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Throughout the school year, we celebrated the children’s birthdays but what about those summer birthdays?

I have quite a few birthdays that fall right after school gets out and the children have been plotting out who’s coming to who’s birthday party. Listening to their plotting and planning has been quite entertaining for me. I am not sure how they are going to pull off all these amazing birthday adventures but I do know we can, at the very least, have a summer birthday party that everyone is invited to attend right here in the classroom.

Birthday Crown Making Station

We kept our classroom summer birthday party really simple. Around the classroom, I set up a few birthday party related centers including making their own birthday crowns. I went ahead and prepared enough crowns for every child to make one whether they had a summer birthday party or not. The crowns were already cut out so all the children had to do was add their name and decorate it with a little dot paint.

Birthday Card Making Station

At the birthday card station, the children found squares of white card stock (like postcards), markers, and lots of random stickers. They also found a small bag for each child with their name on it to put the cards in. The children were invited to make birthday cards for each other and let me tell you what. The children stayed at this station almost an hour making cards. I kept thinking they would stop any minute but they just kept going back and making more.

Birthday Play Dough Station

You can’t have a birthday party without making cupcakes only we set out homemade play dough, some birthday candles, and some small gems. We had all kinds of birthday cakes and cupcakes being made and it gave the children a chance to sing “Happy Birthday” to each other.

A couple of my boys came over and made the most inventive birthday cake. At first they said it was my birthday cake (I figured thats why they added so many candles) but then they changed their mind and decided it was a porcupine birthday cake.

Oh, and I forgot to tell you that we read Eric Carle’s book “The Secret Birthday Message” and the children were mesmerized. The children were crazy excited when we first sat down for circle but the minute I told the them that we were going to read about a SECRET BIRTHDAY MESSAGE, they were all in! It truly is such a great book for our mystery loving group of children.

And one more thing. After we read the story, I told the children that they could make “Mystery Birthday Cards” at the birthday card making station. Maybe that’s why they stayed there longer than usual. I did have a few children show me their mysteries but I just now remembered it was because of the book. Oh my, I think the last day of school can’t come too soon for me!

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Teach Preschool by Deborah Stewart - 1w ago

During the last few weeks of PreK, I can feel the difference in my classroom. The children are all a buzz with kindergarten talk and they can barely focus on ANYTHING else!

I love their excitement and want to send them off with happy memories of each other and their experiences in PreK. When I first opened my school, I started a tradition in my classroom and called it Memory Day.

Here’s a preview at what your Memory Day could look like!
Getting Ready for Memory Day

To prepare for Memory Day, I gathered up the book, “Once Upon a Memory” by Nina Laden and our memory stone. Miss Lauren painted a stone a few years ago and elegantly painted the words “I remember” on the stone.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t remember where we put the stone so I used a stone that one of my students painted for me instead. I also gathered up a set of basic white t-shirts, fabric markers, and cardboard. And as an extra idea to try, I ordered each child a set of 9 school pictures from Walgreens.

Celebrating Memory Day

Once the children arrived to school and settled in, we talked about things we remember. One of my little girls brought a photo album from home so we used it talk about how we use pictures to help us remember things like what we looked like when we were little.

Then we read our book and passed around our memory stone. As each child held the stone, they shared one thing they remembered. I actually was hoping they could tell me one thing they remembered about PreK but instead they told me something they remembered from home.

Once the children shared their memories, they headed off to trade school pictures with each other and to sign each other’s memory t-shirts. It was a good way to sneak in a little name writing practice for the day.

Do you have a favorite end of the school year tradition? I would love for you to tell us about it in the comments below!

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With the end of the year coming up, I am often asked, “What songs are you singing for your end of the year presentation?”

Before choosing songs for your presentation, take a minute and think about what your parents and students love or need. If you come from a place that this is about everyone having a good experience, then you will be better able to choose songs that provide that good experience.

Skinnamarink (silly version included)
What Do Parents Love?

Parents (and grandparents) absolutely LOVE having their children present for them. Let’s take a second and think about what it is that the parents love.

