Centers, Kindergarten style

We've finally gotten into the "swing" of centers in Kindergarten.  It's definitely much different teaching Kindergarteners how to do centers than it is first graders!  First graders definitely have some experience with centers, while Kindergarteners do not!  I also gave my firsties a lot more freedom when it came to centers than I do my Kinders, not that it's a bad thing!

So I thought I'd share how I'm running my centers now that I'm back to teaching Kindergarten.

In first grade, I was basically forced to use homogeneous grouping (something I did NOT like), but in Kindergarten, we use heterogeneous grouping.  I arranged my center groups so that I have a high, medium, and struggling student in pretty much every group.  There are 3 kids per each center group, and there are 8 groups of students.  

Our center rotation chart tells the students where they are going.  I dismiss them to their centers, and then I call one of my reading groups to my table to work on reading.  This means that they do miss one of their center activities, but I feel it's more important that students are learning how to read with me than completing some work that they may complete incorrectly anyway.

 In word work, we have been doing a lot of different activities with books and our sight words.  We have made alphabet books, and now we're moving on to different sight word activities, such as sight word books, read/make/write boards, and Roll a Sight Word activities!  The kids love learning these new words and then finding them in the books we read.

Read/Write Around the Room is another activity the kids love!  So far, we've been doing different Write Around the Room themes, such as fall words, Thanksgiving words, etc...  The kids have to write the word and draw a small picture next to it.  If they finish, they can write a sentence on the back of their paper using one of the words.  Soon, we're going to alternate these vocabulary building Read Around the Room activities with sight words around the room.  :-)

In Phonics, we've done a ton of sorting activities.  We've sorted beginning sounds, rhyming words, syllables, even ending sounds.  We've differentiated some of the activities for different students, so some students may be working on rhyming words while others may be working on beginning sounds.   

These two alphabet sorts are from my Alphabet Printable Sorting Sheets available in my TPT store.

We also have two reading centers, since reading is so important!  We have "Read to Self" and "Buddy Reading" in our center rotation.  One important thing we need for these centers are our book boxes!  I buy the magazine holders from IKEA and allow my students to decorate them however they like.   

Inside their book boxes, they get to keep the books they borrow from me, as well as the books they've made in the classroom, and then any books I give them to keep in their book boxes.  We have these little bags to keep our "just right books" in.  These are the books they've made in the classroom and can pretty much read on their own.

We do Read to Self in our book nook.  I like to have lots of different places for the kids to sit down and read. 

We do Buddy Reading on the carpet.  Sometimes we have 2 students in a group, but usually we have 3, so it's usually "group reading" instead of buddy reading.  It usually works out. 

We also have a poetry center!  We put a new poem in our notebook every week!  The poems are all songs or poems we've sang or read in our classroom.  For example, this apple tree poem is something we did as a choral reading activity.  The kids glued it into their notebooks and drew a tree to match each part of the poem.  Then they practice reading their poems to an adult.

The other centers that we do are writing and computers.  Computers are pretty self-explanatory- the students get on Successmaker and complete that program.  For writing, we usually do a response to a book that we read, such as writing about our favorite character or telling what happened at the beginning, middle, and end of a story.

I have not added Listen to Reading (mostly because I'm lazy!), but someday, I plan on adding it as well.  I just really need to take the time to get all my CDs uploaded to iTunes and then have them synced to the iPods.  We may add that one after Christmas!

I hope you enjoyed this little peek into my classroom!

Christmas Questionnaire Linky Party 2014

I decided to link up with Fabulous in First for her Christmas Questionnaire Linky Party!

1.  When do you decorate?
I usually decorate the week after Thanksgiving.  I usually refuse to decorate before Thanksgiving.  I broke my own rule this year and put up one of my trees before Thanksgiving because I knew I was having surgery in December and wanted to be sure I had enough time to get it all done!

This is my "big" Christmas tree and some ornaments I've made for it. 

 My mantel, front door, and side table in the living room.

Lots and lots of trees!  I love trees!

Decorations in the Dining Room.  

I tried putting lights on the tree outside.  Short people shouldn't put lights on trees. :-)

2.  Elf or no elf?
I don't have any children, and the dog doesn't care, so I just have an elf in my classroom.  Her name is Twinkle Snowflake, and I wrote about our adventures with her last year here and here.

This year was eventful for poor Twinkle!  One of my students decided to beat the pulp out of poor Twinkle Snowflake and she was pretty battered!

3.  Christmas Cookies or no baking for you?
My mom does tons of Christmas baking, so I usually don't do much.  In the past, I have made Peppermint Bark and Chocolate Covered Pretzels.  This year, I didn't do anything since I had surgery this month.

