Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy Holidays Mrs. T!

As I was putting away my Christmas decorations this year I was reminded of some of my former kiddos because I was carefully packing away items that were gifts from my days as a preschool teacher.  I still keep in touch with some of the kids from days gone by...mainly through friendships on Facebook...I have former children who are planning to graduate from high school, who are in college, who just graduated from college, and a few who are now parents themselves...making me a "grand-preschool teacher".  Anyways...back to the gifts...I have had my favorites over the years...pre-Pinterest crayon monograms.  Here are some of the good...the bad...and the ugly (you determine the categories) from 18 years of working with little ones:

  1. Coffee mugs--I don't drink coffee but these mugs have served a decorations and pencil cups throughout the years.  I always write the child's name and date on the bottom of the mug.  One time a coworker of mine enjoyed mugs of hot cocoa with her entire class using real mugs that were gifts from families--the kids thought they were so cool with their heavy breakable fancy mugs.  
  2. Soaps & Lotions--After a day of smelling playground dust and dirty pants a hint of citrus, plumeria, and freesia never hurts.  Better yet...a gift card to Bath and Body Works!
  3. Candles--I received many candles that I took home because we couldn't use them at school...after a while one runs out of room to store candles and the competing scents can be overwhelming.  
  4. Ornaments--This insures that a former teacher thinks of you each year while decorating her tree...again...mark with name and year. 
  5. Framed photos of child or group of children!
  6. Restaurant Gift Cards--Always a nice choice for a teacher who is exhausted at the end of the day...preferably to a restaurant where one orders from a table and the bonus would be real table cloths.  
  7. Photo albums or scrapbooks to document the events and activities of the coming year.  To this day, I keep albums accessible in my office and flip through them on occasion when thinking of particular activities or children.  One time I had a former student visiting our college and she stopped by my office to say "hello".  I pulled an album off the shelf and we reminisced while flipping through the pages.  
  8. Personalized tote bags, pencils, note pads and classroom door decorations.
  9. Classroom items--children's books, bean bag chair, puzzle, or a new nap-time CD.
  10. Live scorpion.  Yes, this is a real item brought to me by a child...I bet you can guess which category it belongs in.  
  11. Many items that represented the school I worked for...paperweights, pens, mouse pads, sweatshirts, more mugs...
  12. Thematic wooden/plastic jewelry--While I do not dress much like Ms. Frizzle anymore, I used to totally rock the theme look from socks to earrings...every holiday and thematic unit had its own look.  I have a cool Santa necklace made from Legos!  
  13. Movie Night Gift Basket--I have received this item twice!  Both times consisted of large bowls for popcorn, microwave popcorn, movie candy, pop, and gift certificates for movie rentals.  
  14. Candy--This may seem like an easy fix for any teacher...and I do like candy...but I am kind of a candy snob...meaning not just any candy will do.  I prefer Candy House English Toffee to a Snickers...I prefer Brach's Candy Corn to Mallowcreme pumpkins...I prefer dark chocolate to milk chocolate...and I typically choose not to each off brand Dollar Store candy (ever hear of cocoa moths?) or anything homemade.  

    Things I never received as gifts...but would be awesome:  

    1. Tervis Cups with Lids--This is my go-to item for my kid's teachers because you can use with hot or cold drinks and there are many designs to fit the style of the teacher.  
    2. iTunes Cards--Today, if I were in a preschool classroom, I would love to be able to add some new apps to my iPad to use with the kids...or to be able to expand our music repertoire.  
    3. Subscription to an appropriate magazine to use either for the classroom--Ranger Rick, Highlights, or for the teacher like Mailbox.  
    4. Drink Gift Cards--Again, not a coffee drinker but if I were...I would love Starbucks.  But, gift cards to Sonic or other places where a teacher can grab an icy beverage before or after work is much appreciated.

    Thursday, September 12, 2013

    Confessions of a Cereal Box User

    The fall semester is back into full swing and I have caught my breath long enough to add a new post to my blog.  I have a list of ideas to tackle this semester and one thing that I love to think about is how to use junk or essentially "trash" in an early childhood classroom.  

    So...this post is dedicated to my top 10 ideas for using cereal boxes.  Cereal boxes are easy to acquire.  First off, if you are an early childhood professional cereal makes an easy breakfast, lunch, and sometimes dinner so the boxes could be accumulating in your own stash of "things to take to my classroom." Second, kids love cereal...parents are usually pretty willing to save boxes for you to use or you may be using cereal in your program for activities and snacks.  If you are sending out requests for boxes be sure to add an end date or a certain number of boxes needed so you don't end up having to rent a storage unit to keep your boxes...don't keep unattended boxes piled to the ceiling in your facility...the fire marshal will not understand the need for 50 empty Froot Loops boxes.  
    • The individual size cereal boxes can be made into a memory match game...I did this for a breakfast unit.  You can find variety packs of 10...the front of the box matches the back of the box...cover the unfinished side of the box, laminate, and match away.

