How to introduce morning tubs in kindergarten

Introducing morning tubs to your students doesn't have to be complicated, especially if you're using open-ended activities.  When I first started using morning tubs, I thought I would need to introduce each activity and manipulative to my students, but I quickly realized that part of the point of using open-ended activities was so that my students could be creative and come up with their own ideas of how to use the materials.  Instead, it was my job to explain and model the procedures for using morning tubs, rather than what to do with the materials themselves.
On the first day of school, I put pattern blocks and pattern block mats on each table for my students to use.  My students who went to preschool are familiar with pattern blocks, and are ready to dive right in.  Those who have no preschool experience see what the others are doing, and figure it out pretty quickly.  
We continue to use pattern blocks for the first few days, and then I introduce morning tubs when I have a few minutes during the day.  I store my morning tubs in pencil boxes so that my students can take one and bring it to a spot in the room where they want to work.  The pencil boxes are labeled with a picture of what materials are inside, so I show my students how to look at their options, and choose which one they want to use. We practice taking a pencil box off the shelf and carrying it to a spot in the room.
We also talk about what to do if there are no morning tubs left with the materials they were hoping to use.  We practice choosing another pencil box or asking a friend if they can build together.  Lastly, we practice cleaning up our morning tubs- putting all of the materials back inside the pencil box, closing it, and putting it back on the matching shelf.
Then, we are ready to start using morning tubs in our classroom! We review and practice as needed, but I am always impressed at how responsible my students are.  Of course, there will always be bumps in the road, but we problem solve as we get there!
Are you getting ready to introduce morning tubs in your classroom? Here is an anchor chart I created to help my students remember the routine! Click here to grab a copy for your own classroom! And if you're still on the fence, click here to read more about the WHY behind morning tubs!

Why you need to be using morning tubs in kindergarten

Mornings in my classroom were not pretty.  Actually, I would go as far as to call them pure chaos.  My kids trickled into my room for about 20 minutes, and throughout that 20 minutes, everyone needed something.  And all of those somethings seemed to involve me.
Now, I'm a pretty good multi-tasker, but I can only do so much.  And every morning, there were kids who needed help opening their breakfast, kids with notes for me, kids coming through the door in tears who needed my help, all while I was trying to greet everyone at the door and say good morning.
Never mind the things I actually needed to do.  Like take attendance.  

My First Solution

So, I decided I needed to keep my students busy in the morning so I could take care of all the things.  I started giving them morning work.  They would come in, unpack, start their morning work, and then I could get around to all of the "somethings." 
Now, here was the issue.  Instead of solving my problem, I actually made my problem bigger.  A lot of my kids needed help.  And I wound up spending my time helping them complete their morning work instead of doing all the things.  That's definitely not what I had in mind when I decided to try morning work.
So, I went back to the drawing board and thought back to the beginning of the year and why it ran so smoothly.  And I realized that at the very beginning of kindergarten, I had my kids doing things in the morning that kept them engaged and didn't need me to facilitate their learning.  
So, why did I stray from that? Because I felt like I had to get more academic as quickly as possible. And you know what? That's not what's best for kids.

What Really Works

So last year I took a leap of faith and I started playing around with open ended morning tubs.  Activities that were engaging and that my students could explore independently.  I wasn't looking for a product, an academic link, or to enrich.  I was looking to let my kids be kids.  And the results were extraordinary.
My kids were problem solving, working cooperatively, and being creative.  My students who had social deficits were interacting with others and using language to work together.  My students who got frustrated easily were persevering and encouraging one another.  
Mornings quickly became a favorite part of our little classroom family, and they made me so, so proud.  And before I knew it, not only could I get to all of the "somethings," but I could spend some time enjoying the calm with my kids. 
If you're on the fence about trying morning tubs, here are my main points.  1. They are great for kids of all academic levels.  Students don't get frustrated because they don't know how to complete the work.  2. They're open ended so students have a different experience each time they work.  I'm not telling them what to build or what to do.  Students have complete choice.  and 3. They encourage communication and problem solving skills and strengthen social skills which our kids need more now than ever.
So, want to control the chaos of your mornings and give morning tubs a try? Here's a free and fun one that my kids love to do! Click here to download it and give it a try!
And if you're ready to jump right in, I've done all the work for you! Click here to grab them!

And if you're looking for more about how I introduce morning tubs to my students, check out this blog post!

Free First Day of Kindergarten Lesson Plans

The first day of kindergarten is always a mix of feelings. I’m nervous, excited, and everything in between.  I seem to forget how hard the beginning of kindergarten is each year (maybe I block it out of my mind on purpose), but somehow, I always make it through! So if you’re feeling this way about the first day of school too, know that you’re not alone! 


