Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Using a Writing Center to Empower Students

I think we all understand that writing is powerful; you can do so much with it. That's one thing I want my students to know, even as young as they are. I think as early childhood students are learning how to write letters and words, the idea of why we write can be so abstract to them. They learn their letters and how to write their names; we try to teach them the connection as we read books, that the words they are hearing are written down with letters--the same letters they are learning to write. Giving them the opportunity to write themselves brings it all full-circle, so that writing is no longer something that just adults do.
Using a Writing Center to Empower Students | Apples to Applique

The writing center is essential in making that connection. It helps kids to see the power that writing gives them, and that it goes so far beyond writing their names and their ABCs. I think that's my favorite feature of my writing center: all of the visuals included to empower students and help them to see all the things they can do with the written word!

Using a Writing Center to Empower Students | Apples to Applique

Each student has his or her own journal, and every day during learning labs time, they are given the opportunity to add to their journal as they desire. Sometimes I provide some kind of prompt or challenge, especially at the beginning of the year as they are first getting comfortable with journaling. Most of the time, however, it is just a place for them to put their own thoughts to paper. Even though they are not able to truly write yet, they are learning that they can use symbols and pictures to represent what they are thinking.

Using a Writing Center to Empower Students | Apples to Applique

Perhaps even more importantly, they are learning that their thoughts and ideas have value. Their journals are kept in a special place, and only they are allowed to use them. When they show me what they draw or write, I ask them open-ended questions to get them talking, and never make assumptions about what I think they might have drawn. I also try to not assign aesthetic value to it with remarks like, "What a pretty picture", but instead use comments such as, "Wow, I see you used so many colors!" or "I can tell you worked really hard on that!" One phrase that works well, especially if I am unsure of what they have drawn, is saying, "Tell me about this", pointing to specific elements in the picture.

Using a Writing Center to Empower Students | Apples to Applique

When students see that their writings and drawings are treated as being important, they begin to see that their thoughts, ideas, and feelings, as well as their representation of them, are also important. When children see that adults value their thoughts, and allow them to have ownership over the expression of them, it empowers them and builds their self-confidence. This helps in establishing a strong foundation for healthy social-emotional development.

Find my writing center kit here, with all 16 of the "I Can Write" visuals, as well as 20 organizational labels!

Writing Center | Apples to Applique

Writing Center | Apples to Applique

Writing Center | Apples to Applique

Writing Center | Apples to Applique


Happy writing!




Saturday, November 24, 2018

North Pole Dramatic Play Center

*Note, this post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking on my links, I make a small commission at no charge to you!**

So, I thought my Pumpkin Patch Dramatic Play Center was my absolute favorite ever...until I created this. A North Pole Dramatic Play Center!

Santa's Workshop Dramatic Play Center Printables | Apples to Applique

After all, what is more magical to a child than Santa's Workshop at the North Pole?

I wanted it to have all the details. Signs for different areas, such as the workshop, mail room, and gift wrapping area...

Santa's Workshop Dramatic Play Center Printables | Apples to Applique

Santa's Workshop Dramatic Play Center Printables | Apples to Applique

...as well as the reindeer stall and tree farm. Bits of realia added in make it all come alive!

Santa's Workshop Dramatic Play Center Printables | Apples to Applique

I found the darling plush reindeer here, and fun little trees and gift bags at the Dollar Tree! I even reused the hay bale from my Pumpkin Patch Dramatic Play Center (notice it's still in the cellophane--ha! There was no way I was going to give my 3- and 4-year-olds free rein with a messy bale of hay!)

Of course, the North Pole has to have an area to bake Santa's favorite cookies...

Santa's Workshop Dramatic Play Center Printables | Apples to Applique

...and you can't bake cookies without Santa's favorite cookie recipe!

Santa's Workshop Dramatic Play Center Printables | Apples to Applique

On top of all this great print awareness, there are also opportunities for writing included! There are gift tags and gift order forms, and even a letter to Santa template. Download the letter to Santa template for FREE!

