Six Weeks Down: Introducing…. Counting Creatures!!!!

Counting Creatures Vol 1
 

Well, I don’t mind telling you that it’s been a tough week, and Friday couldn’t have come soon enough!  I had to make a heart wrenching decision on Tuesday to put my older beloved dog “Hunny Bun” down due to congestive heart failure, as she was suffering greatly.  But knowing this didn’t help my broken heart at all; she was my baby, and she was born in our house!  Needless to say, the tears didn’t stop falling for a couple of days, and I keep finding them welling up in my eyes even now.  Luckily, the kids themselves are a good distraction from this type of grief, as is teaching itself!  And as hard as it is to force myself to get up in the morning and just GO and DO IT, it is much better if I do!  Just as I assumed they would, their bright smiles were the perfect distraction from a very difficult, emotional situation.

 

To make matters worse, my district seems to have gone DIBELS crazy, and planned a training for the afternoon of our weekly Compact Day, so I lost ALL of my prep time on Thursday afternoon.  And then I had to go to a training on Saxon Math all day on Friday, and will have to go next week on Monday, and Tuesday as well.  Mind you, we are in our third year of implementing Saxon Math, and are only now getting the training.  Also, our K aides do most of the small group instruction in math, while the K teachers do the small group instruction in language arts, but it is the teachers that have to go to the training.  Furthermore, the district math committee decided NOT to revise our benchmarks or assessments to match the Saxon text.  This means that if we actually follow the book, our students will NEVER hit their benchmarks on time for the first or second trimesters, because Saxon moves far too slowly in comparison to the benchmarks.  Our instructions are to supplement the text.  The end result?  We wind up supplementing more often than teaching from the text.  And now I get to spend three days away from my classroom hearing about how to use the text properly and about the wonders of Saxon Math.  When I told my students that I was going to be gone for three days and that there would be a substitute teacher, some of them looked like they were going to cry!  And even though I showed them on the calendar when I would be back, one precious little girl immediately told her mother upon dismissal, “Mommy!  My teacher is leaving and never coming back!!!” The end result of this is that I had to make sub plans for these three days in my “spare” time.  Ahhhhh!!!!!  There are few things that irritate me more than being out of my classroom for reasons like this.  And now I have the biggest challenge of all:  To keep my big mouth SHUT for three days in a math training, and NOT get myself into trouble by saying something stupid, like, “Saxon?  What’s that?”

 

Well, if nothing else, at least I have some great instructional activities to share with you this week!

1.  Introducing…. Counting Creatures!!!!!

If you have been reading my blog for a full year now, you may remember me mentioning a cute set of worksheets called “Number Monsters” that I had enjoyed using since my earliest years of teaching.  These worksheets have been out of print for many years now.  But my memories of using these  worksheets in the classroom and how the children enjoyed them sparked the idea of making a set of worksheets that included some fantasy creatures for counting and numeral formation.  This idea finally came to fruition this week when this big project was finally completed and I was able to introduce it to my students!  They were just as excited about it as I had hoped they would be, and I can’t tell you how pleased I am at how the whole thing came out!  We decided to call it Counting Creatures, and it includes robots, creatures, dinosaurs, and monsters.  As you can probably imagine, the children are wild about it- ESPECIALLY the BOYS!!!

The BOYS Choose to COLOR at Playtime????
 

One thing that is really fun about it is that at the beginning of the workbook, I introduced each character with it’s own little poem and coloring page.  The children clap out the number of limbs or features that each character should have.  For example, Robot Number Two has two wheels, two arms, two antennae, two teeth, and two knobs.

A Counting Creatures Poem Page
 

The poem for number two goes:

“Robot, robot, number two,
How many wheels do you have on you?
One, two!”

Creature Number Nine has nine bows, nine legs, nine freckles, nine eyelashes, and nine spots.  Her poem goes like this:

Creature, creature, number nine!
How many bows make you look fine?
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine!

Anyway, I had some parent volunteers help me color, laminate, trim, and bind up a booklet of the Counting Creatures so the children could have them in book form and be able to read them lots of times.  You can watch the video of the children enjoying the poem here!  It’s also good for them to try to remember that seven claps, for example, is only SEVEN- not eight or nine!  This has been a tricky lesson for some of them who are still a bit unsure of what numbers represent.

 

I have been putting the numeral copying practice sheets in dry erase sleeves so that the children can practice tracing and writing their own numerals, and also finding and circling the correct numbers.

Soon we will also try to count and find the correct number of items, etc.  I am planning on getting some more of the dry erase sleeves so that I can keep more of these different worksheets at different levels handy, especially for the children who are ready to move on and don’t need to keep copying the numbers over and over.  I discovered that the Scholastic Book Club has them in the Bonus Catalog, so I was able to get a few more with my bonus points, so I was glad about that!

