Nana Camp – Learning about Shapes!



I take care of my two youngest grandchildren, Nora and Max, while their parents work.  Nora will be 4 in August and Max is 2 1/2.   I decided it might be helpful to have a little structure for a small part of our day together, so last week I started Nana Camp.  So far they have been loving it – just the routines and songs and games make that time in the morning a little special.  For the first week our theme was shapes.  Nora was already pretty confident and Max knew a few but they both had fun with the activities.  I even made up lesson plans (guess who misses teaching a bit?)

Nana Camp ideas

We start each day with a special handshake – I shared all these in a previous post about greetings and celebrations if you are interested!  Then we have a visit from Rosco – again the details of Rosco are explained in a post under the Language Arts section.  Each day Rosco (a large dog puppet) brings an alphabet letter, and the children do something simple with him that begins with the letter – we ate apples for A, bounced a ball for B, played catch the cow for C, etc.  He gives them a big lick and a cut out letter to take home.

Next I brought out my little critter puppet – and named him Shape Monster.


I cut out felt shapes and put them on the flannel board.  Each day we concentrated on one shape and learned a song about it.

Shape songs

Every day we chanted off the words to the Shape Monster book, this was something I did with my Kindergartners and just adapted for my little ones.

As we said the words “Shape Monster, shape monster, munch!  munch!  munch!  How about a red circle for your lunch?”  I chose one of the kids to come and take the red circle down from the flannelboard and “feed” it to Shape Monster.  This puppet does have a slit in the back of his mouth so he can “swallow.”  Each day Shape Monster ate each of the shapes, and Nora colored the page in the Shape Monster book.  The rest of each day’s activities emphasized one shape.

Shape Monster 1

Shape Monster 2

Shape Monster 3

We only spend about 10-15 minutes doing these things, but then I brought out some other activities during the day.  As you see in my ‘lesson plan’ we had a different shaped snack each day.  I also made a road in each of the shapes that I brought out one at a time because Max loves matchbox cars.

IMG_3881 (1)

I cut these out of black foam and used white-out to write the dotted lines.  I made another set out of the stiff kind of gray felt and used a marker for the lines.


For circles I introduced Bingo markers, can’t believe I hadn’t let the kids play with those before!  They were a staple in Kindergarten.


As I was scrolling through Pinterest ideas about shapes I came upon the idea of a Tuff Spot.  It came from England – basically a washable tray that you can use for everything from play-dough and shaving cream to sand, rice or paint.  I found a version on Amazon and my husband built a stand for it out of PVC pipe.


Here the children are cutting play-dough circles.  The shiny surface is a piece of sparkly poster-board I cut to fit because we used this on the 4th of July and I wanted the stars they were cutting to look sparkly!  I also put glitter into the play-dough.  Most of the week we have used this outside but it is really easy to take in or out.  Of course you don’t need a special table for any art activities but it is fun.


For squares the children put together a square man – I precut the squares but I am trying to find more opportunities to let them cut.  Nora handles scissors pretty well but Max is a novice!  They used a glue stick pretty independently.  I wondered how Max would put his together but he really took his cue from Nora.

IMG_4018 (2) 2

I wanted to emphasize the 3 sides of the triangle so they counted 3 tongue depressors and we glued them together.  Then they used a Sharpie (don’t tell their mom but they didn’t get it on their clothes) to draw shapes and then watercolor painted over them.


For rectangles I gave each of them a clean sponge and took a tub with a small amount of water in it out onto our driveway.  I showed them how to squeeze it out a bit so when they made a print it was in the shape of a rectangle.  They loved this!


Another day I drew shapes on the driveway and we played several games running around and stepping on the shapes while we yelled out the names.

Nora is interested in sight words so I put out the words ‘I, see, a” in a pocket chart.  This is one of those $1 pocket charts I bought at Target and again my handy husband made a frame from pvc pipe.  I set the words out to make a sentence by putting a different shape at the end.  I see a circle, etc.  She loved using the pointer to read it.



I hope you are enjoying summer time and the little people in your life too!



Love Letters

I thought I would take advantage of Valentine’s Day as an excuse to share pictures of some of the people I love most:





I try to get a picture of all of them together, but so far I haven’t been successful!  I am so blessed to have 5 grandchildren – age 5 and younger!  I am spending this season of my life taking care of the two youngest, Nora age 18 months and Max who is almost 3 months, while their parents work.  I try to find as much time as I can for the other 3 too, because they are all the delight of my life!

My husband is over the moon about these babies too!   In my free minutes with the little ones I wanted to do something that would make him smile for Valentine’s Day.  I decided to make him a whole bunch of Love Letters, and hide them all over the house where he would find them.

letters 2

letters 1

I saw lots of similar ideas on Pinterest and other blogs, but I started out by going around my house and collecting little things I could use.  Some other sites used all kinds of candy but I just used random things.  Then I printed out little sayings to go along with each item and taped them together.   I hid them in the refrigerator, his sock drawer, the pocket of his coat, the seat of his car, the cereal bowls, the floor of the shower … everywhere I could think of!

Here is the Love Letter template I made using DJ Inkers clipart!

blank (dragged)

Here is a sample of how they looked with the sayings printed on, then I ran them off on pink paper.

love letters done

I was thinking how I might have used this idea with my Kindergartners too.  Recognizing and noticing good behavior or small achievements is so important to children, and their parents.  I often sent home little notes to reinforce these things, and I know it meant a lot to them.  You could use these “Love Letters” with a small inexpensive candy or toy as a way to celebrate something with one child, or the whole class!  If you are looking for some ideas here are some of the items I used and sayings I made up (or borrowed!)



