Sunday, May 29, 2016

4 Preschool Planning Tips To Save You Time & Help You Enjoy Your Preschoolers This Summer

Woot woot!  3 days until June!  Summer is just about here!

It’s the end of the school year!  You’ve been busy planning your end of the year program or graduation, catching up on your professional development and now, for many, it is time to set up for summer programs!

Summer planning of preschool themes, activities and the like typically has a different look to it than school year planning. Summer planning is more relaxed.  The children in your care in the summer are most likely full time children with parents or guardians working full time.

What can you do to still support your preschoolers' growth and development but have your program feel less like the typical school year?  

Here are 4 small changes that will help!

1.  Change Your Interest Center Names

In his play, Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare penned the following phrase:
"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet".  

It's become an iconic phrase meaning that changing the name of something does not change what it is.  This might also apply to the names of your interest learning centers. Although, I AM going to suggest that you change what it is! 

Think about renaming your centers.  

How about Campfire Time rather than Circle Time?  

And then, change what you do there!  Which brings us to #2!

2.  Drop the "academics"

I recommend this in general, but especially in the summer!  

STOP "Calendar Time" and "Weather Time" and "Letter of the Week"!  

Have Campfire Time (aka Circle Time) be a time of gathering and sharing before going on with the day!  Hopefully this will carry forward into your new school year as well! ;)  

3.  Lighten up on your themes

Decide on one (two at most) themes for the summer!  

Perhaps you'll have an overall Ocean Theme.  

From there, add a few weeks covering different areas of that theme such as:

Ocean Life activities for 2 weeks.  

Things on the Beach for 2 weeks.  

Pirates for 2 weeks.  

You get the idea!

4. Include the children in your planning.

Although you should be doing this all year, brainstorm activity ideas with the children!

If you have The Ocean as an overall theme, ask the children what they know about that theme.  LIST EVERYTHING!  Create your activities based on this list!

You will find that they state things like sea shells, whales, sharks, swimming, etc.

Take those ideas and then create activities around them!

Doing this will save you a lot of time!  

Not sure how to do this?  For the 4 steps on how to create a theme, be sure to read my How To Plan A Theme series!   

Summer-y (See what I did there?!)

In summary, if you are a full year provider, take the time this summer to really enjoy the season with your preschoolers!  

You can read more about the ideas I discussed here in my full Summer Planning page by clicking here!

Lighten up, relax, enjoy!  


About the author
Cheryl Hatch has taught and directed preschool programs for over 20 years.  She is the Creator and Owner of Preschool Plan It, a website dedicated to sharing preschool themes, activities, articles and training with early childhood educators.  She volunteers as the coordinator and teacher of the MOPPETS program in her town (a preschool program for the M.O.P.S.--Mothers of Preschoolers Program).  She has her undergraduate degree in Early Childhood Education.  Cheryl has been an active, integral member and leader within the Teachers.Net Early Childhood community for many years, moderating live chats and providing peer support on the Preschool Teachers Chatboard.  You can read Cheryl’s articles, activities and themed preschool lesson plans at 

Monday, May 23, 2016

From Plate to Container

It's Scott from Brick by Brick. I love to repurpose materials—use materials in ways different from their intended purpose.

We love containers - of all sorts. Plastic bottles and bowls. Containers from powdered drink mix and coffee. Anything with a lid can become a shaker or a bank or just about anything.

But I often run into a problem. I just don't have any containers (or enough containers) when I want to make shakers or banks. After all, my garage can only hold so much and when I use all my saved containers I often need time to build up my supply. What can a teacher do when he doesn't have containers? Just paper plates!

paper plate shaker (Brick by Brick)

Paper plates make great shakers (and even banks!). Use the inexpensive, flexible plates. Decorate the backs of the plates with tape, stickers, markers, or whatever art media you want. In this case, plates are often better than most containers because just about any art medium will adhere to the plate. 

paper plate shaker (Brick by Brick)

Flip the plate over and add gravel or other shaker material. Fold the plate in half and staple along the curved edge to seal. Use larger shaker material (gravel, beans, beads) rather than smaller material (rice). The smaller material always seems to find the gaps and leak out. That's why we usually add tape around the edge to further seal it. 

paper plate shaker (Brick by Brick)

If you want to make a bank, cut a small slit in the plate before decorating. Make sure not to cover the slit when adding tape or stickers. Then, after stapling the plate closed, kids can drop coins in the slot and the coins will be sealed inside. (Remove the staples to retrieve the coins.)

