Saturday, 3 December 2016

Tried and Tested Christmas Crafts!

It's December! Time to bring out the glitter and get working on some cute Christmas crafts with your kidlets! If you're anything like me, there's been the occasional project you've attempted with your class that has been, how do I say this nicely... a disaster. :) Today I wanted to share with you some easy crafts that I've personally done (successfully!) with my own students.

First up is this simple wreath:

The base of the wreath is a paper plate with the centre cut out (I'd done this in advance for my kidlets).  Collage on some chopped up light and dark green paper (we used crepe paper but you could use whatever you have handy) and add red paper for holly berries. Colour in a bow (I googled to find the image, but you could draw one yourself) and you're done!

Next up - salt dough ornaments:

Salt dough is easy to make - just mix together 1 cup of salt, 2 cups of flour and 3/4 cup of water.  Knead it until it's smooth.  Then you can use it to create all sorts of ornaments.  Either give your kids creative license and let them make whatever Christmassy symbol they like, or use cookie cutters like I did.  Don't forget to poke a hole in the top to thread some ribbon through so they can be hung on a tree (you can also hot glue the ribbon to the back if you like). Bake in a slow (180 degrees C) oven until the ornaments have dried out - the time this takes will depend on how thick the dough is.  When it's cool, use paint and glitter to decorate.

Another easy tree ornament is this adorable craft stick snowman:

As you can see, the year we made the snowmen shown above I used coloured paper for the hat, nose and scarf (it must have been a last minute addition to our day!) - but your ornaments will turn out much nicer if you use felt.  You can buy felt from the dollar store, and I only needed 1 piece of each colour for my whole class.  Paint some extra large craft sticks white, and just glue all the bits on when dry!  Use a Sharpie to dot on the eyes and mouth and don't forget to add a ribbon to the back for hanging.

These paper plate baubles looked amazing when hung from the ceiling of my classroom:

This photo isn't mine, it's from where I originally got the idea. :) Have your kidlets decorate a paper plate each - we collaged on brightly coloured crepe paper but you could use paint, glitter, crayons, Christmas wrapping paper or anything else you have handy.  Glue a black square of paper to the top and some ribbon as the hanging loop.  I threaded ours onto some tinsel which we then hung from the ceiling. 

Lastly, here's two Nativity crafts that you might like to do with your own children at home if you're not allowed to teach the Bible story at school:

More paper plates! I should invest in a factory. :) Paint the outside edge of each plate yellow (or really, any colour you like).  Sprinkle some glitter on while it's still wet. Cut out a wedge (about 1/4 of the plate) and glue it down to make a skirt.  Make sure the hem of the skirt is below the edge of the wings!  Draw an angel face onto a circle of paper or card, add some glitter, tinsel or sparkly pipe cleaner for a halo and glue it on to the top of the skirt piece.

These angels make a beautiful classroom display.

Finally, this Jesus in the manger artwork idea came from Doodlebugs - it's my all time favourite Christmas craft:

Kacey has a free download with the patterns for you to copy, but I only use the ones for the blanket and face shape.  The manger pieces I make by just slicing up some brown paper into about 2 inch strips.  Glue down the manger pieces first - the criss cross and then the top.  Collage on some yellow paper (you can use real hay if you're so inclined).  Kidlets draw the sleeping face of baby Jesus onto the circle and then glue it to his body.  Lay him in the manger and you're done!

Hopefully I've given you a few new ideas to make with your own class!  I'd love to hear if you try one out. :)

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

5 Second Rule!

I love playing board games! Whether it's Scrabble with a glass of wine on a Friday night or Trouble with the kids on rainy afternoons, they're the perfect way to spend time together.  It's also no secret that I often use board games in the classroom, either to focus on math or literacy skills or just to facilitate friendly play (read this post to see what I mean!).  Today I'm here to review a new game called '5 Second Rule' that fits both of those situations perfectly.

As you can probably tell from it's name, the aim of '5 Second Rule' is to answer questions within the 5 second time limit.  When I read the questions this seemed like such an easy task!  Naming 3 things that start with R should be simple, right? Um, maybe not! The fun of this game comes with the pressure of time - answers either completely evade you, or you end up blurting out something ridiculous.  Cue lots of laughs!  When you're successful you move forward 1 space on the board.  If the question is too tricky you can use one of your 'Switch' or 'Pass On' cards to relieve the pressure.

We first played together with the girls and, unlike other board games, this one was perfect for them to join in with.  When it was our 3 year old's turn we didn't flip the timer and just let her answer in her own time.  I also hand picked questions for her to make sure she would have some ideas.  For example, one of her questions was 'Name 3 places you would wear shorts' and she said kindy, the beach and the shops. :) When our 6 year old had her turn, we let her have 3 flips of the timer to have 5 seconds for each answer (she didn't always need that extra time.)

A few days later we had a family lunch, and after we'd eaten I brought out the question cards and timer (we had too many people to use the board properly).  We enjoyed a glass of wine and a hilarious hour taking turns to answer the questions using the timer.

Setting up '5 Second Rule' is quick and easy.  Unfold the board and make sure the question cards are in the box and you're pretty much ready to go!  The timer makes a funny noise that the kids thought was great - it became a toy in itself!

If you're looking for a Christmas gift for your children (or any board game fiend!), '5 Second Rule' would be a great choice.  It would also be the perfect addition to the game shelf in your classroom if you teach in the older primary grades, too!

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Five for Funday!

It's been soooooo long since I linked up with the Five for Friday party! Today I thought it was time to get back into it... even though I'm two days late. 😃

1. Our household has been bitten by the Christmas bug already!  We celebrated early with part of the family because we won't be together during the holiday, and because we hosted it made sense to put our decorations up!  The girls wore their new dresses for our family lunch - long enough to pose by the tree before they jumped in the pool.  Instead of swapping presents this year we made (or bought) festive costumes to wear during the day - you can see how gorgeous we looked below! We've also posted the girls' letters to Santa - we got the postcards from the post office and posted them into the special box.

2. Speaking of the Christmas season, I saw this image on my Instagram feed and haven't been able to get the idea out of my mind!

It is so easy for kidlets to get caught up in the 'gimme!' attitude that comes along with Christmas time.  Every day there's treats, cookies, candy and gifts galore - it's easy to get selfish and greedy.  I absolutely LOVE the idea of a 'Classroom Kindness Challenge'.  Each day a challenge card is revealed and kidlets complete the act of kindness. What an easy way to encourage children to think of others during the materialistic holiday season.  You can start any time and could even use the challenge at home with your own children - maybe alongside 'Elf on the Shelf'! Click on the image above to see the pack. 

3. We had another reason to dress up this week! (And yes, the girls wore their same new dresses.)  We spent a lovely afternoon in the hinterland at a wedding.  

4. Being out of the classroom this year has left me really missing the hands on work of teaching.  I was beginning to feel like my days of impacting kidlets were over - and then I received this feedback on one of my resources: 

It really warmed my heart to know that even though I'm not face to face with students each day, I can still do my little bit to help here and there. 😊

5. Some of the oldest products in my store were in desperate need of a makeover!  The past few days I've updated one of my all time fave freebies - counting snowman buttons or marshamllows, and my Christmas playdough mats. Click on the pictures to go to each resource.

That's all from me today.  I'm off to grab some ice cream and to read the rest of the posts in the Five for Friday linky!

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!