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11/06/2017

Our Christmas Library: 12 Books we LOVE!

Last year I did my own little version of advent with Buck & Chuck. We opened a book a day, and each book had one of our advent scripture cards on the front. It was stinkin' cute and we had a blast opening up a new book every day (and even better: Beckett began to learn the Christmas story).


We mostly made due with books we already had, but we also bought a few new ones. When I'm buying books, I depend on posts from blogger friends to help decide which to get! So, I thought I'd do my blogger due diligence & share some of the Christmas books WE LOVE!


[Disclaimer: This post contains Amazon Affiliate Links]

The Spirit of Christmas is a Nancy Tillman board book, which ALL bring me to tears. This books talks about Christmas being about love, and of course is beautifully written.

Christmas in the Manger focuses one page each on various "characters" of the Christmas story. It tells details of the story, but also is wonderful for vocabulary. I love this book for toddlers and preschool.

A Christmas Prayer is a sweet rhyming book, thanking God for various simplicities of our day to day at Christmas time. I like it because it's very relatable and has a prayer on each page, reminding us to thank God for the simple things. AND it's not too cheesy! (In my opinion)

Who is Coming to Our House is a fun rhyming book from the point of view of the animals preparing for the arrival of Baby Jesus. I like it because it is simple, catchy, and has a lot of room for conversation. I also really like the way the animals build anticipation for the arrival for Baby Jesus.

Christmas Box Set. The set pictured here is not the exact set we have, and to be honest, the content is nothing particularly impressive, but my kids LOVE LOVE LOVE these box sets no matter what the content. I guess it's because the books are such a fun little size. Both of my kids will sit and play with this box set, flipping through the thick little pages FOREVER. Plus, the content is almost always ultra simple and great for just talking about photos and building vocabulary.

J is for Jesus explains the significances of the details of a candy cane. It's a neat story, which I particularly like because it's different than many other books you find at Christmas, explaining details of the nativity story with a completely different approach. Plus you have an excuse to eat a candy cane!



Merry Christmas, Stinky Face is one of many Stinky Face books we love.

Counting Christmas is a simple concept. The kiddos can count the Christmassy items in each picture. You'll count to ten. The book isn't anything spectacular, but we like counting books and this is one of only two we have for Christmas.

Eric Carle's Christmas 123 is actually better than the previous book. I like the crisper, cleaner, more vibrant images!

Dream Snow. Ok. I'm going to be honest and say this is the only book on the list I haven't actually read all the way through (it's a bit wordy for my littles). However! It's an Eric Carle so it has beautiful images and my kids love sitting and lifting the flaps! 

Fisher-Price Little People: The Story of Christmas is such a fun idea! I love that this book is a good companion to the Fisher Price Little People Nativity Set. Anything that can make books and stories more tangible is a win in my book. The way the story is written could be used verbatim to narrate a play with your little people figurines.

The Christmas Story. This is exactly what it sounds like, except the words are simple and straight-forward. Gets the point across without a ton of words on a page. Perfect for littles. 



4/27/2017

Springtime Sports for Active Kids...and MATH!

No more boring worksheets of the past. Find out how to spice things up with hands-on multisensory math games and activities for active learning!

Ah, spring! Here in New Jersey, the winter frost is finally gone and little signs of spring are popping up all around us. And I couldn’t be happier! Let me introduce myself though. I’m Christy from Exceptional Thinkers and today, I’m thrilled to be a guest blogger for Chuck and Buck! I’m a regular contributor to a collaborative blog called Conversations From the Classroom and you can find my posts there on the 22nd of every month.

But can we get back to spring for a minute? Wouldn’t it be great to take your students outside and just let them play now that it’s finally nice out? Yes? I agree! We’re so in synch, you and I. Today, we are going to think of some ways to get the kids outside and moving, while learning and working towards academic goals.