My goals for the first day of school are that everyone feels safe in our classroom, and that everyone makes it home at the end of the day.  If those two things happen, it’s a win for me. In kindergarten especially, we have to take things slow, and practice things many times. We also have to remember that our students’ attention spans are short, so we can’t expect them to sit for lessons on routines and procedures for more than 5-10 minutes at a time.
So what do I do in my classroom on the first day of school? Our first day is jam packed with lots of modeling, practicing, and moving. Some of the things we do on our first day are:
-Learn the quiet signal
-Practice sitting like a whole body listener
-Practice walking in line with Marty the Marshmallow
-Practice choosing a center and cleaning up that center


Of course, that’s not all we do on our first day of school! If you’re wondering what the rest of our day looks like, click here to download my first day of school lesson plans for free.  I’m excited to hear if you do similar things on your first day! What do you have planned for the first day of school?

And if you're still feeling completely overwhelmed, don't worry, I've got you covered! Everything you need for the first day of school is ready for you if you click here!

How to organize your classroom library

Read to self time, private reading, independent reading, or whatever you choose to call it is so important for kindergarten students to learn how to read.  It's the time where students actually GET TIME to practice reading real books.  Not worksheets, not task cards, not passages, but real, live books.

It's so important for your kids to have access to a variety of different books so they are engaged and can build their love of reading.  If you're a new teacher, it can feel overwhelming to start building your classroom library.  Veteran teachers have TONS of books, and you're lucky as a new teacher if you get a few leveled books for your classroom library.  But don't worry, lots of teachers get books at garage sales, libraries, and used book stores.  There are plenty of affordable ways to start building up your library...and remember, it will continue to grow over the years!

Once you have different books in your classroom library, it can be hard to keep up with organization.  I like my library to be about 50 percent books sorted by level, and 50 percent books sorted by theme (cats, dogs, nonfiction, etc.).  This way, my students can have books at their reading level, and can also find books that just plain interest them. I love having a variety of different books for my kids to read, but I don't want to be the one organizing them all the time, and I definitely DON'T want my library to become a mess!

So here's how I keep my library organized and my kids independent, and it's super simple.  The bins in my library are labeled with either the level or category of books that are in that bin. 
And all of the books have a sticker on the back left-hand corner that match the label on one of the library bins.
Then, when my kids go to put their books back before they shop for new books, they just match the sticker to the bin. It's that easy! No more "Where do I put this book?"!

Now, it's inevitable that a sticker's gonna fall off a book, a cover's gonna rip, or a page is gonna fall out of a book.  But it's still easy for my kids to stay independent and not have to interrupt me.  I have one basket labeled "book hospital," and my kids know that no matter what the problem is, if there's something wrong with a book, it goes in the book hospital.
At the end of the day, I can go through the basket and fix whatever I need to, but during teaching time, it keeps my kids independent, and the piles off of my teacher table. And that's a win, win!  

Do you want to help your kids be independent too? Click here to get everything you need right now!

Teaching Routines and Procedures

When I first started teaching, I knew there were a few things I was going to have to teach my kids how to do. Like... what to do when they need to use the bathroom, what to do in the morning when they come in, and what to do if their pencil breaks. 
I'll never forget my first day in kindergarten when I told my kids, "When I call your name, line up at the door." I started calling names, and my kids started forming a mob at the door. A literal mob. It took me a second, and then I realized that they had NO CLUE what a line was!
Fast forward a few years, and now I know just how many things I need to teach my kids how to do. The list is ENDLESS. Even if I think they might know how to do something, I teach it anyway. I model it, and we practice, and practice, and practice some more.

The Good News

I've compiled every routine and procedure I could think of into a neat little document for you. Before school starts, download it, go through it, and make sure that you have some way of teaching each thing on the list {during the first few days of school} if it pertains to your classroom.
Here are two of the most important ones and the procedures that I use in my classroom.

