Pumpkin Day!

We had the perfect fall day for Pumpkin Day! Before school, I set up a little pumpkin patch in the backyard on campus.

When the bell rang, the kindergarten students came into our classroom for a quick lesson on the lifecycle of a pumpkin. All the written activities for the day are included in this fun pumpkin-shaped book.

Then it was out to the patch we went! Each student selected a pumpkin of their choice.

Once we were back inside, we used our five senses to describe our pumpkins.

Next, we broke into groups where the students participated in five pumpkin-themed activities. Here is how I organized our centers:

Students measured the height of their pumpkins using unifix cubes.

They predicted the circumference of their pumpkin, used yarn to measure, and compared their results.

Students listened to several stories about pumpkins using QR codes.  They completed a mystery picture using a hundred chart.

Finally, students practiced rhyming by matching pumpkin pairs.

But, we were not done celebrating all things pumpkin! We completed a survey that answered, “How do you like pumpkin best?” Students in kindergarten like pumpkin bread the best.

We also enjoyed a science experiment where we investigated whether or not a pumpkin would float. Most students thought pumpkins would sink! Even after I placed a pumpkin in water and they took turns watching it bob up and down, many students still did not believe that their pumpkin would float. I gave each student an opportunity to try! They were simply amazed!

We wrapped up Pumpkin Day with a yummy pumpkin muffin treat!

How Does It Work? Literacy Centers Edition

Every year, I revamp Literacy Centers, formerly known as Literacy Workstations. I decided to change the name this year because often, when students hear the word “work,” they are less inclined to be excited about the activity. So, Literacy Centers was born. My centers’ rotations also depend on the number of students enrolled. I like to keep my groups small with three or four students; that way, they truly receive individualized instruction. To do that this year, I am moving from four center rotations to six. I spent the summer trying to balance our daily schedule innovatively…there was no way I could expect the students to participate in six centers daily. Plus, if each center takes 15 minutes, having six daily rotations would mean a lot less time for thematic units. (I will post about thematic units soon!) So, after a lot of sketches, prototypes, and ideas, I decided that students would complete six Literacy Centers over the course of two days.

Here is how that currently looks:

I am in charge of managing the four inside centers, and Mrs. Riley manages the two outside centers. (The outside stations are the stations with the sun clipart. I thought this visual would help students know where to go.)  Let’s take a look at the activities.

Students who are meeting with me are receiving differentiated instruction that meets their individual needs. I use various materials to help students learn letter sounds, blend sounds together, and ultimately begin reading. Once students are reading CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words, they begin reading decodable text. Because I am meeting each students’ needs during this specific rotation, I also prepare lessons that target reading comprehension skills. Using Guided Reading Level books, I can easily differentiate my program to accommodate all reading levels, including those students who come into kindergarten reading at a third-grade level!

For the Listening Center, in the age of COVID, students use an iPad and their own set of headphones to listen to a story. Each story can be found by scanning a QR code. Students are then taken to Safe Share T.V., where they listen and follow along with a book that is being read aloud. Many times the story that I have chosen fits in perfectly with our current topic of study.

The Word Work Center has been completely revamped. Look at these perfect storage containers! I saw them this summer and intended to find the number I needed in the specific color I wanted. I am grateful my sweet husband agreed to stop at just about every Dollar Tree on the way to Monterrey to make that happen!

Inside each kit are all the materials one student needs to complete the activity. Here is a closer look:

Students match uppercase and lowercase letters and link the matching cards together.

Students use clothespins to clip the images that start with the given letter.

My goal with the Word Work Center is that students are engaged, demonstrating knowledge, building fine motor skills, and working independently for ten to fifteen minutes. As students’ literacy skills grow, so will the Word Work Center. The focus will move from identifying beginning sounds to middle and ending sounds to digraphs and long vowel sounds. There is so much that can be covered!

