Using all those great ideas in your preschool classroom

I love to search out new preschool ideas and activities on other blogs. New ideas keep me motivated and inspired. However, once I find a cute idea, I visualize how I will do the activity with my students.

Lose the recipe

Often times teachers look at an idea they find online or in books as they would a recipe for baking a cake. Following the idea one step at a time. Following step one, step two, step three, and so forth, teachers feel they should not deviate from the recipe. But you need to understand that the outcome and process of the project should be based on the development of the children in your classroom.

Visualize what the children will actually do

As you plan to use an idea, ask yourself: “What will my children actually do?”  If you are doing all of the cutting, tearing, arranging, folding, gluing, and so forth then what part of the process is left over for the children to actually do?  Remember – it is in the doing that children begin to develop their skills, abilities, and confidence!

When I plan an activity I actually visualize my students taking part in the process. If there just doesn’t seem like there will be enough for them to do then I change the idea up to make sure that the activity is something they can do all by themselves.

Creating flowers

Over the past few weeks I have found a ton of amazing ideas for flowers. I just love them all so at my first opportunity, I brought some of those ideas with me and presented them to a group of young children. However, I modified those ideas to fit what I felt would be best for the ages and stages of this particular group of young children.

Since I would only have one opportunity with this group of children, I decided to let them use a variety of materials to make their flowers. I first had the children brainstorm with me what ways we could use the materials to make flowers. We decided to try the following….

Colorful paint, colorful paper towel squares with seeds, straws, tape, yarn, and one child wanted me use letters to spell the word “HA”.

Then the children were given time to make their own flowers.

The children started by snipping the edges of green paper to make some grass.

The children added some glue – all by themselves!

Then the children flipped the grass over and glued it to their paper.

Most of the children did the grass exactly the same way I did even though they were told they can put the grass any where they want.

Then stems were cut out by the children and then they glued the stems to their paper.

Some of the children preferred long stems and others wanted short. One little girl only wanted one really tall stem.

This little girl decided she only wanted to use paint to create her flowers. Oh, and her white flower is actually just a glob of glue since we didn’t have any white paint!

Product and Process

In the end, we had a beautiful set of flowers to display in the room but we also enjoyed the process. The children were able to make decisions, use a variety of materials, and do the work without my help. I did provide guidance at first so the children could visualize the process but once the process was started, it was time to encourage their own creativity and skills.

If I were to be teaching these children on a regular basis, I would probably not have put out every type of material and instead had them try a different type of flower each day. I say this to let you know that I took a combination of ideas and adjusted them (or in this case – combined them) to make them work for my situation.

By | April 18th, 2010|Categories: Messages from Deborah|Tags: |8 Comments

Presenting simple songs and fingerplays to young children

I wrote this article for Teaching Tiny Tots a few months ago on teaching simple songs to preschoolers.  In this article, I talk about using the S-I-M-P-L-E method when introducing simple songs and fingerplays to young children.

Singing and Chanting the Itsy Bitsy Spider!

Preschoolers can serve their own snack

Building independent doers and thinkers is one of the goals of early childhood education. Snack time is a terrific time to let children learn to do things all by themselves.

We always start off by washing our hands!

Setting the table

Have the children get into the practice of washing hands first and while they are washing hands, set out napkins and cups at one end of a table or on a low shelf. Have the children go and get their own napkin and cup then sit at the snack table.

These children have  had lots of practice standing in line and waiting for their turn to pick up a cup and napkin all by themselves.

“Open your napkin big and wide so I can put a (cracker) inside!”

Once the children sit at the table, they open their napkin big and wide and set their cup on the table.  In some classrooms, the children then wait for all of their friends to be seated. The teacher then uses the familiar finger play:

Open-Shut them

Open-Shut them

Open-Shut them and give a little clap!

Open-Shut them

Open-Shut them

Open-Shut them and lay them in your lap!

This gets all the children to quiet down and helps to start off snack at a moderately low noise level. This also allows the teacher to demonstrate any serving skills the children will need to know and to demonstrate talking with each other using a soft conversational tone rather then shouting to be heard.