1. Lining Up

Yes, I figured things out after my first year of teaching. Now I teach my kids how to line up at the door when we need to go somewhere. However, over the years, I've found a few problems with just "lining up."
Problem 1: Everyone wants to be called first. You'd think there was some sort of cash reward for being the line leader. Nope, you just get to wait in line longer than everyone else. Congratulations!
Problem 2: Chatty Cathy and Punchy Peter can't be near each other in line. Let's be real. There are always a few kids who can't be near each other if you want to get going within the next hour. 
Problem 3: Life is over if Friendly Fiona isn't near her "BFF." There's always one kiddo who EVERYONE wants to be next to in line. That poor kid! S/he just wants to wait quietly in line to go to lunch and everyone is pushing and shoving to stand next to him/her for 2.5 minutes!
Problem 4: No one wants to be last. You call the last person. They refuse to line up. You're not going anywhere today, friends.
So a few years ago, I started using vinyl line up dots. I cut them out with my Silhouette Cameo (I think they're about 1.5" x 1.5") and stick them on the classroom floor. 
I DO NOT number them and here's why. I use classroom numbers for things like book boxes and pencil pouches, and if inevitably I have to move someone's spot in line, it would mess it up if the dots were numbered. So they're not. 
I teach my kids how to walk to the line, stand on their dot, and wait for the rest of the class to line up.
The first spot is always for the line leader. That person changes daily based on who my helper of the day is (I simply go in alphabetical order so everyone gets a pretty equal number of turns). I don't start helper of the day for about the first month of school, so if you happen to be the first person in line until then, you're in luck!!
Speaking of line order, I try to place students in line order based on behavioral observations that my team and I made from our kindergarten screening and visitation. So I will look for someone responsible who I think can handle the responsibility of being the line leader for the first month. This does not mean that our line order will not change. I usually move kiddos around for the first few days until I find something that feels successful, and then for the most part, the line order stays the same unless I reallyyyyyy need to move someone. The only thing that will change is the helper of the day will go to the first dot and their dot will STAY EMPTY. This eliminates the confusion of everyone moving up a dot. Everyone stands on the same spot every day and leaves the helper of the day's dot open. {The same goes if someone is absent}.
And that's all folks! We line up in the same order when coming back from recess and specials too, even though there are no line up dots there, just to keep things consistent! This has seriously been a game changer for me and I highly recommend it!

2. The Bathroom

The bathroom is always a tricky situation because every time someone has their hand up, I think they have a brilliant answer to my question! As it turns out, they either...

1. Want to tell me a story about their hamster

or 2. Need to use the bathroom

More than likely, it's usually the latter. They look so enthusiastic about answering my math problem, and then they're just asking for permission to go to the bathroom. I have a bathroom in my classroom, so it's not a huge deal for them to go. But I hated how it was interrupting our lessons.

So a few years ago, I implemented the use of American sign language into our classroom. Now, when a student has to use the bathroom, they just put their hand in the air and do the bathroom sign (shown below, and you shake your hand back and forth).
They say nothing. And I say nothing. I just nod my head "yes," or shake my head "no." And it's finished. I can keep on teaching and no one even realizes that someone asked to use the bathroom! This has seriously been a life changer for me!

So if you're new to teaching, or not, take some time to sit down and think of what routines and procedures are important to help your classroom run smoothly and when you're going to teach, model, and practice those with your kiddos. The more time you take now, the less you will have to re-teach later!

Are you ready to get started? I've done all of the work for you! Click here to download my list of routines and procedures and start checking them off!

Making The Most of Guided Reading

Guided reading is one of my favorite parts of the day. So much magic happens at my guided reading table, and I just LOVE when I see those lightbulbs go off!

But here's what I hate about guided reading. Getting there.

Getting settled in is pure craziness. And it's not all of my kids' fault. The computer isn't working, the iPod died, Clumsy Kevin tripped for the third time and is screaming crying. Sometimes things happen that need my attention, and my poor guided reading group that was sitting waiting patiently for me is now playing tag around the guided reading table.

This is reality. And it's not an "I give up. I'm never going to figure out how to fix this" problem. It's a problem that has a solution. There are so many ways that you can make the most out of your guided reading time and STILL give your much needed attention to those last minute settling in issues.

Just by giving your guided reading kiddos something to kick start their brain and get them ready to go at the table can cut that chaos in HALF. And get them doing something MEANINGFUL while you're at it. Do you really need another reason?!

So, are you wondering what on Earth you're gonna give your kids that they can do by themselves while you make sure everyone is settled in and ready to go so the magic of guided reading can happen? You don't think I'd leave you hangin, do you?

At the beginning of the year, fine motor activities are my BFF. We have a serious relationship. 
Fine motor activities are perfect because there are no academic skills required! Just teach your kiddos how to do it, and they will be flying solo in no time at all. {And the best part is, they just think they're playing!}

Tracing activities are another no brainer. 
Laminate ANYTHING (lines, patterns, letters), and kids can practice tracing with a dry erase marker. Tracing lines is great for beginning writing practice, and I like to have my kids trace the letters that we are learning to write!