    • I have also created puzzles with full size cereal box fronts.  The kids liked the cereal box puzzles because it was something familiar to them. You could make it more difficult and use a side other than the "front" of the box.  

    • There was a time when I cut the top off of cereal boxes, covered them with contact paper and stored my children's writing/drawing journals in them standing up on the counter or writing table.  It was a great way to keep them together yet easy to flip through to find each child's journal.  You can also add labels to organize the sets by group.  
    • Cereal boxes, of the same size, with top flaps removed can be taped together, covered with contact paper and placed on a shelf to store construction paper by color.  It sure beats purchasing one from an   educational supply company and you have control over the number of paper slots.  
    • Cereal box fronts can be hole punched and hooked together to make environmental print books.  Or you can place the fronts in freezer zipper bags and tape together for students who may like to mouth the book.  
    • Stuff empty cereal boxes with newspaper...securely shut with packing tape and add to a grocery store inspired dramatic play center.
    • Empty cereal boxes of varying sizes can be used a percussion instruments.  This is a great opportunity to hear and classify the different sounds make by different sizes of boxes.  Drum sticks are not necessary but could be cool...use hands, un-sharpened pencils, rhythm sticks, etc. Another instrument idea is to cut a hole on one side of the cereal box and stretch rubber bands around box and hole...instant guitar!
    • Empty cereal boxes can be used for construction play.  They are easily stuffed, reinforced and covered to be used as large blocks in the block area.  A roll of cheap masking tape and a pile of empty boxes is a masterpiece waiting to happen.
    • A cereal box cut in half from top to bottom can be used for many craft projects--marble painting "pan", collage base, spatter paint receptacle, paint palette, the possibilities are endless.Cereal boxes can be used for children to stuff--they can add a certain number of items to boxes that have numerals printed on them.  They can add cut out letters that match letters on the box--during "R" week add R's to the Rice Krispie box.  They can add items that match a particular color indicated on the box.  

    Friday, May 17, 2013

    Frugal Summer Fun for Little Ones!

    Summer is quickly approaching!  Whether you work with preschool age kids throughout the summer in a program or you are at home with little ones...these frugal summer ideas work in all situations.  I have been in both situations and those summer months can feel like an eternity if children are bored.  The following ideas are tried, true, cheap, and often forgotten when we are planning activities for young children.

    Here are the ingredients for cheap summer fun:

    1. Painting with Water--give a child a bucket or cup of water with paintbrushes to "paint" the sidewalk, driveway, side of house, etc.  It is fun to watch a child witness the evaporation process...they often speed up their painting efforts to keep more of the surface wet.  It is also a great way to cool off!
    2. Forts--grab some blankets, sheets, and clothespins and get creative building a fort outside or inside.  Bonus--nap time in a fort can be pretty cool!
    3. Catch Fireflies--this works for late afternoon/early evening caregivers or parents--how much fun did you have catching fireflies as a child?  Optional variations for those who are not card carrying PETA members--squeezing rear end off of firefly to create glowing jewelry or practice swinging and aiming at fireflies with a plastic bat (they remain lit while sailing through the air).  
    4. Painting Rocks--have children hunt for some rocks that they can paint and decorate.  Lately I have seen several Pinterest posts about decorating rocks to look like strawberries and owls...let your little one decide what to create...it might even turn into a pet rock or a pretty addition to a flower garden.  
    5. Go on a picnic--in the park, the backyard, the living room floor.  Bonus--have the children plan the menu and "make" the food.
    6. Plant something--test your child's green thumb by finding something to plant and cultivate during the summer months--could be a vegetable or flower!
    7. Set up a lemonade stand--this could be a real lemonade stand for profit or a pretend one.
    8. Sidewalk Chalk games--hopscotch, foursquare, or create a game together.
    9. Cool off with spray bottles, squirt guns, water balloons, sprinklers, or the garden hose.  Bonus activity--create a rainbow with the water spray in the sun.
    10. Make popsicles in small cups or an ice cube tray out of lemonade, juice, or other beverage of choice.
    11. Bubbles!  I love blowing bubbles!  Experiment with different solutions, try new bubble wands with found items such as six-pack rings, berry baskets, fly swatters, pipe cleaners, or fashion a cool one by stringing yarn through two drinking straws.  Bonus activity--catching bubbles with wands, bigger bubble contest, and I am not sure if it works but it would be worth a try--glow in the dark bubbles by emptying a glow stick into bubble solution.
    12. Cloud Gazing--spread a blanket or towel in the grass and watch the clouds.  Read a book about cloud shapes such as "It Looked Like Spilt Milk" and then try to figure out what the figures the clouds resemble.  Evening variation--star gazing and constellation naming!
    13. Mud Pies--do kids ever get to play in the mud anymore?  Find or create some mud and provide the pans and other mud utensils for the creation of yummy mud pies!
    14. Scavenger Hunt--create a list (with pictures) of items to find in the backyard, on a walk, on the playground or in the house.  Reward finishers with a silly prize!
    15. Break out classics that today's kids may not have experienced--jump ropes, jacks, paddle ball, balloon catch, puddles to jump, a tree to climb, tadpoles to catch!  Think about the things you thought were cool when you were little and adapt those experiences for a new generation.  

