Clocks, Calendar, and New Year Fun

Although learning to tell time is not a math skill, and is not included as a Common Core Standard in kindergarten, the teaching of clocks as a tool for mathematical thinking is crucial. 

A clock is made of the numbers 1-12 laid out in numerical order. This alone makes the clock a handy aid when teaching counting and cardinality. Giving a student opportunity to work with clocks help develop number recognition, sequencing, and numerical order.

I think I have introduced clocks the first day back from winter break for the entire 23 years of my career (thank you Ruth Hepworth). Waiting for Monday morning, right at my carpet/calendar area, I have my little student size Judy Clocks ready to go and my copy of Hap Palmer’s, Paper Clocks ready for the play button to be pushed. After we have manipulated the clocks to the song a couple of times, I love to have the students construct their own clocks to take home and show off their new skill of telling time to the hour. 

You may wish to check out our Happy New Year Unit that focuses on ways to measure time: Clocks and Calendars.

Why is Place Value Important?

When I was a child learning mathematics, the emphasis was on memorizing facts and algorithms. When I was taught place value the lesson went something like this: a number in this location is in the tens place, a number in this location is in the ones place, remember that, there will be a test.

I never understood the purpose of place value, and it was only when I became a teacher myself that I came to understand the invaluable tool that it can be when solving mathematical problems and in understanding our number system!

It is not an understanding of the labels “tens place” and “ones place” that are important when teaching place value, it is the concept of exchange that they represent. In our number system there are only 9 numerals, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. In order to represent any quantity larger than these numerals we “reset” one column and start over in the next, creating the number “10”. Our number system is a base ten system because that is the amount at which we run out of numerals and must start in another column.

Young children often confuse large numbers like 19 and 91; this is because they do not have an understanding of the exchange that has taken place to create the numerals. 19 is really 10 + 9 and 91 is really 90 + 1. Once a child understands what the 1 and the 9 mean, depending on where they are located, they will have no trouble distinguishing between large numbers. Understanding what a numeral means in context will also serve children well when they add and subtract digits with more than one numeral. For example, if a child needs to add 31 and 42 and knows that they are really adding 30 + 40 + 1 + 2, the solution becomes more apparent. If a child needs to add 48+32= and they understand that they are adding 40+8 and 30+2 they can "borrow" the 2 from 32 and add it to 48, making the problem 50+30, a much simpler problem to solve!

These place value lessons are designed to increase a childʼs understanding of the number system and how context determines the meaning of a numeral.

In order for children to be successful in these lessons they must first understand the concept of skip counting and be able to count by tens. The lessons are organized in order of difficulty, progressing from the earliest concepts of place value to those that develop later. Ideas have been included at the end of some lessons of ways in which you can extend a lesson if your students need more practice on a particular concept. I hope they will be helpful in your classroom and will help your children not only be able to improve
in mathematics, but to think more like mathematicians.

                  ----Submitted by Lyndsey

Teaching English Language Learners Phonological Awareness Skills: Learning To Rhyme

Learning to rhyme is a very important phonological skill that will lead students to future reading success. You can read about its importance here

Phonological awareness skills are especially import when teaching second language learners. To teach these children skills such as rhyming, it takes strategic teaching and knowledge of the fact that some phonemes are not present in a student’s native language (for example Spanish speakers use half the amount of phonemes as English speakers). Because of this, the vocabulary, context of the word, and pronunciation (including mouth positioning) must be strongly considered to make the rhyming practice meaningful and productive.

The first step in teaching ELL’s to rhyme is to start with traditional "lap time" activities. "Lap time" activities are known as such because they are the activities that a mother would typically engage in when playing with language with a young child on her lap, i.e. nursery rhymes, finger plays, and songs. We have to start with these primary activities with second language learners, because, for them, this is their primary language experience.