The Write the Room Center allows students to move around the classroom while completing the activity. I hang little cards around the classroom that have images on them. As students become more familiar with my hiding places, I try to get creative and hang the cards in trickier spots. (I might have hung some on the ceiling or under a student desk at one point!) Students have their own clipboard and recording sheet. Each Write the Room activity is based on a specific skill. For example, last week, students looked for picture cards that rhymed with an image on their paper.

Here is an example of the picture cards that were hanging around the room.

They then had to either draw a picture of the item that rhymes or write the actual word.

Recording Sheet

This is the perfect way to differentiate the activity! I love that students can be active during this center and that they have to demonstrate an independent understanding of specific skills.

The fifth rotation meets outside with the kindergarten assistant, Mrs. Riley. Mrs. Riley’s center usually focuses on learning our weekly Star Words, or sight words, or practicing printing using a specific series of strokes. We begin the year using the Zaner-Bloser printing curriculum. As the year progresses, students are given several opportunities to formally practice printing in a small group environment, focusing on pencil grip, letter formation, and more. I have created a Dinosaur A-Z printing book and a Santa Barbara Marine Life A-Z book to support these learning goals during our thematic units.

Our final rotation will change twice a week. For the first two days, students will enjoy using their Challenge Kits. (Foxwell Forest, TPT) These kits are amazing! Of course, they are theme-based, which I love. They also focus on strengthening fine motor and spatial awareness skills. Each kit uses building blocks (aka LEGO bricks), a mini Magna doodle, and playdoh. Students receive a set of task cards for each manipulative. This week students will be creating things that have a short vowel a in them.

Examples of Challenge Kit cards. Really incredible. Kind of wish I had thought of the concept!

The activity for the second rotation is a Playdoh Literacy Kit.  Students have other opportunities to use playdoh for creative fun, and I aimed to find activities that focus on literacy skills. Activities for this center include a syllable smash where students choose a picture card and roll several balls of playdoh. They then smash the same number of balls as there are syllables in words.

Example of cards students will use for Syllable Smash activity.

Students also use playdoh and letter stamps to identify the pictures’ beginning, middle, and ending sounds.

I anticipate changing this sixth center activity as the year progresses and students learn different skills. Perhaps this center will turn into a writing center second semester. I know the possibilities are endless.

We are wrapping up the second week of this new-to-me system, and so far, so good!


How Does It Work? Busy Boxes

New this year are Busy Boxes! This summer, when I was at the Dollar Tree in the teacher section, I was inspired by some really cool-looking lidded boxes. I knew I wanted them for the classroom, but at that point, I didn’t know how I could use them. Think, think, think! A-ha! What if I created activities that were of high interest and so engaging that the students would use when they finish an activity. All the supplies needed would be included in each box! In the past, when students completed their work, they were able to grab their book bins or work on their Extra Word Packets. (These packets are thematic and differentiated worksheets that offer students an opportunity to reinforce and strengthen skills or offer challenge opportunities.)

So, immediately, I started going through my files and setting aside math and language arts activities that I love, but often do not have time to formally use. I also remembered that I had created a bunch of fine motor strengthening activities that my class last year enjoyed using. I had so many fun and thoughtful activities that I wanted to include. I even had the perfect shelf already in my classroom that I could use to house the boxes!

Here are some of those Busy Box activities:

Cut along the dotted lines using fancy scissors.

Strengthen fine motor skills but putting and taking apart screws and bolts.

Old-fashioned fun with dot-to-dots and a smelly marker!

Write a kind note to a friend using a fancy pen.

Practice drawing symmetrical objects.

Jenga! I wrote letters on Jenga blocks. Choose a block and say the letter name and sound.

Practice sewing with these lacing activities.

Identify shapes with this shape spinner game.

Mazes are a great way for students to sharpen their pencil control and problem-solving skills.

I introduced Busy Boxes to the class last week, and students could not get enough. I did have to remind students that it is important that they do their best, careful work on the original activity, as many were wanting to move right to the Busy Bins! I am considering making Busy Bins an option during Choice Time so that the novelty wears off. I’m happy they were such a success.

It’s a New School Year!