You’re thinking, this is crazy. How are my students going to develop math skills while running around outside? But I promise, it’s possible, and potentially more effective than some boring old worksheets. Kids are more motivated to learn when it’s fun! Research shows that motivation leads to increased effort and persistence with better performance (Paris & Turner, 1994; Rueda & Moll, 1994). And what’s more fun than putting the textbooks aside and playing?

Okay, so it’s fun to get them moving, but how do we teach them while they’re playing? Good question. We aren’t just bringing them outside for the sake of playing and burning off that pent up energy. We want to harness that energy in a way that can be both productive and educational. But how? Well, instead of a worksheet with 20 math problems, why not play a game that requires students to practice those same math skills 20 times? Due to increased interest and motivation, students may even complete a game faster than a worksheet, potentially practicing the skill more than they would have on paper.
No more boring worksheets of the past. Find out how to spice things up with hands-on multisensory math games and activities for active learning!

You can use games and sports to teach math skills, as brain breaks, review games, and more. They can be a refreshing break from textbooks! Many children learn better when they use more than just their eyes and ears during math lessons. Hands- on activities encourage students to become more involved with the material and allow them to experience it first-hand. Research shows that children with special needs benefit greatly from multi-sensory activities in the classroom. 

Most of us already use manipulatives in our math lessons. But have you incorporated sports or games that get students out of their seats and moving? You can take almost any game or sport and incorporate a math skill into it. In volleyball, have the students skip count by fives each time the ball goes over the net. For Tag, players can call out multiples of 6 each time someone is tagged, up to, say, 72, and then switch to multiples of 7, and so on. For more ideas, take a look at my Active Math Sports and Games resource. Whatever it is, keep students practicing your targeted math skill while moving.

Whole body learning is:

1) Motivating for students who are uninterested in traditional classroom lessons.

2) Beneficial to kinesthetic learners.

3) Allows students to experience material or skill first-hand.
No more boring worksheets of the past. Find out how to spice things up with hands-on multisensory math games and activities for active learning!

As a special education teacher, I have experience with students with sensory issues, behavior problems, and trouble sitting still. I’ve found that instead of forcing them to fight the urge to move, it is better to just get them up and direct that energy in a fun, positive, and educational path! They just want to go, so I let them go. But we don’t just run around without purpose. They practice skill sets, problem solve, and develop social skills, all while I assess their progress. This doesn’t necessarily always need to take place sitting at a desk.

My Active Math Sports and Games Resource was created to keep active kids moving while still working toward their academic goals. I've used these games in my classroom for years and it is my pleasure to now share them with you. (Side note: I'll likely add more games to this resource, so if you like it, be sure to grab it up now before I add to it and increase the price. If you buy now, you'll get the lower price, plus you'll get any of my additions and updates for FREE). Sounds good, but not sure if you want to take the plunge? No problem. Try out my FREEBIE Shuffleboard Addition Game and see if you like it! If you love the idea of using sports and games in your math class, but don't have the time to plan them out and create the materials, these are the resources for you. Busy teachers unite!

My Active Math resource targets early elementary math skills such as adding, subtracting, using place value, estimating, and measuring. It features 6 games at the moment (but likely to increase with time), including Steal the Flag, Subtraction Bowling, Making Tracks, Shuffleboard Addition, STEM Tower Challenge, and Pitch Your Estimate. Some of these games are available individually in my store while others are unique to this resource.

I hope I’ve inspired you to consider incorporating more whole- body learning activities in your own classroom. If this is an approach you’ve already been using, I’d love to hear about your techniques and activities in the comments below!

It’s been a pleasure posting here with Chuck and Buck. I hope to connect with you soon! If you’re not already following Exceptional Thinkers on Pinterest, make sure to click HERE to do so. You can also find me on Facebook right HERE. And of course, if you’re interested in new products, updates, and freebies, follow me on Teachers Pay Teachers.

Keep teaching. Keep learning.


~Christy D. from Exceptional Thinkers



4/19/2017

Our Perfect Preschool Intro to the Butterfly Life Cycle!

