Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Intentional Teacher

As a member of the Alabama Early Childhood Leadership Academy, I was privileged to spend an entire day in February listening to Dr. Sue Bredekamp of NAEYC’s Developmentally Appropriate Practice fame. Dr. Bredekamp presented two sessions on intentional teaching: “Effective Practices in Early Childhood Education” and “Effective Curriculum and Intentional Teaching.” The following blog post reflects a tiny bit of her presentation and my understanding and application of it.

What is Developmentally Appropriate Practice?

There are likely as many interpretations of this concept as there are caregivers and educators of young children. The simplest way to think about this concept is that DAP “meets the individual needs of children.” DAP is the “initial framework used to determine what to do.”
  • ·      Meet each child where he or she is
  • ·      Use a wide variety of intentional teaching strategies that vary for and adapt to the age, experience, interests, and abilities of individual children
  • ·      Help each child reach challenging and achievable learning goals

What I’ve listed above encompasses just the first two slides in the presentation given by Dr. Bredekamp. And, it’s more than enough to discuss in a single blog!

Meeting the Child Where He/She Is

The ability to meet each child where he or she is requires that the adult understand what to expect for the ages and stages of development for each child. It’s important to know what the appropriate expectations are as well as inappropriate expectations. For each child in your program/classroom/home, knowing what they should be doing for their age an stage and knowing what they shouldn’t be doing is really important for planning. If I know that Charlie who is 3 is frustrated when we have puzzle time, I need to
  • ·      understand that 3 year olds typically can do large piece puzzles
  • ·      offer puzzles that are within his ability to complete without frustration
  • ·      offer puzzles WITH MY HELP that challenge that ability
  • ·      encourage Charlie to participate
  • ·      give Charlie strategies to be successful
  • ·      allow Charlie to leave puzzles after success or after some mild frustration but well before he becomes angry

Compliment of Gillock's Gang

If I know that Brett who is 2 ½ has trouble transitioning, I need to
  • ·      remember that this child needs extra warnings and help transitioning
  • ·      provide those extra warnings and help to transition
  • ·      know that regardless of best efforts, there still may be some resistance and negative behaviors during transitions (because he is  2 1/2 AND because he just doesn't transition as easily as other) 

Compliments of Gillock's Gang

Intentional Teaching Strategies

Being intentional about our teaching means that we are doing things for a reason. Everything we plan and offer children needs to have a purpose. This does NOT mean that the adult has to be actively telling children information or “teaching.” It means that if I have music playing, it should have a purpose. Why play background music during free play times? What is the purpose? If we are doing restaurant play, and the children have decided this is an elegant fine dining experience, perhaps I would suggest that we play some fancy fine dining music in the background. This is purposeful use of music in the play/learning experience.

EVERY experience a child has throughout the day can be included as intentional teaching. In April, our program’s theme is Water, Water, Everywhere. Every learning center offered will have something about water for children to experience.
            Art – water color paints
            Book corner – books about water will be on display
            Cooking – recipes that use water; make lemonade; discuss dilution
Dramatic play -- perhaps we will go on a cruise; go fishing
            Math center – counting rain drops; water is measured in volume; cups to pints to quarts to gallon
            Music – songs about water
            Outdoor art – painting with water
            Outdoor general – water toys, sprinkler, water table, things to squirt with, watering cans
            Puzzles/manipulative – pouring activities; puzzles that have water features
            Science – sink and float activities; water table set up; why living creatures need water information
            Writing – writing doesn’t have to be a center on its own, but it can be incorporate throughout the other centers – record information discovered in math & science, watercolor pencils at art, dramatic play – take travel reservations, make tickets, etc.
            Other – finger plays; transitions may have water theme

Compliments of Gillock's Gang

Challenging and Achievable Learning Goals

In order for children to develop, the goals must be both challenging and achievable. Children need to be encouraged to reach beyond their current level. Think about a baby who is just learning to crawl. First, we have to recognize that the baby is preparing to crawl (can roll over, sit up, has developed upper body strength, etc.). Second, we have to give the baby an opportunity to crawl (put on floor on tummy in a safe environment). Then, we need to give the baby a “reason” to crawl. To do this, we might put a favorite toy just out of reach and give verbal and facial cues to encourage the child to crawl to get the toy.

