Monday, September 8, 2014

Learning Through Play - Purposeful Blocks

Purposeful Blocks is on our agenda as a toddler/early preschool activity on Fridays. Here are 4 activities that we do.

I invite the children to join me, either vocally, or simply by starting to do something they can mimic. 

These activities work upon:
  • Fine motor skills
  • Gross motor skills
  • Physics
  • Logic/reasoning/problem solving
  • Counting, colors, letter recognition, 1-1 correspondence, analysis


Here, the are doing simple stacking. 

Mentally, I am assessing their dexterity, thought processes and movement, and how they handle any frustration. 

During the second round, once the initial block tower falls over, I then ask them if they can tell me a letter or color on the blocks as they place them. If they tell me wrong, I simply say the correct one and have them repeat it.

This round, I look for increased skill in stacking.

If they choose to do a third round, then I ask them to count the blocks as they place them. Since they usually do it highest during this round.

They usually want to do more, but I stop here and give another child a turn. It is always best to keep them wanting more. They know they can come back and do it on their own at any time.


This activity has me on one side with a set of blocks, and the child on the other with an identical set of blocks.

I show the child the block, they find it.

I place it down, they mimic my placement.

It may seem simple, but it is not. 

I don't give verbal instructions, so I am looking to see if the child identifies the correct block and chooses it, and if the placement is a mirror of mine, inverted, etc. to see how their mind is working.

For instance the child above, chose to flip the side the secondary tower is on, but mirror the main structure.

The pre-k's like to do this on their own as an activity with a friend, taking turns as the main and secondary builders.


For this game, we simply take as many of the big blocks out as we can find, throw them all on the table, and each child grabs free-for-all as many as they can until all blocks are claimed.

Once they have them, they take turns counting how many they have. For the younger ones, like this 2yo, it is often easier for them to place them linearly. I only help if they need it. I am looking to see how THEY choose to place them for counting, and how they do it. 

Do they line them up, count them in a random placement, or count as they move them from one set into another set?

The blocks are all tossed on the side of the table, and the children sort them into columns by color. Often the hardest part is the column part, since usually we sort into groups. Each block has 2 colors. 

I'm assessing their fine motor skills, placement choice, color choice, how they work around one another to get to more blocks, if they gather some up and take them to the other side, and if they correct another's work.

I hear a lot of, "Can you pass me a block, please?" which makes me very happy.

Once sorted, we count the groups, count them all, then do analysis:

  • Which color has the most/least?
  • How many more does purple have than yellow?
  • Does red have the same amount as green?
  • How many is purple and orange added together?

None of these activities takes more than 10 minutes total, and that's only when they have to take turns. Often I'll see them self-select the activities later in the day or week.
Tags: learning, play, through, math, counting, colors, fine motor, toddler, preschool, activity, hands-on, child care, daycare,

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Coconut Zucchini Patties

I wanted to make something yummy for the kiddos and use some of our abundant zucchini. I threw this together and it was SOOOOoooo good!

Nice enough to serve as a dessert for adults, healthy enough to serve as a snack or breakfast for the children.

While I used sweetened coconut, unsweetened would work fine and be a bit more healthy.

The zucchini has so much moisture that you don't any more than the bit of oil and egg. 

Coconut Zucchini Patties
1 cup                pancake mix
1 cup                zucchini, shredded
1/2 cup             coconut
1/2 cup             craisins
1 tablespoon      coconut oil, or vegetable oil
1                      egg
Mix together. Preheat pan on medium. Place by 1/4 cup scoop into pan and flatten slightly. Cook through to golden brown, cooking times will vary between stoves. 

Optional - serve with vanilla simple syrup.
1 cup            sugar
1 cup            water
1 teaspoon    vanilla
Combine sugar and water, cook on high to boiling and sugar is dissolved and syrup has thickened. Turn off heat and add vanilla. A teaspoon of butter can be added as well for an added richness.

Tags: pancake, zucchini, kid, children, healthy, nutritious, breakfast, snack, dessert, recipe, 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

My Preschool Curriculum

Two Points:
  • This is MY method, and not necessarily right for you, your teaching or care philosophy, your set-up, or your students.  
  • Curriculum participation by my students is VOLUNTARY. I invite them to participate, but if they choose not to, then that is fine. I usually offer them a choice of a few of the activities and let them decide where we start and where we go. 
An engaged child learns, a dis-engaged child rebels.

