Sunday, May 5, 2019

A Countdown of My Favorite Lessons (#2): The Wedding of Q and U

It's spring and so the wedding season is just around the corner!  For many years, the wedding of Q and U was the highlight of the year for my kindergartners and me.

Q and U belong together, as everyone knows.  After all, it's an important spelling rule:  

Whenever you write a Q, 
you must write a U.

Now, the idea of having a wedding to help children learn this spelling rule is not original to me.  I'm not sure who dreamed up this marvelous idea although I have heard of an old kindergarten reading readiness curriculum called The Letter People which may lay claim to it.  I overheard some other teachers talking about a Q and U wedding at a kindergarten conference I attended.  Like many of my favorite lessons, the idea isn't original to me but I developed it in my own way.

I started my planning by listing all of the participants in a typical wedding ceremony (see above.)  Obviously, some years I had to create a larger bridal party with more bridesmaids and groomsmen.  The important thing was that every student had a role in the wedding.  Also, I decided which student would take each role.  I knew some students would be more comfortable as musicians or photographers than as bride and groom, others would be able to practice reading a few lines as officiator(s), some would need to move about and they would make perfect ushers, etc.  

I know the old-fashioned computer looks out of place next to this child who
is the "musician" in charge of playing the music at the wedding.
The photographer had a real camera to take pictures of the wedding.
This little girl was so proud to usher guests into the classroom for the wedding.

Next, I introduced the idea of weddings to the children through reading books, sharing my own wedding album and inviting children to bring in photos of weddings where they had been flower girls or ring bearers, and discussions.  Here are two of my favorite wedding books for kids:

I explained that we were going to have a very special play where we would be acting out a wedding.  I was going to be the director of the play and so I would be choosing which role each student would be enacting.  Since we did a lot of dramatic play in my classroom, my students understood this was how it was going to be. Period.

Of course, we took time to understand and practice the spelling rule about Q and U.  Each year, we made a quilt (qu- word) of some type ( paper, or fabric swatches sewn together by volunteers.)  The quilt was always the wedding present opened by the two bears, Q and U, with the help of their human counterparts.

Some years, the wedding of Q and U was a Really Big Deal with children dressed up as if it were a real wedding.

In those years, we also invited parents to attend the wedding of Q and U.  We had parents who made beautiful cakes that were every bit wedding cakes!

But other years, we would just have a rehearsal one day and then try to enact the whole ceremony without a glitch the next day.  We wouldn't have adult guests; instead, some of the students played the roles of wedding guests.  And those Weddings of Q and U were also a lot of fun and memorable.  No matter how elaborate the wedding, we always ending with dancing:

The Wedding of Q and U was always hugely popular at my school and it received some very nice publicity over the years.

Many parents loved that I had taken the time to teach the children about weddings.  One parent made a lovely photo album of the wedding which I will always treasure:

At my big retirement party in May 2018, many, many students asked the whereabouts of Q-bear and U-bear.  A lot of my other kindergarten memorabilia was on display at the party venue.  But, unfortunately, Q and U had become someone else's playmates:

I hope you will try having a wedding of Q and U in your classrooms!  Also, please read my next (and final) post!

Monday, April 22, 2019

A Countdown of My Favorite Lessons (#3): A Pretend Trip to the Moon!

This July 20, 2019 will mark the 50th anniversary of the first moon walk.  I remember it well!  I was 14 years old.  My dad read in the Minneapolis Star Tribune that there would be giant TV screens set up that evening in a downtown Minneapolis park.  Since our own TV set at the time was the standard 23 inch or 25 inch console model, we all set off for the park to watch that first moon walk.  It will always be one of the most thrilling memories of my life!

I hope that teachers everywhere are finding ways to talk about this historic event!  Kids of all ages love to learn about space travel and the moon.  In my kindergarten, for many years, we studied a bit about the moon and space travel.  There are good curricular links: in reading, a great author to study is Frank Asch. Focus on books in his Moon Bear series:

Link fiction reading with non-fiction books.  There is an ever-increasing number of  such books written at an age-appropriate level for kindergarteners.  My absolute favorite is:
It may be difficult to locate this book now but there is an Usborne First Read edition of it on Amazon.

In Science, kindergarteners can be exposed to concepts of day and night, gravity, and the phases of the moon.  And history can come alive by inviting a grandparent or two to come to the class and share memories of watching the first moon landing!

But, if you really want to make history come alive and give your students a memorable experience in kindergarten,

     Take your students on a trip to the moon!