The concept works in the same way for older children engaging in other learning activities. First, I need to recognize that the 4 year old in my care is preparing to read. Second, I need to give the child an opportunity to experience books and letters. Then, I need to offer support and activities that use what the child knows about letters and sounds and builds on those without causing frustration. I also have to remember all the while that the opportunities I offer are appropriate (for example, letter learning in isolation is NOT appropriate for 4 yr olds, but having a letter scavenger hunt or helping children write their names or find their names on a list IS appropriate).

If we offer just achievable goals, children will become bored. And when we have bored children, two things happen: 1. Behavior problems arise; 2. They begin to lose their passion for learning.

If we offer goals that are too challenging, children will give up and can begin a downward cycle of distress and negative feelings toward learning.

Photo compliments of Gillock's Gang.

Summary Thoughts

While children are in each learning center, the caregiver/educator should be looking for children’s skill levels and understanding of concepts and providing methods for improving skills and understanding that meets the children’s individual needs.  This reflects back to meeting the child where he or she is. Every interaction and learning experience should be purposeful. I may need to use a variety of teaching methods to reach all the children in my program. I may have to adapt an activity to the age, experience, interests, and abilities of individual children. My activities need to be both challenging and achievable for the children in my program.

Children are learning all the time. What they learn and how they feel about that learning is up to you!

Photos compliments of Gillock's Gang accredited family child care home in Opelika, AL. My sincerest thanks go out to Kay for these photos!

Dr. Miller is the Managing Director of the Family Child Care Partnerships program at Auburn University. FCCP offers in-home mentoring services that support providers in their efforts to enhance the quality of care they offer with an eye toward national accreditation (through the National Association for Family Child Care). Dr. Miller lives in LaGrange, GA, with her husband Peter (middle school band director), son Charles (graduating senior), and daughter MaryAynne (rising sophomore and aspiring singer/dancer). For more information about FCCP please visit our website or contact Dr. Miller at For more information about family child care accreditation, please visit NAFCC

Friday, March 30, 2012

Creating an Outdoor Classroom

Our Sand and Water Wall
A couple of years ago, I decided that it was time to really put some time and effort into transforming our outdoor play area into an outdoor classroom.  Honestly, it is not as hard, expensive, or time intensive as you may think. Small changes make a HUGE difference in the opportunity you provide for children to learn and grow.  I was able to gather so much inspiration from around the web, that I was able to create wonderful learning spaces for our children.

Our Outdoor Music Area
One of the first areas we worked on is our outdoor music area. We made a giant drum out of a tractor tire, and we created xylophones/chimes on our fence. We also made a banging station with lids from pots and pans and added a (garbage can) thunder drum! This area is continually evolving- and is utilized nearly every day... even in the winter snow!
Our Mud Pie Kitchen
Another area we have added to our play space is a mud pie kitchen. The children LOVE to make mud pies when the ground is not covered with snow. When the winter weather hits, they opt to make snow cakes instead! Our space was put together with a couple of shelves, a wooden spool for a table and a bunch of wooden dishes and metal pans. The spice shelf was found for free at a yard sale! We collect all kinds of things to add to the kitchen like grasses, pine cones, acorns, shells, etc. (You can read more about our mud pie kitchen on our blog.)
An Easel on the Fence
Adding a piece of painted plywood to the fence is an easy way to create your own outdoor easel. This piece is connected to the fence with hinges and has a piece of 2x4 connected to the bottom in order to have it hang at an angle.
We use the easel for painting, but decided to add a coat of homemade chalkboard paint to give us an outdoor writing area.
We also added the chalkboard paint to many of the horizontal strips on our fence.

Our Outdoor Stage
We also added a portable stage. This was created by using shower curtains and a portable clothes rack! Simple and inexpensive with HOURS of fun!

