Sunday, 29 April 2018

Punctuation Clip Cards!

I'm not sure about you, but I find that teaching punctuation can sometimes be at bit, well... boring.  Particularly when you're working with little learners who prefer hands on activities.  It was this problem that led me to creating these punctuation clip cards!

The idea is easy peasy - read the sentence and clip the most appropriate ending punctuation!  Choices include a full stop (period), exclamation point or question mark.  The cards are perfect to use as a small group activity once you've done some whole class teaching around punctuation.  Make them self correcting by placing a sticker or marker dot behind the correct answer - children can clip their choice and flip the card to see if they are right!

This resource is designed for beginning readers - lots of high frequency words and others that can be read using simple phonics.  To save on ink, print two to a page to create smaller cards - that's what I did for the cards featured in these photos.

Click on any of the images to see this pack in my store!

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Valentine's Day Made Simple!

Now that you've packed away all of your Christmas resources, it's time to bust out the hearts and candy covered Valentine's Day activities!  But don't forget that Easter is just around the corner - you'll need to be ready for that just after St. Patrick's Day! Doesn't it seem like there's always a holiday that we can theme our teaching to?  If you're anything like me, you really don't have time (or the money) to make sure your kidlets are completing tasks that link in with whatever celebration is coming up.  It is lots of fun, though, to throw in some crafts and games that tap into your student's excitement about the holidays - and aren't we always looking for our learners to be engaged?  Today I'm going to share some quick, easy and FUN Valentine's Day ideas for you to use during February.  I've also included some freebies to save you some cash to spend on your own roses and chocolates. :)

First up are some easy and super cute crafty ideas that make gorgeous classroom displays or parent gifts.  (The examples you'll see in the photos are ones I made with my girls at home, so you'll see photos of them with their dad.  In your classroom, including a photo would be optional!)  I've included a link to a free download with all the templates you'll need to make them!

Make this gorgeous 'I love you to pieces' picture by collaging pieces of coloured paper onto a heart shape.  Glue it on to the background when it's dry and you've trimmed the edges.  If you're only making a few of these, you can also use old jigsaw pieces instead of paper.

Have your kidlets either print their hands or feet inside a heart shape for this next idea.  At home we did  footprints, but obviously it's much easier to do hand prints when you're making a whole class worth!  Cut the heart out when the paint is dry and glue it on to the background.

If you're looking for some activities to include in your February maths and literacy small groups, you might like these!  Click on any of the images to check out the resources.

These number puzzles are FREE and are perfect as a 'Fast Finisher' task.  Just print, laminate and cut to play.

I love using 'Roll & Cover' games in maths groups!  Just add dice and you're good to go.  This resource includes roll & cover for number recognition, roll & add, and roll & subtract.  Just print the game board that best suits your learners.

Last of all is this easy rhyming memory match game.  This resource includes three super cute recording worksheets. :)

Hopefully you've found a few ideas that you can use in your classroom.  Happy Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Handwriting Ideas for Little Learners!

When I first started teaching, handwriting was one area that I really struggled to plan lessons for.  There just didn't seem to be a way to make sitting up straight at a desk, painstakingly tracing or copying letters fun for little learners.  And of course... most of the time there isn't!  When I got my head around the concept that handwriting is based on the correct formation of letters, I began to think outside of the box and plan activities that were more than just pencil and paper!  Even though my kidlets were spending less time at their desks writing letters on a worksheet or workbook - when they did, their handwriting became much neater more quickly.  Handwriting lessons began in the first few days of the year when we were working on the basics of letter recognition, and even became something that I looked forward to planning.  

Today I'd like to share some of my favourite handwriting activity ideas - and hopefully there will be one or two that you can use with your little learners!

Whole body movement:  Lots of children remember things much more quickly when they can link their learning to physical movement.  When you are introducing letters, have your kidlets 'draw' the letter using their whole body.  If you can think of a way to link the movement to your phonics program, even better!  For example, the letter 'b' chant in the last program I used was "Bounce balloons, b, b, b."  Children would imagine they were a balloon.  To form the letter b we would stand up straight and float down to a crouch to make the top to bottom line.  Next we'd imagine that we gently bounced off the floor and around to create the round part of the letter b.  It's tricky to explain so I hope that makes some sense!  

