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Kindergarten Pumpkin Activities

Fall is my favorite time of year. So many of my favorite sights, smells, and treats--especially pumpkins! Every year, we explore pumpkins to learn about them like scientists. We read books about pumpkins, and we learn about the pumpkin life cycle. Better still, I know that these explorations are memories that won't leave my students any time soon.
We explore pumpkins first by observing them in different ways. We pass around a pumpkin and use our five senses to describe its properties. What color is it? What shape? How does it feel? Smell? What does it sound like when you knock on it? Click on the photo below to download this free recording sheet.
If my class takes a trip to the pumpkin farm, we will do pumpkin explorations with our own individual pumpkins. If not, I buy a few small pumpkins and I put my students into groups to explore the same pumpkin. We measure the circumference with yarn and measure the height with cubes.
Then we predict and experiment to see if it sinks or floats. I like to repeat this experiment with a large pumpkin after experimenting with a small one. Students will often think the large pumpkin will sink, and then are shocked when it also floats! 
I always bring in different pumpkin snacks to share as well. I usually bring in pumpkin seeds first and put them in a snack baggie. We use this recording sheet (found here) to lay out our seeds. We look at them closely and count them out.
Mostly because I love food, I grab a few different pumpkin treats from the grocery store. We taste them and then graph on our favorites!
And finally, we carve a pumpkin. I love watching my students' different reactions when they reach in and feel the pulp and seeds.
After we carve our pumpkin, we always do  "how-to" writing about the process. We also do many or all of the activities in my Pumpkin Math and Science pack from my TpT shop.
Finally, we get creative with our pumpkins! We had a blast last year turning our pumpkins into our favorite story characters.
So that's what we do. Now go out and get yourself some pumpkins!

Seasonal and Holiday Handprint Writing in Kindergarten

As a kindergarten teacher, I love all things cutesy and crafty and hands-on and fun. My own son is in kindergarten, and I adore when he brings home things that he created. But I know how hard it is for us to spend instructional time on things like painting these days (I mean, how does that address the standards and yada yada yada...) So I created hand print writing pages that would allow my students to get messy and address the standards at the same time. I am planning on having my students complete one every month, and I'm saving them for their memory books at the end of the year. This is a perfectly simple activity to give your parent volunteers to lead as well!
If you are feeling crafty, you can snag these in my TpT shop. There are templates for just about every seasonal hand print craft you can think of. Feeling crafty?  Click on the image below to download a free sample!
Or, pin it for later!

Fall Playdough Recipes

Scented, fall-themed playdough is so simple to make! Once you have your basic playdough recipe, it's really all about adding the coloring and the mix-ins to make it smell amazing.
First, gather your ingredients. The best play dough recipe I have found (and I've made a lot) calls or 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup salt, 1 tablespoon oil, 1 tablespoon cream of tartar, and 1 cup water. This is the base for every type of play dough I make. 
Dump the dry ingredients into a pot.
Add the wet ingredients. I like to add my food coloring to the water so that it's easier for the color to be mixed through.
Give it a good stir.
Within just a few minutes, it will start to form a ball in the center of the pot like this.
Dump that ball of dough onto a counter and let it cool slightly.
Form it into a ball. You're done!
It's super easy to give basic play dough a little kick by adding different colors, spices, and extracts. I even played with essential oil and added some cinnamon oil to red play dough to make incredible smelling "apple cinnamon" dough! Check out the chart below to find some add-ins to make your play dough pop!
My classroom looked and smelled like FALL this week as my students used these doughs in their work stations. Something about adding scent to play dough makes it tons more fun! Do you use play dough in your classroom? Happy fall!

Alphabet Intervention that Works

The beginning of the school year is upon us. For kindergarten teachers, that means back to basics. We all know that many kinders come in knowing zero letters, while others come in reading up a storm. Did you know that according to Richard Allington, students who enter kindergarten knowing fewer than 40 letters (upper and lower combined) are already a year below grade level? Crazy isn't it? Below grade level before even starting school! Not only that--Allington also asserts that ALL kindergarten students, regardless of socioeconomic status or literacy in the home, should know all of their letters by Halloween. Sound impossible? Read on.
In my classroom, I do not spend whole group instructional time on the alphabet. We are always reviewing and talking about letters through modeling, sharing the pen, etc., but explicit alphabet instruction is something I save for small group, and only for the students who need it. Most students quickly pick up on the letters as they are given a multitude of opportunities to use them. 

For the students who enter school knowing fewer than 40 letters (they are assessed by an aide on the first day of school), here is what we do: 

Trace the Alphabet Every Day.

That's it. No, I don't mean give them a handwriting page with dot letters to trace. What I'm talking about is one-on-one finger tracing of an alphabet book (or alphabet cards) while saying the letters and pictures. 
 A tutor (parent volunteer/older student) sits next to the student--this must be done one-on-one, so it frees up your time to have another person do this. The student (not the tutor) traces the capital and lowercase letter while saying the name of the letter. Then, they point to the picture and say what it is. 

"A, A, apple."
"B, B, ball."
C,C, cat."

