Wednesday, January 30, 2013

More on Mixed Aged Classrooms: How Do You Manage?

I run a mixed aged classroom. In fact, yesterday, there was a full decade - 10 years- in age difference between our youngest learner and our oldest learner. I am often faced with questions from a variety of sources trying to understand exactly - How Do You Manage a Mixed Aged Classroom?

First, I have to admit. EVERY classroom comes with its own challenges. Every child, regardless of age, brings their own strengths and experiences to the classroom. Every child has needs and different requirements. Working with mixed ages can be challenging, but in the end, age is just a number.

I'm going to take a few minutes to answer some of the more common questions I am asked about integrating such a wide range of ages in our classroom.

What do you do with the infants?

The majority of questions I receive in regard to mixed ages has to do with caring for infants at the same time as older children. Yes, infants do have some additional needs that you don't have with older children. However, having infants together with older children provides a wonderful reciprocal learning opportunity.  Older children are constantly modeling and scaffolding for the younger ones. Younger infants and toddlers provide ample opportunities for modeling empathy and treating others with respect. 

Logistically, What does this look like in our classroom?

We run an emergent play-based classroom. This means that we are very child centered. The children take the lead, and we support them through resources, conversation, and reflection. Our materials are set out at child level with any material that would be a choking hazard or require additional close supervision to be placed on higher shelves. We have real- honest and open conversations about our concerns with materials.

"Ms. Amy, Can we play with the dollhouse stuff?" 

"I'm a little bit worried about all of the small pieces with the babies here today....
How could we make that work?"

By sharing my concerns with the older children and asking them to be the problem solvers, I am not imposing rules..... I am inviting them to be active participants and to solve problems to come up with agreeable solutions. Sometimes the ideas the children come up with are brilliant......

Sometimes, it means that I engage the younger children in a different activity. Sometimes it means that the small pieces are only played with at a table or on a higher level than the younger children. Sometimes it means that I play too, sitting with the infants to make sure that they don't put any pieces in their mouths. Sometimes it means waiting until the infant(s) take a nap. Whatever the solution, the children own it.

I also try to promote as much independence as early as possible. This means that mobile infants are on the floor and mobile. I don't tend to use things like exersaucers, swings, or bouncers inside. We do have a few chairs for sitting in, and I use the high chair seats on the floor. (The ones that you would normal strap onto a regular chair).  By having the chairs at the child's level, they can crawl up to them. 

When older children are building with blocks and don't want the younger children to knock their creations down, I ask them to use their words. "Tell them you don't want them to touch your tower." It usually doesn't work very well as very young infants are quite egocentric and if they want to do something, they continually try to do it. So, I usually position myself on the floor near the structure and keep little ones from knocking the tower down, reminding them, "I think I heard M.. say that she doesn't want you to touch her tower. We need to find something else to do. I can build a tower for you to knock down or you can find something else to play with" I proceed to engage the younger children in something similar and keep them from the older children's creations.  Most of the time this works out well, and sooner rather than later they start to understand to respect the space and explorations of others. 

Then, sometimes, it all works out and we all explore together...
playing, learning, and growing with the help of each other. 

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

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Painting with snow ... and other snowy fun!

By Laura Eldredge

If you are lucky enough to live somewhere with winter weather – you can bring the outdoor in for a little snow day fun! Painting with (and ON) snow is a fun way to let children explore concepts of color mixing and the scientific properties of snow.

First, we scooped up a small bucket of clean snow and brought it inside (if you scoop your snow before you are ready to use it, then you'll need to keep it in the freezer until you are ready). We put snow into small bowls for children to use while watercolor painting.

Instead of using cups of water -- children wet their paint brushes with the snow. We discussed what snow is made from (water) - and how as the snow gets warmer inside it will start to melt (properties of matter). Using the snow instead of water keeps the brushes from getting TOO wet, and makes the watercolor pictures more vibrant, as well.

