Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Classroom Decor Themes and Tips

I have always called my students my Super Stars- always.  But early in my teaching career, despite the fact that I'd been raised a teacher's kid, I didn't put much thought into my classroom displays, be they student artwork, curriculum imagery and tools, or management systems.

"Stars" easily became a classroom theme after colleagues, parent volunteers, appreciative families, and classroom aides gifted me with star borders, star stickers, nameplates, folders and other decor.  Even a print of Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night has been featured regularly in my classroom for over a decade now.  Referring to my students as "Super Stars" unifies us and makes us know we're welcome and we belong.  Using star shaped nametags, magnets, and center tags also catches students' attention and helps other teachers and school staff to know which students are mine as we work throughout the building.

Last year I decided to outfit the classroom with coconut trees, inspired by Chicka Chicka Boom Boom:

Though I didn't keep the coconut trees up year 'round, I used either a dark blue or light blue paper background month to month as the color really seemed to make artwork, sentence strips, and other displays POP:

Solid color border or corrugated border frames students' work nicely and lets it be the focal point, but this year I couldn't resist purchasing some new patterned trim:

And what will go best with these colorful dots?  Black and white checked and solid white trim!

My summer visit to Pigtails ~n~ Inkwells had me feeling like a kid in a candy store again.  If you're new to teaching, you'll find that classroom shopping is often considered a teacher's second Christmas:

Classroom themes are often inspired by literature, movies, sports, animals and the state in which a person teaches, but it's important that any decorating theme used not overshadow the learning tools that students will use throughout the year or make the classroom so visually distracting that students aren't able to interact successfully and safely during work and play time.  Some teachers choose to leave their rooms decorated with learning tools and student work only, which can certainly be much easier to manage as they don't have to take down and replace paper, trim, etc.  As you look through your curriculum materials, purchase posters and make displays, you can choose which method works best for you and your students' learning style.

Important decor tips:

~  Put your furniture and large center objects in place BEFORE you start hanging up bulletin board trim, posters, alphabet cards, etc.  Many teachers end up awkwardly using their space according to where they've inadvertently hung their calendar.  Determine what parts of your room will be used for your calendar/story time zone, your math zone, pretend play, computers, building, art, etc. FIRST and then plan your displays accordingly.  Your students will have to move to or meet at established spots for the entire year, be they the student desks, circle area, centers, or your reading table, so their movement, view, and rhythm should be taken into consideration as you place their learning tools appropriately.

~  Make sure the materials and props you use for displays are SAFE such as UL listed twinkle lights, fire resistant carpeting and rugs, etc. and that dangerous objects such as tacks or pins are only used on displays where students cannot reach them.  Do not OVERUSE paper- not only is it flammable but it quickly fades in sunlight.  Replacing it might affect the school's paper budget as well as how much time you end up having to spend in your classroom modifying displays.  

~  Some teachers prefer to use fabric as backgrounds on their bulletin boards.  If you choose to go this route, try to find solid color material or fabric with unfussy prints as you want the sentence strips, words, and posters to maintain your students' attention.

~  When not in use, manipulatives, games and other classroom tools can be covered with solid colored curtains, calming down the visual background noise and putting the focus on the learning materials and special work being featured at that time.  See the tan curtains on the lower shelving?


~ If you plan on hanging things from the ceiling in your room, obtain permission to do so first.  Consider using clear fishing wire instead of yarn (again, reducing the visual noise) to hang paperclips that can hold seasonal/curricular artwork:


~  If you are going to commit a wall to displaying student work, you can laminate construction paper (9X13), and use hot glue to affix wooden or plastic clothes pins to the top center point of the construction paper.  Posterboard would also hold the clothes pins well.  Make enough so that each student has a frame for his or her work and then staple the construction paper frames to the wall.  Here's a link to Education World that describes a similar display, though I would strongly caution you against using hot glue on the bulletin boards themselves- damaging school property is not the best way to make a good impression!

~  Additional tips for getting a feel for how you'd like to set up your classroom can be found here.

What are YOUR favorite classroom themes or decorating tips?

(The black and dotted trimmers photographed above are from Creative Teaching!)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Puppet Pals, NOT for Kids...

Have you seen Potter Puppet Pals?




Dear Daughter wants the following for her cell phone ringer, though I don't know how she'll be able to keep a straight face whenever her friends call:

My favorite video is "Wizard Swears" (again, NOT for kids)!
Don't forget to leave a comment at my giveaway post for a chance to win a large bag of foam pattern blocks!  I'll draw the winner's name this Friday!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Photography Factors

When it comes to parenting, there are only two photography factors worth considering:

1)  The "aw, how cute" factor...