Here is how I took my kindergarteners on a trip to the moon:

We took our moon trip on a Friday after having spent the week reading, drawing, writing, and thinking about the moon.  Each day, I would take attendance as if I were Mission Control and they were my astronauts.  While this seems like nothing more than play, it is actually great language play, as kids learn to remember new vocabulary.  It's also good for building impulse control, as each child has to listen to ALL of the words said by Mission Control before responding.

On Friday, I put on a special sweater with an American flag on it to help the kids understand that Mission Control is an American institution and Americans were first on the moon.  I'm seeing a lot of cool T-shirts for sale right now advertising the upcoming 50th anniversary... just saying!
Yes, I know.  The computer in the background is from the 1990s!
But a trip to the moon never goes out of style!

After taking attendance in the above manner, everyone sat down in our gathering area on a felt square "launching pad" in order to view a short segment of the Apollo 13 movie where the rocket ship was launched into outer space. 

I'm sure there are other ways to find a relevant video clip of the launching of a spacecraft
 but this never failed to impress!

After the rocket ship on the video was successfully launched, we pretended our own individual rocket ships were also on their way!  Everyone was asked to stand on their felt squares which were no longer their launch pads; they had become their rocket ships.  They tried to simulate weightlessness by balancing on one leg and then another.  Then, they sat down on their felt squares to drink juice packets just as astronauts must do in outer space.  (Fun Fact:  TANG, a powdered drink mix like Crystal Lite or Kool-Aid, was the original juice packet and it was developed by NASA!)

Some years, I made the juice packets using baggies with straws and a small amount of juice in each.

While my young astronauts drank, I showed and described the four moon-oriented centers they would visit during our stay on the moon. 

Each center was designed for 6-7 students at a time.  Often I had parents who were eager to join us for our trip to the moon.  If I had one for each center, that was perfect.  However, only two centers really needed adult help.  I allotted 8 minutes at each center.  Here is a picture or two of each center with explanations below.
This center is full of great tactile learning!

In my classroom, I had a large diorama that I used on our Pretend Trips...more about Pretend Trips in an upcoming post!  For the moon trip, I hung black roll paper with a cut-out of the earth in the back of the box.  I put a large piece of white styrofoam on the bottom of the box.  I stuck a styrofoam mountain in it and a tiny American flag.  I had purchased a few toy lunar modules for the kids to move around in the box.  I also tossed a lot of styrofoam packing pieces into the box.  Each child had a baggie and used tweezers to carefully collect just 10 packing pieces which we pretended were moon rocks.  While waiting his/her turn to collect the moon rocks, there was white PlayDoh for the students to model into a sphere and pencils to poke holes for craters.  There was also white flour in the nearby sensory tub ( or table) and a borrowed child's boot to make footprints on the moon. (Fun Fact: Neil Armstrong's footsteps are still on the moon since there is no wind there to blow them away!)

A second center was always a "read about the moon" center.  Over the years, there were two different versions.  Our classroom teepee was easily converted into the nosecone of a rocket ship.  Or, I brought in 6 or 8 pillows from home and threw a white or cream-colored sheet over them to create a "crater."  I set out all the books we'd read plus others for the children to read at this center.  In the picture of the crater, you see an adult sitting in the crater with several boys.  However, there isn't really a need for an adult in the reading center.

A third and VERY popular center was the "Make a Moon Cake" center.  This center idea was inspired by Frank Asch's book, Moon Cake.  I baked cupcakes or plain muffins for each of the students.  I set out bowls of teddy bear cookie "astronauts," marshmallow and raisin "moon rocks," and tiny toothpick American flags. There was also a bowl with plastic spoons in it.  I stationed an adult at this center with a simple step-by-step book showing how to dig a crater with the spoon, fill it with moon rocks, and stick in the flag and an astronaut .  The children made and ate their own snack at this center.  After finishing and cleaning up, the children took turns answering questions about the moon which were posed by the adult. (I provided a list of questions for the adult to ask.)

In the fourth center, children posed for a photograph of themselves wearing the astronaut suits they made earlier in the week using paper plates for the helmets and paper bags for the astronaut suits.  This is NOT the best picture, unfortunately, but I do like the BONUS memory of him holding a robot he had designed earlier in the week. It's never too early to learn a bit about artificial intelligence!  Obviously, an adult is needed to take the photos.  While the children waited their turn to be photographed in their spacesuits, they were able to complete my original six page sight word booklet, My Rocket Book.  I am featuring a picture of one page of the booklet here.  If you want to download a FREE copy, go to my TpT store WHERE EVERYTHING IS FREE!, Here Hugo.  The link is posted in the sidebar above.