Start with activities that are easily memorized. Call attention to rhymes in songs, fingerplays, and rhymes as you sing them with your students. Use full or cross-body actions that will increase brain-power. Don't be afraid to start small, intact starting small is a must! The students do not need to learn how to rhyme in one week or even in one semester. Start with words that rhyme with cat. I love these little rhyming tubs. Children love the little objects and the auditory/visual connection assists ELL learners. To begin, I simply dump out the -at tub of objects in a pile, pick them up one-by-one, and identify them.  We take the time to discuss each object's label and definition. Don’t take anything for granted. Not all children know what a baseball bat is. Always throughly define the item. 

After all objects are named, I then pick them up again one-by-one saying only their name and ask, “Does anyone see anything these words have in common?” If there is no answer, I again pick up each object and exaggerate each word, opening my mouth wide, holding my chin, and pointing to my mouth (giving the children visual cues for clarity). I again ask the question, and usually a child will quickly mention my mouth. I will then say the word cat and ask students repeat the word as they place their hands on their cheeks. All of these objects are rhyming words and so my mouth is the same for each word. At this point I pull out my hand mirrors and ask students to say the name of each object as they watch their mouth. After we have watched our mouth “speak” each rhyming word. I ask the students to say a word that uses complete opposite mouth positioning such as chip. I then have the students hold their cheeks as they say the words in the object pile: cat, rat, bat, sat, mat, followed quickly by chip. “Did you feel your mouth move differently?” Well that word can’t rhyme with cat then, because your mouth must stay the same at the end of each rhyming word. 
I continue this process for the first several sessions with these students, reviewing a learned rhyming family at the end of each lesson, always having students hold their cheeks (or jaw if the words contain jaw-dropping vowels) as we list the rhyming words. I do this review in a my-turn, your-turn fashion. For example. I hold my cheeks and say pig and then point both hands at the students while they say pig.

After I have taught the vocabulary that I want rhymed, the mouth positioning, and practiced rhyming families, it is time to slowly ask students to produce and then generate rhyming words using meaningful games and activities. This process to teach rhyme may seem labor intensive. It is, but it also doesn't take as much time as you might expect, and, spelling out the workings of language in such an explicit way is essential for students who come from a different language background.

Math Timed Test: Are They Valid?

If you are not a member of, you should be. It's a great resource for teachers and parents about the most current research into how to teach math. The site was set up by Jo Boaler, professor of Mathematics Education at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, who is a mathematics hero.

One of Boaler's points for which I have strong personal feelings, is that timed tests in mathematics are absolute garbage (absolute garbage are my words, not hers, but that's because of the personal connection). Timed tests were something I dreaded as a child. I knew that I could never pass them with the required speed. All I could hope for was to get them over with without too much embarrassment. They absolutely convinced me that I was no good at mathematics. I wish I'd have known then what I know now, which is:

Mathematics is not about speed. It is about depth of thought. If you want an example of this, you can read about Chinese mathematician Shing-Tung Yau.

Children with exceptional math skills are just as likely to preform poorly on timed tests as children with poor math skills.

Timed tests create a situation of anxiety, which actually shuts down the brain's ability to think.

Perhaps the worst thing about timed tests is that they don't teach anything. Children with poor math strategies try to use those poor strategies quickly and children with excellent math strategies try to use their excellent strategies quickly. At the end of the test, nothing has changed about the way the children are approaching mathematics. This is a major problem, because the thing that really separates children's mathematical ability, is the way they approach problems. Children who struggle with math use clumsy and inefficient strategies. Children who excel at math use elegant and efficient strategies. For example, imagine you gave a kindergartener two piles of objects, and ask them to count the piles separately. One pile has 6 objects and one pile has 4 objects. You then ask him how many there are all together. A student whose strategies are underdeveloped starts counting all of the objects again--even though they previously counted both piles. A student whose strategies are more efficient might start at 6 and count on. A student with excellent strategies might move one of the objects in the pile of 6 to the pile of 4, creating a problem of 5+5=10. It is the method that students use that leads to efficiency, not the time in which they do the task. Timing our inefficient mathematician is only going to result in him trying to count faster.

