Monday, March 10, 2014

Great Ideas for When Children are Done Early

Children need time to do independent work, but they won't all need to same amount of time to complete it. Experienced teachers know that it's important to have planned activities for when children are finished with their work AND to teach them the procedures to use when they are done.

Here is an example of procedures:
  1. Double-check your work. (Otherwise some children will rush to get done)
  2. Work quietly
  3. Walk around the room quietly
  4. Do not disturb kids who are working
For this blog post, I have collected some of the best ideas I could find around the Internet. Here they are by grade levels:

Preschool classrooms use planning sheets before center time or work time. Encourage children to make a new plan when they are ready to move on to a new activity. This might involve changing their name on a planning board, or moving their name necklace to a new center. Older preschoolers should put away at least some of the materials they were using before moving on to a new activity.


Early Finisher Tubs.
These are especially helpful for providing hands-on activities for young children, rather than worksheets. Good organizational strategy!

Individual "Work Boxes." Great for differentiation since each child has appropriate level work. These also help children to stay organized and give them a place to put work when it's done.

First Grade
I'm Done. Now What?
This clever chart gives children a very quick way to think of something to do - perfect for when they are done with seatwork.

The Early Finisher Board.

I like the way this board has the materials right there where children can easily access them.

Choice Board

Second Grade

Fast Finishers Done Jars:

These jars provide a fun and motivating way for children to pick a task.

Math Games for Early Finishers.
The focus on math is great because children ALWAYS need more practice to develop their fluency and skills.

Third Grade

Early Finisher Task Cards. 
Using task cards help to give children something concrete to guide their behavior. I think these keep the children focused and on-task well. I'm assuming they take these back to their seat to work on.

Thanks so much to all the teachers who have shared these ideas. I'm always impressed to find so many people with creative strategies who are willing to help other teachers. Please share in your comments your own suggestions!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Are you teaching children how to focus and calm down?

Young children are notorious for being distracted and emotionally intense. Our work as teachers (or parents) of young children is very challenging - especially working with so many children together in the classroom.

I received two emails this week asking for advice on helping children to focus or calm themselves down so I put together some of my favorite tricks of the trade for this blog post. The important thing to remember is that children need to be taught how to focus or calm down! The more we model and help children practice these skills, the better they will learn (and the easier our lives will be!)

Focusing Skills:
  • Tracking. Teach children to keep their eyes on the person who is talking. This is a simple skill, but many distracted children don't practice it! Always make sure the children are looking at you or other children who are talking. They should also turn their body to face the speaker. Here's a song to teach this skill:
  •  Take a Break and Return: During independent work, all of us take frequent breaks from concentration, even if we don't notice it (how often have you checked Pinterest lately?) Teach children to take quick breaks such as looking out the window, stretching their arms or legs, or closing their eyes for a moment. Then teach them to get right back to what they were doing. Visual aids can help. Tape a picture of a child working (either listening to the teacher or working on their seatwork) and write: Am I Focused? on it as a reminder. Here's an example:

  • Fidget Toys: It sounds counter-intuitive but some children respond very well to a small toy that they can "fidget" with. These can help the child find something to do with his or her hands instead of bothering others or finding something to play with. They also help children who daydream and zone out. Here are some examples:
Self-Calming Skills:
  •  Candle and Flower Breathing: Teach this simple and very effective skill to teach before children need it! The act of deep breathing helps to counteract the physical aspects of stress in our bodies.
  •  Quiet Corner: Establish a section of your room that children can sit in quietly to regain their control. This should not be a punishment, but rather a support - make it comfy with pillows, stuffed animals, and so on. Here's one of the many ideas you can find on Pinterest:
  •  Tucker Turtle Technique: This proven strategy teaches young children to stop, tuck into themselves like a turtle, take three breaths to calm down, and then think of a better idea. The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations of Early Learning has good resources for this technique - and many others!
  •  Here are some other excellent ideas for elementary age children from the Responsive Classroom and more ideas from The Positive Classroom on this topic.
For all of these skills, it is important to model and give the child plenty of practice before the skills are really needed. Remember that behavior change takes time- weeks, months, years so you need to persevere. These skills can be taught and they can make a big difference in a child's life!

Feel free to share in the comments other strategies you've found that have been helpful for teaching children to focus and calm down!

Monday, January 20, 2014

10 Wonderful Multicultural Children's Books

On Martin Luther King Day, it's a great time to think about peace, harmony, and community. Our classrooms can be a haven for children to learn how to get along with others, even when people are different from us. Here are some guidelines from the original edition of the Anti-Bias Handbook:

1. Help each child nurture his or her self-concept and identity
2. Promote comfortable, empathic interactions with people from diverse backgrounds
3. Help children to understand what bias is
4. Cultivate children's ability to stand up to bias

One effective way of reaching these goals is to use books for conversation starters and activities. Be sure to critically analyze the books you choose, such as this advice from Teaching for Change. Here are some of my favorite books:

Whoever You Are by Mem Fox is a short, simple celebration of different cultures around the world. I love the emphasis on how we are all the same.

