Saturday, April 14, 2018

Using a Question of the Day to Increase Rigor in Early Childhood

I am always on the lookout for ways to increase the rigor in my Pre-K classroom. I have found time and again that my little learners are capable of so much more than people realize. They can understand more than people give them credit for, and I love expanding their minds with new knowledge. I found this anonymous quote that says, "A mind when stretched by a new idea never regains its original dimensions". That is powerful! I want to help my students expand their minds as much as possible early in life, to give them more capacity for learning in their future.

Using a Question of the Day to Increase Rigor in Early Childhood | Apples to Applique

One easy way I do this in my classroom is through the use of a question of the day. On the surface, it sounds simple enough. I write a question on the board, and the students vote on their answer. But it encompasses so much more than that! Of course they cannot yet read it independently, so I read it to them while pointing to each word. This provides good exposure to print, and helps them learn basic print awareness skills, like reading from left to right, the fact that print represents spoken words, and that letters are grouped to form words. All of that, just from reading to them, and we haven't even gotten to answering the question yet!

Next, they get to think about answering the question. I give them questions that relate to things we are learning in the classroom, activating some prior knowledge first thing in the door, or questions that focus on skills they need to practice, such as letter recognition. The trickiest thing with writing questions is that I strive to come up with questions that do not have a set right or wrong answer, or at least, not the same right or wrong answer for every student. For example, we are currently in a unit about plants and gardening. I avoid questions like, "Which of these is one of the needs of a plant? Sun or rocks?" The reason I avoid these types of questions is that once a few kids answer, the rest of them will not stop to process the actual question. They will simply see where everyone else has put their counter, and follow suit.

Another way I use the Question of the Day to increase rigor is by changing the method by which the students vote. Early in the year, when they are still working on name recognition, I have magnets with each of their names on them. They have to locate their name, and then use their magnet to vote.

Using a Question of the Day to Increase Rigor in Early Childhood | Apples to Applique

Later in the year, when they have mastered recognizing their own names, I switch it up. Currently I am having them vote by placing magnetic counters on a ten-frame. This gives them real-life practice with using a ten-frame; I watch as they vote to make sure they start in the top left corner, and fill in each space in order. When the class mathematician counts up the votes, we talk about strategies for subitizing using a ten-frame; i.e., "I see the whole top row of the ten-frame is full. How many is that?" "Can we count on from five to see how many we have all together?" "Wow, I love how Nyla subitized! She saw the ten-frame was full, so she knew ten friends voted for roses without having to count each one by itself".

Using a Question of the Day to Increase Rigor in Early Childhood | Apples to Applique
Yeah, yeah, I know a tomato is technically a fruit...
To increase the rigor even further, we then talk about the concepts of greater than, less than, and equal. One of our Pre-K standards is comparing quantities, and once they have that down, I take it one step further by introducing the greater than and less than signs. This is obviously not a Pre-K standard, so we don't spend a lot of time on it, but now my kids have been exposed to it and know how it works (yay for the good ol' "alligator mouth" analogy!). When they are introduced to these math symbols again a little later in their education, they will have some prior knowledge to access from their time in Pre-K, and be ready for greater challenges!

Have you used a question of the day in your early childhood classroom? I would love to hear how it works for you!


Thursday, March 22, 2018

Bakery Dramatic Play Center

I have had this dramatic play center in the works for a while, and am so excited to finally have it up and listed in my shop!

Bakery Dramatic Play Center | Apples to Applique

What kid doesn't love pretending to cook? The kitchen is always one of the most popular learning labs in my classroom.

Bakery Dramatic Play Center | Apples to Applique

This bakery center is particularly awesome, because it can be used as-is, with play food, or you can really extend the fun by using it with play dough!

