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Sunday, July 31, 2022


Ready or not, the school bell will be ringing soon! 

If you’re starting to worry about getting your room decorated for the first day of school have I got a great idea for you!!!! Wrap yellow caution tape around your door and post a sign that says “Under Construction.” Explain to the parents that you are trying to develop a classroom community and you want your students to decorate their own learning environment. Invite parents to come back at the end of the week to see what their children have created!

Hint!!! Clare Ashford has a great idea to take “under construction” one step further.
“Before Meet the Teacher night (before school starts), I wrap all my bookcases, computers, etc. in butcher paper and then put an ‘under construction’ sign on them. It serves 2 purposes. 1- that way kids don't get into things while I'm busy talking to people! and 2- we ‘unwrap’ the items together as a class when we're ready to use whatever it is. It is very helpful and makes for an organized start to the year!”

Here are some crafts your students can make to decorate the classroom.

Welcome to the Neighborhood

Make a house from construction paper for each child. Fold the paper in half vertically. Open. Fold in the top corners to the middle. Fold up the bottom. Let children write their name on the front of the house. They can open the house and draw their family. You could also ask child to bring in a photograph of their family. Add some trees and a school and you have a great bulletin board.

Class Quilt
Use group art to create a visual representation of the “community” in your classroom. Give each child a 9” square and have them decorate it with pictures of themselves, drawings of their families or favorite things, collage materials, etc. Punch holes in the corner of each square and tie together with yarn to make a quilt to display in the classroom or hallway.

Friendship Chain
Give each child a strip of construction paper to decorate with their name, symbols of favorite things, or designs. Staple the strips together to make a chain. Remind the children that your classroom is just like that chain. Everyone must work together to keep it connected and strong. Drape the chain over the doorway.

Display Pocket
Make a display pocket for each child from a file folder. Cut a 1 ¼” border around the top half of the file folder. Let children decorate it with their name and pictures. Laminate. Fold in half and staple to a bulletin board or tape to a cubby. Children can display their own work by slipping drawings, stories, etc. in the pocket.  

Hint! You can also use a clear sheet protector to display children’s work.    

Banners, Pennants, and Name Plates
Use construction to let children create banners or pennants that reflect them. They might include hobbies, favorite foods, pets, family members, goals, etc.

Fit Like a Puzzle
Take a large sheet of poster board and cut it into puzzle shapes. (You will need one puzzle piece for each child in the room. Mark the back of the piece with an “X” so they will know which side to decorate.) After the children have decorated their piece, challenge them to put their pieces together to make a puzzle. Glue pieces to another sheet of poster board to create a picture puzzle for your classroom.

Mirror, Mirror!

You know how much kids love to look at themselves in a mirror. Each day put a positive word or note on your classroom mirror to remind the children how special they are!


Saturday, July 30, 2022


Here's another freebie you'll want to download before school begins.  I might be the "lone" early childhood educator that still promotes play dough, but it can be a learning tool just like  worksheets and computer games.  Although play dough wasn't invented until the 1950's, molding materials, such as clay, have been an integral part of early childhood programs forever. For thousands of years children have joyfully played with mud and sand. 



Brain Research
When children tap and swipe on a device or sit passively gazing at a big screen there is little sensory input in the brain. We know that the only way information can get IN the brain is through the senses. Think about how much more input there is when children touch, see, talk, and hear when they are using play dough.

Small Motor Skills
Pinching, squeezing, rolling, and molding dough is like sending little fingers to the gym. Many children's small muscles are not developed and they struggle to hold a pencil and write. Play dough is a natural way to strengthen those little hands.

Social Skills
All you have to do is put out some play dough for a small group of children and observe. They will learn to share and spontaneously communicate with their friends about what they are making. They'll also challenge their friends to be creative.

Emotional Skills
Play dough is a great release for children who are stressed or have the fidgets. As they manipulate the material they can release pent up energy and calm themselves.

So many crafts and things we give children have steps and a "model" for them to reproduce. Play dough is a blank canvas that can be turned into anything! Whatever the child creates is theirs and represents the "process" rather than the "product."

You'll find these center ideas in the free download.

The Play Dough Song Tune: “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”
(Children make the motions with the play dough as they sing.)

Squeeze, squeeze, squeeze play dough (Children squeeze dough.)
Feels so good to me.
Squeeze, squeeze, squeeze play dough
It’s easy peasy!

Poke – Poke fingers in the dough.

Pinch – Pinch off pieces of the dough.

Roll – Roll the dough into a snake.

Pat – Pat like a pancake.