Playdough:  Before children can correctly hold a pencil and have the stamina necessary to write for long periods of time, they need to have muscle strength and fine motor control.  Playdough is a great way to strengthen those little hand muscles and also work on letter formation.  You can set up this activity with either store bought or homemade playdough and flash cards that you already have, or you can make or buy playdough mats - laminate them and you can also use them with whiteboard markers if you like! 

Don't forget to include numbers when teaching handwriting - some mats (like the ones in this photo) combine numeral formation with counting practice. I've got some playdough mats in my store (including some in Queensland font) -  click here to check them out!  

Salt Trays:  
I love salt (or sand) trays as a sensory letter formation activity!  My first set of these were simply plastic takeaway containers filled with salt I'd dyed blue.  We'd use them with flash cards and children would use their finger to copy the letters.  These days there's all sorts of fancy ideas you can use!  At home we've been writing in coconut, pretending it's Elsa's snow!  (Our tray used to hold lacing cards from Kmart.)

You might like to try this ice cream themed tray from Modern Preschool:

Or this gorgeous fairy dust tray from The Imagination Tree:

Chalk: Grab some giant sidewalk chalk and you're all set for outdoor handwriting lessons!  All you need is a patch of concrete or brick wall.  Writing in the sunshine and fresh air is much more fun than sitting at a desk and the feeling of chalk on rough concrete adds a sensory element that lots of kidlets enjoy. 

Paintbrushes:  Now before you skip over this paragraph thinking "too messy" - you don't actually need paint to use a paintbrush!  (You can if you want to, of course!)  I like to use paintbrushes with water.  You can either have your kidlets paint their letters onto a concrete path, wall or chalkboard - or you can write first with chalk and have them paint over your letters.  This is especially helpful for little learners who need lots of help with their letter formation skills.  Use thick paintbrushes at the beginning of the year and move to thinner ones to encourage correct pencil grip as the year progresses.  If you live somewhere warm this is a great activity to do outside on a sunny day - kidlets will think it's magic when their letters painted in water disappear as they dry on the warm concrete path!

Novelty Stationery:  Scented markers, glitter pens, crayons, highlighters, rainbow pencils, whiteboard markers... instantly more fun than writing with a regular old pencil! :)

Write & Wipe:  This activity is handy because it's one that you can create once to use over and over again.  Using whiteboard markers on laminated cards is perfect for a small group task, morning fine motor work or 'Fast Finishers'.  I've got some Queensland print cards in my store - in both upper and lowercase.  Click the photo below to check them out!

Technology:  There's a few great apps around that help kidlets get the hang of correct letter formation.  Letter School is lots of fun - kidlets love the graphics and sound effects:

Eggy Alphabet is Aussie-friendly:

Of course, there will be times during the year when you will need your children to complete a worksheet or workbook page.  These 'Handwriting Workouts' are lots of fun for kidlets in the early stages of handwriting development - they combine simple tracing tasks with a handwriting warm up, work out and cool down! They're available in Queensland, Victorian or NSW print - click the pic below to check them out! :)

I hope you've found a fun idea that you can use when teaching handwriting to your little learners!  Leave me a comment if you've got a great activity to share. :)

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Easy Nativity Crafts!

Hello again friends!  Earlier this week I shared a post with a some ideas and resources for teaching the Nativity and promised to be back with some easy crafts that to fit right in with those activities.  Today I'm going to share four projects that your little learners will love!

If you read my last post you'll know that I teach the Nativity in a similar way every year, by focusing on four main 'events' from the story.  This craft fits in with our first set of lessons, when we talk about the angel visiting Mary.  To make these gorgeous angels, you'll need a paper plate, yellow paint, glitter, a paper circle and a piece of gold ribbon or pipecleaner.

To get started, paint the outer edge of the paper plate yellow (or your preferred colour!).  Most paper plates have a ribbed edge - telling kidlets to paint over that is the easiest way to make sure the whole plate isn't covered.  Use glitter and sparkles to decorate the painted area, either by sprinkling it on while the paint is still wet or using glue later.