I make my own 3-year rotating curriculum for many reasons:
  • Packaged curriculum is often only one year. Since I teach for 3 years, this would be redundant.
  • Most packaged curriculum focuses on skills my students master early. My 2s count to 20, know 11 colors, know most of their phonics, uppercase and lowercase letters, 10 shapes and some of their numbers and I still have 3 years of curriculum to teach them. 
  • They often are worksheet intensive. My students usually are cognitively advanced from their fine motor skills. I have 4 year olds that still can't write well. If I had relied on worksheets for the last 2 years, there is no way they would have the skill sets they have. 
Worksheets are also not considered Developmentally Appropriate Practice [DAP] for children under the age of 8. We use them here for writing practice starting at age 4. [Yes, worksheet-intensive public schools are not using DAP for kindy through 3rd grade!]
  • They can be expensive. If you are purchasing worksheets, why would you spend even $1 a week/$52 a year when you can purchase a 400 page Scholastic preschool workbook from Sam's Club for $8 that covers probably more material, is most like aligned with the public school expectations, and is colorful. Colored copies are NOT affordable to make from packaged curriculum.
  • Most [ALL!] preschool learning should be interactive. Pinterest is a better source for ideas.
  • My students change every time I do a theme. I have to be able to tweak it to the interests and capabilities of those currently in my care. Plus, I'll find more interesting activities on Pinterest, have an idea for a new game, etc. It's a constant evolution to keep my curriculum relevant to our current group, situation and resources.
However, curriculum planning and creation is very time consuming. Even with older curriculum I spend several hours going over it prior to teaching - updating, creating new materials, purchasing and setting new classroom decorations.

While I have had my 3 year curriculum, this year I found myself wanting a more specific schedule to focus on specific skill sets for this particular group of children. Most of these skills can be incorporated into our themed curriculum, or they take 5 minute sessions to pop into our day.

I have two groups, the younger preschoolers are 2-3 years old and the older ones are 4-5 years old, all at the same developmental and skill set level within their group. This makes it easier, as I can tailor everything to just 2 groups. If I were to have additional levels of children, then it would be tailored to each level. 

Children here are taught at their developmental level, not age. Asychronastic development is normal, so I may be teaching a child at various levels depending upon the subject matter. 

For the younger preschoolers, I came up with this structure.  

For the older pre-k students, I came up with this one.

For instance, both of them have Measurement & Comparison on Friday for Reasoning. However, for the younger students, this would be a more/less, longer/shorter, big/little, etc. activity, while the older students would be measuring with rulers, yardsticks, tape measures, measuring cups, unit blocks, foot steps or themed units, and graphing the measurements to compare. Same skill set, differentiated at vastly different levels.

Even this needs conditional tweaking. All the pre-k's know how to spell their last names now, so that is no longer a relevant skill activity for music and will be changed out.

In another post I'll get into the curriculum components and the importance of each. For instance, how counting on Friday teaches 1-to-1 correspondence and creating method processes for counting groups of objects.

The 3-year rotating curriculum is theme based. Some times we stick to the plan, but usually I observe what they are interested in learning about, what they are asking questions about, and suggest up to three different themes they can choose from for us to study. 

I use this MS Word template, available for FREE on TPT, for curriculum planning. Often, the daily skill sets above are either already incorporated, or can easily be incorporated, into the theme planning.

Each monthly theme is broken down into 4 sub-themes. For instance:

  • Astronauts & Rockets
  • The Universe
  • Our Solar System
  • Aliens & Robots
We also have a musical component, often classical, and an art component, often a master, and Spanish vocabulary component that we incorporate.  

This planning form may not include all games, file folder games, manipulatives, room-set up, etc. that I utilize. 

For those of you trained in curriculum creation, I do NOT do a full curriculum development for each activity. With having these children usually from infant to school-age, I keep an internal evaluation of progression and plan out only weekly learning objectives. Since I am creating the activities for my personal use, I do not need to create written procedures and evaluations.

My curriculum is stored currently in file folders in a large office bookcase unit. I would like to get it into boxes so that I could have EVERY theme-related item, including dress-up, room set-up, manipulatives, etc. together for an easy pull. File boxes will most likely be the easiest, but they do take up a lot of space.

In each file some of the things I probably have: 
  • Completed planning sheets
  • All the books I own for that theme
  • Flannel board
  • Sentence and word walls
  • File folder games
  • Samples of previous crafts
  • DVDs
  • CDs
  • Coloring pages
  • Mini-book(s)
  • Build-a-[theme item] game 
Curriculum creation is one of my great joys. I love the research and compilation, the creativity and excitement of bringing something fun and educational to my students.