Self – Serve Snack!

The teacher then sets the snack on the table with the appropriate serving utensils and allows the children to serve their own snack. The children then pass the serving dishes to their neighbor. These children have become extremely proficient in manipulating the various types of serving tools. It takes practice to do this well but it doesn’t take long before the students will amaze you with their abilities.

I can pour all by myself!

The children are also able to pour their own juice. The teachers fill a pitcher only a quarter of the way full so that the pitcher isn’t too heavy for the children to manage. As needed, the teachers refill the pitcher with more juice.  What you don’t see in the photo is the full pitcher of juice sitting on the counter that the teacher uses to refill the student pitchers.

Time to eat up!

Once the children have served themselves, they are allowed to go right on into eating their snack.

Teacher’s role model manners and conversational tone at the snack table!

The teachers then sit with the children to role model good manners at the table and to promote polite conversations between the children. The children are much more successful in having a positive snack time experience when the teachers join them rather then run around the classroom doing other things during snack time.

Once snack time is over, the children throw away their own trash and join the teacher on the carpet for a few minutes of after snack story time and singing.

Check out this fun little snack time song!

Available on Amazon

Deborah’s new CD and the IAEYC conference

I have been preparing for the Indiana Association for the Education of Young Children (IAEYC) conference that will be held this weekend in downtown Indianapolis.

I will be presenting on:

Friday, April 9th, – 3:15 to 4:30 pm.

I will also be at a presenters booth on:

Friday, April 9th – Booth #114  – Time: 9:00-11:00 am

Saturday, April 10th – Booth #118 – Time: 12:30-2:30

I will be presenting a session on simple music for the preschool classroom. Most of the music and finger plays, but not all, will be ones I have written. I am a strong advocate for using music in the preschool classroom. Music paves the way for so many aspects in the learning environment from classroom management, entertainment, to education.

To prepare for this occasion, I completed my first children’s CD and it finally arrived in the mail today. What fun to open it all up and see all that work nicely set before me.

Click here to learn how you can purchase a copy of my new CD!

By | April 8th, 2010|Categories: Around the Classroom|Tags: , |6 Comments

Capturing the attention of preschoolers

There are lots of techniques teachers use to capture the attention of preschoolers.

Walk Over
When needing to get the attention of only one child or a small group of children playing together, it is always more effective just to walk over, bend down close and speak warmly to them.  What doesn’t work well? Yelling across the room. Kids learn to tune this out pretty quickly.

Eye Contact
I always say if you don’t have eye contact then you really don’t have the child’s attention. If I need the children to stop and listen to my words for a few seconds, I will use a creative technique to get their attention first (which will be described below) and then pause to get eye contact.  I might say, “Eyes on me so I can see you listening” and then wait again for just a second.

Waiting too long
I don’t want to exasperate the situation by waiting too long for every student to stop and put their eyes on me. Waiting too long is like putting out fires. The minute you get one set of eyes, you will lose another. So go with the majority of eyes on you and move onto what it is you needed in the first place.

The child that just wont look at me
For this child, I often will walk over while talking to all the other children and gently take his or her hand and have them walk with me while I continue talking to everyone else. I avoid shouting or coming down on the child in front of everyone else. No need for humiliation and the truth is, shouting or harshness really isn’t all that effective – it just creates stress and stress leads to a unhappy learning environment.

The observant child
Have you ever watched an adult lecture a child and just by observing you start to feel uncomfortable?  When you decided to come down on one child, the rest of the children may very well feel like they are being punished too. Children are sensitive to your body language, tone of voice, and choice of words whether or not they are target of your frustration.  I had one little girl tell me, “I don’t like preschool…. my teacher yells at Nathan…”

It is better and more effective to walk over, make eye contact, and gently address concerns with a child or small group of children personally than to punish the entire class by making a loud scene.

Here are some great suggestions from my fans on Facebook!
I recently posted a request for suggestions on Facebook and here are some of the responses that I found to be extremely creative.