    In case you think these are silly activities that do not serve a purpose...think again!  Many of these activities target science concepts such as observation, problem solving, changes/reactions, cause/effect, cycles of life and water.  When children are playing with other children or adults they are building vital social skills for future healthy relationships.  The language possibilities are endless!  Children are able to practice and perfect their fine and gross motor skills.  Oh...and these activities are FUN!

    Thursday, February 14, 2013

    Physical Requirements for Early Childhood Professionals

    While I was teaching my class of early childhood curriculum students today I made someone giggle...well actually today was filled with giggles for some reason...but something I did was apparently surprising to one student in particular.  I was demonstrating what not to do when teaching their first lesson in their practicum...so I assumed my traditional teaching position, "criss-cross applesauce", except so they could see me I was on top of a table...which I guess my agility and grace was shocking.  

    After class, my head was spinning thinking about the flexibility and other physical skills that one must possess to work with young children.  Many job descriptions for early childhood positions 
    mention the following physical demands:  occasional lifting, carrying, pushing, and/or pulling; some climbing and balancing; some stooping, kneeling, crouching, and/or crawling; and some fine finger dexterity. Generally the job requires 10% sitting, 45% walking, and 45% standing. 

    I think we should keep it real and let people know what they are getting themselves into...here is my expanded list of Physical Requirements for Early Childhood Professionals:

    1. occasional lifting--baby, toddler, chunky preschooler, Scholastic book order box
    2. carrying--chunky preschooler from playground to classroom, stack of nap cots
    3. flexibility--stretching to pat the backs of two nappers while their cots are regulation distance apart
    4. stamina--Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes is easy...can you keep up with Tony Chestnut after the Bear Hunt?
    5. ability to push your pain threshold--length of time until you can get to some headache medication on a rainy day when someone brings out the box of instruments...the day after a candy holiday
    6. finger dexterity--ability to lead finger-plays, find the end of a skein of yarn, scotch tape, unknot shoe laces, and remove splinters
    7. climbing--ability to climb on a chair in the classroom to reach something on a high shelf with ninja stealth so that you are not be seen by children
    8. germ resistance--ability to stay healthy despite the dirty tissues in your pocket that do not belong to you
    9. balancing--ability to balance an adult size rear end on a child size chair
    10. standing--skill to stand upright after sitting in a child size chair or floor, more skill if you were holding chunky preschooler on your lap
    11. eye sight--ability to read books in near darkness at naptime also handy in the detection of lice
    12. alertness--need to remain upright and awake in near darkness while listening to the purring of children sleeping with an Enya CD playing in the background
    13. urinary continence--ability to hold it until you can get to an adult size potty (if not--this requires an more flexibility and balancing talent if available potty is child sized)
    14. medical knowledge--chicken pox or mosquito bites?
    I am sure the list could go on and on...but if you really knew all the demands of working with young children would you still sign up?

    Wednesday, February 6, 2013

    Singing in the Rain

    We are four weeks into the spring semester and it has been a wild ride thus far...strange weather and illness abound.  I am a little late posting...crazy days...but I began thinking about something from last week.

    I live in Missouri and work in Kansas...in this part of the country one cannot think for a second that our weather can be...well normal.  Last week we started off a little warmer than normal for January but it was pleasant.  On Tuesday the craziness began...we started the day under a tornado watch...with some wind, rain and dark clouds.  When it was time for morning preschool to dismiss it was pouring...a real gully washer which prompted some children and adults to begin singing "Rain, Rain, Go Away."  This got me thinking...we as adults typically have a love/hate relationship with rain...we know that we need it but it is an inconvenience at times...I for one hate to get my hair wet in the rain or push a full grocery cart to the car in the rain.  But little kids...do they really hate the rain?  I think not...and I can list some reasons...