2) ... the "this will be soooo great for future blackmail opportunities" factor.

Nightshirt, check. Iron Man mask, check. Fluffy bunny ears, yep. Terribly outgrown Harley rocker... right on.

I rest my case.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

You *KNOW* You're a Military Family...

... when the members of the medical team tending to your child's (first, I'm sure) stitches are all dressed in camouflage:


That's the doctor, sewing the boy up, with a nurse at his shoulder while another nurse, not pictured, types up the procedure notes.

A few weeks ago, four stitches were required to close the chin gash our boy received thanks to gravity and some playground equipment.  No tears, no hysterics, no drama, possibly because everyone attending him was dressed just like Daddy!

He was so proud of his "whiskers:"


The boy was officially welcomed into the "Chin Scar" Club by his doctor, who got his scar from crashing into a piano bench as a young boy, nurse #1, who obtained his scar from combat training (he was kicked), and nurse #2 who received his scar falling down steps leading up to a slide on a playground.  A rite of passage apparently.

He has healed nicely, with only a crooked pink line remaining.  The story the nurses coached him to use?

"I was wrestling a bear..."

proud army wife

Don't forget to enter my giveaway (below) before next Friday!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Blogiversary Giveaway!


To celebrate my 700th blog post, I'm giving away a full bag of ~FOAM PATTERN BLOCKS~ for your math/learning centers/partner activities!

Next Friday, July 2, I'll choose a winner (randomly) from all of the entries.  While you do not need to be a blogger to win, you must have a valid email address so that I can contact you if your comment is chosen.

1)  Leave a comment on this post only to be entered into this giveaway.
2)  To earn extra chances:

     ~  If you follow me via Google Reader, Networked Blogs or Twitter, let me know in a separate comment.
     ~  If you're a blogger and you decide to share this news of this giveaway with your own readers by linking back to this post, let me know in the comments section too!
     ~  Have you added me to your own blogroll?  If so, you've earned another entry!

3)  Check back next weekend to see if you've won!


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bunting and Gift Tags on the Way to L.A.


Lisa in L.A. bought my "Music of the Night" bunting set for her daughter's upcoming birthday party, so I sent along some coordinating gift tags as a little bonus~

Work-related musings:

Is it too early in my summer vacation to start hoping for a room mother/parent volunteer for next year's class who is totally into recipes like Mystery Mocha and Lemon Frosted Cardamom Chai Cupcakes?

How much fun would these paper headbands/wreaths be for classroom playtime or the holidays?  

Since I'm happy to bake, how cool would it be to team-teach with this lady?

Blogiversary Giveaway *hint*:

They're foamy... geometric even!


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day

We love and miss you and are grateful for the husband, father, and man you are.  Happy Father's Day- we hope you enjoy the cookies, dried fruit, magazines and artwork we sent!



Thanks to Operation Kid Comfort, the pre-schooler has been able to cuddle up with memories and photos of Daddy during this deployment.  Dear Daughter has a pillow sham as well, quilted with pictures that were emailed and then printed onto fabric.  If you would like to know more about showing support for military families like ours, visit the Armed Services YMCA.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Saying Thanks to the Men and Women of Our Armed Forces

A Charming Fortune-Telling Fish

I took a break from banners and bunting to play with some scraps, odds and ends:


I'd never seen the fortune telling fish before, but it came in a package of ephemera I got during my trip to Farmstead last year.  After playing with some more scraps and trying out a new adhesive, I couldn't bring myself to make "inchies," so I settled for 1 3/4 X 1 3/4 bases... I'd love to see how these would look as charms, but, alas, I don't solder:





Thursday, June 17, 2010

For Teacher Helen and New Visitors to My Blog

1)  Welcome!

2)  Click on the highlighted text to go directly to some of my blog posts that you might find helpful as you plan your class curriculum (though you might have to skim through some of the extras that I always seem to include) or prepare for the upcoming school year:

~  What I look for/note/observe when meeting kindergarten students for the first time...
~  Photos of my classroom layout two years ago... and a sneak peek from last year....
~  How I manage learning centers in my room...
~  Routines for clean-up time...
~  What I think when parents start their children in kindergarten too early...
~  Helping students and families deal with first day separation...
~  Tips for kindergartners' lunch routine...