This morning, Beckett learned the simple version of the Butterfly Life Cycle! I was so impressed with how easy and engaging the activity was, I had to share. I started by just going LIVE in my [not so] super secret Usborne literacy group, but we all know those aren't pinnable. So if you're looking for a simple, yet effective process to introduce your preschool through elementary aged kiddo to butterfly life cycles, you've come to the right place!


Step 1: Choose a book you love. I chose Usborne's Butterflies & Caterpillars. In the spirit of full disclosure, I'm an Usborne rep, addict, and hoarder. I love this series of beginner books because they have a great combo of photography, realistic illustrations, and cartoon-like characters. The text is super simple, yet full of great facts and vocabulary. PERFECTION.



Step 2: Pre-read your book. Because our book is aimed for 5+, it would be a lot of information for Beckett (3) to sit down and take in in one sitting. So instead I pre-read the book, and noted the pages that pertained to the life-cycle. [This is one of those ultra secret teacher strategies we use in school]. The book prepared me with sincerely interesting facts, phrased in a way that my little man could understand!

Step 3: Introduce your Flash Cards. So the AMAZING Karen, over at Little Smarticle Particles volunteered to be a guest blogger here just a few weeks ago! She loaded us with some fabulous ideas for teaching life cycles to littles, AND left a super awesome FREEBIE too! You can grab these beautiful flashcards, along with some other helpful tips, right here! Once you've got your cards, talk about them briefly with the kiddos and lay them out on the table.



Step 4: "Read" your book together. While our book is too high to just read straight through, it provides GREAT opportunities for conversation by providing such dynamic photos and illustrations. Beckett and I went though our book together, reading only a couple of the sentences, but using the illustrations to talk about each step of the cycle. This is also where I add a LOT of "oohs" and "aaahs" and "isn't that neat?" and "what do you think happens next?" He ATE. IT. UP.

Step 5: Assemble your cards in their cycle AS YOU READ. After each page, we looked for the life cycle card that represented our page and assembled it into the circle cycle diagram! And voila!


In addition to learning about life cycles, this activity is great because the simple steps of talking about the text, then finding a card to represent it, engages your child and allows them the opportunity to show comprehension. Try to let them use the cards to re-tell the cycle. This is a great skill to practice!

By the end of the morning, Beckett was assembling the cards on his own & talking to himself about the cycle. I can't get over how much he adores this sort of thing!

What do you think? Can you totally see your littles getting into the Butterfly Life Cycle? Let me know how it goes! We're sharing this and other fabulous ideas over in our [not so] super secret literacy group. We'd love to hear from you! Join our BOOK conversation here!

Don't forget to pin it!


4/18/2017

What Makes It Rain Experiment!

Imagine the most darling three year old Beckett voice, in the most perfect staccato, asking: "Mom? Why. is. it. waaayyniin??"

Swoooon!!

How can you pass up answering THAT sweet question in the most thorough, engaging manner you can possibly dream up?! I couldn't. So we threw our Garden Week activities to the wind and dove into our Usborne What Makes It Rain? book. We examined just the first page of the book, which has fun questions about rain (whereas the other pages are on the sun, snow, etc) and we talked about how the clouds get heavy with water until they juuuust caaan't hold it anymooore! AAAHH! And it faaallss!! Hehe. Can you just imagine the fun?


I've seen this activity floating around the Insta-sphere for a while now and I just couldn't wait to have our turn to do it. We didn't even bother to look up instructions because it seemed pretty self explanatory. ;)


First, we gathered our materials and lined our table with wax paper. I wanted easy clean up but didn't want to clutter our pretty white space with a bright table cloth because I thought it might take away from our experiment. Because we only had gel food coloring, we used a small jar to mix it with water and shake shake shake! Of course, this was super fun for Ms. Chuck.


We took a minute to talk about clouds and where we find them. Then we talked again about how water fills them and guessed what would happen next! Notice in the photo that our shaving cream is SUPER FLUFFY. We actually ended up dumping that first jar and going for round two. Keep in mind that good stuff GROWS!