According to research, brain breaks actually increase INSTRUCTIONAL TIME by reinforcing skills and helping children stay alert and interested. Glue your favorite brain breaks to index cards and place them in a bag. Pull one out and you’ll be ready to release all day long.

Shake It Up
Hold up your right hand and shake five times as you count. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
Hold up your left hand and shake five times as you count. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
Hold up your right foot and shake five times as you count. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
Hold up your left foot and shake five times as you count. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
Count to four with each arm and leg…then three…two…one.
End by saying, “Oh yeah!” as you extend your arms and make the letter “Y.”

Balancing Brains
Have children stand. How long can they balance on their right foot? How long can they balance on their left foot?
Can they balance on their toes?
Can they balance on their right foot and extend their left leg in the air?
Can they balance on their left foot and extend their right leg in the air.
Can they balance on one foot with their eyes closed?

Jumping Brains
Ask children to stand and challenge them to jump in their space as long as they can. When they get tired they can sit back in their seats.

Hanky Panky
Tell the students when you throw the handkerchief (or tissue) up in the air they can start doing a silly dance and make funny noises. When the hanky hits the ground they must freeze. Do this several times to get rid of wiggles.

Chop Wood
Hands together as if holding an ax. Place hands on your right shoulder and then cross over your body to your left foot as you pretend to chop wood. Place hands on the left shoulder and chop to the right foot.

Friday, July 29, 2022


I am frequently asked about center management. There is no “right” or “wrong” way, but you do have to adapt to your district’s requirements, the age of your students, and your standards. Here are some strategies that I have used in the past.

Weekly Contract
Each week my students received a “contract” with ten centers they “got” to visit during the week. We did center rotation for 45 minutes at the end of the day when they were too exhausted to sit and listen. They got to choose where they went and how long they stayed in each center, but the goal was to do all ten activities by the end of the week. If they finished they got “Fabulous Friday”! What was Fabulous Friday?? They got to take their shoes off and do whatever they wanted. They LOVED it!!! 

After visiting a center they colored it in and then raised their hand. My assistant walked around with a hole punch and would punch the activity after they explained what they did or learned. (During this time I could pull one or two students to give them extra help.)

Yes, I did limit the centers to 2 or 4 at a time. On Monday we’d go around the circle and they chose where they’d like to start. If a center already had four people they had to make another choice. When someone left a popular center then they could go there. This really worked itself out. If they wanted to stay in blocks all day Monday they could, but then they’d have to work a little faster the rest of the week to complete their center cards. It was amazing how they became self-directed learners by the end of the year!

Black and white version of the center contract.

Color version of the center contract

Numbered Centers

I visited another kindergarten that had something similar. Children had index cards with numbers 1-10 on them. These were tied to a string that they wore around their necks. Scattered around the room were the numbers 1-10 with something to do at each station. As children completed the activity they raised their hand and the teacher punched their card. 

Check List
Another idea might be to have a class list with the children’s names at each center. Write the focus goal at the top. As children complete assignments they make a smiley face or other comment next to their name.

Choice Board
Make a choice board with the different learning centers you have in your classroom. Put dots to control the number of children who can play in each center at a given time. Write each child’s name on a clothespin or put Velcro on the back of their photo. Children take their clothespin or photo and clip it by the center where they would like to play. If all the spaces are used, then they must make another choice. They may stay there as long as they want. When they leave they take their clothespin and attach it to another center that is open. 

*Use alphabetical order to determine who chooses first each day. For example, on Monday the first five children in the alphabet get first choice. On Tuesday, the next five in alphabetical order, etc.

Make a digital camera available so children can take photographs of the work and projects they do in centers.

Thursday, July 28, 2022


Just because children are playing, doesn’t mean they are not learning!!! Here are some center signs for you to post in your classroom to help parents, administrators, and other visitors recognize all the skills that children are developing.

Why use learning centers?

Learning centers are the most natural way to organize a classroom and encourage children to become active learners. Centers encourage children to make choices, explore at their own level, engage in hands-on discovery, solve problems, work with friends, use language, and be creative. Centers are also an effective way to use classroom materials, time, and space. Above all, learning centers capitalize on PLAY, which is the most meaningful and FUN way for children to learn.  

*Hands-on activities in centers provide many pathways to the brain and are engaging for young learners.

*Children can work at their own pace and level.

*Executive function skills of task initiation and task completion are nurtured with centers.

*21st Century Skills are enhanced as children cooperate with others, communicate, problem-solve, and think critically.

*Centers give children the opportunity to develop organizational skills and responsibility.

*Centers can provide children with purposeful practice for automaticity.

