How to get your Writing Center Rockin'

Writing in the Early Childhood classroom is important.

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Even though preschool writing may not look like traditional writing, it is an important part of the literacy process.

But, have you ever struggled with getting your preschoolers to go to the writing center?

Yep, me too. When given the choice, my traditional writing center with pencils, pens and paper was not too appealing when up against a sensory tub full of sand or a grocery store in the drama center.

My traditional writing center was just not cuttin' it.

The goals I had for my writing center are for children to get a writing utensil in their hand and make marks that are meaningful to them.  I want children to enjoy this experience and I want to throw a little fine motor in there too.

So, I knew- it's time to start changing it up!

My plan was to draw them into the writing center with new, exciting and different materials.  I knew that if I could draw their attention in, they would come and write- as a preschooler can- and my writing center goals would be met.

 But, what kinds of new, exciting and different materials can be added?

Here are just a few ideas:

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Start out simple...

Adding clipboards makes everything more exciting!  Clipboards are a tool children don't get to use too often, making them exciting!

Think beyond white paper...  envelopespost-it notes and index cards are also tools not available to most children on a regular basis- making them exciting and new.

Move beyond just pencils.  Ballpoint penshighlighters and smelly markers make interesting writing utensils for children to explore.

Then, start collecting more writing tools and activities...

Boogie Boards are a fun way to encourage writing, and it erases with a push of a button!

Wooly Willy is an old-school magnetic fun board.  I like it because it gets a pencil-like tool in children's hands and they make strokes to move the magnets inside.

Water Wow is a big hit in our classroom.  You fill up a tube with a paintbrush on the end.  You use the brush on the special cards- we have alphabet cards- and images and colors appear. 

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Need more ideas?

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4 Lesson Plans you Need for Your Play-Based Classroom

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”

Oh yes, Benjamin Franklin, you got it.

When we don’t plan out our intentions in our classroom, we can easily miss the mark. Being intentional and goal-driven when planning is the key to being successful. Ever feel like you are just picking up activities from here and there with no clear path of where or what you are doing?

You might need to get your plan on!

Here are the 4 Lesson Plans you NEED for your Play-Based Classroom (and a free printable)!


#1 : Circle Time Preschool Lesson Plans

Circle Time isn’t always a time that teachers think to plan. But, without planning circle time, you might find that you aren’t sure what to focus and what you have focused on. Planning circle time is quite an in-depth process, so much so that I have a free webinar and a course developed to help teachers plan this time to be a successful as possible.

Here are some of my top tips:

  • Shake it up! Don’t let your circle time get boring… if circle time is boring, children are not engaged and learning isn’t happening. Don’t just do the same ol’ songs, and activities each day.

  • Consider what goals you are actually trying to meet with this time. Can you break those goals into two groups - core/everyday & add-in/just for a short time ? This may help you plan out what skills you might change out throughout the year.

  • Less is more at the beginning of the year. Plan only a quick and easy circle time at the beginning of the year to help students build stamina. Later in the year more things can be added.

#2: Whole Group Planning

I love whole group time! Our class comes to the carpet area and learns together as one whole group. To plan this I consider several different types of activities:

  • Read Aloud (each one of my whole group plans contains a read-aloud)

  • Activity or Game: this might be a sequence or re-telling activity based on the read aloud. Or, we might do a class game, song, movement activity or experiment.

Whole Group Planning Tips

  1. Consider the amount of time that your students can sit at the carpet before becoming restless and plan activities and read-alouds accordingly.

  2. Make sure your activity is engaging and involves student interactions. Students will quickly become bored with your activity if they are not contributing in a hands-on way.

#3: Small Group Planning

Small group time can be conducted many different ways. In our classroom, we have small group learning time during our free play center time. Doing it this way allows us to pull just a couple of students to work on skill specific activities or participate in a open-ended art invitation that is easier done with only a couple of students at a time. To plan this time, I consider several different options:

  • Open-ended art invitation: is there a process art invitation that I want to set up that needs teacher assistance?

