Tuesday, January 7, 2020

How to Set Up a Fairy Tale Castle Dramatic Play Center

Note: This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you make a purchase after clicking on one of my links, I'll receive a small commission at no cost to you. Thanks for your support!

How to Set Up a Fairytale Castle Dramatic Play Center | Apples to Applique

This has been one of my all-time favorite dramatic play centers. It's the kind of thing you set up and then watch the kids come in and stare at, wide-eyed.

Yes, it took a little bit of time to set up. I actually did it on a parent-teacher conference day, working on it when I had a gap between conferences. The kids' faces when they saw it made it totally worth it! The good news is, it was cheap to set up, too! I had almost everything on hand, and the things I needed to purchase were inexpensive.

First, I cut long sheets of brown butcher paper and cut out square shapes at one end to form the crenels and merlons for the battlement. (That's the toothy-looking part at the top of castles. Yes, I learned some new words and wanted to use them.) I attached these to the wall. My dramatic play area happened to be in a corner, but it would work just as well on a flat wall space.

How to Set Up a Fairytale Castle Dramatic Play Center | Apples to Applique

It proved more difficult than expected to wrap the paper into the corner, and my corner looked choppy and horrible (I forgot to get a picture). So I improvised and added a beanstalk. For that, I just twisted and wrinkled a long piece of green butcher paper, and then attached it to the walls. However, I should have waited to do that until after the next step.

Initially, I was just going to put up the brown butcher paper with the battlement cut out and call it good, but once I had it up, I just wasn't loving it. I decided it needed bricks, but there was no way I was going to attempt to freehand draw them somehow. Then in dawned on me that a car washing sponge would be the exact right shape and size to paint on some bricks.

How to Set Up a Fairytale Castle Dramatic Play Center | Apples to Applique

I found one similar to this at Walmart for a couple bucks. I mixed white and brown tempera paint and brushed it onto the sponge, then printed a simple brick pattern. The corner proved to be a pain with the beanstalk in the way, so if you recreate this in your classroom, I suggest putting up the beanstalk after painting the bricks.

How to Set Up a Fairytale Castle Dramatic Play Center | Apples to Applique

Painting the bricks went by much faster than I anticipated, and I was so pleased with the results! The spongey texture was perfect!

Next, I cut some football-shaped pieces from light green construction paper and drew some simple veins on them with a green marker to make leaves. I stuck them up randomly on both sides of the beanstalk. I also cut a cloud out of white butcher paper.

How to Set Up a Fairytale Castle Dramatic Play Center | Apples to Applique

It was definitely starting to have more of the look and feel I wanted!

How to Set Up a Fairytale Castle Dramatic Play Center | Apples to Applique

To add to the fairytale castle feeling, I decided it needed a stained glass window in the middle of the brick wall. This ended up being so much fun to make! I grabbed lots of different colors of construction paper and cut them into random shapes. Then I drew the window shape I wanted on a piece of white butcher paper.

How to Set Up a Fairytale Castle Dramatic Play Center | Apples to Applique
It's a little difficult to see the diagonal lines at the top of this, but they're there!

I glued the colorful shapes all over the paper, overlapping one another and the edges of my window.

How to Set Up a Fairytale Castle Dramatic Play Center | Apples to Applique

I didn't want there to be any white space left in the middle. This part took a little more time than I thought it would, but I made a pretty big window.

How to Set Up a Fairytale Castle Dramatic Play Center | Apples to Applique

When it was all covered, I cut through all the layers to get a clean line for my edges. Next, I cut some strips of black construction paper and glued those all around the perimeter to make a frame. I think it would also work to use something like black electrical tape around the edges, and may be faster.

How to Set Up a Fairytale Castle Dramatic Play Center | Apples to Applique

After it had dried pretty well, I attached it to the middle of my castle wall.

How to Set Up a Fairytale Castle Dramatic Play Center | Apples to Applique

Then, because I can never seem to help myself, I decided it needed one more thing: sconces. Those were quick and easy. I just rolled up 2 pieces of brown construction paper...