Beckett had so much fun squeezing rain drops into our cloud, I can totally see us doing this activity every rainy day for a long time! As a bonus, it served as a great fine motor skill. ;) I've seen this done with eye droppers but since we didn't have one of those on hand, medicine syringe it was!


What do you think? Can you totally see your littles going gaga over this activity? Let me know how it goes! We're sharing this and other fab ideas over in our [not so] super secret literacy group. We'd love to hear from you! Join our BOOK conversation here!

Don't forget to pin it!



4/16/2017

Egg Carton Flower Garland

So this year I started creating shelf-scapes, as I like to call them. I change out the theme, books, and decor of my book shelf about once a month. This month, however, we doubled up and did Easter for the first half of the month and switched to GARDENS for the second!


So I've just recently discovered Cara Raising Kinley. If you haven't found her on IG yet, do yourself a favor and follow her over here. She's chock full of beautiful ideas, including this brilliant concept for flower garland! You can find Cara's full tutorial right here, which we followed with a few minor adjustments to fit our style.

Let me warn you. I had high hopes for this project but my almost 2 and 3.5 year old did not make it very far into this project. Painting all of the edges of these intricate cartons take some serious commitment to the cause. So unless you're in this for your own enjoyment, I suggest doing this with kiddos with longer attention spans.

Cara cut her cartons first, but I thought it would be easier for little hands to paint the cartons whole. We also chose acrylics over watercolor because it's our paint of choice! [The kids also paint naked in this house, because acrylics are NOT WASHABLE, so be warned]. Paint the outside, let dry, then paint the inside!


Once those were completely dry, we showed Beckett how to punch holes into the cartons. While he wasn't super interested in the painting part of the day, he took this job VERY SERIOUSLY. Hint: put a cutting board under your cartons!


Finally, I cut apart the cartons, sliced triangles in the sides that needed them, and popped them onto this cool string of green lights I had from our March shelf-scape! I did two flowers on lights and then skipped a bulb to stretch out my flowers and because I thought it looked better. Then I just plugged those bad boys in and VOILA! Prettiest flower garland I've ever made! ;)


What do you think? Do you think you'll try your own flower garland? What will you use it for? We're just starting off GARDEN WEEK over in our [not so] super secret literacy group. We'd love to hear from you! Join our BOOK conversation here!

Don't forget to pin it!




4/11/2017

Same Old Puzzles, Brand New Fun

I've been on this kick for simplicity. Mostly I'm just all over the place when it comes to parenting/teaching/wifing/blogging/life in general so sometimes I'm way over the top and then sometimes I'm reminded that if I feel like I'm losing my mind, I'm allowed to make a change. [Can I get an amen?!]

So we're gearing up for spring by diving into all things GARDEN and I happened to find this beautiful puzzle in the clearance section at TJMaxx yesterday. Can we say MEANT TO BE?! There are exactly ONE MILLION THINGS you can do with a fun puzzle like this. Did you know that?! I won't list all one million for you, but I'll start you off with the three we did today:


1. Hide and Seek
First, I hid the pieces of the puzzle around our little library room. The kids got SUCH a kick out of this. Of course you will know how difficult to make your hiding spots but mine were pretty much in plain view and my kids still needed help. Beckett asked to do this three times and I'm pretty sure puzzles will forever require a search and rescue step first.


2. Word Match
I'm a big fan of flash cards. I know there's a whole movement out there where flash cards are the epitome of lame but WHATEVER MAN. It's my party and I'll flash card if I want to.

So I whipped up these bad boys, because I'm ALSO a big fan of computer creating + lamination. However, this would work JUST as well if you wrote these words neatly on index cards. And your kids could not care less.