We’re off and running for the 21-22 school year! I am excited to share some new additions to the kindergarten program and take an opportunity to go into more detail about some of the “oldies but goodies” that are tried and true! Let’s start!

This year, I decided to really focus on strengthening the social side of our classroom family. One of the things I wanted to try was implementing a morning greeting daily. When students enter the classroom, they choose a greeting.

It is fun for me to try to anticipate each student’s selected greeting. Fist bump continues to be a fan favorite!

Another new part of our day is the addition of a daily question to our Morning Meeting. Each week I assign students a partner. This week the partners are avocado and toast.

After I ask the question of the day, students find their partners and share an answer. I found these cute question cards that help me keep this portion of our morning meeting interesting. (First Grade Lemonade, TPT)

To practice truly listening to our partners, I encourage pairs to share the other person’s response.

I also wanted to add a quick practice skill to our Morning Meetings. The addition of pocket chart rhymes and songs is something I am looking forward to using daily to teach literacy and math skills. In the example below, students sort cookies according to the number of syllables the image on that cookie has.

Each year, inevitably, markers become estranged from their caps, Morning Exploring manipulatives fall out of their tubs, and crayons roll away. I end up having random items all over the classroom. This year I decided to create a “Found It!” bin where students can put all the items they find! Hopefully, the items will be reunited with their owners!

Our “Found It!” bin

The current contents of the bin.

I also went crazy with crayons!  Students each have a set of 24 crayons in their desks.

Isn’t this teacher hack the best? What a perfect container in which to store crayons.

I spent waaaayyyy too much time at the Dollar Tree this summer collecting crayons. I found pearl crayons, colors of the world crayons, neon crayons, unicorn crayons (!) Of course, I had to have them all….and they are all organized into these perfect little containers. You need a specific crayon? I for sure have it!

This year I also decided to change up Literacy Centers, aka Literacy Workstations, and have a two-day rotation where students complete three centers a day. (I will post about Literacy Centers soon!)

The classroom setup has evolved. I moved my small group table to the other side of the room, utilizing the space in this strange corner where a student desk could never be because of a door. (My classroom has a grand total of seven doors!)

I also moved our Read Every Day! station and Mrs. Riley’s work area to the opposite area of the room. This space was also awkward and unusable as a location for students’ desks because of the wall that would block their view of the SmartBoard.

I added a bright, colorful carpet to the back of the classroom for students to use as an inviting place to create, build, and work. I am excited that I can have a space in the front of the room to welcome students to sit on the carpet. Currently, there is room for about half the class, so the students who are seated in the back of the room have the first option to come up and sit on the rug.

I gave my crate chairs a makeover, using this fun owl-themed fabric.

I created a new birthday display.

Late last year I requested new iPad charging stations from our Tech Department. My wish was granted when I received four charging stations to house my 19 brand-new iPads.

The bins sit atop a solid shelf and are at the perfect height for students to be able to grab and go. Each iPad has a number that corresponds to each student, so students will be able to remain logged in on specific apps…yippee! I have iPad expectations clearly posted.

Each year, I read the book “How Full Is Your Bucket?” We really work hard to fill one another’s buckets daily in a variety of ways. I wanted to make this idea more concrete, so I created this interactive bulletin board. Students customized their buckets, and I hung them, along with their bucket filler tag ring. Now, each time a student is caught making a positive learning choice, we can easily add a tag to the ring!

I love how bright this display is!

Here we go! What an exciting year I have planned!

How Does It Work: Morning Meeting Edition!

I have revamped our Morning Meetings this year and am just thrilled with how they are going. Our day starts with a greeting. I meet students at the door where they select a greeting from eight choices.

Click on this link to watch our greeting in action!

I switch up the greetings weekly, but so far, the fist bump has been the most popular. We begin our Morning Meetings after a quick round of Morning Exploring. (I will upload a blog post about Morning Exploring soon!) I start the meeting by quickly reviewing the schedule for the day.

