Wednesday, July 27, 2016

First Day Activities with the Gingerbread Man

Well summer is officially ending and everyone is scurrying to their classrooms to prep for back to school. How do you spend your first day back at school with the kiddos? Do you spend most of the day going over rules and procedures? If you do, DON'T! Why don't you save all that nagging and boring stuff for the 2nd day of school. Okay. Okay. I know you can teach rules and procedures in a fun way and I hope you do, but why not make that 1st day fun and engaging for your new little ones.

I have been doing First Day Activities with the Gingerbread Man since my first year of teaching. I can't take credit for the whole idea. I am not even sure where this idea originally came from. I do know that a very experienced, veteran teacher who is amazing at what she does taught me about how students can create Gingerbread Man cookies, read the book and then go on a school tour in search for their precious missing cookies. This teacher was my mentor teacher and team teacher so she taught me a few tricks. I then added some cute rhymes as clues during our Gingerbread Man search and other goodies.
Then I came to Canada.... where guess what? My partner kinder teach also shared that they create G-man cookies & search for their cookies through out the school allowing the children to get to know the school. Obviously this activity has been around for years and all over different places. It's am OLDIE BUT GOODY I'd say!
So you might be wondering what I have to offer then in the First Day Activities with the Gingerbread Man. Here's what it has to offer:

  • A detailed description of each activity and how I use these in my classroom on the 1st day.
  • A Gingerbread Man recipe sheet for yourself or to provide to parents
  • A note from the Gingerbread Man that falls out of your book while you are reading it to your class letting them know that their cookies are missing.
  • Rhyming clue notes for you to read as they are posted around the school so that the children can guess where their missing G-man went.
  • A Gingerbread Man & Girl for each child to decorate using materials of your choice, as well as a strip to create their own sentence.
  • A G-Man reader.
  • A G-Man class book.
  • A G-Man hat so that their parents will ask them about it & also helps the children remember what they did on their fun-filled 1st day.
  • A First Day of School Newsletter that is editable to tell the parents all about the fun their child had.

Some years I choose to provide the children with a construction paper cut-out of a Gingerbread Man cookie to decorate instead of the white printed sheet.

Here are a few of books we read the first day of school and through out the first week that relate to our Gingerbread Man hunt.

Words cannot describe the look on each child's face once we open the oven and discover that their cookies are missing. It's pure heaven!

At last! We find our cookies in the principal's office. What better way to get to meet and know your school principal on that first day of school. :)

The children also create a self portrait on the first day. This is a wonderful keepsakes for their class portfolio that they get to bring home at the end of the year.

Just creating her Gingerbread Man hat.

I don't set rules for how children decide to decorate their Gingerbread Man. It's a free for all on the decorations and I love to see what they create! We have a lot of fun on our first day of school and I hope you do too!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Flexible Seating... Isn't It a Right Fit for Everyone?!

Alright peeps, I may sound a bit cray cray but there is just something that has been bugging me since school got out and summer break began last week. Yes. Yes. I know many teachers do think about what they are going to do, implement and teach for the following school year before school even gets out for the summer, but here's the thing. I don't have to think about any of that! I get to enjoy my summer break and then begin my year of maternity leave in September. Yup, you got that right. Thanks to the good ole' Great North (aka Canada) I get to enjoy a whole year of maternity leave. So if I get a whole year before I go back into the classroom to teach my littles, what in the heck could be bugging me you might ask. Well, it's this wonderful thing called flexible seating, free choice, going table-less, or what ever else you want to call it. 
(classroom image from 1910, Google)
(classroom image from 1960s, Google)

You see... this year after reading many different blog posts and observing different classrooms inside and outside of my school district I decided to go "table-less" (for the most part- we kept 2 tables) once my kinders returned from Christmas break. It was marvelous and since then I have never looked back! I put a lot of time and effort into creating a classroom environment that allowed for flexible seating, and I was only beginning. I still have so many items and things I can't wait to try and add once my year mat leave is up, but that's another story. Here's where I find my brain in a bit of a pickle... while I love love love this idea, I don't quiet think everyone else in my school or the district is up for the challenge. I guess I should add in here that I found it the complete opposite of a challenge though. This last week of school as I was helping my kinders get mentally prepared for grade one I began to panic in this little head of mine. "How are they going to survive?" "All of these workbooks and worksheets, really?" "How are they going to sit patiently and all day in their desks?" Obviously, I know they will survive and I know they will do great but I just wish there was more student choice and flexible seating among ALL of the grades in my school. Maybe I just think more this way since I get it. I was one of those kids! I could not still quietly and patiently in one spot all day. I was totally that kid that needed to have choice and a bit of freedom. Did I get it? Nope. I was required to sit at a desk to do my work alllll through school. I wasn't a fan of school, sitting there, doing work all day and would have loved if I had a teacher who gave me some choice/options.
(classroom image from 2000, Google)
This year my school district did an amazing job at making sure our kinder teachers stay well connected with some awesome PD sessions together, as well as one PD session where we (teachers from different grades & schools in the district) got to tour other classrooms & schools in our district. Our goal was to think and make one change in our classroom from our experience. I heard SO- many (like practically every teacher involved in this particular PD session) state that they wanted to change their classroom set up to a more student led and community based learning experience. My biggest problem with all of their presentations is that almost all of them said they feared to allow such a change. They were not willing to get rid of the desks. Fear can be a good thing, but when fear keeps you from letting your students be successful is when it is not a good thing. I tried to explain to them to just "JUMP!". Take the leap. I did it! Did I do it perfectly? No. Could it have been better? Probably. But did it work and my students succeed in our transition to more flexible seating? Absolutely! Isn't that what matters after all.
(classroom image of the 21st century, Google)