  1. Parents love seeing their child smiling, laughing, and having fun.
  2. Parents get a kick out of watching their child dance and doing their best to remember all the moves.
  3. Parents treasure listening to their child’s sweet voice.
  4. Parents appreciate that their child was brave enough to get up there and participate at any level.

And parent love knowing that their child is a member of a community that makes him or her feel safe, confident, and valued.

Children having fun singing and dancing for their parents in PreK

What Do Your Students Need?

Some of your students will love the idea of presenting a song or dance for their parents while others might not feel quite so excited about the idea. In order to have your whole community of young children singing and dancing with as much joy and confidence as possible, you will want to think about what your children need.

  1. Your students need to like the songs you choose: If they don’t like the them, then chances are they wont happily sing or dance to them.
  2. Your students need to be familiar with the songs you choose: The more familiar the song is to the children, the more confident and relaxed they will be about singing and dancing along with you.
  3. Your students need you to help them understand what to expect and what they are going to do: The more confused your children are about what is going on, the more anxious or resistant they will feel about participating when the times comes.
  4. Your students need to feel inspired by the songs you choose. Inspiration can come from choosing a song that challenges them; that is related to a topic they care about; that integrates sign language or musical instruments; or that invites them to sing, dance, or move in a way that they enjoy.

Children having fun singing and dancing for their parents in Preschool

Top Tip

I have already alluded to this above, but my top tip for choosing your songs for your end of the school year is to fill the majority of your presentation with songs that your students have been singing and loving all year long.

I intentionally introduce songs throughout the school year that I feel would be good candidates for one of our end of the year presentations. By the time we get to the end of our school year, I have a pretty good idea which songs my student will enjoy and feel the most confident about presenting to their parents.

Now this doesn’t mean I don’t choose any new songs but I don’t wait until the last minute to introduce something new. In the end, I put a mix of mostly familiar with maybe one or two newer songs.

One of Our Faves!
Songs We Sing

These are some of the songs we are either singing this year or have sung in the past for our end-of-the-year presentations. Although I am sending you to listen to the song, some of them we sing with the music and others we sing without the music playing in the background.

“Everybody Clap” by Nancy Kopman

“Shake, Shake, Shake” by Nancy Kopman

“Horses” by Nancy Kopman

One Small Voice by Jack Hartman

“Sing” by Tom Lichtenheld and Joe Raposo

Peanut Butter and Jelly The Learning Shop

Mr. Sun by Raffi

Do you have a favorite song?

I would love to build a new list of songs to sing for my class. If you have a favorite song to share that your students love to sing or dance to, please leave the info in the comments below!

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The Discover Conference is a series of online conferences designed to bring in top experts to help early childhood teachers from all backgrounds have the very best early childhood indoor and outdoor educational experiences through play and exploration.

Each Discover Conference focuses on one specific topic. Our last Discover Conference was on Process Art and it was a raging success! Don’t take my word for it, check out what these folks had to say.

I already follow many of the presenters on Instagram but it was so great to listen to what they had to say! I took some wonderful nuggets away and feel very inspired to get back in my classroom. Lots of ideas for invitations to create swimming around in my head …. Thanks, Deborah J Stewart, for a great conference!

Kathy A., Your Content Goes Here
Thank you for putting this webinar together and sparking my love for Reggio approach again. I have been teaching for ten years and sometimes I need to be reminded of my own love of process art. Truly inspiring.
Melissa S., Your Content Goes Here

Loved the conference! The information was inspiring and I have a list of new supplies and how to incorporate them with what we already have in our Art area! Thank you so much!

Donna L. , Your Content Goes Here

The conference was wonderful! I learned so much and it has changed my thinking. I can hardly wait to take what I have learned into my classroom. Thank you for all of the time and energy you put into this conference Deborah.

Lori K., Your Content Goes Here

Thank you for this conference. I got great ideas, it also confirmed my views on art and how to teach it to young children, and I loved that I could do it on my own time (with full time work and family!)

I’m excited to try so many creative processes!

