Category Archives: procedure/organization

Mapping Out Your Preschool Study Themes

Last year I wrote about mapping out your year  with an enduring idea and unit themes.  This year, I thought I’d help you out (and myself) by creating a Thematic Brainstorm Form to help you with the steps in the planning process.  This isn’t your lesson plan, this is merely to get the ideas going. 

Purposeful Planning 

Once you clarify the purpose of your theme (concepts and developmental objectives, etc.) it’s easier to stay focused on what types of learning activities you are looking for (as opposed to filling your unit full of “cute” activities).  As you fill in the boxes with learning activities, it’s easy to step back and see which area is lacking and then you can have a more purposeful search through your resources.  (I confess, the “Books” section is far too small for a really great unit- I’m hoping you’ll fill the entire back of the sheet with wonderful books to incorporate into book activities, story times, and reading areas.)

If you like, there is room in the left margin for punching holes and keeping your brainstorm form in your lesson planning binder.  As you use this form more frequently you will find that you naturally begin planning your lessons with more purpose, looking for activities that fill in objectives and round out your experiences.

Recognize. Emphasize. Maximize.

This form is also helpful for what I call the “Recognize, Emphasize, Maximize Method“.  Quite simply, when you take the time to recognize what it is you are trying to teach with an activity, you are more prepared to emphasize those objectives as you work and play within a unit.  You are able to take advantage of natural learning experiences because you are aware of what to look for.  As you emphasize these objectives, you maximize the learning outcomes.  By following this method, you can ensure that the activities you use are “Not Just Cute”.

 Top photo by iprole.
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Filed under procedure/organization, supplies, Uncategorized, Unit Themes

Does Your Alphabet Chart Need to Be Recalled?

I’m issuing my  own product recall on alphabet charts, and yours might be included! 

This isn’t a safety issue, I can’t imagine an alphabet chart causing physical harm (though I suppose the occasional paper cut could be pretty traumatic) but the alphabet chart you’re using might not be teaching what it’s meant to teach.

Alphabet charts, those posters or room headers that show upper and lower case letters along with a picture, are meant to be a reference point for children.  They are meant to help a child associate the written letter with its accompanying sound.  So you have “Tt” next to a tiger, “Ff” next to a frog, and “Dd” next to a  dinosaur.  Easy enough, right?

X is for X-Con

The letter X is the biggest offender on these alphabet charts.  Most alphabet charts show “Xx” x-ray, or “Xx” xylophone.  These cues won’t help your children much, unless they’re trying to spell X-Men or xenophobia.  Now I’ll be the first to agree, that finding a familiar word that begins with x is not an easy task.  Just check out this list of words starting with x.  Not too child friendly.  The problem is, the purpose of an alphabet chart is not just to match letters to cute pictures with the same beginning letter, it is to offer visual cues to match with a useful sound. 

The most common sound for the letter X, particularly in the early stages of reading and writing is the “ks” sound.  That is the X sound children need to learn.  Now, I don’t think I can come up with a word starting with X and the “ks” sound, but I know a few common words that end with the X-“ks” sound.  Box and fox, for example.  The fact that the sound is at the end doesn’t make it less useful.  In fact, it’s more useful because it teaches the actual sound the child needs to learn.

Other Offenders

X is by far the worst offender, but you might want to take a look at the vowels on your chart too.  Vowels are the Jason Bourne of the English language.  Just when you think you know exactly what they’re about, they change on you.  While we teach long and short sounds, we all know there are about twenty subtly different sounds those five letters can produce-  think R controlled, schwa, diphthongs.  For the sake of basic concepts, an alphabet chart should ideally show a picture corresponding with the short sound for the vowels.  The long sounds are obvious – they state the letter’s name.  It’s the short sounds that children will need to be reminded of.  So instead of “Ii” ice cream, it would be better to find “Ii” insect, or iguana, or igloo.  Now, this may require some vocabulary training, but really, with any alphabet chart, you need to spend some time explaining what each picture represents.  Otherwise you have children reciting A for Crocodile or Q for Pretty Princess.

Quick Fix

The good news is, you don’t have to send your chart in to the factory to be retrofitted with a new part.  You can do that yourself.  Simply identify the offenders in your alphabet chart, choose words that more appropriately match the sound cues you are trying to teach, do a quick image search on the internet, print, paste over the offender, and you’re done!

