Saturday, 15 October 2016

Repeat After Me: A strategy to save your sanity!

Ok, I know we've all been in this situation: 

Children are gathered on the carpet, where it appears that they have been listening carefully to the instructions for the next task that you've spent time clearly explaining.  Before sending them off to get started, you check to make sure there are no questions or clarification needed.  Everyone nods that they are all set - instructions remembered, eager to get going!  As the kidlets move to their desk or work space you (prematurely) congratulate yourself on your clear and concise directions!  And then it begins... "What do I do first?" "Do we draw or cut after we write our name?" "Am I supposed to use crayons or pencils?" "I can't remember what to do after I colour my picture!"  You then spend the rest of the lesson explaining everything again, to each child individually, mentally pouring yourself the glass of wine you'll need when you get home.

A few years ago this was me - all the time! - until I stumbled across a simple strategy that literally saved my sanity.  I'm going to share it with you today, along with a free resource that you can use along with it. :)

When I said this strategy was simple, I really meant it!  It simply uses repetition, connected with a verbal and physical response, to help little learners remember instructions.    

The first step is to explain the task as you usually would - perhaps you have a craft example already made that you refer to while giving instructions, maybe you demonstrate on the whiteboard how to complete a worksheet, or you might move around the workspace pointing out resources that your kidlets will need.  Once you're done with this process, it's time to use 'Repeat After Me'!

Let's imagine I've just explained a craftivity in detail to my class, perhaps these 2D shape icecreams:

I then say "repeat after me" (which my kidlets are familiar with!) and go through the steps one by one one using my fingers to number them, with children repeating my phrases and holding up their own fingers.  For this craft it would go something like this:
(1 finger) "Name the back of the cone in pencil." 
(2 fingers) "Cut out the coloured shapes."
(3 fingers) "Glue the pieces together."
(4 fingers) "Glue on the shape names"
Then we repeat the steps again - this time with less words:
(1 finger) "Name"
(2 fingers) "Cut"
(3 fingers) "Glue"
(4 fingers) "Glue"
Using this strategy I don't ever ask if there's any questions - I send my kidlets away to get started straight away, with the instructions still fresh in their minds! :)

During the repetitions I'll also point to the visual instruction cards that I use  - they have the same numbers and one word direction that we're saying and also a simple picture.  I just stick them to the board and point as I speak.  Even if kidlets forget the next step, or whether they colour with crayon or pencil, the numbered steps remind them and the graphic specifies the material they need.  I've prettied these up a bit for you and uploaded them to my store where you can download them for free - just click the pic below! (Spelling for colour & color included.)

Although using 'Repeat After Me' works really well for more complex activities like crafts, I use it for most tasks.  It might seem obvious that kidlets need to name their worksheet before they start, or to write before they colour their picture... but the fact is that for little learners at the beginning of their school life, it's not! To help them achieve success by completing a task as instructed, I use this strategy to help them establish good independent work habits.  Of course, there will always be a few students in your class who will still forget or become confused completing multi-step tasks, but this strategy should help most. :)

Click this image to grab your freebie (and leave some feedback if you can!):

Friday, 23 September 2016

Board Games in the Classroom!

If you've read my blog before you'll know that I absolutely LOVE using games in the classroom! As well as being hands-on and engaging for little learners, they can also help kidlets to practise and consolidate many maths and literacy skills, as well as social behaviours like turn-taking and rule-following.  While I'm all for using products that have been made specifically for use in the classroom (like those you can find on TpT), you don't always have to print and laminate to have a resource that fits in with the curriculum.  I own lots of store bought games that I use either straight from the box or with a few simple hacks. (Read to the end to find out how I get them on the cheap.) Here's a few of my favourites - with some ideas of how to use them! 

1. Snakes and Ladders!

Usually Snakes and Ladders is set up as a 100s board - bonus! Use a regular die to work on subitising, counting and number recognition with your kidlets. You might also like to use different dice depending on what your maths focus is.  This makes it a great game for differentiation! One group may use a dice with numerals, one with number words, another with ten frames and yet another might use two dice to work on their addition skills.  Ask questions as the game progresses - What number are you on now? You've rolled 5 - what number do you think you will land on? What number do you need to roll to land on the number 20?

