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!





Tying Shoes!

Years ago we used to practice tying shoes in Kindergarten..  That just doesn’t happen any more.  Between large class sizes, increased curriculum, and the prevalence of velcro fasteners it is no longer a priority.  I used to encourage children to tie, and to help tie each other’s shoes.  I had a ‘Shoe Tying Experts’ board displaying the names of those who could tie (and who could help someone else!)  We celebrated when someone mastered the skill.  But still there were many kindergartners who needed help.  Shoe tying is really a one on one skill to teach anyway.

Yesterday Owen’s teacher showed me a new, easy way to tie shoes!  I have always been a  ‘make a loop and wrap the other lace around it’ kind of girl, but I did know about the two bunny ear method.  This new technique is an even easier way to use those bunny ear loops!

The first step is to pull the laces OUT of the top hole on each side of the shoe.


Next take the end of the shoelace and push it into the top hole from the outside.  Just stick it in a little way.  Repeat on the other side so both laces are looped back into the inside of the shoe.


Now pick up the loop that was made on each side and cross them over, one on top of the other.  Leaving the ends of the laces inside the shoe.


Tuck the top loop under the bottom loop.  Hold the loops and pull them tight.


Now pick up the two new loops and cross one over the other again.  Once again tuck the top loop under the bottom loop


Pull the loops to tighten again.  This is much easier than when you tie in the conventional way because there is a bigger space to tuck the loop under after you tighten the loops the first time.


Straighten the loops – you need to turn them sideways a bit, and pull the ends out of the top holes.


Now your shoe is tied with a double “knot” that won’t come undone easily!   So unless you have a problem leaving your top eyelets empty – this might be a great way to teach the kids in your life how to tie!

Parent Education

I went to college because I wanted to teach young children.  I have always been much more comfortable singing silly songs, reading stories or playing with puppets in front of a class of 4-6 year olds than speaking to a group of eye-contact avoiding adults who are secretly checking their email messages.  But still I felt responsible to share information with my Kindergarten parents about basic child development, how children really learn, and child management strategies; along with keeping them updated about what their child was learning and how they were progressing at school.

Parenting is very hard work, and many parents don’t have much support or easy access to information unless teachers of young children educate the parents too!  Oprah Winfrey often says that when people know better, they do better.  I think the best way to teach anything is to SHOW, not TELL.  Parents who volunteered in my classroom sometimes told me that they learned a lot just by watching circle time, that was such a special thing to hear!  Two or three times each year I asked every child to bring an adult to school for a half day.  I called these Parent/Child Activity Days.  They were always based on a theme and the activities the parents and children participated in covered lots of subject areas of our curriculum.  First we went through some of our morning routines – calendar, morning message, etc. so parents could see what their children did each day.  When I planned the activities I always included a cooking project, large motor play, reading and writing for a reason, constructive play, science experiments – including charting information, math games, art experiences, etc.  By coming in to school and interacting with their child the parents could see how the children learned by doing.  Over and over I would hear parents say “We could do this at home!” about an activity they particularly enjoyed with their child.  Under the Theme section of my blog I have shared some of these parent/child activity days.  I have a few more that I will still post.  I loved these special days or evenings, and families told me they did too.  But not all parents were able or willing to participate.  I knew that I had to share information in lots of different ways.

The most basic thing I told my parents was to read to your child.  You really can’t tell them this enough.  I love this poem and often posted it where parents would see it.

Read to me

There are lots of ways to encourage parents to read to their children.  You could send home ideas of books children might love – especially around holiday gift giving times.  You might want to include a little description or excerpt as well as giving them the titles and authors.  You could attach a note with suggestions of good books along with book order forms.  I found that when I read and reread a book – and it became a classroom favorite, many kids asked their parents for their own copy.

I sent books home as often as I could.  I tried to set up a system of sharing books overnight that the children could manage independently – because I just never had time to check books in or out.  Of course, you lose a few …  but I think it’s worth it.  I don’t remember where I got this list of 100 suggested books – I think it was from a public library.

Here is a copy if you would like to print it:

100 Books to Read in Kdg

Just like everything else, you have to think through your motives – sometimes my goal was just to get parents to read wonderful, exciting, fun stories to their children.  I wanted them all to fall in love with reading.  Other times I wanted them to read simple, emergent stories with sight words that the children would recognize, or a repetitive pattern for the children to chime in.  I wanted parents to understand different components of a read aloud – from left to right progression of print, using picture cues, making connections, understanding the story elements, and retelling main events.  I knew that the more children are exposed to reading, the better readers they will be.  Children are so lucky when they have parents who take the time to read with them.  I tried to reinforce and encourage and praise parents as much as I could!  I think it helps to acknowledge how busy they are, and how difficult finding time in their schedules can be.