Inevitably, as the children cleaned and wet their brushes on the snow, the snow started to turn colorful. So we explored some color mixing in the process. In the end, many children enjoyed painting the snow more than their pictures! So we brought out some bowls and scooped some snow for children to paint on individually.

Other SNOWY activities and art projects

If you search on “snow” in our website (using our Idea Search Tool) … you’ll find a lot of additional fun snowy activities (many requiring materials OTHER THAN snow!).

Such as "Tactile table pretend snow" -- using salt, sugar and glitter!
Or "Snow Paint" -- using water, salt, flour, paintbrush and imagination!
And "Snow Dough" -- salt, flour, vegetable oil, water and clear glitter!

PreK + K sharing SNOWY DAY roundup!

Want more snow-filled, fun and educational ideas?   Here are a couple of other wintery posts from our preK + K sharing blog:

And more ideas can be found on PINTEREST!

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

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Sensory Tables Gone Differentiated! And a Freebie...

I have a mission! This post is a crusade of sorts.  I am here to in an effort to plead with teachers, administrators and anyone who will listen . . . "Please do not neglect your sensory (sand) tables."  I am serious.  I can not even tell you how many times I have heard from other early childhood educators that they have had to remove sensory play (and housekeeping but I'll save that for another post) from their classrooms because they are NOT academic.  

Seriously?  Not only are sensory tables 'academic,' but they are also a vital tool in differentiating! Yes, you heard me right.  Sensory tables are absolutely essential for differentiating instruction in an early childhood classroom. 

I know I'm always pulling these little visuals out (because I'm a visual learner) but they help me remember what differentiated instruction really is and why we do it.  So here you go:

Notice that we don't just differentiate in response to a student's readiness.  We also consider their interests-that's the HOOK!!!!   And we look at their learning profile.  Learning profile, of course, is the way we learn.  It's our learning styles and our multiple intelligences  . . .

  Looking at this chart, I can identify several MI learners that benefit from sensory table learning.  These kinds of activities will appeal to your kinesthetic learners who NEED to move.  It is ideal for you the linguistic learner who enjoys the dialogue associated with this kind of learning, the interpersonal learner who is working with other children and even the spatial learner who is coming up with the visual scenario of their 'story' in their mind.  It's differentiated instruction at its finest.  
I get it though.  I know that there might be administrators that see sensory tables as 'fluff.'  So I offer you some ideas that might help you on your quest to differentiate and align your instruction especially for all you sensory table lovers like me.

Don't have a sensory table?  Use a short sided plastic tote.  It works just as well and your kiddos will love it.

You can purchase colored sand and paint dog biscuits for a dinosaur feeling (in response to a learners 'interest.'  Here, my kinders are excavating real and nonsense word bones.  Depending on their level of readiness, some searched for three-letter words and others searched for four-lettered words.

Once they sorted them out, they recorded their findings, separating real from nonsense words.

You can grab this freebie that goes along with this activity for your own classroom by clicking below.

I'm sure your little paleontologists will love it.

Here I created plaster of paris stones with little dinosaurs hidden inside.  Students used excavating tools to claim the little dinos and then used books to identify which dinosaur they found.

Or how about something a little green for St. Patrick's Day.  I always have dyed rice laying around.  A simple favorite sand/sensory table filler.  This time I was given these little yellow tokens that I thought looked just like 'pieces of gold' that a leprechaun might have left.  I wrote real and nonsense words on them for my kinders to sort.

I know that not everyone has access to some gold pieces, so here is a little freebie that you can use in your in their place.  Just click on the picture.

How about rhyming!  I made of these little bugs for a rhyming activity in my sensory table.

Students find the matching bugs in the green grass (shredded green paper) and then clip them together with a fun clothes pin and foamy stuck to the end.

If you need a copy of this one, click on the picture below to get it.  It's FREE!!!

In the fall their is corn for shucking (love this fine motor activity to build strong fingers) and weighing. Students love to see how heavy a cup full of kernels versus an entire ear weighs. 

At Easter, we add eggs with a rime on one end and an onset on the other.  Viola! An aligned and fun word work activity.

