6 Tips for Distance Learning in the Kindergarten Classroom

Thursday, April 2, 2020
This is such a surreal time for teachers.  We suddenly find ourselves forced out of the brick and mortar classrooms and into a distance learning set up that we are making up as we go along.  Most of us were not at all prepared for remote learning for kindergarten and even those who were likely were not anticipating this.  So how can we engage families in a meaningful way without adding stress?  Here are things that are working for me and my kinders in this new normal of online learning.

1.  Pick an online platform and stick with it.

Don't reinvent the wheel.  If you've been using SeeSaw all year in the classroom don't switch to Google Classroom now.  Do what works for you but remember that parents likely have more than one student so streamlining to what your school is using will probably be helpful.  We are currently using SeeSaw for our distance learning model and so far it's going pretty well.  I love being able to send videos, assignments, and more.  Commenting on assignments with my voice lets my students hear me and gives them instant feedback.  It's been great!  SeeSaw is offering free accounts through June so if you're interested, be sure to check them out.

2.  Record yourself.

Some districts are requiring their teachers to teach live using Zoom or something similar, but many are not.  If you are not interacting with your students live on video (no judgement here, I'm not either!), then it is important that they get to see or hear you somehow.  It feels silly at first, but your students want to see you.  Jack Hartmann is great for number videos and other practice but he isn't you.  I'm certainly not suggesting that you do not use all the awesome videos available on Youtube, but you should record yourself reading or teaching something.  Take a few minutes and sit down with your phone or laptop and a good book.  Ignore your appearance (personally, I find a new chin every time I record myself! And grabbing this screenshot to share with you isn't my favorite...but you get the idea.  It's for the kids!).  It just might help you feel more normal, too!

3.  Don't over do it.

It's easy to get lost in the world of possibilities of online learning and want to do it all.  But remember, most parents are not teachers and many parents have more than one student they are currently helping to do school work from home.  This is a challenge for a lot of reasons.  If families share one computer, it's no possible for all the kids to be online at one time.  Parents may be juggling working from home (like us) with helping their kids work from home.  It's a balancing act to be sure so you'll want to temper your expectations.  Give families (and yourself!) some grace and try not to send too much home each day.

4.  Stick to a schedule.

I send out this schedule daily.  I send it as a PDF in SeeSaw so parents can click the links from there. This schedule keeps things predictable for parents and kids.  It also helps me to keep things simple for parents and helps me to stay on track and not add too much.  It is a free template in my TPT store, so feel free to use it.  Before you send it to parents, you can save it as a PDF.  If you are using a PC, choose save as - and choose PDF.  On a Mac, export as and choose PDF.  Sending it as a PDF helps to keep your fonts and formatting in place and prevents parents from accidentally deleting things.  You could also save as an image or take a screenshot to share with parents.  Whatever works best for you.

5.  Offer "device-less" options.

This is important.  5 and 6-year-olds should not be in front of a screen all day.  And remember they may be sharing devices with all of their siblings.  Give kids things they can do without a device.   Things like read a book, a scavenger hunt for sight words, practice adding with their cereal or writing numbers in shaving cream.  There are lots of options out there! We send home these choice menu boards that can be done paper and pencil and there are quite a few options that only require thins that kids have at home.  You can send the choice board and worksheets home on SeeSaw for kids to complete, give parents the option to print it out or just use paper they have at home.  Giving kids options keeps things flexible for families.  This post talks all about assigning kindergarten homework. 

6.  Keep in touch.

One of the hardest things about all of this is missing being able to interact with our students.  It's so hard to be on the other side of a computer screen.  It's important to remember to keep checking in on your students.  Send them a note in the mail or record a little video just to check-in.  I sent each of my students a handwritten note and a class photo so they have it at home.  They really appreciated it and it was fun to do.  These little gestures go a long way.  The notes above are editable so you can use them any time of year (not just during this distance learning time!).

What else are you doing for your distance learning model?  I'd love to hear about it!