Quite awhile ago I wrote a post about Kindergarten homework, I shared monthly read aloud game charts, and suggestions of things parents can do with their children through each month.  Just search Kindergarten Homework if you would like to take a look.  Along with those calendars and charts I also sent home information that might be helpful for parents.  One year my professional goal was parent education, and that is when I developed these handouts.  Much of the information I shared came from a class called Playful Literacy and You, by Dr. Kara Gregory.  I tried to put some of her ideas into a form that might help parents of young children understand how children learn and things they can do to help.   I sent one of these handouts home about once a month.  The first year I used these I gave each parent a folder with a label on the front to collect these papers through the year.  I was hoping that might make them value the information more, and even if they didn’t read it right away they might take a look at the folder later.  I am happy to share these with you.

13 Reading to Your Child

1 Play and Literacy

2 Play and Literacy

3 What is the best way to learn

4 Play and Playful Learning

5 Six Kinds of Play

6 Understanding Language

7 The Uses of Language

8 The Development of Conversation

9 -Support. Oral Lang. Dev

10 Strategies to Support

11 Phonological Awareness

12 Print Awareness

14 Handwriting

16 Dev. Written Lang

I wish you all a wonderful school year, filled with excited children who are ready to learn, and supportive parents who want to be partners with you in this terrific journey!

More First Day Stuff!

I just wanted to share a few things that got me through those very first few days with the children.  Every year, and every group of children is exciting and different.  Being flexible is probably one of the most important attributes a Kindergarten teacher needs – or maybe that is patience – or sense of humor – or love – or endurance!  I think you need a big dose of all of them!

The teachers in my building always went outside to greet the buses as the children arrived that first full day of school.  Some were also dropped off by parents.  It took awhile for all the buses to arrive in the confusion of all the new schedules, and sometimes we waited outside for 10-15 minutes.  I found that it was really helpful to bring a puppet with me, and I chose to bring Calvin because I could still hold a child’s hand, high five, or hold onto a paper if I needed to, and still make Calvin look like he was interacting with the children.

Calvin helped me count the children as they arrived, and generally set the tone of fun in those first moments of school.

Here is a very basic schedule of how I planned that day:


One of the activities I always included that first day was asking each child to draw a self portrait and write their name.  These gave me lots of great information about fine motor skills and following directions.  I usually gave each child a small mirror to study his/her reflection before drawing.  Here is the paper I used:

I kept these and we did the exact activity in June.  I mounted both pictures on folded paper to compare their drawing and name writing.

Here is the Sept. page to print:

How I look

We asked parents to send in a sack lunch for awhile to give children time to get used to the lunch room before they bought hot lunch, but we sent home a list of hints to make lunch go more easily.

Lunch Time Hints for Parents

I made this sign for the classroom to help children remember our 3 most important rules.

Be safe

Almost everything is covered by those 3 rules.  Of course there were lots and lots of rules about how to use materials around the classroom, how to walk in the hall, play on the playground, etc.  But I treated all of these as routines that I taught rather than rules to be followed.  Instead of saying – No throwing blocks, we talked about exactly how we used and put away blocks.  I tried to concentrate on what I wanted the children to do, not what I did NOT want them to do.

We talked a lot about how many choices they would make every day.

No one is bor1

Here is a cover I used for our Drawing and Writing book at the beginning of the year, following the program Talking, Drawing, Writing.

Drawing cover

I also posted a chart of Goodbye sayings.

goodbye sayings

Sometimes my mind would go blank during those stressful first days – that’s why I wrote out a lesson plan that I could follow if needed, and I also kept a list of songs the children were likely to be familiar with handy – in case I needed to give them a chance to move around, or come together!

Song ideas

We usually made a simple cut and paste bus project.  We sang the song The Wheels on the Bus and acted out riding on the bus by putting about 6 chairs in 2 x 2 rows.  I called on different children to be the driver.  We sang the chorus, then the driver decided how many children would get on the bus (1-4).  I had labeled popsicle sticks with each child’s name.  I pulled out that many sticks and those children sat in the chairs.  Then we sang the chorus again, the bus “stopped” and the driver said how many more children got on – we turned it into a simple math problem, just orally.  It went right over some children’s heads, others got the idea – but they all loved the activity.  Then we started again with a new driver until all children got a chance to participate.

