KinderGals: Santa Fun

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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Santa Fun

Building schema in the early childhood classroom allows children to make connections between isolated concepts.  A few days ago I wrote a blog post about the importance of "fluff with stuff". In that post I  wanted to share how using highly engaging activities, sometimes called cute, can actually create an environment where children grow dendrites thus becoming smarter kids! You can read that post here
Here's a little story: My very first year of teaching I had a little girl named Janet. I recently ran into Janet at the local Walmart. After her sharing that she had graduated from GA Tech with a degree in Chemical Engineering, we started talking about her kindergarten memories.  She didn't tell me she remembered to read, or that she even learned the alphabet. Here's what she said, "I remember you laying us down on long white paper.  You traced around our bodies. We went outside and collect various colors, sizes, and shapes of leaves. We collected nuts, sweet gum balls, twigs, and other treasures. We brought them inside and we sorted them into bins. We counted. We graphed.  Then, we picked our favorite treasures to creat clothing, faces, and other features for our traced bodies."
For many, the untrained observer, this would be a "cute" activity full of fluff. But WE know better! Just look at all of the standards that she remembered.  We are in the business of creating schema--Ideas, concepts, and thoughts that can later be used as children become life long learners.
Here are a few fun,schema building activities around our jolly ol' friend, Santa!

In this fun, "What shape is Santa?" book, the children build sentences by following a pattern. Helping children identify patterns in reading helps children develop automaticity and prosody as they become fluent readers.  After building the sentences in a pocket chart, the children each make their own book.  They cut and glue the shapes on each page to create a shape Santa. Then, they cut off one sentence at a time. They use their schema about sentence structure, capital letters, periods, and the reading strategy "does it make sense?" to compose the various sentences. Add this book to their bag of books for repeated reading!
Interactive writing is a great way to develop print concepts and "what good writers do".  In this interactive writing we were using our schema about Santa to determine what  he wants for Christmas. In interactive writing the children and the teacher together are developing the text and the teacher is sharing the pen with the children.  When doing interactive writing, it is important to keep the standard front and center. Interactive writing is not the standard. It is the tool that we are using to teach the standard. An easy way to keep the balance is to think of your standard. Is your standard "words begin with a sound that we can write?" Is it "there are spaces between words?" Is it "we can write some words quickly?" Whatever the standard, let that be the part that you "share the pen" for. Invite the children to come up and practice the parts that match your selected standard.
We can also take the writing to an independent level. Here the kids sound out their own words to create Santa's list. To publish our list we created a toilet paper roll Santa. Then, we roll up the list and put it inside. What do you think happens when we send home a piece of white paper in their bookbags? My thinking is that most often the paper end up in the trash with little interaction between the parent and the child.  By placing the list inside of the toilet paper roll Santa, parents are more likely to save and treasure their child's work. Also, the parent is more likely to engage in conversation with the child. See, even adults are intrigued by "cute". Even the adult brain is more interested in things that are "cute" and are more likely to remember not just that product but the conversation that occurred about that product.
Here again we used interactive writing to develop a list. Writer's use lists all the time and for many purposes.  We worked together to create a list to match the pictures.  I gave each child a piece of paper that looked just like mine. As we were writing the words on the large chart, each child is engaged as they are writing the list on their own paper.  During math we pulled the lists back out. We used the prices to practice addition. We could have just as easily used comparing as the standard. I did this part in small group so that I could differentiate.  The recording page is intended for grade level kids.  For  the kids who need a little extra support, be sure and provide actual coins for them to count and add together.  For kids that need a challenge, give them 10 cents. Ask, how can you determine which items you could buy. What combinations of items could you purchase?  Could you buy Santa everything he needs? How much money would you need to get everything?
While new learning occurs in our mini lessons and our small group, centers provide the opportunity for children to practice and remember the standards they have already mastered.  This syllable sorting book is just that. The kids cut the toy cards and sort them by how many syllable they hear.  For extra fun, give them some Santa boots to stomp out the syllables.
Interactive charts provide a fun way to develop prosody and print concepts. This fun chant includes the children's name. Our kids seem to especially love charts that include their names.  We also made a class book to match our chart. Do you make class books? I remember when EVERYONE was making them. Then, slowly they seemed to become less prevalent. Why? Here's my thinking, I never knew WHY we were doing them in the first place.  It is important that we know for each activity the why. Not only does this ensure that we will keep doing that activity, it also ensures that the standard will not get lost. Class books are made as a way to develop prosody. According to Resinski, children need prosody to become fluent readers.  Prosody is developed through repeated reading and songs, poems and chants.  Both of these are provided in class books.
Poems are another way to develop prosody.  The fun craft activity acts as cement to our learning. It is a connector in our brain that helps us remember the poem.
In our large group activity, we used the cookie crisp cereal to tell story problems about Santa and his cookies.  This is a great way to show mixed operations. It might sound like this, "Kim gave Santa 3 cookies. (Children put 3 cookies in their hand.) He ate 2 of them. (The children eat 2 of the cookies.) How many did he have left? (1) Andy gave Santa 4 more cookies. (Children put 4 more cookies in their hand.) Now how many cookies does Santa have? (5)
At our small group or as a center, the children can use the cookie clip art to solve the story problem. In the empty boxes, invite the children to write in names. For extra fun, add photographs of the children's faces.
Why do children love survey graphs? Because they get to roam around the room and talk! (If you can't beat them, join them! ha) For this activity invite the children to ask their friends Does Santa come through the door or down the chimney? The children tally, graph, and analyze their data.
The activities in this post come from the Santa unit.

This is the second post in a series of 3 posts to look at the value of highly engaging, standard rich activities that are often disguised in "cute" clothing. 
Key points I remember:
1. Keep the standard front and center. Never lose focus on the desired outcome.
2. "Cute" is another word for novelty. Novel items create interest within the brain that results in the production of dendrites.
3. Childhood should be fun. Children learn through play.
4. If it's boring to's even more boring to them.
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