Planning Preschool Small Group (free planning kit)

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Do you assess your students progress throughout the year?
Assessment is a common practice that helps educators see the progress of student growth and also see where more support may be needed.

Have you put your assessment results to work?
Much of the education world is focused on assessments.  From computerized testing to state testing to school district/center requirements- assessment is just a way of life for teachers.

While assessment may seem long, extensive and sometimes exhausting we have to remember WHY we assess in the first place.

Watching the growth of a child throughout the year is one of the biggest rewards a teacher can get.

But, what if our assessments show that some of our children need a little extra support in certain areas?
Our job is to provide that support, of course.  But, what is the best way to do this in a child-driven, child-centered approach?

My students thrive in a play-based classroom environment.  I see this in day-to-day observations and I also see it when it comes to assessment.  But, sometimes I have students who are just not quite there yet.  The reasons could be many...but, it is my job to help my students anywhere they need...

So, enter Small Group Time.

It is a time for me to spend with those children who need extra support in a certain skill.

But, what do we do during small group time?
Here is the important part for me.... we could do worksheets, flashcards or drill and practice.... but we don't.  We don't because I understand that this is not the best way children learn.  So, what do we do?  We play games and do hands-on activities. Simple right?  Well, I do choose the game/activity based on the skill we are working on, but I try my best to make it a hands-on, non-boring activity.

How do I know which students to group up?

This is where your assessment comes in. Take a look at your class as a whole.  Is there an area that all students are struggling with?  If so, some extra attention to this skill during whole group time would be beneficial.  But, most likely you will have a couple students that need extra practice in a certain skill.  For example, you may have 3 students who need support in naming numerals.  This would be a small group.  These 3 students meet with you to play games and do activities to practice numerals.

Here are some other tips when it comes to small groups:

  • Keep your time-frame flexible: some children may not be able to attend to the task for more than 5 minutes.  Take this into account.  Making children push farther than they are comfortable with might make them resist this small group time, which is not the goal.

  • Don't lock children in.  Groups are fluid. Some children may grasp the skill focused on in the small group faster than others.  Pulling them out of that group, may be necessary to keep them from getting frustrated or bored.

  • Keep a log for each small group to note the skill, activity and progress of students. (free one in the planning kit below)

  • When it comes to what other children are doing... having small group time during free play is the best option for me.  Sometimes this can make children want to hurry through the activity to get back to what they were doing.  This is understandable.  We have two free play times and I always do our small group during the second free play time, as this seems to alleviate this problem.

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Process Art- Beyond the Paintbrush

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Do your preschoolers love painting?
Painting at the easel or the table is a core activity that preschoolers love doing.

Painting with paintbrushes is beneficial, but we, as early childhood educators can take painting a step further.

Move beyond the paintbrush and invite children to paint with unusual tools.
When children paint, they are opening a world of creativity by using their senses to create.  

When children are challenged with unusual painting tools, children must make choices on how to use the tools.  They predict how the tool will re-act and plan-out on their project within the constrains of their canvas.

That is a lot of problem solving!

On top of problem solving, painting with unusual tools makes those fine motor muscles adjust and adapt to get the desired result.

But, what kinds of unusual tools can we present to children to paint with?

Here are just a few ideas:

Take a look around your house or classroom... you can find lots of great tools!

Toothbrushes : much like a paintbrush, but the bristles are in a different location in relation to a traditional paintbrush.

Apples: cut them in half and apples make a hardy stamping/painting tool.  Potatoes do too!

Forks: utencils are great for painting because they already have a handle.  But, you can get different patterns and textures by using a fork!

Cars: anything with wheels- especially if those wheels have grooves!  This painting invitation is a huge hit.

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Squeeze Bottles: use lots of fine and gross motor muscles to operate and paint.

Corn on the cob: the corn cob takes a horizontal approach and two hands- promoting hand-eye coordination.  Rolling pins work well too!

Q-tip: a paintbrush without the bristles that makes perfect little dots.. need I say more!

Medicine Droppers: just water down the paint and get those fine motor muscles working.

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Want more ideas?

Why we Still Use a Calendar at Circle Time

Oh, circle time....
that time of the day that seems to be another one of those things that preschool teachers 'just do'.

But WHY?

I have really been pushing myself to be more purposeful in the classroom.  Which means, taking a hard look at some of the things we do as early childhood teachers that we have always done or that every teacher does.

One of these is calendar at circle time.

Many teachers are doing away with the calendar at preschool circle time because young children don't quite understand the concept of time in days, months and years.  We know this to be true because to a preschooler everything happened yesterday!  So, if children don't grasp the idea of time why on earth spend time doing the calendar together?

Here is my calendar WHY:

  • We are counting with 1-1 correspondence in a meaningful way

  • We are practicing counting orally to 30 or 31

  • We are moving with left to right, top to bottom progression

  • We are beginning to recognize numerals

  • We are exposing children to the vocabulary of days of the week and months of the year

  • When we mark special events on the calendar, we are helping children visualize a countdown to that event

  • We practice patterning

Overall, we are introducing the idea of what a calendar is and how it helps us, so that later when a calendar is present, children have schema for what is a calendar is.


Do you have a calendar?  Do you agree with the use of calendars at circle time?

Come join the conversation


Do you need a Patterning Calendar Set?

Check out this one!

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?

Get this free Writing Center Materials Idea List for 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!

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