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, August 31, 2015

International Dot Day

Do you know this book?

It's the lovely tale of Vashti, a child who doesn't think she can draw.  At her teacher's urging, she makes a mark on her paper, a simple dot.  When the teacher frames it in a swirly gold frame and displays it, Vashti begins to believe she can draw, at least a dot.

This simple tale speaks to me as a teacher - for surely, how we react to our students influences what they believe about themselves  - and also as an artist.  A very imperfect artist, but like Vashti, I can try.
Fun and easy ways to celebrate International Dot Day (September 15th) with your children

I thought I'd share some of the pictures of how my preschoolers celebrated International Dot Day last year, and encourage you to join in the fun.  We draw and do art projects all the time, so my kiddos, like most 3-5 year olds, already knew they were artists.  :-)  I decided to talk about dots, and the dot Vashti made with negative space, and of course, we got out the dot paints, aka bingo dabbers.  Everyone made several dot paintings, just enjoying the medium.

Fun and easy ways to celebrate International Dot Day (September 15th) with your children
It's important to let the children have time with new materials, so they can explore and be comfortable with it.  Until then, they're not likely to be interested in someone else's suggestions.

Fun and easy ways to celebrate International Dot Day (September 15th) with your children
Once the kiddos had explored the dabbers, I put some cardboard circles out on the table.  I placed one in the center of my blank paper, and joined in on the dabbing, mostly avoiding the cardboard circle.  You can see from the circles on the table, once we started using them, a lot of the kiddos wanted to dab only on the cardboard.  That works too!

Fun and easy ways to celebrate International Dot Day (September 15th) with your children

Fun and easy ways to celebrate International Dot Day (September 15th) with your children

Fun and easy ways to celebrate International Dot Day (September 15th) with your children
Most of the children joined in with using the cardboard circles, although not everyone wanted to do that, which, again, is fine.  They were fascinated by the negative space left when they lifted the cardboard - and several of them made the connection to the book, and Vashti's dot that wasn't a dot painting.

The children helped me choose two pictures each to display on the wall in our lunch area - enough to fill the wall.  I didn't have them make swirly gold frames like Vashti's teacher, but that would be an awesome touch!  I've seen that done here.

There's actually an International Dot Day, on September 15th-ish, and as of this writing, people in 107 countries have signed up to participate - 2,900,000 people!  There are official posters and an educator's handbook availabe on their website.  If you'd like to join in, follow this link!

I've also started collecting ideas on my pinterest board: International Dot Day

I'd love to hear your ideas, and to pin them there too - please let me know how you celebrate in the comments!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


Awesome activities for celebrating fall and seasons
Yesterday I took a break from everything, and sat outside with my camera.  I love to focus in on the tiny details around me, I find it very relaxing.  I took these shots:

Right away, looking at these, you know what season it is - right?  Blooming lilies, insects, hummingbirds, intensely green leaves - it's summer.  And yesterday it really was summer.

Today the crepe myrtles are still in bloom, the temperature is heading towards hot, and I know the farmer's market will be stocked with tomatoes and cucumbers and all the delicious summer fruits that I love, and yet...  Look what I found on my walk this morning:
Awesome activities for celebrating fall and seasons
There it is, fall, lurking around the corner!

This got me to thinking, as teachers will, about prepping for all the fun fall activities that we so love to do with our kiddos.
Awesome activities for celebrating fall and seasons
Finding pine cones had me thinking of all the ways I've used them with the kiddos, from fall sensory bins, to craft supplies.  My kiddos loved making a Thanksgiving turkey from a pine cone, and we made mini Christmas trees with them a lot of years...
Awesome activities for celebrating fall and seasons
Sorting leaves by color, and of course we'd have to read Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf by Lois Ehlert with that...

