Saturday, September 15, 2012

More Pinterest Fun!

One of these days I will have enough time to sit down and write a proper blog post ... but until then, here is another wonderful Pinterest resource!  Debbie Clement, from Rainbow Within Reach has set up another Pinterest bloghop! 

This bloghop is for special education/special needs resources!  Another great opportunity to find even more great resources! 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Oh My...Is there such a thing as TOO many ideas? Never! :)

OK- This was just too good to pass up!  If you use Pinterest to organize classroom ideas, take a look through this Pinterest Education Blog Hop! 
Find and follow your favorites and track down a few new people to follow!  Thanks to Debbie at Rainbows Within Reach for setting this up!  What a great way to find new ideas and resources!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Planning for a Guest Teacher

Since we have a unique setup in the preschool program where I teach, I have the added challenge of planning for a month long guest teacher each and every July!  Last summer was quite the challenge.  I ended up leaving at the end of June and a teacher associate sub as well as a guest teacher stepped in with no type of transition time for the children at all!  Not ideal!!

I am so much happier with what I was able to create this summer (partially by design, partially on accident)!  While the children will still have adjustments to make, they have had some time to get to know the new people.  I also know that I have done everything in my power to make this the most positive time for the children that I can. 

I updated my teacher binder with new notes, information about the children, daily schedules and names, numbers and where items are located.  I made "cheat sheets" and posted them around the classroom.  Here is a list of the cheat sheets I created and posted around the classroom this year:
  1. Cheat Sheet for mealtimes- lists who needs food cut up, who eats what type of food, assistance children may need
  2. Cheat Sheet for IEP goal work- how to work with certain children who may need more prompts, what to work with children on, how to fill out IEP tracking sheets.
  3. Cheat Sheet for calendar time- sequence of routine
  4. Cheat Sheet for water day- who needs sunscreen, when to begin getting ready
  5. Cheat Sheet for songs/music- what songs are routinely done, what CD are they on.
  6. Cheat Sheet for Daily Schedules- (object schedule as well as picture schedules)
Now, of course, none of this would have helped if the people coming in didn't already have a basic understanding of the children!  My guest teacher happened to be the guest teacher next door for the month of June.  This gave my group of children the opportunity to get to know her in a relaxed way!  We spent several days slowly working her into the flow of our day so the children could begin to understand that she would be in the classroom with them soon.

Of course, I certainly can't guarantee that this will eliminate all challenges (I'm sure it won't).  I do know that this is a significantly better set up than last summer and I am confident that the people taking over will provide a relatively smooth transition for the children!  THAT makes my job of relaxing on this month MUCH easier!  Now, I'm off to do more of that! 

If you would like to see a bit more detail of the Guest Teacher Cheat Sheets I talked about in this blog post, hop on over to Prekandksharing I wrote about the details of those cheat sheets!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Light at the End of the Tunnel!

Yep!  I'm finally headed towards the end of my "end of the year paperwork nightmare!"  I have five children heading to kindergarten in August.  That meant one heck of a lot of paperwork and meetings to get those kids ready!  And we're not done yet.  But...we're close!

My favorite moments, of course, have been away from the paperwork! Thanks to a grant, we were able to add extra (much needed) space to our outdoor area!  This gave us the room to add several different areas and room to add several garden areas!  Thanks to another grant we were able to purchase plants, seeds, soil, a planter bed and many tools! 

In addition to several gardening areas, we also have a new music area, an outdoor art/discovery area, a group time area, a digging area and a playhouse.

All of these areas are still being developed and the children are busy helping us define how they will use them.  The biggest excitement lately has been the addition of the "digging area".  This was very much an "accidental" addition to the outdoor area.  After gardening with the children, we realized that the children were NOT going to be satisfied with simply digging in the garden a few days!  The children quickly discovered that the dirt patch that was left after the fence was moved was an excellent area to dig holes.  And that is what they have done...each and every day after the gardening project. 

They have been digging for worms to add to the garden, beetles to hold and just simply for the pure pleasure of digging the biggest hole they possibly can.  This has provided plenty of opportunity for teamwork between children.  It also has required the children to be aware of safety with the tools.  After a few reminders from adults, the children are now fairly consistently putting tools back in the tool bucket when they are ready to run over to another area.  The fact that a few found out the hard way that tripping over a shovel or rake is not always pleasant may have helped as well!