How To Set Up An Adopt a Reading Buddy Stuffed Animal Activity for Kindergarten Open House

Sunday, March 8, 2020
Adopting a reading buddy stuffed animal is a fun way to encourage students to read both in school and at home.  A reading buddy can help to make reading more engaging for students.  Kids can pull out their reading buddies during read to self time or keep them at home for homework time.  You may even have students who keep their reading buddies nearby for comfort and security at school.  Setting up a pretend pet adoption center for Open House or Kindergarten Orientation is a great opportunity to bond with students and their families.  Kids will have fun choosing their pets and filling out their adoption applications.  This activity sends families the message that teachers care about their kids and school is a fun place to be.

adopt a reading buddy stuffed animal

Where do you start?

First, choose what your students will adopt.  If you have a school mascot, that may be a good place to start.  Are you the bulldogs, dolphins or maybe hedgehogs?  Perhaps you can find your school's mascot as a stuffed animal.  We went with inexpensive puppy stuffed animals from Amazon (affiliate link). You could ask friends and families to donate their stuffed animals or ask companies to donate to your school.  Oriental Trading Company is another place to look if you need to purchase small pets.

How will your students transport their new pets home?  We chose to create travel crates for our puppies.  We purchased small white, party favor boxes like these (affiliate link) for students to use as crates to take their pets home.  These are great because you can add our own logo to the box or have students decorate the boxes.

How will you set up your adoption center?

You can set up signs to make your classroom look like a pet adoption center.  Add your school name or create a fun adoption center name.  If you are setting this up for Kindergarten Orientation or Open House, you'll want written directions for parents, too.  This will save you time and sanity as you greet all your new families!

Will someone be in charge of passing out pets and crates or carriers?  Or will you set up a station in the room that students may choose their own?  We set up a station with a crate full of puppies for students to choose from and white "crates" for them to decorate.  That worked well because their parents were helping them.  At the next station, parents helped their children to fill out their adoption application.

What forms will students complete?

You'll want to decide how your students will adopt their pets.  Will they fill out pretend pet adoption applications?  Will their applications be completed with parents or independently?  If students will complete their applications independently, you'll want to be sure to offer a form that students can complete without help.  For example, can your students write sentences or only draw pictures?  What would be appropriate for your grade level or ability level?

How will you handle adoption certificates?

Finally, you'll want to print adopt certificates to make it all official!  Kids will love the fancy paper that says their pet belongs to them.  We preprinted adoption certificates with each child's name on them so that they were ready to go.  But, you could also print them and fill them out on the day of your adoption.  It depends on how much time you have and how many extra adult hands you may have to help you.

You can extend the activity with a writing component and have students journal about their adventures with their new pets.  There are endless possibilities!  Ready to get started?  This pack has editable templates for everything covered in this post.  Have you tried a reading buddy adoption in your classroom?  I'd love to hear about it!

If you're looking for more, easy ways to engage families and build positive relationships?  Read more tips here!

How To Create Kindergarten Homework That Parents And Kids Will Love

Sunday, March 1, 2020
Kindergarten homework is not developmentally appropriate.  There I said it.  Five-year-olds are not meant to sit down to do paper and pencil tasks about reading and writing.  Somewhere along the way, someone who was most definitely not a kindergarten teacher decided that five and six-year-olds MUST read by the end of kindergarten.  This created unrealistic expectations of teachers to somehow overcome brain science and teach students how to read.  Teachers began assigning sight word homework in addition to leveled readers and math worksheets.  Suddenly, kindergarten kids have as much homework as older elementary students.  Yet, there are no studies to support the notion that homework in kindergarten helps kids to achieve more.  Some teachers have stopped assigning homework altogether but others are required to assign kindergarten homework.  Read on to find developmentally appropriate ways to assign kindergarten homework that parents will love.


Teachers Under Pressure

The pressure put on teachers to have all kindergarten students meet the same high academic standards at the same time is completely unrealistic.  Then that pressure was transferred to teachers who decided that in order to achieve this goal, they needed to share the responsibility with parents.  Then parents decided that they need kindergarten homework to help them to achieve this goal.  This notion isn't all bad.  Sharing learning responsibilities with families is a productive way to help students achieve and giving parents activities and skills to practice at home is certainly helpful.   The problem is that we've lost sight of what we know is natural child development.   So what can teachers do to help their young students to practice skills at home but still allow them to be kids?  We can start by giving students a variety of homework options rather than requirements.

