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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Breakfast in Bed for Mommy … on a very special plate!

My little ones are so excited about the simple plates that they made for Mother's Day this year.  I bought ceramic salad plates at the Christmas Tree Shop for $1 and the kids drew pictures of their Mom on the plates with permanent markers. I followed Heidi from HeidiSongs' idea of drawing a circle for the head and somewhat followed her directions for a guided drawing of Mom.  I then put the plates in a cold oven and turned the heat up to 350 degrees. After about 40 minutes, I turned off the oven and let the plates cool in the oven.  Some of the colors did change a little (several got lighter, and a few got darker).  Although the design seems to be permanent I did write "Hand Wash Only" on the bottom of each plate. We will be making muffins later this week and then send them home with the plate, a napkin and a tea bag so that the kids can present their Moms with breakfast in bed.

There are lots of other Mother's Day Ideas here and here and here.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Another Fairy Tale Castle

The finished castle all "blinged up."  The kids love it!

We have another Fairy Tale Castle!  Two years ago, our school did a school wide unit on Children's Literature and I chose Fairy Tales as the genre that our class would focus on.   As part of that wonderful unit, I made this huge castle out of 8 large boxes.
The kids loved it!  Last year I made a giant cardboard barn that was also very popular.  I decided to make another castle this year.  Fortunately, I have learned a lot about cardboard construction that I can share with anyone thinking about attempting one of these wonderful projects.

First - Use Mr. McGroovy's Box Rivets and plans

This step is critical!! Mr. McGroovy sells simple to follow, downloadable plans for lots of different cardboard structures.  The castle plans cost $4.95. He also sells the most important feature of my cardboard creations …Box Rivets.  The box rivets look like this:
The cost for a box of 100 reusable rivets is just under $25 (with tax and shipping costs).  I will explain how to use the box rivets below.

Second - Collect Boxes

Collecting the boxes is truly the hardest part of creating a castle (if you follow my advice for the actual construction:) Mr. McGroovy tells you to collect boxes by getting the name of the delivery company used by a  a store such as Home Depot.  Instead, I found two smaller local appliance companies that do their own deliveries and both were happy to have me stop by and take any boxes I wanted.  Each day I stopped by, I could usually find one or two refrigerator or washer-dryer boxes.  Following Mr. McGroovy's suggestion, I brought a utility knife with me and cut off the top and bottom of each box. I then folded the box and could take 2-3 boxes in the back of my small sports utility vehicle.  It took quite a few trips to collect all the boxes I needed.

Third - Get  Someone to Help You!!

If using Mr. McGroovy's rivets is my most important tip,  getting help is the the second most important tip.  When I made the first castle, I did most of it all by myself.  Mr. McGroovy explains how it can be done and it didn't sound that hard.  It is!!  This year I asked for parents to help and 3 moms came in. What a difference!!!  This is what I suggest:
First, decide how you are going to lay out the castle.  Mr. McGroovy's plans are very general.  You need to figure out where you are going to put the different sized boxes that you have collected.  I laid out the boxes by myself .  It is easiest if you have at least 2 boxes that are the same size for the tunnels on either side.
This is what the room looked like when my first volunteer arrived.
Mr. McGroovy explains how to cut the boxes even if they are not the same size.
This is the point where it REALLY helps to have a second person working with you.  I learned that the easiest way to put the rivets in is to have a person inside the box poke a hole through both boxes.  I had lent my awl to another teacher and found that a meat thermometer also worked very well for making the holes.  The person inside the box should then put their rivet through the hole.  The person on the outside will be able to see what's happening and line the 2nd rivet up at a 90 degree angle and then both people push their rivets until they ratchet together. It really is very simple (with help).  It took less than 3 hours to put the castle together and cut most of the windows and ramparts.

Fourth - Paint the Castle

This step can definitely include the kids.  I bought latex "OOPS" paint at Lowes for $4.  My color choices were hot pink or grey.  I chose grey.  Following Mr. McGroovy's suggestion, we used paint pads.  
The whole process was actually incredibly neat.  I used extra cardboard that I stuck under the edge of the castle as a drop cloth.  I then had the kids take off their shoes and socks.  I did this so they would know if they stepped in paint and could wipe their feet before walking across the room.  The painters also put on big t-shirts.  I had 3 painters working at a time.  I put the paint on the paint pad (and took off the extra paint on the edge of the pan) and then handed the paint pad to the child.  Each child got three refills of paint and then it was someone else's turn.  Although I had to paint the high spots, the kids did a wonderful job painting most of the castle.  

