Sunday, October 22, 2017

Encouraging Mindfulness in Early Childhood

Last year, I had some rough behaviors in my room. I mean, rough. As the year went on, I became frustrated and exhausted, but I also discovered one important commonality: these kiddos who kept acting out had all experienced trauma.

Encouraging Mindfulness in Early Childhood | Apples to Applique

I don't just mean what my therapist husband calls "Little t trauma", I'm talking about "Big T Trauma". Stuff little kids should never have to worry about.

Kids don't know how to appropriately process and respond to that kind of stuff (and if we're honest, many of us as adults don't know how, either!), so they react. They lash out, they act up, they do anything they can to try to gain some kind of control over their little worlds, and to make sense of their lives.

Unfortunately, there is not a thing we as teachers can do to change situations in these kids' lives outside of school. We are completely powerless in that area. BUT, what we can do, is give them tools to process what they are going through. After the year I had last year, I spent all summer researching. How to calm irate children, how to stop outbursts and misbehavior. What I found is not at all surprising: there is no easy fix. The important thing is to give kids strategies, to teach them how to respond instead of react.

One word that kept coming up in my reading was mindfulness. Eagerly, I searched and searched for articles explaining how to teach mindfulness in early childhood, but I kept coming up empty. The problem is, mindfulness is something that must be learned, but it isn't something you can really teach. It's something that must be done intentionally and with practice. I realized that I must teach my kids strategies, help them learn to feel and identify their emotions, and give them time and space to process and respond to things happening around them.

I made some big changes in my room this year. First, I set up a mindfulness corner.

Encouraging Mindfulness in Early Childhood | Apples to Applique

This space is reserved only for kids who need some space to calm down and regroup. It is NOT a time-out area; kids can choose to go there if they feel sad or angry, or even if they feel too excited and wound up. At first, it was an area of great interest, and all of my kids would ask to go in there to read or play. They quickly came to understand, though, that's not what the space is for, and now they only use it if they need it. In the mindfulness corner are some calm down cards, with choices for students to help them relax. There are also posters to help them identify their feelings.

Encouraging Mindfulness in Early Childhood | Apples to Applique

We have also been starting every day with meditation. One of my awesome paras spent a year teaching in Thailand, and told me how all students there meditate at the beginning of every day. I loved the idea, so now that's how we start our mornings. The kids are used to it now, and it gives us a positive start to our day. Just 4 minutes of sitting quietly, listening to calming music. We more than regain that 4 minutes the rest of the day, as the students are then ready to learn!

Encouraging Mindfulness in Early Childhood | Apples to Applique

We have been practicing different breathing techniques, such as the Balloon and Drain from Conscious Discipline. One of my favorite things has been Daniel Goleman's suggestion to use Breathing Buddies. Breathing Buddies are stuffed animals that help students focus on their breathing. They lie on their backs with the stuffed animals on their tummies, and watch as their breaths make the animals go up and down.

Encouraging Mindfulness in Early Childhood | Apples to Applique
The kids love using Breathing Buddies!
All in all, we are off to a much calmer, smoother start this year. I think starting our day with meditation helps establish that the classroom is a calm place to be. Giving kids practice identifying emotions and the space to process those emotions, as well as strategies on how to respond, gives them a sense of control over their lives, and with it, some peace and a renewed focus for learning!

Friday, October 6, 2017

Reminder Wristbands for Every Occasion

Does anyone else have trouble with parents missing out on important information because they forget to check the daily folder? I can't be the only one!

Reminder Wristbands for Every Occasion | Apples to Applique

I know how busy parents are; after all, I have kids of my own. I completely get it! So anything I can do to help parents out, I will. I've started using wristbands to give parents reminders. I had found some cute ones online to use, but they had curved edges to make them shaped like a watch--adorable, but I don't have time to cut out 40 of those for all of my students! So I decided to make my own, which you can find here. With several on a page, they don't use up a lot of paper, and they have straight edges so they can quickly be cut apart using a paper cutter. Less time spent on this kind of stuff = more time teaching.