While limited in use, plates can still make great alternatives to containers. And I can go and purchase them at the dollar store instead of saving them up! Hope this fun repurposing idea helps you in those "what do I use?" moments.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Dancing With (Stuffed Toy) Animals!


Here is a dance activity that can incorporate your child's favorite small plush animal, which can stimulate many different movement ideas.  Children will have the chance to explore how different animals move, they will dance with their animals, and they will also dance for their animal "audience."

When I teach this lesson in the classroom, I invite the children ahead of time to bring a small plush animal.  I also have a bag of them that I bring in for extras.  

This lesson is loosely based on the chapter More and More Animals, from my book Dance, Turn, Hop, Learn! Enriching Movement Activities for Preschoolers (Redleaf Press, 2006).  

  Dancing with animals! This photo is from my class at the Otto M. Budig Academy of the Cincinnati Ballet 

Dancing With Animals!

This lesson works best in a large room, such as a gym.
Bring one or two upbeat songs about animals, or lively instrumental music, that the children enjoy.

Begin the lesson with a short Seated Warm Up using the animal theme.  

1.  Boat:   Sit with legs crossed or soles of the feet together and rock from side to side, placing the animal on the floor in the “boat,” giving the animal a “ride.” 

2.  Merry-Go-Round:  Also while sitting, have each child bring their knees to their chest and spin around on their bottoms several times using their arms to propel them.  Then have them spin their animal around the same way. 

3.  Body Part Isolation:  Ask the children to put their animals next to them.  Lead the children in a body part warm up, begininng with the face, then neck, shoulders, arms hands, torso, legs, and feet.  Then ask the children to help their animals do the same thing, moving the parts of the animals as you say them again.

For the remainder of the seated warm up, ask the children to have their animals next to them to "watch." 

1.  Upside-Down Bug:  While lying on the back, move the arms and legs in the air.

2.  Cobra: Lying face down, lift head and chest by pushing up on the hands.  Slowly lower the head and chest to the ground.

3.  Lizard Crawl:  Lying face down, bend one leg up and to the side, then use the arm and bent leg on that side to propel the body forward.  Repeat to the other side, and continue moving forward by alternating sides.

4.  Kitty-Cat:  While on hands and knees, arch and curve the back.

4.  Down-Dog Position:  Face downwards with the weight on the hands and feet, the legs straight and the seat in the air.

5.  Bring the Children to Standing: From the Down Dog position, walk the hands back to the feet, bend the knees, and slowly stand up by uncurling the back.

 Large Motor Skills Practice:

For the large motor skills practice, ask the children to line up on one side of the room, carrying their animals while they move across the floor: 

1.  March Can you march, stamping your feet like a great big dinosaur?

2.  Tiptoe Walk:  Can you tiptoe quietly like a mouse?

3.  Prance:  Prance like a proud horse!

4.  Gallop:  Gallop like a zebra!

5.  Run:  Can you run quickly and quietly like a leopard, or a cheetah?

6.  Jump: First, let’s all jump up and down while we are holding our animals. Now, standing still, let’s throw the animals up in the air and catch them, so they can “jump” too!

Animal Dance

1.  Dance For the Animals:   Line the animals up against a wall of the room, telling the children the animals will be the “audience.”  Then, ask each child to take turns leading the class, moving like his or her stuffed animal would move if it were a real animal.  Play one of your musical selections. Continue this activity until every child that wants to has had a chance to lead the class.

2.  Dance With the Animals:  Now have the children pick up their animals.  Suggest to them that they are going to do a good-bye dance with their animals.  Prompt them to find as many ways to dance with their animals as they can, using many different movements.  Play another musical selection for this activity.

Good-Bye Circle

Have the children bring their animals into the closing circle.  Tell them:  Hold your animal in your hands away from your body, and as you bow, have your animal bow toward you!

Keep on Dancin',


Moving is Learning!

Monday, May 16, 2016


Happy May! 
Happy End-of-the-School Year to many! 
Happy children-outdoors-as-the-weather-turns- warmer in some parts of the world.  
Onward we trudge/skip/wiggle for those of us who teach year ‘round!  
   Miss Carole of Macaroni Soup here – in surprisingly chilly Chicago, though since it IS Chicago, no weather should take anyone by surprise here!

   Yes, I’ll share a song – but before dessert, let’s talk about the main course of what we do: delivering educational content and enriching experience to little people.  I’m going to concentrate on DELIVERY here – how we can make our students more engaged and focused on the content we serve up.  My intent is not to turn every teacher into an entertainer.  Yet there are techniques that seasoned performers use that can come in handy in the classroom, too!