Kirsi P., Your Content Goes Here

I loved the conference. Great ideas, good format. Loved the evening Facebook check ins. Looking forward to the live today.

Helen M., Your Content Goes Here

I loved this conference! It was my first totally online conference and I totally enjoyed the whole process. I am so excited and renewed with my work with art with the children and have so many more processes to try with the children. Thank you!

Suzanne B., Your Content Goes Here

What a wonderful experience. So much inspiration! Looking forward to heading back to work next week and implementing some of these ideas.

Deb. A, Your Content Goes Here
All Online

Every Discover Conference is online so you can watch each of our expert presenters at a time that works best for you right from your own home. On the very last day of each conference, Deborah brings you a live presentation! But don’t worry, if you can’t show up live, a recorded version will be available in the Conference Center for you.

Coming April 25 – 28, 2019!

Our next Discover Conference is on Outdoor Play and Exploration and folks are already getting registered and ready for the great things that are coming their way. If you haven’t registered yet for our outdoor conference, let me invite you or your team of teachers to click on the button below to learn more and so you can get registered today!

Discover the Endless Possibilities of Outdoor Play

Conference date: April 25th-April 28th, 2019

Early bird enrollment is open now through April 20th. Get our special pricing before its gone and secure your spot in our online conference. Click below to learn more about the conference today!

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What does outdoor learning really look like? Does it look like children sitting down quietly reading a children’s book? Does it look like children eagerly listening to the teacher as he or she explains how to plant a seed? Or does it look like children taking their time to look over a pile of leaves, carefully picking one red one, one green one, and one yellow one then gently placing them all in a paper bag?

I may have moments where outdoor learning looks like that, but I have to tell you…

most of the time, outdoor learning doesn’t look anything like I imagine it should when I take my preschool or prekindergarten age children outside.

In fact, sometimes I wonder if I am leading a group of sweet, kind, angelic children or a bunch of wild animals to head outside to play. By the time I open the door, the last thing my students want to do is gather around me to do much of anything especially be quiet and listen to me teach a lesson, read a book or make them pick three perfect leaves. Trust me, I’ve tried.

Every time I take the children on a leaf hunt, they stuff their bags with as many of the ugliest brown, dried up leaves they can find and then shout, “I’m done! Can I go play now?”

But over my 30 years of teaching young children, I have learned that outdoor learning is far deeper and more meaningful than any lesson I could prepare (although I still like to try).

The key to truly seeing what outdoor learning looks like is to know what to look for and then knowing what to do and what language to use when you do see it.

With spring in the air, I will be getting my wild animals sweet little angels outside for some quality outdoor play and exploration. I want them to be able to enjoy their time outdoors but, in the process, I also want to challenge their thinking, build large and fine motor skills, promote their skills and understanding in math, science, language, literacy, and even in the arts. I also want to see my students mature in their abilities to self-regulate, make good decisions, problem solve, and work collaboratively. I don’t think that is asking too much, do you?

When you want answers, just ask the outdoor play experts!

Instead of trying to figure out what I need to do all by myself, I decided to just ask the experts. In fact, I interviewed 7 amazing outdoor play experts and now my head is swirling with possibilities for how to see, promote, and scaffold on outdoor learning without ruining the children’s experience. And guess what, I recorded every one of my live video interviews to share with you.

Now you too can find out what the outdoor play experts have to say!

It is my extreme pleasure to share with you these seven presentations on outdoor play in my up and coming Discover Conference on Outdoor Play.

You will not come away feeling overwhelmed or underwhelmed. Instead, you will come away feeling refreshed, renewed, excited about the possibilities for outdoor play in your environment. You will discover how to see what deep and meaningful learning outdoors truly is and how you can begin setting the stage for the very best outdoor experiences for you and your students.

Come and See for yourself!

Let me encourage you to take five quick minutes right now to click the button below and check out the fabulous list of presenters I have ready for you. Registration is open now but will be closing soon and I don’t want you to miss out.

