Winter Math Games for Kindergarten

Math games increase engagement and achievement.  Simple as that.

Games can be scary.  Games can especially be scary for teachers who feel that constant pressure to show accountability.  I've felt that pressure, too.  Despite that constant nagging in the back of my mind (and sometimes out loud), I have used math games successfully since my first year of teaching.  And I will never teach math without them!

So, what's my obsession with bringing games (and fun) into my math block?  It all goes back to my first year of teaching.  I was the math planner for my team - let me pause for a moment and express my sincerest gratitude to all of the teachers reading this post who plan math - and I can tell you it was no easy feat.  I taught in a  district that wanted to see results.  Literal pencil and paper exit tickets, tests, benchmark assessments type results.  I get the need for accountability, I really do.  But I was struggling with getting my students to connect to the math concepts I had spent hours and hours planning for my team.  On top of that, only someone looking down can vouch for the amount of trees that must have died during that year in support of this "accountability" and all of the copying it entailed.

Something changed for me midyear.  I decided enough was enough.  I wasn't going to spend hours creating paper and pencil activities (irregardless of the cute clip art) that my students weren't going to connect with, or more importantly create a deeper meaning of the content from.  What was the change?  I stopped teaching math whole group everyday.  I kept whole group where it was needed and utilized it more often as an intro to centers for the day.  The kiddos then happily trotted off to their differentiated centers while I was afforded time to pull small groups.  The clouds cleared and something changed!  My students were engaged!  I noticed they were beginning to apply math concepts beyond the just the context that I had introduced it in.  And they were excited for math!  This made me excited for math!

But how do you make math games work in your classroom?

The answer is different for everyone.  You may already have some form of math centers structure in your classroom - and I would venture to guess that you at the minimum already for a form of guided reading/reading centers.  Math centers can be structured in much the same way as your literacy centers.  You can read more about how I have structured math games/centers on [this blog post].

As I've become more versed in differentiating and creating math centers, I've started creating my own games for students to play.  I started sharing these games on TpT, and I can I just say that the response has been so heartwarming?  I've received so much amazing feedback about how teachers have used the games to reach struggling students, for parent game nights, and so much more.  My latest pack of games is now available in my [TpT store].  They have a fun winter theme!  Check out the pictures below for more details!

The inspiration for my latest math games pack came from these adorable erasers from the infamous Target Dollar Spot!

As with all of my math center games, ease of prep is critical.  The majority of use don't have hours on end to slave away laminating and cutting out hundreds of pieces.  By keeping the games simple and limited to the number of pieces required, prep is simple!

 Frosty Numbers focuses on subitizing using ten frames.  Kiddos still working on one-to-one correspondence?  They can easily count the pictures on the ten frames to meet their needs.

Penguin Cove is a challenging game that works on composing (with a hint of decomposing) numbers.  Students work cooperatively to identify the unknown part of a whole group.

Disappearing Evergreens focuses on addition and subtraction in a concrete and fun way!  Can your students reach zero?!

Winter Shape-doku is a twist on the adult favorite.  This critical thinking game (with a sprinkle of 2D shape recognition) challenges students to solve the puzzle so that only one of each shape is in each row/column.

"Cents"national Decorations reinforces coin recognition and their values.  While many schools have stopped teaching money in Kindergarten, as educators we know that we have to meet children where their needs are.  If your kiddos are ready to work with money, meet them there!

Holiday Domino War is a fun twist on the old-favorite "War."  Students work on subitizing as they identify numbers on the dominos then add the two numbers together (whether mentally or by counting).  By comparing the two numbers, students decide which is greater.

Interested in owning these games yourself as you embark/continue your work with math games and centers?  Find them in my TpT store by clicking [here] or on the picture below!

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Why Guided Reading is Holding Your Students Back

Yes, you read that right.  Guided reading may actually be hurting your students' overall reading development.  Now before you click the back button on your browser thinking, "that guy has completely lost it," let me add this.

Guided reading should have a permanent home in your classroom.

Most of us are highly aware of the benefits of guided reading.  We realize that our students need exposure to text that will support their growth in accuracy, comprehension, fluency, etc. They need the opportunity to independently read developmentally-appropriate texts, and our support during this process is crucial.  We also realize that students need to read many types of texts.  How can a child decide that historical non-fiction texts are his or her favorite if he/she is never exposed to them?  Furthermore, we realize that our students need a chance to talk and write about the texts they've read.

Guided reading offers us the perfect opportunity to do all of the aforementioned.