You can download a free copy of my 6-page booklet at my TpT store,
Here Hugo!
See sidebar.

After everyone had visited all 4 centers, the children regathered on their felt squares  and got ready to be rocketed back into space and returned to earth.  When they splashed down into the ocean, the Apollo astronauts were picked up by helicopters.  In order to simulate this, I walked around making a noise like whirring helicopter blades.  Each child reached up and I gently lifted him/her out of the nosecone of his/her rocket ship, as you can see here:

As the title of this post suggests, A Pretend Trip to the Moon, was one of my favorite lessons as a kindergarten teacher.  And, from what former students tell me, it is one of their best memories of kindergarten!  One of my students will soon head off to college to study aeronautical engineering.  She remembers our trip to the moon as one of those experiences that increased her interest in all things space.  

         I hope you will take a pretend trip 
                          to the moon 
                with your students soon!

Monday, April 15, 2019

A Countdown of My Favorite Lessons (#4) : A Grandparents' Garden Tea Party

The calendar says it is April 15 but when the school bus pulled up to my neighbor's house this morning, it looked like December 15!

Luckily, my windowsill garden doesn't know the difference! Leaning eagerly towards the light are sprouting peas, lettuce, spinach, beets, and carrots.

Each spring in kindergarten, many teachers choose to grow things with their students.  Maybe it is part of the science curriculum or maybe it's presents for Mother's Day but, whatever the reason, planting seeds is a perennial favorite in many a kinder-garden! Haha!

"Remember the little seed in the styrofoam cup.  
The roots go down and the plant goes up 
and nobody really knows how or why
 but we are all like that"
Robert Fulghum,
All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten

As a kindergarten teacher, there were several planting projects that I really enjoyed.  Grass seed is easy to grow.  Each child drew a face with a permanent marker on a styrofoam cup , planted grass seed, and watched his/her Grass Guy or Grass Gal grow green hair!  When it was time to take their plants home, they had the option to trim their guy's or girl's hair, or ask for some help tying a bit of ribbon in it to create a ponytail!

It's also fun to watch lima bean or pea seeds sprout in a plastic baggie lined with a folded, wet paper towel.  In this way, students can actually see the roots growing down and the stem growing up.  One year, after successfully germinating the seeds in this manner, we then planted several of the sprouts in a pot of soil.  By the end of the year, we were harvesting edible lima beans!  The kids got a kick out of watching me eat them! 

Marigolds and zinnias both grow beautifully in styrofoam or plastic cups of soil.  However, don't expect them to bloom until they are transplanted into the soil outdoors in summer.

Of course, you'll want to learn songs and poems about planting-- there is no shortage of good ones on Pinterest! And you'll be reading books about planting and gardening; there is an ever-expanding collection of them in the library!  Some of my favorites are:

And, naturally, you will keep records of planting dates and plant growth on calendars or in journals.  There are lots of good examples on Pinterest, again.

When your room is filled with growing grass guys and girls, sprouting marigolds and zinnias, and germinating lima beans and When your walls display interesting art and charts about plants and planting and When your students have learned some songs or poems about gardening, I hope you will consider having a 

Grandparents' Garden Tea Party!

First, think of senior citizens who may help out in your school.  They will make lovely guests.  Consider your student population: do many of the children have grandparents who live in the community or not too far away?  Would they accept an invitation to visit the classroom?  Send an invitation home with your students!
It's impossible to see it but the center of each flower is a school photo of a kindergartner!

In my classroom, we covered the tables with white plastic tablecloths.  I brought in pitchers of iced tea (safer than hot tea, go with herbal tea so there is no caffeine, and with a bit of honey most children enjoy it!)  Some years, we baked cookies that morning.  Other times, I bought some cookies for the tea party.  The children learned to make tissue paper flowers and these were pretty table decorations.

At the party, I would read May I Bring a Friend?  It wouldn't be kindergarten without this classic!

My students would read aloud their poems and sing their songs about gardens.  We'd serve the iced tea and cookies.  Guests would be invited to walk around to view our indoor, windowsill garden.