Learning is rarely linear. Children take developmental leaps, sometimes in odd directions. As a teacher, it is important that I keep each one challenged without pushing or inhibiting their growth, and that takes constant evaluation and a good eye for when those leaps happen so that we can move on to a higher level of instruction.

When we do an activity, I constantly question if they WANT to do another round, another activity, and I usually cut them off while they are still engaged. I want them wanting more, and they will usually ask if they can continue. 

One of the most important desires and abilities I can instill in them is that of self-directed learning. So as they choose to go off with their rulers after we've spent several minutes doing a measuring activity, conferring between themselves as to procedures and what to measure next, I step back and let them. 

They know I am here as a resource, rather than an intrusive director.

It is my job to ensure that when I invite my students to learn, they glow with excitement and anticipation of a fun, interactive, playful time. The results, so far, have been astounding.

A few of my complete curriculum units are available through my TPT store.

Tags: preschool, child care, pre-k, curriculum, development, teaching, education, homeschooling, homeschool, home, school, preschool curriculum development, planning

Monday, July 14, 2014

Our 25 Activities of Circle Time

Many providers have been asking about Circle Time routines. Ours is pretty involved, but we do NOT do everything every day. It depends upon the skill sets we are working upon and the progression of my students. 

If the weather has been the same for the last week, then it's just redundant to keep repeating it. I'd rather wait until the weather is interesting and discuss it in depth for 1/2 an hour.

Since this is primarily a Reggio based program, everything is interactive and most of it is done standing up. Learning is best reinforced through a holistic seeing, hearing, speaking and moving approach. 

This post is regarding what I am currently doing with children 2 1/2 through 5 years old. When I have younger children, they are with us or near us during circle time, depending upon their interest and abilities.

Since the littles get bored faster, we start with their level and progress, allowing them to wander off as they will and rejoin if they hear something that catches their attention. The children are INVITED to join me, it is totally their choice. As long as they are within hearing distance, they absorb everything even if they aren't directly participating. Every once in a while, I've started circle time all by myself, but soon had some friends join in the fun.

My teaching philosophy is that if a child is not paying attention and participating in an activity, either:
  1. They already have it mastered and it no longer holds their attention.
  2. They are not developmentally ready for the activity or skill and attempting to synthesize the information at this time is overwhelming.
  3. I'm doing something wrong. Either I or the activity are not joyful, playful and animated enough to invite them into participating.
They get down the songs and chants very young, without understanding the meaning of the information. However, when they are developmentally ready to understand, the light switch clicks and they already have that information available to utilize. 

If you think a 2 year old can't memorize extraordinarily well, ask one to sing any song from Frozen. It just takes making it into something they WANT to memorize.

I'll go into each and how we do it, but here's the list:

  1. Pledge of Allegiance
  2. Welcome, Monday Speech
  3. ABC song with visuals
  4. Counting 0-20 chant English & Spanish
  5. Names songs
  6. Colors/shapes English & Spanish
  7. Positional Relationships visual or interactive
  8. Days of the Week song
  9. Months of the Year song
  10. Seasons chant 
  11. Calendar 
  12. Weather discussion
  13. Colors/shapes English & Spanish
  14. Manners song
  15. Skip Counting chant
  16. Money chant
  17. Diagraphs & blends review
  18. Spanish introduction/review
  19. Number of the Day & Fact Family of the Day visual & discussion
          Curriculum/Theme Transition: 
  • Topic discussion
  • Vocabulary introduction
  • Word Wall & Sentence Wall
  • Song/fingerplay/movement
  • Story [Finally sitting down]
  • Story Comprehension discussion
 1.   Pledge of Allegiance

When we do the pledge, we do it first thing. This gives the stragglers a trigger to join us.

When I found out they won't do the Pledge of Allegiance in school, I stopped doing it daily. I still feel it's important to know, so we discuss it and learn it on Flag Day, 4th of July, President's Day, Veteran's Day, Memorial Day, etc. when it has some relevancy.

2.   Welcome and Monday Speech

I formally welcome the children and we have a brief discussion about the days activities. Usually we jump right in, but this is the welcome song I use when we need to get everyone settled in:
Good Morning to you,
Good Morning to you,
We're all in our places
With bright smiling faces,
And this is the way
We start our school day.
On Mondays, we also do speech. Each child gets up and tells us something. It can be a make-believe story, something about their weekend or home life, show and tell about a toy they brought, a song they want to sing, etc. This teaches speech skills, and more importantly, audience skills of paying attention, being kind, asking relevant questions, listening skills, patience, turn taking, etc. One of the best things I added to our circle time!

