Welcome to Paula's Primary Classroom! This blog is where I share ideas for teaching and learning with families, friends and other early childhood educators. Please don't use the photos or text of this blog without permission, but please do use any ideas you find useful. Thank you for stopping by!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Dare to Dream

What do you remember about your earliest years of school?  Stop for a moment, close your eyes, and think, what do you remember?

I remember walking home from school with my friend Susan, and the jam sandwiches her Nana made us every day.  I still love jam sandwiches!  I remember Douglas A. singing along with the Winnie the Pooh song at school.  I remember the blocks, dress ups, boxes of junk for creating with, and lots of recess time.  I remember Mrs. Potts, my first and second grade teacher, reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and the pants and hat she wore.  I remember we had lots of windows, and a big carpet on the floor, and I remember the school library, and the books we took home to read.
All the things I remember about my early learning years are fun things.  School was a fun place to go, full of marvelous, child appropriate things to do and see.  We learned our letters and sounds by singing fun songs (my favorite was Rrrrrrrats are rrrrrrrunning, rrrr, rrr, rrr, because we were encouraged to roll the r, and it was fun!).  I learned to read with the Spot books by Eric Hill, and it was just a natural part of what we did.  I don't remember any flashcards or worksheets, although I do remember we had some mimeographs once in a while, and they smelled funny!  I loved everything about school, and knew even at 5 years old that I wanted to be a teacher.  (That was going to be my day job, until I could be a famous singer like Sally Boyden from the Johnny Young Talent Time show!)

When I graduated college I got my dream job, teaching first grade!
 What could be better?  I had ducks and fish and butterflies in my classroom (I do NOT recommend ducks by the way!), and we read and read, and I think we all had fun while we learned.  Sure, there were spelling tests, and timed math tests every week, and end of year tests, and May was always a whirlwind of end of year activities and deadlines and requirements, but I loved it.  Yes, over the six years I taught in the public school system we did add more requirements every year.  A few more forms, "the test" style questions for first graders - to prepare them for third grade testing, and yes, we did start using scripted math and language arts curriculum, but I could supplement them with my own ideas and activities.  It was still good, but, there was an edge to things, something that didn't feel right to me.
When my youngest was born, a couple of my teacher friends suggested I should stay home and teach my kids and theirs, and when I thought about it, I said yes.  The money and benefits didn't come close to comparing to a professional salary, but the value of being at home with my children, and of making their early childhood years amazing was well worth it. 
Friends told me stories of the continuing changes in the school system, and I was glad to be out.
I think the best thing about being at home with the children, was that I realized I could teach at home, and do it however I wanted.  I got to examine my core values and beliefs, and then live them.  We took long walks to the playground every day, collected dandelion flowers and stomped in puddles.

                                   Paula's Preschool and Kindergarten: Playing barefoot in puddles as part of our lead up to International Mud Day, basically getting comfortable with the idea of getting messy.
We watched the big trucks work on the road (from a safe distance), and started taking a lot of field trips.  We visited the museum and the zoo, the stock shows and the library, city parks and anywhere else that had child friendly venues where we could have real, hands on learning. 

My children learned to read, not with flashcards or worksheets, but with my friend Spot the dog, Eric Carle books, and marvelous books on tape, like The Dragons Are Singing Tonight by Jack Prelutsky.  I learned a tremendous amount about how children learn, and developed my program around that.  I'm pretty opinionated about early childhood, because I've spent the last 16 years deeply and passionately involved in it.

All of this is my backstory for this week's TpT seller's challenge:
When I saw this blog topic this morning, I thought, what?  Yes, I do dream big, but to say that I'd like to make a living doing TpT full time seems a bit... well... ordinary.

I'm very lucky right now to be able to TpT full time, and I really hope that I can build my business to the point that I feel justified with this as my only job, and that I can make a meaningful financial contribution to my family.  I'm living the dream, working toward that goal!

The thing is, not everyone is living the dream.  Many, many excellent and outstanding teachers are still working in our public school systems, doing the best that they can for their students, within the constraints that have continued to grow, sometimes to the point of choking out the fun.  My educator friends tell me they can no longer do many of the things that we know are best for children's learning: cook with them, do craft projects, read poetry, be kids!