Yet do you still feel like you're the one doing all of the work during your small group instruction?  (I used to).  Do you feel like the skills you've worked on just aren't transferring for some students?  (I used to).  Do you feel as if the dots are just not connecting?  (I used to, and to be honest, sometimes still do).

I've made it a focus lately to connect guided reading instruction with whole group instruction through the use of shared reading.  After just a few short weeks of incorporating more intentional shared reading into my instruction I am already noticing improvement in literacy development!

Shared reading will boost confidence, comprehension, and word attack strategies.

Do I have you bought in yet that guided reading (while important) isn't the only answer?  Good.

Here's how we start to return the onus of work to our students in the effort to help them meet and then exceed our expectations.

Alternatively you can cover words in a big book with sticky notes, but I prefer the ease of using a PowerPoint to reveal one letter at a time (read below).  The words you choose to cover will vary depending on your students and their needs, but the slides should look something like the ones below.

What's next?  Move into guided reading confident that your students have already built a solid background on the topic they will read about.  Spend less time front loading and more time reading in small groups with your assistance provided as needed.  Take a deep breath.  You've taken the first step towards guiding your students towards more independence, confidence, and accuracy while reading!

Do you have tips to share related to guided reading?  I'd love if you posted them in the comments below!

If you need more resources for reading instruction check out my [Little Explorers] line of non-fiction resources!

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How to Plan a Wedding By Yourself: A Guide for Teachers (or Anyone) Who Works Full-Time

Your significant other has popped the question, you're adorning a beautiful new ring, and everyone from your grandmother to your students at school are so excited for you and your fiancé!  But, what now?  You've taken that first bite into wedding planning and are feeling overwhelmed.  I've been there, done that.

Here are my top 10 tips for teachers-or anyone-who work full-time to plan a dream wedding on a budget!

Schedule times to discuss the wedding and set goals.
When you realize everything that has to be planned - caterer, cake, decor, floral, entertainment, attire, guest list, and the list goes on - wedding planning can quickly become overwhelming.  My husband and I even thought we'd hire a wedding planner to help with the stress level.  After a consultation we were in love with her and her work.  However when we found out the price tag we quickly realized a wedding planner was not going to fit into our budget.  What'd we do?  We got brave and decided we could and would do the planning ourselves!  We set specific times to discuss the various elements of our wedding, beginning with the most time sensitive (venue, caterer, etc.).  During these "meetings" we set goals for when we would reach out to specific vendors and when we would make a final decision.  

Select the RIGHT time of year.
We all know there are times of year that are busier than others for various reasons.  Trying to schedule and plan a wedding around back to school, parent conferences, the holidays, or other busy times of year was something we had no desire to partake in.  We chose an early October wedding so that I could spend some of my time off during the summer planning.  This was so helpful when school began in August because we had so many of the details ironed out already.  I realize we can't all have, or don't want, a fall wedding.  My advice is to seriously consider the busy times of year for your fiancé and yourself and select a wedding date accordingly.

Create a secret Pinterest board.
Since we we're our own wedding planners we knew we needed a way to keep track of our ideas.  The Pinterest nerd in me quickly came out and created a "secret" board for us to track ideas that we saw when scouring Pinterest.  Why a "secret" board?  We didn't want everyone to see what we we're planning!  We wanted a "WOW" effect when people entered our venue.  You can also invite collaborators (your vendors) to view your secret Pinterest boards.

Research costs and set a budget.
As you're finding all of those beautiful, exciting, and perfect ideas on Pinterest the price tag of your wedding can start to rise quickly.  My husband and I set up a simple Excel spreadsheet with estimates for vendors, decor, attire, etc. after doing some research and pinning ideas to our secret Pinterest board.  While we didn't stay completely on budget for every ticket item, we were able to plan for some give and take because of the organization we created from the beginning.  And hey, you've already saved a ton by deciding to plan the wedding yourself!

Plan early for invites/thank-you cards.
I can't stress this tip enough.  Do not wait until the last minute to order your invites.  For starters you will be much more stressed, and if you order early you save on not paying a "rush" fee.  We selected our wedding suite with all of the pieces/upgrades we wanted and then watched the website we were going to order from like a hawk.  Why?  Many sites like [Minted] and [Wedding Paper Divas] have sales and coupon codes that they run.  We saved over $100 by planning ahead and ordering early when a sale hit. 

Pay the extra fee to have envelopes pre-addressed.
When we ordered our Save the Dates I thought I'd be super-duper-Pinterest-crafty and do some Falligraphy (AKA fake calligraphy) to address the envelopes.  Many, many hours and discarded envelopes later we became a bit wiser and decided the extra fee to have envelopes pre-addressed pays for itself in dividends!  If you order when there is a sale you can afford to pay the little extra to save yourself hours of time!