But besides the dry erase sleeves and the math activities, the funny thing is that the children keep begging me to give them more of the coloring sheets to color during their play time!  In fact, yesterday, the most popular “activity du jour” was coloring, believe it or not!  There were more children wanting to color than anything else.  I think I am going to have them graph their favorite creature next week.  So far, the boys seem to like Robot Number 2 best, and the girls like Creature Number Nine best, (because of the hair bows.)  So, I have decided to include one of the number formation practice pages for the nine and the two, plus two more for you as free downloads for you today, so that you can see for yourself how much fun they are!

 

2.  “Books That Make Kids Think”
I recently read a review of some new books in a publication put out by NAEYC called “Books That Make Kids Think,” and I am SO glad that I did!  The first book is called We Are in a Book by Mo Williams.  In this book, the elephant and the piggie discover that they are being read by a monster!  But NO!  It’s really just a READER!  The characters realize that they can play a trick on the reader by making him or say a funny word, if the reader is reading out loud.  This funny word is “banana.”  As the story moves along, Gerald and Piggie make the reader say “banana” several times and fall over crying with laughter at the funny trick they played on the reader!  Then they realize with dismay that the book will soon END- horror of horrors!
My class had SUCH a lot of fun with this book!  I had them take turns coming up to the front of the class to be the reader that would say the funny word, and each time a child did that, the whole class just roared with laughter!  We really had a wonderful time with it!

 

Another great book that makes kids think is called Press Here by Herve Tullet.  This marvelous little gem of a book is wonderful fun!  The first page asks the reader to press a colored dot, and when you turn the page, it turns into two colored dots, just like magic!  And so it goes- each time you press a dot, shake the book, tip the book to the side, blow on the book, or clap your hands, you find something new when you turn the page.  The children in my class just begged to get to come forward and push one of the dots, etc.  I highly recommend this book for any Pre-K, K, or first grade collection.

3.  Trying to Push Our DIBELS Scores UP!
This year, my district has switched over to the new “DIBELS Next” system of tracking student progress, and on Thursday all of the teachers wound up in a training session designed to teach us how to enter our progress monitoring scores.  Thankfully, there are only a few DIBELS tests that we have to give in addition to the myriad of assessments that we are already giving one-on-one in Kindergarten, so I guess I shouldn’t complain too much!  Our first test is the “First Sounds Fluency” (FSF) test.  In this test, you tell the child a word, and the child has to tell you the first sound that he or she hears in that word.  The second test is simply a Letter Naming Test, but they only have to do this again at the end of February, so I am not worried about that one.
In any case, I figure that a little extra practice on the format of the FSF test couldn’t hurt, so I created a power point presentation for that purpose.  I found two pictures for the beginning sound of each letter of the alphabet and inserted them into my power point presentation, and mixed them up.  Then I started drilling the children, asking them, “What is the first sound of ______?” (insert the name of the picture on the screen in the blank, of course!)  While we did this, I had them stand up and respond using the Zoo-Phonics motions while giving the sounds to keep them actively involved.  I think that this extra practice really helped!  So far, half of the children that I have done the progress monitoring on have shown dramatic improvements.  Now the only thing I need to do is keep finding a variety of pictures, and also find pictures that begin with words that start with the /sh/, /ch/, and the /th/, since the DIBELS assessments include these sounds as well.

Sorting “Training Baskets” to Help Kids Focus on One Attribute
 

4.  Working on Sorting
Getting the kids to sort three ways is always tough, and this year is no exception- particularly since my group this year seems lower than usual.  We have been singing the Sorting Song from the Musical Math CD/DVD, and that certainly helps them to know that they need to sort by color, shape, and size, but the problem is that this year, they are simply sorting incorrectly.  So when they sort by shape, they are wanting to take the attribute blocks and sort them by both color AND shape, putting the red triangles in a pile, the yellow triangles in a pile, and the blue ones in a pile.  Then they put the red squares in a pile, the blue ones in a pile, and the yellow squares in a pile, etc.  So the basic problem is that we are having trouble focusing on just one attribute at a time.
To help the children get past this and focus on just one attribute, I decided to try giving the children something I decided to call “Training Baskets.”  I got some black baskets for sorting by shape, some white baskets for sorting by size, and some colored baskets for sorting by color.  Then I put some signs on them that said something like, “What size?  Big or little?” etc.  I decided that we would tell the children that the shapes would have to go into one of these baskets; they could not go into any extra baskets, so they could not create any “extra” categories at all.  So all of the triangle shapes, no matter what color or size, would have to go into the triangle basket, etc.  We’ll see if this helps them focus on just one of the attributes.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed!  Hopefully it will, and then we can take away the baskets and let them try it without those “training wheels!”  If anyone has any other suggestions for helping children with this, please let me know!  I already sent home shapes with instructions for parents to practice at home, and am planning on sending home a mini progress report on this next week.