Through the years I often heard parents or the children themselves say that they were excited to go to school so they could learn to read.  I made this very simple little fold up book so the children could take home a book they could read that very first day.  We read it together several times during the day so all the children would remember the names of all the items.

Along with the printable version, here is a reminder of how to fold up these small books – I folded them all ahead of time.

school book

folding books

One more activity that I liked to do at the very beginning of the year was to help the children find a partner and “interview” their partner.  Of course I modeled exactly what they would be doing and was right there to help if needed.  It was a great way to introduce the idea of turning to talk – or “eye to eye, knee to knee.”  You could make partners by passing out ribbons of different lengths and colors and the children need to find the person with a matching ribbon.  You could ask them to find a partner who is wearing the same color as them, or has the same color hair as they do.  There are lots of ways you can turn making partners into a game, but sometimes you might just want them to talk to their neighbor.

Each child wrote his/her name on top of their paper before they sat facing their partner.  Sometimes I gave them each a clipboard to write against.

1st day interview

Each child asked his/her partner which item they liked best –

Rainy days or sunny days?

Ice cream or cupcake?

Cat or dog?

They circled their partner’s preference on their own paper.  Then they traded papers and wrote their own name at the bottom of the partner’s paper.

One thing I liked about this interview activity was that parents so often ask their child if they met any new friends at school that day.  This format gives each child a chance to individually talk to another child and to take home the name of another child in class – which can open up a conversation at home.

I always tried to remember to teach the children the word friend in sign language.

You probably won’t have time to do all these things that first day, but I hope this helps you a little through those first tiring days at school!

The First Day

I always thought the beginning of the year was a bit crazy in Kindergarten – you are suddenly in charge of 25 + little personalities that all desperately need your attention at the same time.  You deal with separation problems, bathroom issues, fears and tears, aggressive tendencies, and getting them all on the right buses to go home!  But when we went to full day Kindergarten, that very first day just about overwhelmed me!   The full day meant the addition of all the traumas of lunch time, and such a long day for tired children.

Fortunately, in my district we asked parents to come to school with their child on the very first day, and they stayed for a half day introduction to school.  Part of the time we spent in our classroom exploring the materials, going over play ground rules, hearing a story and decorating our book boxes.  Then I met with the parents in our Media Center while a paraeducator read a story, played a game, sang songs, passed out a simple snack and supervised the children.  I think most Kindergarten teachers prepare a packet of important information for parents, but this gave us a chance to go over things in person, and answer parents’ questions.

Here was a basic schedule for the day – we had either 4 or 5 kindergarten classes each year, some groups came in the morning, the others in the afternoon.

First day plan

The parents picked up this note when they arrived in my room:
1st day note

Here are the slides we shared during our talk with parents one year.

We had always given out a packet of the same information, but some parents did not read it, or remember it.  We found it was much more effective to go over these details in person, and we could also answer parents’ questions.  We still gave out the written packet.

First day packet

We sent home a letter to the parents and children a couple of weeks before school, including this questionnaire.

Kindergarten Questionnaire

kid letter

At the end of this meeting I read an essay from the humorist Erma Bombeck.  Many of you young teachers may not even know her name, but she was widely known as a columnist and she was even a regular on Good Morning America many years ago.  She had a wonderful way of stating the feelings Moms all over our country shared.  I liked to read it because even though it made some parents cry, it helped them to know that I understood some of their feelings about their child going off to school.  I hope you love it too!

Erma’s essay


One of the most important things that we do at the beginning of the year is to make connections with the children in our class, and to help them develop good relationships among themselves.  This is so important because we want children to feel safe and comfortable, and cared about while they are at school.  Brain research clearly shows that feelings such as fear, anger, stress, apprehension and nervousness impact the child’s ability to learn.  Also when people feel a sense of relationship, or community,  they are much more likely to cooperate and get along.  There really is no way we can make a child behave well, or do anything we ask.  All we can do is to set up an environment and atmosphere that helps them want to make good choices.  We want them to feel like our class is a team that works together and cares about each other.

I referred to my classroom as a School Family.  Two ways to foster this concept is by developing routines that help the children feel comfortable and safe – these give them a sense of order – they know what to expect; and rituals, that bind the class together.  Rituals are just special activities that are done to connect and unite you and the children in your class.