To turn the plate into an angel you need to cut out a wedge shape.  I usually do this step for the kidlets, because it ensures the pieces are the right size and it's also much quicker!  If you wanted to have your class cut their own plates you certainly could.  You can see in my photo I've added star sparkles to the small piece - this is totally optional. It will become the angel's skirt.

Glue the wedge back onto the rest of the plate as in the photo - the large part becomes the wings and the small wedge is the angel's dress.  Draw a face onto the paper circle and glue it on top of the dress, with a piece of gold ribbon as a halo.  The finished angels will look something like this:

When we move onto the birth of Jesus, I love to make a Jesus in the manger tree ornament.  It looks tricky but really isn't!  You'll need 2 giant craft sticks per child, some brown paper (or white paper painted brown!), craft wood shavings and a paper circle.  Begin by gluing the craft sticks together in a 'V' shape.  Cut your brown paper into a triangle shape and glue it to the sticks.  You can see both a front and back view in the photo below:

Take some of the craft wood/straw and glue it along the top of the paper.  Draw a face on the paper circle and glue it on one side of the manger - this becomes Jesus lying in His bed. :)  Add a piece of ribbon or twine so the ornament can be hung on a Christmas tree.

Next up is my favourite craft - just because they always turn out so cute!  This paper plate sheep is made when we learn about the shepherds visiting Jesus.  You'll need a small paper plate (saucer sized), cotton wool, black card, googly eyes, 2 wooden pegs and a bit of black paint.  Cover the plate with cotton wool using glue.  Have your kidlets trace a circle onto their card and cut it out to make the face, but let them free draw 2 ear shapes - this is what makes each sheep look unique!  Glue the ears and eyes onto the face, and then onto the cotton covered plate.   When everything is dry, clip the pegs onto the bottom of the sheep's body so he can stand up by himself!

The last event we learn about during our Nativity lessons is the Wise Men following the star to  bring gifts to Jesus.  We make a hanging star ornament with a card star shape and some ribbon.  If you want to make these more sturdy you could buy wooden star shapes from a craft store and have your kidlets paint them a nice bright colour.  Make sure you have a look through your collage supplies before you go and buy new ribbon, too - if you're anything like me you'll have a tonne of spools with bits left over from previous projects!
To decorate the star, just wrap lots of different coloured and sized ribbons around the star shape.  If you've used card, a small piece of tape will secure the ends at the back.  For wooden shapes, you might need to use hot glue and complete this craft in small groups of kidlets.  Don't forget to add some ribbon for hanging! 

I hope one of these gorgeous projects will inspire you to do some crafting with your kidlets this Christmas season!  Don't forget that most crafts can be adapted so you can use whatever materials you have on hand (or can afford!).  Sending home a Nativity craft is a great way to encourage children to talk with their family about the true meaning of Christmas. :)

Sunday, 19 November 2017

The Nativity - Teaching Ideas and Resources!

Can you believe it's almost Christmas again?  Today I'd like to give you an overview of how I like to help kidlets know and understand the Christmas story, as well as a peek into a new unit I've made that puts together some of my tried and tested activities and printables

Late November and December are my favourite time of the year by far - I love decorating for Christmas, shopping for gifts, spending time with family and eating good food!  The lead up to Christmas is also my favourite time in the classroom. :)  Here in Australia we only have a few more weeks of the school year left, usually assessment is all done and there's time in the schedule for a few fun activities and crafts.  Most of my teaching career has also been in a school where the focus of Christmas is the Nativity - and there's so many wonderful ways to teach this story!   (I've also got some great crafts to share, stay tuned for that post later in the week.)

I like to break the Christmas story up into 4 main 'events', teaching one each week with matching crafts and activities (usually on 3 days of the school week).  This gives kidlets an opportunity to really think about the story as they're learning about it, and it also means that you're not rushing through - because with end of the year concerts, parties and other things that need to be done we often have to reshuffle our planning as the weeks go on! :)  My Nativity resource includes a suggested teaching sequence, but you can take as little or as much time as you want (or have available!).