Next, I pick a Lucky Duck. The Lucky Duck is the student who is the helper of the day. This student is the line leader, helper, brain break chooser, messenger, etc. They do all the jobs for the day!

We then launch into our Morning Message where we begin by counting the number of days we have been in school. Currently, we are reviewing letter sounds. We watch a quick and silly Story Bots video for each letter. Then we do a morning Chit Chat on the SmartBoard. Here is an example of our Chit Chat for tomorrow.

Students take turns giving me words that begin with the letter of the day. Later in the year, students will begin editing the Morning Message, as I will begin to make intentional errors to help teach specific spelling and grammar rules.

Next, is our Question of the Day. This year my goal is to encourage the students to make connections with each other. One way of doing that is through the question of the day. Using our pair system, students find their partner of the week and take turns answering the questions.

Examples of questions include, “What is your favorite color? What is your favorite food?” etc. Then I ask the partner to share the information they learned.

Another new addition to Morning Meetings is the poem of the day that focuses on phonemic awareness or literacy skills. This week, students chanted “Sizzle, sizzle, Breakfast time. Pick an egg. Find its rhyme!”

They searched for a bacon card that rhymes with an egg card. I, of course, made up hand movements to further illustrate the poem. Super silly, super fun…what better way to learn!

Morning Meeting is also a time for me to check in with the students about social experiences. If I am noticing that sharing has become a challenge, then I read aloud a book about sharing. We discuss what sharing looks like and feels like. If students are struggling to use kind words with each other, then Morning Meeting is a great time to role-play and model conversations.

Morning Meeting takes anywhere from ten to twenty-five minutes. These are some of the most important minutes of our day, as we not only strengthen academic skills, but also build our kind and compassionate classroom community.

Fairy Tale Day

Our Fairy Tale Unit would not be complete without our Fairy Tale Day Celebration! Kindergarteners were invited to come to school dressed as their favorite fairy tale character today. Look who came to celebrate:

We had Rumplestiltskin, a dragon, Belle, Cinderella, Baby Bear, a little Pig,  a frog, and more!

Once students crossed into Fairy Tale Land, they were shocked to hear that Rumplestiltskin had placed a spell on Fairy Tale Land because he wanted to ruin Cinderella’s and Prince Charming’s very special wedding day. The kindergarteners had to travel through Fairy Tale Land completing seven STEM challenges. At the end of each challenge, the students would receive a magical letter and a stamp on their Fairy Tale Land Passport. All of these pieces were stored in their fairy tale duct tape pouches that we made during Friday Fun a few weeks ago.

At the end of all seven rotations, the seven magical letters would be unscrambled to create a special word that will break the spell!

Here is a quick look at the rotations:

  1. Goldilocks needs help making a new chair that can hold Baby Bear. Students used cubes to create the chair. Baby Bear was a can of soda….it was a lot of weight for the chair to hold!

2. Beauty and the Beast needed a new stained glass window for their castle. They specifically needed a rose to be in the center of the window.


3. Rapunzel needs help escaping her tower. First, students measured the length of her braid using nonstandard unifix cubes. Then they constructed the tower using Magna-Tiles, making sure her braid was close enough to the ground to allow her to escape.

4. The gingerbread man needs to be captured! Students had to build a trap to do just that!

5. Little Red Riding Hood needs help finding Grandma’s house. Students used dominos to create a safe path for her to follow.

6.  Snow White needs help tricking the evil witch. Students built an apple tree with the goal of holding the most apples.


7. Jack needs help escaping the Giant! Students had to put a 100 chart in order to help him escape!

Phew! Once the challenges were complete, students took out their magical letters and arranged them to create the word:


FRIENDS! Because friends make everything more fun! What a magical morning we had.



Thank you, Covid! (I cannot believe I am even saying that!!)

What a year! We have just three days of school left in this strange yet incredibly successful school year. I often find myself reflecting on my teaching practices at this time of the year, making notes of what worked and what needs changing. This year is no different, however, I find myself energized and grateful for what I learned and accomplished this year. Yes, Covid made teaching tough. But many of the changes I made to circumvent the restrictions and protocols are ones that I will continue to utilize in years to come. Covid has made me a better teacher, and it certainly made me more grateful for little things that I never have noticed before.