Fifth - Decorate the Castle

This is where we are now.  We'd love your suggestions for this step!

 UPDATE: We've Added Lots of Bling!

This year I have a class that loves bling…They wanted the castle to have jewels, glitter, flowers, lights and thrones. This is what we did.
Princesses, Dragons and Knights made flowers.
Everyone made torches (we have enough torches to light a whole kingdom:)
The finished product is spectacular.
Flowers - check

Flames - check

Glitter and Jewels - check

Thrones - check

Windows (and dragons) - check

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Our Chihuly Masterpiece

Last summer when I traveled west to see my son (and a few of my favorite bloggers) in Canada, I spent a day in Seattle Washington.  One of the things I did was go to the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit that is right next to the Space Needle.  Dale Chihuly is an artist who makes amazing sculptures and huge glass installations from blown glass.
I actually first learned of Chihuly from Pinterest where I saw all sorts of art projects for kids using crazy straws.  The actual art is truly amazing.  I especially loved the way the beautiful pieces were lit.  The glass practically glowed.

I decided I wanted to add Chihuly to our Art Unit this year and chose to try making something inspired by this ceiling in Las Vegas:

I have melted plastic cups before and saw that Jeanette from Artchoo! had used them to emulate Chihuly's glass pieces.  I had each child color several plastic cups using permanent markers (bigger markers worked better).

I then put the cup in a toaster oven set to 350.  The artist came and stood next to me and told me when he or she thought I should take the cup out of the oven (it was less than a minute).  I then removed the cup with my bare hand.
It was interesting to see how differently each of the cups shrunk and melted.  We used several different types of cups that I found around my house and school. Originally, we used clear "soft" plastic glasses.  Some turned a little milky and some stayed clear. The Chinet "cut crystal" ones rolled up. When I still need more cups, I found a few blue and pink plastic cups (still transparent) and let the kids decorate those. Because they were too tall for the toaster oven I cut them down which worked  well.  I'm so glad that we ended up using  different types of cups because it added a lot of interest to our final project. I think that all of the cups had the recycle number 6 on the bottom. 

I wanted our Chiluly inspired work to be lit up like the ones I saw in Seattle.  Since one of my light covers was broken, I decided to tape it back together and then hot glue our art directly to the light cover.  It took a lot of cups to cover the entire area but the result is really cool!
Of course my iPhone doesn't begin to do justice to how cool this project looks.  

It makes me want to cover all of my fluorescent lights. Now that would be spectacular!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

OREO Words

         We LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Oreo Words in my class.  Oreo Words are 2 letter words that we memorize by spending 1-2 minutes a day with our Oreo Words book. I first heard about Oreo Words at a Dr. Jean conference and they are more effective than anything else I have seen at giving young kids a genuine excitement about their emerging ability to read.  When I taught Kindergarten, I introduced Oreo Words as soon as school started.  In Pre-K, we start learning Oreo Words in January.  Below is a page from our Oreo Word book.  We usually begin with 5 or 6 words (such as no, go, at, it, my) and add a few new words every week or two (the book has 24 words eventually!!!).
         Oreo Words can be read using real Oreos or just with our hands.  I usually introduce the words with real Oreos.  I give each child an Oreo (that I twist open as I hand it to the child).  The child opens the Oreo and holds a side in each hand.  We then say the first letter together as they lick the left inside of the Oreo.  We say the second letter as they lick the right side and then they put the Oreo together and say the word.  I might then say "Let's try that again" or I often use the word in a sentence "It is a beautiful day." or I ask a child to do it alone. When the children are really comfortable with a word such as "at" I will say "put a b in front of it" and they will say "bat."  They also think that is really cool.  After we have gone through all the words the kids eat the Oreos.