Oh how we loved playing in the leaves in the back yard!  How many piles of leaves have I facilitated over the years?!
Awesome activities for celebrating fall and seasons
Awesome activities for celebrating fall and seasons
 All those fall leaves and other treasures are wonderful for making mandalas, and talking about symmetry and number.  We used a salt dough base to hold them in place....
Awesome activities for celebrating fall and seasons
 ... and the plastic tray that once held party food to sort them...
Awesome activities for celebrating fall and seasons

Awesome activities for celebrating fall and seasons
We've made Leaf Man pictures to follow up another great Lois Ehlert book for fall...  and if I keep going back through my photos, or open my teacher binders, there are so many more great activities!

I've been thinking about all this, and have made several activities about changing seasons.

 This one would be perfect in a pocket chart...

Awesome activities for celebrating fall and seasons
 ... or on a sorting board like this one, made with colored poster board.
Awesome activities for celebrating fall and seasons

My five year olds who were starting to read really enjoyed sentence-picture matching games, like this one...
... and the challenge of logical reasoning, figuring out clues, like this:

Yes, I must say, I'm ready for fall!  Which season or special seasons activity does your class most love?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

How I Organize My Books

As a new teacher, I had a lovely collection of children's books - a couple of hundred, which I had collected during my college years.  They filled almost 2 whole shelves!  When I needed one, I could usually spot it pretty quickly, because I knew what they all looked like - and because there were only 2 shelves to look through.

Later, as my collection of teacher stuff (it's a technical term!) grew, I needed to find better ways to organize it.  I tried a filing cabinet, but had too many papers for each file.  Binders were an improvement - but what to do with all the other 'bits' like manipulatives and toys and... stuff?  I moved on to plastic totes, which were marvelous as they could hold the binders of papers, the books AND stuff.  I became a regular at Target, collecting an impressive collection of plastic totes to store my ever expanding teacher stuff.

I had a tote for each season, and for all the themes I taught: apples, circus, fall, farms... not to mention major (and minor) holidays.  I was really fortunate to have a lot of storage in my house... a lot of which was filled with shelves of totes.  If   When I found new things I needed for teaching, I could slip them immediately into the correct tote, knowing that when it came time to teach that theme, it would be there waiting for me.  (Notice I said 'could', not 'always did'.)


It began with The Hat, a popular book by Jan Brett.  I needed it for a lesson.  So I looked in my winter tote.  Not there.  Okay, maybe the farm tote, there are a lot of farm animals in the story.  Nope.  Clothing?  No.  I looked and looked, knowing full well that I had the book... somewhere.

After many totes and several muttered naughty words, I went to my husband.  I told him something that was really hard for me to say, or even to think.  I said, "I have too many books.  I can't find them."

It's a testament to the kind of husband he is, that he did not jump and cheer and tell me he was glad I had finally figured it out and could he please have a little of the closet space those books and stuff were taking up?  I am so very grateful that he told me that I didn't have too many books, I just needed a better organization system, library software.  Then he researched what was available, how much it cost, and downloaded it for me!  (No teachers, you can't have him, I'm keeping him!)

The solution was ReaderWare.  I'm still using it and loving it ten years down the road!  For a whopping $39.95, it does everything I can think of except put the books on the shelf.

I type in the ISBN# from the back of the book, and Readerware searches the internet for all the information I could possibly want, and organizes it.  Within a few seconds of entering a book, Readerware pulls a picture of the cover, title, author, publishing date, book reviews...
Everything is editable, so you can add, delete, or change information to suit your needs.  Sometimes I find incomplete data, a second author not listed for example - but I can add it in if I want.  I love the keywords section.  This is where I put in every possible theme that I might use a book with.  The Hat has keywords: winter, farm, clothing, animals.  I add these because everything is searchable.

I can search by 27 features: author, title, category, and KEYWORDS.  So now, when I want a book on lets say, apples, I search by keyword and get...
... a list of every book I own that is tagged apples! 

