Using the Calendar to Help Students Take Turns

Taking turns is hard.  It can be hard in any setting, but when you are an impatient preschooler, it can be especially hard.  And when you are an impatient preschooler with your own personal schoolmate nemesis, it can be almost impossible.

Trust me.  I know.  I have a set of these small adversaries in my classroom, and every day they compete for the very same thing, no matter where they are or what they are doing.  If one of them wants it, the other one wants it.   And they’re smart, these little nemeses.  They know just what the other one wants – well, because it’s what they want, and the other one wants it because they do, and – well, it’s just a vicious cycle.

One might ask if either one of them is winning any of these battles,  To be honest, I’m not sure.  I just know that I, as the teacher, feel like I’m losing most of the time.

It is admittedly complicated, this rivalry.  There are communication skills to promote, and the skill of waiting for a turn, and the skill of dealing with not getting what you want.  And then there is the additional layer of teasing, and not even enjoying what you are actually playing with because you’re so busy checking to see if the other person is noticing and getting upset.  (“Bwah ha ha!”  [insert evil preschool laugh] “I have succeeded in my task of torment!”)  Or intentionally manipulating situations so that the other one doesn’t get what they want.  (Like, for example, noticing that the prized scooter is free on the playground, and calling over a completely neutral friend to take a turn on it – and then graciously pointing this out to dear Adversary.)

So, we do what we can.  We work on breathing deeply. And we also work with the students on breathing deeply.   We try not to allow teasing, and even make them give up the toy they are teasing about if they do so.  And we try to find fair ways to take turns, with visuals that we can refer to repeatedly.

One way I am doing that these days is to make “notes” on our calendar.  For example, last week, one of the big flash points between the two was a coveted spot at the circle table at lunch time.  For some reason, they both love it.  (Which means that someone initially really and truly loved it, and then the other consequently wanted it..but I digress.)

So now we mark on the calendar whose turn it is at the seat at the circle table.  See:

Calendar behaviorss

As you can see, these visuals don’t have to be fancy or printed out – they just have to be clear,  easy to refer to, and set in stone.

Of course, they still may wail and gnash their teeth when it is not their turn. No, actually, they probably will wail and gnash their teeth.  But that’s okay, because that’s just how it is.  We take turns, and we follow the turn-taking plan that we have established.   And we hope that maybe, just maybe, one day the rivalry will ease up a little.

Day to Day Calendar Thumbnails cover page

color mixing painting

Color Mixing: A Shift in Expectations

So, we did some color mixing in class last week, with play dough and paint and even a goopy cooked cornstarch mixture.  Even though I knew the concept of color mixing might be a little tricky for my students, I still found that I had keep re-reminding myself of my expectations as the lessons went on.  In fact, I often find myself doing this in my “recent” switch from teaching general education preschoolers to teaching special ed. preschoolers.

It’s not that I am teaching different content now, or to a lower level of understanding.  Rather, it’s often a different focus.  In my case, it’s usually a greater emphasis on solidifying their basic skills, and always about using their language to talk about whatever we are doing.

Case in point: the color mixing.  For my students, color mixing is a little because not all of my Little People can identify all of their colors.    So, for example, if you are working with students who can identify their colors, you might be talking about this visual, you might naturally say,

color mixing visual

  • Teacher: “This color” — here you point to the first color and pause so they will name the right color, which is blue.
  • Students: “Blue!”
  • Teacher: “…plus this color…” (pause)
  • Students: “Yellow!”
  • Teacher: “Mix together to make another color.  Does anyone know what color?  That’s right – green!”

However, when you are working with students that don’t know their colors yet, you might get this:

  • Teacher: “This color” — here you point to the first color and pause so they will name the right color, which is blue.
  • Students: “Brown!”

Which is the point that you have to remind yourself that the goal of this lesson is really not about how blue + yellow = green.  For my students, the goal is to have lots and lots of practice naming colors.  And if color mixing lessons give me great opportunities to put all of the basic colors in front of them and talk about them, then that’s why I’m doing it.  The more chances that we have to help Johnny learn that the color blue is really blue (and not brown), the better off he is.  And even more important is Johnny being able to make the sentence, “I see blue!”

Now, if Johnny were able to learn that blue is blue, and could say “I see blue!” and learn that certain colors mixed together make new colors, that would be fantastic.  But for now, we’re focusing on one element at a time – starting with the most important ones.

day to day title page

Introducing our Calendar to the Newest Little People

This past week was the second week of school for us, so we’ve had plenty of opportunity to introduce our calendar to our newest Little People.    We don’t use a typical calendar in our class – we use a calendar system that I that I call the Day to Day Calendar.  I think that it has really made a difference in how we talk about our time in the classroom, and I feel that it is much more developmentally appropriate than a regular calendar.