One of the VERY first things we did to transform our space was to add a giant sandbox.... 19 tons of sand! The sand was the most expensive piece of our transformation- but has been by far the very best investment we made!

Our play area is also filled with all kinds of loose parts! The children love to move the tires around. They create ramps with pieces of lumber... and obstacle courses are often being created!

Our outdoor space still has some of the traditional play space areas- a basketball hoop, bikes, swings and a slide, a playhouse.... but the children tend to migrate towards the engaging spaces we have created for extended educational play! If you are looking for additional outdoor inspiration, you can visit the Outdoor Inspiration page on my blog! 

Do you have an engaging outdoor space?  

I'd love for you to link it on up!!!!

The linky rules are simple...
The post much include a description of your outdoor learning space or a segment of it!
Adding our button to your post would be greatly appreciated!

PreK + K Sharing
<div align="center"><a href="" title="PreK + K Sharing "><img src="" alt="PreK + K Sharing " style="border:none;" /></a></div>

 More About Amy

Amy Ahola is the owner/operator of Child Central Station, group home daycare and educational toy store in Marquette, Michigan.  She has been running her own business since 2005. Prior to that time, Amy worked in a childcare center and public school. In addition to her childcare business, Amy also provides educational training sessions. Amy earned a Bachelors of Science in Psychology from Northern Michigan University and a M.S. in Training, Development, and Performance Improvement.  For more information about any of her programs, please visit Child Central Station or Find her on Facebook

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Reuse and Sort!

If you're one of the many teachers and parents who can't stand to throw away a cardboard box, a paper towel tube, a jar or any other useful doo-dad, because you just know you'll need it someday for project time; here are a few new ideas to help you put your collection to good use.

It's time to reuse and sort!
Why? Well, the "reuse" part is obvious. Every day is Earth Day! And sorting is an important skill for young children. As they learn to recognize and classify items into groups, they learn to see items in sets, which is an essential beginning math skill. Learning to sort helps kids develop logic and analytical thinking skills, not to mention the fact that it's just a practical life skill.

Box Sorter:
  1. Collect tiny boxes. I started with some particularly solid boxes of the same size and shape as a base. I think this helped the whole structure say upright. This is only important if you plan to stand the structure upright like a shadow box.
  2. Trim boxes so they are all approximately the same depth.
  3. Attach boxes in any fun arrangement using masking tape or duct tape. I also wrapped duct tape around the entire outside edge.
  4. Decide what you want to sort, and decorate or label the inside of your boxes. With 26 boxes, you could make a section for each letter of the alphabet, or you could do sections for each number, color or any other sorting characteristics. (In my example above, I used paper cut to fit the inside of the boxes, and I secured loosely with tape so I could change the labels to sort something else later.)
  5. Have kids go on a hunt to find tiny items to fit in each category. Discuss and display for a while, then sort a new way! We sorted Lego pieces that started with each alphabet letter.

Jar Sorters:
We've also used baby food jars for the same kind of sorting activity. We labeled each one with a different letter of the alphabet, and collected items to go in each jar. You could obviously use jars of any size, but my kids enjoyed the challenge of finding TINY little items to fit in the tiny jars. Again, I labeled with removable stickers so it would be easy to change the sorting categories.

Here are some ways to sorting: (Really, the possibilities are endless!)
  • Alphabet letters
  • Numbers
  • Textures
  • Colors
  • Shapes

Word Rollers:

 If your kids are a little older, and starting to read and learn spelling rules, you might also like to try Word Rollers. This activity is a great way to use up old paper towel rolls, and practice combining letters to make words. You can make your own, or use my free Word Rollers printable. (Download here.) Just print, attach to tubes, cut and you're ready to roll. This printable includes color words, CVC and CVCe words, plus a blank template to customize with words of your choice.

If you'd like more ideas for using the Box Sorters for playtime, visit my blog, to read about our Toy Apartments!