I tier this activity by having some student word with only the CVC word combinations and others working with the CVCC word combinations.  They record the words they make.

Even polar animals can be a sorting activity (they that's a common core standard folks).  At this table my students sorted the Arctic and the Antarctic animals.  One little guy told me he 'had to sort them because they would never play together in real life.  They live to far away.'

These little butterflies had hidden pictures on them that my students would observe with their magnifying glasses.  Once they found the hidden picture, they would record the word on a recording sheet.

And finally, I love these little Dollar Tree orbs that you add water to and they expand.  These were great beginning of the year sensory table fun.  I had students sorting them and counting them, identifying which number of colored orbs was great and which was less.  All these activities align to a common core standard.  So how can so many classrooms being shying way from this great differentiated instructional tool?  

I hope before you toss aside your own table, you consider trying out a few of these activities.  If size is a factor (believe me I have the world's smallest kindergarten classroom), try a plastic tote for a substitute.  Sometimes I actually have my sand table and a tote going at the same time, I love it so much.

And just to maybe give you an added little nudge . . . I have one last freebie to offer you as the Valentine's season approaches.  So this one is for all you Sensory Table Lovers out there.  Just like me.


I am gradually getting my own "products" uploaded over to our EEE 
Early Education Emporium

Follow this direct link to find my little shop under the polka dot umbrella! 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Free Chinese New Year Celebration Dance Activity!

Hello EC Community,

The Chinese New Year in 2013 is February 10th.  We are saying good-bye to the Dragon, and entering the Year of the Snake!  Here is a lively movement lesson for young children that is based on ideas and traditions of the Chinese New Year.  It is designed for a large, unobstructed space, such as a gym.

A Dance Celebration
Copyright 2013, Connie Bergstein Dow


Body Awareness, Spatial Awareness, Rhythmic Awareness, Movement Quality, Prop Design and Exploration


Selections of Chinese music, preferably cuts that are upbeat and rhythmic


A large cloth (red color is preferable), small red (dessert-size) paper plates, black markers

Optional:  Visual aids, such as pictures of a Chinese New Year parade, and pictures of the animals in the Chinese Zodiac


I.  Greeting Dance

Start out the class by asking the children:  Do you know of a special holiday that many people celebrate this time of year? Explain that Chinese New Year is very similar to New Year in the United States, but it doesn’t happen at the same time, and many of the customs are different. 

Introduce the greeting dance.  This is inspired by the custom in which families go door-to-door and greet their families and friends, as a way to start off the New Year.  Put on one of the selections of music, and ask the children to walk to the beat.  Then, stop the music periodically.  Each time you stop, ask them to greet the nearest person.  First let them greet them with a “hello” and a wave, but then ask them to greet someone without words, and then ask them to wave with different body parts, such as a foot or an elbow.

II.  Gross Motor Skills Practice:
Continue the activity by leading the children in a gross motor skill exercise based on the many animals that represent different years in the Chinese Calendar.  (Show the pictures of the various animals if you have them): 

Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Boar.

Line the children up on one side of the large space with plenty of room between each child.  Tell them that they will go back and forth across the space, responding to your instructions.  Use the prompts below as a framework and add your own ideas.  Allow the children to develop each prompt before moving on to the next one.

  •      It is the year of the Snake -- how does a snake move?
  •      How would a Monkey move?
  •      Now can you go across the floor like a Rooster?
  •      Imagine you are a Dragon.  What do you look like?  How would you move?  Would you fly?      Or are you a water dragon?
  •       Imagine you are a Rat on a dark night.  Would you move quietly and swiftly?
  •       Can you move slowly through the field like a Sheep? 
  •       Now can you gallop through the field like a Horse?
  •       Imagine you are an Ox pulling a heavy load behind you.  How does that change the way you move?
  •       Can you move like a playful Dog, doing tricks as you go across the floor? 
  •      Can you dart and dodge in a zigzag pattern, imagining you are a Boar?
  •      Can you run slowly and quietly, and then leap and imagine you are a Tiger?
  •       Let’s all hop across the floor like a Rabbit!  