When I was a student, I was deeply embarrassed of the fact that I couldn't remember all of my multiplication tables. I was terrified that my math teacher might discover that I could never remember what 8x6 was and always had to start with 7x6=42+6=48. Now I've discovered that this kind of flexibility with numbers is exactly what mathematicians need. In fact, my computer programmer husband and I have had many discussions about the math classes he took in college and how they were about teaching him this kind of flexibility on a higher level, how they taught him to problem solve, and about how accuracy was always more valuable than speed.

So, if we want to improve our student's ability to do math, please, please, please, never pull out a timer, because we never want our children to get the idea that math is about speed. Just like good writers are concerned with how well something is written, and not how fast they can type, and good scientists are concerned with how accurate their results are, and not how quickly they came up with the results, good mathematicians should be concerned with the processes of mathematics, not the speed of their sums.
                                                   --- Contributed by Lyndsey

Holiday Shape-up

Shapes are all around us. In addition to the traditional math units on shapes, we can meet geometry standards through construction or art projects. Using triangles, circles, squares, and rectangles, students can create trees, Santas, elves, and reindeer. These projects give students practical and hand-on opportunities to work with shapes of various sizes and orientations. Construct projects also provide opportunities for students to draw shapes and use shapes to form larger shapes. 

According to the Common Core Kindergarten intro, math instructional time should focus on numbers and shapes. Use art projects during the holiday season and throughout the year to learn about shapes in a fun and meaningful way.

Be assured that you are teaching the Common Core by using this Common Core Geometry Unit for kindergarten. There are two lesson for each geometry standard. 

Contents include: 

Shape Walk: Finding Shapes in the Environment

Shapes Guided Reading Book: Identifying Shapes in the Environment

Shape Bingo: Identifying Shapes

Shape Memory: Identifying Shapes

3D Match-up: Identifying Three Dimensional Shapes

Shape Graph: Describing and Graphing Shapes

X The Shape: Analyzing and Comparing Shapes

The Shape Song: Learning Shapes Through Song

Touch the Shape: Analyzing and Comparing Shapes

My Shape Me: Building a Person Drawing Shapes

Making Shapes: Making 3D Shapes with Clay

Shape Puzzles: Composing Shapes to Make a Larger Shape

Triangle Duck: Composing Shapes to Make a Larger Shape

Rectangle Giraffe: Composing Shapes to Make a Larger Shape

A Giant Christmas Sale

Merry Christmas to all!  Enjoy 20% off all our products December 13-16! Be sure to grab a great thematic unit to make that last week before vacation a great one.







  Each of our Thematic Units contain at least one guided-reader! To add to the teaching of reading in your classroom, you will also want to include these emergent readers!      


And a timely Christmas Game!

Santa Gets Dressed: A Segmenting Game

Children who are able to orally blend and segment sounds together become better readers. This imperative oral skill transfers very quickly to the printed and written word. Because there are numerous research studies that substantiates that fact, strengthening a child’s phonemic awareness is of upmost importance in all early-learning classrooms. 

Children love this game, Santa Gets Dressed! Who wouldn’t want to help Santa prepare for his journey to deliver Christmas presents to the boys and girls of the world. And, as children play, they are able to practice crucial early learning skills that will lead them to become proficient readers. This game includes over 100 segmenting cards that also can be used in many other classroom activities.

Mentoring Minds Vocabulary Adventure

Today during intervention hour, I was working with a small group of students who needs the strategic teaching of rhymes. I chose the book “The Night Before Christmas” because it is not only perfect to hold student interest in the weeks before the season, it is packed with rhyming words. Everything was going great until I read this page:

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.”

At that moment, I was given a look of horror by one of the students. “Yuck!” he said. “How do you throw up a sash?” “It just means to open the curtains.” I replied. “What? You mean you throw-up after you open the curtains?” I could plainly see that it was time for some vocabulary instruction. And, it reminded me just how key vocabulary instruction is to build comprehending, fluent readers. Strategic vocabulary instruction is sometimes overlooked by busy educators as it is assumed that students already know the definition of words. 