It's that simple. Every day, A-Z.
 I PROMISE you, this works. I was a skeptic. But I have a ton of respect for Jan Richardson, and this idea comes straight from her book, The Next Steps in Guided Reading which I've blogged about before.

But my first year of trying this, IT DID NOT WORK. Why? Because I did not make sure that it was done with fidelity. Every. single. day. But when I finally made the commitment to make sure this was done with all students who knew fewer than 40 letters, THEY ALL KNEW THEIR LETTERS BY October. Even my ELL students. Even students who entered kindergarten knowing ZERO LETTERS. HEED MY CAPITALIZED MESSAGE.

The best part is, you don't need anything new or fancy. Do you have an alphabet strip/chart that you already use? Use that! With a little cut/pasting action, you can turn it into a book.
 It's best to be consistent so that the students are seeing the same pictures (although admittedly mine aren't and it still works great). Here is a little alphabet book that you can use if you don't have anything already handy! Just click on the image below!

Do you already use the tracing book with your students? Tell us about your results!

How to do an Author Study

Nothing motivates my students like reading book after book from the same beloved author. Mo Willems, David Shannon, Kevin Henkes, Ezra Jack Keats, Jan Brett, and Tomie DePaola are just a few of our favorite authors. 
I absolutely LOVE doing author studies with my students. For one, we get to know authors and understand their work on a much deeper level. When the students connect to the writer, they love the stories even more! When I talk about doing author studies, some people seem to think it's a big complicated thing. It's really not! According to Readingrockets.org, there are 5 simple steps to doing an author study with your students. 
1. Set your purpose: Why are we studying this author? Are we learning about a particular genre or writing style? Are we trying to add more XYZ to our writing? 2. Choose an Author: This should relate to your goal. Do you want an author that uses powerful language? Do you want your students to explore how to show emotions with their illustrations? We all have our favorite authors who we like to study. That can be contagious to your students! 3. Read and Respond: Read for the sheer enjoyment of it. Read to have students make connections. To visualize. To infer. Whatever floats your boat. An author study journal would be great for tracking student responses. 4. Research the author: Let the internet be your guide. You will learn lots of cool and funny facts about authors along the way. 5. Culminating projects: Have the students write their own story using a style similar to your author. Or write the story as a class. Or have students create a poster about the author. You are only limited by your imagination here! 

Here is an example of an anchor chart that I use with some authors when I do author studies. The idea came from The Complete Year in Reading and Writing, by Pam Allyn, and it is one of my favorite ideas to use from her entirely wonderful book. 
Keep the chart as a work-in-progress until the author study is completed. You can always add to it, and students are always motivated to show you when they've tried something so that they can get their name on that sticky note. 

Why don't you spend some time this week talking about your favorite authors and stories? I have a freebie here for you to help you out with that! Click on the picture below to grab it!
I hope you have fun with author studies in your classroom!

DIY Glass Rock Magnets

Hi everyone! Today I'm going to show you a fun DIY that could have tons of uses--glass rock magnets!
Here's what you will need:
Large glass rocks from the Dollar Tree
Photos of your students printed out
Mod Podge (I used Elmer's for my tester and it worked great! But I trust and love Mod Podge!)
Magnet circles from Wal-Mart (they are sticky-backed and come in a pack of 18)

The process is so simple. Just plop a rock down on top of the picture and trace it. Then, cut it out and trim it up slightly if it hangs over the edge of the rock at all. 

Now, just paint a thin layer of glue on the back of the rock (the flat side). Then plop that bad boy right onto the picture. After it dries (maybe 20 minutes to be safe), plop the magnets onto the back. 
Ta-da! You're finished! I'm glad I did a tester because as you can see, these turn out way better if the photo has a nice light background. Print your photos big enough to fill the glass rock too.
You could use these for so many reasons! 
1. Lunch count
2. Parent gifts
3. Center/ work station management
4. A magnetic behavior chart

What other uses can you think of? 

Father's Day Gifts from Your Students

Coming up with a Father's Day gift from my students is always such an ordeal for me. Mother's Day is so easy! Something flowery, or some kid-made jewelry, and you're all set. But dads are tougher. I have the same struggle shopping for my own dad and husband, so maybe I just stink at mens' gifts in general. But this year we made something simple and pretty cute, too. I thought I'd share it in case you have the same creative block I normally deal with.
I got everything I needed for this gift at Dollar General! It's closer to me than Wal-Mart or Target, and I have made MANY early morning trips there before school. This particular morning, I found mustache tape, mustaches, and mason jars. Boom.
I sort of helped my students put on the tape, and then let them pick out and apply a fuzzy mustache. They each added ten dum dums and we later added a tag that said "Dad's Stache" because if it isn't punny, it is no good to me. This little Father's Day questionnaire fits with the mustache theme, and also satisfies my need for punny-ness. Grab it for free by clicking and saving the image!

Also, I will never NOT put our Father's Day gifts in these bags. They are just too stinking cute and the parents always get a kick out of them. To make these, just cut down a brown paper bag (I cut off about 3 inches to make them shorter), then cut partway about an inch down on both sides. Fold them in and staple, and then tape a little tie right in the center. It's good stuff.

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