Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Back to School - Tips for a Fab First Day!

Today I'm joining in with a fun linky to share some tips for a FABULOUS first day of Prep!  Once you've read my post, be sure to head over and visit Oz Curriculum HQ to collect even more great ideas.
First up, here's a few ideas to help you 'Set the Scene'.  In other words, what you need to do to make sure your classroom is ready for your new kidlets!  One of the most valuable things you can spend your time on before school starts is setting up your room so it will be useable for the different activities you will want to do with your class.  You're probably thinking posters, decor, cute rugs on the floor... All that stuff is great but you can add them in time.  Decide what areas of your room you will need set up and get all the furniture in place.  Have the bulk of your resources stored so they are near where you will be using them. Add children's work, anchor charts and colourful decorations as the term goes on.  I wrote a post earlier this week with some more ideas you might like to check out.
Make sure to spend some time before you meet your class getting to know as much about them as you can.  Read their kindy or previous school year reports (you may even have an enrolment file to look at) and make notes about anything significant that you might need to plan for.  Perhaps some children have medical issues, some will have family situations to be mindful of - and maybe you might even get an insight into their interests so you can plan activities to suit.
Most importantly - make sure you have your head (somewhat) around your curriculum for the first few weeks of term.  I'm never that great at planning too far ahead, but I always (mostly) have the full week ahead planned out lesson by lesson and then notes beside the coming weeks when I have an idea that will fit. The start of the year will fly by and if you're planning on the hop you might find yourself suddenly in Week 4 with lots of catching up to do. Trust me - I've been there, done that! :)
Next up, what to do 'When Students Arrive'?  If you teach Prep like me, you need to know that each child will have at least one, most likely two, probably more, adults with them on their first day.  To minimise the chaos, have signs up to let parents know what they need to be doing.  You can only talk to one child and their family at a time so make sure it's clear to others what they should be doing when you're chatting to someone else.  I like to have bag lockers and desks labelled so kidlets know where to store their belongings, and then I put a simple colouring in out for them to work on while everyone arrives.  Once everyone is there and first day photos have been taken I ring the bell and say "It's time to get started! Say goodbye to Mum and Dad.  We're going to meet on the carpet and have some fun!"  Make it clear that once the day starts, visitors need to leave - I usually only give it 20 minutes before I start the day.  That sounds harsh, but honestly some will want to stay all day! You will need to make allowances of course for children who are having trouble saying goodbye - but if you keep the room calm and relaxed you won't have a problem. 
One of the big jobs you'll have on the first day is dealing with 'Equipment'.  The easiest way to solve this problem is to ask parents to leave the whole bag of books and stationery under their child's desk (or somewhere else if you have room).  Have a few spare plastic bags just in case.  Print out a class set of booklists and during the first day or two go through each bag and check that everyone has what they need.  If not, you can ask parents to bring in the missing items before you're going to need them.  As you unpack each bag you can organise the equipment into chair bags, tubs or trays.
Lucky last - 'First Day Activities'!  The first day of Prep is overwhelming for kidlets and the teacher.  You want to keep your class busy and engaged without exhausting them more than necessary.  Make sure to take time to tour the classroom and lunch/play areas so that children feel comfortable.  Once everyone's settled, keep the rest of your lessons fun but relaxed.  Remember that most of your class will have never worked at their own desk or glued into a scrapbook, and their scissor skills might be poor.  Don't try to do all the 'new' things on the first day. :)  I like to read 'The Kissing Hand' and have the children paint their hand to print.  They then glue a heart in the middle of it and I include this poem from Camp Kindergarten:
We also do our 'Monster Manners' - I posted about that here earlier this week.  Apart from that we go lots of singing, simple games and stories as well as snack and toilet breaks.  In the last session I like to have free choice play time - most kidlets will be exhausted by then and you can learn lots about their little personalities by watching them play and interact with others. :)
Here's to a fabulous first day back for everyone!

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Back to School - Classroom Management Tricks!