There is a company, Mentoring Minds who offers (among many other products) some great tools to extend and deepen students' understanding and expand their vocabulary, especially in the areas of math and science, subjects that are packed with academic vocabulary. You can request a sample here, it is available at several different levels. If you are a parent, you may wish to slip some of these great  supplemental learning products under your tree.

Fill the Classroom With Music

With Christmas around the corner, music can be heard up and down the halls. Whether you are practicing for a program or just enjoying the sounds of the season, music can greatly impact your classroom. Music can help set a mood. With music, you can calm down...or speed up...the actions of your students. The shared experience of listening to or singing a favorite song can also create a stronger bond within a class. 

Incorporating music into your instructional plan has additional benefits. Through music you can build vocabulary and develop language. Music can reinforce concepts that your students are learning in science or social studies. Songs can also be used to teach letters sounds, sight words, and even math facts.

If you’re looking for some musical resources, check out Singlish for help with language development and Heidi's Songs to promote sight word recognition. Because of the importance of music as a learning tool, we also include songs with each of our cross-curricular thematic units. Music should have a place in every classroom; make this a reality in your school during the Christmas season and beyond.

The Development of a Child's Brain

A longer childhood equals a smarter brain, take the African Honey Badger, they live 14-18 months with their mother, an unusually long time. In fact, Honey Badger juveniles are usually still with their mother, learning from her, when they have reached or surpassed her in size. This is so unusual that when they were first observed, it was assumed that Honey Badgers hunted in mating pairs. The result of this long childhood is an amazingly smart animal. Just how smart are they? Well, just watch:

The long childhood of the Honey Badger is nothing compared to the long childhood of Human Beings. Childhood is a gift that has been provided for the development of our brains. Playing, pretending, building, and all of the activities of childhood are necessary for the development and growth of the brain. These things are the work of childhood.

Most children are going to have a great childhood, but what about the children who will not have that chance? What about the child who has delayed speech? What about the child who has been exposed to too much technology at too young of an age? What about the child who doesn't have adequate nutrition? What about the child who doesn't get enough sleep? All children can benefit from a classroom that supports their social and emotional growth, but for these children, it is essential. 

Now, to address the elephant in the room: the Common Core. There is a movement that is very against the Common Core. I am not against the Common Core, I do not believe that expecting academic rigor is the problem, but, I know where this movement is coming from. In the same vein, I am against Charter Schools (because the system is deeply corrupt) but when a parent wants to take their child out of public school and place him/her in a charter school, I absolutely know where they are coming from. 

You are worried about the emotional health of your child, aren't you? I am too.

Kindergarten can be a place of academics, but that should not and should never be it's main concern. I recently saw a post by a fellow Kindergarten teacher that read something like this, "I have a child who constantly needs praise. It's interrupting my teaching! What do I do?" Do you see the problem in this statement? A child who needs to be taught intrinsic motivation, a child who has an emotional need, is interrupting the teaching. If we are truly doing the job of early educators, teaching a child emotional and social skills should always be the primary goal of our teaching it should never be secondary to academic goals and it should definitely never be thought of as an intrusion to them.

The most encouraging thing about a child's brain development is that it is not set in stone. Neurological development is capable of fixing past deficiencies and of forming new pathways at any time, if given the right experiences. There are children who desperately need us to give them those experiences, but if we are not consciously focusing on their needs, if we are only focused on the things that can be measured (by those who make money off of measuring), then we will never give those children the experiences that their brains really need. 

Because the truth of the matter is, that every child is born with the same exact brain capability as Albert Einstein, Ada Lovelace, Steven Hawking, or Emilie du Chatelet. The only thing that sets us apart is the experiences each of our brains is fed. So if we are really concerned about the academic growth of our children, we shouldn't be concerning ourselves so much with what level a child can read at, or how far he can count. What we really need to concern ourselves with is this question:

How rich are their experiences?