Pare down your guest list.
One of the biggest ways to save on the cost of your wedding is to pare down your guest list.  When we first set out to plan the wedding we had a much larger guest list than what we ended up inviting to the wedding.  We decided that at the end of the day we didn't want to pay upwards of $100-$150 a person for people to attend the wedding whom we weren't truly close with.  It's hard, but let go of the popularity contest and the idea that a "large" wedding is better and save that money for your honeymoon!  Plus with a wedding around the size of 80 people we were able to talk with everyone throughout the night and not stress about making the rounds.

Pick a venue that offers more.
When trying to figure out ways to save time and money, we figured that selecting a venue that could offer more than just the space would be helpful.  This may have been the smartest decision we made! Our venue provided floral, decor, food, beverages, and wait staff with our guidance and selection for everything.  I can't tell you how nice it was to not have to contact a separate caterer, event staffing company, decor rental facility, and who knows what else.  It also made it feel like everyone was on the same page - because we were!

There are points in the wedding planning journey where you have to delegate some responsibility between yourself and your fiancé.  Neither of you should do it alone.  My husband and I would separate our tasks on our to-do list to even out the workload.  As a teacher my days tend to be a bit less flexible as far as contacting vendors, but if I planned ahead for a call or e-mail I could fit it in.  But don't think delegation has to stop there.  Get the family involved!  We had several family members who were instrumental in helping to secure some last minute items.

Already lived together for some time?  Honeyfund.
My last tip for you is to consider if you truly need a traditional wedding registry.  My husband and I had lived together for 5 years before getting married so we had a fairly wide stock of kitchen and home utensils and decor.  We decided a traditional wedding simply wouldn't work for us.  While searching for alternatives online we ran across [Honeyfund].  Honeyfund is a modern-take on a wedding registry.  We planned our honeymoon (which will happen summer 2017) and selected pieces of the trip that people could gift to us.  From excursions, to a day in Champagne, to airfare our guests were able to select what part of our honeymoon they would like to gift.

I hope these tips will prove helpful to you during your wedding planning adventure.  Remember to have fun and enjoy the journey.  It flies by, but is something that we know we'll remember always.

[Photography by:  Andrew Knowles of AJK Images]
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Thankful for Math Games

What does your classroom look like during your math block?  No, really.  Stop and think about it for a moment.

Are your children quietly working on a printable worksheet or consumable workbook?  Do they get excited for math, or are they just going with the flow?

I'll share that in my classroom math is loud, its collaborative, and its FUN!  The children look forward to math because I utilize math centers that encourage collaboration, thinking, and critical mathematic concept development.  They think it's fun and games, and I KNOW we are developing critical math skills.

And now we have games with a Thanksgiving flair!

While everyone's favorite dollar spot didn't have any Thanksgiving erasers, I scared these fun Thanksgiving-inspired manipulatives from [Oriental Trading].  Throw in some Dollar Tree storage containers and we're ready to go!  (Don't worry if you don't have any Thanksgiving-inspired counters for these games - there are counters included that can be printed and laminated)

Let's take a look at the games!

Shape Voyage is a game designed to be played with a partner or small group.  Children take turns rolling a die, identifying which 2D shape that number corresponds to using the key at the top of the mat (ex: a 2 would be a circle), and then moving to the next depiction of that shape in the real world.  I LOVE that this game gives children the chance to identify real objects that are a given shape! 

Thankful Numbers is a fun single or multiplayer game and can be either cooperative or competitive - you choose!  This game works on that all-important skill of subitizing, or recognizing a given quantity quickly without having to count them

Race to the New World is a game I am so, so, so excited (OK I'm just a little excited here) to have!  This game works on skip counting by 10s to 100.  This is sure to be a great resource for helping kiddos that are struggling or just need a little more practice with skip counting.

Turkey Trot is a fast-paced game where children collect turkeys while practicing addition and subtraction.  Who can race to the finish line with the most turkeys?

Number Harvest is an easily differentiated game that practices one-to-one correspondence with a die, writing numbers 1-12 (6-12 on a card for children who are ready to roll two dice and find a sum), and can introduce the idea of graphing.

Before and After is sure to challenge the little minds in your classroom!  It is designed to be played as a single player, multiplayer cooperative, or multiplayer competitive game.  The children take turns drawing a card and identifying whether they are looking for the number that comes before or after the given number on the card.  They cover the number that is described on the card with a counter.  The first player with four in a row wins!

Ready for your children to gobble up some math games in your classroom?  The good news is all of these games are available in my [TpT store] in full color as well as blackline!  You can check them out by clicking [here].