Ok, go gather your materials. Oh, that's right. They're already stashed in your garage, closets and cupboards!  :)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

An Introduction to Paper Folding Crafts: Ball Catcher

Hello!  I am so pleased to be back again on this fabulous collaborative resource for teachers and parents! A couple of months ago, I shared our Valentine's craft - we made some handprint bouquets and upcycle Valentine's cards. Since then we have been busy busy creating crafts for Easter. In particular the children have enjoyed making tissue paper chicks and newspaper Easter bonnets! Do come and take a peak! (Note: If you want to make the chicks in a class room scenario, you can replace the "real egg at the centre", with plastic eggs, or with newspaper balls).

Today, however I have a classic little homemade paper toy for you:
The Ball & Cup

It is a great toy for introducing "folding" activities or Origami to younger children. It is also great for discussing "shapes" - squares, and triangles and explaining a "diagonal" etc. My four year old had a go and just about managed. So maybe make these in small groups. They are easy and fun. You don't even have to make the ball - you could just focus on the cup - show how you can fill it with water (for a few minutes), or fill it with a snack or beads in a crafting session. The cup is simple, but so versatile!

Here is a video of how to paper cups make them.   (I didn't manage to embed it in the post for some reason).

And this is my son having a go:

 1) Take a square piece of paper (if you want a pretty pattern, I have links to free Origami printables).


 2) Fold your paper diagonally, so you are left with a triangle.

 3) Turn your triangle round, so that the long side is front of you. Then take one of the sides and fold in. You will be creating a parrallely with the long side and the folded corner. (the video will show this clearer). 
Repeat with the other side. 


 4) Fold down one sheet the top triangle (again, check the video) and turn round and repeat on the other side.  

 5) Your cup is finished (ours is slightly lopsided, but Red Ted is only 4!)


 6) Now make the ball (this is not part of the video). Get  a piece of string and some tin foil. Scrunch up the foil around the string. Making sure the string is secured tightly. Shape until it is nice and round (you can discuss "spheres" at this point).

7) Then make a small hole in the side of your cup, thread through the string, either knot it or tape it down. We found tape better as my kids like to play vigorously. DONE! You can now start playing catch the ball! Have lots of fun! 

If you are looking for more kids crafts ideas visit Red Ted Art and also do check out the rest of Pre k & K!  

Until next time! 


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Easter Ideas for Learning

Special welcome today to our 'guest' author, Mary Amoson..... making her premiere appearance in our midst. ENJOY!!

Easter is approaching and so is the opportunity to have fun learning. There are so many ways to enhance the classroom or home using cheap or free materials. I collected a few fun ideas here.

I found these stencils and bunny hoppers in the seasonal section at Walmart.
Stencils are a great way to practice those motor skills. I used similar hoppers like the bunnies for Valentine's Day. Here is how I used them.

Another idea is to use a basket and egg patterns and some construction paper.

After making two baskets you can use to sort letters, words, or numbers. These are just a few ideas. We used these to sort our spelling words (-ock family.)

Use fun notepads to create math problems. Simply add some math problems and laminate. Students can use dry erase markers to solve them. This is more fun than a worksheet.

Differentiate by using both vertical and horizontal formats or by adding counters to help beginning learners.

Try using an Easter basket with those cute decorative eggs.

Add letter or word tiles to the inside for an instant center. You can spell out a word, put letters or numbers in order, or use words to make sentences. This is a ton of fun.

Lastly, have fun with Bingo games and erasers.

Bingo games are a fun way to review any skill. Take a fun template and make a few copies. Add words, numbers, or such to them. Laminate and use as a fun learning game.
Seasonal erasers are a great way to practice sorting, counting, or patterns. Also try using them to make graphs or compare numbers.

