Preschool Inspirations

The world is their playground!


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Lacing Beads and Literacy

Lacing Beads and Literacy

Here is a great Montessori inspired activity that my preschool class has been enjoying lately to practice identifying and spelling names. We try to do lots of fine motor activities, so I thought this would be a fun way to combine letter recognition. While my preschool is not an official Montessori, I certainly try to incorporate Montessori techniques into our learning on a daily basis.

Lacing Beads and Literacy

This wooden lacing kit is made by Melissa and Doug, and I found that it simplified my prep time. Any sort of letter beads could be used instead though. It was important to me to be able to separate the letters out, so that the correct ones could be easily found. This definitely achieved that purpose, and there were several to choose from. I also realized that some children would need close supervision with so many lacing beads, yet others could let me know when (or if) they would need my assistance.

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First, I went through all the children in the class and wrote their names for them. While I traditionally only try to use a capital letter and the rest lower case, I felt that I needed to put their name in all capitals as well since that is what these specific letters are. Then I showed them how to find the letter in the box that matched the letter on their name card. I laced my entire name through with their help, then it was their turn. I let them find their own names (and helped if needed) to help with name recognition, they then chose whichever lace they wanted. The very proficient four years olds completed this task well, but the younger ones were allowed extra freedom and flexibility. They mostly focused on finding some letters in their name or even letters that they liked. My philosophy is that as long as they are engaged and enjoy what I am working with them on, that’s more important than whether they are doing it exactly right.

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Preschool Supplies for Back to School

Preschool Supplies

I must admit that I am always super excited when it’s time to buy more supplies for my preschool. When I was an Assistant Director, I had six classrooms that I was in charge of buying supplies for. That was school shopping heaven to me! Now that I just have my one classroom, my budget has weaned down substantially. There are certainly supplies that I feel are the best use of our money, so I wanted to highlight them for anyone who is buying for a preschool center, child care center, in home preschool, homeschool preschool, or Sunday School program. This is by no means an extensive list, but it is a bunch of my personal favorites. The first three areas I am going to share about are art, science, and math. To see the rest of the series you can click here: sensory play and fine motor activities, movement and music, and manipulatives and puzzles.

Please be sure to provide proper supervision with these materials.

art suppliesPaint: My favorite is washable tempera paint from Discount School Supply because it is the best quality for the price. Other paints I have bought have had an undesirable scent and aren’t as vibrant.

Crayons: I love the twistables because they stay the same size, so I don’t have to worry as much about them getting too small and becoming a choking hazard. There is some training required in helping them twist it to a good height though.

Paint brushes: It’s great to have the chubby ones for new painters and skinnier ones as they become more proficient in painting.

Markers: Go for washable!

Scissors: We have the kind that won’t cut hair and also the kind that work really well. I save the ones that cut really well for the four year olds and older three year olds who have proven themselves trustworthy.

Liquid Watercolor: This is a food coloring substitute, and it is amazing!!! It is washable, and I almost couldn’t imagine life without it. You can find it at Discount School Supply.

Glue bottles and glue sticks: Some projects need liquid glue, but I am also a huge fan of glue sticks since it is easiest for a preschooler to use.

Play dough: We make a homemade recipe so that we can add peppermint to it, and it lasts longer than store bought too.

Shimmer: Okay, so this would be a splurge item. I just love adding glitter to our art supplies, so it’s worth it to us! I purchase “Make it Glitter” at Discount school supply and add it to paint and discovery bottles.

Paper: Get an assortment of colors. I usually buy this in bulk at Costco. I like to get tissue paper at the dollar store.

Pom poms: These are great for so many projects! I buy big bags through Discount School Supply or with a coupon at Hobby Lobby.

Chenille stems (pipe cleaners): I think that almost any project could use these in some sort of form. They’re great for science too as you will see below.

Googly eyes: I find these at my local dollar store, and there are fancy ones too with eye lashes and colored eyes (although I wish I could get those ones at the dollar store too).

Science

Natural items: I rotate items such as sea shells, rocks, pine cones, leaves, etc. We have our own class greenhouse, so I do a lot with plants, vegetables, and observing growth. However, anyone can do something as simple as planting grass seed as pictured in the upper left corner.

Tools: These are just items to use to explore what they are observing such as a magnifying glass, tweezers, insect cages, butterfly tents, etc.

Photos of nature: Books are a great source for these. I love finding books at the library with actual photographs of what we are studying. My husband and I also love to photograph, and since we live in Colorado, we have lots of opportunities to take pictures of weather, animals, and other natural occurrences such as leaves changing color. National Geographic has some great magazines for children that offer beautiful pictures as well.

Class pet: Pets are wonderful source of learning for children. I have had classes with fish and guinea pigs, as well as an occasional visit from a class member’s friend from home. I have not had much luck with my last two class fish, so we’ve stuck with class plants for now.