The most difficult part of organizing my books was not adding them into Readerware, it was putting them up on  my shelves.  I decided to alphabetize by author, which makes finding them super easy - especially with my list from Readerware.  I can print it out if I need, or more often pull it up on the computer then walk over to my shelves and grab what I need.  No more searching for a book, no more trying to remember who the author is, or even which books I have for each theme.  Many times since I got this, teacher friends have come to me and asked if I have anything they could use for a lesson on xyz - and I can find it in less than a minute!  Did I mention that Readerware also lets you track books you've loaned out?  Yes, no more forgetting to get your books back, or who borrowed which one.

There are so many great things about Readerware, I can't begin to tell you everything I love about it.  If you have ever had to search for a book, and think this might be a solution for you, they offer a 30 day free trial, but purchase, as of the time I'm writing, is still only $39.95.  Need to know more?  http://www.readerware.com/index.php/products/details/books_details

Happy reading to you!


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Apple activities

Learning about apples in preschool and kindergarten: fun activities, snacks, projects, graphs and more!
One of my early school memories from growing up in Australia was the alphabet posted on the walls of Mrs. Potts' room.  For each letter, there were a couple of things that started with the letter, doing something, and we sang a song for each.  The tune was always the same, Skip To My Lou - so chances are pretty good that you know it too.  We had "Rats are Running, r r r", "Helicopters Hovering, h h h", "Dolls are dancing, d d d", and of course, "Ants on the apple, a a a".
Learning about apples in preschool and kindergarten: fun activities, snacks, projects, graphs and more!
Mrs. Potts could never have guessed that I would in turn teach those songs to a couple of hundred preschool children in Texas, which I guess goes to show how far our reach as teachers really can go!  "I touch the future, I teach", really takes on a new meaning when you look backwards and see such things - and I guess right now I should be wondering about my reach into the future, and who or what I might have influenced.  I know at least one of my first class of first graders is now an early childhood teacher herself, and I have to say, I was honored when she told me I had influenced her.

The picture above shows where I've gone with those "ants on the apple".  Each of my preschoolers over the years has made their own copy of the alphabet to hang on their walls at home, beginning with ants on the apple.

I provide the children with either a precut construction paper letter, or for those ready to develop their scissor skills, a traced letter.  Apples of course can be green, yellow or red, so I have all 3 colors available, and let the children choose theirs.  As you can see, we add a brown construction paper stem, and a green leaf to make our letter a into an apple, and then glue on plastic ants or finger paint them on.  We sing the ants on the apple song throughout the week, and it really does seem to help reinforce the letter sound connection.  I've often had young learners look at a letter somewhere else and tell me what picture we've created with that letter, an excellent first connection.

In case you're wondering about the upper case A, we paint stamped a green alligator onto it, and glued on the alligator poem (which I am unable to credit, so sorry!):
  Alligator, alligator, long and green.
  Alligator, alligator, teeth so mean.
  He snapped at a minnow, and he snapped at a flea,
  He snapped at a turtle and he snapped at me!
  He caught that minnow, he caught that flea,
  He caught that turtle, but he didn't catch me!

I've blogged previously about having students bring in apples for us to cook with, and then graphing both the day they brought their apples...
Learning about apples in preschool and kindergarten: fun activities, snacks, projects, graphs and more!
 ... and what color apple they brought.
Learning about apples in preschool and kindergarten: fun activities, snacks, projects, graphs and more!

The same link will also tell you all about how we make our applesauce.  I want to add that there is no recipe necessary for applesauce.  I know there are some people who balk at the thought of winging it in the kitchen, but chances are those people wouldn't be comfortable with children doing the cooking either.  :-)  Way back when I first started teaching I was careful to have a recipe, but I've made applesauce enough times with enough children to know it is close to fool proof:  Peel apples.  Cut up apples.  Put in a pot and barely cover with water.  Boil until soft.  Mash or blend until desired smoothness is reached.  Sugar and cinnamon are optional, and usually much appreciated, but not at all required. 
Learning about apples in preschool and kindergarten: fun activities, snacks, projects, graphs and more!
 I've also found that animal crackers or graham crackers make a really nice accompaniment to fresh, warm applesauce!  (Also, you can absolutely serve applesauce in a small cup and let the children "drink" it if you are out of spoons, but don't use the paper cups like those in the picture below, they smush too easily.  Go with the small plastic ones.  And yes, coffee filters make excellent and inexpensive "plates" for those crackers!)
Learning about apples in preschool and kindergarten: fun activities, snacks, projects, graphs and more!