My dream, what all my 22 years as an educator have prepared me for, is to make it easier for teachers and students to learn in playful, joyful, age appropriate ways.  I know time is short, and I'm so very sorry, I know the constraints are tight.  Finding fun learning activities that also meet the various standards, whether that's Common Core or state standards, is getting harder.  The joy of learning and of teaching is all too often being sucked right out of our schools, in the name of rigor and testing.  I hear of early childhood classroom where you can't find a toy kitchen, dress up bin, or sand and water table, but worksheets and flashcards are at hand.  I hear of elementary schools with little or no recess time, limited physical education and music time, and I wonder how our kiddos manage!

I've been so very blessed to spend the last 16 years playing on swings, digging in the garden, reading books aloud, and doing jigsaw puzzles with children, who have learned a love of nature, understanding of plant and animal life cycles, mathematical and logical skills, and to love reading and how to get along with each other.  Now I want to share that joy with as many teachers and children as possible, to help teachers put joy and playfulness back into their classrooms, without compromising learning goals or breaking the bank.  I want my teaching materials to help make teaching and learning a little easier, and a little more fun. I want to make a difference!

Thank you so much to Third in Hollywood, Teach Create Motivate, Sparkling in Second Grade, and Peppy Zesty Teacherista for hosting the TpT sellers challenge, and posing this thoughtful prompt!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

TPT Seller Challenge Week 1: Makeover Madness (and a SALE!)

For the next 4 weeks I'll be participating in a TPT Seller Challenge, hosted by 4 great bloggers (see their links at the end of this post).

This week's challenge is to take a product, and make it even better. I'm really excited to participate, because that's exactly what I've been working on for the last 6 weeks or so.

Over the last year, I've made 38 sentence picture match activities - wow!  When I first began making them, they were 10-12 pages, included 12 sentences and pictures to match, 1-2 vocabulary pages, 1-2 follow up worksheets, a leveled list of sight words used, and of course, directions.  They make awesome reading centers, and when I taught kindergarteners, they LOVED them.   

Recently I decided to add a little more to my sentence picture match sets, and I've been working at it.  My current and revised sets have 18 sentences and pictures to match, including more diverse reading levels, so teachers can choose the sentences that are just right for each student or reading group, challenging but not overwhelming readers with different skill levels.  I've also been enlarging the graphics to make them more appealing to kiddos, adding thematic writing paper, and a greater variety of worksheets that cover even more skills.  I think these are good changes!

One of my sets that I needed to update was this one:

Looking back at it, I wanted to make the vocabulary pages more appealing, so I added a border, spread the vehicles out, and enlarged them.  I also added a page of road signs.

Next, I added 6 more sentences and pictures, including a couple of questions.  The extra sentences added the following words: this, police, trash, green, have, you, ever, been, in, taxi, cab, some, call, these, love, bugs, five, road, signs.  Many of these are sight words, but others are transportation vocabulary words, and are included on the vocabulary posters - supporting students as they decode each sentence.  The enhanced vocabulary pages also work well with the thematic writing paper I added.  I chose to use a fire truck picture on the writing paper, so it can be used with a transportation, community helpers, or fire safety theme.

Here is the resulting update:

What do you think?  I'm really happy with the improvements, but I'd love to hear your ideas and suggestions.  Is there another skill you'd like to see added to my sentence picture match sets, or maybe a theme you think I should make a set for? I am open to your suggestions either here on my blog, or at my TeachersPayTeachers store.

As part of the makeover challenge, I'm putting this product and all 38 of my sentence picture match activities on sale for the next 4 days, through Friday June 19th.  If you are a bargain hunter (and who isn't?!) you may want to consider getting my other sentence picture match products at lower prices before I update them.  You can always re-download for free on TeachersPayTeachers, getting improved products at no extra cost!  To find out if any of your purchases have been updated, go to the My Purchases tab.  Updates will have a red message below them that says Newly Revised Re-download.

Thanks for stopping by, have an awesome day!
 <center><a href="http://thirdinhollywood.blogspot.com"/><img src="http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-C0cvd5p4xgA/VV3yBj_RvmI/AAAAAAAAEQs/Rx32FGoosPo/s1600/blogbutton.png"></a></center> My TpT Store iTeach iTeach Second Blog Labels      anniversary (1)     awards (1)     beginning of the school year (2)     bloggers (1)     classroom management (2)     end of the year (2)     Facebook (2)     freebie (6)     giveaway (3)     health (1)     healthy (1)     hollywood (2)     iTeach Second (1)     iteachsecond (1)     linky party (2)     math (2)     PBIS (1)     Poetry (1)     recipes (1)     Sale (6)     scoot (1)     st patty's day (2)     TpT (14)     word wall (1)     writing (4)  Michigan I'm a Michigan Blogger Teaching Blog on Teaching Blog Addict A+ Teaching Blog on Teaching Blog Addict TpT Seller Blog Archive      ▼  2015 (25)         ▼  June (3)             TPT Seller Challenge Week 1: Makeover Madness             TPT Seller Challenge!             Reflect and Refresh: Part 1         ►  May (5)         ►  April (6)         ►  March (10)         ►  January (1)      ►  2014 (34)      ►  2013 (3)      ►  2011 (7)  Followers Search this Blog   Inspiration          Peppy Zesty Teacherista       <br /> <center><a href="http://www.teachcreatemotivate.com/"><img src="http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-xRifpjLV09I/VUmp4Nn5zpI/AAAAAAAAR-U/e53xi0BHORg/s1600/button3.fw.png" /></a></center><br />
Sparkling in Second

