know it’s a name or professional title.

For children, write abbreviations. There’s two reasons for that. First, child observations are confidential. If notes are lying about, abbreviated names can help maintain privacy. Secondly, I would highly suggest you make up some names, such as having your own code for children. For example, in my picture above, I have “G1”. It could stand for the first girl on my alphabetized roster. Or, I could have a master list where I have a list of names matching with special abbreviations (“GB” is for Gabby, “ST” is for Samantha, etc.).

Practice Makes a Keener Eye

Keep watching. Keep writing. Writing speed will improve. With practice, you can write notes without looking at your notebook. Neatness is not necessary, but make sure you can read your notes later or else it’s all for not.

Tooth Brushing with Minions

It’s hard not to fall back on old habits. Where a new parent would not have any experiences with tantrums or being with small children, I have preschool teaching experiences and tactics. Gives me a little bit of a leg up.

For example, tooth brushing at night. Pretty sure pulling your child away from Curious George to go stand in the bathroom isn’t difficult at all (ha, it is). However, if you can make the tooth brushing as fun as watching a cartoon monkey get into mischievous adventures, then you have a shot.

My routine with my son goes like this:

Me: “Let’s go brush our teeth.” (i.e. “our” teeth)

Son: “Okay Dada.”

Me and my son walk into the bathroom. Son pulls out stepping stool and then steps up to sink. I get the tooth brushes and tooth pastes. I put the special “Minion” tooth paste on my son’s brush and I put the cavity prevention on mine.

41rcexyfpilA leg up for tiny little legs.

Together, we brush our teeth. Me brushing my teeth is “buy-in” for my son to brush his teeth. You know? He has motivation to brush his teeth because he wants to copy his Dad. My son brushes when I brush, spits when I spits, and rinses when I rinse. It’s a cute little routine.

81g10j5zbgl-_sy679_Tooth paste must have cartoon characters on it…must!

That’s it. A few minutes that has become a routine. I change it up now and then to make each brushing eventful and entertaining, but the core routine doesn’t change.

I would not have done this if I were a new parent: have a whole routine. But, as a former preschool teacher, I understand that children need routines, motivation, and entertainment if you want them to do something, such as a daily, health routine.

Oh, and that fun stuff I do to change up the routine now and then? Try talking in Minion voices. Get’s my son every time. “King Bob!”

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Top 5 at Dollar Tree

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There are some things that you should spend money on because it’s quality and durable and better. And then there are some things you should only spend $1 on. So, here’s my list of Top 5 items at Dollar Tree.

School Supplies

During August, it’s incredibly easy to fill up your cart with 20 packs of crayons, composition books, and bundles of filler paper. Then you have the toy sections where you’re thinking “That would look good in the dramatic play area”. The whole store is just one big impulse buy. By the time you get to the cash register, I have a fully-packed shopping cart… and it’s only gonna cost $30 something dollars. Win!

Caffeine

I don’t like spending more than $1 for a 20 oz. bottle of Diet Coke, Mountain Dew, or Dr. Pepper. All of these can be found for $1. The only times I don’t buy caffeine here is when I want something stronger. If Dollar Tree got Monster, Red Bull, and NOS, watch out! I’ll be like a child who just ate a pack of Oreos.

Candy

Speaking of sugar, kids like candy and, on special days, I’d let the kids have it. The best bang for buck in candy would be Dollar Tree. The only other good times for candy would be Halloween and Valentine’s day. However, I tend not to pass out candy during those times because I knew kids were already getting enough of it.

Gift Bags

There are a lot of special occasions during the school year, so gift bags are essential. You have birthdays for the kiddos, but there are also staff birthdays, gift exchanges, and a bunch of others events. The only cheaper gift bags is to re-gift the bags you receive… which I do all… the… time.

Party Material

Pretty much every holiday you can find decorations at Dollar Tree. And there is enough variety to cover your classroom in a variety of ways. There is only one other place where I would get party material – Party Works. However, given all of the other stuff I would get at Dollar Tree, I’d rather just get all my shopping done in one go.