Another fun apple activity we've enjoyed many times over the years is making our Apples On Top classbook:
Apples On Top Most of the text for the book is already on the pages, the children add their name, and a numeral, draw themselves, and add apple stickers on top of their heads.  We read Ten Apples Up On Top, by Dr. Seuss to introduce this activity, and then bind the student pages together to create our own class book.
Learning about apples in preschool and kindergarten: fun activities, snacks, projects, graphs and more!
 One of the marvelous things about class books, is that the students have ownership of the books, and want to read and reread them.  Every time we do, we're reinforcing the repetitive text, making it easier for students to read it to themselves, to reread their names and numbers, and to count those apple stickers.  I LOVE how much mileage a simple activity like this can get!

Another high mileage activity I enjoy for our apples unit is our blind taste test.  (You can read more about it here).
Learning about apples in preschool and kindergarten: fun activities, snacks, projects, graphs and more!

Learning about apples in preschool and kindergarten: fun activities, snacks, projects, graphs and more!
Basically we graph which apples the children think they like best, taste 3 or 4 different ones, graph which one they actually like best after tasting, and compare the results.    Some years we write a class experience story about the process, and put the story and graphs in another class book.  We get science, math, writing a "how to", and reading from this one simple activity!

I also try to offer a sensory bin of some kind most weeks.  Unfortunately I don't have any good pictures of our apple sensory play, but you can see some ideas on my pumpkins and apples pinterest board.

I absolutely recommend you collect empty spice containers to add to your sensory play - cinnamon and cloves for apple play - because they add another sense to those you're engaging.  It seems silly (to an adult), but the children I've taught have loved smelling the spice containers, as well as pretending to season things with them.

For super easy sorting activities this week, try putting out red, yellow and green pompons (apples) and red, yellow and green containers for the children to sort them into.  You can make instant math centers with apple tree note pads (from a teacher supply store) with numbers written on them.  Students add the correct number of pompon "apples" to their trees.  You probably have several of your own favorite apple play ideas too!

I hope you and your kiddos get a chance to explore apples too - and that you'll leave a comment and let me know what your favorite apple activity is.  Thanks for stopping by!

P.S.  I didn't mention any apple themed children's books today, but you can read about 7 of my favorites here.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Back to School FREEBIES!

Do you love finding great new products and ideas that are FREE?  Me too!  I recently created this one for alphabet learners:
Alphabet Mystery Pictures FREEBIEClick here to go to my TpT store to download it!

I just stumbled upon a back to school freebie link up - yes, LOTS of freebies, all in one place!  I hope you'll check it out too - just click on the picture below!


Saturday, August 8, 2015

Apple Books

Awesome books about apples, from Paula's Preschool and Kindergarten

You know it's almost back to school time when your pinterest feed starts showing apples, lots and lots of apples!  Maybe it's because an apple for the teacher seems to represent school somehow, or that at the beginning of the year preschoolers are learning the beginning of the alphabet, and apples are a very real way to connect children with the short a sound.  It's getting towards fall, of course, so apple picking time really is coming up.  Whatever the reason, it seems to be apple time!
Awesome books about apples, from Paula's Preschool and Kindergarten

Today I want to review several apple themed books that I love.