I have watched with a bit of pride as the children in my classroom have happily joined all the excitement and are interacting and enjoying all of the new activities.  What a great way to learn language, social skills and increase those cognitive abilities!  Imagine all those neural pathways being created as a child holds and smells various herbs, tastes the lettuce they helped plant or finds a small bug in a hole.  Yep!  I'll take this over paperwork any day!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

What You Say Really Does Make a Difference!

Have you ever noticed how you can inherently change a child's view of something simply by your word choice and your own internal feelings on the event? 

I often have children in my preschool special education classroom who use equipment in order to move around with the other children.  I also have children in my classroom who have little or no verbal communication, who use sign language or communication devices to communicate with peers or who make little or no eye contact with others. 

This leads to many questions from children in  the other preschool classrooms when they first meet the children.   

While the other preschool children may have friends in their own classrooms with limited language or physical challenges, the barriers to communication and interactions can seem bigger with more equipment involved.  

Therefore, I have often heard the following comments from young children: 

Now, there are three ways, in my view, that I could answer these questions:

Question 1:  "He can't talk!"

I could say...
  1. "No, he can't talk"
  2. "No, he can't talk...but look he can smile at you!"
  3. "Of course he is talking...look at his smile and how he is bouncing up and down!  He is telling you he's so happy to see you!  He can't wait to play with you!"
Question 2:  ..."What is that thing?" (pointing to a walker or stander) 
  1. "He can't walk like you can.  He has to use a walker"
  2. "He needs that to help him walk."
  3. "Well, that's his helps him walk fast like you do!  Do you want to walk with him?"
Question 3:  ...the child simply stands and stares at the child
  1. "Go play"
  2. "He's in his stander so he can stand up."
  3. "Would you like to say 'hi' to _____?  I bet he would love that!  Here you can stand right here so you can say hi to each other!"
Finally Question 4:  The child tries to interact but then begins to lose interest when the child doesn't react in the way they anticipated he/she would.
  1. (To another adult)  I wish ______ would answer and look at the children when they want to play with him/her!
  2. (To the child who is struggling with eye contact and social interactions)  "Look at your friend!  Say Hi!"  (and then the adult walks away)
  3. (To the child who wants to interact)  "______ loves to play ball.  Can you go get a ball for us?  OK I'll stand with ______, you can stand here...ready...we'll bounce the ball to you"
Take a wild guess at which answers will create the most excitement about playing with and interacting with a new friend?  What happens if the child realizes that the adults in his/her life interpret the smiles, laughs and bouncing as communication?  What happens if the adults in the child's life assist in the initial interactions and then continue to assist in maintaining the interaction for a period of time until the children have a pattern and history of play that they can then draw from?  What happens if the adults in the child's life embrace equipment as a wonderful necessity; making it possible to engage in activities with peers? 

Our job, as educators, is to help break down those barriers that the children sometimes face with their peers!  Whether it's embracing a walker or stander, enjoying and appreciating the interactions that happen without any eye contact from a little guy or interpreting the non-verbal communication that happens with smiles, giggles and bounces; it is important that our own body language and verbal communication encourage the interaction rather than dismiss it! 

Of course, children need plenty of time WITHOUT adult interference and without adult support.  But, when we are supporting interactions we need to be aware that our own messages to the children are probably coming through loud and clear...whether we want them to or not!  And, finally, none of us are perfect! If we miss opportunities to assist in interactions with peers, we just try to make sure we catch another one at another time! 

Come visit me at the PreK and K Sharing blog as well.  My monthly contribution is all about balance in life!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Our Hallway Doesn't Seem Quite So Long Anymore!

No, the school hallway has not shrunk!  No, we have not been moved to the other end of the hallway.  And, no we have not installed moving floors...though this wouldn't be a bad idea!  The children have simply made so much progress that they've begun to actually regulate their own behavior!

This means:
  1. No child is actually darting into open classrooms!
  2. No child is stopping, dropping and refusing to move another inch!
  3. No child is screaming at the top of their lungs halfway to the gym!
Ahhh...this helps our school hallway shrink by at least half!  The shrinking hallway may have something to do with the fact that I have five children moving on to elementary school next fall.  They've all made so much progress! 

The children have learned to love working as a group and have enjoyed many group activities together!  This has made the last few months pretty darn fun for everyone (minus a few tough weeks)!  I have several children who have recently made an amazing literacy connection!  These two children insists on telling us what sound many words begin with.  Now THAT is amazing!  We've been having so much fun with sounds, rhymes and rhythmic books.  We've added many new communication boards around the room for the children to grab and use to communicate with while they work and play. 