Rewinding back to September, we usually have an all-school orientation meeting the Tuesday before school begins. This year we opted to have each student select a 20-minute time slot to come for an individual teacher meet and greet. What an amazing day this was! To be able to connect with each student in a one-on-one environment set the tone for success. I was able to show each student their supplies, their desk, the bathroom, the handwashing protocols, and more.

I also did a quick reading assessment so that I had a baseline for who was blending sounds together and who was learning the alphabet. Each student had a chance to ask me questions, tour our learning space, and soak it all in without anyone else around!

Going over classroom expectations meant that students had to do a lot less listening to me yap the next day. Golden! This orientation day was so meaningful to me that I already have begged to do it again next year, even though it means potentially six hours of orientation instead of just one. The extra time spent on my part was worth it because of the connections I made with my new students.

Another Covid thank you is the individual book bins I started. In the past, I had a class library filled with thematic books. There was also a section that housed “just right” books for the students. (These are books that are at students’ reading level.) Well, Covid protocols prohibited the sharing of materials. I racked my brain to come up with a solution. How could I get all the important books into the hands of my kinders without having to sanitize in between each reading? The lightbulb moment was individual book bins!

I fill each student’s bin with several books that relate to our current unit of study. Then I fill them with books that are at or near their reading level. Any time a student finishes early, they are welcome to grab their book bins. They LOVE this! I rotate the books every Friday so that students always have something new to read. I will definitely continue this practice next school year.

Another activity that I will continue is the use of QR codes for my Listening Workstation. I have amassed a huge collection of books on CD. Again, when I found out we couldn’t share materials, I knew there was no way I could use my listening center the way that I always had. I started thinking about how to implement a daily listening activity that required little to no sanitizing and remembered a training I had attended about QR codes. I tried it out myself and was thrilled to see how easy it was to use, especially with a newer iPad. Use the camera function, scan the QR code, click on Safari and push play! Kindergartners could do this, no problem! I asked our Tech Department for a class set of headphones, which I promptly numbered so each student had their own. Then I prepared all the QR codes according to the themes I teach. I made each student a personal QR code binder ring where they would store their QR codes.

With more than 150 different QR read-aloud codes, I sent home a full binder ring after Winter Break. Students will bring home their second set tomorrow. Parents, if you need some downtime this summer, give your kids their iPads and their QR code ring, and they can listen and read along dozens and dozens of books, all uploaded to a safe sharing website, so no YouTube ads!

So much of my kindergarten program revolves around hands-on activities that focus on language arts and math but that also have a fine motor development component. It was important to me that I figured out a way to continue to be able to make these activities a part of our daily learning. Fortunately, I found these pencil boxes on Amazon that are great quality, easy for the children to open, and not super expensive.

I must have ordered fifteen or more sets of these boxes! (Thank you, Laguna!) These boxes made it easy for me to prep the activities ahead of time and keep the supplies organized. Everything needed to complete the activity, from tongs to dice to dry erase markers, fits into the pencil box. Plus, I have stored each monthly set in a large crate, so the activities are already prepped and ready for next year!

Students loved using the fun tools and manipulatives daily to solidify skills and strengthen their fine motor muscles!

We continued with Literacy Workstations, but since we needed to be six or three feet apart, I decided to move half the workstations outside with my assistant. What I noticed immediately was that the classroom was much quieter, with only half the students inside. This meant the children were very focused during their Literacy Workstation rotation with me. More focus meant more reading! Plus, I strategically arranged for the four rotations to have a group inside for one, and then outside for the next, and so on. This gave the students ample opportunities to move and get their wiggles out in between each rotation. This is another Covid tweak that I will continue to use next year.