2.  Scrabble!

Scrabble (or Junior Scrabble) is a perfect word work activity.  Depending on the ability of your kidlets, you could play the game in the traditional way or modify it to make it a little easier.  I like to have the letters laid out on a table - kidlets simply pick the letters they want to build a word on the board.  Speaking of the board - you don't even need to use it if it's too tricky and we never bother to keep score.  Of course, the Scrabble letter tiles can also be used for a tonne of other spelling and phonics activities - use them as you would magnetic letters, stamps, letter beads etc.

3. Boggle!

I like to use Boggle initially as a letter recognition game.  Give the container a shake and then name the letters you can see!  Kidlets can write one per shake on a whiteboard etc. or cross them off a worksheet or board as they appear in the game.  When you begin phonics teaching, have students say the letter sound rather than it's name.  Of course when your learners are ready they can play the game as it's intended - writing down words made from the letters that appear after each shake.

4. Guess Who?

Let me start by saying that if you have the original style Guess Who? with the flat boards, make sure you hang on to it!  The newer version has connected boards that stand upright and it's much trickier for little learners to manage.  Guess Who? is perfect to play straight from the box - it's a game that encourages kidlets to use critical thinking and specific vocabulary in order to narrow down the faces on their board - and on top of that their questions must only have a yes/no answer.  If you watch your kidlets play this throughout the year you'll see how their skills improve.  If you have the time, make up a game board (either a sheet or individual cards depending on which version of the game you have) with the faces of your whole class.  A perfect way for kidlets to get to know their peers! Hasbro even has additional character sheets that you can print from their website to mix things up a bit - and a little Googling will help you find themed sheets that other clever clogs have shared.

5. Trouble!

Everyone loves the popomatic bubble!  Trouble is perfect to play when little learners are working on number recognition and counting skills.  No hacks necessary. :)

6. Hungry, Hungry Hippos!

Another game just made for maths groups. After each round of marble chomping, kidlets count how many their hippo has eaten. Whose hippo ate the most? Whose ate the number closest to ten? Using two different coloured marbles extends this game further - six red marbles and two yellow marbles makes eight in total etc.

7. Connect Four!

Connect Four can be used to work on turn-taking and critical thinking skills straight from the box.  By using a marker, some dot stickers or painter's tape you can also modify it to use for lots of other purposes! I've mostly used it as a sight word game by writing words on the chips.  Kidlets choose a chip from a bag (otherwise they'll just pick the words that are easy for them each time!) and add it to the game if they can read it. Put all the red chips in one bag and the yellow in another. The winner is still the first person to line up four of their chips before the other player.  You can see how easy it would be to modify this to suit any skill you're working on - write letters for recognition or phonics practise, numerals or number words, CVC words (or whatever words suit your phonics focus), shapes etc.

Now you might be thinking - this all sounds great but seems like it could be expensive! It's ideal to have the games differentiated and ready to go whenever you need them, but that means having two or three of each in some cases.  I'll be honest with you and say that I've paid full price for very few of my classroom games! The easiest way to get them for free is to pop a note on your classroom door or school newsletter asking for donations.  There's always families looking to declutter their toy cupboard who are more than happy to share the love and donate to little learners.  You might get a few that are missing pieces - combine them to make a full set.  The next best place to look is in second hand stores, or garage sales.  If you'd prefer to buy new from the store, keep an eye out for knock-off versions that are less expensive.

I hope I've inspired you to raid your board game cupboard and find a few treasures to use in your classroom! 

Friday, 29 July 2016

A Peek Inside Two Puzzling Packs! CVC Word Puzzles

Hi everyone! Today I'm quickly stopping by to give you a peek at my two newest products! :) These CVC word puzzles are the perfect way for little learners to work on their phonics and reading skills.

