Communicating with Parents

This past year I finally bit the bullet and gathered e-mails from parents to communicate via e-mail and I’ve been kicking myself for not doing it sooner.

What held me back was laziness and fear. I didn’t want to spend the time entering the e-mails, but in all honesty, it took less than an hour. (I’m so foolish sometimes.) The fear came from thinking I’d be overwhelmed with parents asking all kinds of questions, and I didn’t want to be tied to answering all those e-mails. Well, they don’t. There are a few parents who write often, but for the most part it is fairly quiet. I was honest at the start of the year that I only check my school account during a short time in the afternoon when I’m free to look at the computer. (Those precious 15 minutes at naptime.)

If you are familiar with the concept of a Daily Journal, this has translated very nicely to a Daily E-Mail. I write a very brief description of what we did during the morning and attach 1 or 2 photos. I encourage parents to use it to have conversations with their child that evening. It gives them something more specific to ask about rather than, “What did you do today?”

Note: I always send group e-mails to myself, with the parent group entered in the blind carbon copy line to preserve privacy.

Lesson Plans

I find that regular lesson plan books just don’t work for me. Almost every year that I taught preschool, I would re-invent the wheel and come up with a new (flawed) system. Last year I came up with one that – with continued tweaking – I really like.

I am terrible at paperwork. When the creative juices flow, I don’t have time to stop and write down the details. That’s great for the day-to-day work, not so great when you realize that you’re supposed to be keeping track of what you’ve done.

Here is my system: Since I am a big fan of the Reggio Emilia Project Approach, I do not sit down before the week begins and plan what we’ll do for each day. I plan for the current day, and am willing to make changes if something wonderful has come up. (For example, we might be learning how to make paper but a child brings in an amazing collection of shells. If the children want to learn about shells that day, I am ready to switch gears. The paper can wait.) This system allows me to switch gears and not have to re-write anything.

I have a daily form that takes up the whole page. Early in the morning – before breakfast- I sit down with the few children that have gathered and we begin to fill it out. I write down what we need to talk about that morning, leaving space in case something interesting comes in.

At morning group time, we talk about our choices for centers, and I fill in what each choice will be. This is helpful to my aide, as she can check the form as she dismisses children and asks them where they would like to start their day. At the end of the day I fill in the form with any details or notes.

The form does not list areas that are always available – blocks, books, writing table, housekeeping, I-Spy table, items off shelves, etc. Those are available everyday, and if we are making a specific change to one of those areas to go with our current topic, I make a note of it.

The backside of the form is pre-programmed with a table that has the names of all the children. That is the form I use to make daily observations that I share in an end-of-the-week e-mail to the child’s parents. Having it be on the backside of the day is helpful to keep track of children’s development through the year. (I used to struggle with the easiest way to make observations, too. This one is great.)

I don’t have a picture of it, but for each topic that we study, I have a page that includes places to record objectives, activities, songs/books, vocabulary, and any other necessary notes.

I have recently added a page that I keep hanging in the teacher area that has a place to check off what areas of the Nebraska Early Learning Guidelines I have made plans for that week. We won’t hit them all every day, but this helps me make sure I’m remembering to do number work. (I tend to slack off when it comes to numbers.)

Daily Schedule

Here is a copy of my daily schedule. Please note that we are flexible with our times. Mealtimes are the only times that we need to be prompt.

Our doors open at 6 a.m., and full-day children can arrive anytime. We ask that all full-time children who need breakfast arrive by 8:00. Actual ‘preschool time’ is from 8:45- 11:15. Some of our children come for this time only. Even though that is ‘preschool time’, we know that learning happens all day.

6 – 7:30: Quiet play in our ‘gathering room’.
7:30 – 8:00 – Free play in our classroom
8:00 – 8:40 – Clean-up, bathroom visit, and breakfast
8:45 – Songs, Calendar, Story and Daily Discussion (We talk about our main topic and then hear what Center Choices will be.)
9/9:15-ish – 10:10 – Center Time (Blocks, Housekeeping, Books, Science, Writing Table, Painting, Sensory Table and three rotating Centers)
10:10-10:30 Clean-up and Jesus Time
10:30 – 11:00 Outside Time
11-11:25 Stories, bathroom visit (morning-only children get picked up at 11:15)
11:30-12:00 – Lunch
12:00-12:30 – Bathroom visit and get ready for nap. (Children watch a video while cots are set out.)
12:30 – 2:00 Nap
2:00 – 3:30 – Wake up, Free Play, Snack
3:30 – 4:30 – Outside Time
4:30 – 6:00 – Free Play

A simple stick-figure calendar is posted in our room so the children can see what is coming next. At home visits, I bring a copy to the child to go over and keep. (There is a short version for Preschool Only children and the longer version for All Day children.)

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What works well in our room is that we try to limit transitions. Our center time is a good long hour where children can become deeply engaged in their work, and don’t have to start and stop so often.

Groundhog Day

We really work up to Groundhog Day a couple of days ahead of time by talking about the sun and shadows.  “Bear’s Shadow” by Frank Acsh is a wonderful place to start – it clearly shows the relationship of the sun/light to shadows.  We also talk about how seasons are in a cycle, and once around the cycle/circle is a year, and how God is the one who brings spring – not the groundhog.

Then, of course, we make puppets.  These have a special memory for me because of a memory of a friend’s birthday party in college, but they’re very fun for the children, too.

This year a fellow teacher already had some pre-drawn groundhogs, but I encourage the children to draw their own.  Some years I just set out brown paper and have them trace a circle for the face.  A craft stick and a cup with a slit (that you have pre-cut) is all you need for some shadow fun!

Remember: Sees his shadow = six more weeks of winter.  No shadow = early spring.

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Simple Drawing – Nativity Scene

This is a companion post to the Preschool Christmas Gift for Parents Post.

Disclaimer: During Group Time, I sometimes like to show children easy ways to draw things using very simple shapes.  I am not an artist myself, and we always talk about how my drawing isn’t going to look exactly like the thing I’m drawing  – and that is ok. “We are just practicing” is our motto.  (I had a hurtful thing said to me when I was younger, and strongly feel that children should be encouraged to draw no matter their talent level.) We also talk about how their drawing isn’t going to look exactly like mine.  We are just practicing!

I like to tell the children that I have drawn a Nativity scene the exact same way since I was little – and I’m not kidding.  It has some lines, some circles, some triangle-y shapes, a rectangle, a cross and an x.

I like to start with the roof.  (We use our arms first to talk about flat roofs and pointy roofs.), then add sides

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Then a manger, which is a rectangle, 2 legs, a half-circle, and some ‘glory’.  We talk about each part as I add it.

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Then the people.  We start with a circle-ish shape for the head, then a triangle-ish shape for the robe.

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Another one for Mary or Joseph – depending on who’s taller.

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Then we need a star in the sky.  We start with a simple cross shape:

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Then draw an ‘X’ through the middle.  These are always good for the children to practice drawing in the air first.

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An angel is just a tilty person in the sky….

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With some half-circles for wings.

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Done!

I go through it again on a blank paper/whiteboard and have the children tell me the parts that need to be added.  I don’t put features on mine because I don’t want their work to be an exact copy, but we talk about the things they could add to their picture to make it look fancy – faces, arms, a shepherds hook, etc.

I hang my prototype where they can see it from their drawing space.  The results are fabulous!