5.  Read Aloud Chart for October
These are perfect resources for homework binders. Each month has a fun theme! They are a big help for tracking nightly reading activity for both parents and kids! They are available for purchase on our website, here.  Here is the October Read Aloud Chart as a free download! Enjoy!

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Heidi Butkus

About Heidi Butkus

Heidi Butkus has been teaching in California public schools since 1985. She has somehow managed to stay in Kindergarten all of those years, with the exception of five years in first grade, and also taught a parent participation preschool for a short while! Combining a strong knowledge of brain research with practical experience, Heidi has created a wealth of fun and engaging teaching techniques that work well with diverse populations. She has presented at conferences nationwide, and is the owner and founder of HeidiSongs.com. Heidi has also created fourteen original CD's and DVD's for teaching beginning reading and math skills, three musical plays designed especially for young performers, and has written some picture books and many other teaching resources. Heidi's multimedia workshops are filled with fun and motivational educational activities that have been classroom tested and revised for effectiveness with all types of learners.
  1. I think the sorting baskets are genius!!! I have had the exact same problem for years.

    The monster sheets are adorable and brilliant too! I really don't know how you do it all- I get tired just reading your posts 🙂

    Your post this week has inspired me (as usual) so look for a little mention on my blog soon 😉
    Thanks for all you do and share!

    Vanessa @pre-kpages.com

  2. Hi Heid!
    You are truly amazing! I am sitting here in my classroom at 7:00 p.m. on a Friday night getting ready for next week-new Month, new calendar activities for October and of course, getting ready to do progress monitioring with my kids who need to be tracked! We do the DIBELS next and the progress monitoring. I understand how you feel and it is good to hear what others are saying! Thanks for always sharing with us! Your songs for sight words are really helping our students! My friend and I bought many of your songs to teach sight words. Thanks again,
    Maryann
    brennemm@carlisleschools.org

  3. Unfortunately, not yet! I guess I should have posted the October one as a freebie since the website is not ready for another product. (It's tons of work for my husband to add them, and we are getting a newly updated website in a month or so, so we thought we might just wait to add them for the new site.)
    I'll see if we can upload the October chart as a freebie in the morning. Keep your fingers crossed that my hubby doesn't object!
    🙂
    Heidi

  4. Heidi, I'm so sorry to hear about your dog. I've been there and it is extremely difficult. On another note, we to have had to go to training for really dumb computer stuff that we aren't even going to use. It involved putting all your test scores on the computer. How appropriatte is that for first grade? Then, my computer won't work to actually participate in the class.Hello?? First grade isn't even going to use the program and I have to sit through training on a computer that doesn't even work??!!Then, we have training on the computer for enVision math which we didn't even know we were going to use. We spent 2 days over the summer coordinating our math with core curriculum and it did not involve enVision. So, you see, other schools do the same thing!! Happy weekend. By the way, I still love my job (even after 30 years of teaching). I have the best class ever this year!

  5. Sorry to hear about your dog- it is so hard to lose your baby! Thank you for all of your ideas and hints and hang in there.

  6. I bought Press Here last week. I have a Young 5's group and a K group–
    we're an alternate day program. The kids all loved it. I loaned it to first, same thing!
    Now why didn't I think of that concept??

  7. Thanks for another great week of ideas 🙂 I'm very sorry to hear about the Saxon math stuff- we've been there too with various trainings and especially this early in the year it's really frustrating to be out! Also, we do DIBELS and that can be frustrating too for many other reasons. I like the powerpoint idea though!

  8. Heidi,

    You can find tons of pictures for beginning sounds at free-reading.net
    I hope this will help you in your quest to find pictures for beginning sounds. Connie

  9. Am I going crazy? I can't find your Counting Creatures anywhere on your site! I'd love to buy them. Is anyone else having problems?

  10. Heidi,

    So sorry to hear about your sweet dog. As bad as your week sounds, I'm glad you have been able to find a distraction in those kiddos. I think I am going to order Press Here today… Amazon has a cute video of kids reading it.

  11. I love all your ideas. I teach the first grade Saxon Math to my Kindergarteners. and first grade teachers 2nd etc…I gave up the Kindergarten level 9 years ago. They've done well ever since.

  12. Heidi,
    Thanks, so much, for all you do. I look forward to reading your blog every Saturday morning. I enjoyed your sorting idea today. I remember that last year you gave us some free sorting practice sheets which I can't seem to find this year. They aren't available on your blog now either. How can I get them?
    Joy

  13. Heidi,
    I'm so sorry for your loss of Hunny Bun. I've been there and it is heart-wrenching.

    To Kathy B…..Where did you find the August and September Read Aloud Charts?
    Joanie

  14. I, too, am sorry to hear about your beloved dog. Much time will help. Our district no longer spends much money on professional development. The good part is we don't have to attend useless meetings! I bought and printed the crazy creatures and I'm so excited to try some out with the children. I hope they love them as much as I think they will! Don't you love Mo Willems? Thanks for everything.

