Another Year, Another Kindergartner!

This little girl is starting Kindergarten!

I have been blessed to care for her while her Mommy worked for the past five years.  I know she’s ready – of course she is dazzlingly smart, brilliantly beautiful, and astoundingly kind.  She just turned five years old.

During my teaching career, the age cut off in our state was December 1, making a child with an August birthday usually in the middle of the age range of my students.  For years we fought to change the date to September 1 so all children will be five at the beginning of the year.  This was especially important when we moved to full day school with the expectation that all children will be reading by the end of the year.  Now she will be among the youngest kids in her class.  I know she is ready, I know she’ll do great.  But here is what I hope her teacher will remember – not just for Nora but for all the little ones walking through her door tomorrow…

I copied this quote from the wall of my other grandchildren’s Kindergarten classroom.   I think it is so important for all of us to remember – for children going off to school, for little ones tottering through all those early developmental stages, for teenagers making sometimes questionable decisions, for all of us growing, learning, struggling, throughout our lives.  Even for teachers who struggle to convey concepts and skills to groups of kids who have so many different levels of readiness and prior experiences.  We need to remember that it’s okay that we don’t all learn the same things at the same time.

I am praying for all five of these precious little ones, as they begin the school year; and for their teachers.  Owen is starting 3rd grade – he seems so confident and grown up!  Anna and Lily are going into 1st grade, Nora starting Kindergarten and Max going off to a few half days of preschool.  This time of year highlights how much they are growing, learning and changing – (no, I am not going to cry!)

Today I’m baking cookies for their lunches and printing off notes to be tucked into their lunch boxes.  I love to hear them giggle, so I have used jokes for their lunch box notes since Owen started school.  Sorry, I can’t give credit for the jokes because I find them all over – joke books, online, etc.  The girls are all becoming good readers, but I added clipart that might help them figure out tricky words.

Here is a link to a bunch more notes!

2017 easy lunch notes

You can find lots more on Pinterest too!

For all of you going back to school, or sending off your little ones, I hope you have a wonderful school year!  I hope Nora does too!


Back to School – with a special GIVE AWAY!

Welcome copy

I LOVE DJ Inkers clipart and fonts!  When I was teaching I was often known as the Queen of clipart!  I loved to use different fonts and add fun clipart to everything I printed.  All of the clipart in this post – in fact most of the clipart I have used in my whole blog has been from DJ Inkers.  I also have an embarrassing amount of fun fonts, and my favorites are from DJ Inkers!

DJ Inkers has a brand new website with LOTS of fun smiles for Back to School!  Here is a link so you can check it out!

I have been having fun with one of their most popular clipart sets – Kidllywinks – and I have made a few things for the beginning of the school year.  The BEST part is that DJ Inkers is going to let me GIVE AWAY this amazing clipart set to one of my readers!  So exciting!

In order to be part of this raffle to win a Kidillywinks clipart set, you have to do a few things:

1) Follow one of DJ Inker’s boards on pinterest

2) Like DJ Inkers on facebook

3) Join one of DJ Inker’s email newsletter lists.

 You can enter the raffle by clicking here!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Please leave a comment about how you would use this clipart too!

The winner will be chosen on August 2, 2016!

I am so excited to be able to share this chance with you, I hope you all take the time to check out DJ Inkers and subscribe to their newsletter.  They have FREEBIES every month!

Here are a few examples of things I’ve made using Kidillywinks clipart!
Daily schedule Kdg

This is a sample Kindergarten schedule.  Parents often ask for a general idea of how the day will go, and it’s a lot cuter with the clipart!

I used to ask the children to draw a self portrait on the first day of school.

First day


You are probably familiar with this beehive rhyme.  I made this easy, fun project using Kidillywinks clipart too!  I like this simple project because although it is very easy, it gives you a chance to observe the children’s cutting skills and they can practice counting forward and backward.  In my classes the kids always had a wide range of previous experience and expertise in academic stuff.  I also liked doing some fun, simple projects to help the children relax and gain confidence in those first long days of school.

hive poem


I just printed out the beehive and bees, then I taped a fold and tuck baggie onto the back of the beehive.


Just for fun I cut the door so it would open and you can see the bees inside the beehive.


Here is the master

revised hive

I used to make a lot of simple board games for the children to play at centers.  Playing games is such a good way to encourage taking turns and cooperating.  Moving a game piece requires one to one correspondence, using dice or spinners gives practice recognizing numerals or standard configuration of dots.  It always made me smile that I could give the kids the exact same game with different clipart on it and it seemed like a new game!  Here is a sample of a simple board I liked to use.

blank 3

Here is it with some Kidillywinks back to school clipart added.