4. Favorite Holiday Tradition?
Staying home!  When I was a kid, we used to get up, eat breakfast, open gifts, and pack up and leave to sit in the car for 4 hours to go to my Grandparents.  It was horrible.  While I don't wake up in my own house, at least I don't have to sit in the car for 4 hours anymore!

I also like to make something for my home each year.  New ornaments, a decoration, something pretty and festive!  These are some things I've made in the last few years.

5. Favorite Christmas Movie?
I guess that would have to be The Grinch Who Stole Christmas!  :-)  We also have to watch Scrooged every year, because my dad loves it.

6.  Snow or no snow?
I hate snow, so I'll go with no snow!

7.  Favorite Christmas song?
I am so not a fan of Christmas music.  I am one of those people who hates hearing Christmas music before Thanksgiving!  I will only listen to it willingly if I am at work making Christmas crafts with the kids!  We do listen to The Trans-Siberian Orchestra CD on Christmas, and I don't mind that.  I'm just a bit of a Grinch when it comes to Christmas music!

8.  Favorite Gifts to Give and Get?
I like to give handmade gifts or gifts purchased from local shops or artists.  I got a few gifts that I'm giving to family this way!  I also like to find great gifts for people.  Sometimes I do a great job, and sometimes I don't!  I am making a wreath for my mom (once my wrist heals!), and I found a cute handmade hat for my sister. Shhhhh!!!!

These are some gifts I made for my coworkers this year.  I filled the mugs with homemade hot chocolate.  Some are regular, and some are peppermint.  Yum!

For Christmas, I wanted one of these. :-)  I know I won't get one, but I still asked Santa anyway!

I also asked for socks and a green sweater, which I got from my fabulous assistant!  She's a mind reader, I swear!

I want this for my dog Molly.  It was on tv earlier.  Isn't it cute?  :-)

Don't forget to go link up!

Working with Numbers

Graphics by Whimsy Workshop.

We've been working a whole lot on number sense!  Lots of counting, subitizing, ordering numbers, making numbers, etc...  

Our math program is Engage NY (don't ask me my opinion on THAT!), so we have a whole group lesson each morning that requires using a ton of manipulatives that my students love to lose.  :-)  We worked on building numbers and then figuring out different ways to make that number.  I do all my whole group lessons on the carpet.  We also supplement a LOT with center activities, because I'm sorry, but my Kinders can't sit through a 30 minute whole group lesson without being antsy, and I know they're not getting much out of it at that point.

We also use the problem sets and put them in our math journals.  Unfortunately, there are mistakes in the Engage NY materials and the directions don't always make sense, or the pictures are terrible, so sometimes we have to make our own versions of stuff.  Frustrating.  

One activity we did was a counting book.  The kids really enjoyed this, and it was good to see who was able to finish their counting book correctly and independently.  You can find this version of the counting book in my TPT store.

(I love her colorful stars!)

We played Memory with number cards.  They matched the number to the number of objects on another card. 

We also used my differentiated Number Clip Cards.  Counting a number, counting one more than a number, and counting one less than a number are included.   Plus, using the closepins forces them to strengthen their hands, and they love them!

We have also played lots of number games!  Roll and Color, Roll Count and Color, and Race to Trace are a few that we used.  I found these in various places around the internet, but they were all freebies. I know a few of them came from this freebie from The Moffatt Girls.  

We also did quite a bit of number ordering.  We ordered both pictures with a certain number of objects, as well as just the numbers themselves.

The kids loved being able to cut them out and put them in order, but they really loved being able to color them!  You could also make these into a hat.  (My kids LOVE hats!)  This activity can be found in my Fall Into Kindergarten pack, along with several other number activities.

This Skip Counting Freebie can be found in this post from Reagan Tunstall.  There are 4 different versions available!

We even used cubes to build towers that had "one more" with each consecutive cube.  

And when we finally figured out how to put our numbers in order, we expanded on that skill!

Here we are playing "What's Missing?" with a partner.  We put the number cards in order 0-10, one partner closes their eyes, and their partner hides one of the cards.  They have to figure out which number is missing.  Once they get better at that, we allow them to hide 2 cards.

We also played this with towers of cubes from 1-10.  The student hid a cube tower and the other student had to figure out which tower was missing.  (Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of this.  Sorry!)

We also played "One More, One Fewer" to help reinforce this skill.  The students choose a card and count out that number on the ten frame.  Then they rolled a +/- dice to see if they added a number or took one away.  This game comes from our old math program, Math Investigations 2, but it would be super simple to play in your own classroom!