We only use real Oreos about once every couple weeks (often when we introduce new words).  On the other days, we practice with our hands (we don't lick our hands - we just wave them in front of our mouth!).
"i" "t"

       It is amazing how quickly the kids learn the words this way.  However, what makes Oreo Words SO cool is that the kids find them everywhere. They find them in our Morning Message and on bulletin boards and in books and on signs and .…They LOVE finding Oreo Words!  I make a big deal when they point out Oreo Words and the kids' parents naturally get excited when the kids point out Oreo Words.  It's hard not to be happy when your 4 or 5 year old child is so delighted to find "m-e, me" in ACME Market. 
      After we have been doing our Oreo Words for a few weeks (for just a minute or two a day) I bring out the Melissa and Doug hangman game.  
I introduce the game to the whole class and then put it out for free play.  I have the child who will be thinking of a word  move away from the kids they are playing with and write the Oreo Word they are thinking of on a small post-it that they put on the back of the board.  They then draw 2 lines on the bottom and  then the others guess letters.  The kids love playing this game and it is great because they are getting writing practice (writing the word on a post-it), fine motor skill practice (turning the letters and body parts), taking turns and following rules practice and great reasoning skills practice (some have already figured out which vowels are most likely to be used).  I love that all these complex skills can be practiced without adult supervision and that the kids get so much pleasure out of playing the game.
writing an Oreo Word on a post-it
           I love Oreo Words even thought I don't think that it is appropriate to push young children to read.  As I told our parents in a newsletter:

What I love about Oreo words is they give kids a great deal of confidence to explore text and words. Please congratulate your child when they notice Oreo words, either alone or in bigger words.  Of course, Oreo words, like all learning in Pre-K, should be fun so please let the kids introduce them to you.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Please Don't Bring Younger Siblings To The Class Party!

          I have serious doubts about whether I should write this post.  I know that a lot of people will disagree with my thoughts (and in truth it is not a huge issue so why write something controversial?) Nonetheless, here goes …. I have a rule in my classroom -  younger siblings (other than infants) are NOT invited to our classroom holiday parties!  I know that this policy is hard for a lot of parents to understand so I'd like to explain my reasoning.
           I was a homeroom mom every year from the time my oldest was a kindergartener until my fourth  child was a fifth grader (that's 13 years straight) and I LOVED doing it.  My favorite part was, without question, planning and running the classroom parties.  It was generally accepted at the school my kids attended that homeroom parents "ran" the whole party and that siblings could come to the parties if their parents came to the party. On more than one occassion I was driven crazy when younger siblings "ruined" the party for the older sibling or sometimes the whole class.
          Here are a few problems that arise when younger siblings attend an older child's class party:

1. The party planners have not purchased enough craft supplies for extra children to make the planned craft. The result is crying siblings because they can't do the project or  upset older siblings because Mom makes them share the project with the younger sibling or sometimes not enough materials for the children in the class because younger children are doing the craft.

2. These same problems are even more in evidence with regard to food.  It is really hard (and unfair) to not share the party food with younger siblings who are present but its difficult to plan for an unknown number of younger siblings. Once again, older siblings share their goodies or the whole class shares  which is a problem if there are only 20 cupcakes and 30 kids (including siblings).

3. Games are are also interrupted or altered so the youngsters can join in.  A game that is appropriate for a 9 year old will probably not work for a 4 year old and yet I have often seen parents insist on letting the little one "have a turn."

4. One of the biggest problems is that parents who are helping to run the party need to attend to the young child instead of running a game, distributing snacks or supervising a craft.

5. Far worse than number 4 is the situation where parents who are helping to run the party (or are just present and catching up with friends) are NOT attending to the younger child and that child is putting his snotty fingers in every cupcake or knocking over the bowl of glitter or tearing a class book or…you get the idea.