Elf on The Shelf Alternative: The Elf Door

I know there are some kindergarten classrooms that have an Elf on the Shelf that visits at Christmas time. I have a fabulous alternative that I have used the last few years and I LOVE IT! I prefer this way of bringing magic into the classroom because it is very child-centered and focuses on important life skills. It's also a great alternative that can be easily adapted for classrooms that cannot or do not wish to celebrate Christmas.

In December a small door appears in my classroom. To get a door like this you can purchase a "fairy door" or make one. I added a backing of cardboard covered with cloud scrapbook paper so that when the door opens the backdrop adds another layer of discussion and wonder. Once the door was assembled, I screwed it right into the wall. I don't worry about the holes it will leave because it's small and I have Spackle. I don't mind that the screws show because they too will simply add to the conversation the children have about the door.

I don't introduce the door to the children, I simply wait for the students to arrive and find it! Suddenly the classroom is full of questions and discussion. I use this as a jumping off point for a Guided Writing lesson in which we write a letter to whomever is behind the door. The letter the children came up with was:

Dear Owners of The Door,
Who are you?
And why is there a door in our room?
Love Us,

Can you picture the children's excitement when they came back from recess and saw a new note tucked into the door?

Dear Kids,
We are little elves.
We have been sent to help you be good by Santa!
And it is our job to help you keep the rules of your classroom all month long.

We quickly use a modeled writing activity and responded:

Dear Elves,
We love you and we love Santa.

That was how things ended today, but now a new green note is hanging above the door for the children to find tomorrow. It says:  

Hi Kids!
Santa loves you too.
By the way, we are a girl and a boy elf named Sam and Sally! Today we will be watching to make sure you keep I Care Rule Number 1. We listen to each other!
Good luck practicing that rule.
Let us know how it goes today.

Tomorrow the children will find the note, and instead of working towards a vague goal of "being good" they will know how to shape their behavior appropriately, and they will be able to work toward that goal collaboratively. Tomorrow they will know that the elves want them to listen to each other.

I love the Elf Door! The uses for it are limitless. We will use it to practice our reading skills and writing skills (students will soon begin writing their own letters), we will use it to practice mathematics (sometimes elves need help figuring out the number of toys to make for Santa), we will have art projects about the elves, we will do special things for them, and they might even do special things for us. I can't tell you exactly the path we will take, because it is different each year. I am simply guided by the students in my classroom, and that is my favorite thing about this activity!

You might wish to check out our Thematic Unit Elves and More Elves. It will be our focus this week, so I will post some elf updates throughout the week.

Elves and More Elves is a 110 page thematic unit that is strategically aligned to the Common Core Standards. 
Contents Include:

Shared Reading Activities:
The Elves and The Shoemaker: Retelling Story and Story Cards, Thinking Map, Story Element Page, Venn Diagram
The Little Elves Poem: Five Day Activity Plan

Literacy Lessons With Independent Options:
Back to the Pole: Blending and Segmenting
The Elf Dance: Alphabet Fluency or High Frequency Word Fluency
Santa’s List: Reading Nonsense Words or Naming Sounds
Elf Inventory: Writing Letters for Sounds or Spelling Words

Independent Activities: 
Elf Hunt: Finding Letters in Alphabetical Order
My Little Alphabet Book: Matching Upper and Lowercase Letters

Scripted Math Lessons With Independent Options:
Elf Convention: Counting Forward From Numbers Other Than One.
Elf Roll Call: Adding a Number to Make Ten
The Elves’ Tree: Matching Quantity to Numbers

Independent Activities: 
Find the Elves: Writing Numbers
The Elf Friends: Comparing Written Numerals
Packing Presents: Ways to Make 10

Social Studies
Kindness Elf Activities

Guided Reading Books
The Little Elves


I Can:
Write A Story
Make A Card
Write A List
Write A Letter

Elf Painting

Santa’s Elves
The Friendly Elves