How to Set Up a Fairytale Castle Dramatic Play Center | Apples to Applique

...and then stuffed them with orange and yellow tissue paper after hanging them on either side of the stained glass window.
How to Set Up a Fairytale Castle Dramatic Play Center | Apples to Applique

There, that was the effect I was going for! I love it when the picture in my head actually materializes.

For some play accessories, I ordered some royal robes for the kids to wear, and then I hit up the Dollar Tree. I bought some "crystal" glasses and silver plates, which made everything look fancy, but only set me back about $5 total.

How to Set Up a Fairytale Castle Dramatic Play Center | Apples to Applique

Some other fun accessories would be knight and princess dress up clothes, stick horses, plush dragons...anything you can think of!

My students had hours of fun in this area, acting out stories we read during our fairytale unit or making up stories with their own imaginations. It was a delight to watch them.

I would love to hear about fairytale dramatic play in your classroom!

Keep teaching with heart and passion!

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

6 Winter Escape Rooms to Get You Through to Spring Break

Coming back after winter break is hard for both teachers and students. Everyone has gotten used to sleeping in and not following a set schedule. It's cold outside and no one wants to get out of their warm beds in the morning and face the elements to get to school.

One thing that helps ease back into the routine of school days (aside from lots of practice and refreshers on classroom procedures!) is to keep lessons fresh and exciting.

6 Winter Escape Rooms to Get You Through to Spring Break | Apples to Applique

My kids love doing escape rooms, and I love seeing them learn while having fun. A few weeks ago I had some of the clue envelopes stacked on my desk in preparation for a Christmas Around the World escape room; one of my students saw it and got super excited, then told the rest of the class we were "doing another one of those things". For the next couple of days, I had a few kids ask me multiple times a day if it was time to do the escape room. I've never had so many kids excited for a lesson as when I use the escape room format.

Thankfully, I have several escape rooms all ready to go to get us through the rest of the winter.

Escape the Arctic Tundra | Apples to Applique

First, there's Escape the Arctic Tundra, which focuses on syllables. While practicing with syllables, students also learn the names of various Arctic animals. (Get it here in my shop or here in my TPT store!)

Escape Room: Chinese New Year | Apples to Applique

Why should learning about holidays of other cultures stop with Christmas Around the World activities? Whether or not you and your community celebrate Chinese New Year, I always think it is wonderful for children to learn about special days that others celebrate. The skill focus for this escape room is comparing numbers, but students will also get to learn about symbols and customs of this holiday. (Find it here in my shop or here in my TPT store.)

Escape Room: Groundhog Day | Apples to Applique

Groundhog Day is always a fun day with young kids; the excitement of predicting, the reassurance that winter really won't last forever. It also makes a great time to talk about opposites, which is the focus of this Groundhog-Day themed escape room. (Grab it here in my shop or here in my TPT store.)

Escape Room: 100th Day of School | Apples to Applique

The 100th Day of School! A milestone worth celebrating. This escape room focuses on numbers to 100 (of course) with hundreds charts, ten-frames, and base-10 formats. (Get it here in my shop or here in my TPT store.)

Escape Room: Valentine's Day | Apples to Applique

Valentine's Day has always been a personal favorite of mine--mostly because it's also my birthday. As a kid, it was the perfect birthday. It wasn't a big enough holiday, like Christmas, to overshadow my birthday, but we always got to have a party day at school. This escape room gives students the chance to practice matching upper and lower case letters with puzzles, "I Have, Who Has?", write the room, and a cut and paste activity. (Find it here in my shop or here in my TPT store.)

Escape Room: Presidents Day | Apples to Applique

Presidents Day may be a minor one as far as holidays go, but it is important in the knowledge of history it bestows upon our students. The skill focus for this escape room is positional words, learned in the context of important American monuments. (Snag it here in my shop or here in my TPT store.)

Hopefully fun activities like these will make the winter fly by for you and your class, so you can get to spring break and warmer weather!

Happy Teaching!