*Children take it in and take it in and take it in…and then something comes out! With centers we are laying a foundation by giving children a variety of rich experiences.

Thanks to Carolyn Kisloski for these fantastic center signs.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022


One of the most powerful teaching strategies isn't something that you buy or plug in. Nor is it something you run off on the copy machine. It's the ability to ask GOOD questions that make children think. Here are some tips for challenging children’s thoughts and answers.

Open-ended – Ask open-ended questions, rather than “yes” or “no.”

Convergent questions have one answer, but divergent questions encourage students to make new connections and think outside the box.

Phrase Questions Clearly – Focus on one aspect at a time.

Acknowledge Responses - Avoid judging answers by repeating their response. “Good thinking!” “That’s close.” “I never thought about that before.” “Kiss your brain!”

How did you know that? Encourage children to “think out loud.” This will help peers develop higher thinking skills.  

Probe – Extend students’ thinking by having them clarify an idea or support an opinion.

Give Time (Smile!) – Help children think about what they want to say and provide for individual differences by asking children to smile if they know the answer. Allow 3-5 seconds of think time.

Download the attached question prompt cards. Glue to index cards, punch a hole in the upper left hand corners, and attach to a book ring. Color the edges of each card to indicate questions from simple to complex. Use to challenge children to think critically and creatively. 

*Hint! Color code the different levels. For example, you could outline level one questions with a green marker. Outline level two with a blue marker, and so forth.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022


Carolyn Kisloski and I collaborated to create PLAYING WITH LETTERS that we would like to give you FREE! This book is meant to be a resource that you can use with any reading or alphabet program that your school has selected. The ideas can be adapted for circle time, learning centers, small group instruction, take home activities, brain breaks, or transitions to provide children with learning opportunities throughout the day.

There were 26 letters hundreds of years ago, and those same letters still make all the words that we read today. Those letters open the door to a lifetime of reading and learning, so let’s get started and see how much fun we can have!!!!


The activities in our book are organized around these categories:

Touch and Tell (Multisensory)

Teaching Transitions

ABC Tools and “Toys”

Let’s Play and Learn Games

Letter Land (Classroom Print & Alphabet Books)

Ready to Write

Letter Centers

Singing Letters and Sounds

Alphabet Poetry Book

Note! You’ll also be able to adapt many of these strategies for other skills, such as sight words, math concepts, etc.

Monday, July 25, 2022


It's time to SHUT YOUR DOOR and start remembering why you became a teacher! Love them, play with them, and have fun with them! Oh, yeah, and teach them, too! Carolyn Kisloski and I created a packet called BACK TO SCHOOL HAPPIES a few years ago that we'd like to share with you. We can't solve all the world's problems, but we can give you something to make you smile and be excited to start your best year ever!

There are over 100 pages of hands-on learning activities with cheers, handshakes, attention grabbers, transitions, Prezis, management tips, brain breaks, finger plays, math, literacy, science, and seasonal lesson plans. There 15+ song downloads with books and visuals, as well as a video where Dr. Jean demonstrates the activities.

P.S.  I'll have a FREE download for you each day this coming week.  Hurry back!!!

Sunday, July 24, 2022


NOTE!  I wrote this for administrators, but who knows if they will actually read it????  Maybe instead of worrying so much about "teacher shortage" they should take a positive approach and ask, "What can WE do to make your job more enjoyable?"

What would you add to this list? 


1. Let your teachers TEACH. Give them autonomy to do their jobs and TRUST them to do what’s best for their students.

2. Be a real person and a good model for your teachers. Visit each classroom and do something FUN by reading a book, teaching a song, telling a joke, or doing a magic trick.

3. Support your teachers. Be careful not to let a single parent’s request sway what’s best for their child and the other children in the classroom.

4. Believe in the WHOLE child. A test score is a number. “You can’t see the forest for the trees.” And, sometimes, you can’t see that wonderful little person because of “data.”

5. The word “rigor” is not appropriate when talking about instruction for young children. The world keeps changing, but children are still children. They don’t all grow up in the same way at the same time, and they should not be expected to accomplish skills according to some master plan.

6. Please don’t give teachers any more "paperwork." Assessment and reports are driving instruction and consuming their day.

7. Teaching is a video not a snap shot. Is it fair to walk in a classroom, observe for 10 minutes, and then make negative comments to the teacher? Compliment teachers for what they are doing well. Give positive suggestions instead of critical remarks.

8. Listen, listen, listen to your teachers. Problem-solve, ask for their input, and collaborate on goals and issues. Instead of TELLING them, ask for their help and suggestions.