I always had such a warm feeling after our Grandparents' Garden Tea Party.  These members of our society are often so appreciative of gestures like this one.  Parents are typically so busy, rushing from one event to another in their children's lives.  Grandparents "get it" and will show real enthusiasm and interest in their grandkid's school life. They are often generous with their praise of your efforts with their grandchildren.  In short, grandparents will  "stop to smell the roses...."

I hope you'll try to have a grandparents' garden tea party !

P.S,  I'm happy to be able to share this recent photo of me with my oldest grandson who is a kindergartner, himself!

Friday, March 29, 2019

A Countdown of My Favorite Lessons (#5): A Country Fair in Kindergarten!

It's been almost a year now since I retired from teaching kindergarten.  When my mind goes back to those happy days, mostly I think of the adorable kids whose lives intersected with mine.  It really was a delight to look into bright eyes and I did enjoy those cute baby-toothed smiles.  I loved when the light bulbs went off in their heads and they were able to show when they understood something.  I was always excited when someone learned to read and I knew their world was about to expand because of it.

When I began this blog, Goodbye Kindergarten, I decided to subtitle it, "A Retiring Kindergarten Teacher's Favorite Lessons and Reflections on a Rewarding Career."  Looking back over 62 posts, I believe I've almost accomplished my goal.  I've written what I've felt and thought and learned about young children over my long career.  I've shared ideas about teaching all subjects from reading to writing to math to social studies and science.  I've offered my opinions on some of the controversies in kindergarten education (Common Core, play-based vs academically-oriented curriculums, Dr. Seuss, and Thanksgiving Feasts, to name a few.)  

However, I have NOT yet shared my truly favorite lessons, those into which I poured heart and soul, and those which many former students seem to remember most fondly.
So, in this post and my next (and final) four posts, I will attempt to share my memories of those really special lessons.  I hope my former students who read this blog will enjoy reminiscing.  And, of course, I hope teachers will read this and be inspired to try my ideas and/or adapt them in their own creative ways.

Let me start with my Country Fair lesson.  I think many early childhood programs include a unit on farms, farm animals, and/or rural communities.  I used to teach this unit in the fall but other teachers have found spring is a good time to offer a farm unit.  I'm not going to outline such a unit here except to say that our unit included reading fiction and nonfiction about 5 or 6 farm animals, creating each animal out of construction paper, and learning classic songs about the farm (ie; Old McDonald, The Farmer in the Dell, Will You Feed My Cow?) Most years, we went on a field trip to a local farm or, at least, an apple orchard or pumpkin patch.

The Big Idea behind the farm unit was that "farm=food," and, yes, my students did slowly understand that the chicken on the dinner table was once a chicken on a farm!  

The Country Fair was the culminating activity in our farm unit.  Our room was decorated with our many farm animal craft projects, the children had practiced the "country music," small groups were ready to share what they had learned about the different animals.  A week before the event, I sent a note home to parents inviting them to come to our Country Fair.  I also invited them to contribute home-baked goods for a Bake-Off competition at the Country Fair, promising all who entered would get a blue-ribbon!

I realize that times have changed and it is difficult to get many working parents to attend events during the school day. You have to know your community to know whether you can invite parents to the event.  Please consider inviting another class to your Country Fair or even the principal and some support staff. However, you can just have the Country Fair for your own class and that can be fun, too.  Also, nowadays there are rules in some school districts about serving homemade food or any food at all.  You may not include the Bake-0ff or maybe ask for store-bought baked goods, or focus on the fruits and vegetables that our farms give us instead.  After all, a Blue Ribbon carrot is a sight to behold!

My students were encouraged to dress in blue jeans or overalls, if they had them. They could wear bandanas and hats, too, if they wanted.  Dress-up is always a fun activity for young children...and it can be fun for their teachers, too! 

After our guests arrived, we all gathered to sing our songs about farms.  Many of our guests were able to join in singing these familiar tunes.  Each small group would stand in front of one of the farm animal displays.  If there were capable readers, they would read a few lines while the others would point to the animals they described.  If not, I would share the relevant facts while the children pointed.  As we know, it's a good experience for children to even just "stand" in front of an audience.  And, at the very end of our Country Fair, I would lay out blue ribbons for each of the baked-goods and everyone would have a little treat.

I hope you will consider having a Country Fair at the end of your next farm unit.  Here is a copy of the letter that I sent home to parents explaining the Country Fair.  You can click on download and change it to make it your own!

And, if you would like a free copy of my little sight word booklet, My Funny Farm, head over to TeachersPayTeachers and download it there. (You can see the link on the sidebar to the right.)