Herding Kats In Kindergarten

http://herdingkats.blogspot.com/

A kindergarten/1st grade teacher's blog about what works (and doesn't!) in her classroom. Lots of ideas and printables shared freely! She is also the mom of 4 kids of her own.

What's one of your favorite new books for children?

What advice would you give to a mom who thinks her child has too much homework?

What's one of your favorite educational activities that can be done outside the classroom?

What's a great gift parents can give teachers?

Jennifer Knopf

I teach in a school where the majority of the students live at or below the poverty level, so I don't expect gifts at all. However, there have been a few very memorable gifts that I have loved. I had a child pick out the next in a series of books we had been reading and bring it to me as a gift for our whole class - you absolutely cannot go wrong with a gift of a book - especially if it relates to something you've been doing in class! Homemade cards or ornaments are always a big hit too - I love those personal touches, and I keep them and bring them out year after year. This year I had a house fire in April and some of my parents remembered and have started brining in spare Christmas ornaments to help us decorate our tree since we lost almost all of our Christmas stuff. It won't be a fancy matchy tree - but it will be the most beautiful tree ever since it is decorated with such thoughtfulness and caring!
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What can parents do to get their child ready for Kindergarten?

Jennifer Knopf

I would be thrilled if my students came to kindergarten already knowing their colors, how to count to at least 10 (and not just say the numbers, it's important that they have one-to-one correspondence, meaning that if they say "5" they're actually touching the 5th object rather than saying "1,2,3,4,5!" when there are only 3 things being counted.) I can tell the difference right away in a child who's been read to at home and one who's experiencing books for the first time. Make reading a part of your nightly routine (please make it age-appropriate! I once had a parent read "Twilight" aloud to their child every night because I didn't specify!) Books with repetitious text are great as are books with lots of rhyming words. Play word games in the car on the way to daycare or the store - "I'm thinking of a word that rhymes with cat." Children also need to have some fine motor control - playing on monkey bars can help increase muscle control in the muscles needed for writing. Playing with clay, cutting and coloring are all great activities that can help too!
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What is your opinion of nicknames?

Jennifer Knopf

I love nicknames. I think it's a way to personalize the name - make it something special between just you and your child or within your family. My youngest has about 5 nicknames and responds to all of them, yet he can tell his kindergarten teacher his first, middle and last names with no problem or confusion. It's also a way that I differentiate between when we're being affection/teasing and when we're serious. For example, my daughter's nickname is "MoMo" but her first name is Moira. If we're just talking/playing around then I call her MoMo, but if it's something serious like chores or instructions while babysitting etc then I call her Moira so she has that verbal clue that this is serious time and she needs to pay attention. By the way, switching from nicknames to realm names is very quick and second nature. I'm a teacher and I never slip up and call my kids by their nicknames at school.
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Would you lie for your children?

Jennifer Knopf

Absolutely not! In our house, "Lying is the worst thing ever!" and we drill that into our 4 children every chance we get. As a teacher that's also my rule - if you lie to me I can't trust you and the consequences are way more severe than if you do something against the rules but tell the truth. I always tell my students that if they lie to me (and come on, we all know when kids are lying!) then they cannot come on field trips and such. Yes, it seems mean, but if I can't trust you to tell the truth than I can't trust you outside the classroom. Even my kindergarten and 1st grade students understand that. I always give students an out - "Come see me or write me a note." rather than having them have to say it in front of everybody. As for lying for my own children, even if the consequences might seem over the top, that's a good lesson for a child too. Sometimes the punishment might seem severe, but lying to avoid punishment is never the answer. If your child has done something wrong then they have to take the consequences, even if it's harsh. That's what's going to happen when they're adults too. And, let's face it, someone who makes a mistake but admits it and gets help is always going to do better in life than someone who tries to cover up their mistakes - sooner or later that will catch up to them.
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What should every child know by the time he or she starts first grade?

Jennifer Knopf

At my school, we try to focus on making sure that our kindergartners learn their letter sounds, including long and short vowel sounds. We focus on word families and rhyming and being able to blend sounds to form simple words - ie /p/ /i/ /g/ spells "pig". We also want them to start learning some words by sight - our goal is for them to be able to read 100 words by the end of kindergarten - some exceed that and some fall short but that is what we work towards. We also want them to enjoy listening to stories and be able to answer simple comprehension questions, make predictions about what will happen next and identify front and back cover, title page, and describe the roles of authors and illustrators. In math we want them to have one-to-one correspondence - counting one object with each number word. They should be able to count aloud to 50. They should be able to write their numbers to 50 although we work towards 100. They should have a basic understanding of addition and subtraction using concrete objects. They should know their basic geometric 2d and 3d shapes. They should be able to sort objects in two ways - for example color and shape or size, and extend simple patterns. They should be able to tell time to the hour on digital and analog clocks. They should know positional words like left and right, above, below on top of etc. They should know the days of the week and months of the year and that if today is Monday tomorrow is Tuesday and yesterday was Sunday. The should now ordinal numbers from 1st - 10th so they can identify who is 2nd in line or 4th for example. They should be able to measure objects using nonstandard units of measurement like blocks or paperclips. Overall though, I'd like for children to know how to problem solve - for example if something gets knocked over or is out of place they know to fix it themselves rather than have to come to the teacher each time. They should know how to get along with other children, how to pay attention and follow directions. They should enjoy school and be eager to learn. If children are happy to be at school that can make up for a lot!
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How can parents get the most out of parent-teacher conferences?