3.   ABC Song with visuals

We have this ABC border. I'd love to have it at kid height, but we lack wall space. I'm rather glad we have the windows instead, though. So, I use a yardstick and point to each one as we sing the song. 

I also have an ABC visual that I cut out of the book "Alphabet Rescue" to use.

If we are working on a particular letter, then I'll go back to that one and do a repeat and phonics review on it. This is NOT how we learn our letters, it's simply a review and another opportunity for them to pick up on a letter they may just be getting down. We do use 2 different songs. The traditional one to the Twinkle Twinkle Little Star tune, and this one...

4.   Counting 0-20 chant in English & Spanish

We bend forward and clap 0-9. On 9, we say it long and slowly raise our hands up then say 10 loud and dance around. We do the same on 11-19, raising our hands up on 19 and saying 20 loud and dancing. When the older children count to 100, they always draw out their response on 9 as they've been taught. This provides them with a window of thinking for the next 10, which they need in the beginning.

Guess which number the littles are currently working upon?

5.   Names Songs

One of the MOST important things we do as a group. Even the 1-year-olds can differentiate the names of all the students. They learn to identify names as pictorial references and then we decompose them down to letters through these songs. These letters are then recomposed into spelling names, which leads into spelling words. 

Sounds complicated, and it is, but it is a huge bump in learning to read. This we DO do regularly. Once they have down their first name, we add their last name as a second verse. This is also a great speech component since they stand up in front of everyone and point to the letters of their name as their name song is sung by all. 

This is one of the main ways they learn their first letter identification. I teach uppercase, lowercase and phonics simultaneously. 

The names are sung in a simple sing-song tone depending on how many letters are in the name. For instance:

B.e.n. spells be-en, spells be-en.
B.e.n. spells be-en. Spells Be-en! spells Emma, spells Emma. spells Emma, spells Emma!

J.a.cob spells Jacob, spells Jacob.
J.a.cob spells Jacob, spells Jacob!

Hun.ter spells Hunter, spells Hunter.
Hun.ter spells Hunter, spells Hunter!

Jes.sica spells Jessica, spells Jessica.
Jes.sica spells Jessica, spells Jessica!

6. Colors/Shapes in English & Spanish

We learn these in so many other ways, but every once in a while it's a good review to just run through the 12 shapes and 12 colors as a group. 

7.   Positional Relationships Visual or Interactive

While they learn this more through experience, every once in a while it's good to just go through them all. I will take a picture and ask positional questions, such as:
  • What is TO THE RIGHT of the house?
  • What is BELOW the car?
  • What is NEXT TO the tree?
or I'll have everyone get a toy and give them directions, such as:
  • Put the ball BEHIND you.
  • Put the ball ABOVE you. 
  • Put the ball ON your shoulder.
  • Put the ball UNDER your foot. 
I will also use this as an opportunity to teach body parts in Spanish.

8.   Days of the Week Song

This is sung to the tune of "My Darling Clementine."
Sunday, Monday,
Tuesday, Wednesday,
Thursday, Friday, Saturday
These are the days of the-e wee-eek
and today is __________.
Today is _________
Today is _________
Today is _________ all the day
Yesterday was __________,
and tomorrow will be __________.

9.   Months of the Year Song

This is sung to the tune of "Ten Little Indians."
January, February, March and April
May. June. July and August.
September, October, November December
THESE are the months of the year.

l0.   Seasons Chant
Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall
These are the seasons one and all!
ll.   Calendar

We don't do much with the calendar until the last preschool year before kindergarten, simply because it needs to be done every day, and we just aren't that committed to academic routine.  

We have a nice big magnetic one, but the littles like to pop off the magnets and take off with them to the great void of I'll-never-find-it-again-until-I-move. So, we only put them on if we are working on the calendar as a group.

I have this smaller magnetic one, and with the bigs being pre-k now, we will be using it regularly this year. 

12.  Weather

We garden here. We are outside a LOT. Most of our weather instruction is relevant and important. We'll do a graph of daily weather, chart temperatures and rainfall, and discuss any bad weather that comes around and its effect on the climate and our situations. But sometimes, at circle time, I'll throw out questions about the weather, cloud formations, temperature, weather predictions, etc. I think it would be cute to have a little dress up weather bear or similar, but frankly, we have more important things to do. 

I found this wonderful free graphic. Unfortunately, once downloaded, it was in a very low resolution and was highly pixilated, so I simply re-created it for our use, as she had from an unknown original source, so that it looked as good as intended.  