Our calendar uses one 8.5″ x 11″ page per day, and Saturday and Sunday share a page.  This set up gives us lots of room to add visuals for calendar routines and other information.  At this point in the school year, we focus on two basic things:  the weather and whether the day is a school day or a stay at home day.  We do this by letting our Weather Helper choose the weather picture that fits the day, and the Calendar Helper decides whether the day is a School Day or a Stay at Home day and then adds that visual.  (The pictures shown by the speech bubble on each school day on the calendar show who is the weather helper for the day.)

day to day weather

day to day school day

One of the special benefits of this calendar is that when the week is over, the pages go into a photo album that we call the Class Journal.  This journal lives in our class library.  Because we look at our pages again and and again this way, I try to add as many memory-provoking visuals as I can to it – special events, pictures of class activities, birthdays, etc.  (The week shown below was the first week of school, so we had not added many extra visuals yet.)

day to day

I’ll be sharing more about the calendar as the year goes on, but if you are interested in more information, you can learn more here in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Day to Day Calendar Thumbnails cover page
Day to Day Calendar Thumbnails page four
Day to Day Calendar Thumbnails page three
Day to Day Calendar Thumbnails page two

Mastering the Petty Annoyances: A Better Magnet Tape

“Be master of your petty annoyances and conserve your energies for the big, worthwhile things. It isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out – it’s the grain of sand in your shoe.”

Robert W. Service

Ah, the grains of sand in teaching – sometimes there can be a lot of them.  In fact, some weeks can feel more like “sand box” or even “Coast of California” weeks, as opposed “climbing a mountain with a tiny grain of sand in my shoe” weeks.

Regardless, as the quote says above, it is always helpful to find ways to overlook these small annoyances that can plague us.   Perhaps even better is finding a way to eliminate the annoyances all together.  This way, it becomes one less thing we have to put our energy into overlooking or mastering.

Now granted – looked at individually, these annoyances can truly be quite small and insignificant.  For example the one that I’m thinking about today is adhesive magnets that don’t lie flat and don’t stick well.    In fact, non-flat magnets can absolutely be labeled a “first world teacher problem”.  I want to be open and up front about how I realize that this is true.  That being said, I do use a lot of magnet tape in my classroom, and if I’m going to use it, I would rather have magnet tape that actually lies flat and adheres well to whatever I have stuck it to.

It’s no secret that one of the cheapest ways to buy adhesive-backed magnet tape is in a roll like this:

magnet tape

However, once take a piece off, you end up with it looking like this:

curved magnet tape




And no matter how I try, I cannot get this tape to lie flat.  If I try to flatten it by bending it the opposite way from the natural curve, it often pulls away from the paper backing, or breaks.

However, recently I found these packages of magnet tape at Walmart.  I love them because they are a) cheap and b) very flat.

Magnetic tape strips

The magnets are 1/2″ wide, and you can buy one package (which contains 18 four-inch pieces – 6 feet of magnet tape total) for $.97.  That makes it $.16 per foot.

This is actually less expensive that the 10′ roll of adhesive magnets from Walmart for $3.97 – that’s $.40 per foot.

So, voila.  There is one small problem in the teaching world solved.

Now, on the the next one…


Establishing Beginning of the Year Baselines in Your ECSpEd Classroom

I love new beginnings.  As much as I hate to leave the lazy days of summer behind and start working again, I am always enamored with the promise that a fresh new year brings.

One of the ways that a new school year brings promise is the potential for growth that is possible in each student.  My team this year has already noticed some growth in the returning students that we had last year – we can hardly imagine where they will be at the end of this school year with nine months of additional intervention.

One way I document this progress is to to establish and record some beginning of the year baselines that we can refer to at the end of the year.  These are instances where my students are asked to do a specific task, and we see how they do on them all by themselves – with no physical prompting or hand-over-hand help at all.

These are tasks that each student is asked to do, no matter what their IEP goals are – they are are just basic tasks that each demonstrate some basic preschool-appropriate skills.

Here are some of the things that I take baselines on during the first two weeks of school:

Writing their name:

name two
Write Name

Copying their name:

copy name

Drawing Mat Man (as I play the song):

mat man one
mat man two

Cutting a wavy line:    



As you can see, some of these “first week” samples already show some potential, and some still have a long way to go.  However, this gives them lots of room for improvement over the next nine months.

Each of the baseline samples gets scanned and “tucked” in each student’s Evernote folder (more on this later), kind of like electronic time capsules.  Then we get to work on the skills needed to complete these tasks.

Brown Bear Freebie Title

Friday Freebie: Brown Bear, Brown Bear Story Strip Visual

As I have mentioned before, I like to use as many visuals in my ECSped classroom as possible, and song/story time is no exception.