Keep Homework Fun!


Kids work hard all day (or for half the day) at school.  They don't need to go home to sit with worksheets and pencils to continue to practice sight words (which the latest brain research doesn't support anyway, but that's a blog post for another day).  In school, we know that all kids have different learning styles so we need to remember this when assigning homework.  Sending the same worksheet with each student is not differentiating.  You can differentiate homework by giving students options and allowing families to choose the activities that are the best fit for their students.
Keep "assignments" fun and engaging with a variety of ways to practice important foundational skills.  Think about how you design engaging centers and apply that to homework.  Practice writing letters and numbers in sand, finger paint or shaving cream!  Create math problems with toys or breakfast cereal.  Play games with dice to develop number sense and social skills like taking turns.  There are so many fun possibilities!

Give Families Options!


Think about your academic goals for the week or the month.  Then create a list of 15 - 20 choices full of skills you want your students to practice.  This can be a list, a chart, or even a calendar!  You can send this list home to give families options and give kids some choice in their assignments.  You can choose to include only academic tasks but I like to include some more developmentally appropriate skills that are often overlooked.  Skills like memorizing phone numbers and addresses are important things kids do not often do anymore.  You can add life skills like practice playing games (winning and losing with grace), tying shoes, helping to fold laundry and more.

I try to limit paper-pencil options but when I include them, I try to keep them open-ended.  For example, instead of practicing writing letters with a pencil, encourage students to write letters in sand or pudding.  If you want kids to practice writing, give them fun writing prompts or open-ended options.  For math practice, instead of doing a page of addition problems, have students tell and solve their own additions story problems using their favorite toys.  There are a lot of easy, no extra materials needed ways to practice these skills that won't stress kindergarten kids or parents.

How Do You Find the Time to Revamp Homework?

Time is one of the biggest challenges any teacher faces.  Finding time to rework your kindergarten homework assignments is difficult.  I can help!  Sign up for my e-mail list here and I will send you a completely free, editable homework menu to try in your classroom!  If you don't have time to create your own, I have monthly homework menus in my TPT store.  You can check them out here. 


I am hopeful that the pendulum is swinging back to more developmentally appropriate practices in kindergarten.  I'm happy to see that many districts across the country are returning to play-based learning in kindergarten.  This gives me hope!  In the meantime, let's try some new homework options for our youngest students.  What other suggestions do you have for homework in kindergarten?  I'd love to hear them!

How to Use Simple Behavior Notes to Improve Your Classroom Management

Thursday, December 26, 2019
Learn how two little note templates can be a complete classroom management game-changer. Glow and Grow Behavior Notes are a simple and highly effective behavior management strategy for kindergarten and beyond. Parents will love getting positive notes sent home, students will love earning them, and teachers will love how easy they are to use and implement in the classroom. These notes are an excellent alternative to the traditional color clip chart. Read on to hear how Glow and Grow notes came to be and how you can use them successfully in your classroom.

Did you ditch your clip chart because everyone told you how terrible it is? (That's a debate for another blog post!) . You tore the chart off the wall, but now what can you do? If you are anything like me, you don't have time to keep up with a complicated behavior system with tickets and cashing in for prizes or little behavior tags to pass out when you catch your students being good. Maybe your school has a school-wide PBIS system that you are required to use but it's not enough motivation in your classroom. Who has time for another complicated classroom management strategy? I needed a simple, quick, and effective way to positively communicate and document classroom behaviors. Thus, Glow and Grow Behavior Notes were born.

An Alternative to the Color Clip Chart

When I first threw out my clip chart, I found myself writing long notes and emails or worse yet, making phone calls daily to address parents' questions about classroom behaviors. There were also parents that I truly needed to address certain behaviors that didn't warrant a phone call or conference but needed to be addressed none the less. Dealing with negative behaviors began to consume my planning time and I often forgot or ran out of time to recognize kids for their positive behaviors. It just wasn't working. I had to find something that was less time-consuming and still motivating for students. Sound familiar?