Discover the Endless Possibilities of Outdoor Play

Conference date: April 25th-April 28th, 2019

Early bird enrollment is open now through April 20th. Get our special pricing before its gone and secure your spot in our online conference. Click below to learn more about the conference today!

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If you read my two last posts where I shared 10 wonderful ways to take the learning outside, then you might be inspired to drop everything and get outside OR you might be thinking, “ “Deborah, we have so many things we need to accomplish indoors, that we just don’t have time to get outside.” Well my friend, let me encourage you to swap out your teacher basket for a picnic basket!

Picnic Basket Lessons

To set up a picnic basket lesson, start by taking at least one thing you would normally do indoors and instead of putting all the supplies you need into your teacher’s basket or on a table, put at least one activity in a picnic basket instead. Then take the children outdoors for a few quick minutes to complete the activity rather than staying indoors.

Want to learn more about picnic basket lessons?

I absolutely love putting together picnic basket lessons and I do all different kinds. I try to keep them simple to prepare yet interesting to do with the children. I will be sharing all the nitty gritty details of our picnic basket lesson plans from exactly how we do them, what kinds of lessons we plan for them, what supplies we keep in our baskets, and how to get other teachers in the room involved in the process in my Outdoor Play Discover Conference coming April 25th – Are you signed up yet?

Get your free ‘Picnic Basket Lessons’ eBook

Register now for the Discover Conference and you will get my ‘Picnic Basket Lessons’ eBook for free as part of your Discover Conference experience.

See the details for how to register for the Discover Conference below but don’t delay, registration will close soon!

Discover the Endless Possibilities of Outdoor Play

Conference date: April 25th-April 28th, 2019

Early bird enrollment is open now through April 20th. Get our special pricing before its gone and secure your spot in our online conference. Click below to learn more about the conference today!

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In my last post, I shared with you the first five ways to take learning outside but there is even more you can do. Let’s dive into number six through ten.

#6 Artful Explorations

Don’t be afraid to bring some of your art supplies outdoors. Set up an easel with paint and paper, chalk, or even just water and then step back and watch the creative interest grow. Set out a large flat piece of cardboard with bottles of glue and invite the children to add their nature collections to the cardboard. They can keep gluing their collections to the board for days on end then change it up and add some paint. Hang a large sheet out on a line for the children to try some big art with paint and brushes. Give the children a bucket of water and paint brushes to head out and paint the trees, fences, or sidewalks.

#7 Cooperative Games

At least once a week, I like to take a few minutes to teach my students a new large group game. Large group circle games like “Blue Bird Through My Window” and “Duck, Duck, Goose” are always a big hit. My prekindergarten students absolutely love playing games together like kickball, obstacle courses, or relay races. But we also play simple games like “London Bridges”. I will tell you, every time I play London Bridges with a few of my younger students, they ask me to play it over and over again. Large group games promote a sense of community, develop important skills in cooperation and sportsmanship, and give the children new experiences that they can go off and play on their own. After I teach the children a game, it isn’t unusual to find a small group of my students playing the game without my help and they are always adding their own rules for play.

#8 Take a Clip Board Walk

Now you might be thinking that walks are boring but if you put a little imagination into it, a walk can be profound. You can talk all kinds of walks like a listening walk, and an eye-spy walk. How about a fast, slow, quiet, or loud walk? And just about every kind nature collection walk (rock collection, leaf collection, acorn collection, stick collection). Bring your collections back and count them, sort them, compare and contrast them and now you have some terrific math.

I love to create a little chart for each child and have the children put their chart on a clip board and bring the clip board plus a crayon along with them for our walks. For example, if we are going on a listening walk, I draw up a simple chart with pictures of things the children will likely hear. As they listen and hear each item on the chart, they mark it off. This helps us talk about each item plus it is a great prewriting and prereading experience.

#9 Nature Journals

A nature journal can be a great way to document outdoor explorations, as well as promote pre-writing and drawing skills. Feel free to get creative with the nature journals. You can let children glue or tape items from nature in their journals, invite them to dictate their nature adventures to you, and encourage them to draw in their journals.