And now that I feel a bit more caught up in my own life and have regained a bit of balance, I will be back to writing semi-regularly here!  So, even though our hallway has "shrunk" you'll still find us trudging down that hallway often.  And, of course, we'll be pushing our lunch cart to the 'middle of nowhere' in order to return our lunch items...down that long, long hallway! 

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Milk Filter Flannelboard Follow-Up

Carrie saw my previous posts on making flannelboard pieces with milk filters, and would like information for purchasing these.  I figured I would do a quick follow up post for anyone who would like to make flannelboard pieces from milk filters and was still having difficulty finding the filters!

If you missed the information on how to make these you can find it HERE and HERE.

Ken Ag 15" Transfer System Milk Filters

You can purchase the milk filters directly through Farm and Fleet on-line.  I found that some of the stores may not carry them in stock or they may only have one size, so buying on-line is probably the easiest route. 

Here is the link to buy the: 15 inch Ken-Ag milk filters  These will need to be cut to the size of printer paper and fed through the printer just like paper.  While $13.49 may sound like a lot, one box of 100 should last quite a while!  You can print multiple flannelboard pieces on one sheet of milk filter 'paper'.  

I ended up experimenting with using the 6 1/2 inch Ken-Ag milk filters, which also can be purchased on-line.  Simply tape the filter to the middle of a piece of computer paper and it will feed directly through the printer.  These are $3.99, but are a little more tricky to use for printing.

Of course, if you don't want to pay shipping charges and you live near a farming area, you may be able to simply go to a farm implement store and ask for these.  Any area that has dairy farms should carry milk filters.  I'm sure there are other brands. I just happened to use these since that is what the store near my house sold!  I really am not sure if there are differences in brands or not. 

Hope this information helps if you are still having difficulty finding these in your area!  These make quite durable and long lasting flannelboard pieces! 

Saturday, January 28, 2012

All Those Things We CAN do!

Recently a new program to help evaluate classrooms was implemented at the preschool level in our area. The evaluation involves training a group of teachers to make brief observations of classrooms.  During these observations the observers tally the number of children considered "on-task" in the classroom during very brief (3-5 min.) time periods. 

To be honest, I wasn't sure at all how this would go!  My classroom is very much, what I consider, a 'flexible' community!  The children are rarely all doing the same thing.  While it may APPEAR to others that certain children are not actively engaged with materials, it may really be that the children are overwhelmed by sensory stimuli and are attempting to self-regulate, they may need time to process what is happening or they may simply need to observe an activity many times before engaging in it. 

As the peer observer entered our classroom for the first time, I was curious to see if interacting with Bob the hamster would be considered "on-task"!  I looked around.  Wow!  Every single child was watching, interacting with or feeding Bob!  The children were clearly engaged in the activity by choice.  There was no need to redirect any child.  For those who needed mini-breaks from the group, it was simple enough to turn a back to the group and engage with a toy on the shelf for a minute or two before returning.  The children were talking to Bob, blowing kisses at Bob and some were using words to describe what he was doing while playing!

The peer observer popped in a second time to observe our calendar time routine.  Every single child was watching, vocalizing, verbalizing, singing or signing parts of our routine!  Well, I would say that was "on-task"!  It is amazing now to hear almost all the children vocalize while we are "reading" our morning message each day. 

A stranger would never know that we are all supposedly saying the very same thing!  While a stranger may not understand all (or even any) of the words some of the children are saying, each and every child clearly WANTS to be part of the group and is proud and eager to help read that sentence.

Finally, the peer observer came in for a third time.  We were in the midst of small groups (IEP goal work).  I was working one on one with a child, one of my teacher associates was working one on one with a child and my other teacher associate was engaged with the rest of the children on the carpet building bridges, roads and tunnels with blocks.  Again, we were all on task! 

Nearly all of the children in my classroom will move on to elementary school next fall, so at this point, these children are very familiar with the group and classroom.  It is so wonderful to see how far these children have come! 

So, while I'm not sure if our little tally marks added up to "on-task" from the observation perspective (although, from my quick conversation with the observer afterwards, I'm pretty sure they did) it gave me a wonderful opportunity to reflect on how much progress this group has made. 