Blank school gameboard

This game reinforces naming shapes.

Shape gameboard

Adding Kidillywinks fall clipart makes it fun to name letters!

Letter gameboard

I hope you all enjoy the rest of your summer!

Good luck on the raffle!





Small Group Organization


i-knowDuring my teaching career I was always searching for the very best way to run my classroom.  Sometimes I even wished that someone would just tell me how I had to organize my day, but I didn’t really mean it.  The truth is, there is not one right way to do things.  Every teacher has to find what works best in his or her individual classroom, based on personality, teaching style, volunteers, space available, administrative restrictions, specials schedules, and a host of other variables.  Sometimes even a certain group of children thrive better with a different set up.  Over the years I tried lots of different ways to organize the day, but I am going to share what worked best for me.  One of my readers, Debbie asked for some information about how I used small groups and volunteers – this is for you!  Hope I don’t bore or overwhelm the rest of you – skip to the parts you think are interesting!

As a teacher I understood that my primary responsibility was to teach the district curriculum, which was based on State Benchmarks, and developed from National Standards.  We had defined curriculum for Language Arts, Math, Social Studies, and Science.  Music, Art, P.E. and Health were taught by “specials” teachers.  During my last few years of teaching my district had adopted several programs that we were required or expected to incorporate into our schedules:  Everyday Math, Reader’s Workshop, Writer’s Workshop, Handwriting without Tears, and Making Meaning; and some teachers were using Daily 5.   Each of these fine programs comes with specific lesson plans, sometimes even encouraging teachers to use scripted dialog to teach.  But as a Kindergarten Teacher I felt a huge responsibility to honor who the individual children are in our classrooms, and to use what I know about how children learn best.

When I switched from teaching half day Kindergarten to Full Day I was so excited because I felt like I had more time to teach the fundamental requirements in a way that worked well for me.  That isn’t to say that I didn’t struggle with fitting things in, interruptions, all the assessments that were required, and the huge range in my students’ readiness for what I was teaching.  Of course if I used every bit of each teacher’s manual for all those programs it would be impossible for me to get through the day, not to mention those little 5 year olds who begin the year so excited about being in school.  For the most part those programs should be tools to teach the curriculum that is required.

I know that children learn best when they are actively engaged with multisensory activities in a safe, fun environment.  I also know that it is easiest to learn when children can make connections and relate new learning to what they already know.  For those reasons I loosely organized my school year into thematic units, incorporating holidays and seasonal changes along with the study of units like:  ME – (5 senses, families, homes, feelings, etc).;  Animals –  (living vs. non-living, body coverings, habitats, etc).; Transportation (push and pull, float and sink), Weather, Ecology (earth materials), and lots more.  Using units like this allowed me to easily incorporate Science and Social Studies objectives, expose the children to rich literature and non fiction books, and it also gave lots of opportunities for hands on fun.

Oh, I do fully realize the ever-increasing pressure for reading and writing.  I also know that some districts are requiring 2 hour blocks of time set apart strictly for literacy activities.  I think you can do it all, and still use topics of learning that engage and motivate the children.   The most important thing I tried to keep in mind was that everything we did in my classroom had to be directed by the curriculum.  Whether we were acting out the Three Little Pigs, trying to sink paper boats by filling them with metal washers, or investigating how the tree outside our window looked when the leaves were changing color, we were always covering curriculum benchmarks.  When I first came around to this realization I had to look carefully at all the activities I introduced.  Some things were fun and cute, but really not connected to the curriculum.  I know that language development and fine motor skills can be enhanced during any activity where children are supported, encouraged and scaffolded by a caring adult.  But with the increased demands for reading and writing I became much more selective about the lessons and activities in my room.

I felt that the children in my class did their best work and were most ready for learning in the morning.  Many children were very tired in the afternoon, especially in the beginning of the school year.  So I structured my morning differently than the afternoon.   The afternoon was usually more low key, especially for the first half of the school year.  I always tried to get as many parent volunteers as possible and I scheduled them to come in the morning when the children had the most energy and focus.  I asked for volunteers who could commit to coming every week or every other week.  I often had parents who wanted to come once in awhile, or once a month, and they were always welcome, but I found out that those parents sometimes came along on a field trip, attended a program or class party, or some special event instead of helping in the room.  Also, parents who commit to coming regularly get to know the children and routines and really contribute a lot to working with small groups of children.  Sometimes the best use of a parent volunteer was asking her to run interference so I could concentrate on working with a group or doing assessments myself.  Volunteers who were good at that would help keep children on task and answer questions or solve problems so I would not have to divert my attention from the children I was working with.   Some parents were more comfortable than others with different activities, and as I got to know the regular volunteers I could sometimes plan my lessons and schedule activities for different parents based on what they liked to do with the children.