Any suggestions for this Dollar Tree list? Leave them in the comments!

Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann

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Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann is a book I often read to my son at night. Although I’m sure he likes seeing all of the animals, I think it’s more about how, when I read the story, it’s a different adventure each time.

There are few words to this book. In fact, you’ll be saying “good night” and animal names throughout the book. So, if you’re looking for a lot of vocabulary, you may not feel that it’s here.

However, there is plenty of vocabulary. With no words, there are opportunities to add your own words. You know, take the story further by adding your own quotes.

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For example, I have the baby gorilla talk up a storm. When I read this book to my son, the baby gorilla is constantly laughing and giggling, because he knows he’s getting away with what’s going on. I’ll say “You want out baby elephant? You got it! How about you little armadillo? There you go!”

Fun little, creative asides makes wordless (or mostly wordless) books interesting and entertaining. You can have creative freedom to make each reading a little unique each time.

Purchase the book at Amazon

Technology & Paper: I Need Both

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My family and friends know of my love of technology. Most of my hobbies and creative outlets utilize my laptop, digital camera, smart phone, tablet, or e-reader. However, some of my best work is done old school – written on paper.

I recently read an article in Inc. called Paper Chase by Saki Knafo. Although we live in a digital world, many organizations are pushing their staff to use paper. This is nothing new to preschool workers. We use paper (of all colors) on a daily basis.

I’m a big proponent of technology being utilized in preschool classrooms. Technology offers experiences and learning opportunities that would otherwise not be possible. However, there is still  debate among professionals staunchly positioned for or against technology tools. Despite the differences, the people who are most successful in rising above this argument are those who take the time to learn about the tool, then decide how the tools can be used in developmentally appropriate ways.

However, just because we use technology doesn’t mean it’s a replacement. It simply works along side other tools in a teacher’s tool belt. Paper is one these tools. It doesn’t need a battery or reception. There is no character limit. You don’t need a login or require an account. There are other benefits as well:

“The brain reacts differently – research says better – when you use paper and not a computer. Studies show that student’s performance on tests improves when they take notes on paper instead of laptops, and kids who learn to write by hand are better at recognizing letters than those who learn to write by typing.” – Saki Knafo

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Just a few notebooks I have on me daily. Many more in storage.

I have always had a journal since late in high school and reading this article was even more convicting that I have established a good habit. Over the decades, ideas, brainstorming, sketches, journaling, reflecting and processing events can all be found amongst my many notebooks. These are also a mixture of professional and personal notes throughout the pages.

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Over 3 years of notes on workshops, conferences, and ideas.

To keep my thoughts and notes somewhat organized, I did keep a separate journal for my preschool material. I made sure it was something durable and could withstand the wear and tear of a preschool classroom, which is why I chose this one. I especially liked this notebook because it was organized, large, and spiral bound (so I fold over and write while standing).

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Notes from a National Head Start Conference in Dallas, TX.

I get a new notebook every new school year (or at least every year). That along with calendar or monthly planner. As I plan for the new year, I have my laptop in front of me, my laptop mouse to the right, and my notebook to the left… and large cup of coffee in my hand.

Family Picture Board

I worked with families that spoke English, Spanish, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Tagalog, and German. And that was just my initial class roster for one year!

Given all of the different primary languages – and the fact that I only speak one – it can be difficult to communicate with all of these families. You’re not expected to be your own translation service and Siri cannot be an assistant teacher. Still, you have to find ways to communicate with your families.

There is, at least, one thing everyone should communicate regardless of language barriers: everyone is welcomed in your classroom. And, despite the diversity of cultures and language, there is a universal way to communicate this feeling.

Soraya-assistants

How do you say “Good morning” in Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Cantonese, Tagalog, & German?

In my classroom, I dedicated one display space for family portraits. I asked families to bring one family photo to post in the classroom (one that they didn’t mind having in the classroom and not one that, if destroyed, would be devastating). Also, I communicated this in such a way that it felt like a requirement. Each family must have their photo on the wall. I mean, imagine if you were the only child who didn’t have their family portrait displayed?