Everybody Cooks Rice by Norah Dooley emphasizes cultural difference and similarities in one neighborhood by showing how many cultures cook rice in different forms. This would be a great classroom activity to taste all the different versions!

I Love My Hair by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley encourages African American children to feel good about their special hair and to be proud of their heritage.

Welcoming Babies by Margy Burns Knight shows how cultures around the world welcome babies - christenings, naming ceremonies, songs, blessings, and so on. Children of the World is a complete encyclopedia of many, many countries that uses poems, pictures, and drawings of children around the world. This would be an excellent classroom resource book since it references 192 countries.

Family Pictures/Cuadros de Familia by Carmen Lomas Garza is a bright book with stories of a girl's Mexican American childhood. The text, in both English and Spanish, describes 14 vignettes that bring this culture to life with joyful illustrations.

This amazing book, The Black Book of Colors is completely black with textured pages that can be felt with your fingers. It's a wonderful way to help children experience the lack of eyesight. This book was created by the talented Venezuelan team of author Menena Cottin and illustrator  Rosana Faria.

Pass it On: African-American Poetry for Children, collected by Wade Hudson is a book of poetry by 14 distinguished African American poets. This collection is intended to be passed down from one generation to another.

Feast for 10, a counting book by Cathryn Falwell, features an African American family shopping, cooking, and eating dinner. I love this very simple counting book because of the illustrations and integration of reading and math.

The Name Jar, by Yangsook Choi, tells the story a little Korean girl named Unhei who is afraid her American classmates won't be able to pronounce her name. This is a good book for starting a discussion about differences and how we can make classmates feel welcome.

I hope you will try out some of these books in your classroom or home and let me know what you think. Also, please share in the comments your own favorite multicultural books!

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Positive Preschool Book is Here!
The Positive Preschool is now available on and will be coming to Kindle and bookstores soon!

This book is a new version of The Positive Classroom that focuses entirely on the unique issues, challenges, and joys of working with 3-5 year old children. Here's the table of contents:

Part I: Prevention
  • Chapter 1: Setting the Stage
  • Chapter 2: Building a Classroom Community
  • Chapter 3: Teaching Classroom Success Skills
  • Chapter 4: Engaging Children in Learning
  • Chapter 5: Developing Cultural Competence
Part II: Positive Behavior Interventions
  • Chapter 6: Guiding Children’s Behavior
  • Chapter 7: Understanding Challenging Behavior
  • Chapter 8: Positive Behavior Support Planning
  • Chapter 9: Solving Common Behavior Challenges
Part III: Working with Others as a Professional Community
  • Chapter 10: Partnering with Families
  • Chapter 11: Collaborating in the Classroom
  • Chapter 12: Finding Joy in Teaching

The Positive Preschool also has all-new charming illustrations by Catherine Rand. I hope that this book will be helpful to new preschool and child care teachers who are starting out their career - or to any teacher of young children who could use some help in creating a more effective learning environment. Thank you to all my college students and blog readers who have given me suggestions and feedback along the way. As always, I'd love to hear what you think of the book and any questions or comments you have!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Caring and Community in the Classroom: An Uplifting Story for the Holidays!

Today, I am sharing a wonderful post by Ann-Bailey, one of the bloggers at the Council for Exceptional Children's Reality 101. This brought tears of joy to my eyes and I hope you enjoy this wonderful story during the holidays! 