As the year goes on, we move on to building sight words.
Put the letters that your kids will need in small containers so they don't need to waste time searching through a huge box. I like to either focus on the sight words we are learning OR the sight words that are in the book we're reading. Leave index cards with the sight words on them in the middle of your guided reading table so your kids know which words to build!

Giving your kids some extra practice with beginning sounds is always a great idea in my book too.
Just give them some pictures, a dry erase marker, and a whiteboard, and they are practicing a super important reading strategy without even knowing it!

Even CVC words is another important beginning reading skill to throw into the mix.
You can differentiate based on your group. Have your high group write the whole CVC word, and your middle/low groups write one or two missing sounds.

The limitations of "warm up work" are only as far as your brain will go, and the rewards are ENDLESS! It has completely changed how my guided reading groups function.

We're already strapped on time for our groups, why not make the most out of each minute?!

If you're interested in trying it out with your class, here are some ideas you can try with your kids RIGHT NOW for free!

But if you want to dive right in with everything ready to go, I've got you covered with the whole set! Grab it right here and start making every minute count!

Teaching 3D Shapes

3D shapes can be so tricky to teach kinders. Some of the words themselves are so hard to say... cylinder, sphere.. my poor little kids with speech problems! 

I've found that a lot of my kids can identify the shapes for me, but they have trouble telling me their names. So not only do I need to give them opportunities to build and explore the shapes, I need to build in tons of ways for them to practice SAYING the words.

If you're teaching 3D shapes too, here are some engaging and classroom tested ways to teach 3D shapes so they STICK!

Having my kids build the shapes is always important and never gets put on the back burner. It targets my visual, tactile, and kinesthetic learners. #morebangformybuck It also helps my kids get a feel for the properties of the shape, which is important when telling the difference between shapes, even though it's not what I'm asking them to remember.

Sometimes I have them build the shapes with toothpicks and marshmallows. I let my higher kids problem solve to figure out how many toothpicks and marshmallows they will need, and I support my lower kids with these really awesome task cards.

Other times, we use play doh. It can get frustrating for my struggling kiddos sometimes, but I found some great visual steps for how to form each 3D shape.

We also explore how each shape moves. Can it roll? Can it stack? Can it slide? I'm always pretty impressed at how much my kids know before we even put the shapes to the test!

I like giving my kids mini 3D shapes to use for these tests, instead of just having them watch me. Being involved=being engaged!

To practice the name of each 3D shape, we use some catchy tunes. Who doesn't love a good song?! These 3D shape songs go to the tune of "The Farmer in the Dell." 

We sing them every day before we separate into our guided math groups, and they're a great way to get everyone using the shape name without just telling them to say it. 

{We made these up as a class, and I made the executive decision to use the word "points" instead of "vertices" because, come on, the shape names are already hard enough!}

Another class favorite is a game called Hide the Penguin. You've probably seen many different versions of this game. The basic gist is that everyone closes their eyes (no peeking- seriously!!) and I hide my penguin friend, Albert, behind one of the 3D shape cards. {you can name your penguin friend whatever you'd like!} 

To get permission to look behind a card, a student must say the name of the 3D shape and the number (example: Cube #3). If they correctly name the shape, they get to look behind it, and see if Albert is hiding!

If they find Albert, they get the fabulous job of hiding Albert for the next round! 

If you're playing this game with a group of students who are struggling with their 3D shape names, they can say the number on the card, and then "phone a friend" for help with the shape. Almost always, there is at least one person in the group who can help with the name of the shape. And if not, you can be their phone-a-friend too! But once the friend helps, that student needs to repeat the shape name so they get practice saying it as well!

I love this next game because it doesn't have to be used just at "math time." Play it at morning meeting, right after lunch, or just when you have a free minute or two. This one has just enough cards for a small group.

Just like traditional "I have, Who has?," your kids will have fun using the 3D shape name and color to name the shape that they have, and ask who has another 3D shape. It can be played over and over just by shuffling up the cards!

Last but not least, who doesn't love a good spin and color game? No prep always speaks to me! I like this one a lot because my kids need to do some extra thinking to match the 3D shape with the real life object. 

How do I make sure they are practicing their shape names? I have them work with a partner and say the shape name when they spin. They love working with a partner, and I get some accountability out of it. It's a win, win!

Interested in these activities? Click here to grab them for free!

And if you're looking for something REALLY special, don't forget to check out Kindergarten Game Show 3D Shapes Edition!

So, how do you teach 3D shapes in your classroom? I'm always looking for some new ideas! Leave a comment below and share your favorite 3D shape activities!
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