Kids love wearing these wristbands! I had one student last year who wore his for 2 days, because he didn't want to take it off. They are a good visual tool for parents, especially when printed on neon paper (which of course I didn't have on hand when I was taking pictures). A bright wristband on your kid's arm catches your eye much better than a paper in a folder.
(Note: Of course, I still use the daily folder system for paperwork, behavior, and homework; this is just an extra aid.)

I offer wristbands for 16 occasions, in one convenient bundle:

Tomorrow is Picture Day
School Fundraiser is Starting
Fundraiser Money is Due
Send Field Trip Money
Send Lunch Money
Picture Money is Due
Sign and Return Paperwork
Sign and Return Permission Slip
Test Tomorrow
Parent Teacher Conferences
Field Day Tomorrow
Field Trip Tomorrow
Early Release Tomorrow
Return Library Books
Please Check Folder
Class Party Tomorrow

Here's to keeping on top of all the "little stuff" and improving communication with parents!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Easy Goal Tracking and Differentiation

I teach two half-day classes, which include kids who have special needs and kids who are at risk. I'm the SPED teacher as well as the IEP manager for my SPED kiddos, and also the Reg. Ed. teacher for my at risk kids, some of whom have delays that just haven't been identified yet. That's 40 students ranging vastly in ability levels that I have to plan for and teach. (Check out this post for information on how I keep everything organized for two separate classes!)

Easy Goal Tracking and Differentiation | Apples to Applique

It's a tall order! It's up to me to make sure each student has learning opportunities tailored to meet his or her needs. Of course, I have wonderful paras who help me a ton; I would be lost without them. Shout out to all of the amazing paraprofessionals out there! You are an invaluable asset to our schools and our students.

Even with 3 adults in the room, it can be a struggle to keep up with exactly where each student is at, especially since, at this age, it can all change so quickly! Over the past several years, I've developed some systems that have helped me tremendously.

Editable IEP Data Tracking Sheet | Apples to Applique
Click here to get this resource from my TPT store!

For my SPED kids, my Editable IEP Data Tracking Sheet has been a lifesaver! It's super easy to use; just type in each kiddo's goals and print. Put a plus sign if they meet the goal as written, a check mark if they can meet it with some help or prompting, or a minus sign if they aren't yet able to meet it. There is a spot for comments if you need to elaborate, but most of it can be done in a few minutes. At progress report time, just tally up the plus marks to get your percentage, and you're done!

While these sheets are very helpful to keep in a binder and work well for me to use, sometimes I need my paras to collect data, or I need a fast and easy way to collect data on the go--maybe out at recess or during an assembly. For those situations, these Goal Data Collection Cards are perfect.

IEP Goal Data Collection Cards | Apples to Applique
Color coded for my AM and PM groups, as explained in this post.

They are the same basic idea as the IEP Data Tracking Sheet, but in card form. Each card only has one goal on them. I can put all of my students' literacy goals on one binder ring and put it with the literacy station one of my paras is doing, or put all of my kids' social goals on another binder ring and take it out to recess. Easy peasy. The great thing about these particular cards is that I use them for more than just IEP goals. I use them for progress reports and goal setting for all of my students.

Speaking of goal setting for all of my students, these skills checklists are super handy! I keep them on a binder ring for each table group. At the beginning of the year, I mark what each kiddo can do in 15 separate areas. This gives me a good baseline. As the year goes on, I add the goal cards mentioned above as needed for each kiddo. Then, as I plan small group instruction and work with each group, I just grab their checklists and can quickly and easily see how to differentiate for each kid.

Baseline Skills Checklists for Pre-K | Apples to Applique

It takes a little time to set up, but implementation is truly simple, and I feel confident that I have a much better idea of where each of my students is at, so that I am better able to meet their needs.

Any other tips on keeping goals and data organized for your students? Drop them in the comments!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Five Fall Activities for Early Childhood

It's mid-September, so that means it's time to break out the fall activities!