  • STEM challenges: some STEM challenges require smaller groups and teacher assistance

  • Assessment: do I need to pull one student or a group of students to complete an assessment?

  • Skill-Based Activities and Games: after assessments there may be a students that need a little extra practice in a certain skill. I can take this time to work with those students in a fun and engaging way.

  • Name Writing: we do not do sign-in books (you can find out why here), so I take time individually with each student to learn the correct strokes needed to write their name.

#4: Center Activities Planning

Planning centers? In a play-based classroom, much of the focus is on learning through play in centers. So, we must carefully plan the things we want students to learn in these centers. To plan centers, I list out all my classroom centers and list any changes/additions being made to the center that week.

This does NOT mean that I completely change up a center- we still have ‘core’ materials in each center and what I add each week is in addition to these core materials. For example, our block center has core materials like blocks, cars, animals, etc. But, during our Dino unit I make sure to add toy dinosaurs and during our All About Me unit, I make sure to add blocks with student pictures added.

Here are some of the centers I plan and the changes I consider:

  • Art Center: stamps, stickers, stencils, paper shapes, foam shapes different painting materials, different canvas materials (different types of paper, foil, wax paper, etc.) based on our current theme or season.

  • Block Center: consider adding materials that students can build with or use as building accessories that reflects the current theme or season.

  • Science Center: we change up our science center every month - you can learn more about what we cover in my Science Center Kit.

  • Sensory Center: this center gets completely changed out based on the theme. For example, during our Winter unit, we use white rice, fake snow and polar animals. When we are in our Thanksgiving unit we use dry beans, craft feathers and little acorns.

  • Library Center: each theme we add a different set of books based on the theme. We also have a tub of ‘favorite’ books that children love to read over and over!

  • Math Center: we like to add familiar games that we have planned during small group into our math center for students to play independently. We also like to change out puzzles, manipulatives and tools.

  • ABC Center: we like to add any alphabet games we have played through the week. We also like to change out the manipulatives to keep it fresh.

  • Playdough Center: add/change cookie cutter, playdough tools and playdough mats

  • Drama Center: We ditched the ‘house’ area and re-create our drama center based on theme. Every drama center is created to encourage imaginary play, peer to peer relationships and each includes a writing component. You can read about some of our favorites: Winter Wonderland, Spaceship, Beach, Rainforest and Pumpkin Patch

  • Writing Center: add theme specific vocabulary cards and we change out writing center materials often to keep students engaged.

*Get the FREE Guide to Preschool Centers here!

Let’s lay it all out!

I have a FREE Preschool Planning Weekly Overview for you in the Resource Library!

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Help your Students Know What You Expect with Procedure Cards

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Procedure cards are a visual for the routines and procedures that you teach in a preschool classroom.

Just stop and think about all the routines you have to teach little ones when they are coming to school for the first time...

Coming to the carpet, sitting at the carpet, lining up, walking in the hall, using the restroom, washing hands, how to clean up, how to treat toys, how to pack up to go home.... and the list goes on!

We have to TEACH children what we expect of them or they simple will not know and therefore may not fulfill our behavioral expectations.

Don't want students running in the hall?  You have to teach them what you do expect them to do... which in turn will decrease the chaos!!! <hallelujah! 

Now… fast forward to January. After a long winter break it is time to re-introduce these procedures. Actually, you may find that re-visiting your expectations of students several times throughout the year is just what you need to keep students accountable. While we mostly work on teaching procedures at the beginning of the year, don’t forget that little learners need lots of practice throughout the year as well!

Don’t make your students wonder what you expect them to do. Many times, as adults, we think that some things (like flushing the toilet or hanging up our coats) are common sense. But, the reality is… young children haven’t been around long enough to learn what is common in our society. We have to teach them.

Since our young learners aren't yet reading, visual cards are perfect for students to follow through with procedures on their own (after we direct them).

These procedure strips have made such an impact on teaching my students our class procedures.  Plus, the visuals have keep me from having to say it over and over and over and over and... you get it! I keep the procedures up all year long. If I find that a student needs a little re-direction on a particular procedure, we walk through the cards together.