Looking for more Thanksgiving resources?  Check these out!  Just click the picture to view the listing on TpT!


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It Can Start With a Single Dot

Do you have students who think they aren't artists?  I know that I do.  What about children who are so scared of making mistakes that they have trouble getting started?  I know that I have these types of children in my class, too.

What are we doing to help them?  Are we giving them scaffolded attempts at being creative and expressing their artistic ability?  For the last few weeks I've been teaching an after school class that is linking literacy and art.  Each week we have read a story by a favorite child author and then created artwork inspired by the book.  It's been so interesting to see how some children can jump right into creating, while others need extra support to get started.  

Today I'd love to share a simple, easy to make craft inspired by ["The Dot" by Peter H. Reynolds].  The original idea for this project came from the blog [Drip, Drip, Splatter Splash].

For this craftivity I used watercolor paints, white construction paper in the shape of a square, a large dot tracer, and black construction paper to mount the finished paintings on.

After reading "The Dot" and discussing the message of the story - to simply try even when we don't feel artistic or feel we can't draw/paint/etc - we set out to paint!  The kids started by tracing a large dot onto the white construction paper.  They then had the choice to paint inside the dot, paint the area around the dot, or both.

I'm so happy that I chose this lesson for our first class together.  I think starting with the message that everyone can be an artist and all it takes is trying is powerful for setting the kids up for success.  As the kids got started painting there were no tears, no I can'ts, no frustration - just fun!

I think they came out absolutely adorable!  Who knew that beautiful artwork could start with a  single dot?

How do you encourage children to try in your class?
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When it's OK for Math to be a Little Scary

Is it ever OK for math to be a little scary?  I say yes.  While spooky may be a better word for what I'm sharing today, math centers don't have to be scary.  Yes, it is possible to have math centers early in the year and be successful (and it doesn't even have to be a scary process)! 

It's all about setting clear expectations, practicing (and practicing, and practicing, and practicing), then getting students to buy into the centers.

When I think of getting kids to buy in to their learning I immediately think of giving them choice and making it FUN!  Queue the math games!  Math games as centers not only give students choice and make learning fun, but they also meet standards (shocker, right?).

Here are some engaging math centers that just happen to have the added bonus of being Halloween inspired.  Speaking of inspiration, the Target Dollar Spot was a huge inspiration for the following games.  I mean, who can walk past ultra-cute Halloween erasers when they're only a $1.00?!

Throw in some $1.00 bins from Dollar Tree and it's all google eyes from here!  I love organizing my math center manipulatives in these containers.

On to the games!

Grow a Pumpkin Patch is a great game to practice one-to-one correspondence, counting, and the concept of addition.  Students use a spinner to spin a number from 1-4.  They then add that many jack o'lanterns to their playing mat.  The goal of the game is to reach 20 jack o'lanterns.

It can easily be differentiated to allow for partner cooperative play as well as partner competitive play.  I'm even thinking of adding a die with + and - symbols that students will roll before spinning the number to determine if they are adding or taking jack o'lanterns away.

Next up is a game that practices subitizing.  Subitizing is the ability to see a small quantity of objects and know how many there are without counting.  I'm always surprised to see that some teachers don't work on this skill with their students.

Ghostly Numbers is a game where students draw a card with varying amounts of candies from 1-10.  With repeated exposure to subitizing, students can start to quickly recognize the number of candies on the card and then cover that number on their playing mat.  The key is that a given set of numbers (Ex: 4) does not always look the same on each card with the same given set of numbers.

Again, this game is easy to differentiate and make a partner cooperative or partner competitive game.  Students can work together to "black out" the playing mat or competitively to "black out" their own playing mats.

Ever played the game Connect 4?  This next game is inspired by Connect 4!

Black Cat Race is a game where students roll two dice, or use dominoes, and practice adding the numbers together (this adds a great visual for students who need it).  They then cover that number on their side of the playing mat.  The first student to connect 4 in a row wins!

And we can't forget an engaging game that utilizes a hundreds chart!

Halloween Dash is a game where students race from 1 to 100!  I love this game because it exposes children to 100s charts, practices number recognition, and is just plain fun!

Addition and subtraction games are a must for math center time.  Especially when the game combines both!

Bag of Bones is an exciting game where students collect skulls, but beware!  Landing on a subtraction symbol means you must give some back.  The player with the most skulls at the end of the game wins!

All of the games above are available in my [TpT store].  Each game is available as a full-color version as well as an ink-saving backline version that can be printed on brightly colored paper!  You can check them out by click [here].

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