Santa's Workshop Dramatic Play Center Printables | Apples to Applique

To see everything that is included in this center, check it out here in my TPT store!

I hope your students love it, and that you all have a wonderful holiday season!





Thursday, October 25, 2018

Escape Rooms for Early Childhood

Escape Rooms for Pre-K and Kindergarten | Apples to Applique

Escape rooms and breakout activities are all the rage right now! And for good reason; they encourage movement, collaboration, and problem solving. These activities tend to be geared toward older kids, but what if I told you they are awesome to use with younger students, as well?

I've taken the concept of an escape room and simplified it to make it appropriate for Pre-K and kindergarten students. Each game has options for playing as a whole group, small group, or even individually. Depending on the activity, I also offer options for differentiating as needed. I made them flexible enough that you can play them in one session, or over several days, depending on the amount of time you have and on the attention span of your students.

Each game has a story line to follow, so kids can really engage with the activity and activate their imaginations. I chose a specific skill to target with each game, making this is a great way to give kids a chance to practice and demonstrate understanding of a certain skill.

Escape the Apple Cider Stand focuses on matching numbers to quantities. There are four activities: matching cards with pictures of apples to apple crates with numbers, writing numbers of objects in a ten frame (options for writing and tracing included, depending on the level of your learners), filling ten frames to match numbers, and a "write the room" activity to match the number of objects in each picture to the correct numeral.

Escape Rooms for Pre-K and Kindergarten | Apples to Applique


Escape the Pumpkin Patch focuses on rhyming. There are four activities or puzzles for students to solve: matching rhyming pictures, generating rhymes, finding objects that rhyme, and a rhyming "write the room" activity.

Escape Room: Thanksgiving! works on sequencing. The story is about preparations for Thanksgiving dinner, and the activities focus on ordinal numbers and putting steps in order, which is great for building listening comprehension skills. The activities are cut and paste sequencing, putting step cards in order, pocket chart sequencing activity, and a "write the room" activity.

Escape Rooms for Pre-K and Kindergarten | Apples to Applique


Escape the North Pole may be my favorite one yet! What 4- or 5-year-old kid wouldn't love to be part of a story about helping Santa get ready for Christmas? This escape room focuses on shapes. The four activities are identifying and coloring by shape, drawing shapes (includes an option for tracing for kiddos who need it), matching shapes, and a shape "write the room" activity focusing on shape attributes (with an option for differentiation included).

These activities are so much fun, and I really tried to make them as simple as possible for you, with no special locks or boxes required. All you provide are some manila envelopes to hide the clues and puzzles in. And of course, each one includes clear setup instructions.

More great escape rooms are in the works! Check out my growing bundle to get the 4 listed here, plus 8 future breakout activities, for one low price! The price will go up each month as a new escape room is added, so buy early to save the most money!

I hope you enjoy trying out these activities with your students; I would love to hear how it goes in your classroom!


Saturday, October 13, 2018

Pumpkin Patch Dramatic Play

A whole corner of my room has been turned into a pumpkin patch, and it's my favorite thing! I even stayed late after school on a Friday to get it ready, and it was worth it!

Pumpkin Patch Dramatic Play Printables | Apples to Applique

I know there are lots of pumpkin patch dramatic play options out there, but I couldn't find any that were just what I was looking for, so I opted to make my own. (You can find it here!)

First there is this cute pennant banner. You could use yarn or something to tie it together, but I happened to have some raffia in my classroom already, and the end result is too perfect!

Pumpkin Patch Dramatic Play Printables | Apples to Applique

I found large pumpkins at the Dollar Tree, and small pumpkins and gourds at Walmart. I made signs for each type so that students could work on their sorting skills.
I also made price tags and a pricing sheet to encourage numeral recognition.

Pumpkin Patch Dramatic Play Printables | Apples to Applique

I know, you're probably thinking I'm crazy for including a hayride, and I may rethink this decision after the kids have had a chance to use it, but it was such a good way to incorporate gross motor skills. The wagon is from a set of Mega Blocks, so I just set a hay bale down inside. I left the hay bale wrapped in the cellophane from the store to contain the mess! Obviously the kids won't actually be riding on the hayride, but I may let them put a doll on top and pull it around. Otherwise, I'll tell them to use their imaginations and pretend they are on a hayride.