Magnets: We are addicted to magnets…floating magnets, using chenille stems as magnets, magnetic white boards, magnetic letters, etc. I keep magnetic strips around so that I can make more magnets even. The floating magnets pictured in the above collage is from Discount School Supply.

Math for Preschoolers

Counting Bears: These have been my all time favorite math activity. Oh yeah, my classes have loved them too! They are available at any school supply store and amazon.

Number correspondence activities: Many of these can be homemade, or there are tons of printables online for them. The fish one pictured above is from obseussed.com.

Learning mats: Scholastic has put out a bunch of great learning mats. We have another one that is patterns too. These types of materials can be replicated and teacher made/homemade by laminating a math activity of your choice. I usually make ones for whatever unit we are studying.

Sorting activities: Many materials can be used to teach sorting, whether it’s by color, shape, or size. I used some buttons above that I bought from Oriental Trading Company. I chose these particular ones because they are not a choking hazard.

Patterns: Typically, lots of sorting objects can be used to make patterns too. We love to make patterns out of our snacks, finger puppets, and of course…counting bears!

Shapes: There are some fantastic ways to explore shapes. Pattern blocks and boards supply hours of fun in our class, and we also love shape puzzles. The self correcting puzzle above is from Discount School Supply.

Counting activities: The most successful way that we have learned to count is through our abacus. We count by 1s and by 10s. This is my “go to” object to see how high each child is counting. I must also admit that we spend lots of time counting to Jack Hartmann’s “Count to 100” song as well.

I hope you find these supplies and activities to be a source of inspiration for educating the little one(s) in your life. I am looking forward to sharing more activities in the rest of my “Preschool Supplies for Back to School” series.

This post has been featured on Discover and Explore through TeachPreschool.org:

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The First Day of Preschool

First Day of Preschool

The first day of preschool is such an exciting day, and I want to share some tips to make it flow as smoothly as possible!

1) Prep your child for this big day. The day before preschool begins, let your child know that he will be starting preschool tomorrow. Tell him how exciting it will be as he will get to play and meet new friends. Describe some of the events that will take place such as playing inside and outside. Also prepare your child that you will take him to school and you will be leaving for the morning/day.

2) Make drop off a quick process. There are definitely kiddos who may start crying once you arrive at preschool and realize you will not be staying. Sometimes this happens the first day, but it may even happen on the second or third day.  If your child is crying when you leave, be comforted by this teacher secret: somewhere around 95% of those children have stopped crying within 1-5 minutes of you leaving (in my experience at least). They just need you out of sight to help with the process. Lots of kiddos won’t cry at all, so don’t worry if they are happy for you to leave.

3) Show up with all items that are needed. Look through the paperwork and find which belongings you will need to bring and be sure to have them all, which I would recommend you label with their name. Usually you will need an extra set of clothes, and you may need to bring a lunch or school supplies. If your child is in a program that incorporates nap and allows a special blanket or stuffed animal from home, I would recommend bringing something that they find familiarity in. I especially love the little Pillow Pets. They are a pillow and stuffed animal all in one, and they are easy to store in a cubby.

This first day of preschool is a huge milestone, and if you are feeling a little emotional about it, that is completely understandable. Lots of parents have shed a tear or two, and you won’t be the last. Enjoy this step your family is taking, and welcome to preschool!

To find out how to help prepare your child for preschool, read more here.


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Creative Spaces — Interest Centers

Creative Spaces -- Interest Centers

Interest centers are such a vital aspect of a classroom! While educators are teaching and working with small groups, our centers are taking the lead in child initiated learning. It’s such an amazing blend. Sometimes I wish I could just go around and tour all of the local preschools to be inspired by other interest centers. It is always exciting to find creativity in another teacher’s classroom to enhance your own room. As an early childhood teacher of over 12 years, I have had the privilege of seeing many amazing child care and preschool programs, and I wanted to share one of my favorites!

Early Connections Learning Centers is a non profit, NAEYC accredited preschool and child care program in Colorado Springs, and they have some incredibly talented educators among them! Their Curriculum and Assessment Director gave me the grand tour of two of their sites. Early Connections has six locations, all with preschool classrooms. I was able to tour eight of their classrooms, and I wanted to pass along the inspiring creativity.  Here are some snap shots of their interest centers. What has inspired you? I would love to hear more creative ideas!


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Touring a Center Based Preschool — 8 Questions Parents Should Ask

Once you narrow down your choices for a preschool, this means it is time to take a tour. When I say a center based preschool, I am referring to preschool programs in child care centers, churches, and any other preschool that is not inside of a home. To find out tips on how to choose a preschool to tour, see my post on how to choose a preschool program.