5 Fall Activities for Early Childhood | Apples to Applique

I have five activities for you today that are perfect for Early Childhood. The first 3 are sensory activities. We all know that kids love exploring the world for themselves, instead of just hearing about it. My sensory booklet series will give students a chance to record their observations in an age-appropriate way, using pictures to describe their findings. Guide students through sensory experiences with fall items! Simply cut and staple the pages together to create booklets for students to record what they see, smell, hear, feel, and taste (when appropriate) as they explore apples, pumpkins, and fall leaves.

Apple Sensory Booklet | Apples to Applique


Pumpkin Sensory Booklet | Apples to Applique


Fall Leaves Sensory Booklet | Apples to Applique



Pumpkin Investigation for Early Childhood | Apples to Applique

The next activity is the popular Pumpkin Investigation Activity. Unlike most common versions, mine has been tweaked to make it appropriate for Early Childhood--using cubes to measure, and without counting hundreds of seeds.  

No Prep Autumn Hats | Apples to Applique

This last activity is just for fun, although it does provide great fine motor practice! These darling Autumn Hats require zero prep--not even a sentence strip! Just print and have students color and cut. All you have to do is staple or tape them to fit on students' heads. It makes a wonderful culminating activity after some fall sensory experiences; students can use various colors to match what they saw in their observations.

What are some tried and true fall activities your students love?

Friday, September 1, 2017

Keeping Organized with Two Half Day Classes

Since I teach Pre-K, I teach two half day classes of three-, four-, and five-year-olds. That means 40 little people in my room each day, and I have to keep track of their progress, goals, communications with parents...and all of their stuff. Pre-K kids aren't the greatest at keeping track of their stuff. While I don't have a remedy for all the kid stuff, I do have a pretty good system in place that has helped a LOT with organizing the rest of it.

Keeping Organized with Two Half Day Classes | Apples to Applique


My secret? Color coding. The morning class is red, and the afternoon class is blue.

I color code everything.

Keeping Organized with Two Half Day Classes. Color coded take home folders. | Apples to Applique

I mean, everything. Take home folders.

Keeping Organized with Two Half Day Classes. Color coded skills checklists. | Apples to Applique


Keeping Organized with Two Half Day Classes. Color coded skills checklists. | Apples to Applique

Student skills checklists and goal sheets.

Keeping Organized with Two Half Day Classes. Color coded daily schedule. | Apples to Applique

The times on my daily schedule. (Forgive the sloppy, uneven cutting. I was in a hurry that day; it will be fixed soon!)

Keeping Organized with Two Half Day Classes. Color coded student job chart. | Apples to Applique

Classroom jobs. While I can't sell this exact job chart due to copyright reasons, find similar ones here in my Teacher Pay Teachers store!

Keeping Organized with Two Half Day Classes. Color coded data notebooks. | Apples to Applique

Data notebooks used with our Leader in Me program.

Keeping Organized with Two Half Day Classes. Color coded student files. | Apples to Applique

Even student files. Yes, I bought red and blue file folders just for this purpose! I may be a little obsessed, but it seriously helps me stay sane.

Keeping Organized with Two Half Day Classes. Color coded student group charts. | Apples to Applique

Group seating chart. I LOVE this system! The names are attached with Velcro so it is quick and easy to change, and a quick glance across the room can tell me who is supposed to be where.

Keeping Organized with Two Half Day Classes. Color coded student recognition chart. | Apples to Applique

Clip system for recognizing students who are using the 7 Habits of Leader in Me. Morning kids have red clips, afternoon kids have blue.

There's more, but you get the idea. This system works so well for me, and really helps me and my paras stay on the same page. Other teachers with half day classes, I would love to hear tips on how you keep everything organized!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Age Appropriate Pre-K Homework

Summer is flying by, as usual. While I haven't been getting much blogging done, I have been keeping busy! Between teaching online, prepping activities for next year, adding lots of resources to my Teachers Pay Teachers store, and, of course, spending time with my family, there hasn't been much down time.

One of the resources I have been working on is a year-long age appropriate homework system for Pre-K! I am really excited to share this resource with you! I spent all last school year developing it and testing it out with my students. It got the stamp of approval from parents and from other teachers and paras, so I hope it will be useful to some of you, too.