Charts Vs Books

Now I don’t want you to suddenly rifle through all your alphabet storybooks and throw them out as well.  Alphabet books like Alphabet Under Construction by Denise Fleming, or Jerry Pallotta’s Icky Bug Alphabet Book shouldn’t be held to the same standard as the alphabet charts.  While charts are meant as a ready reference across situations, alphabet books are meant to show application of the alphabet within a theme or context.  They can show “airbrush” for A because tomorrow you’ll show them another book with “anaconda” for A.  Books can show variation, but your chart needs to show consistent basic concepts.

No one will come from the government to enforce this recall.  But if you have children trying to spell the word “zebra” with an X, you can’t say I didn’t warn you about your misleading “xylophone“.


You may also be interested in A Culture of Literacy: Teaching Preschooler’s the ABCs and More.


Top photo by ctech.

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Filed under Article, Building Readers, language activity, Learning through Play and Experience, procedure/organization, supplies

Repost: A Puzzling Mess

For teachers, spring cleaning often comes in the summer time.  Here’s an organizing tip I shared a while back.


Tell me I’m not the only mother with a two year old who thinks the best thing to do with five boxes of puzzles is to put them all into one bucket together.  Luckily for me, I learned at a university lab preschool, that it is very handy to number the backs of your puzzle pieces to help out in just such a situation.  Each time I get a new puzzle, I write a number on the box and then write that number on the back of each piece.  Then, say when I find two random puzzle pieces mysteriously stuffed into the only VCR left in our house, I can quickly determine which boxes to return them to.  Now if only fixing the VCR was that easy!

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Filed under procedure/organization

A Behavior Problem-Solving Approach: Positive Guidance for Preschoolers


Preschool children often confound us with their behavior.  They’re playing and laughing one minute, and crying “for no reason” the next.  We ask them not to poke their baby brother’s eyes, and they look right at us, with angelic faces, and do it anyway.  What is going on?  It can be a baffling, maddening process to try to answer that question!  I’m going to be adding a series of posts, linked from here as well, in an effort to give you a few more tools for observing, understanding, and approaching child behaviors using the positive guidance philosophy and techniques.  Here’s what you have to look forward to:

What is Positive Guidance?

What’s Going On?  Considering the Sources of Behavior

Preventative Actions and Positive Reactions

Positive Guidance: A Well-Stocked Toolbox

Problem-Solving Your Playtime

Positive Guidance Resources

Now, anytime I talk about child behavior, I have to give the disclaimer that I am not a perfect parent or a perfect teacher.  I don’t have a Mary Poppins-like ability to magically turn children into instantly compliant angels.  I hope you don’t find what I have to share less valid because my children do, in fact, seem to “cry for no reason” from time to time or occasionally “poke their baby brother’s eyes”.  But I have learned a lot about child behavior, how we can understand it and how we can approach it, that helps me in my home and in the classroom and I’d like to share that with you!  Please stay tuned for more posts!

Top photo by bluebetty.


Filed under procedure/organization, social skills, Uncategorized

Teaching Social Skills: “Can I Play”


I am a firm believer that social skills should be taught directly, and then implemented and brought into habit through play and experience.  During the very first weeks, I introduce the tools for entering play and taking turns.  These are key areas of social conflict when you get a group of new preschoolers together!

I like to use puppets to teach social skills. (I got these from Oriental Trading.  They’re a great value, but I did have to trim up their hair when they arrived.)  Now don’t be intimidated by puppets.  I’m no puppeteer, despite countless hours of watching Mr. Rogers’ Land of Make-Believe, and almost every Jim Henson production known to man as a child.  You’d think I’d be a natural!  I usually just narrate what the puppets are doing rather than trying to be a ventriloquist (because I would fail miserably).  Just having the puppets act out the social situation helps make the hypothetical story become concrete.  Visualizing a scenario and then doing social problem solving on top of that just requires too much abstract thinking for most preschoolers.  So if you’re a regular Shari Lewis, knock yourself out, but for the rest of us mere mortals, narrating is just fine!

So to help give children a script for entering play or taking turns, I pull out two of my puppets.  I give one a ball to hold on to, and then narrate something like this:

“Sarah and Sally are good friends.  They get to play together all the time and have so much fun.  One day Sally noticed Sarah playing with a ball.  It looked really fun to play with that ball, so…(nice pause to get their wheels turning)..Sally just ran right up and grabbed the ball away from Sarah! (Gasp!)  Wow!  How do you think Sarah felt about that?  Was that the right way?  What could Sally do instead?”  (Usually, someone suggests they take turns.)  “Right!  You know, Sally could say, ‘Can I play with you?’ And then they could play together! (Show puppets tossing ball back and forth.)  Let me hear you say, ‘Can I play with you?’ (Have them say it a few times, just to get the phrase down.)  Now they’re both having fun, playing together!”