Here is a form I used for Parent Volunteers.  I included it in my First Day Packet.

Volunteers Needed

I know it’s taking me a long time to get around to talking about how I organized small groups, but what those groups were actually working on is the most important part.

I began each day with routines and rituals that helped build a collaborative school family environment.  I wrote about those in another post on this blog.  The more you include, the longer circle time lasts so I saved the Calendar activities, which are an important part of Everyday Math – until the end of the morning or right after lunch.  During morning circle time I always introduced or reinforced what we had been learning about.  It always included a read aloud and interactive reading and writing,  I also introduced and modeled exactly what the children would be doing for the rest of the morning.  Usually there were about 4 required “jobs” that everyone would do.  I knew that I needed to differentiate for children of various abilities and readiness, I did that through Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop, by having different expectations of children at varying levels, and by sometimes including different activities.    I ended circle time by making a list on my easel of the jobs the children would be completing that morning.  I used sight words and lots of pictures.  I encouraged the children to take responsibility for completing all the work, but I also kept check off lists to keep track.

first name check off

I laminated charts like this and put them on a clipboard so I always had one handy.  I often used this type of list where I could make a note about the child’s work or behaviors I noticed.  It was the easiest way I found to do anecdotal record keeping.


I also gave these to volunteers to write down anything they noticed, if a child struggled with an activity or went above and beyond what was asked, etc.  I punched holes in these and kept them in a binder, it was really helpful to get an overview of how a child was doing.  If I noticed I had not made notes on a certain child in awhile I would star their name and be sure to make some notes as we worked.

My classes always made many books, completing a page for a book was usually one of the activities.  They also did many drawing and writing responses to literature, recalling facts from informational texts, adding their own ideas as a take off to literature.  Sometimes they made a construction paper project to go along with their writing and drawing because I think cutting and assembling projects is great for fine motor development and following directions.   I modeled everything I asked them to do to be sure they understood before I sent them to work in their groups.  Sometimes they also might be doing a science experiment or math activity.  Everyday Math has many math games, and I also used lots of old activities from Math Their Way.  At the beginning of the year we also made several Alphabet Books.  Sometimes they completed a page in those books too.   I realize that explaining and modeling all these activities during circle time can be overwhelming for some teachers.   Some people I worked with were much more comfortable doing one activity at a time, but I guess I am a bit of a multi-tasker.  I did this for many years and my kids always did great, we were able to accomplish much more.  I did all I could to help them including the list with a sketch of what they were to do, I put my examples up for them where they could see and remember what to do.  Of course I built up to doing several activities, I didn’t start the school year doing as much.

My children had assigned tables of 5-6 children because I found that sitting with the same group for several weeks was the best way to help the children get to know each other in our large class.  I put a different shape and different color on each table, red circle, yellow triangle, green square, etc.  I could call a group by their color “Red table please line up.”  They usually ate snack at their own table, and always sat at their table as we got ready to go home in the afternoon.  Sometimes the children did all their work at their own table – they would get the materials they needed for each job and bring them to the table, or I would have baskets of materials on the table for them.  Sometimes I would call them away from their table to sit with me individually or with a group.  Sometimes a parent might call a group to complete a task or do an activity too.  Other times the children moved from table to table as they worked.    That depended on what the tasks were and whether I had volunteer help that day.   I would often pick one activity and work with small groups of the children at a time.  Sometimes both a volunteer and myself would be working with small groups while other children worked independently.  Sometimes the volunteer would oversee one activity while I monitored the rest.  The BEST was when I happened to have more than one volunteer (I was blessed!) and we could each work with small groups.  Children gain so much more from any activity when a caring adult is interacting with them.  Regardless I asked each child to show their work, read their own writing, read the book we were making, etc. to an adult before they put it away.  Reading these child created books, and reading their own writing, was what made these activities valuable.