    III.  Dragon Parade   

      For the remainder of this lesson, you will prepare for the class’s Chinese New Year celebration.  First, ask the children to make their own dragon faces.  (Bring out the small red paper plates and black markers).  Suggest to them that they design the dragon face on the plate, and then set them aside.  Red is the color of Chinese New Year which symbolizes good luck, so you might want to discuss that as they are drawing.  You can also play one of the musical selections while the children are designing their faces.
      Another custom of Chinese New Year is parades, so explain that they are going to make their very own parade.  Bring out the large cloth.  The children will line up, and each child holds the cloth either to the side of them, or over their heads (but not covering their heads). The lead person holds his or her dragon face up high, and the line becomes the "dragon."  Play some music, and then let each child take a turn being the dragon's "head" by holding her dragon face high in the air as she leads the line.

      For a final celebration dance, ask the children hold the dragon face he or she has designed, and while the children move freely throughout the space, prompt them to dance about all of the ideas you have talked about:  greetings, animals of the Chinese calendar, parades,  dragons, etc. 

     When the dance is finished, ask each child to hold his or her dragon face high in the air while making a dragon shape in their body, holding the shape for a few counts, then melting to the floor.  


Happy 2013, and Keep On Dancin',


Sunday, January 20, 2013

Reading Resolutions by Dr. Danny Brassell

Resolving to Read More in Front of Your Children

photo of: Reading Resolutions 2013 by Dr. Danny Brassell at PreK+K Sharing

Every January I create a wish list of New Year’s resolutions. They range from health and wellness goals to financial targets, areas to improve my relationships with family and friends to spiritual and personal development goals. What I noticed about this year’s list was how prominently reading played a role in all of my goals – one way or another.

I want to lose weight this year (I’ve successfully lost over a thousand pounds over the years; the problem is that I have gained over 1210 pounds for a net gain of 210 pounds). I want to earn more money. I’d like to spend more time with my wife and kids. Can any of you relate to these humble aspirations?
Interestingly, reading is the route to achieve all that I want to achieve.
When I write this blog I like to provide tips for parents of young children interested in boosting their children’s reading attitudes and aptitudes. Providing a lot of wonderful reading materials is crucial, and reading aloud to your children is essential. What a lot of parents fail to understand, however, is how important it is for children to see their parents reading for pleasure.
In 2013, can you resolve to show your children every day how important reading plays a role in your life? Here are some ways I plan to show my children how enthusiastic I am to read this year.

Health and Wellness. I resolve to learn how to cook ten healthy meals this year. After reading a lot on the subject, watching a couple of videos and enjoying a few wonderful talks at a TEDx event I recently spoke at in the San Diego area (be sure to check out my talk at:, I want to learn how to cook vegan meals. I’m not a cook, and I am overweight. I figure if I am going to learn how to cook some dishes, they might as well be healthy. In order to cook decent meals for my family, I have already been scouring a number of vegan cookbooks (Da Capo books, in particular, features a lot of wonderful vegan cookbooks) and Googling a variety of websites. By educating myself, I hope to provide healthier options for my own children so they do not grow up with the junk food carvings that I have battled all of my life. What can you read to promote a healthier household?
Financial Matters. I have been blessed to have a number of influential mentors enter my life to help me grow my speaking and consulting business these past few years. While I know some of these mentors personally, a great many more line the shelves of my libraries at home and in my office. They are authors whom I have never met personally, yet they have influenced my work in countless ways. It used to drive me nuts to sit in the living room with my kids as they watched their programs on television. Now, I actually relish that time as an opportunity for me to read something new to help enhance the way I conduct business.