Jess Mueller: When I taught preschool we did clap imitations. I would clap a rhythm and that was their clue to quiet down and clap the rhythm after me. I kept clapping different rhythms until everyone caught on and was participating.
Brienna Parker:”I turn off the lights and say…If you can hear my voice touch your head, If you can hear my voice touch you shoulders” ect It is a great game and it gets their attention. I do this all while lowering my voice. If I am outside, I will go to 3 or 4 children tell them to tell their friends that I am going to play a game and to com on over and I start doing that but much faster, those kids that came laugh and the kids that did not hear them laughing in a group and they come over, so much fun!!
Adriana Escobar:

claps and lights works for me too, but I would use them when they’r getting out of control… usually I would say: “1-2-3 eyes on me” (then they will turn at me and blink their eyes) to get their attention…. it works just fine!
Sue Alva: I

do “open, shut them, open, shut them, give a little clap, clap, clap, open, shut them, open, shut them, put them in your lap, lap, lap” my kids all know that means it is time to be quiet and listen.
Carol Martin Black: I bought a soft flower at the dollar store for a $1.00 and it is about two ft long. I call it my ‘quiet flower’ and whenever I need the childrens attention or I need to talk to them I hold up that flower. I ask them what does this mean and they tell me it’s time to listen or time to be quiet. Works great and I don’t have to fuss at them the whole time.
Alicia Bayer: “Raise your hand if you’re listening to me.” The kids quickly notice each other raising their hands and quiet down to figure out what’s going on.
March 23 at 11:58am ·  · Report
Jen German: I hold up my hand and count down from five, folding fingers down as I go. The kids catch on and start counting down with me, and when we get to one, the one finger goes over our lips in a shhhhh. So, 5,4,3,2,1,shhhh. By then (hopefully) all eyes are on me. I stole that from my son’s kindergarten teacher 8 years ago 🙂
Kelli Gillim Wood: We sing “Can you be as quiet as a mouse, mouse, mouse?” as loud as we can then repeat it over and over singing softer and softer until everyone is listening. We also squish down to mouse size too. It is not a slam dunk everytime but 2’s and 3’s seem to like it.
Tanya Sims: I use a call back- I say peanut butter and the students say jelly… and we do it a couple of times if we need too
Marcy McKee Emanuelli: My lead teacher uses “criss cross applesauce” to sit inidan style and “make a bubble” (with your cheeks) to stop talking.
Diana Davis Pratte: I have used wind chimes and moved them to get the kids attention. I have also used a xylophone and when that sound was made they were to freeze for directions. I also made up the song” Time to Listen” – Time to Listen, Time to Listen. Right now, Right now. Ears are open, Ears are open. Mouth is quiet (sh) mouth is quiet (sh).
Kim Robbie Lyons: T

o get the whole class’ attention, I say “catch a bubble in 5-4-3-2-1” and the kids catch a ‘bubble’ — puffing their cheeks out.
To get an individual child’s attention, I sing while spell their name — ex. C-H-L-O-E spells Chloe, etc. I just find a tune that matches up with the amount of letters in their name.
Soha Saad Abdelkader:

SIMON SAYS:put ur hands up, shake ur hands, eyes on the teacher, now its my turn to talk & ur turn to listen
Merrili Nou: I whisper and go to one or two of the children, telling them that i need to tell the class something. usually the one or two children stopwhat they are doing, causing the other children to also stop and listen. 🙂
Erin Eller Jones: I would sing (to the tune of if you’re happy and you know it) if you can hear my voice, clap your hands, if you can hear my voice clap your hand, if you can hear me it’s time for listening, if you can hear my voice clap your hands.
Linda Blankenship Cardenas: I use 123 all eyes on me, or if you can hear me clap 2 times, etc. Holding up my hand is called the quiet sign, and when they see it, they are supposed to raise their hand too, until everyone catches on and gets quiet.
Jamie Kinney Beastrom: I hit the lights ~ off means there is a direction to follow or an important message. they freeze and hands hit the air, they can’t move until the lights go back on! works really well for us

Tom Hobson: I just beat a drum. I use the drum for transitions so they know it means to pay attention.
Rahma Dona: Just like teacher Tom but Tamborine i use its quite effective*)
Tom Hobson: I use the drum at parent meetings too. Last year a parent made t-shirts of a cartoon Teacher Tom beating a drum and saying, “Stand up children!” It was so bizarre when the kids and their parents were wearing the shirts at school.