9. Don’t take away their JOY! If the children are engaged and enjoying an activity, do you have to ruin it by requiring “observable evidence”? Let it be! It’s O.K. to read a book without dissecting it with questions about the author’s purpose. It’s O.K. to take a walk outside to enjoy the peace and beauty of nature. It’s fine to sing a song or use a brain break to make children smile.

10. Remember that for some of your students “school” is as good as it’s going to get for them. You never know what’s going on at home, and school should be a wonderful world where they feel accepted, successful, and are excited about learning!

P.S. Remind parents that they are their child's first and most important teacher. Good manners, respect, kindness, and self-control all start at home!


Here's a positive goodie bag that some teachers in Fargo shared with me several years ago. Wouldn't it be a great surprise for your teacher friends when school begins?

Saturday, July 23, 2022


This August will be the 53rd anniversary of my career as a teacher. Can you believe it? I started teaching at Montclair Elementary in1969. I remember that I was terrified about my first day. My mother smiled and said, “Oh, honey, just love them and be sweet to them.” That was some of the best advice then, now, and forever!

It used to be so much more fun to be a teacher. It’s more difficult now because of academic pressure, data, test scores, and lack of support from parents. I worry about you because it seems so many of you are getting “beat up” by evaluations and unrealistic demands. Think of me as your “grandmother consultant” who hugs you and tells you that you’re doing a great job...BECAUSE YOU ARE!

A friend who taught with me over 50 years ago visited recently and said, “I remember how you would take the most pitiful little child and write on their hand: YOU ARE AMAZING AND WONDERFUL! Or, YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL! Or, YOU ARE SPECIAL! She said, “Why did you do that?” My response was, for once in their lives, I wanted them to feel that way. I wanted them to know that someone believed in them. (Now they’d probably throw me in jail for writing on a child’s hand, but you get the point.)

Sometimes you just have to shut your door and do what’s best for your children. Do what my momma said, “Love them and be sweet to them!”

(Tune: “Simple Gifts”)
Jean Feldman and Hollynd Feldman Karapetkova

Tis’ you who cares,
And tis’ you who shares.
Tis’ you who teaches
Children everywhere.
Tis’ you who inspires,
Tis’ you who molds.
You help children’s gifts
And dreams unfold.

Tis’ you our teachers
For some child you’re the
Only one who cares.
And when you come at last
To the end of your days,
I have touched a life
Is what you can say.

It’s not the test scores.
It’s not the workbooks.
Into the hopeful eyes
Of each child you must look.
You plant the seeds of learning
With smiles and grace.
Each day you make the world
A better place.

Tis’ you our teachers
For some child you’re the
Only one who cares.
And when you come at last
To the end of your days,
I have touched a life
Is what you can say.


Friday, July 22, 2022


Here’s another game with built in feedback. Children can use these “brains" over and over and you’ll make sure they are learning the correct information.

The Brain Game
What? poster board, hole punch, marker, scissors, golf tee or pencil

Why? math facts, phonics, antonyms, sets and numbers

When? learning center, independent, with a partner

How? Cut brains out of poster board using the pattern. Punch about 10 holes around the outside edge as shown. Write a math fact by each hole on the front and the answer by the hole in the back. Children put the golf tee in the hole and say the answer to the math fact, and then they turn the brain over and check their answer on the back. 

*Two children can also play this game. One “pokes” and the other confirms.


What? paper plates or heavy paper, markers, scissors, zip bag

Why? rhyming words, compounds, math concepts, blends, second language, etc.

How? Cut paper plates in half or thirds with a puzzle design. Put rhyming pictures, upper and lowercase letters, numbers and amounts, etc. on the puzzle pieces. The game is self-checking because the pieces will fit if they match the correct pictures.

*Use hearts, kites, pumpkins, or other seasonal shapes to make puzzlers.

Thursday, July 21, 2022


There was a study that showed pre-k children who knew how to play games were more successful in kindergarten. When you think about it, games help children learn to follow rules, take turns, and develop the executive function (task initiation and completion). This is good information to share with parents to encourage them to play board games and card games with their children rather than hand them their phone.

Alphabet Categories
Sounds, parts of speech, categories, rapid automatic naming, and multiple skills are reinforced with this game. When I introduced alphabet categories we played it as a large group game. Once the kids “caught on” we divided the class into two teams and played. Later, they enjoyed playing the game in small groups or with a partner.