~  My favorite thinker, Sir Ken Robinson... and more from him in regard to creativity in schools...
~  Classroom management issues primarily caused by students too young or underprepared for kindergarten...
~  Kindergartners' truths...


~  How I post learning objectives/standards weekly for my students...

You can search through my blog by month or topic to see art projects, bulletin board ideas, teacher tips, and read through some kindergarten humor.  This blog is also how I keep in touch with family and friends while Uncle Sam moves my husband from post to post, so be warned that you'll find family photos, crafts, music videos, and links to other blogs and sites that have nothing to do with kindergarten or public education here as well.

Though my blogroll (to the left of my posts) is sorted into kindergarten-ish topics, Arts/Crafts, Dramatic Play, Recess, Snacktime, those links do NOT necessarily take you to teachers' blogs or school related material.  "My Nationwide PLC," "Early Childhood,"  and "Special Ed" lists should take you to education-related links if their material is up to date.  Almost all of the other links reflect my interests in food, crafts, home decor, and technology.

Have a look, visit often, or consider becoming a follower, and do feel free to comment, ask questions, or share your own ideas and links in the "comments" section at the bottom of each post.



Home Decor: Red Continued

Yesterday I showed you the living room with its latest decor addition- my Turkish print rug that Dear Husband sent for our anniversary.

Did I mention that he sent rugs... plural?

Here's our den:





Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Home Decor: Red

Dear Husband sent home Turkish print rugs as an early anniversary gift, remembering that my favorite color is red.

Here's our front room:




That man knows how to make the gypsy in me ~*happy*~...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Bag 'em and Tag 'em: Bake Sale Do's

Off duty from teaching for the summer, I'm able to do a bit more baking in support of our Family Readiness Group and our deployed soldiers!

Round One:  muffins!  Blueberry Banana Cream Cheese and Banana Cream Cheese Pecan (with a caramel sprinkle topping)


Round Two: cookies!  Oatmeal Raisin Spice and Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Pecan Candy Bar



Bake sales are great fund raisers, and it's easy to make nummy items even more attractive to potential buyers.  Obviously it's important to handle all of the ingredients, baking tools and final tasty tidbits with care by washing those hands, cleaning surfaces, and following baking directions.  It's also important to bag and tag the treats to be sold: bags keep germs, bugs and other gross stuff off of the food and informational tags make it possible for buyers to avoid possible allergic reactions:




My extra ribbon scraps are put to good use tying each bag and make the cookies and muffins even more appealing to the eye... I guess I'm just not a fan of twist ties!



I used clear cello bags (found in most grocery stores, WalMart, or craft and hobby stores), ribbon, and white address label stickers (2/3 inch by 1 and 3/4 inches; Avery template 5195).


Monday, June 14, 2010

Photo Props

It's no secret that I have become more and more interested in photography over the past several years.  As a teacher, I've always enjoyed photographing my students for their portfolios, birthdays, and end of the year certificates.  With the increase in email communication and my love of weekly newsletters, I've been able to keep parents in-the-know with not only the words I write but the photos I take of all of the aspects of our days.

On the blog front, I find my posts more helpful, interesting and engaging when I include a photo (or twelve), and I know that friends and family who keep up with us via this site appreciate seeing the candid shots that capture our special moments.  Backgrounds, lighting, composition, props... I have much to learn.

Flickr, Photobucket, and even Facebook have opened up a whole new world of imagery possibilities to me.  One of my favorite photography sites is full of baby love, Custom Photo Props, found via Kerri on FB.  Though our family's baby days are over, you can't help but enjoy the "awww" factor, especially when you see the portraits composed of such sweet subjects in the most incredible settings.

My favorite items include the fringe blanket/hammock:


The fringe throw:


... and the Snuggle Bug Pom Pom Rug:

(all photos are credited on Kerri's page and you can also read her latest news at her blog, Custom Photo Props at Wordpress)

She also has colorful hair clips, additional fringe-y scarfs and props for mommies, babies and photographers... and should my fairy godmother grant my wish, perhaps Kerri will one day make an adult sized fringe blanket using the vibrant colors that make portraits pop and people smile!

Want to see more?


... read more?



My favorite classroom candid photo shots:  students stretched out on the floor reading with one another; fingers covered with paint or clay, creating something wonderfully squishy and colorful; sharing a special object during Show and Share; sleepers cuddled up with blankets, stuffed animals and books; frosting mustaches during a birthday celebration; students operating the SMART Board with one another; hula hoop fun for Venn diagrams; dress up in the pretend center; smiles and laughter during centers; and of course, silly time with student-made masks...