On a whim, I developed 2 behavior checklists. One for positive behaviors and one for negative behaviors. On each list, I added a place for notes and a place for parents to sign and return to school. I copied the checklists on brightly colored paper, like this Astrobrights paper on Amazon (affiliate link). Then, I kept a stack of each on my desk. At the end of each day, I sent at least one positive note home with a student and I sent home "needs improvement" notes as needed.  All I had to do was check a box or two to note the behaviors I saw that day.  That's it.  Simply write a student's name at the top and a checkmark or 2 is all I needed to effectively communicate with parents.  Sometimes, I jotted an extra note if I had time.

Soon, students were begging to know who was getting a note sent home at the end of each day. That's when I knew I was on to something special. So, I reworked the checklists to be prettier and have more positive language. I called the positive notes "Glow Notes" and the improvement notes "Grow Notes". This simple change allowed me to send improvement notes home more often because parents and kids could view them as opportunities to grow and not as a punishment.

Keep It Simple So You Can Be Consistent

Being consistent is the key to success with any classroom management tool.  Kids need to know that what you say is what you mean.  When I started using Glow Notes, I made sure to send at least one home every day.  Because this only takes 30 seconds per note, it wasn't difficult or time-consuming.  This helped to build anticipation and got students to "buy-in".  After a few days of only sending home Glow Notes, I was able to send home Grow Notes as needed.  A student called out all day long?  Grow Note sent home to let parents know.  A student went out of her way to help a friend who was having a hard time?  A Glow Note was sent home.

As a classroom teacher, I never have enough time to devote to keeping track of who got a note sent home when.  That's just another thing to add to my never-ending to-do list.  Instead, I kept a parent signature line on each note and hard students return them to school.  Then each note went into the student's folder.  This allowed me to keep a record of communication with parents.  If an administrator every wanted to know how I was communicating with parents or more about my classroom management, I had the notes on file to show them.  It also helped me to see at a quick glance who I needed to be sure to "catch being good" soon.  The beauty of Glow and Grow Notes are in the simplicity!

Everyone Wins with Glow and Grow Notes

Communicating student behaviors to parents and families does not have to be difficult or time-consuming. Behavior notes do not have to be long and complicated if you have the right template. Keep things simple and to the point, while using positive language and you will win families over. With effective behavior communication, everyone wins. Kids are happy to be acknowledged for their positive choices, parents are thrilled to see happy notes come home, teachers have an easy way to keep communication open and admin will love the focus on the positive to improve student behavior and promote a positive classroom community. The terms glow and grow help to keep the communication light and positive. These notes are truly a game-changer for classroom management.

When you have more challenging behaviors in the classroom, Glow and Grow notes may not be enough for certain students. Like any classroom management tool, there is no "one size fits all" approach. However, at least the Glow Notes will help you to recognize students who consistently are doing their best. Over the years, I've learned that visuals are a powerful tool in the early elementary classroom. Read more about how I use visuals here. The other strategy that I've used with great success is a calm down space.

How to Get Started with Glow and Grow Notes

Every classroom is unique and has its own challenges.  That's why I created editable Glow and Grow Notes templates for teachers to use.  I have a few different sets available in my TPT store.  Teachers can use the premade templates or add their own behaviors to the checklists to mee the specific needs of their classrooms.  For this resource, editable means you can change the list of behaviors but not the entire note (due to clip art restrictions).  If you are ready to jump right in and want an editable set, you can find all my editable Glow and Grow Notes here in my TPT store.

Not sure how these will work for you? Click here to join my e-mail list and grab a FREE set of Glow and Grow Notes today!

If there is a specific clip art or theme you'd like to see on these notes, send me an e-mail at TeachingExceptionalKinders@gmail.com. I love creating custom sets to meet teachers' needs. And if you are using these notes in your class, please tag me on Instagram (@teachingexceptionalkinders)! I love to see how teachers are using my resources.

Happy Teaching!