I hope you had a great Valentine’s Day yourself – I miss the school parties, but I celebrated with a very special dinner party at the home of good friends!


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!


Last night I got a voice mail message from a little girl I had in Kindergarten last year.  It went like this:  “Hi Mrs. Senk.  This is Aspen.  I lost my tooth today.  It came out at lunch.  I just wanted you to know.”

The message made me smile, and of course I called her right back.  I think Aspen was remembering, and missing,  how we celebrated lost teeth in kindergarten.  I loved finding things to celebrate with my class.  When a child lost a tooth at school, or at home the night before, we always sang the “Lost Tooth” song.  The class stood up in a circle and the child with the missing tooth walked around with their mouth open so we could all admire the empty space.  The song was to the tune of “The Famer in the Dell,” and went like this:

Aspen lost a tooth

Aspen lost a tooth

Smile at us so we can see

Aspen lost a tooth!

Obviously this little celebration only took a few minutes, then the child would write their name on a large tooth shape labeled with the current month – I had a set that I used from year to year – I just cut out construction paper teeth and stuck alphabet stickers on that spelled each month, then laminated them.   I preferred this to graphing who lost a tooth because I found out some children can be sensitive about the fact that they had not lost a tooth yet by the end of kindergarten.

I also had little necklaces that held a plastic tooth that opened up to hold a tooth that fell out at school.  When we talked about Dental Health I sent one home with each child, just to be sure they all got one.

We celebrated other important things too:

New shoes!

Again the class stood in a circle and everyone sang – the new shoe child stuck out one foot at a time for us to admire the new footwear – then skipped (or galloped!) around the circle.

The tune is This Old Man

Here’s one foot

Here are two

Each is wearing a brand new shoe

So skip and hop

All around the floor

That’s what these new shoes are for.

I clarified for the children that we could call any shoes new if they were new to us – hand me downs qualified too, but only the first time we wore them to school.

We also celebrated new haircuts!

The tune was Mary Had a Little Lamb

Megan has a new haircut

A new hair cut

A new hair cut

Megan has a new hair cut

Happy haircut Megan!


Of course we celebrated birthdays and lots of other special things too!  I will share more of those later – off to do last minute shopping and admire Christmas decorations!

Handshakes and Hugs

Research shows that the one of the best ways to build connections between people is eye contact and touch.  I was always looking for good ways to foster relationships so I loved including special “handshakes” in our morning routines.  We sometimes called them handshakes, other times we referred to hugs.

I introduced these one at a time at the beginning of the year.  The children would be standing in a circle, I would demonstrate the handshake and do it with the child on my right, I always tried to remind the children to turn and look at their partner while they were shaking hands.  Then that child would turn and “pass the handshake” to the next child, and so on around the circle – back to me.  After the children knew a variety of hugs, the special helper would choose which handshake we would do each day.

For most of these handshakes the children needed to know which was their right hand and which was their left.  I cut 2 handprints from construction paper – the right hand was red, the left hand was green.  On the red hand I put an American flag sticker.  I put these on the wall near the flag so when the children were going to recite the Pledge of Allegiance they could hold up both hands and see which had the flag sticker, knowing that is the one they would put on their heart.  I put another set of hands on the opposite side of the classroom so all the children could see them at circle time when we were doing these handshakes.

The first handshake I usually introduced was a Pinky Hug.  Throughout the year this is the handshake the children used to greet adults who came to help or stopped into our classroom.

I made these picture cues to help the children remember the different hugs.  A Pinky Hug meant the  two children hooked the little finger from each of their right hands and shook it up and down gently.
For an elbow hug the partners hook their right arms together at the elbow.

Most kids are familiar with a high 5, I just reminded them to do it gently – a hug or handshake should NEVER hurt.

Kids held up their right thumbs and gently pushed them together – kissing sounds are optional!

Partners hooked their right thumbs together and wiggled their fingers for the butterfly wings.

Children bent their fingers and the two partners hooked them together.  Then they gently pulled – first toward one child, then toward the other – like pulling a saw to cut a tree.

Each partner reached out their right hand – palms facing as if they were going to shake hands – but they placed their hand on the inside of the other child’s wrist instead.  Then they gently flapped their fingers up and down like a flapping fish tail!

Kids turned around and gently pressed their backs together.

Children held up both hands as if they were going to do a high 5 and waved their hands from side to side.

Partners each held up one finger and pretended to blow it out like a candle.

Partners gently bump their right hips together.

Partners grasped each other’s right thumbs and moved them like a stick shift making a motorcycle noise – rhummm, rhummm.

Partners each made a fist with their right hand and gently pushed knuckles together.

Partners reached out their right hand, as if for a traditional handshake – but the placed their hand on the inside of the elbow of their partner, then slid their hands down each others arms.  When they got palm to palm they gave a handshake.

This is a traditional handshake, but more fun when you call it a hand hug!

Partners gently pressed their right knees together.

I did not have children do Kangaroo hugs with each other.  Sometimes I gave them a Kangaroo hug, and we also used it when each child had a parent at school for a special occasion.  Basically you face your partner and wrap your arms around each other – then they both jump and the big person picks up the little person!  Of course they love it!

I demonstrated all these hugs to the parents at our Valentine’s Day party.  Here are printable copies of the clipart pictures.

Hug Book

These hugs and handshakes became an important part of our morning routines that the children really loved.