Sharon Gear: we sing ‘are you listening’ and it’s amazing how fast they all stop to listen….

Beryana Evridawati: I’ll clap n if it doesn’t work, I’ll call they name one by one..

Dewi Susanti Siahaan: Speak with low voice, almost whisper, if you think you can make your voice can be heard by only two or three students it is OK. trust me it works.
By | April 3rd, 2010|Categories: Professional Development|Tags: |2 Comments

Week of the Young Child

April 11 – 17th is the Week of the Young Child. This week is a chance to honor young children and to thank teachers who dedicate their time to the field of early childhood education.

I have been asked for ideas quite often on my Facebook page but haven’t had a great deal of success finding ideas online. I thought I would share this idea for thanking teachers.

Apple of my Eye

Make copies of this little award and hand it out to parents and staff. Tell the parents and staff when they see a teacher doing something exceptional or great, to surprise them by filling out an apple form and then placing the apple award on a designated bulletin board. Create an Apple of my Eye display where everyone can see it!

Apple of my eye

To learn more about this special week, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has published this informational pdf titled, “Week of the young child: Early Years are Learning Years”.

If you have ideas to share, I would love to hear them!!

By | March 30th, 2010|Categories: Inspiration|Tags: |2 Comments

Building positive relationships with preschool parents

An interview with Tom Hobson
by Deborah J. Stewart
Tell me about your preschool program and the ages you teach.
We are a cooperative preschool with a play-based curriculum. I teach a class of 3-5 year olds and class of 2-year-olds.
What is your background as it relates to early childhood and what is the length of time you have been teaching preschoolers?
I’ve been a preschool teacher for 8 years, all at Woodland Park. I spent 3 years as a parent in my daughter’s co-op preschool and was recruited by her teacher and the director of the North Seattle Community College parent education program to enter the profession. I subsequently did course work at the college. In my earlier life, I coached 40+ baseball teams with players ranging in age from 4-30 (seriously). In many ways, this experience had more influence on my teaching style/approach than anything else.
What are some of the ways parents participate in your classroom?
We are a cooperative preschool so parents are required to work in the classroom one day per week. Parents are assigned classroom jobs (e.g., art, drama, table toys, blocks, snack, sensory, library) on a rotating basis. The college provides us with a parent educator who is in the classroom once a week and who runs a parent ed class once a month (for which parents receive college credit) to help parents become better “assistant teachers.” Parents also understand that I may need them to take on additional classroom jobs as needs arise. I love having all those extra arms and legs!
As you work with parents, what are some effective techniques you have found for building positive relationships with the family members of your preschool students?
I know that this isn’t the kind of answer you’re looking for, but the “techniques” I use with parents are the same as I use for making friends. I’m friendly and give them lots of genuine compliments. I listen to them and try to give honest answers. There is something bonding about working side-by-side with parents on a weekly basis. Education in our school is not something I do for their kids, but rather something we are all working on together. We have good days together and bad days together. They see how hard I’m working to educate their kids and have a clear picture of the challenges teachers face.
I suppose if there is any one technique I use it’s to talk to every parent, every day about whatever is on their mind or my mind, even if it has nothing to do with school or kids. Not a practical thing in a traditional school, but an inevitable thing in our school!
As an early childhood educator, do you also invite members of your community to get involved in your preschool program?
In addition to parents being not just invited, but required, to be in the classroom, our doors are always open to grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other teachers. We often have several extra adults in the room with us. We also have occasional visits from people like fire fighters, dancers and artists. We also go on monthly field trips, usually to local businesses or community groups, like food banks. There is paperwork involved in permitting older siblings into class, but whenever we get the chance, we fill the room with those older kids as well.
What are some effective techniques you have found for building positive relationships with members of your community?
Well, I have my blog, although I don’t think many of the parents read it — I think they sometimes need a break from Teacher Tom!
We use Yahoo Groups to stay in touch with one another. In addition to working in the classroom, each family is also responsible for an “outside” the classroom job, like serving as treasurer, secretary, admissions person, repairs/maintenance, etc. One of those jobs is “special events.” That person organizes social events for entire families as well as parents-only throughout the year and even during the summer.
We’ve also found that our all-hands-on-deck work “parties” (three times a year) and special projects (like re-doing our playground) are great community building activities.
Do you have any other comments you would like to add or that you think other preschool teachers would benefit from regarding building relationships with families and members?
In my mind, progressive education starts with community. Or as Alfie Kohn puts it, “Progressive education is marinated in community.” This concept is at the heart of our school. I couldn’t, frankly, care less about things like “best practices,” pedagogy and theory. As long as we have a unified, robust community, one that draws newcomers quickly into its center, the children WILL get a good education and be ready for kindergarten. I know you’ve been reading the blog — I got confirmation last week that my families understand this and agree whole-heartedly.