             In truth, most younger siblings are adorable and most parents try to make sure that the little ones are not disrupting the party.  The problem is, I can't say only some siblings are invited.   And even if I could, I wouldn't -  the little ones will have a chance to attend and enjoy a "big kid party" when they are big kids!  As a parent, I never brought siblings to class parties (I was very lucky to have parents and neighbors who were willing to babysit for me). As a teacher, I get to make the rule that siblings don't come to classroom parties but I also make sure that there are lots of opportunities to include younger siblings in special events at school (such as our Christmas sing-a-long, our play, our Art Show and our End of Year Dance Party) because, in the right situation, kids love to have family at school.
            I know that many teachers don't want to discourage family participation and many parents don't have daytime babysitters available.  I guess I would just ask parents to be very aware of the issues that arise when younger siblings attend a party and focus on what is best for the older child when they choose whether to bring a little one along (and if they have to include the little ones - watch them!).

            What are your thoughts about younger siblings at class parties?

Friday, February 7, 2014

Simple (and Fast) Valentine Envelopes

Today we had lots of fun making simple envelopes that we will use next week when we deliver our valentines.  Each child laid out paper doilies and various hearts that we found around our class on a piece of white construction paper.
  Next, they sprayed the paper with liquid watercolors.  The kids then carefully removed the items and voila…wonderful heart prints.  

The kid's paintings were prettier than my sample because they used more paint (although too much sometimes went right through the doily)
I then simply folded the paper in half and used colorful duck tape to tape up the sides. I've done this type of painting before using blue contractor's tape or contact paper.  Unfortunately, I can't find where I recently saw the idea to use doilies and hearts (but it's so pretty and much faster than tape:)

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Crayon Box That Talked

     Since I started teaching, we have celebrated Martin Luther King's birthday on January 15th with a presentation of  The Crayon Box That Talked.    I introduce Martin Luther King by reading Martin's Big Words by Bryan Collier. This is a wonderful book for kindergarteners and pre-kers.

The next day we read The Crayon Box That Talked by Shane DeRolf.  The story is actually a simple poem about a box of crayons that doesn't get along.  After a little girl buys the crayons and colors a drawing, the crayons decide that they do like each other and that while "each one (is) unique, when (they) get together the picture is complete." We talk about how at the beginning of the book, the crayons didn't like the other colors.  At the end of the story, they realize that it is much better to have lots of different colors in a picture and that they do like and need each other.  The kids right away make the connection to people not liking each other because of the color of their skin.
This was the 7th year I have used the same costumes.  I simply took pieces of bulletin board  paper and folded them in thirds into large rectangles.  I then used another narrow piece of the bulletin board paper folded in half to make the piece that goes around the child's neck and holds the "crayon."  The hats are laminated pieces of construction paper made into a cone with a piece of elastic stapled on to it to hold the hat on.  Very simple, but very effective.  For the last few years, I have thought about making new costumes by simply cutting a piece of poster board in half (a few of my originals do have an awful lot of staple holes:).  Maybe next year…

      I start by making a list of all of the colored costumes I have.  I let each child pick the color they want. (I usually end up making one or two new ones each year so that everyone is happy:).  After everyone has a color, I put their names (and color if necessary) into the Crayon Box That Talked poem that I have typed up.
This is a page of the script.
 I uploaded a copy of the poem to dropbox here. I then line up the kids in the order they will speak in the poem.  Each child has one short line (depending on numbers, sometimes 2 kids speak together).  The kids can get in line correctly and remember their line after one or two practices.  It really is a perfect little play for young children.
The poem ends "We are a box of crayons  each one of us unique  but when we get together the picture is complete." The kids pick up this long picture they painted on the back of bulletin board paper when they say "complete."
       After the play, we recite the poem we learned about Martin Luther King:
I have a dream said Martin Luther King
We're going to make that dream come true.
Let freedom ring said Martin Luther King.
It's up to me and you!

It's not the color of your hair,
It's not the color of your skin,
It doesn't matter what you wear.
It's the character within.
I'm not sure where I first found this poem but I use it as another opportunity to talk about character.  I loved that this year, one of my kiddos said that the poem reminded him of Katalina Matalina.  Katalina Matalina is a Dr Jean song about a funny looking person with a heart of gold. Makes a teacher's heart happy to see the kids making these text to text connections. :)
        One last thing we always do is talk about the fact that Martin Luther King followed in his father's footsteps to become a leader and a preacher.  We talk about what kind of people we want to be like and each child draws a picture of someone they want to be like when they grow up.  These are always very sweet (and cute because I add the child's footprint to their drawing).