Age Appropriate Pre-K Homework for the ENTIRE School Year | Apples to Applique

Teaching Pre-K has its unique challenges. I want my students to be and feel a part of the school community, which is not always easy considering they only attend for half a day. (Speaking of that, watch for a post about organizing a classroom for two half-day classes coming in September! UPDATE: Click here to read about how I stay organized!) Another challenge is that Pre-K is not always taken seriously as "real school". It's considered to be more like daycare. One of the things that irks me is when people say we're not doing real work, we're just playing. First of all, play is developmentally appropriate, and so important! Children learn so much through play! Secondly, while we do spend a fair amount of time in structured play, we do a lot more than just play in Pre-K.

Age Appropriate Pre-K Homework for the ENTIRE School Year | Apples to Applique

I created this homework system to help address these two issues. My building has a school-wide homework policy, so I wanted my students to be a part of that--and thus, more a part of the school community as a whole. After all, my job is to prepare these kiddos for kindergarten. Getting them in the habit of doing homework will help establish a strong foundation for their future schooling. Also, assigning homework helps parents to see that we are doing a lot more than "babysitting" their children, and encourages them to get invested in their child's education.

However, the challenge came in creating assignments that are age-appropriate. It would be easy to just list a ton of homework assignments, but would they really benefit the students? The activities I assigned in this system cover a host of skills, from literacy and math to self-help and motor skills. While many of the activities repeat from month to month (such as reading), others change and grow throughout the school year. They are specifically designed to address kindergarten readiness skills.
The best part, though, because I believe so firmly in the importance of play, is that lots of the activities include an aspect of play! Some of the assignments include "play pretend" or "go to the park", because I want parents to know the importance of these types of activities.

Age Appropriate Pre-K Homework for the ENTIRE School Year | Apples to Applique

Another benefit of this system is that it is incredibly quick and easy for teachers to implement and for parents and students to use. That was important to me. I didn't want homework taking up 30 minutes to an hour every night. That in and of itself is not developmentally appropriate at this age. I also didn't want homework becoming one more overwhelming thing for families to take on, so I kept it very simple.

Age Appropriate Pre-K Homework for the ENTIRE School Year | Apples to Applique
Get the homework calendar for August FREE by visiting my TPT store and downloading the preview!

There is a calendar with a list of assignments for each month (August 2017 - June 2018. At the end of the school year, it will be updated for the 2018-2019 school year). Parents are requested to complete 3 items with their child each week, and to simply write the number of the assignment on the date they completed it. They can do assignments more than once. There is a lot of room for flexibility! For certain parents, I tell them how to adapt the activities for their child. For example, if their child is already counting past 10, I encourage them to count beyond that. If they are not yet able to count at all, I recommend they count to 5. I give my parents a lot of liberty to do what is best for their child.

To check out this homework system, go visit Apples to Applique on Teachers Pay Teachers. Download the preview on Teachers Pay Teachers to get August's homework calendar free!

I would love to hear how you handle homework in your early childhood classroom!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Favorite Props and Reward Systems for Teaching Online

*Note: This post contains affiliate links, which means I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links, at no cost to you! This helps support my little blog.*

As I mentioned in a recent post, I have started teaching online with VIPKID. It has been a lot of fun so far, and a great way to earn some extra cash without ever leaving my house.


Since you are teaching over a computer screen, you have to approach things a little differently. The kids respond well to props, puppets, toys--anything to make the lesson more exciting.

Favorite Props for VIPKID | Apples to Applique



I just got these finger puppets and I LOVE them. I like that they have animals and people. Better yet, the people are a family, and family words (grandma, grandpa, mom, dad, etc.) are used in several lessons. They don't take up much storage space, are easy to use over a webcam, and are fun for kids.




Some of my other favorite props are these magnetic letters from Lakeshore. Like most things from Lakeshore, they are not cheap, but they are all lower case, which is hard to find, and they have enough of each letter that I can set up several activities in advance. They help a lot with explaining the "point and read" slides to Level 2 kiddos.

Favorite props for teaching online | Apples to Applique

My favorite purchase so far is, hands-down, this puppet by The Puppet Company! He is so funny and cute, and has been a hit with the kids. He's perfect for my Level 1 babies.