Jennifer Knopf

Unfortunately only about 1/2 of the parents of my students come to parent-teacher conferences. If you can't make the scheduled conference times, call the teacher and ask for a different date/time. Most teachers would be willing to meet before or after school or even have a phone conference. Basically, the parent-teacher conference is a time for you to make sure your child's needs are being met by the teacher and school. If you're unhappy with something that has been going on, send a note asking for the counselor or principal to sit in on the meeting too. When you come to the conference, see if you can leave younger siblings at home or bring something to occupy them. I've had parents who could barely look at their child's scores because they were busy trying to feed the baby, keep the baby occupied or keep the baby from choking on something in the classroom. Most elementary school classrooms are not going to be babyproof, so letting the toddlers run around is not a good idea. I always provide blocks or baby dolls to play with, but often the little ones are more interested in running around and finding everything in the room that they really shouldn't get into, so sometimes the best thing is for adventurous little ones to stay home. Be prepared with a list of questions or concerns you might have. Ask your child before hand how things are going at school. This is a great time to bring up any personality conflicts your child may be having with other students too. If your child is struggling, ask the teacher what you can do at hoem to help. Ask if there are any resources that you can borrow from the teacher or school to help out at home. If there are discipline problems to be discussed, please keep an open mind. I've heard parents excuse their child for almost every behavior imaginable. Also, keep in mind that what might be okay at home is not okay in a classroom with 20+ other students. Ask the teacher about having a behavior plan where your child can earn rewards at home or school for good behavior. After the conference make sure you congratulate your child on what they are doing well and follow through with any plans for extra help or behavior improvement. And, know that your child's teacher is thankful that you took the time to come see about your child's education!
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What is your definition of an overscheduled child?

Jennifer Knopf

I think that if a child is eating most meals on the run, getting few free hours for play and spending most of their after-school time in structured activities then they are probably over scheduled. One of the few benefits of working with underprivileged children is that I rarely see any over-scheduled children since most of our families cannot afford even 1 after school activity. I think that if a child truly loves an activity then they should be encouraged to pursue it, but not at the cost of family time. They should also have time for homework as well as unstructured play time.
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How do you get a fidgety or unfocused child to sit and do homework?

Jennifer Knopf

My best advise is to make sure you're allowing some down time in between school and doing homework. After being cooped up all day it's important for children to have some play time. This play time should not consist of video games or television though because that is not going to help your child focus. Instead let him play outside or play with legos or other unstructured toys. Think about how you feel when you come home from work - do you really want to dive into the laundry or dishes or would you like a short break first? Next, evaluate the homework and the amount of time it takes. Can you break it into smaller chunks - say ten minutes at a time for a very fidgetty/unfocused child. Homework should not take hours to do at home - if it is taking your child hours to complete their work, schedule a meeting with the teacher and see how much time she/he estimates it should take. It could be that your child is not understanding concepts or the teacher may be unaware that the homework is too burdensome. Assess your homework area - although many children focus better in a quiet room, your child may prefer to have some music in the background. See if your child can focus better in a room by themselves or in the heart of activity. Finally, offer a reward for completing homework is a timely manner without a lot of reminders. Choose something that is meaningful to your child and not an every day occurence. If your child already gets to watch tv at night then offering an extra half hour of tv is probably not going to be a great incentive.
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What's the best gear for playing outside? Please include a link to any product you recommend.