Ann-Bailey: What students teach us about community & differences

The other day one of my kindergarten friends had a birthday. Every time someone in the inclusion kindergarten room has a birthday the classroom teacher has her kids make a book for the Birthday Star. Each child makes a page that says "_______ is my friend because..." The students draw a picture as the teachers go around and write each child's thoughts about their friend.
AnnBailey LipsettCroppedA lot of them end up reflecting typical kindergarten friendships--we play together, we sit at the same table, we have the same lunch box. For this friend in particular, I wasn't sure what to expect because, as can sometimes happen in an inclusion setting, this child tends to work alone during the day.
She has a different routine and classroom expectations. These types of adaptations make us adults worry that we aren't creating a good community for her. We worry that in-class isolation isn't appropriate and that it creates a wedge between the students in general education and special education.
As adults we worry about a lot of things. Is it fair to have different expectations for this student? What will the other kids think? Are we sending the message that this student is different? Would a smaller environment be better because it wouldn't so outwardly show the difference between the student and her peers? What about the other kids? Are they learning? Are their needs being met? All of these questions become a part of the ongoing conversation about how we are meeting every student’s needs in an inclusive setting.
So I watched the 5- and 6-year-olds nervously, wondering what their pictures would reflect about how they viewed the student. Did they even know the student? Did they think of her as a friend?
As I watched the class become absorbed in their work, their little heads down as they selected the perfect crayons and worked their hardest, I noticed something. They were taking this picture very, very seriously. In fact, their concentration on this particular birthday page was out of the ordinary. This was serious work. When we asked them why she was their friend we were given genuine answers.
Sure there were some of your typical "we play together" or "I like her," but the majority of comments were about what the student had done for them--drawn them pictures, colored a drawing they liked, or made a flag for the class. "One time she drew a picture and I really liked it." Their pictures all included the student's favorite things without a teacher telling them to do so.
They knew the student. They thought of her as a part of the class. They remembered little things she's done for them or special moments between her and the class. There wasn't one child I talked to who needed to be coached through coming up with a reason why they were friends.
Sometimes as adults we don't give kids enough credit. We worry about how they will handle an inclusive setting, how it will change the class dynamics, or if the kids will resent a student because of the different rules and expectations we make for him or her. Perhaps the students have a better understanding of what a class community is than we do.
In our classroom there has never been resentment or frustration.  We don't hear, "but shegets to do it!" Without our adult interventions the classroom community built itself to include everyone. The kids are able to see that everyone belongs together as a group despite their different needs. They aren’t fazed by the different rules and schedules. Perhaps it is a lesson we as adults should learn from our students.

Monday, December 9, 2013

7 Stress-Busters for the Holiday Season!

A couple of years ago, I wrote the following post about holiday stress. I thought it was a good time to share it again with you all. I hope you can all find joy in the holiday season!

Feeling stressed? It would not be surprising! During December, it’s hard to avoid the intensity of the holiday season – whether you celebrate or not. Psychologists tell us that anxiety can exist within systems of people, not just individuals, so that even if you are not particularly stressed out yourself, you can absorb the stress that’s in the environment. And so can children, of course, which makes a difficult situation in our classrooms.

The most important strategy to combat the holiday pressure is to recognize the extra stress and try not to let it take over the classroom. Children will have a lower tolerance for frustration, they will be triggered more easily, and you will likely have less patience. Here are some practical suggestions for having a peaceful, and hopefully productive holiday season in your classroom:

Holiday Stress Busters:
  1. Slow down. Leave extra time, especially for transitions which are likely to trigger conflict.
  2. Have group relaxation moments. Quiet the class down and lead the children through your favorite breathing exercises. Have them relax their shoulders and legs, and visualize a peaceful place. You don’t need more than a couple of minutes and this is especially effective first thing in the morning, right after lunch or recess, and before packing up at the end of the day.
  3. Observe your children for signs of agitation – nail biting, tapping, rocking, facial changes, etc. When you see this, try to redirect them for a minute or two by getting a drink of water, stretching, or just a pat on the back. Remember the acting out cycle and don’t let the agitation build with intensity and move to acceleration phase. 
  4. Keep the daily schedule consistent, even though you may have to interrupt it with more assemblies, parties, visitors, etc.
  5. Monitor your own tone of voice. Smile frequently, even if you don’t feel like it, and keep an eye on the tension in your own body. Take more frequent breaks if you can. If you are working with another teacher, make an effort to give each other quick breaks throughout the day. 
  6. Take the children outside. In northern climates, children get less time outside as we move through December. Their need to move, breathe fresh air, and feel the freedom of outdoor play is decreased just when the stress increases. Even though it might be getting cold, be sure to give the children time outside. 
  7. Have some fun with your children! Plan some movement games, special story readings, creative art projects, or songs to build community and remind the children that school can also be joyful.

What other suggestions do you have for beating the stress of the holiday season?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Are You Helping Children Learn to Make Responsible Choices?

Here's a guest post by one of my student teachers, Wynta Tiller. She explains why developing student responsibility by offering choices is so important in early childhood:
      Learning independence in first grade is very important. In my class, the majority of the students do not even know how to tie their shoes. This week, we taught them how to choose their own centers. They took the first step into making their own decisions about their academic careers and they all did a good job on it. The first day was difficult but they overcame the obstacles once they were sure they would be able to do all of the activities before the end of the week. Although the children have not had previous practice with making their own choices, they did well during this first week of exposure. All of the things I predicted were going to happen did not and it was a smooth transition from having us choose the center for the students.  