So teachers if you are out there and you are scared about taking a risk, please just try it. After witnessing the power of flexible seating with my kinders this year I 100% believe that it can be beneficial for EVERY FREAK'N CLASSROOM and EVERY grade. Can I get an Amen?! :) Too many times this year I heard our "Boss Lady of Kindergarten for our district" (that's what I'll call her) mention that children need the opportunity to play, explore, discover and create. I know this is true for kindergarten, but isn't this true for every grade? Isn't that how children learn in every grade? If not, than no offense, but I wouldn't want to be in your classroom because I am one of those kids who needs to move, visualize, create and explore in order to learn.
Okay. I will step down off my high soap box for now because I have some great blog posts I found on Flexible Seating that I found helpful and that I think everyone should take a look at. Plus, I want to share with you what flexible seating looked like in my classroom this year.
This is what the classroom looked like when I stepped into it in October (I switched schools due to the original kinder teacher taking another position).



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Incorporating flexible seating in my classroom didn't happen all at once. I started off by just going table-less with the exception of keeping 2 tables for messy projects & for students who preferred the tables. My first step was to get rid of 3 out of the 5 tables in our classroom & going out to the local dollar store to purchase enough bath mats for every student. 

My classroom then looked more like this after Christmas break.

 The children got to decide where they wanted to sit and if they preferred to work with others or by themselves for our center activities.



Since we have lunch in our classrooms we decided to make our big carpet like our big dinner table. This allowed for all students to chat with each other while they ate their lunch. I thought at first that it would be super messy but it wasn't. 

As you can see, sometimes a child would prefer the table.

 We have community supplies & the children are responsible for getting what they need for their activity. I love that this required them to be problem-solvers.

I also have enough clipboards for every student in case we are working on something where we all need one.


 This IKEA tent was actually being used as our Market during our community helpers unit, but at other times it made a great place for children to have some distraction free time while they completed their work.



Towards the last few months in school I was able to order a loft, 2 wobble stools, 2 bean bag chairs & 2 floor chairs for my classroom that allowed the students to have more choice. I would love to continue to build on this over the years. I know options for flexible seating can take time and money.


Reading this Edutopia post by Kayla Delzer from Top Dog Teaching was like my Hallelujah moment! Kayla got my wheels turning and had me imagining all of the possibilities I could do with my classroom & students if I just gave them the chance. She even shares what flexible seating looks like in her 2nd grade classroom here. Check out her classroom and ask yourself "Does my classroom look like a 21st century classroom or a classroom from the 1960s (minus the peace, love & happiness part)?". 

Are you interested in flexible seating or even a bit too scared to test it out? Don't fear! Angie from Lucky Little Learners has all the Q&As you need to figure things out. I actually didn't find her blog post until after I had already went "table-less" in my classroom, but literally all of her questions & answers pretty much would be the same as what went down in my classroom. I did not create an anchor chart, but I did review how we use certain seating options and areas each morning for the first few days to help remind my kiddos of what was expected of them. I also LOVE that she says "Give your students a chance to prove themselves."



Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Working on Building Fine Motor and Pencil Grip

Do you have children who need just a little extra support with how they grip their pencil? Maybe they need a lot of support? We have a little bit of all in our classroom. I received this awesome chart from The Pencil Grip which really helped me show my children how to properly grip their pencil. Download the chart here.

We write daily in our classroom. While I focus on handwriting all day, I focus on proper pencil grip and letter formation the most during our daily journals. These pencil grips really make a huge difference for those children who need extra support.
You can see where the journal passage from 1-20-16 had to be highlighted in order for the child to properly write in the dotted lines because he needed that much support. Once I received my pencil grips from The Pencil Grip he didn't need me to follow my highlighted writing to create his own writing. I mean WOW!

It wasn't long before he was forming his letters without the need of support.

Here's another friend in our classroom who needed a little extra support gripping his pencil. As you can see in the photo below, he wasn't gripping his pencil properly.
The pencil grip helps him grip his pencil properly. Boy does it ever make a difference in being able to read his handwriting.



Over time each child has made major progress with support from the pencil grip. Of course a pencil grip support alone does not solve everything. We make sure we work on building our fine motor skills in our classroom.
 Writing on a wall or door with an erasable crayon is great for building fine motor. Having the children hold up their paper with their opposite writing hand helps them build those skills as well.
Tearing paper helps build fine motor skills.
 Using a cloths pin to sort Fruit Loops is a fun and tasty treat for the children to help build their fine motor.
 Most recently for Earth Day we used tongs to pick up trash with letters on each. Talk about a great way to build fine motor while practicing their letters and sounds.
Support from our pencil grips and fine motor building activities has made giant improvements in all of my kiddos. :) 

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