  15. I am sorry to hear about your beloved pet…it is always a hard decision to make.

    You have some great ideas on your blog, and I have been passing them along to my lower-grade cohorts…keep the great ideas coming!

    Glad to see my District is not the only way who likes to hold off on paying for training until they see if it the new idea is "working"! LOL!

  16. I bought both your recommended books last year and the kids and I adored them!
    As far as your sorting goes: developmentally your kids are sorting how they see and understand it right now…it is in the sequence of development. CHildren do sort out each shape, color etc in a category at the earlier stages, before seeing that all shapes can be in the category 'shapes' regardless of size or color- thay all belong in that class. If you review Piaget, you will find this kind of research. An old book I always go back to as a reminder of where the kids are and what's next is "Structures of Thinking:Concrete Operations" by Darrell Phillips (The dev. activities Program).
    Thanks for sharing your ideas each week. It keeps me thinking!

  17. When I was putting in one of your videos last week, I mentioned to the class that you were sad because your dog had died. (They LOVE hearing Ms. Heidi news!) When the video started, one child said, "Ms. Heidi looks sad today…not happy like usual." 🙂

  18. Heidi,
    I am so sorry to hear about your dog. I too just lost one of my dogs and yes they are just like your own child! I love your blog and all of your wonderful ideas. I've been using your Letters and Sounds DVD in my classroom and the kinderkids LOVE it. The "S" song is their ultimate favorite! It is so fun to see them sing and dance to it and even better when it carries over to other parts of our day and they refer back to the songs, sounds and letter names! Your comments about the math are very interesting and I hope you'll keep us posted for further information. Our school administration wanted to adopt the same K-8, but only 6-8 ended up with it. The rest of us didn't like it. I am currently using our old curric., some of Saxon sample pieces, and some of the things I have gotten from you. Who knows what next year will bring with looking at math again! It's interesting how things swing back and forth! Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that I love your blog and so look forward to it every week. You are a wonderful inspiration! Thank you!!!

  19. Sorry to hear of your loss, it is never easy. Thank you for your great ideas. My principal loves the many songs she has walked in on over the years. Yes, I am a fan for several years. I had one question. I am trying to implement the Calendar Book but was wondering how you made the dotted tracing pages with the month and year? I have them for 2010 but need to update the year. I have looked for a font to download that is dotted (that would be great for making my own handwriting pages) but no luck. Can you send me in the right direction? I really like the Calendar Book and think it is a terrific idea to compile a lot of important information for them. And it's all in one place. Thanks!

  20. Heidi, I saw that you hate Saxon. We are looking at it and enVision by Pearson. I taught Saxon years ago in first and loved it. What are you using now? We would be happy using our own things, but we are all going to have a program. I would like to have one we are all happy with.

    • Hi, Jean,
      I have been on a leave of absence for the last two years, so I’m not using anything at the moment!
      The biggest problem with Saxon at the Kindergarten level was that the whole scripted thing was tough for me to swallow. I always feel like I’m teaching right out of a straight jacket when I teach from a script. I’m a very creative person, and I just HATE scripted programs, no matter what the content. Another thing about it is that it goes very slowly… slowly…slowly… and our kids were bored. Also, there is a worksheet for every single day, which we didn’t have time to use- and those worksheet packs were refreshed every single year, no matter if you wanted them or not. So each year I got a brand new gigantic stack of worksheets to sort, file, and then try to pretend we were using, because there was no WAY I was going to waste THAT much time on worksheets in KINDERGARTEN MATH. The sorting and filing took a couple of hours each year.

      But the biggest problem was that the district Kindergarten benchmarks were not aligned with the Saxon math program. I think that the whole thing might have been okay if our tests matched the curriculum. But we would spend a really long time on something like the AB pattern and writing numbers 0-4,and then test the kids on writing the numbers 0-10 and several other concepts that Saxon hadn’t introduced. So in the few weeks prior to testing, we would scramble to try to catch the kids up on what we really should have been working on all along. It just wasn’t aligned with our district benchmarks. I know that our district was trying to work on the Language Arts benchmarks at the time, and we were told to supplement and be patient with the math program and they would be working on it soon. They are probably done with it now. But at the time, when I asked my principal about it, he just told me that he wanted us to use the whole thing. (I learned my lesson; next time I just won’t ask! He was kind of a new principal at the time. My mistake!)
      So we were getting mixed signals and things just weren’t working well. That left me with no choice but “to sneak” in order to get my kids to pass the district benchmark tests, which is just silly if you ask me.
      So there you have it! TMI? By the way, I’ve heard that the first grade version of Saxon is better.
      Heidi

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