  • DAY ONE: The first day proved to be hard when the students first had the choice of what center to chose. Since I have twenty seven students, they need to know that only a certain amount of students can go to one center at a time. Although they have to complete all of the centers during the week, they felt good about having the choice of which center they went to first. To my surprise, most of the students wanted to go to the art center and only a few wanted to do guided reading. I had to explain that they would all get the chance to do all of the centers but some students had to make a choice to go to a different center. The first day of transition was chaos and it wasted about ten minutes of the center time.  
  • DAY TWO: The next day was easier because the students knew what they had to do. It was also easier because there were fewer children fighting for the spot in the art center. Since those spots were chosen, they were forced to choose another center. I aided in helping the students choose since it was only their second day and I explained that they could not go to the same center twice. The time for the second day was reduced to about three minutes instead of ten and the transition was a lot smoother.  
  • DAY THREE: On the third day, the students transitioned with almost with no guidance at all. There were a few students who were unsure of what to do but other than that, it went well. It was also the same for the fourth and fifth day. The teacher and I got the chance to do guided reading with all of the students and provided extra help for the students who needed it. 

Much thanks to Wynta for sharing her story. I challenge all of you to think about how much choice children have in your classroom. It has always struck me as odd that preschoolers get plenty of choices and as the children get older, there are fewer and fewer, yet we need children to learn how to make responsible choices. Please share in the comments the ways that you've helped children make choices in your own classroom!

Need some new ideas for managing your early childhood classroom? Having trouble with children's behaviors? Get your copy of The Positive Classroom today.  Both novice teachers and those with years of experience will gain new insights and classroom tools. The Positive Classroom presents the best hope for preventing burnout and finding joy in your teaching. Now available in a Kindle edition, too!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Holidays, Halloween, and Head Scarves: 3 Strategies for Cultural & Religious Celebrations in the Classroom

One of my college students who is doing her internship asked me, "I'm Muslim and I wear "hijab" (a scarf I use to cover my hair), which is one of the pillars of Islam. As I was standing by this student, she asked me, " Mrs. M why do you wear a scarf to cover your hair?"  I was surprised by the question and didn't know how to reply. I told her to get back to her work and that we can talk about it another time. What's your advice? How should I've handled the encounter?"

This time of year, with Halloween on the horizon and other holidays approaching, we have an opportunity to help children develop a deeper understanding of culture, religion, and social identity. I encouraged Mrs. M to explain why she wears a head scarf and why it is important to her. This can be developed into a lesson on how families celebrate religion and religious holidays.

I had another college student do a wonderful lesson on Diwali, India's festival of lights that begins this weekend. She brought in many colorful items that her family uses to celebrate and allowed the children to explore them, along with an informational children's book on the holiday.

Little lamp "diyas' to celebrate Diwali
Sometimes we avoid bringing religion into the classroom - for good reasons. We want to be sensitive and not offend families. For example, many families do not celebrate Halloween and it can be difficult for children in our classrooms if we are not sensitive to this. On the other hand, religion and holidays are a big part of many of our children's social identity and we want to affirm this. Here are some guidelines I recommend for handling religion and holidays in our teaching:

1. Focus on what we have in common. Many cultures, for example, wear head coverings: Many Muslims, Jews and Christians integrate this into their cultural and religious customs. Here's a slide show of various types of Muslim veils. Another thing many cultures share in common is a celebration of light (which occurs in the darkening of winter) such as Diwali, Christmas, Hannukah, and Loi Krathon Festival in Thailand. Here's a terrific video of a teacher who has developed a K-1 unit on Celebrations of Light. Many cultures also celebrate harvest festivals such as Thanksgiving, Jewish Sukkot, or Chinese Moon Festival. In teaching about holidays we should focus on cultural connections and commonalities.

2. Get information. Reach out to families in your center or school and invite them to come in and share. Encourage them to bring cultural items, food, songs, or pictures. Learn as much as you can about the values, beliefs and practices of other cultures. Here's a calendar of world holidays for November. Here's a book on World Holidays that is geared for upper elementary school, but is a great resource for ourselves to learn more about holidays:

3. Emphasize values to avoid a tourist approach. Instead of providing superficial information about cultures - such as food or dress - go deeper into the values of the people. For example, if you are learning about St. Patrick's Day, it is more appropriate to focus on the Irish people's love of storytelling and community rather than just wearing green and making shamrocks. Celebrate Holidays is an excellent resource book for approaching holiday celebrations in your school:

Present the religious customs and values as part of your social studies curriculum. Don't endorse one set of values or practices over another. Don't emphasize some holidays or cultural practices to the degree that they seem more important than others. Be sensitive to children whose families are not religious or to Jehovah's Witnesses who do not participate in most celebrations. Offer choices and communicate with parents about their preferences for their children's participation.
Holidays and cultural diversity can bring joy and community into our classrooms. Please share in the comments the ways that you've used holidays as a way of helping children learn about diversity and our common bonds.

Need some new ideas for managing your early childhood classroom? Having trouble with children's behaviors? Get your copy of The Positive Classroom today.  Both novice teachers and those with years of experience will gain new insights and classroom tools. The Positive Classroom presents the best hope for preventing burnout and finding joy in your teaching. Now available in a Kindle edition, too!