Monday, December 16, 2019

Jack and the Beanstalk: A STEM Story

Jack and the Beanstalk: A STEM Story | Apples to Applique

If you haven't noticed, I'm becoming obsessed with STEM (see this post and this post). I love the open-ended problem-solving opportunities, which I think will be more and more vital as our society continues to advance. School is no longer about simply imparting knowledge; kids have Google for that. What they need are chances to utilize that knowledge, to collaborate, experiment, and problem-solve; time to reflect on what went well and what they could do better. STEM offers all of that--and, bonus, it's really fun!


My latest project that I'm super excited about is STEM Stories! There are lots of fairytale STEM activities out there, which involve reading a story and then completing a challenge inspired by the story. My twist on it is that the STEM challenges are woven throughout the tale, and actually influence the events in the story!

Jack and the Beanstalk: A STEM Story | Apples to Applique
Printed and bound, this book will last for years of STEM Story fun!

Jack and the Beanstalk is the first story I've finished, but I have several more in the works. This is my own unique rendition of the story, which starts out the same as the familiar tale, but then takes its own path. At three points in the story, it says "Stop for STEM". Students then complete a challenge, the outcome of which determines what happens next. The setup is similar to a choose-your-own-adventure story.

Jack and the Beanstalk: A STEM Story | Apples to Applique


Each challenge includes planning and reflection sheets so that students can think about their design and then process what went well, what didn't go well, and what they would do differently.

Jack and the Beanstalk: A STEM Story | Apples to Applique


If they successfully complete the challenge, the story continues in one way, and if they do not successfully complete the challenge, the story continues in a different way. The same kids could even complete the STEM Story more than once so that the have the chance to improve their designs and see different events unfold!

Jack and the Beanstalk: A STEM Story | Apples to Applique


The three challenges throughout the story can all be easily adapted for any elementary level. For younger students, you could provide a wider range of supplies and supports, and give them a longer time limit to complete challenges. For older students, you could increase the difficulty by adding more parameters, such as shorter time constraints or fewer supplies.

Jack and the Beanstalk: A STEM Story | Apples to Applique

I include suggestions of supplies, but you could use anything you have on hand! Customize it to the needs of your students! I prefer to set a few parameters to define the desired outcome, but leave the challenges open-ended other than that. I don't even show my students pictures of completed challenges, because I want them to be completely free to create and design, without any preconceived ideas of what their project should look like. I am always amazed at their creativity; they never fail to have ideas that are far beyond anything I would have thought of. I often wish I had had the opportunity to do more STEM projects as a child; I think it could have benefited me with a greater ability to think outside the box.

I love this merging of STEM and ELA; it is fun and engaging while also being purposeful. I hope you and your students enjoy it, too. I would love to hear how it goes for you!

Find Jack and the Beanstalk: A STEM Story here in my shop or here in my TPT store!

Happy Teaching!

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Christmas STEM: Design a Sleigh for Santa!

Note: This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you make a purchase after clicking on one of my links, 
I will receive a small commission at no cost to you. Thanks for your support!

Christmas STEM Activity: Build a Sleigh for Santa! | Apples to Applique

I've shared before about how I love doing STEM in the classroom. I love how engaging it is, that it is hands-on 
for kids, and how they have to exercise their problem-solving skills and creativity. 

I really like it when I can connect a STEM activity to something we read. 
Anytime a lesson crosses different subjects, it gives kids a more complete, well-rounded educational experience. 
I came across a gem of a Christmas book recently, called The 12 Sleighs of Christmas
It's not a well-known read aloud, to my knowledge; none of my teacher friends have heard of it, anyway. 
It tells a cute story, in rollicking, rhyming text, about how Santa's sleigh needed repairs, so the elves took to 
building him all kinds of fancy new sleighs.

Christmas STEM Activity: Build a Sleigh for Santa! | Apples to Applique

At the conclusion of the story, I had my students work in pairs and design their own sleighs for Santa. 
I had them work with a partner because it provides invaluable opportunities for social emotional growth having 
to share and advocate for your own ideas, listen to the ideas of others, and to learn how to blend your ideas 
together for a result both parties are pleased with. For some of my students, this was the most valuable part of
the lesson. I had a few students who only wanted to work alone because learning to collaborate is difficult!