#10 Open-Ended Gardening

My students love any kind of gardening whether it is planting flowers in a pot, veggies in the ground, beans in a bag, or grass in a cup. Ongoing opportunities to explore the planting and growing process offers up the chance to talk about other topics too such as insects, nutrition, and the stages of growth.

There is truth to the idea that whatever can be learned indoors can be learned outdoors too. In our up and coming Discover Conference, we will “dig” into more details, benefits and ideas for outdoor play. Be sure to mark your calendar for April 25th and then join us more outdoor inspiration and adventures.

Discover the Endless Possibilities of Outdoor Play

April 25th, 2019

Be sure to mark your calendar!

Want to keep up with this series? Subscribe today for my Discover Conference newsletter and you will never miss a thing!

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This quote by Cathy James of NurtureStore beautifully sums up how to take the learning outside…

Anything you can teach in an indoor classroom can be taught outdoors, often in ways that are more enjoyable for children.

Cathy James, NurtureStore

Anything we can do to make learning more enjoyable for the children is good so let’s take a closer look at 5 wonderful ways we can take the learning outside.

#1 Let Them Play

Nature is a natural teacher so the very first thing on this list is to just let the children run and play. Through natural interactions with nature and each other, the children are developing skills in cooperation, collaboration, problem-solving, self-regulation, communication, science, math, language, large and fine motor, and they are building their sense of community.

#2 Adventures in Literacy

There are countless, quality children’s books that can lead your children off on outdoor adventures. Whether you are reading a book about caterpillars, butterflies, clouds, leaves, sticks, bears, or lions, you can extend the story by taking it outdoors. For example, one of my favorite books to read is “We’re Going on a Lion Hunt” by Margery Culyer. After reading the story, I take the book and the children outside and we read it again only this time, we retell the story by going through each page and acting out the story.

#3 Loose Parts Play

Add a variety of loose parts to your outdoor environment that invite the children to do some creative thinking. A few logs, wooden stumps, old tires, wooden spoons, tin pots and pans, and wooden boards or planks, for example, all invite the children to imagine, build, and invest time in creative play and exploration.

#4 Outdoor Sensory Play

Set up a sensory play station outside and the children will love it! Often times, the sand or water table is a popular center indoors, but it can feel restrictive. We often find ourselves saying, “Keep the sand/water inside the table” or “There is only room for four children to play at a time.” When you take sensory play outdoors, we are much more relaxed about the play and the children feel more freedom to play. No need to just focus on water and sand though. You can take all kinds of sensory play outside from sand and water to dirt, pebbles, seashells, beans, seeds, bubbles, playdough, or anything else you can think of. Sensory play includes such things as planting seeds in dirt or growing a flower garden. While we may be focused on the “growing a garden” the children are loving and gaining from the sensory experience of digging and planting.

#5 Outdoor Writing and Drawing

Keep a set of crayons, chalk, paper, and clip boards outside for the children to document their learning and draw the things they see. You may end up with lots of mark-making to begin with which is great pre-writing practice. However, as you model how to take a minute to observe nature and then draw what is observed; or how to count out a set of rocks in a rock collection and make tally marks to document the number; or draw a map of lines leading to a secret treasure, or trace a simple leaf; or print out words of things you see, the children will be inspired to write and draw too. Drawing with chalk on trees, stumps, rocks, is a wonderful way to strengthen fine motor skills. Drawing chalk designs, names, shapes, numbers, lines, letters and words on a sidewalk is a wonderful way to model drawing, promote conversation, and it invites the children to think creatively as they use the chalk too.

Wait! There’s More!

In my next post, I will share five more wonderful ways to take play and learning outdoors so do stay tuned. And don’t forget to mark April 25th on your calendar so you can join the next Discover Conference! Enrollment will be opening up soon and you do not want to miss it!

Discover the Endless Possibilities of Outdoor Play

April 25th, 2019

Be sure to mark your calendar!

Want to keep up with this series? Subscribe today for my Discover Conference newsletter and you will never miss a thing!