When I worked with a small group of students I chose my group for different reasons.  Sometimes I worked with children of similar abilities, sometimes I wanted to be sure there were role models in the group.  Sometimes I wanted to be sure that my group didn’t have too many children who needed a lot of help – I usually worked with those children individually or in smaller groups.  A lot of it depended on the task or activity I was doing.  Children not only have a wide variance in their ability, but also in the pace that they work.  Different activities take a different amount of time too, that is why rotating stations never worked well for me.  There were always those children who were not finished, or those who had been done a long time.   Other times my groups and activities were very flexible.  If there was a chair available a child could come over to work, when they were done they moved on to another job.  Check off lists helped me be sure that each child completed the assignments.  When they were done they independently got their snack, then after they cleaned up they chose a center to work/play at.   I would ask volunteers to monitor some of these activities, I would oversee others.  Again the children always showed their work to an adult before they were done.   In the morning most of the centers in my classroom were usually available – we used a clothespin chart to limit the number of children at each center.  If you want more details please look at the post I wrote about Free Choice Centers.


During the afternoon I was usually alone in my classroom with the children.   We used that quieter time for Reader’s Workshop, Writer’s Workshop, Literacy Centers and Math activities.  The children experienced many math activities in small groups in the morning too.   At the beginning of the year I alternated between Reader’s and Writer’s workshop.  Later we sometimes had time for a block of each during the afternoon.  There were also some times that I changed and began my day with Reader’s Workshop, then moved on to regular circle time.  I have another post about Literacy Centers and the types of activities that were available.  All of those activities could also be chosen during free choice center time.

I had a series of cubbies under a large chalkboard where I kept the materials for literacy centers.  Some of these changed, others were more permanent.  I also had shelves containing tubs of books that were sorted by genre or theme.  The baskets were labeled as well as the shelves they belonged on.

Getting Ready for Kindergarten!.007

Getting Ready for Kindergarten!.006

In the afternoon I seldom allowed the children to choose among all the centers in our room.  Usually they were limited to only literacy centers – which included things like reading the room, writing the room, the writing center, our library, listening center, as well as the games and Handwriting Without Tears materials.  There were lots of opportunities to read, write, listen and speak in different ways.

Other times the children were restricted to just math materials in the afternoon.  Again, math tubs were always a choice in the morning, but by limiting choices in the afternoon I knew all children were finding time to use these materials.  Here is how I organized and stored math tubs.  The children took out the tubs and carried them to the carpet or a table to work.  The top 2 baskets A and B contained books that we were working on.  The tubs with numerals were the math materials, the shelf numbers matched the tubs in size and style so it was easy for the children to put things away.  The shelf on the far right was a mailbox – each slot was labeled with a child’s name.  I had 2 sets of those in my room to accommodate all the kids.

Getting Ready for Kindergarten!.008

It took a lot of time to introduce each of the centers – free choice centers, math tubs and literacy centers – in the beginning of the year.  I took time to explain and model every thing in our classroom before the children used it.  I brought each math tub and literacy tub to the whole group at circle time and talked about how to use and care for the materials.  Often I chose one game or activity to use in small groups in the morning before it was available for everyone to choose at the centers.  During the year when I changed an activity or added a game I would take time to model and explain it first.  I learned that taking all that time, especially in the beginning of the year when it is SO hard for them to sit still, is really worthwhile.  It makes a huge difference in how independently the children can use the materials and clean up!

It takes some experimentation to find a system that works best for you.   Nothing works wonderfully all the time with all the children.   I tried to always think about giving children opportunities to make choices every day as well as challenging them cognitively.  I wanted them to have time to work closely with a small group of other children and an adult, to be able to participate in whole group activities, and I also expected them to learn to work independently some times.  It’s a lot to ask of a little 5 year old!

Grandparents’ Day

Thank you so much for all the nice comments.  Theresa asked if I had any ideas to share for Grandparents’ Day.   We didn’t usually celebrate it at our school because so many children do not have a grandparent who lives close enough to participate, but I love the idea – especially since that is my new role!  I have collected a few ideas that might help, most of these are from my files – sorry I can’t give credit to the authors.

I would begin at circle time demonstrating how we always start our day.  I would ask each child to introduce his/her guest and I would have encouraged children to bring any older adult in their lives if a grandparent were not available.  We would demonstrate some of our Hugs and Handshakes (check out that post if you aren’t familiar with this idea.)  Here are some songs you might sing to greet the Grandparents.


Here is a poem my own children learned when they were little – a long time ago!!


Here are a few ideas of crafts you might want to make for the Grandparents – or have them make with the children.