That’s why I came up with this “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” visual, and it is my Friday Freebie for today.

brown bear freebie full page

As you can see, there is one picture for each animal in the book, as well as for the teacher and children.  I simply hand the strip out before we play the song (or read the book), and then encourage the Little People to follow along by finding the part of the book as it is mentioned.

I copy them on white card stock, cut apart, and laminate before using.

There are two versions of this freebie.  One is 8.5″ x 11″, and one is 11″ x 17″.


Working Ahead to Be More Appreciative of My ECSped Teaching Team

Well, here we stand just around the corner from a new school year.  I have one more full week before I have to report back to work, and believe me, I’m working hard to make the most of these last few days.

As usual, my summer time has been split between trying to rest and unwind, and trying to do some things to make the upcoming school year easier.  However, the closer it comes to the beginning of the new school year, the more I think about the new school year.

One thing I have been thinking about is making sure that I show proper appreciation for my teaching team during this upcoming year.  I have a really great set of aides in my ECSped class, and this year I am going to work with a new speech therapist who I am hearing great things about.  Knowing how valuable a great team is,  I want to make sure that I show them appreciation for all the work the do for me and for our students.

Instead of just leaving this to the last minute and hoping I actually get them done, I have decided to plan ahead for several appreciation gifts.  My first step in doing this was to gather ideas that I liked on Pinterest, which led to this board:

Follow Teaching the Little People’s board CoWorker Appreciation Gifts on Pinterest.
There are lots of additional things out there on Pinterest that are also fun, but this collection of ideas has enough to help me do one small thing for my team a month.

After I gathered the ideas, I made my plan of when I will give what.  Here’s what that looks like.

(Incidentally, to the best of my knowledge, none of my teaching team reads my blog.)

coworker gift list

Next, I made up a shopping list of things I will need to get for these gifts, with the dates included of when I am planning to give them.  Actually, my goal is to get as much of the non-perishable materials this week as possible, to avoid all mid-school year stress about this.  I also am planning to print out my coordinating tags this week, too, and do any prep needed for them.

Here is my Evernote Shopping List, which is where I am keeping all my links and downloaded pdfs for all the projects:

evernote coworker

Finally, I am using the “Reminders” feature on Evernote to schedule email reminders to buy the perishable goods throughout the year.    (When you click the reminder button, it lets you select a date of when the email will be sent.  Hurray!)

evernote coworker gifts

So there you go.  Through all of this, I am planning to be very appreciative this year.  Will it work?  We shall see.  It certainly can’t hurt to try.

pete the cat title

Friday Freebie: Pete the Cat Song Visual

pete the cat title
One of the things that I find most important in my Early Childhood Special Ed. classroom is having as many visuals available as possible.  Visuals for our schedule, visuals for expectations, visuals to remind the Little People how to do things – I want them everywhere in my room.  In addition, I love to involve my students in songs and stories using visuals as much as possible.

Today as a “Friday Freebie” I am offering one of my favorite song visuals – a “Pete the Cat” story/song strip.   Actually, I have two different ones.  One of them just show s the progression of the shoe colors:

pete the cat all parts

The second one shows the sequence of events of how the shoes got to be the way they are. (Although I admit that I still feel this way about Pete’s shoes.)

new pete the cat strip

I don’t give a lot of explanation for these strips – I just hand them out just before we start the book/song and if the students don’t seem to “get” the visual, I ask them if they can find a certain item as the song goes along.  (“Oh, Pete’s shoes are blue now.  Can you find the blue shoes?”)

This year I plan to make them readily accessible to the Little People during free play time, as well (perhaps in the library) so their usefulness can extend to this time, as well.

As you can see, these come 5 strips to this page…

pete full page all elements

…and four to this page.

pete full page shoes only

These visuals come formatted in both 8.5″ x 11″, and 11″ x 17″.  Enjoy!

New Products in the Teacher Stores – 50% Off Until Monday

Hurray for new items in the teacher stores!   This set includes 6 different activities centered around a “Color Bears” shared reading poem. This predictable-text verse focuses on color matching and choosing favorite colors.

In this set you will find files for:

  • One 8.5” x 11” full-color Color Bears book
  • Pocket Chart with interchangeable color bears to add favorite color on  the last line.
  • Interactive Pocket Chart where students can match the bears to each line of the text.
  • Materials for an 8.5” x 11” interactive class book
  • Two 1/2 page black and white Color Bears student books
  • Full-color printable graph materials for 2 different sizes of a “Favorite Bear Color” class graph
  • Graph response page where students can record results of the “Favorite Bear Color” class graph.

You can find these items in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store and my Teachers Notebook store – they are 50% off until Monday!

Color Bears Thumbnails page one - Copy
Color Bears Thumbnails four

Color Bears Thumbnails two

Color Bears Thumbnails Three - Copy