Before each lesson I like to go over the story in full - using a different Bible, storybook or video clip each time.  My favourite paraphrased Bible storybook is 'The Jesus Storybook Bible' - the language and illustrations are really engaging for little learners.

There's lots of clips on YouTube about the Nativity -  but be sure you watch them before you show them to your class to make sure they're accurate. :) Every year I use this one from 'The Beginners Bible'.  (This channel also has lots of other Bible stories presented in a really kid-friendly way.)

I also love this little video from St Pauls Arts and Media. It is just too cute!

Having Nativity scenes or puppets that children can retell the story with is also great - there's plenty of printables online but if you're after something a little more durable try searching Etsy for 'Nativity finger puppets'.  There are some seriously gorgeous sets you can buy!  If you have any Bible costumes, kidlets can also dress up and tell the story themselves.  This is a great opportunity for them to think a little more deeply about the story.  As children are becoming familiar with the Nativity story, we set up our word wall and use these sequencing posters during our whole class learning time. 

During week 1 of our Nativity learning, our focus is on the angel visiting Mary to tell her that she will be the mother of Jesus.  Taking this event and looking at it alone is a great opportunity for kidlets to think about Mary and the type of woman she might have been.  This leads perfectly into conversations about what personality traits we might have that let others know we are part of God's family (I like to link to the fruits of the Spirit).   This cut & paste worksheet lets kidlets choose adjectives they think might describe Mary.

Next up we learn about the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.  Now is the perfect time to teach your kidlets some traditional Christmas carols and songs!  'Little Donkey', 'Away in Manger' and 'Silent Night' are such beautiful songs that lots of children don't know.  Thinking about Jesus being born in such a humble place (even though He is a King) is a big focus of our discussions in this week.  There are so many gorgeous baby Jesus crafts to work on, too!  I'll have a post later in the week with the tree ornament we make, but I love this paper craft from Doodle Bugs that's available as a freebie! 

  We complete this 'Road to Bethlehem' maze and code cracker puzzle, too!

Our next focus event is the Shepherds!  I love talking about the Shepherds being chosen as the first to hear the Good News and go to visit Jesus, because it helps children understand that God doesn't care about what you look like, how much money you have or whether you have an fancy job!  We often talk about what a real Shepherd would smell like after living in the fields caring for their flock. :) Children complete a response worksheet after thinking about how they would feel after a chorus of angels visited them in the middle of the night, and a fun little 'Shepherd's Sheep Hop' counting maze.  We make a Christmas story booklet to take home and read to our family, too!

I think my favourite week of learning comes when we talk about the Wise Men and their gifts!  It's so interesting to see the links between the gold, frankincense and myrrh and Jesus' life.  Do yourself a favour and read up on this if you've never had the chance! (If you teach K you might like to enlarge this matching worksheet and complete it during whole class time - it might be a bit tricky for them to read alone.)

These 'My Gift for Jesus' flip flap pages make a gorgeous bulletin board display in the weeks leading up to Christmas, and you'll be amazed at the thoughtful responses you get from your kidlets!

This week we also make a cute Christmas story sequencing crown which is always lots of fun.  Wearable craft is the perfect way to spark discussion at home!  My Nativity pack includes the option to sequence pictures or sentences - but I find that using the pictures encourages children to retell the story in their own words.  

I usually leave the last week (or lessons) to go back and talk about any concepts that my class found either really interesting or difficult to understand.  Sometimes we have a worksheet or craft that we didn't have time for, too.  I've included a 'Find-a-Word', puzzle and question page to complete if you need them - but you might like to let your class lead you towards the activities they need to reflect on the story. :)

Enjoying the spirit of Christmas and reflecting on the birth of Jesus is such a great way to connect with your class!  Click on any of the images in this post to see my Nativity resource on TpT - and please leave me a comment if you have any other activities that you love to complete in your classroom.  I'll be back in a few days with a post all about Christmas crafts!

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Making the Most of Classroom Volunteers!