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Avoiding "Summer Slide"

Almost everyone has heard of summer slide, the loss of skills so many students experience during the long break from school.  Skills that our children (and their teachers) have worked hard to master during the school year are lost, simply because they aren't revisited for several months.

It doesn't have to be that way, maintaining skills through the summer can be as easy as having your child join you in doing chores, running errands, and playing games!  Here are some ideas that may help you enjoy the summer with your children, while keeping their skills sharp.

Number 1: read.  Read together, have your child read to you, show your child you value reading by modeling it - with a book, a magazine, a news article... whatever suits you.  Children who see their parents as readers are much more likely to want to be readers.  Try some of these reading techniques:
 - Snuggle up together, give your child your full attention for a few minutes, and take turns reading pages in a book that is just right for them.  Knowing that they only have to read one page at a time can really support struggling readers, and having a special time with you makes it even more appealing!

- Read aloud to your child.  Yes, you did that when they were 3 or 4, but don't give up on reading to your 10 year old either!  Find a novel that you think will appeal to them, and read one chapter each day.  My husband and I read all but the last of the Harry Potter books to and with our children - until our oldest, a teenager, finally asked if he could just have the last book and read it himself.  It was hard to let go of that tradition!
- Have your child read something they enjoy out loud to you while you are busy.  Driving somewhere?  Have them read to you, or listen to an audio book in the car together.  Our family favorites were the Hank the Cowdog books, and my children still quote them.  Your local library will have audio books available to check out.  An added advantage of this?  Listening to part of a series may get your child hooked on the stories, and interested in reading more of them.
- Try poetry!  Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky write witty and awesome verse for children, and many of them are short and sweet, enticing children who may not want to read something "long".  Again, your children may end up quoting their favorite lines for years to come.

- Read a book that has also been made into a movie, then watch the movie together and compare them.  My children and I really like the Roald Dahl books: Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, The BFG, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
- Reluctant reader?  Bring in something they are interested in: dinosaurs, cars, makeup, technology, etc.  Magazines designed for tweens make reading seem cooler, and more interesting, and once again, they are available at your public library!

Number 2: Do some math together.  No, not flashcards.  Real life math is a lot more fun, and more effective.  You could:

- Try cooking together.  Even very young children can help you count scoops of flour or spoons full of other ingredients. 

You can teach them to measure carefully by paying attention to fill lines.  For children who are able, try halving or doubling a recipe (they'll want to double that cookie recipe for sure!)  Cooking lets your child measure temperatures, read recipes, set timers and more, with a delicious incentive at the end of the process.  As always, decide what you think your children can safely learn, then teach them how to use sharp or hot kitchen products carefully, and supervise closely. 

- Do chores.  Have your child sort and put away cutlery, and set the table.  Have them fold towels (can they make it into quarters or eighths?) and match pairs of socks. They can count how many toys they put away, how many stairs there are to vacuum, and much more.  When you do chores together they seem to go faster, and are a lot more fun.
- Tell time.  Digital clocks are easy enough for most 4 or 5 year olds to read, as long as they can read 2 digit numbers.  At 2 years old my oldest son would wake up at the crack of dawn, ready to play.  We got him a digital clock, and told him he needed to stay in bed until the first number was a 6 or more.  That first night he was up at 12:06, 2:36, 3:16.... every time he saw a 6 anywhere.  The second night I made a paper frame to go around the hour space, and explained that the 6 needed to be in the box.  He never got up too early again!
- Count money.  Yes, it is hard at first, but it is such an important skill!  Start with just pennies. Then practice counting by 5 and 10, and counting nickels and dimes.  Slowly put the different coins together, adding quarters last.  One of my favorite ways to help families practice coin counting together is to have parents empty (or partly empty) their pockets of coins in the evening.  Challenge your child to count how much money there is: if they add it up correctly, they get to keep it!  Talk about motivation!  Again, start with whatever your child can manage, and slowly increase the challenge. 
One summer when my own children were 9 and 5, I challenged the 9 year old each day with a money problem, such as how to make 52 cents with exactly 8 coins (4 dimes, 2 nickels, 2 pennies).  He got to keep it if he could figure it out - with the added advantage of keeping him quietly busy for a few minutes!  Then I had him put together a small box with the same coins in it for his brother to count.  
-Add it up.  When you need to run to the store for a few items, have your child try to figure out how much your total is going to be.  As you put each item into your cart, tell them the price, and let them figure it out - calculators optional. 