Once Buck & Chuck found all of the pieces and put the puzzle together, Beckett chose animals from the puzzle, one at time, and matched them to an index card. He used the puzzle itself to help clue him in when he didn't know the word. You may not know this, but this is a FABULOUS skill for kiddos to practice! We want them using their resources (in this case, his puzzle) to answer questions and solve problems. Once all of the puzzle pieces were matched with their flash cards, Buck & Chuck worked together to reassemble the puzzle.

3. Word Recognition
Finally, I challenged Beckett to read the flash cards, using the photos as a sort of answer key. He thought this was totally boring and we didn't make it all the way through, but I still stand by the concept: I placed the assembled puzzle on the floor for him to reference while he read through the cards. After your kiddo has done the word matching enough times, they will start associating the puzzle pieces with the words, and hopefully be able to read them! Imagery is a POWERFUL learning tool, so pairing mental images like this is a great way to learn to recognize new words!


That's it! Super simple, low-prep, no mess fun! What do you think? Do you have puzzles like this at home that you can turn into a new adventure? We'd love to hear from you! Join our BOOK conversation here!




4/06/2017

3 Easy Preschool and Kindergarten Easter Ideas

Hi, I'm Jenny from Jenny's Crayons and so excited to guest blog on Denise's blog today.  I teach preschool for my son and his friends.  I love to share the ideas I come up with for preschool on my blog, and Instagram.  I also like to post all my fun Target finds on my Instagram, atargetmom.  Here are some fun Easter preschool ideas.



1. This is one of my daughters favorite activities and she came up with it.  We got a necklace making kit at Target.  We made the necklace, but for some reason did not finish it.  My daughter decided she wanted to go for a treasure hunt with the felt flowers.  We probably did it at least 10 times the day she discovered it.  We take turns placing the flowers and looking for them.  This idea could be used for preschool, for Easter morning hiding gifts, or just for fun like we did.


2. The next activity I came up with was using using scrabble letters and some eggs and a bag we got from the dollar spot at Target. Can you tell we like Target? Everyone pulls a letter out of the bag and comes up with an Easter word that starts with that letter.
3. The last activity I came up with was one involving numbers and eggs all the supplies also purchased at Target.  I bought the felt letters for each of the kids.  The teacher puts down some eggs.  The kids have to choose from their pile how many eggs there are and put the corresponding number down.
Thanks for letting me share my Easter preschool ideas with you.  What are some fun ideas you have come up with?
4/04/2017

Four Sneaky "That's Not My" Literacy Skills

Ok, we've had these "That's Not My" books in our house for several days now and let me just tell you: if I weren't swooning so much over how much my kids love them, I would probably be ready to hide them. I have heard the phrase "That's Not My" about one bajillion times in the last 48 hours. I might actually end up dreaming of bumpy lamb hooves and dinosaur teeth.

But I not-so-secretly love it.

I've seen endless touchy feely books over the years, but the Usborne "That's Not My" Series is hands down the best quality I've ever encountered. The textures are deep, exaggerated, and creative. I bought them thinking Chuck would love them, but what I didn't expect was to have so many learning opportunities for Beckett, my preschooler! We officially have the very first books he can "read" on his own!


We've had such an incredible time exploring and learning with these book that I decided to share with you the four SNEAKY ways we're learning with Usborne's That's Not My Lamb and That's Not My Dinosaur. Your kids will love these bad boys so much, they won't even know they're hitting super important reading (and writing) skills!

1. Tracking
Because ALL of the books in the That's Not My series follow the same pattern, there's a REALLY good chance your kiddos will memorize them! This is great for a number of reasons, but Beckett and I have been working on tracking words. This means that he follows the words with his finger as he reads. You can also use a fun tool like a magic wand for this purpose. Tracking is a super important early learning skill. It helps them learn that words move from left to right on the page, and helps them understand that each word on the page matches a word that comes out of their mouth.