Bakery Dramatic Play Center | Apples to Applique


Bakery Dramatic Play Center | Apples to Applique

It includes recipes for kids to follow to make their favorite bakery treats; the recipes allow them to practice following step-by-step directions and simple how-to texts. Of course, there are pictures for each step to allow pre-readers to join in on the fun, or to provide scaffolding for emerging readers. I bound the recipes together to create a cookbook, and it is just adorable!

Bakery Dramatic Play Center | Apples to Applique

The menu, order pads, and guest checks allow for differentiation, as there are different options included. The menu is included with and without prices listed. The order pads use pictures only, which students can simply circle to indicate the customer's order.

Bakery Dramatic Play Center | Apples to Applique


Bakery Dramatic Play Center | Apples to Applique

The guest checks include lines for students to write the price of items ordered and total them at the bottom, allowing for math practice through writing numerals and performing simple addition.

Bakery Dramatic Play Center | Apples to Applique

Both the ordering sheet and guest check include a full-color sheet, which can be laminated and used again and again with dry erase markers, and black and white half sheets, which are easy to copy and staple together to make ordering pads like they would see in an actual restaurant. 

This set also includes a shop sign, open and closed signs, and a daily specials board with interchangeable pictures, as well as the menu, ordering pads, guest checks, and recipes.

Bakery Dramatic Play Center | Apples to Applique

Bakery Dramatic Play Center | Apples to Applique

Watching kids engrossed in dramatic play is one of the cutest things in the world to me. I love how much they get to use language, and it's entertaining to see how they emulate the world around them. They notice so much more than they usually get credit for!

Bakery Dramatic Play Center | Apples to Applique

I hope you and your students love this new bakery dramatic play center! Get it here, and tell me about your favorite dramatic play centers in the comments!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Early Childhood Classroom Scavenger Hunts

Early Childhood Classroom Scavenger Hunts | Apples to Applique
You know when you try something new with your students, unsure of how it will go, and then they blow you away with how well they do? That's exactly how scavenger hunts have gone in my Pre-K classroom. They are my new favorite activity to do with students! It gets them up and moving, and working together.

Early Childhood Classroom Scavenger Hunts | Apples to Applique

The first time we attempted a scavenger hunt, I was sure it was going to be a disaster. I put the kids in pairs, showed them how to check things off their list, and turned them loose with a clipboard and a pen. Then I waited for mass chaos to ensue...and it didn't. Maybe it was because they felt grown up using pens and clip boards, maybe it was because they were able to use some critical thinking skills, or maybe it was because they felt I trusted them and rose to the occasion--whatever the reason, my students worked hard! They synergized and found all of the items on their lists, very methodically checking off items. It was the cutest thing ever, and definitely one of those "this is why I teach" moments.

Early Childhood Classroom Scavenger Hunts | Apples to Applique

Since that initial success, I have made scavenger hunts to target many different skills. I have a scavenger hunt for colors, 2D shapes, 3D shapes, textures, beginning sounds, rhyming words, and functional pairs. They provide a great way for students to demonstrate understanding of a topic, and, just as importantly, the kids love them! Yes, the kids need a little guidance as most of them are not yet able to read the words, but there are picture clues on the sheets to help out. The visuals on the page really assist them in completing the activity more independently. Additionally, the words used in the beginning sounds and rhyming hunts are all sight words or simple CVC words, so some students are able to complete them all on their own, depending on their level. My students who need a little more help check in with me when they are ready to search for their next item, then go off on their own to find it. That gives me the chance to make sure they are on track as they go, but gives them the freedom to show what they know. And they know a lot more than we sometimes give them credit for!

Get your scavenger hunts here, and enjoy watching your little learners show off their skills!


Friday, January 5, 2018

Teaching Leader in Me in Early Childhood

I am super proud to be part of a Leader in Me School! It is an excellent program, one that I believe will help establish a solid foundation for students' entire lives. The Leader in Me is built on the principles of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Franklin Covey.