13. Manners Song

Sometimes they need a reminder... 
First we say, "Please,"
Then we say, "Thank you,"
Then we say, "You're welcome," to the person who said, "Thank you,"
And that's how we use our MANNERS!
Done in just a sing-song voice.

14. Odd/Even Chant

All the teaching materials I produce have the even numbers in green for "GO, yes it can be divided by 2!" and red for odd numbers, "STOP, no, it can NOT be divided by 2!" So even as they first learn their numbers, they begin to see the red vs. green numbers and will remember that later on when we begin odd/even.
Zero, two, four, six, eight
Even numbers are really GREAT!
One, three, five, seven, nine,
Odd numbers are pretty FINE!

15.  Skip Counting Chant

Pretty much the same as our counting chant. We just clap on each number and dance about on 100. We start with skip counting by 10s, then 5s, then 2s, with our number visuals. OR, we'll put the numbers on the floor and take turns hopping on them as we count as a group.

16.  Money Chant

Chart visual. 
A penny
A nickle
A dime
A quarter
A half-dollar

17.  Diagraphs & Blends Review

Any digraphs or blends that we are working on, especially any that a child is having trouble with, go written on the white board and we'll review them during circle time until I feel they are mastered. Sometimes we just run through all of them I've put up for a while. 

Each one has a specific phrase and movement to it. For instance, 

With finger to mouth and shoulders bunched. "EEEEEEK, I SEEK to KEEP CREEPy stuff away!"  

Slapping hand over arm with a look of astonishment. "OW! HOW did a COW give me an OWie?"  

18.  Spanish Introduction/Review

This is taught mostly in the environment, but new phrases or review can be integrated into circle time.

19.  Number of the Day/Fact Family of the Day

Our number of the day chart is wonderful and thorough. The children get a kick out of having me draw a ton of little funny pictures. Unfortunately, they always pick a number like 98! We do this as a group, but they can use it as an independent table activity as well. 

I have one that only goes to 20, but this group is working on 100+, so we are using this one currently.

The fact family chart is a good visual for discussion about addition and subtraction units. The children get to pick two numbers between 1 and 9 for this one.

We don't always have a theme, depending upon the skill sets we are working upon and the time of the year, but when we do, my curriculum is comprehensive and we WILL cover everything listed below. While this is usually considered an extension of our circle time, it borders into our curriculum time as well. If there is no theme, then we may or may not do these during circle time, but they will be covered at some point within the day.

20. Topic Discussion

The topic discussion may or may not come first. Some times the story is so relevant that I need to read it first prior to discussion. If not, then we will talk about the topic first. For instance during our SPACE theme, one of the weeks was regarding the solar system. Our daily topics were:

  • Monday - Solar system 
  • Tuesday - 11 planets
  • Wednesday - Sun & stars
  • Thursday - Planet Earth
  • Friday - Moons

2l.  Vocabulary Introduction

This usually goes along with the story and topic discussion. If I feel that there are specific terms that need to be addressed for good understanding during either of those, then I'll make a point of having a vocabulary introduction.

22.  Word Wall and Sentence Wall

For each theme we have a word wall and sentence wall. For the littles, this is a vocabulary and visual activity, for the bigs, it is a spelling and relationship activity. 

23.  Song/fingerplay/movement

For each day of a theme there is a song, a fine motor and gross motor activity, related to the daily topic. For instance for the daily topic of Sun & Stars, we sang "Mr. Sun," did a finger play called Sun and Moon, and a gross motor movement of the Earth going around the sun.

24.  Story

Since all of above is done standing up and moving, they are usually pretty ready to grab a floor pillow and plop down for the story of the day as a group. For the Sun & Stars topic, we read "Going Around the Sun" by Berkes.

25.  Story Comprehension

Using a dialogic approach to story time, we cover vocabulary and I ask age-appropriate questions of the children during and after story time. This builds logic/reasoning and sequencing skills, along with many other skills

For the bigs, who are reading well, we are now in a pre-k mode and have gotten more formal in our comprehension discussion. The littles are asked similar questions, but in a less formal way and with the expectation of simple answers without analysis, categorizing or labeling. 

After circle & theme fun stuff, they have the option of free play, table time activities/manipulatives, or starting our actual school time. They usually choose school, which will include a language, mathematics, science/logic/reasoning and art component related to the theme topic and the daily skill set. 
Tags: circle time, preschool, daycare, child care, child, care, teaching, toddler,