  •       In order to learn, children must be engaged.
  •      In order to be engaged, you must get their attention.
  •      In order to get their attention, you may have to be entertaining at times!

"A tree grows like this!"
How did they know what to do?
I showed them with my body, and a picture!


     But...but…but – I hear you – “I’m a teacher, not an entertainer!”  I know!  But as a teacher, caregiver, or parent we have many tools we use as we interact with children. This is a gentle reminder that how we present content matters!

Even a tiny tot can focus and be fully engaged!

Your basic toolbox:  your voice, eyes, facial expressions, gestures, full-body movements – YOU!
You can add:  Visuals, props, participation/movement, stylistic elements.
It’s not difficult – you are probably already doing this!  But check yourself – what can you add, improve or change?

YOUR VOICE:  Do you speak at a comfortable volume to be heard by all, but not shouting?  (My laryngologist tells me that teachers are his “best” clients – they constantly lose their voices due to strain – and the need to keep talking even when vocally compromised from all the little germs their students share with them!)  Is there a “smile” in your voice?  Are you speaking at a rate your students can process?  Young children process language at about 120 words-per-minute.  The average adult speaks at 160 WPM.  Slow down just a little for better comprehension!

EYES:  Are you making eye contact with every student during the first few minutes of class?  No, you don’t have to lock into a staring contest – but meaningful eye contact puts you in relationship with each child that lasts all day.  Add an encouraging nod and smile and it goes a long way for better behavior!

FACIAL EXPRESSIONS:  Is your face “alive”?  I’m not talking about what my mother called “making faces” – mugging is different.  Children intuitively read your face – an arched eyebrow, a small frown, crinkly eyes – it’s good practice for them to interpret non-verbal communication.

GESTURES/FULL-BODY MOVEMENTS:  What are we saying with our bodies?  Remember, children copy the movements they see from adults – make it interesting!  A child recently said to me, “I like the way you dance, Miss Carole.”  We hadn’t done any formal dancing that day, but I do move around a lot – changing position from floor to standing, moving to a different side of the room and using my body to illuminate a point.  It’s not about being manic – it is about being interesting. 

An invitation to dance!
ADD-ONs:  Visuals, props, opportunities for participation and getting off our bottoms and adding a musical component to any lesson will enhance a child’s learning and retention.  Provide instruction that engages all three primary learning styles:  visual, auditory and kinesthetic.  
   The occasional change in style – speaking in a whisper, pantomiming an instruction, mood music under an activity – tells students that you are engaged in their learning process while getting their attention.

 Now for a song!  This is one of my student’s favorites this Spring – they act it out while singing!  You can hear a clip of it HERE.  It’s on my “Season Sings!” cd.

We jump, jump, jump in the puddles
As the rain goes pittery-pat!
We jump, jump, jump in the puddles
And we put on our coat and our hat!
We put up our umbrellas –
And we pull on our boots with a tug – (grunt!)
We jump, jump, jump in the puddles
And we’re snug as a bug in a rug!

Have a Splash - act out putting on a coat, opening an umbrella, and tugging on those boots!  End in a snuggly self-hug!  

Oh - and don't forget "GROWING!" - the pictures at the top of this blog are of that wonderful little rhyme I featured on my September 2015 blog - check it out!  It's perfect for Spring and Summer, too!
Blowing you kisses!
Need a professional development workshop? Want a Family Concert for your school, library, park district or church? Want a classroom visit?  Contact Me!

Yours for a Spring Song!
“Miss Carole” Stephens

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Montessori-Inspired Car Activities Using Free Printables

By Deb Chitwood from Living Montessori Now 

My son was obsessed with vehicles, so I know first-hand how powerful vehicle learning activities can be. 

So today, I'm focusing on hands-on learning activities with cars. You'll find LOTS of free car printables in my Free Car Printables and Montessori-Inspired Car Activities. Here, I'm sharing some Montessori-inspired car activities using free printables for preschoolers through first graders.

You'll find many activities for preschoolers through first graders throughout the year along with presentation ideas in my previous posts at PreK + K Sharing. You'll also find ideas for using free printables to create activity trays here: How to Use Printables to Create Montessori-Inspired Activities

At Living Montessori Now, I have a post with resource links of Free Printables for Montessori Homeschools and Preschools

 Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links at no cost to you.  

Car Color Matching Activity Car Color Match Activity  Free Printable: Car Color Match from Childcareland

There are 12 colors in the printable, but I use the 11 colors that match Montessori color box 2. You could just use the 3 primary colors or whatever colors you want your child to work with. 