Jennifer Knopf

My go-to activities for outside play include bubbles - think variety with the size and shapes of your wands! I also love sidewalk chalk - in my 1st grade classroom we often go outside and write our spelling words on the basketball court with chalk. Jump ropes are great for gross motor development, plus you can make great rhyming/spelling chants. I still remember learning how to spell "school" from a jump rope chant when I was a kid! A shady sand/water table is lots of fun as well - just make sure it has a lid to keep cats and bugs out! A pushable trike is also a great idea - this way if your child tuckers out you can push him home rather than have to carry him and lug the trike! My own children and my students always love to look for bugs as well. Although we don't keep them as pets, we often catch a bug and put him in our Creature Peeper to take a closer look and explore for a few hours before we let it go! The magnifying glass makes it easy to check out the features of different insects! http://www.amazon.com/Giant-Bubble-Wands-Millions-Bubbles/dp/B004RYJC40/ref=pd_sim_t_6 http://www.amazon.com/Crayola-52-Ct-Chalk-Carton/dp/B001KW063S/ref=sr_1_1?s=toys-and-games&ie=UTF8&qid=1333660130&sr=1-1 http://www.amazon.com/Melissa-Doug-Sunny-Mollie-Bollie/dp/B0024HZ58Y/ref=sr_1_13?s=toys-and-games&ie=UTF8&qid=1333660093&sr=1-13 http://www.amazon.com/Step-Shady-Oasis-Water-Table/dp/B003FJ62DM/ref=sr_1_30?s=toys-and-games&ie=UTF8&qid=1333660177&sr=1-30 http://www.amazon.com/Fisher-Price-Rock-Roll-Ride-Trike/dp/B00005UOSC/ref=sr_1_9?s=toys-and-games&ie=UTF8&qid=1333660248&sr=1-9 http://www.amazon.com/Insect-Lore-2770-Creature-Peeper/dp/B000066HU1/ref=sr_1_1?s=toys-and-games&ie=UTF8&qid=1333660356&sr=1-1
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What is the ideal spacing between children?

Jennifer Knopf

All of my 4 kiddos are 2 1/2 years apart - quite by accident! I have found though, that it does seem to be the perfect age gap. It gave each of them 2 1/2 years to be the "baby" and enjoy all of that special attention. It also was great because at 2 1/2 they were old enough to be helpful and more independent when the newest addition arrived. My kids are 12, 10, 8 and 5 right now and they are each other's best friends. There isn't too much of a gap to where they can't play together nicely - especially the youngest two and oldest two.
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What's on your bucket list of things to do with your kids this summer?

Jennifer Knopf

Summer is our time to spend together - doing everything from swimming, fishing, attending museums, zoos and amusement parks! I recently took two of my children to our local creek where we explored the vegetation and collected rocks for a fun art project! See the pictures and craft here: http://herdingkats.blogspot.com/2012/06/rock-painting.html We plan on taking lots of fun road trips this summer too - seeing the National Parks in our area and as many outdoor attractions (like the Meteor Crater and Petrified Forest) as we can!
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Help us create the ultimate Western-themed birthday party! Please share an idea for a game, recipe, party favor, decoration, etc. that's perfect for a Cowboy/Cowgirl party. Include a link to a photo if you have one!

Jennifer Knopf

When we do our Western theme in the classroom, one of my students' favorite things is to saddle up and pretend they are cowboys! I buy a bale of hay and borrow a saddle from a friend. Put the saddle over the bale and have the children put on a fun cowboy hat and climb aboard their "trusty steed" for a rousing ride! If you're feeling crafty, how about having all of the children make their own stick horses? Some dowels, socks, stuffing, yarn and decorations like large googly eyes and you have a great activity during the party, plus a toy that the children can use for a great game of pretend!
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How do you stay energized?

Jennifer Knopf

I have 4 kids and I'm a kindergarten teacher, so I have to stay energized! I find that a cup of coffee in the morning - along with a healthy breakfast, gets me off to a good start! Then I make sure to fill my day with fun, laughter and music! When we get home, I think of the FlyLady mantra of "Just 15 minutes". Even if I'm dragging, I can usually talk myself into doing 15 minutes of washing dishes/cleaning up etc and usually I find that by doing that I catch a 2nd wind. Besides - who wants to walk away when the job's only 1/2 done? Then I wind down with a hot bath, some entertaining tv or a good book! It doesn't work every day, especially on days when we have something going on in the evening like a parent night or choir performance. but for the most part I'm doing all right :)
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How did you choose your children's names?

Jennifer Knopf

When I was pregnant with my oldest, I was waiting to hit 20 weeks when I would have my first ultrasound (I was in the Army and you only got 1 ultrasound at the time). Well I was sitting down one day and i hadn't even bothered to look through any baby name books at all yet or anything. But suddenly I had a feeling come over me. I suddenly knew I was having a girl and that I should name her Moira. I went home that night and looked up the name - it's a Gaelic name for Mary and my husband is of Scottish descent and I am Catholic so it fit there. I am also of Dutch descent and in Dutch the word "moi" means pretty. I told my husband and he liked it, but said "Maybe we're having a boy, let's wait for the ultrasound." Well sure enough the ultrasound proved me correct! Moira fits her name to a tee and she loves it! With my three boys it was different - I knew as soon as I heard their heartbeats that they were boys - not because of the sound, just simply a feeling. My oldest son is named after his grandfathers, Robert Andrew Frederick. My middle son came two weeks early and we didn't have a name for him yet so my husband went home the night he was born and thought up his name, Thomas Patrick Ryan. With my youngest we were still debating names when I heard the song "Joshua" by Dolly Parton on the radio - first and only time I've ever heard that song on the radio! I looked at my husband and said "What about Joshua?" and he agreed right away so he's Joshua James Kees.
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