Image result for the apple pie tree

The Apple Pie Tree by Zoe Hall, illustrated by Shari Halpern

Sheri Halpern's illustrations are incredible, from the apple blossoms on the front endpapers, to the bitten apples on the final endpapers.  Told from the point of view of a little girl, this book traces the life of an apple tree and the critters that live in it, from bare in winter, through blossoms, growth, and finally harvest of the apples.  On the final page of the book there is an explanation of how bees pollinate apple tree, and a recipe for apple pie.

This book does a wonderful job of including seasons, nature and science in a story that will engage youngsters.  If you can possibly visit an apple tree - or other fruit tree - throughout the year, this book will help guide you and your children in seeing the seasons of a fruit tree.  I hope you can follow up by baking a pie!

Image result for up up up it's apple picking time
Up, Up, Up! It's Apple-Picking Time by Jody Fickes Shapiro, illustrated by Kitty Harvill

Once again told from the point of view of a child, this book chronicles harvest time, and the work of picking and selling the apples the narrator's grandparents grow.  The end papers show more than 20 kinds of apples - a fun starting point to talk about all the different varieties that are available.

The apple picking in this book is very much a family venture, with 3 generations coming together over a weekend to pick and then sell their apples.  They eat and drink a variety of apple products during that time, which could easily prompt a discussion of all the ways we use apples, but my biggest take away from this book is the loving family atmosphere.  Bonus points for including a microwave apple recipe!

Image result for apple picking time
Apple Picking Time by Michele Benoit Slawson, illustrated by Deborah Kogan Ray

This book tells the story of a town coming together to pick apples, again talking about the heavy but satisfying work of fruit picking, this time as a community.  The narrator has grown since the last picking season, and is proud to fill a bin full of apples by herself for the first time.  Young children will relate to this girl, and the feeling of accomplishment that comes with each "first".  The muted fall tones of the illustrations are beautiful, matching the text.

 Image result for apple farmer annie
Apple Farmer Annie by Monica Wellington

Apple Farmer Annie is a one woman operation, unlike the other books I've mentioned so far.  Annie not only grows a large apple orchard, she also makes it into cider, applesauce, muffins, cakes and pies to sell.  This book is a great starting point to talk about apple products and farmers' markets, and would be lovely to inspire preschool pretend play.  Three apple recipes are included, inviting readers to join Annie in making and enjoying tasty applesauce, muffins and cake.

Image result for ten red apples
Ten Red Apples by Pat Hutchins

Ideal for the 3 - 6 year old crowd, Ten Red Apples counts down the apples on a tree, as various farm animals come by and each them.  Each page has a large numeral with the appropriate number of apples by it, as well as apples on the tree, and a refrain that children will quickly learn and join in on.  The disappointment of finding zero apples on the tree for the farmer's wife, is solved when he leads her to another tree full of apples.  A fun countdown book, this one was a fall favorite with my preschoolers.

Image result for ten apples up on top
Ten Apples Up On Top! by Dr. Seuss, illustrated by Roy McKie

I remember this one from my own childhood, as many of you probably do too, and it remains popular today.  Students love the one-up-man-ship of the three characters as they try to out balance each other, and Dr. Seuss' simple text and rhyming structure appeal as much today as ever.  I read this book for the fun of it, but there is definitely some counting fun to be had along the way.  There are many many ways to follow up this story, and you can find some of them on my Pumpkins and Apples Pinterest board.

Image result for how do apples grow
How Do Apples Grow? by Betsy Maestro, illustrated by Giulio Maestro

If you are looking to teach the science of apple growth, look no further than this book.  Gorgeous illustrations are coupled with an easy to read text that explains everything from leaf buds in winter, to ripe apples in the fall.  Illustrations include cut away views of a flower, and the progression from flower to tiny apple, along with orchard views, seamlessly blending facts into the story.  This book is too long for most preschool & kindergarten aged kiddos to sit through, but the information in the book is invaluable.  If you have access to an apple tree, you could definitely use this book for reference as you observe seasonal changes in the tree.

Next time I'll show you some of the fun apple activities I've enjoyed doing with my kiddos!