After you have made a list of preschool programs you are interested in, it’s time to call and set up a time to see how the program appeals to you in person. There are typically Directors and Assistant Directors who handle administrative operations, and most likely you will be talking with one of them. In many centers they are the ones who will be showing you around as well.  It’s good to get to know them during the visit since it is important to have approachable and friendly Directors just in case you may need to bring up any questions or concerns with them in the future.

A tour should be a glimpse of what it is like inside of a day at preschool. Take a mental note of aspects such as the interactions between the teachers and children. Are they engaging with them and smiling, or are they exhibiting a face that asks “When will this day be over?” When you look around the classroom, do you see pictures that are obviously child created which allow for art to be a true expression of the child. Is there enough space for the children to move about and play without bumping into one another? Are there learning activities that you could see your child engaged in? Does the class flow well, and do they seem to genuinely enjoy being there?

While your tour should be enlightening, it is not exactly how things run each day. Children have good days and not so good days. If you see a child misbehaving, focus mostly on how the teacher handles this. Is she or he enforcing the rules while showing respect at the same time? Perhaps you walked in on a tour where the class is perfectly listening and sitting on the edge of their seat for every word to come out of their teacher’s mouth. Great teachers have many moments like these, but there are times of the day that we wished that there were even more!

As a tour is also a chance for you to “interview” the program, I have come up with some aspects to help consider in the process. While I was an Assistant Director, I gave dozens upon dozens of tours, and these were what I found to be some of the most pertinent and important points to consider:

1. How long have the teachers been teaching? Some teachers are naturals from the get go, but it is always nice to know that the person teaching your child has a lot of experience in handling and teaching a large group.

2. Do the teachers have a child development related degree? Every state has different standards for preschool teachers, but many programs are trying to put teachers with degrees as the leads in their classrooms. I would recommend programs that require this.

3. What is the teacher to student ratio? Again, each state is different. My state has lower child to teacher ratios than the average, which means more one on one time and better interactions. Here’s what Colorado’s ratios look like:

2.5 year olds — 7 children to 1 teacher

3 year olds — 10 children to 1 teacher

4 year olds — 12 children to 1 teacher

It is also good to check about the classroom max capacity. The smaller the total class size, the better. While you can have 24 four year olds in a preschool classroom in Colorado, it does not mean that this is best practice. When you have lots of children in one classroom, this increases the chances of accidents/incidents, over stimulation, and behavioral problems.

4. What is their philosophy of how children learn? Early childhood experts agree that children learn best through play. A learning environment should not be stressful, forced, or frustrating. Instead, it should be engaging, fun, and at the level that the child is at. There should be a balance between teacher initiated activities and child led activities as well as a mix of large and small group activities. Children should feel welcome into this environment and guided with love and respect.

5. Is the program accredited? Accreditation is a great measure of quality for a preschool program. The process of accreditation is usually very costly and shows that the program is taking steps to provide a high quality environment. Some states have started implementing a rating system so that you can see how well they are in comparison to other programs, but this is a new development and it will take a while for more states to add this.

6. Is there a commitment? Some programs require that your child attend for the entire school year, and others only need a two week notice to end services.

7. Do children need to be toilet trained? Potty training is a process, and each child has a different time table as to what this looks like. Many programs realize that not every child has mastered this by three years old, but there are some that require your child to be fully potty trained.

8. What types of fees and discounts are involved? Most programs charge fees in addition to the weekly tuition. Some of the fees I have seen and heard of are registration fee, activity fee, enrollment fee, supply fee, and lunch fee. Find out how often they occur, and what the amounts are. There are also discounts offered by most preschools. This may apply if you have more than one child enrolled or if you are military. Also, check and see if the program offers a discount for days that your child is out due to a vacation or illness. These are typically known as vacation days and sick days.

A good tour should leave you with a feeling of confidence and excitement. It is very important that you feel that it is an environment that you can leave your child and have peace of mind. Not every program is a perfect fit for every family, so even if your friend loves it, you may not. I recommend visiting at least two preschools. Every program is so different, so it is best to find out which aspects are more important to you than others. If you have any other questions, please feel free to list them in the comments section below. I wish you the best of luck in this exciting process!


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How to Choose a Preschool Program

When choosing a preschool, there may be many options to choose from. I want to help you navigate through this adventure, so that you can find a program that best fits your family. There are lots of factors to consider in this process, so I want you to bring you alongside my twelve years of teaching for a quick snapshot of which aspects will give you a head start on finding the right school.

The first aspect to consider is the hours that you are desiring. Preschool program hours vary immensely. Some are a couple of hours a day, others are half a day, many are full day, and in rare cases, they are 24/7. Plus there are some variations of all of those. Preschool programs may follow the school year schedule with your local school district and others are year round. Some families have flexibility as far as their schedule, which allows them to choose from nearly all of these options, whereas other parents may need full day preschool to accommodate their work schedule which will certainly prune down some of the choices from the get go.