2. Sight Word Practice
Again, because the books are repetitive, they provide a great opportunity to start identifying words. After reading the books several times, and then tracking the words as you read a page, try one of these questions:
  • Do you see the word, "my?"
  • Can you read this word? [pointing to a familiar word]
  • What words do you recognize on this page?
3. Using Picture Cues
A strong reader uses context clues to determine words they don't know. As we get older and become more capable readers, we use the context of the paragraph or story to determine the meaning words we don't recognize.  Young readers use illustrations to do the same thing! Teaching kids to use picture clues empowers them to be independent readers! The "That's Not My" books are a perfect opportunity to practice this skill because only a few words change on each page. Each time a word changes, there's a clear illustration to guide the reader!


4. Using Descriptive Words [Adjectives]
This was the MOST fun activity we did with this book, and it was SO SIMPLE! After reading the book several times, I went through and asked questions about the pages.
  • How does his hoof feel?
  • Do his ears feel rough or soft?
  • Can you find something bumpy?
Then I challenged Beckett to describe things around the house with our new adjectives! We rubbed the carpet and he determined it was "wooly." We touched a fire log and determined it was "rough." We ran our fingers over the air vent and labeled it "bumpy." So simple and SUCH a great vocabulary builder! I was expecting to have to guide Beckett quite a bit on this activity but he actually was able to choose an appropriate descriptive word for every object in the house I found. Then we switched it around and HE got to find the items and challenge ME! 


And that's it! A book that I initially thought would be appropriate only for babies has turned into an excellent learning tool for my preschooler as well. Usborne currently has 36 different titles in this series and is rumored to have more than a dozen new ones coming! Check out the whole collection here.

What do you think? We'd love to hear from you! Join our BOOK conversation here!






4/02/2017

Noah's Ark Process Art Collage

In this house, March was for all things Saint Patrick's Day, Rainbows, and Noah's Ark! Logical succession, right?! We thought so, and we had a total blast with it! We spent the month talking about Real vs. Pretend, playing with colors A LOT, and of course discussing the story behind [what I assume is] the first rainbow. We ended our month the most beautiful process art collage I've ever laid my eyes on!


This process was not a super short one, but it wasn't complicated either! As long as you're willing to give it a few days, you're going to ROCK this project! Here's what we did:

First we started off by reading about Noah, and discussing the fact that it's a REAL story. We followed it up with PRETENDING using these beautiful animal action cards. If you need a good workout in your day, I recommend stomping like an elephant, pouncing like a cheetah, and hopping like a kangaroo around your house a couple times! The kids got a TOTAL kick out of this and it burned a good amount of energy before we sat down for some art!


Once we were all worn out, we sat down with some animal cards + paints that I had strategically chosen. We discussed one card at a time, and which colors we saw. Then we chose the paints that corresponded! To do this scraping activity, you simply dot a few colors of paint over your paper, then use an old gift/rewards/credit card to scrape it around!! I thought Beckett (3) would be great at this and that Charlie (19 months) would be a mess but it was totally the other way around! Since Chuck's little hands can't squeeze too hard, she ended up with perfect little dots, while Beckett DROWNED his paper and life-guard mommy had to come in for the rescue [every. stinkin. time].


To make the Ark, we used this same process with brown, black, and deep red on a brown paper bag. By the time we finished papers for five animals + an ark, we were DONE for the day! A full week later, we came back to finish the process.

For the animal's faces, I simply traced outlines I found online and cut them out of our painted papers. Beckett helped a little bit, but his fine motor skills are not ready for this work! So while I worked on the animals, Buck & Chuck worked on the water! I handed them blue felt, construction paper, and tissue paper, showed them how to cut strips and glue them on, and then set them loose [sitting very close by and guiding the process, obviously]. They actually did a FABULOUS job on this and I was so excited!


Once we were done cutting our animals and creating our beautiful blue background, it was time to assemble! Beckett helped me place the animals by telling me which one could be in the water and which had to be on the boat. Then he and I worked together to hot glue everything down and get those adorable wiggly eyes in place!


And that's it! This project could totally be fun with an range of ages, and can be applied to so many different themes! We will DEFINITELY do this scrape painting again. Process art for the win!

Don't forget to pin it!



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