Then either on the same day, or the next day, I have the same puppets in a similar scenario.  This time Sarah is playing with something that only one person can play with at a time.  I’ve used a small dollar-store video game, just because I had one on hand.  You might also use a toy car or dress up item.  Either we’ve just had the previous lesson, or I remind them of it.  I point out that this time, they can’t play together because only one person can use the item at a time.  “What can they do?”  Someone will suggest they take turns.  I point out that a great way to ask someone to take turns is to say, “Can I play with that when you’re all done?”  I have the children repeat it again to get the phrase down.  I really like this phrase, because the “when you’re all done” part lets both children know that taking turns doesn’t mean the first person’s turn is immediately over.  It’s less threatening for the first player and reminds the second player to be patient. 

In implementing it in the classroom, if the children need help, I may ask the first player how much more time they need to be done.  They usually come up with a reasonable amount and I set a timer.  Almost always they relinquish the item without a problem because they had some control over when their turn would be over.

Once you’ve taught these phrases directly, you can coach the children, reminding them to use them in their own play, and reinforcing them when you hear them use them on their own.  Remember that it is not your job to keep your classroom free of conflict.  No one gains social skills that way.  It is your job to help the children appropriately deal with conflict!  Give them the skills, be there to coach or intervene if the situation becomes too heated, and help them learn to ultimately solve social problems on their own!

For more on social conflict, check out Verbalizing Emotions.

For more welcome week activities, click here.

Photo courtesy crazed2ins.


Filed under language activity, Learning through Play and Experience, procedure/organization, social skills

Give Me Five! Getting Your Preschoolers’ Attention


It is a common misconception that preschool children know what it means when you ask them to “listen”.  Grown ups constantly ask them to “listen” or “pay attention”, but a young child can’t comply with those requests until you explain what that will actually look like.  

I teach my little ones the “Give Me Five” signal.  When I need my very best listeners, I hold up my hand and say, “Give Me Five…Four..Three..Two..One” as I slowly count down with my fingers as well.  At “One” I put the single finger in front of my mouth for a quiet “shhh”.  The children usually follow along, shhh-ing as well, bringing us all to a quiet spot.  But listening is more than just being quiet, so I teach how  to listen using the FIVE.   The first time I use it, I tell them there are important parts to being a good listener, that they can remember as we count down.

5…Your eyes are looking.

4…Your body is still.

3…Your hands are to yourself.

2…Your ears are listening .

and 1…Shhhh. Your mouth is quiet.  We’re ready to listen!

(I’ve even made a big poster drawing of a hand and put pictures of eyes, bodies, etc. on each finger as a visual reminder.)

I’ll repeat this long version the first few times I use “Give Me Five”, often changing it up to reinforce those behaviors (5…Danny’s eyes are looking, 4…Oh, wow, Jill’s body is so still….), then I shorten to just counting, but pointing out children that are doing the specific behaviors once we finish counting, thanking them for being good listeners.

I don’t use this every time I want someone’s attention, I think they would tire of it.  But I use it frequently at the beginning, to teach listening skills, and then I use the “5-4-3-2-1 shhh” when I need to get everyone’s attention during a busy time (while they’re talking during snack, or a project for example).  I also use it as a quick reminder at times such as large group, using my hand as a signal and saying, “Who’s giving me five?  Oh wow!  Yen is such a great listener!”  Try this out with your little ones, and see if teaching them how to listen will help them to listen!

Photo Courtesy StillSearc.


Filed under procedure/organization, social skills, Transitions

Clean It Up!

broomWhile we’re on the topic of clean up time, I thought I’d mention that I use Laurie Berkner’s song, “Clean It Up” as my clean up music.  (You can find it at iTunes for just a dollar.  Though if you can get out of iTunes having only spent one dollar, my hat’s off to you!)  I give kiddos a five minute reminder before clean up time, then after five minutes I turn this sing on repeat until the task is done.  The trumpets at the beginning are great for getting everyone’s attention, and the song is fun and child-friendly without being hokey.  (That’s a trademark quality of Laurie Berkner’s music.  It’s kid appropriate, active, fun, and full of awesome musical elements and different genres-not watered down monotony.  I’m obviously a big fan.)  Sometimes, as we’re getting close to finished, I challenge the children to see if we can be done before the song is over.  They’re usually up for the race.  Music is great for signalling routine transition times such as this.  If the ‘Everybody Everywhere’ version of a clean up song is working for you, stick with it.  If you’re ready for a change, and maybe a little more musical styling, check this one out!

Photo courtesy frecuencia.


Filed under Learning through Play and Experience, music and movement activity, procedure/organization, self help skills, Transitions