I love the idea of making a big award ribbon out of a paper plate.  The child could use markers or stick on foam letters and shapes to decorate it.

You can never go wrong with a pencil can.  The children could decorate the paper covering by drawing or gluing on words or designs.  It might be fun to print out words like Grandma, Nana, Mimi, Grandpa, Papa, etc. in different fonts for the kids to cut out and glue on.  A bookmark is also a timeless, useful idea.

I thnk it would be a great idea to take a picture of each child with their adult.  You could make a simple frame out of popsicle sticks or tongue depressors (decorated with markers or stick on foam) – or you could cut the photo into strips and rubber cement them onto tongue depressors to make a puzzle.

Grandparents and children could trace and cut out their hands, then glue them onto another paper with the title – My Grand(ma)(pa) and Me!  If a child brought more than one grandparent all the hands could be on one paper.

You can never go wrong with flowers!  This was a mother’s day gift for my daughter in law that you could easily adapt.  I would put just one handprint for the grandparent.  An alternative would be to just put the handprint, eliminate the cut out tulip shape, and glue a circle picture of the child’s face on the handprint.

Here’s another flower idea:

You could use a cupcake paper for a 3 dimensional effect.

One of my favorite Mother’s Day gifts is this hug – great for grandparents too!



I traced the child’s outstretched arm and hand onto a folded piece of pink construction paper.

After cutting the arms and gluing the heart we folded them to be a huge hug.

This is the poem we glued on – easy to change to Grandparents’ Day!

Here is someone else’s adaptation of the same idea:


I think Grandparents would enjoy joining in to a very simple cooking activity like this:

You could use any kind of pie filling.   All they really have to do is crush up the graham cracker in a baggie, then add the filling and Cool Whip or Whipped Cream.  You could do this with pudding too!  Very simple and tasty!

Cherry pie-7 copy

Here is an idea of a Grandparent booklet you might want to make or adapt to give to the grandparents.  You would run the 2 pages back to back and fold it like a card.

Grandparents booklet

On behalf of all the Grandparents out there – Thank you for making our day special!!


The Pledge of Allegiance

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but you all really do make my day!!   This is my second year to watch the buses go by my house, instead of waiting for them to arrive and deliver my Kindergartners to me.  I have plenty to do, and I’m thankful for time with my family and friends, but I will probably always miss Kindergarten.  I really appreciate teachers who read my blog, and especially when you leave a comment.  It means so much to hear form you!!   A couple of days ago Cindy asked if I had any activities or ideas to share about the Pledge of Allegiance or the American flag.  I’m so happy to share!!

pledge 1

I hope that reciting the pledge is part of your classroom routine. I loved doing the pledge, but I wanted it to mean something to the children.   The beginning of the year is very busy, and depending on your group – sometimes it is really a matter of survival for those first few weeks!   The first thing I emphasized to my children was to put their right hand on their heart.  I mentioned this in another post, but I found it really helpful to cut out a left and right handprint.  I put a flag sticker on the right hand, then I taped both handprints on the wall by our flag.  Now when the children looked up at the flag they could hold up both hands and figure out that the one that matched the handprint with the flag was the one they would put over their heart.

I found this book about the flag in my files.

Printable copy:


I often took the flag out of the holder and brought it to circle time so we could study it.  I liked to ask the children what they noticed about it, and encourage them to use some math skills.  I had this handout in my collection, but I only used it to remind me to talk about patterns, counting, and shapes with the flag.  Sometimes we made our own chart telling what we noticed about the flag.

Sometimes we colored individual flags and I taped them to pencils for a flag pole.


This book has great information, I didn’t always read it word for word because it is a little long.

I used to have a reproducible small book retelling the Pledge of Allegiance, but I guess I didn’t save a copy.  I think it was from Frank Schaffer but I didn’t find it in my search.  There is a nice little booklet on this website:, under the social studies section.

Since I couldn’t find my little book, I made another.  I enlarged a copy on the copy machine and read it to the whole group, taking time to talk about what the words really mean.

Meaning of words

You could copy the clipart and put the words into a pocket chart too.

This is a half page book to be stapled on the left side.  You could put 2 of each page on one page, then after copying and collating you would just have to staple the books.  Or you might not choose to send it home, but just to read it to your class to help them understand those mysterious strange words.

Pledge book

Here is another chart I found to help explain the meaning of the pledge to children.

pledge chart

So Cindy, I hope this gives you a few ideas that you could use.  Please everyone, feel free to ask – if I don’t have an idea or activity, someone else might!