These basic vocabulary cards are on my wishlist to buy soon. There are so many cards that I'm sure they could be used across multiple lessons.

Reward system for VIPKID | Apples to Applique

I also recently made this reward system. VIPKID has some sample reward systems that you can use or draw on a whiteboard, but I wanted to come up with something different. I wanted it to be fun, colorful, easy to use, and reusable.

Reward system for VIPKID | Apples to Applique

I teach most of my classes back to back, with only a couple of minutes between, so I needed something that didn't take a lot of time to "reset" for each student. I made this ice cream cone system with my embroidery machine and added some Velcro, so it's quick and easy to add or take away scoops.

12 Reward Systems for Online Teaching (VIPKID) | Apples to Applique

I also have some fun printable reward systems available in my TPT store! With 12 options from flower gardens to superheros, you're sure to find something that clicks with each student. Check it out here!

12 Holiday and Seasonal Reward Systems for Online Teaching (VIPKID) | Apples to Applique

UPDATE: I have also just added some seasonal and holiday printable reward systems in my TPT store! 12 fun new designs to take you through the year!

I know I sound like one of "those people", but VIPKID has been the best side job ever! They are a great company to work for. If you're interested in becoming a VIPKID teacher yourself, shoot me an email! I'd be happy to answer any questions. As long as you have a bachelor's degree (in anything!) and experience teaching kids in some capacity (Sunday school, summer camp, etc.) you are eligible to apply. If you're ready to take the plunge and meet some adorable students while making some extra cash, sign up here using my referral link and type in this code in the referral box: 02YUUI.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

6 Differentiated Literacy Stations from One Board Game

*Note: this post contains affiliate links. This means that I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links, at no cost to you. These purchases help support my blog.*

6 Differentiated Literacy Stations from One Board Game | Apples to Applique


I know it's summer, so probably the last thing you want to think about is planning for school. However, summer is the perfect time to prepare fresh new activities for the coming year.

This idea for new literacy stations is simple and fun, and can be used for multiple activities and skill levels. It also takes less than 5 minutes to prep, so I promise it won't take away from your summer relaxation! Sound good? I am all about engaging activities that don't take hours to prepare!

All you need is some dice and an old game board. Many classic kids games will work, like Candy Land or Chutes and Ladders. It doesn't even need to have all the pieces, so thrift store finds are perfect for this.

Here's your super-complicated prep--are you ready?

Write a letter name in each game space.

That's it.

6 Differentiated Literacy Stations from One Board Game | Apples to Applique
Simple, one-time prep takes about 5 minutes!

I just tossed the Candy Land cards, because I don't need those millions of pieces complicating my life. Since our purpose for this game is not color recognition, dice work just fine. Counters also make excellent game pieces if yours are missing, so bring on those garage sale games with all the missing pieces!

There are so many ways to play, and it can be differentiated based on the needs of your students.

1. Player says the name of the letter they land on

2. Player says the sound of the letter they land on

3. Player names a word that starts with the letter they land on

4. Player finds a picture that starts with the letter they land on (requires some alphabet picture cards)

5. Player finds the lowercase letter to match the uppercase letter they land on (requires lowercase alphabet magnets or cards, or a chart for students to point to)

6. Player writes the letter they land on (upper or lowercase or both, depending on level)

6 Differentiated Literacy Stations from One Board Game | Apples to Applique

You can approach this literacy station different ways. You can introduce it with different objectives at different times of the year, depending on what you are targeting at that time, so that all players complete the same activity during game play. Or, it can be differentiated in one game session, so you can use mixed ability groups. For example, if I'm playing with a high level learner and low level learner in the same group, they can each have different requirements. When it's my low level learner's turn, I can ask her to say the letter name. When it's my high level learner's turn, I can ask her to name a word that starts with that letter. If I have a kiddo who needs fine motor practice, he can write the letters on his turn. All of this can be accomplished during the same game!

I would love to hear other ideas you have for implementing this board game in your literacy stations; I'm sure there are other variations I haven't thought of yet. Leave me a comment to let me know how you can use this in your classroom!