Find-A-Word puzzles are always a hit with my kidlets! These worksheets are organised by vowel sound.  There are two puzzles for each vowel, with an additional two featuring a mixture.  That's 12 unique puzzles altogether! Kidlets read each word after looking at the picture clue and then find them in the puzzle.  I've also provided colour copies of each puzzle in case you'd like laminate them and use them with dry erase markers.

As kidlets solve each puzzle they are faced with multiple opportunities to apply their knowledge of letters and sounds - as they decode each word, and again as they search for the words in the grid. Because the words are organised by vowel sound they will fit easily into your phonics teaching sequence, or can be used for targeted intervention.  (Aren't medial vowels a huge hurdle for some of our little learners?) 

Spell & Find is a little trickier! Kidlets need to complete each word by correctly writing the beginning sound on the line before finding the words in the puzzle.  As our 6 year old was 'testing' some of these out for me I loved to see her thinking as she searched for words.  Initially she wrote the letter j for the word gem, and then when she couldn't find the word in the grid she went back and thought about another letter choice. :)

These resources are perfect to use during Literacy small groups! They're also great as a quiet 'Fast Finisher' task - kidlets can tuck one away in their desk or a folder and move onto a puzzle without leaving their chair. :)

Click on any of the photos above to see these resources in my TpT store - make sure you view the preview file there for a closer look inside each pack.  Happy weekend, friends!

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Playdough! Creating Sensory Experiences in the Classroom

I love using playdough in the classroom - it's perhaps the most versatile of all the hands-on resources you can have in your bag of teacher tricks! As well as being a familiar and fun element of learning activities it's also a must-have for fine motor development - and with a few tweaks you can create some amazing sensory experiences for your kidlets to further engage and motivate them. Today I've stopped in to share a few of my favourite ideas with you.

Making your own playdough is easy and much, much cheaper than store bought. My go-to recipe has never failed me and best of all - you don't have to cook it!  Here's how it's done:

1. Mix 2 cups plain flour, 1/2 cup salt, 2 tablespoons cream of tartar and 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a large bowl.
2. Add food colouring of your choice to 1.5 cups of boiling water. Add this to the flour mixture and stir well.
3. When the mixture forms a dough, turn it out onto a floured board and knead until smooth.  (Be careful - it might still be hot!) 
4. Store in cling wrap in the fridge when not in use.

Now that you've whipped up a batch of basic dough it's time to get creative with scents and textures!  This list of ideas is by no means complete - as you experiment you'll find that the options for sensory dough are endless.  Try these to start:

*Lavender Dough - add a few drops of essential oil to some purple dough.  Perfect to place as an option in your 'Calm Down Corner' for kidlets who may need time to settle themselves, or to play with first up in the morning during the beginning of the year when children may find it stressful to separate from their parents.  You can also add lavender flowers for some texture if you have some in your garden. (If you don't like lavender just use any essential oil!)

*Sand Dough - sprinkle some clean sand into your dough as you're stirring the ingredients together.  You may find you need a little extra oil with this recipe.  Don't add food colouring to this batch to make it look more like sand.  Lots of fun to use along with a beach theme - provide shells and coral for kidlets to press into the dough.  Use some coconut essence or oil for a real tropical island experience!

*Mud Dough - I use coffee in this recipe!  Stir some into the boiling water for a rich brown colour.  Coffee grounds kneaded through the mixture add a dirt-like texture.  Provide plastic bugs, sticks/leaves or pebbles for children to explore with.  Make a few batches and add them to a tray outside - kidlets will love digging around in it with construction toys!

*Spring Dough - add rosewater (or another floral essential oil) to some pastel coloured dough.  Have kidlets collect leaves and flowers from the garden (or bring them from home) to use when playing with this dough.

*Chocolate Dough - replace about half a cup of the flour with cocoa powder.  You can use more if you like but I find the chocolate smell becomes too strong.  Perfect to use during an Easter or Valentine's Day theme, or with cupcake liners.  Kidlets will love to decorate their creations with cake sprinkles! Be warned - no matter how many times you explain that it's not food, someone will always eat the chocolate dough.  :)

*Candy Cane Dough - this one is my absolute favourite! Make 2 batches of dough and dye them Christmas colours.  Add peppermint essence.  Whenever we use these Christmas themed playdough mats I always bust out the candy cane dough!

