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!