Free Printable: Montessori Color Matching Cards from Montessori Print Shop 

For this activity, I used a Multicraft tray, Montessori Services basket, and a small bamboo condiment cup to hold the pieces. 

Car Color Match Layout 

For the layout, I'd just lay out one column of color tablets and then have the child match the second column (unless color tablets haven't been presented before. If not, I'd give the introductory color tablet presentation). Then the child can match the colored cars to the color matching cards (color tablets) and finally add the colored circles to the cars. (Note: For our floor layouts, I always use a Montessori Services hemmed work rug.) 

 Highway Shapes Highway Shapes Free Printable: Highway Shape Cards (or highway letter or number cards) from Making Learning Fun If you'd prefer highway letters, check out the ones at Making Learning Fun or the ones linked to in my post at Living Montessori Now

This is awesome! You could just use basic shapes such as circle, triangle, and square. Or reinforce shapes like ellipse (called "oval" in the printable), trapezoid, and pentagon. There aren't all 10 Montessori metal inset shapes, but there are quite a few. 

I used different colors of Micro Machines. We still had the Micro Machines from when my now 31-year-old son was little. He loved them too much to give them up! If you can find them, they're perfect for this activity.   

Trapezoid Highway 
You could make a green dot with 1/4" color control label dots to show where to start driving (tracing the shape).  

Spelling with Car Movable Alphabet 

Movable Alphabet Spelling Basket with a Car Theme  Free Printable: Car Movable Alphabet (part of my subscriber freebie pack, so just sign up for my email to get the link and password ... or check the bottom of your latest newsletter if you're already a subscriber) 

I just used some Montessori Services language objects, which can be purchased individually or in the starter set. My basket is a Montessori Services basket

Movable Alphabet Spelling with a Car Theme 

You'll find activities using Montessori Services language objects with a similar layout. The car movable alphabet is especially helpful for a car theme or for vehicle lovers in general. Because children can write (spell) before they can read, many children will be able to hear the sounds needed in a word and add the movable alphabet letters even if they can't read yet. So this will often work with children who just know phonetic sounds for letters. It's great for readers, too! Just adapt the difficulty of objects for your child.  

Beginning Reading - Race Car Blending Beginning Reading - Race Car Blending Basket Free Printable: Race Car Blending (CVC, digraphs, blends) by Engage2Inspire at Teachers Pay Teachers 

I think this is totally cool ... such a great idea for reinforcing blending sounds to read words. Many children have difficulty with that part of learning to read. This is super easy to prepare. I just printed out and laminated the printable and added a Micro Machine race car (a larger race car might work if you set your printer at 125% in landscape). I love that there are a number of different levels for this activity, although it's most effective with children just learning to blend. 

Beginning Reading - Race Car Blending Activity

To do this activity, I would have the child "warm up" the car slowly and say each letter sound as he or she drives the car over it. Then I'd have the child go faster and faster each time, saying the sounds faster and faster until the word is clear. For a child who can't yet blend sounds, you could say the sounds yourself while your child moves the race car until the word is obvious. I'll have a post tomorrow at Living Montessori Now with more extensions for this printable!  

More Free Car Printables  

Go to my post at Living Montessori Now for links to free car printables from around the blogosphere: Free Car Printables and Montessori-Inspired Car Activities. And be sure to subscribe to my email list if you'd like to get an exclusive free printable each month (plus two more awesome freebies right away): Free Printables
You'll find lots of Montessori-inspired transportation activities and ideas in these Living Montessori Now resources:
Montessori at Home or School - How to Teach Grace and Courtesy eBookIf you'd like to focus on manners with children, please check out my eBook Montessori at Home or School: How to Teach Grace and Courtesy! It's written for anyone who'd like to feel comfortable teaching manners to children ages 2-12. I'm also one of the coauthors of the book Learn with Play – 150+ Activities for Year-round Fun & Learning!
Happy end-of-the-school-year! :)
 Deb - Siganture
Deb Chitwood
Deb Chitwood is a certified Montessori teacher with a master’s degree in Early Childhood Studies from Sheffield Hallam University in Sheffield, England. Deb taught in Montessori schools in Iowa and Arizona before becoming owner/director/teacher of her own Montessori school in South Dakota. Later, she homeschooled her two children through high school. Deb is now a Montessori writer who lives in San Diego with her husband of 41 years (and lives in the city where her kids, kids-in-law, and toddler granddaughter live). She blogs at Living Montessori Now.
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