Spiritual and Personal Development. It was Rick Warren’s suggestion in The Purpose-Driven Life that prompted me to finally read the Bible in its entirety. Warren suggests that if you read ten minutes of Scripture each night, it should take you about a year to finish. It actually only took me ten months, although I think the Book of Leviticus may have lasted a month itself! With so many tragic events on the news every evening, I have decided that watching the news just bums me out, so I am going to re-direct my attention to more positive works, like the book I am reading now, Unstoppable by Nick Vunicic, who was born with no arms and no legs and convinces me that there are people who are put on this Earth to inspire others. I am a happier and healthier person to surround myself with positive literature, and I hope it rubs off in all that I do.

Relationships. My children are growing up so fast! Kate is 9, Sean is 7 and Samantha is 3, and all of them melt me! I wish I could control my life with a remote control slow-motion button, as I cherish time spent reading in bed with my kids. Roald Dahl is a treasure, and my two oldest and I get a kick reading and giggling at Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda or The BFG before going to bed. Samantha and I have read just about every Berenstain Bears book ever written (if that is possible). And, since I purchased a Kindle for my wife’s birthday, I am trying to keep up with whatever she reads. I even found myself not entirely finding Nicholas Sparks to be as painful as I had anticipated.
To truly impress upon your children the value of reading, you need to be reading in front of your children as much as possible. Yes, it is very important to read aloud with your children. It is equally important, however, for your children to see how much you value reading in your own daily life.
So I resolve to incorporate more reading in front of my children this year, and I hope you will join me in doing the same. What are some areas of your life that you’d like to improve in 2013 where reading can play a vital role? Please share your comments.

Danny Brassell, Ph.D., is “America’s Leading Reading Ambassador,” helping parents and educators inspire kids to love reading and achieve more. He is the author of eleven books, including his top-selling Secrets for Successful Readers. A father of three and professor in the Teacher Education Department at California State University-Dominguez Hills, he is the founder of The Lazy Readers’ Book Club,, Google’s #1-ranked site for cool, “short book recommendations” for all ages. Watch video tips and learn more from Danny at, and check out his TEDx-Village Gate talk The Reading Makeover at

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Birds of a feather....

 Check out our flocks of birds hanging around our classrooms! 
One class created painted paper bird houses with paintedpaper birds another 
with flowering vines.
We used all geometric shapes to create this project. 

Circles, semi-circles, triangles, rectangles, and ovals for the birds.

Pentagons, rectangles, and circles for the bird house. 

Another class painted morning glory vines and flowers then added a painted paper bird

we looked at the poem

(Author Unknown)

Once the Morning-Glory was flat on the ground. She grew that way, and she had never climbed at all. Up in the top of a tree near her lived Mrs Jennie Wren and her little baby Wren. The little Wren was lame; he had a broken wing and couldn't fly. He stayed in the nest all day. But the mother Wren told him all about what she saw in the world, when she came flying home at night. She used to tell him about the beautiful Morning-Glory she saw on the ground. She told him about the Morning-Glory every day, until the little Wren was filled with a desire to see her for himself.
"How I wish I could see the Morning- Glory!" he said.
The Morning-Glory heard this, and she longed to let the little Wren see her face. She pulled herself along the ground, a little at a time, until she was at the foot of the tree where the little Wren lived. But she could not get any farther, because she did not know how to climb. At last she wanted to go up so much, that she caught hold of the bark of the tree, and pulled herself up a little. And little by little, before she knew it, she was climbing.
And she climbed right up the tree to the little Wren's nest, and put her sweet face over the edge of the nest, where the little Wren could see.
That was how the Morning-Glory came to climb.

then we started to painted our beautiful morning glory vine and flowers. 

Start with a line and curl it and/or twist it

add some oil pastels lines on top for add details.

Week Two: we created the birds using the geometric shapes 

I let them choose their bird's eye:
Sharpie, construction paper or you guessed it-
 Wiggle Eyes! I am always amazed at how much kids love these! 
Never take the fun out of creating because that is when the learning begins!

Laura is an elementary art teacher and the author of the blog Painted Paper. She has presented her thematic units nationally at the National Art Education Association and Ohio Art Education Association Conferences. You can follow her updates on fun and creative projects for kids here.

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