Thursday, February 13, 2014

Creating a School Family: Organizing Center Time

I have observed that many teacher have good intentions and want to allow children to have a choice about where they want to play and when.  Unfortunately, if it isn't managed well, free choice time can turn into chaos and the anxiety in the room goes through the roof.   

I get the opportunity to visit many classrooms when I am coaching.  I always keep my camera handy so I can snap shots of brilliance in action!  Recently, I found two new ideas for managing Center Time that I would love to share with you!  These ideas would work best with children that are preschool age and older. 

This first idea comes from a Head Start Classroom in my community.  At each center in the classroom, the teacher has posted a simple poster like the one shown above.  She added photos from school supply catalogs to help the children have a visual support along with written label for each center.  The bear cutouts give the children a visual reminder for how many children may play safely at each center.  When children arrive at the center, they hang their individualized bear on one of the spaces provided.  What a simple and easy way to add safety and predictability to your center time!

Speaking of simple, it doesn't get much simpler than this next idea!  I came across this fabulous and super super easy idea at the same Head Start, but in a different classroom.  You will flip when you see how easy it can be to kick your center management up a notch!

This teacher has a baggie with hair ties in it.  Yes, you heard that right, HAIR TIES!  When it is time for centers the teacher lays out the correct number of bands for each center.  So, if the yellow center is allowed to have four children, then she lays out four yellow bands. When the children choose their center they put the band around their wrist to help others know where they're going.  If they want to change centers they simply go over change colors and move to the center of their choice. 

The teacher spends time at the beginning of the year teaching the children which color represents each center.  She practices it with them and sets them (and her) up for success!  You could also hang some sort of colored symbol in each center to remind children of the color for each center if you choose.  What a great visual and tactile way to manage centers! It just doesn't get any easier than this!

Remember, our goal in center time is for children to be engaged in learning activities that increase social, motor, and cognitive skills, as well as language development through play.  Lack of structure at Center Time creates an atmosphere of stress for children.  When children are stressed learning will not occur.  By adding just a few little structures such as the ones shared above you can soothe the lower centers of the brain, help children feel safe and ready to learn!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Hot Chocolate Connecting Activities that will Warm Your Heart

Does hot chocolate take you back to memories of your childhood like it does me?  I remember my mom getting out that dented little pan to warm up some milk and make some steamy hot chocolate for us on those cold winter days.  She warmed the milk oh so carefully so it wouldn't burn.  Then she would squeeze in just enough chocolate to give it taste and if we had some on hand we always added marshmallows! 

One of the best things about hot chocolate is the way if feels in your hands!  Heck!  Half of the experience is just holding the mug and sniffing that rich chocolaty aroma!

I am sharing a sweet little connecting activity with you today that I hope will help you create some warm memories that you will look back on some day with your children and perhaps even carry on for the next generation.

You might like to do this activity with your little ones just before bed or when they get home from school to allow them some time to melt into the warmth of their relationship with you and experience a deep sense of connection and safety.  This activity could be easily adapted for use in the classroom with individual students or as a connecting activity for your class as a whole in your Brain Smart Start.

However you decide to do this activity, remember that it is important that it include eye contact, touch, presence, and playfulness.  Don't get too caught up in the words or motions, enjoy the time with your child, relax and be present

Here are the steps to doing the activity:
  1. Hold your child in your lap.
  2. Form the shape of a pot with your child's arms.
  3. Pretend to pour milk into the "pot".
  4. Holding your child's hands make a stirring motion with your arms as if you are stirring the milk with a big wooden spoon.
  5. Squeeze your child's arms, hands, legs, or feet to pretend that it is the chocolate syrup squeezing it into the pot.
  6. Gently poke your child's tummy or cheeks as you add the "marshmallows".
  7. Wrap your arms snug around your child and give a hug.
  8. Last, but not least, drink up that yummy hot chocolate as you enjoy smiles and giggles all around!
This poster for this song can be found here.  You can print it out for free!!!

If you are interested in more developmentally appropriate activities that include hot chocolate be sure to check out my post over on Pre-K and K Sharing.  There is another free printable over there that will help you teach your children to take that deep calming breath when they are feeling upset and need to relax.

Go ahead, grab a cup of hot cocoa, print out the poster and put it up on the fridge so you are ready to snuggle in close with your little ones.  This is one connecting activity that is sure to warm your hearts!