Would you like to try out a procedure strip in your classroom?

Get the 'Clean Up Cards' and the 'Washing Hands Cards' to try out free:

preschool procedure cards


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An Open Letter to those Who Think we Play All Day

“Oh, you’re a preschool teacher? That must be so fun getting to play with little kids all day!”

This is a statement preschool teachers hear a lot. Leading us to believe that we are just glorified babysitters (I for one, have never sat on a baby- so, there’s that).

The world sees early childhood teachers as kid wrangling (okay, we do that), snot-wiping (yeah, we do that too), boo-boo kissing (fine, yes…that too) adults pretending to be real educators.

We just play all day… right?

Oh, dear sweet society… you are so wrong.

Let me throw a little research your way….

Data compiled by the Rauch Foundation found that 85 percent of the brain is developed by the age of five years old.

5 years old, which is before students even enter a traditional school setting.

Early Childhood Professionals (aka- preschool teachers) know a lot about this. While it may seem like we are putting out some toys, singing the ABCs and do arts and crafts… we are actually crafting a space and experiences that allow children to explore. When children explore, children learn.

Those that work with the youngest of children (arguable) are the best at understanding and encouraging learning through the way the brain was intended. Through play and exploration. Who sets up these experiences for exploration? We do. We plan, prep and execute. There is thought and purpose behind everything we do. There is no just putting out some toys and hoping for the best.

Our knowledge of child development guides our plans. We have goals for our students, we collect and use data. We aren’t just winging it. But, we also know how to be flexible and creative- because let’s be honest… when working with little humans not everything goes as planned!

But, it is not all about academics. We teach so many social skills that people in general need to be successful. No, hitting William because he took your toy is not a good way to handle the situation. When you are a grown-up, it is called assault. Instead we teach children how to handle those situations now. Oh, and don’t get me started on coat zipping, pants buttoning or snack opening… someone has to teach those things - parents and preschool teachers!

You see, we are on the front lines. We are the first school-like experience children have. We are the groundwork (your welcome Kindergarten teachers). We work to instill a life-long love of learning…talk about a lot of pressure!

Preschool teachers are the unsung heroes of the education world.

But, truthfully… it isn’t about us.

It is about the children.

Preschool teachers everywhere aren’t doing the job because it pays- we do it because we love it. We do it because we get to see the growth of a child right in front of our eyes. It is our passion.

So, the next time you hear someone say “Oh, those preschool teachers just play all day” - serve them up a little knowledge on the subject. The world and our children in it will be better for it.

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Fall Scavenger Hunt Freebies

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Here in the midwest - autumn has arrived!
We are gearing up for our Fall Fruit and Autumn themes - some of my personal favs!

One of our favorite activities at the start of fall is to head outside on a hunt for all things Autumn.  The children LOVE this scavenger hunt and what better way to introduce children to the aspects of fall than finding them in nature?!

We place our Fall Scavenger Hunt checklist on a clipboard, grab our golf pencils and jackets and head out the door!  We are all feeling very official with our clipboards as we explore to find the fall elements on the list.  The squirrel is always the one thing on the list we struggle to find.  Turns out squirrels run away from super excited fall hunting preschoolers - who knew ;)

Once we have found everything on the list, I have students find several of their favorite fallen leaves to take inside.  They clip the leaves onto their clipboard.

Now that we are inside, we create leaf rubbings by placing the leaf under a piece of paper and rub a naked crayon over them.  You can really see the veins in the leaves - very cool to see and talk about.

Then, I take those leaf rubbings and bind them into a book, using the 'Our Leaf Rubbings Book' cover.  I put it in our classroom library and let children explore the rubbings at the literacy center during center time!

This is such a beloved activity in our classroom, so I wanted you to share the printables needed with you, so you and your kiddos can enjoy it too!
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Get your own copy of the Fall Scavenger Hunt and the Leaf Rubbings book cover for free!

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