How to Set Up A Calm Down Space That Really Works

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Do you have a calm down corner or area in your classroom?  It’s probably well-intentioned space for students to go when they are upset or need a break.  Kids might even use it effectively to self-regulate their emotions when they get upset in class.  It’s important to give students a safe place to be sad.  Frustration, anger, disappointment and even anxiety are big emotions for little people and it is critical that we teach kids the appropriate coping skills they need to deal with these big feelings.  A calm down space in the classroom is a great way to give children the space they need to collect themselves and get ready to rejoin the group. 

But, do we need to call it a calm down corner?  I know it’s just a name, but really.  Never in the history of calming down, has anyone ever calmed down by being told to calm down.  Think about it.  As an adult, when you are upset if someone tells you to calm down, do you?  I don’t.  I get more upset.  What I need when I’m upset is space.  A place to be alone to get myself together.  Many of our students need the same thing.  Telling kids to go to the calm down corner is likely not going to gain the results we want. 

Last summer, I saw Dr. Jean speak at a local college and she suggested renaming the calm down spot to a fun name or the name of a place when you would actually want to go.  So last school year, I renamed this area of my room and “Hawaii” was born.  I printed out a photo of Hawaii and ran with it.  I don’t have space in my classroom for an extra calm down area, so I took a chance and put Hawaii in my classroom library area. 

Before You Dive In, A Word of Caution

Unfortunately, the students who need this space the most, are often not allowed to use it because they might be destructive when they are upset.  If the purpose of a Hawaii is to give kids a place to calm down, then why are we banning the kids who need it the most?  As teachers, we need to remember that Pinterest-perfect, fancy calming area is not going to help students to improve behavior.  I’m just as guilty of creating pretty spaces that I don’t want students to destroy.  But life isn’t perfect and kids aren’t either.  This area should be accessible to everyone, not just the kids who won’t tear it apart.  This is important to keep in mind as you are designing your space.

How to Set Up Hawaii in the Classroom 

Visuals are an important part of a successful getaway space.  Visuals help to keep kids focused without verbal redirection which can often continue to set off a frustrated student.  You can start by creating a small anchor chart for the rules in Hawaii.  You’ll want to consider calming strategies for your students to use, too.  I printed off a few calming strategy choice cards (I used these calming strategies cards) and put them on a binder ring for students to choose from. 

I put a couple of fidgets in a box with the strategy cards.  You don’t need to go overboard with the fidgets.  I like to switch them out a few times throughout the year to keep things fresh.  Stress balls, squishes, and other hand fidgets work great.  Kids just need something to keep their hands busy and to help shift their focus away from what is upsetting.  My students have really liked these Tangle Jr. fidgets (affiliate link).  If you order from Scholastic Book Clubs, they often have fun fidgets in the bonus catalog. 

Because Hawaii was also our classroom library, there were comfy pillows and stuffed animals (reading buddies), too.  We used a timer for a few students, too.  They learned how to set it for a predetermined number of minutes and it worked great.  But a timer may stress some kids.  It’s important to know your students and meet their needs.

What’s not in Hawaii?

I didn’t put any putty, or crayons, or sensory tubes.  There are a few reasons I stayed away from those.  1. They are messy.  2. I don’t think they are always necessary.  3.  If individual kids needed them, I could pull them on as needed.  4.  Did I mention they are messy?

I didn’t use any curtains or barriers.  Yes, they are pretty and may make things feel cozy.  But I like to be able to see my students at all times.  If they aren’t being safe, I need to know.  When I taught special ed, I did have a fun tent in the classroom.  But I had way less students to account for and a classroom aide.  Between the two of us, we could keep an eye on kids in the tent.  In a room of 25+ kids, it’s just not possible for me to teach and keep an eye on an upset kid in a tent.  

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have any of these things; it’s just something to keep in mind from a management perspective.

How to Introduce Hawaii to Your Students

I introduced Hawaii within the first few weeks of school.  We went over when it was appropriate, how many could be there at once, what to do when you were in Hawaii.  Anything I could think of, we went over it.  We used an anchor chart with “May do” and May not do” as well as lots of active modeling.  (Side note: If you’re not familiar with active modeling, please check it out.  It’s a game-changer for classroom management for sure.)  I printed off these free “I need a break” cards for kids to use.  Then I tried to anticipate any issues from the start and I made the expectations clear and hoped for the best. 