One of the most important things to think about before you start a new school year is the techniques you will use to manage behaviour and routines in your classroom.  What's great about teaching Prep is that you can have lots of fun while keeping your kidlets motivated towards reaching behaviour goals and working responsibly with others.  

There are of course many ways to track student behaviour and to reward kidlets who've made great choices - clip charts, sticker charts, Class Dojo, table points - and to be honest it really doesn't matter which of these you use.  Just make sure you choose something that will be easy to manage during busy days of teaching.  I personally like using a clip chart, with each child having a peg to move up towards 'Super Kid' status or down as a reminder that they've been warned about a poor behaviour choice.  It only takes a second to move a peg and they love the visual to keep them on track.  More important than what system you use is that your expectations are very clearly set right from the first day of school so that kidlets know what is and isn't appropriate in your classroom.  For years now I've been using this awesome (and free!) pack from Growing Kinders - it's called Monster Manners!  On the first day of school we read the cute little story about the monster who went to school and just wasn't quite sure how to behave nicely.  Then we spend time together deciding what choices are above the line (helping, raising your hand, sharing), below the line (lying down during carpet time, interrupting), or bottom line (hitting, yelling).  The colourful display stays up all year and I can refer back to it whenever we need a reminder about classroom behaviour expectations.

Another technique I use within the first few days of Prep is called 'Self Control Bubbles'.  We often talk about using self control to make good behaviour choices, and this easy activity gives little ones something real life to refer to.  We start by sitting in a circle outside and I explain that I will be blowing lots of bubbles in the air.  The first time, kidlets are allowed to pop them to their heart's content (I usually stipulate that they must stay seated to limit the chaos).  I blow lots of bubbles and we have lots of fun popping them.  The second time I blow the bubbles, kidlets must keep their hands in their lap and not touch any - even if one lands right on their nose! I explain that they will be using a feeling called self control to keep their hands still.  This time when I blow the bubbles, everyone sits very still.  We then talk about times in the classroom or playground when we really, really want to do something that we shouldn't, and connect the feeling of self control to those situations.  You can repeat this activity at the beginning of each term or one-on-one for individual students if needed. Click on the pictures below to grab a free pack with a label for your bubble bottle and some response worksheets. :)


When you're working with little learners you will probably want to have some sort of reward system in place for when they reach behaviour goals each day/week.  I used to have a prize box which was slowly sending me broke - not to mention the fact that prizes were often left behind at the end of the day or broken before they even left the classroom.  Last year I ordered some business cards from Vista Print (I got hundreds for less than $10) to use as 'take home tokens' when kidlets had reached the 'Super Kid' level on our clip chart, or when they had done a particularly good job of being a 'Bucket Filler'.  I would write a very short note on the back to let parents know what their child had done well that day.  Although I thought the novelty would wear off, it turned out that even at the end of the year it was still a huge excitement to take home a Super Kid card - children would run to their parents at home time and eagerly talk about what they had done to receive one. No more prize box for me!

On the Vista Print website there's an option to upload your own design - I just used some cute clipart in PowerPoint and then saved it as a jpeg. :)

Let's be honest - no matter how well you set up your expectations and classroom routines, there will be days when you just need a little bit of magic to keep your kidlets on track.  One of my favourites is 'Quiet Spray' - to be misted into the air when it's time to settle down and work quietly.  The ideas I saw on Pinterest were just an empty bottle, so the 'Quiet Spray' was just air, but I use water with a few drops of lavender oil.  In summer I keep it in the fridge for an extra cool treat after play time.  Whenever it's sprayed in the air kidlets magically calm down and work quietly. :)


I also have a class set of 'Quiet Critters' made from pom poms and craft foam.  I bring them out from time to time when we need some practice working nicely.  Quiet Critters are very shy, so they will only sit on your desk if you are working sensibly.  Whispering is ok, but loud voices scare the Quiet Critters away.  Obviously most of the time in Prep we are working in groups, playing games, moving and having fun - so Quiet Critters are a little extra motivation for those odd times we're at our desks. :)


Another management tool I find very helpful is 'Handy Helpers'.  Having a chart of classroom jobs seems pretty inefficient to me - you spend most of the day trying to figure out who's supposed to be doing which job, who the line leaders are, who's not there because they're taking the tuckshop etc. To solve this problem I write each of my kidlets' names on a foam hand and have two helpers each week.  They are the line leaders, they do any jobs that need doing and they take the tuckshop.  So simple and easy!