Here is a list of some of the rituals I developed with my kindergartners:

Ritual list

I learned a lot and got many ideas from Conscious Discipline, a program developed by Dr. Becky Bailey.  I highly recommend reading her books, or taking the class if you get a chance.

I think it is important to greet each child as they arrive at school  Becky Bailey said that eye contact and touch are two powerful ways to build connections between people, so I wanted to use these to greet the kids.  I am a big hugger and my natural tendency is just to give each child a hug as they come through the door.  But some children are not always comfortable with that level of touch.  I wore this apron every morning.

Of course I explained it and modeled how to use it at the beginning of the year.

Each child would decide what touch they wanted from me.  If they touched the 5 I would give them a high 5.  If they touched the bear I would hug them, and if they touched the handprint I would shake hands with them as I told them hello or good morning.  I had to remind myself to really be present with the child when I was greeting him or her.  The beginning of the day can be really busy, and it was easy to be hugging, high 5-ing, etc. without really thinking about the child.  I tried to concentrate, smile at the child and make it meaningful.   Another great idea is to notice something about each child as you greet them – it doesn’t even need to be stated as a compliment, just that you are paying attention – “Justin, you have a new shirt on today!”  “Megan you look like you are in a good mood!”  It takes such a little effort and time, and it makes each child feel noticed and important.

I made this apron from a tool apron I bought at Home Depot – really cheap.  I used a die cut machine to make the 5 out of felt, the handprint out of vinyl and I had cut the bear face out of a scrap of fur.  I used craft glue to put them on the apron.

When the children went into the classroom they did their normal morning routines, then symbolically put a person in a little box.  This symbolized our whole class together and safe.  I had little people figures that I used for awhile, but then decided it was better for each child to decorate a wooden ice cream spoon to look like him/herself.  I wrote the names on them with permanent markers.

We sang this song:

I have a little safety box

To keep my Kindergartners in

I take them out and (kiss kiss kiss)

And put them back again!

When someone was absent we wrote their name on the board and mentioned how much we would miss them that day.  When an absent child returned to school we sang this song to the tune Frere Jacques:

We missed Timmy

We missed Timmy

Yes we did, yes we did

Glad that you are back, glad that you are back

Now we miss …..

OR  Everybody’s here!

Another ritual we used every morning was singing Hello Neighbor, a song I learned from a Dr. Jean CD.  I didn’t use the CD in the morning – we just sang it.  This song includes eye contact and touch between the children.  We practiced gentle touches.

Hello Neighbor

Every day one child was the Special Helper and sat right next to me, on a little stool I decorated.  In my post called Special Helpers I talked about some of the jobs they did.  They also chose a handshake to “pass around the circle.”  In my post Greetings and Celebrations I talked about different kinds of handshakes.  The special helper would choose a handshake and do it with me, then they would turn and do it with the child next to him/her at the circle, that child would turn to his/her neighbor, and it would go around the circle all the way back to me.

We would often sing our school family song too.  It is to the tune of You are My Sunshine.

You are my family

I taught the children very simple sign language for important words in this song.  Adding motions helps the children learn songs, and be more actively involved.

Another song that built a sense of community was You are my Friend:

Friend song words

Later in the year we made a book using these words:

Sometimes we made a class book, other times each child illustrated their own book to take home.

Which songs you choose is not as important as the fact that they become a ritual in your classroom that the children count on to signal the beginning of a safe, predictable day.  Check out CDs by Becky Bailey and Dr. Jean if you are looking for more ideas.

All of these songs included simple movements because exercise and breathing are great ways to help children de-stress too!

In my classroom we did not have any kind of reward system.   Over the years I tried lots of kinds – a jar that we filled with cotton balls, sticker charts, etc.  But the children often got frustrated waiting for a reward – or sometimes one child consistently make choices that kept the others from reaching these rewards.  And if some children received a reward, but not all – that was like a punishment for them.  I just didn’t find them helpful as a longterm strategy.  Dr. Bailey suggested having lots of celebrations instead of rewards.  The main difference is that a celebration is never promised ahead of time, or contingent on good behavior or success.  You may choose to celebrate good behavior that you noticed – that had already happened, but I would not say …”If you are quiet walking down the hall we will go out for recess!”  Instead I would say “Wow!  I noticed that our class was very quiet in the hallway – so we are going to celebrate by having an extra recess.”  You can celebrate in lots of different simple ways, the children really love it, and they are very motivated to repeat the behavior that you celebrated!