Bobbing for Apples was a hit as well!  The students chose a number 1-20, and they had to figure out where on the paper that number went and write it down with a pencil.  They had to check to make sure their number was in the right spot on their by counting from the first apple to the number they had and check that it was in the right place.  Some more sophisticated thinkers used the numbers that were already on their paper to figure out where a certain number went.  I am sure this game could be created for different seasons as well, especially now that we are beginning to hit our teen numbers and work on them.

I hope this post helped you with some great math ideas for your Kindergarteners!  We are now doing a brief unit on shapes, so I will hopefully be back with some fun ideas to share about those soon!

What I learned from a thank you card

One of my Kindergarteners moved today.  When her mother informed me that today would be her last day, I was sad.  I really hate to see my students leave.  She was a great kid.  She had all of the qualities that teachers absolutely love in kids!  Sweet.  Kind.  Smart.  Funny.  Caring.  Hard-working.  You know, the kind of kid all teachers want a class full of.  Of course I didn't want her to leave!  I cry when any student leaves, so I knew I was in for tears today.

When she came in today, she handed me a card.  I immediately opened it, because, lets face it, I have no self control sometimes.  What I saw inside made me start welling up with tears immediately.

This is what it said:

Thanks for being my 1st teacher.  

The words, while simple, struck me in a strange way.  I had never thought of myself as someone's first teacher.  I knew that several of my students had not been to school before.  I knew that several of my students came in to school with a different set of knowledge than we hoped they would due to their inexperience with school.  I even knew that some of my students had been to pre-school, but this was their first experience with formal schooling.

But it never, ever occurred to me, not in a million years, that I was their first teacher.

The enormity of this responsibility is astounding.  As I came to this realization, it weighed on me heavily.  I have a responsibility to these students.  More than I ever realized.

Yes, I know that, as a Kindergarten teacher, it is my job to set the foundation for the rest of their school career.  The skills I teach my 24 (now 23) Kindergarten students will help set them up for success or failure throughout school.  It is my job to make sure that my students leave Kindergarten armed with the skills they will need to tackle first grade and beyond.  That right there is a huge responsibility.

But what that card implied was a responsibility even bigger than I imagined.  

As their first teacher, it is my job to make sure they are hungry.  I need to ensure that they need to learn more and more to satiate that hunger.  I need to create a hunger that will never be satiated, no matter what happens to them in first grade, second grade, or even in middle or high school.

As their first teacher, it is my job to create that love of learning.  That love of reading.  I need to guide them towards the answers to their questions.  Towards the books they won't want to put down.  I have to show them that it's ok to love learning from the start.  They will need that love when things get tough.

As their first teacher, it is my job to make them independent.  They have to learn how to do things on their own, without the assistance of their parents.  It's time to grow up and move on now that we're in school.  I gently guide them towards independence while still allowing them to depend on me for guidance and support.  I help them amaze their parents with all the wonderful things they are capable of doing.

As their first teacher, it is my job to make their first experience with school a positive one.  It is my responsibility to make sure they go home each day with a skip in their step and a smile on their face.  I need to ensure that they are excited to share what they learned in school that day with their families.

As their first teacher, I am their first experience with school.  My attitude and how I handle myself can make or break that child's school experience.  It may be for just this year, or it may be forever.  I don't have any idea how much of an impact my words and actions may have on that child.  I have to be careful what I say and how I say it.  I need to nurture these students through their first experience with school.  I need to make sure they want to come back each day.  If they have a negative experience with school in Kindergarten, it does not bode well for the rest of their educational experience.

Though this responsibility falls on Kindergarten teachers, there is something we must remember.  Each and every day can be a child's "first day" of school.  Each and every one of you, whether you teach Kindergarten or seniors in high school, can be a child's "first teacher."  YOU can be the one who makes a difference in the life of a child.  YOU can change their educational experience from a negative one to a positive one.  

No matter what you heard about that student from their previous teachers.

No matter what the other students tell you about that student.

No matter what kinds of behaviors that child has displayed in your classroom.

YOU can make the difference.  YOU can allow that child to restart their educational experience within the confines of your classroom.  You can be their cheerleader, urging them to do the best they can.  You can teach them independence.  You can help ensure they love learning and will never be satisfied with what they know, no matter what.

Tomorrow could be the first day of school for one of those students in your class.  It could be the tough one who can't keep his hands to himself, or the little girl who feels like a failure because she struggles with learning to read.  You can find that way to connect with them and make them successful.  YOU can change their educational experience from a negative one to a positive one, and set them on a path to success.

Can you be a child's first teacher?