Having parent (or other adult) volunteers in the classroom can be one of the best assets a teacher can have!  Allocating some tasks to others leaves you more time to plan amazing lessons and create resources for your kidlets.  Today I'm stopping by to share some of the best ways I've found to make the most of your volunteer time.  You'll hopefully pick up some new ideas to make the weeks leading up to Christmas less stressful, and also a few tricks to implement right from the beginning of the year.  

Let's start with a few easy things you need to make sure you have set up before your helpers start any task:

Check your school's visitor policy.  In most schools, volunteers will need to sign in at reception before working in the classroom.  If they are not a parent/guardian of a child at the school, they may also need to have a working with children safety check done first.

Display a volunteer timetable.  This ensures that your classroom helpers know exactly when they are required to be in the classroom, and also communicates the message that help is welcome but does need to be organised.  There's nothing worse than well-meaning mums and dads popping in to help at a less than convenient time! :)

Provide clear, simple instructions.  For helpers who will come in regularly and complete the same activity, it's useful to hold a ten minute meeting before their first day to demonstrate exactly what they'll need to do.  For one-off tasks, a few written instructions should be fine.

Don't share confidential student information.  This might seem obvious, but often it's tempting to ask parent helpers to assist with completing assessment tasks - like phonics or maths checklists.  This is something that needs to be done by the teacher.  Have a few volunteers in the classroom assisting with another task while you take children to complete their assessment.

Ensure your volunteers feel appreciated.  This might include a small gift at the end of each term for those who've committed regular time to help out.  

Now that you've thought through the basics, what will your classroom volunteers actually do??  Here's some ideas to help you make the most of their time!

One-on-one work with students.  In every classroom there's a group of kidlets who need time each day to practise reading, phonics, counting etc.  Provide your parent helper/s with a list of children to work with each day, the resources they need (books, flashcards, counters etc.) and ask them to pull kidlets out one at a time.  Make sure they have a quiet space to work, too!

Small group help.  Although it would be awesome if small groups of students could work independently during literacy or maths small group time, this doesn't always happen.  Classroom volunteers are especially helpful for those groups completing games or technology-based tasks.

Help during art activities.  Sometimes it's easier not to plan activities that involve paint, collage, glue, glitter or clay... simply because the idea of setting up and cleaning afterwards can be off-putting.  (And which teacher wants to spend their afternoons trying to wash dried paint brushes that were used hours before?)  Parent helpers can make art activities so much easier!  Ask them to come in to help you set up during break time, and provide cloths, tubs of water and a dustpan to make the clean up quicker.  Of course, children should be expected to tidy up their own mess, but some tasks are tricky for little learners.

Sharpen pencils.  In my classroom, kidlets have their own pencil bucket that's kept on their desk.  While they can usually manage to sharpen the odd pencil or two during the day if needed, it can waste a lot of their learning time if they sit down to complete work and have a bucket of broken pencils to use.  The easiest way to have this task done is to have the sharpeners out first thing in the morning, and have parents who are able to stay for a few minutes quickly check each bucket for blunt pencils. They may also replace supplies (gluesticks, scissors etc.) that are missing or looking a bit sad.

Organise classroom supplies or resources.  This can mean a quick tidy up of the library shelves, checking that all the maths resources are in the correct container or straightening up the games corner.  It can also be useful to hold a 'working bee' day where volunteers come in and do a complete overhaul of your storage space.  This would include checking that puzzles and games have all of their pieces, making sure that resources/materials are in the correct containers, washing plastic toys (or any manipulative) in disinfectant and drying them in the sun (so important after flu season!!), wiping shelves, getting rid of rubbish etc.  For a job like this, you should also supply tea/coffee and morning tea, as it can take a few hours!  Some parents don't feel super comfortable working with kidlets, or are unable to come to school regularly, so a task like this can ensure they get a chance to help out in the classroom.

File work samples in portfolios.  Having volunteers spend a few minutes each week slipping art or other work samples into portfolios will save you a tonne of time!  I'm guilty of leaving this task until it's way too late, and then wanting to curl up and cry when I see the piles of paper waiting to be filed.  As mentioned earlier, you shouldn't give parent helpers access to assessment tasks, but general work samples (like those that may be part of classroom displays) are fine.