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Over the winter, our little toy shed was blown completely over two different times. The first time it happened, we sat it back up and left the inside a big mess. It was freezing outside at the time, so we decided to wait until spring to clean it out.

About two weeks ago, the wind came blustering in and blew that darn shed over again. This time, spring was in the air, so we rolled up our sleeves and went to work getting the shed ready for outdoor play.

As we purged our outdoor play shed, I got rid of anything that I have found to distract the children from having quality play and exploration. You see, 30 years of experience has taught me that the kinds of toys we have out for play will either lead towards or be a huge distraction from constructive outdoor play and exploration.

What Kind of Play Do You Want?

As we set up our toy shed, I started thinking about the type of play I want to see the children mostly invested in.

  • I want to see the children mostly invested in exploration and discovery.
  • I want our natural environment to take a priority role in their play.
  • I want to promote imaginative and interactive play.
  • And I want to see the children getting some healthy exercise.

Your play environment is most likely different than mind so you will need to decide for yourself what kind of play you want to promote and how you will go about promoting it.

Will your tools for play promote the kinds of play you hope to promote?

As we cleaned out the shed, I started thinking about whether the items we set in the shed were going to lead the children towards the kinds of play I want to see happening outside. Anything that I wanted the children to have access to EVERYDAY stayed in the shed. Everything else would go into another space until I decided to pull it out.

We had 14 hula-hoops in the shed, for example. Two of the hoops were all bent up. The remaining 12 were very large and whenever the children do take them out, they roll the hoops down a big hill at the back of our play yard and just leave them there. That is not exactly the kind of play I would like to see every day. So, I took the hula-hoops to my garage and will pull them out when I have a better plan for play in place.

By the time we finished cleaning out and setting the shed back up, this time with a sand bag at the bottom so it wouldn’t keep blowing over, I had exactly the kinds of tools for play set up inside that would promote the kinds of everyday play and exploration that I want to encourage and promote.

My small storage shed is now all set up to provide the children with tools for play that they can use every day. The children can pull the tools out and put them away all by themselves. And most importantly, these tools for play will lead them towards the kinds of play I want to see happening in my outdoor environment every single day.

Stay Tuned!

In my next two posts, I am going to share more details about the kinds of tools for play we use as well as additional ways we promote quality outdoor play, so stay tuned!

Discover the Endless Possibilities of Outdoor Play

April 25th, 2019

Be sure to mark your calendar!

Want to keep up with this series? Subscribe today for my Discover Conference newsletter and you will never miss a thing!

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Even with the best playground equipment, young children can start to get bored outside and boredom leads to the kind of play that can drive you nutty. You know, the kind of play that ultimately leads someone to tears.

Anytime I see a bored kid on my playground, I hand them a bucket. An empty bucket naturally invites children to fill it up with something. They just can’t help themselves.

A bucket is my number one go-to outdoor play tool

In fact, the number one outdoor tool I recommend having available for your children to play with is a bucket.

I don’t have any swings, slides, or monkey bars on my outdoor playscape but what I do have is a stock pile of little metal buckets. Every day, the children head outside and the first thing they grab on their way out to play is a bucket.

Collections bring satisfaction

They use the buckets to gather up acorns, rocks, snails, dirt, flowers, leaves, or as many worms as they can find or dig up.

Young children love to collect items from nature but not because they have any actual plan for those items. They just like to stock pile up their found treasures because it feels satisfying to do so.

Take-Aways
  1. Without the right tools for play, young children can get bored, even outdoors.
  2. Boredom often results in the kind of play the ends in tears.
  3. A small bucket helps promote constructive play and exploration.

P.S. I recommend small buckets rather than big buckets. A small bucket is easier for them to fill up and carry around. The bigger the bucket, the less interested the children tend to be and the less time they will stick with their treasure hunting adventures.

Discover the Endless Possibilities of Outdoor Play

April 25th, 2019

Be sure to mark your calendar!

Want to keep up with this series? Subscribe today for my Discover Conference newsletter and you will never miss a thing!

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