I have been reading Teacher Tom’s Blog on a daily basis for awhile now and what I find most remarkable is Tom’s consistent reflection on the needs, role, and concerns of the parents who work with him on a daily basis. When Tom states that he could “care less about things like best practices,” I know from reading his blog that this is because applying best practices in his classroom is second nature to him and he does so almost without thinking about it. Building a community of families that care about early childhood education and care about each other is where the real challenge lies. Tom’s teaching style and the parents of Woodland Park are a wonderful example of “Progressive education [being] marinated in community.”

Sing it again in preschool

A couple of days after presenting the ‘Simple Songs for Preschoolers’ workshop, I took the opportunity to visit one of the schools. The teachers didn’t know I was coming, I just dropped in.

What a thrill it was to come into this class and find them trying out some of the new songs they had learned. But first we had to stop and fix our hair!

After singing “Round and Round I Go” the children announced they wanted to sing the “Itty Bitty Worm!” They all totally made my day.

This teacher had the sweetest voice and she was a great example putting what you learn into practice.  She wasn’t able to remember all the tunes so she adapted the words to her own tunes!  She also chanted the Itty Bitty Worm. Excellent!

After they finished sing the Round and Round song several of the children shouted..


Music to my own ears!

Are your preschoolers loving the process?

I spend a great deal of time researching activities and ideas for the classroom and often come across the cutest ideas but then I try to visualize how much of the activity my preschool age students would actually be able to do.

Sometimes, the way an art activity looks online isn’t exactly how they turn out in the classroom. For example, the snowman head shown above didn’t quite look the same as the ones pictured in the post at

Here are our final snowmen…

Probably wouldn’t make the cover of a magazine! But guess which set of snowmen I love the most? We were not shooting for the outcome we were loving the process.

Learning is in the process
When looking at ideas for your preschool classroom, don’t just consider how cute the end result will be. Take a minute to visualize what your students will actually get to do. The actual learning takes place in the doing, not in the outcome.

Who is learning here?
I recently visited a preschool classroom where the children were making reindeer heads out of construction paper. The teacher, who was very gentle and kind, directed just about every move the children made.

  • The teacher sprinkled on the glitter – the children did get to tap the end of the bottle as she held it.
  • The teacher positioned the construction paper pieces on the paper – the children did get to put on the glue.
  • The teacher let the children put the stickers on for the eyeballs and then repositioned them so they all were in the correct place.

In the end, there were 10 little reindeer all looking pretty much the same but how much of the process did the children get to take part in?

I would have loved to see how these reindeer would have looked if the children would have been able to make them all by themselves. I bet they would have been a hoot and a fun topic of conversation for parents. The teacher could have titled the paper “My Reindeer,” possibly even show them how to make one, and then let the children have at it.

The next time you plan an activity it is fine to choose something cute but then think “Process” not “Outcome”.