Mary Amoson is a teacher, mother, and an educational blogger. She believes that learning should be fun and natural, and is most often playing games with her students as they discover learning. She is so passionate about her dream job in education and her incredible students and families that she wants to share it all with you.  Visit her at or at her Teachers Pay Teachers site at where she has more than 10 free activities ready for you to download and enjoy.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Bending lines and making shapes on a sticky table

By Laura Eldredge

Inspired by other "sticky table" ideas that I've seen around the web ... I thought it would be fun to use the sticky table idea to have our preschoolers create shapes from thin foam rectangles and some large shiny "twist ties".   We referred the rectangles as "lines" and read the book "When a line bends ... a shape begins" by Rhonda Gowler Greene.

Then the children took the foam and twisty tie "lines" and experimented with shapes they could create (and objects they could make from those shapes) on a table covered with clear contact paper - sticky side UP.   The children loved sticking the lines to the table and making their shapes ... turning squares and triangles into houses and buildings.

When they decided they wanted to make a circle .. they quickly learned they could turn the foam pieces on their side and make a circle/oval shape by curving two foam pieces together and sticking them to the table.  It was great watching them problem-solve how they could make a curved shape with the straight pieces of bendable foam.

The large shiny twist ties were also interesting, because you can bend them in various ways and they could make more 3-dimensional objects with those.

This is a wonderful open-ended activity (as you really never know exactly what the children will come up with!).   You could use other types of straight (yet bendable) collage materials, such as pipe cleaners, construction paper strips and yarn.  Break out the clear contact paper ... and let the creating begin!

Laura Eldredge is a teacher and curriculum coordinator at a NAEYC accredited early childhood program in Connecticut. She also co-founded the website
The SEEDS Network, as a way to provide early childhood professionals with ideas and resources that support them in their quest to provide quality care and education to our youngest learners. She blogs at

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Making Themes Come to Life!

In early childhood we are blessed with the opportunity to spend a lot of time teaching theme units.  With careful planning we incorporate the themes in every aspect of the classroom!  During the summer I go over the common core standards and then plan my themes for the year.  I also use an emergent curriculum and if the children are particularly interested in a unit then we will spend more time on it.  When planning my themes I include activities for math, science, language, reading, practical life, art, music, gross motor and if possible field trips.  By the end of a unit the kids have an incredible understanding of all that was taught. 

Children learn best through hands on exploration and discovery.  You can tell them about something and even show them pictures but until they see it in real life they won’t ever have a full understanding and interest in the subject being taught.  One way I like to make themes come to life is by inviting special guests come in to speak and bring examples of what we are learning about.  Click here to see a post about a special DNA presentation we had.

My favorite way to make themes come to life is through field trips.  When we finish a unit I try to plan a field trip based on the theme.  This week we just finished our pond unit.  Here is a link to my pond unit. 

To celebrate this we had a field trip to the pond, the feed store and the pet store.  We started at the pond to see these animals in their real life habitat.  We explored ducks, geese, swans and even a beaver!  The kids got to use their senses of smell, sight, sound and touch to experience what a pond was really like.  They were fascinated and they pointed out skills they learned in the classroom such as the beaver dam, the webbed feet on the ducks, the ducks bobbing for food, the reeds next to the pond, the honking geese and the murky pond water! 

After we went to the pond we traveled to the feed store to touch and hold ducklings!  We were able to discuss why the ducklings had lamps in their cages, the differences between chicks and ducklings, what they felt like, what they were eating and what a baby turkey was called. 

 Finally we made a trip to the pet store.  At the pet store we observed the turtles and frogs.  The kids were fascinated with the swimming turtles and the frogs huddled in the corner near the heat lamp. 

We learned a lot from our pond unit but no amount of classroom time could compare to the amount of learning we received from making our theme come to life! 


Rachel Supalla is the mother of 4 kids ages 3-9.  She has taught preschool and Kindergarten for 15 years.  Rachel is a Montessori certified teacher and director.  She owns Discovery Kidzone Montessori Adventures where she blogs about teaching in a Montessori school and homeschooling.  Rachel homeschools her daughter who has ADHD. 
Rachel is also the owner of Discovery Kidzone Montessori School.
You can contact Rachel on facebook at Kidzone Teacher Mama and you can find her pinning on pinterest here!
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