Christmas STEM Activity: Build a Sleigh for Santa! | Apples to Applique

I had them sketch their designs first (find the freebie here in my store!) and think about what supplies they would 
need. The only parameters I gave them for their designs was to use no more than about a foot of tape, which I tore 
off and gave to each group. (I've discovered in my STEM adventures that access to too much tape solves too many 
problems too easily and hinders creativity).
I just gave them cheap and recyclable materials, with the exception of these wheels, which are perfect to have on 
hand for these types of activities. 

Christmas STEM Activity: Build a Sleigh for Santa! | Apples to Applique

As usual, I was blown away by the work of my kiddos! The way they brought their ideas to life was amazing--and adorable.

Christmas STEM Activity: Build a Sleigh for Santa! | Apples to Applique
This student went with a car design


Christmas STEM Activity: Build a Sleigh for Santa! | Apples to Applique
This was a canoe, and the little balls of foil and tape inside were bags of toys.


Christmas STEM Activity: Build a Sleigh for Santa! | Apples to Applique
I loved the Santa and reindeer this team added to their sleigh


Christmas STEM Activity: Build a Sleigh for Santa! | Apples to Applique
This group included a magnet so they could pull the sleigh. Genius!


Christmas STEM Activity: Build a Sleigh for Santa! | Apples to Applique
I could not get over how adorable this was, with the Santa made of red craft sticks and the plastic-spoon reindeer harnessed to the front!
Christmas STEM Activity: Build a Sleigh for Santa! | Apples to Applique
This group included spoons to serve as a combination of runners and a snowplow!
This has been one of my favorite activities of the year, by far, and it was a favorite with the kids, too. 
I look forward to continuing this tradition every year. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did. 
Don't forget to snag your free planning and response sheets here!

Happy Teaching!



Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Christmas Around the World Escape Rooms


Christmas Around the World Escape Rooms | Apples to Applique

You guys know by now that I love using escape rooms with my students. They make such a great way for students to get up and moving, and to collaborate together while learning.

I am so, so excited for the newest addition to my line of escape rooms: Christmas Around the World!

Christmas Around the World Escape Rooms | Apples to Applique

These provide a fresh new way to learn, thanks in part to the element of imaginary play, as students pretend to take a journey. First, they scan a boarding pass to reveal a secret destination. When they scan the QR code, a map of the country they are "visiting" comes up, along with a simplified explanation of holiday traditions in that country.

Christmas Around the World Escape Rooms | Apples to Applique

Students are presented with a question to answer or a sentence to finish. Just like my other escape rooms, the answer has four letters, and they will earn one letter with the completion of each task.
Christmas Around the World Escape Rooms | Apples to Applique
When they are finished reading about the traditions, they earn the first letter. The next task is to discuss some of the holiday symbols they just read about. They take turns rolling a pocket dice and naming or describing the symbols and customs. This earns them their second letter.

Christmas Around the World Escape Rooms | Apples to Applique

Next, they complete a write the room activity, where they find pictures of holiday symbols and write the names. When this activity is finished, they earn the third letter.

Christmas Around the World Escape Rooms | Apples to Applique

The final task is to create a booklet which includes information about the holiday. At the conclusion of this task, they earn the last letter and win the game.

Christmas Around the World Escape Rooms | Apples to Applique


As they win the game, the included story cards say they are now ready to join in the celebration. An enriching follow-up activity would be to have a themed snack or mini party afterward, so they can celebrate the holiday in a small way.

All of my Christmas Around the World escape rooms are available for purchase separately, so that you can focus on just the country(ies) you want.

Currently, these are the countries I have available (with more in the works):
The Netherlands
Sweden
England
Italy
Australia
Mexico

They are also all available in this money-saving bundle. I plan to add more to the bundle, so buying early saves you the most money, because you will get all future additions for free!
The other fun thing about the bundle is that it includes a FREE bonus file, which has a student passport and stamps.

Christmas Around the World Escape Rooms | Apples to Applique
Isn't this the cutest?
For every new escape room you complete, students get to paste a stamp into their passport. The passports and stamps are included in both color and black and white.

I am so looking forward to using this interactive format to study holidays and customs from around the world with my students.

What other countries would you like to see included? Let me know in the comments!