    1.  Singing to the rain to go away is fun...therefore...rain is needed for a little fun.
    2. If it rains you get to wear a shiny slick raincoat that might resemble a fireman's coat and green galoshes complete with bugged out frog eyes.
    3. Umbrellas are cool!  Holding an umbrella as a child is such a thrill...even if you don't hold it over your head the whole time...you have to look to check if it is still raining every now and then.
    4. Rain makes puddles and puddles make splashes.  Moms and teachers typically try to make children avoid puddles but it is just water after all...pants will dry.
    5. Worms venture out after a rain.  Who doesn't like worms?  Well, I actually have a strong aversion to worms but I can contain my hatred of wiggly squiggly pink and brown non-arthropod invertebrate animals in the presence of a wide eyed child. 
    6. Ever notice the sounds the rain makes?  To a child it sounds better...remember the song in Bambi..."drip, drip, drop little April showers" that is rain to the ears of a child.
    7. Playing in the rain is a sacred forbidden activity...typically children will continue to play in the rain because it is fascinating...until an adult realizes they are out in the rain and calls them in to dry off, "before they catch a cold"...ruining all the enjoyment.
    8. Children notice things about the rain that as adults we tend to overlook...the streams of rain in a gutter...the washing away of dirt...the smell of the rain.  
    9. A rainy day in preschool means a different schedule...if we cannot go outside we do inside activities that are sometimes forgotten favorites that only come out on rainy days.  We don't pop in a video or turn on the tv...we use icky weather as a chance to get out activities and games for the children to enjoy...while learning.
    10. MUD...no need to say more!
    There is one aspect of rain that children and adults both seem to enjoy...the need to curl up and get cozy on a rainy day.

    P.S. Our preschool week ended with blowing swirling snow.
    Worms do not like snow.

    Monday, January 14, 2013

    My Favorite Things...

    You can start singing the song from the Sound of Music or envision me as Oprah...but I do have some favorite things that have saved my sanity in the world of early childhood.  

    Here are my top 4 favorite items that every early childhood professional should have access to:
    1. Diaper Wipes--I don't care if you work with preschool age kiddos or kindergartners...diaper wipes are an amazing invention.  These wipes do much more than...well...wipe dirty bottoms.  Diaper wipes can be used to un-stick crusted boogies from noses...what I hate more than a snot streak on my pants from a preschooler hug is boogies that get stuck on my pants and then rip from the child's nose causing great pain.  I have used wipes on my shoes after playground duty.  They are great at the art center.  A must have on field trips for many reasons.  Got lunch on your shirt...diaper wipe it and it helps!  Plus you can get them in many varieties.  I love the new soft packs they are in now...I keep a pack in my car and use them for many things!
    2. Sharpies--I love Sharpies...all shapes, colors, and sizes.  Sharpies have helped me make many materials for my kids--from games to nametags.  I have even replaced faces on Lego men with sharpies...we even ended up with a John Lennon look-a-like and some with angry eyebrows.  I also have labeled many children's coats and other belongings because some families miss this step.  I always try to remind my families...if you saw a great jacket on sale for your child...chances are others noticed the same sale and there will be more than one of those jackets floating around the cubbies.  
    3. Hand Sanitizer--I know that not every program allows the use of hand sanitizer but these are non-child related uses for the wonder anti-germ gel.  I have used it to help remove the sticky from price tags and left over stickers.  I hate to admit it...but in a moment of desperation I dabbed some on a zit I felt beginning...and I swear it helped it not appear.  It does make me feel a little bit more in control of my own germ party to use it throughout the day in addition to washing...I prefer a nice scent and one that isn't too drying.  It is amazing the power of a fresh scent on your hands to help muffle some of the less pleasant smells associated with little kids.  
    4. Clear Packing Tape--The sound of clear packing tape ripping off of a roll reminds me of so many moments in my preschool classroom.  In my first classroom we used a lot of this tape to adhere name spots to the carpet, attach labels to shelves, and to "laminate" small items in a pinch.  I prefer the heavy duty thick, more expensive, variety with the cutter on the roll...the big mechanical rollers only frustrate me when the tape gets tangled.  I will pass on a tip of either rolling down the loose edge so it doesn't get re-stuck to the roll or adding a large paperclip along the edge so you can find it again.  I have repaired many torn books with this kind of tape...even though my librarian friends would prefer I use a gentler library tape.  The only drawback I can see with this tape is the noise factor so you cannot get crazy taping things during nap time.