I hope this post has given you a new idea or two that you might be able to use in your classroom this year!  I'd love to hear if you try one. :)

Monday, 4 January 2016

Back to School - Classroom Set Up!

I know what you're going to say - it's way too early to be thinking about going back to school!  If you're not in the mood to think about your classroom just yet I do understand... but if you're like me you will do a lot of thinking, mulling and pondering over the best way to set up your room for the new school year before you actually start working on it.  I wanted to share a few ideas from my classroom with some learning areas you might like to use in your own room.

First up is my favourite (and probably the most important) part of the classroom: the Library! Whether you use your own books, school provided books or a combination of both you will want to organise them for your kidlets and keep them in an area that is inviting.  I have lots of books from many years of teaching - most of them bought secondhand from the Lifeline Bookfest.  I organise them into author baskets, non-fiction and then general picture books.  Readers are organised by levels.

All of my baskets came from dollar stores and I attached the labels with some ribbon.  Kidlets access the Library to choose new books for their 'Book Box' and during free time.  (Keep a lookout for a post soon all about reading tools to add to your library space!)  

You might be a lucky duck and have a tonne of space in your room for your Library.  Maria from Kinder Craze has a gorgeous big space that I am always envious of!

Next up on the list of important classroom spaces is the carpet area - the place we spend so much of our day either as a whole class or in small groups.  Luckily, this is very easy to set up as you really only need a few things to make it work well: a teacher's chair, board/display area and defined space for the kidlets to sit.  The best investment I ever made for my classroom was to get a class set of SitSpots! They stick to the carpet like glue, without damaging it at all, to give each kidlet a place to sit.  I love them!

On the pinboard near our carpet area I keep our daily calendar, behaviour expectations display, birthdays and classroom rules.

Another important display space is right by your small group teaching area.  I was lucky enough to have this gorgeous U-shaped table in my room (I got the stools from Ikea).  Behind it you can see our number posters, Sound Waves chart and reading strategies, but you should display anything you will reference during your small group instruction. :)

As you set up your room for 2016 you might also like to include spaces like a Writing Corner, art space (mine is called the Creation Station) or an area for fast finishers to work on tasks without disturbing others.  


My Writing Corner and Creation Station are simple - pretty much a table, a few posters and the materials needed for each.  We use them during Discovery Play (free time).  You could definitely make these more elaborate if you wanted to!  

My plan has always been to make a space for a set of 'Bee Busy' drawers for kidlets who finish their work quickly (inspired by From the Pond) with a desk beside it but I've never managed to do this properly.  It's still on my to do list!

I hope this post has given you some food for thought as you plan to set up your classroom for the new school year!  I'll be back soon with some more 'Back to School' posts!

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Currently January!

2016! Let's start the year off right with Farley's Currently link up!

We're right in the middle of a gorgeous Summer here in Queensland.  I spent all of December on a wonderful holiday in the USA and since being back I've enjoyed lots of time in the sunshine, mostly by the pool.  Usually at this time of the year we are sweltering, with only a few hours early and late in the day cool enough to be in the sun - but this year the weather is mild and everyone is loving it! As I type I am listening to the breeze in the trees and appreciating the clear blue sky.  Once I've been for a swim today I have to spend some time re-installing of the fonts I've downloaded over the years - one of the cons of having a new laptop.

I'm looking forward to 2016 being a year full of new and exciting adventures! I'd love to hear what you have planned for the new year. :)