Turns out, I had a couple of kids who really needed it.  And I held my breath each of the first few times they went to use it.  I was afraid of destruction.  But ultimately, they were successful.  Did books get tossed a few times?  Yes.  Did a few stuffed animals grow wings?  Yes.  But these incidents were few and far between.  Generally, the kids respected the space and respected everyone’s need to use it. 

What happens if a student acts out in Hawaii? 

In our class, we use logical consequences so I dealt with that on a case by case basis.  You can really make that decision for what will work best in your classroom.  Do you need to have established consequences set in advance?  Will you deal with things as they come?  Whatever you choose to do, I would suggest not permanently banning any student from visiting Hawaii.  Maybe Hawaii needs to close for a few days or certain students need a few days off.  However, the point of Hawaii is to give all kids a safe space, not exclude them further from the group.  

Ready to try Hawaii in your classroom?  Check out my Hawaii pack here with all the visuals you’ll need to get started!  You can also save some money by purchasing my behavior supports bundle here

Looking for more ways to improve your classroom management?  Learn about teaching self-regulation strategies here and how to use social stories here.

How to Use a Social Story to Improve Student Behavior

Saturday, July 20, 2019

A social story can be an effective way to teach students how to behave appropriately in a given social situation.  Explicit social skills instruction can be difficult but using a social story can give students and teachers the script of the expectations they need to meet to experience success at school.  The social script of a social story can provide is especially helpful for students with autism and behavior concerns. Social stories can be used for endless behaviors and situations.  As long as they are well written and used consistently, social stories are an excellent tool for social skills instruction.

How Should You Use A Social Story?

Teachers should use a social story to teach specific social skills to students.  To use a social story effectively, teachers must be consistent and follow through.  If the social story says a student can take a break when he/she is upset, and the student follows the script, teachers must follow through and grant the break.  Consistency is truly the most critical component of any classroom management tool.  Kids need to trust that you are going to do what you say will do.

Some kids will need to read their social story every day all school year for it to be effective.  Other kids may only need to read it a few times to be successful.  I once had a student who would leave the classroom when he got upset.  We developed a social story to teach him to stay in an assigned space until someone could come to give him break in these situations.  As soon as he figured out that if he followed the directions, he got his break.  After a few weeks of using the story consistently, he didn’t need to read his story daily anymore.  We would still pull the story out every so often to review. 

Tips For Writing a Social Story

To write a social story you need to identify the behavior or social situation you would like to improve.  If you are working on a specific behavior, it is important to understand the function of the behavior (that’s a whole separate blog post!) to know what to include in your story.  If you have a student who constantly calls out, you’ll want to write a story to remind him to raise his hand and wait quietly.  You should also include a replacement behavior.  Like holding a finger in front of his mouth (quiet sign) to remind him to not talk.  Maybe your target behavior is bigger like throwing a tantrum when a student is upset.  You’ll definitely want to include calming strategy options in your story. 

It’s best to write a social story in first person using “I can” or “I will” statements to give students the power to make a positive choice.  Using first-person helps to give students the scripts or directions they need to be successful in a variety of social situations.  If a student has a difficult time during fire drills, you can write a social story to help the child to know what to expect and the appropriate way to react. 

I like to end my social stories with why we do these behaviors. A simple explanation like, “When I used my words instead of hitting, my friends are happy.  This makes me feel happy, too.” is all you need in most cases.  This ending helps to wrap it all up and helps students to understand that our behavior affects those around us.  In order for everyone to be safe or happy at school, we need to follow the school rules.  Social stories go a long way to help students to understand these protocols.

Writing social stories doesn’t have to be difficult (even for regular ed teachers!).  Just keep things simple and keep your students in mind.  If you have a student who loves Mario, try to incorporate Mario in the story.  Be creative and have fun with it.  After all, you’ll be reading them or hearing them pretty often!  Want to give social stories a try?  You can grab my Social Story – I Will Not Call Out freebie here.  If you’re short on time but ready to take the plunge into using social stories, my complete bundle of social stories is here. 

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