Consequence Spinner

My friend Danielle sent me this link to a consequence spinner this weekend:


While the creator/seller obviously uses it to reinforce negative consequences for kiddos at home, I'd love to see/hear of a version where teachers use something similar for positive consequences regarding behavior modification in the classroom.

For instance: if little J. is working on impulsivity and personal space issues, it would be cool to create an incentive spinner where each day or half-day of success keeping his hands, feet, and objects to himself, he could earn a chance at the spinner, receiving more time on the computer, the chance to pick a special buddy for centers, extra time with a favorite manipulative or art material, or an extra storytime with me.

Ideas?  Links?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Are You Asking Me a Question, or Telling Me a Story?

Most young children are reporters: they restate facts they've learned, blurt out when a classmate does something impressive or questionable (wrong, right, doesn't matter), and make assertions regarding assumptions they've made about anything and everything observed and experienced. They tell anyone who'll listen: teachers, aides, the principal, a classmate, the nurse, parent volunteers, family at home, another child's parents, day care providers, bus drivers, and even the old lady sitting at the table next to them at McDonald's:

"My sister got stung by a bee."
"My name starts with M."
"That tree fell over 'cause of grabity." (purposely misspelled)
"I can count to infinity."
"My mommy is having surgery on her belly so she can wear pretty swimsuits again."

... and so on.

This style of communication is important for teachers and parents to recognize when working with young children for the simple reason that many adults are used to (and new educators are trained to recognize) inquiry as indicators of a child's interests and prior knowledge/schema.  Though young children do go through the inevitable "why" stage, in the real world of education it's not often that observers will find twenty kindergarten sets of raised hands asking questions during instructional, story, or play times.  In fact, most raised hands will occur so that students can have permission to speak to the teacher to report/tattle/assert some piece of information deemed relevant and important.

Many kindergarten teachers model how to ask a question, requiring students to use who/what/where/when/why/how, and reminding them "that's a story or a statement, you're not asking a question" during Show and Share or as a wrap up to a classroom visitor's special presentation.  "Are you asking me, or telling me" is another rethinking/restatement question I pose to students when they have difficulty communicating the difference between their desire for clarification and their need to just tell.  But requiring students to pose questions appropriately is not the be-all-end-all goal of verbal interactions in the classroom, and teachers should remember that students' statements open the door for instructional dialogue and curricular, social, and even emotional explorations.


"Those leaves aren't green anymore, they're ugly brown," doesn't sound to many people like a question (and it might not be, you'll have to figure out the communication style of each of your students to know for certain), but to a teacher, it's the perfect segue into a lesson about chlorophyll and seasonal change.  When a student makes a statement containing incorrect conclusions, such as "I cut my apple into three halves," it's important that teachers not just deem the statement as wrong, but to realize that the student is attempting to use his or her prior schema and would benefit from gentle guidance and clarification on what "half" means.  Too often, inexperienced teachers (or teachers whose best days of instruction are far behind them) react to young childrens' statements and assertions with exasperation and irritability, or demand to know why children won't just ask them for help or clarification when they need it.  These teachers are unaware that their expectations are modeled on the social skills and communication behaviors much more appropriately met by older students.

Many of my students, past and present, English and English-as-a-second-language speakers, started kindergarten inconsistently using inflection and tone when it came to asking questions.  "The glue bottle is empty" can often be translated to "the glue bottle is empty?" or "Is the glue bottle empty?" while "The swing is wet" accompanied by a silent look from the student translates into the inquiry "how can I use it?"

Communication, language usage, modeling, and practice take up much of a developmentally appropriate kindergarten curriculum.  Our students do not just sit silently, soaking up information, translating it while working it over quietly in their own minds sitting still in their chairs.  It is this practice, this language experience that occurs in our classrooms that cannot be rushed, ignored, nor devalued by outsiders looking in who just see kids "playing" and "making noise."


Wednesday, June 09, 2010

*~THIS~* Much Coffee...

... is sometimes what this teacher's body thinks it needs to make it through:

~ the first day back to work for professional development
~ the first day of school
~ parent teacher conferences
~ report card time
~ the day before winter break
~ the annual Valentine's party
~ the morning of any kindergarten program

.... but *not* the day of a teacher evaluation.

Oh my, no.

A bad case of the shakes, buzzing through the room and crazed eyes never rate well when a principal is in your classroom to observe.

Trust me.