A final Covid gift was the technology that our Tech Department gifted me. This included a Madonna-inspired microphone headset that I received the second month of school from our Tech Department. My voice was gone, my throat was aching from how loudly I had to speak so that students could hear me over the mandated fans and air purifiers, the open doors (which let in the neighbors’ construction noise!), and the spread-out desks. Tech Department to the rescue! With the gift of the headset, I was able to set the wireless speaker up in the back part of the classroom. I could be anywhere in our learning space and everyone could hear me! Then, as I was walking laps around the classroom showing the illustrations while reading a picture book aloud, the Tech Department suggested I try a document camera. AMAZING! I could project anything onto the SmartBoard with the document camera. This meant that students in the back row could see just as well as those in the front! Another problem solved.

I am very proud of all we accomplished this year. Our program was not compromised. Students still engaged in all the meaningful and educational activities like in years past. I am grateful that from these challenging times,  we found positive alternatives to make learning fun.  I do look forward to the day when I can see my students’ smiles and welcome them to play cooperative games with each other or help a friend pick up something that has fallen, but wow….we did it. We did it together with positive attitudes, trust, and kindness. Thank you, parents, for your care, calmness, and trust in me. Thank you, Laguna, for the ability to purchase whatever my classroom needed to make learning successful this year. And thank you colleagues for your unwavering support, love, and laughter during this challenging year. WE DID IT!!


Earth Day

We have been enthusiastically celebrating Earth Day for the past week. It started with an earth necklace project, where students painted salt dough circles to look like the earth.

We also wrote about what we can do to help keep the earth healthy. Here are some of our ideas:

The students participated in five Earth Day-themed rotations today. There were math activities, fine motor activities, craft activities, and more!

Students used pattern blocks to make the earth and a recycle logo.

Geoboards with Earth Day inspirations helped students to strengthen fine motor skills while using shapes to make the earth, a leaf, recycle bins, and trash cans.

We completed our multi-day earth necklace project with students adding some beads to their necklace.

Our celebration wrapped up with a book exchange. Each student was invited to bring in a gently used book to add to our exchange. They took turns choosing a new book, to which I added a special Earth Day bookplate with their names! Happy Earth Day!


Only One You

Last week we read the book Only One You by Linda Kranz. “There’s only one you in this great big world. Make it a better place. Adri’s mama and papa share some of the wisdom they have gained through the years with their eager son. Their words, simple and powerful, are meant to comfort and guide him as he goes about exploring the world. This exquisitely illustrated book explodes with color and honest insights. Kranz’s uniquely painted rockfish, set against vibrant blue seas, make an unforgettable and truly special impression. Only One You will inspire parents and children of all ages as they swim through the sea of life.” (Amazon)

We used this book as inspiration to create our very own rockfish! I love how these turned out!

Desk Pets

What encourages positive behavior and gives students a chance to engage in creative writing? Desk pets, of course! The kindergarten students were introduced to these cute little items yesterday.

I chose to have ocean animal-themed desk pets, as we are still studying oceans.

Desk Pets are just like real pets. They need food, shelter, and exercise. I am using mini erasers for food and exercise and these great little boxes from Dollar Tree for shelters.

During Literacy Workstations, students met with me to fill out an adoption application. They took this activity very seriously.

The application asked for details such as the age of the desk pet, the potential name for the desk pet, and why the student would be a good owner. Then, students had to agree to:

-keep their pet in their provided home

-check-in on their pet each day they are at school

-always work hard in class to earn food, games, and decorations for their pet

-keep their desk clean.

The application was signed and dated….we’re very official here in kindergarten.

Then, they waited in anticipation as I reviewed each application overnight.

This morning during Literacy Workstations students were presented with their official certificates of adoption. There were big cheers all around!

After our math lesson, we had a few extra minutes for the students to read books from their book bins. I was delighted to see so many of the students reading aloud to their new desk pet.

In the days to come, students will keep a journal about their desk pets. I will also provide them with materials to make blankets and rugs for their pets. Some students are even incorporating their desk pets into their Choice Time activities! The possibilities are endless!