Number 3: Observe the natural world around you.  Children are natural scientists, investigating everything around them.  Get outside and look for bugs, leaves, animals, clouds... whatever fascinates them.  Ask questions along with your child, and when you find something you are both interested in, look up the answers.  Your library is a great place to find books on everything, but you can also help your child learn to look things up on the internet.

Go to the zoo or the aquarium, and read the information displayed about each animal.  Take your time, and if there are times when zoo keepers are available to talk about the animals, take advantage of it!  You may be able to look up information about special programs on-line, and time your visits accordingly.

Number 4: Play games.  Board games teach our children how to take turns, pass the dice, count and move spaces, and more.  Many games have a learning component - look for some that you played as a child, and make a family tradition of playing together.  No money for games?  Try simple drawing games such as the dot game and tic tac toe.  You can also have your child invent a game board, and take turns rolling a dice to move, or use flashcards as questions to answer in order to move. 

There are so very many ways you can make learning together fun, you probably remember doing some of these things, and others.  My mother had us look for numbers on license plates (how high can you get before the drive is over?) and letters in the environment around us (start with A and work through the alphabet).

I realize now that those games served several purposes: they entertained us, kept us relatively quiet, and engaged our brains too. 

I recently created some games for 5 - 7 year old children to help parents engage their children, while entertaining and keeping them productively occupied.  If you are interested, please check it out at the link below.  There are four game boards for children to color, and game cards for sight words, telling time, adding, subtracting, shapes, coins, rhyming, color words, and patterns.  I think it covers a whole lot of skills, and playing to learn is so much more engaging than worksheets!

Bye Bye Summer Slide!Bye-Bye Summer Slide!

If you have more suggestions of ways to keep children engaged and learning during the summer months, please leave them in the comments below!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Magnifying glasses and teeny tiny notebooks.

We know children learn through play.  Adults learn through play too, if we still remember how to be playful!  If you have a hobby, you know exactly what I'm talking about.  Children are natural explorers, eagerly discovering the world around them.

Over the last 20 years of working with children, I've found that most children are fascinated by the bugs and crawling things they can find in the playground.  I've even taken groups of children to the zoo, only to have someone spot a roly poly, and for all the attention to be on that!  On this particular week I thought I'd add magnifying glasses and notebooks to the outside environment, not with a teacher-driven agenda, but just so the children could explore and learn with them if they chose to.

You may be thinking that your budget doesn't run to magnifying glasses and notebooks.  These magnifying glasses came in a 3 pack from the dollar store.  The quality isn't fantastic of course, but it is perfectly adequate for learning how a magnifying glass works, and if when they got left on the playground overnight, it wasn't a terrible thing.

I made the notebooks myself.  I took half sheets of colored copy paper and half sheets of regular copy paper, folded and stapled them.  The colored sheet made a nice looking cover, and the white pages were for whatever the children wanted to draw/write in them.

I think every child to ever pick up a magnifying glass tries it out like this at least once - pushed up on their eye.  Do I date myself too much if I say it makes me think of Colonel Clink?  Does anyone get the reference?

Looking at these pictures, you can clearly see there was a social aspect to this learning too, as children copied the actions of their friends.  Stick a pencil over your ear?  Cool!  Look for critters together? Yes!  Talk about what you are doing, seeing, learning?  But of course!

What do you think? Were the children "playing" or "learning?"  Without any prompting from me they spent hours observing the tiny details of the playground, and drawing and writing about what they saw.  Some of the writing looked like scribbles, some were strings of apparently random letters, and yet others were carefully sounded out words like rlepoe (roly poly).

I believe this is the best way for our youngest children to learn.  When given a rich learning environment, and the time and tools to explore and learn, children are really good at doing what they've done for millennia: play TO learn.