Teaching Leader in Me in Early Childhood | Apples to Applique

One of the cool things is that, as the program grows in our school, the upper grades get to build on foundations laid by teachers the years before, and expand more on them. However, in Pre-K, I am a child's first teacher. I am the one laying the foundation for the very first time. Every year I start fresh, and I can't build on the work done by another teacher. This has been a unique challenge to me as I seek to embed these skills in the lives of my students in a deep and meaningful way.

Here are some tricks I've learned over the last several years of teaching the Leader in Me to Pre-K students. Many of these ideas would be just as applicable to kindergarten or first grade students, too.

Note: Due to copyright restrictions, I do not offer any 7 Habits or Leader in Me materials in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. The things pictured here are things I created solely for my own classroom use. If you like something you see, I encourage you to try making a version for your own classroom!

7 Habits Clip Chart for Leader in Me | Apples to Applique

Help students recognize the habits in action by having a 7 Habits clip chart. I ditched my old behavior clip chart and use this one purely to recognize good behavior. When I see kids working together, for example, I say, "Wow, I see these two friends using great synergy! I'm moving their clip to 'Habit 6: Synergize' on the chart!" Their clips get to stay on the chart for the rest of the week. I also give them a wristband to wear so they have a visual to take home and tell their parents about.

7 Habits Recognition Bracelets | Apples to Applique

Ideally, I want the students to begin pointing out the habits they see exemplified by their friends, and ask to move their friends' clips. This is such a powerful way to connect the habits to their everyday lives.

Choose Your Weather Check-In System | Apples to Applique

We use a "Choose Your Weather" check-in in my classroom, as well. (Sorry for the weird photo angle). Every day, students come put their name on whatever kind of day they are having. This brings up some great conversations about being proactive and choosing to have a good attitude, as well as how to begin with the end in mind, and what choices we can make if we want to have a "sunny" day. Of course, because I am also a huge proponent of helping children feel and understand their emotions, I also tell them that sometimes we all have "stormy" days, and that's okay. Something I say to my kids often is "It's okay to feel angry, but you still have to make good choices." Then we talk about appropriate versus inappropriate ways to handle our anger.

Another vital thing is to give every child a chance to be a leader. We have our class leadership roles, which rotate weekly. Every student, no matter their age or ability level, gets a turn in every role. I have been shocked at how my little ones, even my 3-year-olds, rise to the occasion and show that even the tiniest kids can be leaders. I have non-verbal students who lead our daily recitation of the 7 Habits by leading the class in the accompanying actions; I have kids who I didn't think could handle a certain leadership task just blow me away by how seriously they take their responsibility. I have learned that every child is capable of so much more than I think, and that when I give them the chance to step up and shine, they do.

Classroom Leadership Chart; every student gets a chance to lead! | Apples to Applique
While I don't offer this exact leadership chart due to copyright reasons, you can find many similar ones here in my Teachers Pay Teachers store!

One of my favorite things has been watching my students find opportunities to lead that I didn't think of. I have the 20 assigned leadership roles, but my students find so many other ways in which to lead! When they come up with those new ideas, I let them keep that role permanently.

For example, I had an ESOL student who was very hesitant to talk in class. However, she noticed everything, and started taking it upon herself to get the doorstop and put it under the door for me whenever we needed to leave the classroom. It was a perfect opportunity for her to take ownership of something in a way that made her feel comfortable; she didn't have to speak to see a need and take care of it. That became her daily responsibility for the rest of the school year. I didn't want to take her feeling of leadership and empowerment away from her by rotating that role with other students.

I had another student who took it upon himself to help all of the other students with the soap dispenser when it was time to wash their hands for snack. Typically I took care of this task, and had never even thought of delegating it to a student. This child started doing it one day, and then kept on every day after that. This was a student who had some behavior challenges, so having his very own responsibility really gave him a feeling of importance and control.

I could go on about how much I support the Leader in Me program, and how I believe it is effective, even for the youngest students. I hope these ideas help you as you implement the Leader in Me in your own early childhood classroom. I would love to hear other ideas from you as well, so leave me a comment!