*Fairy Dough/Magic Dough - add fine glitter to dough of any colour.  Girls particularly love pink dough! They will spend hours with the fairy dough, especially if they have a selection of beads, crystals and sparkly things to add to their creations.

*Fruit Dough - steep some herbal tea bags in the boiling water before adding it to the mixture.  Dye the dough the best colour to match your scent - yellow for lemon etc.

*Jelly Dough - dissolve a packet of jelly crystals in the boiling water before adding it to the mixture.  This is your scent and colour all in one!  Make multiple batches to use in a pretend play ice-cream store.  (See below!)

A word of warning: If you have any children who find strong scents overwhelming you will need to use scented dough carefully - I find that the essential oils can be particularly strong if you're too heavy handed.

Obviously you could just provide the dough as an option for kidlets to use during free play time, however we all know that there's less and less time for that in our little learners' school days. :(  Luckily it's easy to use play dough into a meaningful learning activity.

Playdough mats are a staple in my maths and literacy small groups, particularly at the beginning of the year.  Perfect to work on letter and number recognition and counting skills.  Click on the images below to see the ones in my store if you don't already have some of your own!

Alphabet Mats
Numbers 1-10 Mats
Grab some alphabet cutters to use playdough in a sight word or phonics task.  

The options for using playdough in a pretend play setting are pretty much endless!  Create a cafe, restaurant, bakery or ice-cream store with a few bits and pieces from the kitchen and a few batches of dough!

I hope I've sparked your imagination and inspired you to use scented or textured playdough in your own classroom!

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Holiday Photo Catch-Up!

Hello friends! It's been far too long since I stopped by to share a post with you all  - but I have a good excuse, I promise! We've been enjoying a lovely family holiday in Tasmania for the past two weeks.  Today I'm sharing a very quick photo round-up of our adventure so far. :)

We started our trip near Hobart - after a 6am flight we spent the afternoon in Geeveston at the Tahune Airwalk.  The air was so clean and the views were gorgeous! Our 3 year old slept very well that night after no nap and a 2.5km walk!

We took a steam train ride on the Wilderness Railway, which runs from Queenstown to Strahan.  It's quite a long trip so we had booked the carriage that supplies food and drinks - the girls were entertained with morning tea, lunch and dessert while we travelled!

The scenery was just beautiful.  

One of the days we were in Hobart was rainy, cold weather so the activities we had planned had to be changed.  We stumbled (through Google) upon a small zoo just outside of the city.  Zoodoo was amazing! The girls loved the bunnies (they are a pest in Queensland so you never see them - only very rarely at a baby animal farm).

We took a safari bus and got to feed some animals.  The emus, camels and zebras came right up to the open sides of the bus!!

We also got to feed a lion which I thought was very cool! No safety worries - just a pair of tongs and some steak through the fence! :) I'd never even seen a lion before so to feed one was lots of fun.

One of my 'Bucket List' items has always been to see Wineglass Bay which is in the Freycinet National Park.  I was lucky enough to be surprised with a scenic flight right over it!

We had absolutely glorious weather and the views were just spectacular.

The plane was tiny but we managed to squeeze in...


We spent a day at Tasmazia - just outside of Launceston.  I'd been looking forward to this ever since I'd seen the photos online.

It was just the cutest place ever! we walked straight into a giant hedge maze, and once through that we found ourselves in Lower Crackpot.  A tiny village with more mazes and miniature townships.

Reese has taken to wearing one of my scarves - it's almost as big as her!

We had a (very cold) but fun time here. :)

The girls have seen more than their fair share of wildlife this holiday! As well as animals we saw at Zoodoo they also saw Fairy Penguins in the wild at Bicheno - no photos from that as we saw them at night and a camera flash would scare the penguins. We wen to Seahorse World and Platypus House while we were in Launceston.  The end of the tour at Platypus House was lots of fun as the girls got to feed some gorgeous echidnas.  Reese was very excited when two almost crawled into her lap!