Cut or laminate resources.    Have a tub next to your laminator with any paper resources that need preparing.  Allocate one of your volunteer timeslots to this task - helpers know to come in, check the tub and cut/laminate/staple as needed.  It's best to leave a few written instructions (just as you might do for your teaching assistant), or a sample of the finished product.

Create bulletin board displays.  Hands up if you're guilty of having the same bulletin board displays up all year?  The idea of changing up displays of kidlets' work regularly is great, but it takes time!  Provide your volunteers with the items to display and they can swap your bulletin boards for you.  If you're lucky and have a creative helper, they might even do a much better job of it than you would! :)

Parents who work or have small children might be eager to help out, but simply can't make time to spend in the classroom.  (And let's be honest, for some adults a room full of 5 year olds is not a place they want to hang out!)  Helping out from home can be just as valuable!  Here's a few ideas of what you could have them do.

Donate items.  This is probably the easiest way for a busy mum or dad to help out in the classroom.  I have a laminated piece of card on display near the classroom door, and simply add items there as they are needed.  It can be simple things like empty boxes or containers for craft projects, grocery catalogues for maths tasks, old clothes for dress ups, puzzles/toys/books no longer being used etc.  Before you spend money on supplies for resources you should always ask your classroom community first.  Years ago, I wanted to make a class set of 'Whisper Phones' and left a note (with a photo as an example) asking if anyone knew a plumber who might be able to give/sell me scrap pieces of pipe to glue together.  One of my kidlets' uncle was a plumber and he bought new pipe with his trade discount, turned them into 'Whisper Phones' and donated them for free.  Although I hadn't expected that kid of generosity, you'd be surprised that many families are able (and happy!) to help out with things like this. :)

Cut/laminate resources.  Pop your portable laminator, a pair of good scissors and the items you need prepared in a basket or bag for parents to take home after school.  Like magic, they will appear the next morning all ready to go!  (Do make sure you're only sending home what can easily be done in one sitting - you probably won't have repeat volunteers if you ask for a whole term's worth of maths games to be prepared overnight!)

Prepare craft supplies.  Look ahead to see what art and craft activities you have coming up.  Do you need more paper/ribbon/fabric cut for collage?  Do templates or samples need to be made?  Would it be easier if kidlets had their own set of supplies ready to go in a ziplock bag?  These tasks are great for working parents to do from home.

Make playdough.  Provide a recipe and ingredients for playdough to volunteers and they can whip up a batch or two in the evening and bring it back the next day! (Find the best no-cook playdough recipe here.)

Cover classroom library books.  I'm one of those teachers who covers all of my classroom library books with clear contact!  I find they last so much longer in the hands of eager little readers if they are covered.  Every year there are a few parents who are more than happy to cover a few books at a time - I just leave the ones that need covering with a roll of contact paper in a basket and they take it home when they can. :)

Washing and cleaning resources.  If you've taught little learners for any length of time you'll know just how dirty resources and toys can get.  Towards the end of each term (or before you store them for the next year) it's good to freshen things up again.  Provide volunteers with a box of lego/blocks/maths manipulatives/puppets/art smocks/dress ups etc. to take home over the weekend to soak with disinfectant or pop through their washing machine.  Some items - like scissors and hard plastic toys - can even go through the dishwasher on the top shelf.  It's amazing what a huge difference it can make to the start of a new term when you walk into your classroom knowing that everything has had a good clean!

Making special projects come to life!  I'm not what you'd call handy with a sewing machine or craft supplies.  I often have amazing ideas that I simply can't complete with my own skill set. :)  Luckily, not everyone is like me!  Over the years I've had volunteers (usually mums and often grandmas) sew items like curtains, chairbags, tablecloths and costumes at home, make items for classroom displays (for example turning pool noodles and tissue paper into giant Dr. Seuss Truffula trees) or cook special treats to celebrate the end of a unit or theme.  I buy everything needed to create the special project and clever classroom volunteers make my crazy ideas happen.

I hope by reading this post you've got some new ideas to make the most of your classroom volunteers!  Pleave leave a comment if you've got another great idea that others might find useful too. :)