Celebrations can be simple, and most of mine were – or more elaborate.  You could have a surprise popcorn party or video, extra recess, or a fun game or song that they enjoy.  The most important thing is to talk about why you are celebrating.  I sewed a drawstring bag about of festive fabric to be our Celebration Bag.  I put an assortment of noise making toys, a couple of plastic champagne glasses (to click together), plastic eggs filled with bells and taped shut, etc.   There were enough items in the bag for each child to choose one.

For many celebrations I would dump the contents of this bag onto the carpet, we’d go around the circle and each child would select one – they did it very quickly because I kept calling kids.  Then we stood up – they had to hold their item very quietly and we chanted “We’re so proud, we’re so great!  We just have to celebrate!  One, two, three …”  And then we shook the toys and made noise – they were great about it and didn’t yell or act wildly – they really considered it a special privilege.  Then I went around the circle and collected the toys in the bag.  It probably took less than 5 minutes, and they loved it!

We also used special Cheers.  I got these from Dr. Jean Feldman –  She has a lot of these cheers on her website, ready to print off.  We cheered all kinds of achievement all day long – when a child did the calendar, tied their shoe, learned a sight word, treated someone kindly … anything I wanted to notice and recognize.  At the beginning of the year I always chose the cheers and modeled them, later I would ask the child what cheer they would like.

We kept them in this little box from a sample size of Cheer detergent

I printed them from Dr. Jean’s website on cardstock, then laminated them.

These are a few of my favorites:
We also had a few songs that we sang along with our routines, and they became classroom rituals too.  I got many of them from Dr. Jean’s CD’s – I have listed my favorites on a post labeled Songs.

Here is a song I used often to get the children to quickly come to sit on the carpet:
Have a seat

We ended every day with the song May There Always Be Sunshine – Dr. Jean’s Keep on Singing and Dancing:

May there always be sunshine copy

We also used some of these silly rhymes:

Ways to say goodbye

There are countless ways to develop rituals in your classroom.  You have to find things that you and your children enjoy and feel connected with.  Keep in mind that eye contact and touch are powerful ways to help people feel connected, and that movement and deep breathing help children de-stress.  Most of all just love your kids and have fun with them!


I am so happy that you are reading my blog, and I love getting questions or comments.   I truly know there is not one right way to do anything in your classroom, I hope I have said that before.  I am just trying to encourage you to make conscious choices about everything you do, and to be able to explain why you made those choices if any one asks you.

Centers are defined and used in so many different ways.  Through the years I tried lots of different systems, there are pros and cons to almost anything you do.  I don’t think my way is necessarily right, but I would like to share what worked best for me, and why I made these choices.

In my classroom centers were strictly free choice activities.  Everyday there were projects and activities that all children were expected to complete, but at center time they chose where they wanted to go and how long they wanted to stay there.  One of my reasons for this was because I believe that children often feel powerless, all day long people are telling them what to do, and how to do it.   I tried to find as many opportunities as possible to allow them to make choices.  I found that many children are much more cooperative when you ask them to do things, when they are allowed to choose for themselves at other times during the day.  That is a strategy that I think is very important for all children, and we try to allow Owen to make choices as much as possible too!

Some of the materials at my centers remained the same all year long, some I changed.  For example, at the Art center I might add sticky foam or fabric scraps, but there were always paints, fun scissors, paper, markers, etc.   During the course of the year the Math center games would change, but basic materials like unifix cubes and pattern blocks were always there.  I did change materials in the tubs of literacy activities as the children became confident with letters and sounds and moved on to emergent reading.

I am a huge advocate of socio-dramatic play so I had two areas in my room that specifically encouraged this kind of interaction – the Story Telling Cottage and the Play Center.  Of course I know that children also engaged in dramatic play at the blocks, art center, play dough, and lots of other places.  Please check out my posts on play and dramatic play if you’d like to hear more about them.

The Play Center changed throughout the year to things like Mission Control, Driver’s Training Center, Bear Hospital, Dentist Office, Restaurant, etc.  I changed the name of my Housekeeping center to Story Telling Cottage to encourage the children to take on roles and act out a story (usually one they created).   I modeled and got involved in the play at all the centers, at the Story Telling Cottage we talked about how the children might be the Dad or the mailman or the Ballerina, they would need to decide where they were – at the office?  At someone’s house?  I had gotten very tired of the kids just pulling out all the food and dress up clothes, throwing everything on the floor and walking away.  With the changes I made that included reducing lots of the stuff the play really became more meaningful.  Once in a while I might add something to the house, but I usually encouraged the children to think of what they could use or make to enhance their play.