For a few of the days we were in Tassie we toured around the wine regions.  The scenery is just beautiful.

Riley is particularly fond of Riesling.  Just joking - of course! This winery (Puddleduck) served verjuice and cheese so children were included.  

We're ending our holiday in Melbourne to visit some friends.  They've taken the Riley & Reese to the aquarium so we're doing the obvious tourist things....

...sitting at a riverside bar blogging...

...and researching shares! :)

If you've read this far I think it's only fair for me to share with you that I've got some of my favourite product discounted while I'm away - follow this link to grab some discounted math games!  

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Must-Read Novels: 5 books you'll want on your vacation reading list!

Hello friends! Isn't it lovely to wake up and realise that you don't have to lesson plan for the coming week? As much as I love teaching kidlets in the classroom, I sure do appreciate a few weeks of alarm-free holidays. :)  Since we're all having a break from teaching-related things (at least for a few days!) I thought I'd stop past to share 5 of my all-time favourite novels - linking up with Kacey and Five for Friday.  Whether you're relaxing by the pool on your summer vacation or snuggled under a blanket during winter break like I am, you won't be able to put these books down!

1. Three Wishes - Liane Moriarty

You might have heard Liane Moriarty's name mentioned recently - Reese Witherspoon is turning one of her recent books, Big Little Lies, into a movie.  Three Wishes is her first novel - and, in my humble opinion, her best.  It's all about the lives of Lyn, Cat and Gemma - 33 year old triplets who are just about as different as three sisters could be! Each of them are dealing with the ups and downs of their own lives, as well as the challenges that come with being part of a trio.  This story is beautifully written - it's funny and heartwarming. You feel like you know the girls so well that you must keep reading to see how the twists and turns unfold for them.

2. Tully - Paulina Simons

If you've read any Paulina Simons books, most likely it was the Alex & Tatiana trilogy (The Bronze Horseman, Tatiana & Alexander, The Summer Garden) - also three amazing books and well worth reading!  Tully has been one of my favourites since I was about 18 and I've read it probably 10 times. I'll be honest - it touches on some dark topics.  It follows the life of the main character, Natalie, through her teenage years and adulthood.  She struggles with tragedy and loss early in her life and in the years afterwards she's kind of searching for acceptance, love and closure.  

3. Plain Truth - Jodi Picoult

This was the first of Jodi Picoult's books that I read and it's by far my favourite!  It's set in an Amish community where a newborn baby has been found dead in a barn. An unmarried, teenage girl named Katie who lives on the farm is is charged with the baby's murder and is believed to be the mother.  A big-city lawyer comes to live with the family as she represents Katie during the trial and she experiences 'plain' life in a way that opens her mind and heart.  As with all Jodi Picoult books there's a great twist at the end!  (Another fabulous book by the same author is My Sister's Keeper.)

4. Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding

I know, I know! We've all seen the movie so I don't need to explain what this book is about. :) But if you haven't read the book you are seriously missing out. It is hilarious.  

5. The Forgotten Garden - Kate Morton

I've only started reading Kate Morton's books in the past couple of months and I'm so glad I discovered them! She writes stories set in the English countryside and all of them stretch across generations.  The Forgotten Garden is all about a girl called Nell, and her search to find the family she believes abandoned her and her real identity.  Another page-turner that you won't be able to put down - I had to keep reading late into the night just to find out what the ending would be!

Narrowing down favourite books to just 5 is tough!  I could easily add another 10 or so to this list without too much extra thought. :) Hopefully one of my suggestions has caught your eye.  Please click on the images to go to the Amazon listing for each book to read the full blurbs because I'm sure I have done an awful job in describing the stories.  Don't forget your local library will more than likely have a copy of these books that you can borrow for free!

If you have any great novel suggestions I'd love to hear them.