Why? initial sounds, categories, rapid naming

What? poster board

How? You will need 2 sheets of poster board of different colors. Cut the poster board into 4” squares. (You will need 23 squares of each color.) On one color print alphabet letters. (Print “u & v” on the same card and “x, y, z” on another card.) On the other color print one of the categories below:

something in the yard               an animal

fruit or vegetable                      movie star

something in the kitchen          body part

river, lake, or ocean                 town or city

country or state                       a machine

type of transportation              a food

something you wear                an action

something in the zoo               a plant

a toy                                        a book

a song                                     a noun

a famous person                     a verb

something in the school         a game

a TV show                              a feeling

a color                                    an occupation

restaurant or store                  something that flies

Shuffle up each set of cards. Draw a card from the “letter pile” and a card from the “category pile.” Encourage the children to make the sound of the letter. Can they think of a word in the category that begins with that sound?

*When introducing this game, simply play it as a shared group activity and do not keep score. As children become more proficient, divide the class into teams and give points to the first team to come up with a word that fits the category. Children may also enjoy playing this game in small groups.

*Adapt the categories to the age and ability of your students. For example, you could use adjectives, adverbs, nouns, verbs, prepositions, mammals, etc. for older students.

Rapid Automatic Naming

Here 's an adaptation of "categories" that you can use to develop Rapid Automatized Naming. RAN is the ability to name letters, symbols, words, or objects in a quick and automatic manner and impacts reading fluency. 

Write categories on index cards, punch a hole in the cards, and attach to a book ring. If you’ve got a few minutes before lunch or while you’re waiting during other transitions you can flip through the category cards and see how many words children can “pop out.”

*Whisper - Let the whole class participate by whispering as many words as they can.

*Toss and Tell – Throw a beanbag around the group and each child must add a word to the category as they catch the beanbag.

*Brainstorm - Write words on the board as the students call them out.

*Think Time - Give older children 2 or 3 minutes to write all the words they can think of. You could also divide students into partners or small groups to do this.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022


Think about skills that you want to reinforce and then turn them into one of these games.

SKILLS: letters; sounds; math facts; contractions; antonyms, etc. 

MATERIALS: spatula, poster board, markers 

DIRECTIONS: Cut 3 ½” circles out of poster board. Write uppercase letters on one side and lowercase letters on the other. Place the circles on the floor or a table. Children name the letter on one side, and then flip it over to self-check.

Hint! Craft foam and corrugated cardboard also make good flippers.

More! Write words on one side and glue matching pictures on the back. 

Write children’s names on one side and glue their picture on back. 

Put pictures on one side and initial consonants or vowels on back. 

Put sets, number words, or math facts on one side and the answer on the reverse side. 

Write antonyms on opposite sides. 

Write two words on the front and the contraction on the back.

Gone Fishing

*Does anybody play this game any more? My class used to LOVE it! Bet yours will as well! 

SKILLS: letter recognition; high frequency words; numeral recognition, math facts 

MATERIALS: construction paper, paper clips, magnet, string, stick 

DIRECTIONS: Cut out fish from the construction paper similar to the ones shown.
Write a letter or word on each fish. Attach a paper clip or brad fastener to each fish. Tie a magnet to the end of a 20” piece of string. Tie the other end of the string to the stick to make a fishing pole. Children spread the fish on the floor, and then try to catch a fish with the magnet on the end of the pole. If they can identify the information on the fish, they may keep it.


Tuesday, July 19, 2022


This game can be adapted to a variety of skills. It’s an activity your students will definitely WANT to do over and over.

What? colored construction paper or card stock, spring clothespins, markers, scissors, string

Why? sight words, letters, numerals, shapes, etc.

When? Small group, learning center, partner

How? Cut clothes out of construction paper and write skills on them. Tie a string (clothesline) between two chairs. Spread the clothes on the floor as you say, “My house is so messy. Who can help me clean it up?” Children take turns choosing an item, identifying the information, and then hanging it on the clothesline.

*Put days of the week on the clothes for the children to hang up in order.

*Write numbers (1-10 whatever you are working on) for the children to put in order.

*Write words in Spanish on some clothes and words in English on others. Children hang up the ones that go together.

for My Messy House

Monday, July 18, 2022


Self-check games where children get immediate feedback are a great way to reinforce skills. We want children to practice, but we also want to make sure the correct information is getting stored in the brain.

What? construction paper, markers, scissors

Why? words and pictures, upper and lowercase letters, antonyms, math facts and answers, etc.

When? Learning center, independent practice, take home game

How? Cut puppies out of construction paper. Bend down the ear. Write one thing on the puppy’s body and write the answer under the ear.

*These puppies are also great for second languages.

Here's a similar self-check game you can make with sharks.