Pumpkin Patch Dramatic Play Printables | Apples to Applique

Another way I am adding in gross motor skills is by giving them a toy rake and letting them rake up fake leaves. I have done this in past years, and they love this activity!

Pumpkin Patch Dramatic Play Printables | Apples to Applique

I cannot wait for my kids to come into school Monday morning and see their pumpkin patch. I'd love to hear your experiences with pumpkin patch dramatic play!

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Using Task Boxes for Small Group Work

You all know I love finding ways to streamline my planning time. It's important for me to have meaningful tasks for my students, and it is just as important that I have time for my family outside of work, so I strive to keep things as simple as possible. My favorite new thing this year is using task boxes for small groups. They are ready to go, and they have enough variety that I don't have to plan for them the rest of the school year. Yes, you read that right--my small groups are completely planned for the year. Happy dance! Speaking of planning for the year at once, check out this post about morning work for the year, and this post about age-appropriate Pre-K homework for the year.
(Edited to add: Of course I still do planning during the school year for everything else, like whole groups and content instruction; this is only for independent student tasks. I also plan teacher-led small groups as we go, because they are dependent on student skill levels and current areas of need. Additionally, I tweak the task boxes as needed depending on the skill levels of my students.)

Task Boxes for Small Group Work in Early Childhood | Apples to Applique

Now, I'll be honest with you, this took a TON of planning time up front. I spent weeks over the summer researching ideas and gathering materials. I was 9 months pregnant, so I just pretty much laid around on my couch with my laptop researching and creating task boxes. 

I got the initial idea from a friend and fellow teacher who uses task boxes for IEP goal work in her classroom. She showed me her system and I loved it! In her classroom, all of her kiddos are on IEPs, so they need individual task boxes. My setup is different; teaching in a Unified classroom, about a quarter of my kids are on IEPs, and the rest are at-risk. I needed activities that 3 or 4 kids could complete at a time while I worked with one group on a teacher-led task. 

I decided to have 4 types of boxes: Writing, Reading, Math, and Fine Motor. I have 8 activities for each skill type, for a total of 32 boxes. All of the labels for one skill type are the same color. Fine motor boxes have blue labels, math boxes have green, reading boxes have red, and writing boxes have yellow. Then there is a different symbol on each box.

Task Boxes for Small Group Work in Early Childhood | Apples to Applique

Each week, I pick one symbol—for example, boxes with squares. Each table group does one box each day, rotating so that by the end of the week they have each completed the activities in the square label math box, reading box, writing box, and fine motor box. The fifth group is a teacher-led group, working on whatever tasks I feel like they need to target. This gives me vital small group intervention time while my other students are still working on targeted skills.

Task Boxes for Small Group Work in Early Childhood | Apples to Applique

Since I have 8 of each type of box, it takes 8 weeks to get through all of the task boxes, at which point I start the rotations again. This way, students are only repeating activities every 8 weeks, and I am not scrambling for small group ideas every week. It has worked so smoothly so far!

I also have a little cheat sheet with the list of tasks that are in each box.

Task Boxes for Small Group Work in Early Childhood | Apples to Applique

Since this has helped me so much this year, I have decided to make the labels and master list available in my TPT store for FREE! Click here to download it! Of course, some of the things on my list are curriculum specific, and others I created myself, so the list may not work for you as-is, but hopefully it will be helpful in generating ideas. The good news, though, is that the file is fully editable so that you can customize it to your needs.

Here are some pictures of just a few of the boxes.

Task Boxes for Small Group Work in Early Childhood | Apples to Applique

Task Boxes for Small Group Work in Early Childhood | Apples to Applique

Task Boxes for Small Group Work in Early Childhood | Apples to Applique

Task Boxes for Small Group Work in Early Childhood | Apples to Applique


I hope this is helpful, and I would love to hear ideas you have for task boxes, or how you would utilize them in your classroom!