It helped me remember all those things that we can now do!  I hope that the peer observer saw the following things we CAN do while observing the classroom! 
  1. We can engage with other children through smiles, words, gestures, vocalizations or proximity.
  2. We can interact with a small animal gently.
  3. We can be part of a community.  We enjoy helping others and are proud of what we do together.
  4. We can follow directions within our routine. 
  5. We can participate with a group of other children for 10 min. or more.
  6. We can understand, remember and request various favorite parts of the routine of the day.
  7. We can make connections with our learning.  We know that if it is cold outside, we will need to wear a coat.  We know that if it is very cold outside, we will go to the gym to play.  We know that we will get to listen to "Thriller" if we go to the gym.  We know that we can choose to ride a bike if we go outside. 
  8. We can remember and talk about activities we have done in the past.  We know that each day we sing the "Winter" song.  We know that the words "hot cocoa" are in the winter song.  It reminds some of us of the "train" movie we watched nearly a month ago and the hot cocoa we drank...and we must mention this each and every day!
So, I guess there was something to be gained from this 'evaluation'.  Go ahead, tally how "on-task" the kids are...this group of kids loves coming to school each day! 

They're "on-task" because they simply REFUSE to be left out of anything!  :)

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Well Planned Disguise!

Before our break I tried to gather up and take home our materials from December.  I took down the tree, the lights, the "Santa dog" that played jingle bells and a few other things. 

We actually had been so busy that we hadn't even had a chance to explore our new "moldable" sand in the sensory table with some candy cane tubes and Santa shaped plastic containers. 

Well, imagine my surprise when I realized that I had forgotten to remove the holiday items from the table before break!  The kids didn't mind one single bit!  In fact, they seemed to be extremely happy to see these leftover remnants of holidays past!

The Santas' said "ho, ho, ho" while their tummy's were filled with sand!  The children filled and emptied and enjoyed.  So, there.  What I thought at first was a "mistake" was CLEARLY not a mistake for the children who played at the sensory table! 

Sometimes, a forgetful mistake is simply a well planned way to engage the children in recalling previous disguise!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Making Learning Connections...and Gingerbread Houses!

I'm always looking for ways to help the children connect the songs, stories and games that we do in the classroom to real life activities or objects!  It's one thing to READ about a gingerbread's another thing to MAKE a gingerbread house!  So, before our break, with the children so obsessed with The Gingerbread Baby by Jan Brett, we just HAD to try our hand at miniature...very child created and super simple gingerbread houses! 

We started by saving and washing small milk cartons (one for each child).  We (a-hem, my teacher associate :) cut a flap on one side of each milk carton to form a "door."

The children used craft sticks to spread frosting on the milk carton and then stuck graham cracker squares directly to the milk carton. 

Spreading is a WONDERFUL way to work on those fine motor skills!  (If you are looking for other creative ways to work on fine motor skills through play, check THIS out!)

Then the fun part...MORE frosting!  We went through almost an entire can of frosting...and, believe it or not, very little was eaten!

After the houses were frosted, the children chose to put marshmallow shapes or cookies on the outside.  We chose not to use any candy or small items, as these would pose a choking hazard for many of the children.

Then the BEST part of ALL!  The children LOVED, LOVED, LOVED putting a gingerbread baby cookie inside the gingerbread house. 

I could clearly tell that several of the children were connecting this directly with their beloved Gingerbread Baby book!   What a great way to work on those fine motor skills AND create a tiny part of a book we love!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Jingle Bell Art!

Here's a super quick art exploration that the children love doing quite often.  At first glance, this may look surprisingly similar to golf ball art!  But, we've added a twist to this.  We've put HUGE jingle bells inside plastic cake boxes with clear lids. 

We've added paper cut to fit the bottom and several colors of paint.  The children work together or take turns bouncing, shaking and moving the bells around the box in order to paint the paper with the paint and bells.

We used red and green in these pictures, but I think we may try white paint on blue construction paper during January!  I'm imagining it may look a bit like snow on the paper! 

I especially love the fact that we were able to add the auditory component of listening for the bells to an art exploration! 

And now, after looking at these pictures again, I realize there's a great adaptation just waiting to happen!  If a child is not able to easily move the box on his/her own, attaching a string or piece of yarn and a large bead to the end, would give the child the chance to hold the bead and PULL the box around!  Hmmm...we may have to call that "train painting"!

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