The next aspect to consider when choosing a preschool is your budget. Preschool prices run the gamut across the U.S. I live in Colorado where preschool and child care tend to be on the higher side. Even though this is the case, there are still lots of options as far as tuition rates. Options that are more affordable are usually preschools that are non profit, in home preschools, or preschool programs in churches. The programs in the middle are preschools in many child care centers, district preschools, and programs inside of universities or colleges. On the high end are usually programs that are specialized preschools and corporate preschool programs.

I want to point out that you do not always get what you pay for. Yes, I will repeat that. Not all preschool programs can be judged by their price. Amazing teachers and administrators can be found in the affordable programs and as well as expensive programs. This is hopefully good news for many parents! The important aspect is to do your homework.

Next, you need to consider which type of program would be a good match for your child. Some children are easily overwhelmed and need to be in a smaller group size. Other children are very spirited and outgoing, and they may not conform well to programs that do not provide as much active play and social interactions. Perhaps your child is only okay with being away from you for about three to four hours, and after that, he or she starts to experience stress and may act out. You know your child best, so be sure to take these aspects into consideration.

Lastly, I want to point out that there is always the option of doing preschool at home. If you live in a small town with limited preschools around, having a homeschool preschool could be your best option. This is also a great route if your budget won’t allow for you to send your child/children to a program. Perhaps you just want to spend more time with your kids before they head off to elementary school. Whatever the reason is, a motivated parent can help provide a preschool learning environment with the amazing resources online, and lots of times, you can find fantastic free resources too.

I hope this helps give a starting point for any families wondering how to begin the process of finding a preschool. It might also be helpful to ask trusted friends which programs they recommend. When you find programs that “look good on paper,” take a tour and meet the Director and classroom teacher. I would recommend finding at least two options that you want to tour, and even more if time allows. I wish you and your family the best in finding a wonderful preschool program, and stay tuned to more information on how to help in the process.

If you have more specific questions, please feel free to list them in the comments section below!


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Getting Ready for Preschool…Part 2

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In this post I wrote about some ways to help your child prepare for preschool cognitively, and now I want to focus on the physical skills that young children will benefit from. Each child has completely different strengths, and these skills will come easily to some, while others will just need extra repetition to feel comfortable with it. There have been times as a teacher that I have handed a pair of scissors to a student and assumed that they had been practicing at home because of how well they were cutting, only to find out later that day that it was the first time the child had even used scissors. On the other hand, some children need lots of reminders and demonstrations about how to correctly grasp scissors, and they may not be able to actually begin cutting for a week or two after they have been introduced to scissors. Keep an open mind when helping your child, and you never know when they might just surprise you.

Health skills

One of the most important aspects to help your child with is proper hand washing. When your child begins preschool, they are exposed to many more germs. In order to help your child and the rest of your family from getting sick, you can teach them these hand washing techniques. Have your child turn on warm water, get a small amount of soap, and begin to lather.  Now comes the tricky part. It’s so easy for them to just rinse what they have lathered on their hands. Instead, have them sing a favorite song while lathering outside of the water stream for 20 seconds…feel free to turn the water off during this time to get them accustomed lathering thoroughly. One of my favorite hand washing songs is this (sing to the rhythm of Row, Row, Row your Boat): Wash, wash, wash your hands. Wash them so clean. Scrub the fronts, and scrubs the backs, and scrub them in between. Then repeat a few times. After your child has effectively lathered both hands and wrists, rinse, then dry. If possible, use a paper towel to turn off the water faucet.

Remind your child to wash his hands each time after using the bathroom.

Help your child learn to cough in his elbow.

Teach your child to blow her nose independently and to wash her hands afterward.

When toileting have your child use proper wiping techniques, and teach him to ask for help if he needs it.

Self help skills 

Help your child learn to dress himself, including shoes and coat.

Teach your child to clean up toys she is no longer playing with before taking more toys out.

Have your child drink out of a cup and use a fork and spoon at meals.                                                               DSC_0775

Arrange an area at home where some of your child’s toys, puzzles, books, etc. are accessible for her without an adult’s help, and create a specific and designated “home” (tub/bin/shelf) for each toy.

Fine motor skills

Have your child use a glue stick.

Introduce  your child to child safe scissors.

Encourage your child to practice buttoning her clothes and zipping zippers.

Give your child opportunities to use different writing tools such as markers, crayons, paint brushes, pens, and pencils.

Gross Motor Skills

Help your child learn how to put a coat on.

Play catch together and any other fun games that involve coordination skills.

Have obstacle courses that involve running, jumping, and balance activities.