Sunday, June 14, 2015

Tips to a Kindergarten Teacher from a Kindergarten Teacher

I just finished my fourth year teaching kindergarten. For those of you who are teaching or have taught kindergarten you know it's a grade unique in so many ways. We experience joys and challenges that most other teachers don't. Thank you to Mary at Sharing Kindergarten for the link-up. Be sure to head on over to learn from some stellar kindergarten teachers!

Here are my 4 top tips for thriving in the kindergarten classroom:

By everything, I mean e-ver-y-thing! That's just half of it. Other half is practicing them. Over and over and over.... at the beginning of the year, and remember to review them throughout the year.

I have routines for:
checking mail,
getting book bins,
picking a play center,
cleaning up,
passing papers,
collecting papers,
sharpening pencils...
...you name it!

Young children thrive in a predicable environment. I feel that they find peace and security in consistency.You will notice that the more routines you have in place, the fewer student behavior issues you will experience. (Karen at Mrs. Jone's Class has a wonderful, comprehensive list of routines to download as a reference. Oh, and it's free!)

I even have routines for when I'm directly teaching. I establish different hand signals for my students to let me know, non-verbally, if they need get a tissue, use the restroom, get a drink, etc. I can continue my teaching by making eye contact with the student who is making a signal and nod yes to give them permission to leave. (Nothing kills a lesson when you call on someone and they just want to use the restroom. Now everyone is distracted and...what was the question again?)

When I first started teaching, I would often write down on the back of each week's  lesson plans what worked well and what I would change the next year. (Reflecting helps lessons learned the hard way to only happen once.)

Being a reflective teacher also applies to understanding your students. They are five. They may not be able to articulate how they are felling or have the skills needed to do everything you think they should be able to do.

When you don't understand why a student is acting a certain way, ask yourself:

Did I give clear directions?

Do they understand why this task is important?

Are there any skills they haven't already learned making this task difficult? (They could be doing a sloppy job cutting the art project to finish fast, or they may have never used a scissors before.)

Do they have a need that isn't being met? (Maybe they need a brain break to refocus.)

Are feeling well? (If a student is having a rough day, I may have them go to the office to have their temperature taken. It's surprising how often they are not feeling well but can't verbally express it to me. How they are acting, gives me a clue as to what they are feeling.)

Is there something going on here or at home that I am not aware of? (You might want to connect with the child's family through a quick phone call or email.)

A spoon full of fun makes learning sweet! Emotions strengthen memories. Tie learning to enjoyment. When we enjoy something stress is lessened and we are more likely to retain information. Find ways to make learning memorable and "disguise" learning as fun by playing educationally rich games.

Making "Fraction Pizza"

Along with this... you can give yourself permission to read books that may be educationally lacking but oh so FUN! Not every book you read aloud needs rich vocabulary or strong literary elements. Sometimes you read a book just to show that reading can be for enjoyment! I've highlighted some student favorite, humorous read-alouds here from this last year.

My first year teaching kindergarten, I questioned everything I did. I worried that I was giving my students too much play time and not enough "work" time. Not anymore! Play is their work. It's how they make sense of their learning and the world around them. Be confident in doing what you know is best for your students!

One of the most important skills they are learning during playtime is how to share and get along with others. Play time isn't a prep period for you (unfortunately), but it is prime time for teachable moments. They are constantly solving problems and employing creativity during playtime. I find ways to integrate literacy and math into play time as a bonus. I never go a day without playtime worked somewhere into our schedule - even if it's just for 15-20 minutes.

Student lead writing during play time. They even made menus at the art center.

The #1 time saving document I've created is a glorified curriculum road map for the school year. I created a two page pacing guide where I could quickly see at a glace the curriculum units I'd be covering each month. I highlighted themes, focus letters, sight words, special school events, Bible verses, field trips, even a list of potential dramatic play centers that integrated with our themes. Not only did it ensure I completed the curriculum by the time May rolled around, but it also helped me anticipate what concepts to start introducing before we got to it in the curriculum. For example, our math curriculum teaches about coins in Unit 7 (January), but I found that my students need to be exposed to one coin at a time much earlier in the year. I start by introducing the penny around October. By the time we get to our "Time and Money" Unit, they are ready to add coin values.

Stop by Sharing Kindergarten's link-up for more amazing Tips to a Kindergarten Teacher from a Kindergarten Teacher shared by other kinder bloggers.

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