And for the families who didn’t have a family portrait, I have a smartphone and a digital camera (and get a signed photo release too). Whether during a home visit or on the first day of school during sign-in, I’ll take their picture. If not on the first day, then the second or third. I’ll pester and nag. Why? Because I don’t want to imagine that only child who doesn’t have their family portrait displayed.

Nothing says that this is a welcoming classroom than to see a large display with families of all cultures and creeds posted prominently in your room. It’s a good thing. Do this!

Here are a few I found online:

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Nature Inside

I spend a lot of time on computers. Graphic design. Photography. Making home videos. Introverted kind of stuff. I like it. It’s how I like to spend my free time.

I also like the outdoors. Well, I “love-hate” the outdoors. The sweeping views under a sweltering hot sun. The cool ocean breeze as seagulls attack for food. Taking a leisurely hike in a humidity-ridden forest. See what I mean? Love-hate.

Still, I like nature. In fact, I like to bring nature into my home. How? Fake plants. Amazon has some great ones and they look good on book shelves and in the kitchen. Why not real plants you may ask? Well, I don’t have a good track record with live plants. I mean, they’re alive when I get them. Wished they stayed that way.

Bringing the outdoors inside gives me the sense of nature that I crave since my hobbies and creative interests are indoors. And I go without the sun, humidity and the bugs that make it miserable.

There is also another inside place where I spent a lot of time: the classroom. The teacher’s  classroom is often a reflection of the instructor. Some like a bare bones classroom (and I’m thinking high school here). Others spend a month’s salary getting fade resistant butcher paper and borders. I understand.

What influenced my classroom design. Well, of course, fake plants. Moving around a lot from room to room (San Francisco living), my fake plants were put into storage. Saw them one day and figured they would be better served in the classroom than a closet.

There happened to be some shelves near some of my classroom windows within the library. The plants added a cozy factor to the space. I added velcro to the bottom of the plants and the top of the shelf to increase stability.

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Also, I would occasionally add a real plant. Don’t worry, it wasn’t put necessarily at child level (depending on the pottery material). Also, don’t worry, I wasn’t the primary care giver. For the sake of the plants, it’s life was better put in the hands of the kiddos (and my assistant teacher).

Adding my own personal touch not only worked out for the classroom design, but also gave me some comfort. I didn’t intentionally design my classroom in this way, but I rather stumbled and discovered that, yeh, I like having plants around me. Just like I do at home. I know it’s  a place for kiddos, but it’s a place I have to be in as well. I might as well have some familiar things that comfort and soothe me if I’m spending 40+ hours a week in this place.

Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed

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Five Little Monkeys is one of those books that stand the test of time; probably because jumping on the bed is a right of passage for childhood.

The book follows a mother monkey trying to get her five children to go to sleep (when one child is hard enough). Upon leaving the room, the children jump up and down on the bed. When one monkey falls off the bed, consequently getting injured, the mother quickly calls a doctor. The medical advice: “No more monkeys jumping on the bed.”

As the story progresses and, upon each time the mother leaves the room, the children continue jumping on the bed and getting injured, resulting in more phone calls to the doctor. Finally, after all the children are resting – technically, bedridden and nursing their concussions – the mother can finally relax.

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Besides the always sound advice of avoiding major injury just before bedtime, there are some learning elements that a teacher could draw from this book:

  • Counting down the number of monkeys jumping on the bed.
  • The singing element with repeated words.
  • Dramatic play, such as with puppets or stuffed animals.
  • Exposing how parents spend their time when their children finally go to sleep – i.e. celebrating likes it’s 1999.

Finally, the book can easily extend into a circle time activity, demonstrated in the following video clip.

As long as you distinguish that jumping on the bed is dangerous – and that hitting your head would actually result in an E.R. visit – then children will have great fun singing along with this book.

If you’re interest in purchasing this book, click the link here.