I wanted a system that encouraged children to think about where they wanted to play – not just to wander around the room and look for where their friends were playing.  I also wanted to limit the number of children who could play at each center – mainly because there were limited materials.   I made this Center chart one of the first years I was teaching, and used it about 20 years!

The chart itself was made from a piece of canvas that I bought at JoAnn Fabrics – I think it is used for lawn chairs.  I left the selvage edges on the sides, but hemmed the bottom on my sewing machine and made a simple casing at the top, I put a yardstick through that casing and held it up on the magnetic chalkboard with Magnet Men.

My centers were color coded.  Around the classroom I suspended a different colored sign from the ceiling over each center.  I went to a bunch of stores to find all different colors of posterboard, I made a few out of construction paper but they faded very fast.  Then I made simple signs with recognizable pictures to label each center.  These pictures were posted on the suspended signs, and I made tiny reproductions of the identical signs for the center chart.

I didn’t save a copy of my original center signs, but I made a few you might be able to use.  There are lots available on the internet, check out Environments!

center charts

Here are small versions:

Small chart

You can easily make your own center signs using clipart – or Google Images.  I had purchased some really cute signs with little animals using materials at each center, but I decided I liked the very simple ones better.

I glued the small version of the center charts onto 3 x 5 cards (or posterboard cut that size).  The colors on the chart matched the colors hanging over the centers, and so did the signs.  Then I bought heavy clear plastic that is sold by the yard at fabric stores.  I cut the plastic into pieces about 5 1/2 by 8 inches, one piece for each center.  Then I folded the plastic in half and zigzag stitched them onto the  canvas chart.  They were the right size to slip the cards into, and they lifted up so we could clip matching colored clothespins onto the bottom of the plastic.    I hope this makes sense!

I bought plain clothespins and lots of cheap spray paint.  I just put the clothespins on newspaper and sprayed them.  The paint lasted for years and I repainted most of the clothespins to be fresh each school year.  The children would come to the chart, look for where there were available clothespins, take one and clip it onto their shirt – then go to the center.  If they wanted to go to a different center they would return to the chart, replace that clothespin and take another.

Of course there are always little issues –  I painted extra clothespins because occasionally a child would forget to put one back and take it home.  They sometimes got lost at centers, they sometimes slid apart and I became an expert at putting that little spring back in.  One year I had a class that would hide a highly desirable color of clothespin so they could use it again!  But in general I really liked this system.  I could close a center by removing the clothespins,  or add extra clothespins if I wanted to.

I did not formally keep track of which centers children chose, or how long they stayed there – except when I opened a new play center.  All the kids usually were anxious to go there, so I usually put up a class list and checked them off until everyone had a turn, then it was open for anyone.  There were some children who consistently wanted to play at the blocks or the doll house, but they didn’t always get first choice of clothespins.  I did keep informal notes about where kids chose to play, parents often asked and it gave me interesting information too.  There were a few less popular centers – and that differed from year to year. I found that where the center was located in the room sometimes made a difference in how popular it was.

I knew the children were learning at the centers because I provided appropriate materials, and interacted in their play; but I did not have an agenda or specific goal for these centers so I didn’t worry about what they chose.  BUT I did spend time making Math games, which were part of our Math program, and literacy games and I wanted children to use them!  So there were times during the day that the children could ONLY choose math activities or ONLY literacy activities.  I had a specific set of shelves that contained about 8-10 tubs of materials for Math and another set for Literacy stuff.  During these times the children still got to make choices about what to play with, but all the choices were math, or all the choices were literacy.  Usually I would have center time during the morning, and during an afternoon choice time I would tell them only math or only literacy.

Center time was just one part of our day – but I think it is important to value play by interacting with the children and making this time a consistent part of your schedule.  I know there are so many curriculum demands, but with the luxury of full day kindergarten I felt like I had time to do it all – Reader’s Workshop, Writing Workshop, Everyday Math, whole group and small group directed activities, and still have time for centers.  I think it is important to be able to tell parents and administrators why you value centers and play time.  I posted this chart in my room.

Printable copy:

Kindergarten Centers

There is a lot of research about how children learn, and how important it is for them to have sufficient time for free choice play activities.  Center time is a highlight of a long day for many children.  It is a time for every child to be successful and joyful.  If you feel pressure to leave this out of your day, I think it is our responsibility as advocates for young children to educate and explain what we know is best for our kids!

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