Category Archives: Kin-spiration

Photos, quotes, product reviews, stories, and lesson ideas inspired by life in the kindergarten trenches!


DIY Story Stones

I’ve had a lot of interest in the set of Story Stones that I made for Olivia, so let’s talk about how you can make your own, how you can use them, and why they are such a helpful developmental tool. Story Stones are simply a set of small stones with vibrant pictures on them. I love Story Stones because they engage all of the three main learning domains in some way: the bright pictures provide visual stimulation; the act of moving the stones helps with tactile development; and talking about the stones (alone for older children, or with an adult for littles) helps with auditory processing and oral communication.

The primary purpose of Story Stones is to help inspire children to craft their own stories. Storytelling is a wonderful way for children to develop creativity, imagination, and communication skills, but most children require prompts to help them with their storytelling. Using Story Stones, children can look at the images on the stones, and maneuver them into different positions to help with the storytelling process. But there are so many other wonderful and developmentally appropriate ways for much younger children to use Story Stones!

Toddlers: Olivia loves to line the stones up in rows, move them from one container to another, and shake them in a plastic tupperware container. We sit and look at the pictures, and she loves to pick out the nouns she recognizes: “fish!” “heart!” “meow!” It’s very exciting when you see a picture of something you recognize and can start putting a word to that image!

Pre-K and Kindergarten: Story Stones are wonderful for developing a wide range of skills. Pre-K and Kindergarten children can sort stones into categories such as colours (shown below), animals, or foods. Another great use is for phonics practice. I like to use simple flashcards and have students search for a stone that starts with the appropriate letter for each card (shown below). You could also make two identical sets of stones and use them for a fun twist on a classic game of memory where children must find the matching stones. At this age, I would also recommend you simply allow children to play with the stones – you might be surprised at all of the ways they discover, play and learn on their own!

Sorting by colour.

Sorting by colour.

Working on literacy development.

Working on literacy development.

Elementary: Elementary students can use the stones for storytelling, as described above. A fun and challenging variation I like to add is to have a student select one stone randomly from a bag, and create a sentence inspired from the stone they selected. The next student then selects a stone and also tries to create a sentence inspired by the image on the stone, but the goal is for their sentence to build off of the one before so that the group creates a unique story one sentence at a time. This is a great team building exercise, or advanced activity for students who could benefit from a challenge.

Alright – time to make your Story Stones!

Photo 2017-01-28, 12 06 25 PM
  1. I drew some simple pictures on thick drawing paper with a smooth black pen, and coloured them in using pencil crayons. Use materials and images that are meaningful to your family! If you’re not particularly artistic, you can cut images out of a magazine, or print out some images to colour yourself.
  2. Cut out all of the images, leaving a small white or dark border to help your images stand out against different coloured stones.
  3. I ordered a small set of “garden stones,” but you can also check the gardening section of your local hardware store.
Photo 2017-01-28, 12 09 00 PM

White borders help these pictures stand out against dark stones!

  1. Modge Podge is a strong adhesive that dries clear, hard, and smooth. Spread a generous amount onto a stone using a sponge, place your image on top, and then cover the image and a large area of the stone with more Modge Podge. Don’t worry about using too much – mine were pretty gloopy and I was worried they wouldn’t dry nicely, but they ended up clear and cute.
  2. Put some wax paper onto a baking sheet, and place your stones on top to dry. Allow them dry overnight and enjoy!

*please use large enough stones so as to not create a chocking hazard for toddlers!

Shimmy and Shake with Miss Sarah

“Music expresses that which cannot be said, and on which it is impossible to be silent.”
‘William Shakespeare’ by Victor Hugo.

Welcome to Shimmy and Shake with Miss Sarah! My goal is to create the type of music class that I want my daughter to enjoy – a place where she can learn to express herself, find her heart song, and practice some fantastic developmental skills along the way. At Shimmy and Shake, we are inviting you along with us on this journey!

A little bit about me: I have a specialist degree in Child Development and Educational Psychology, and a Bachelor of Education with qualifications to teach tots to pre-teens. I spent the last five years of my career absorbed in the world of preschool and kindergarten, where I truly found my calling. I’m a classically trained pianist, and self-taught guitarist, with experience providing piano and guitar accompaniment for my students’ performances and experience coaching the prestigious Kodaly choir. I completed an intensive Art and Music Internship with the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery and Symphony, with a 40hour component specifically targeting Art and Music Education. I also dabbled in fronting my own band for two years, and continue to compose regularly.

If my teaching background is the peanut butter, and my love of music is the jelly, then Shimmy and Shake is truly the perfect sandwich! IMG_1616

So why do I believe that music so important for children? Where do I start! Singing, dancing, playing instruments, and listening to music in a social setting does so many wonderful things to help children develop and grow:

  • Teaches self-regulation, such as how to calm down when listening to a lullaby;
  • Boosts self-esteem and confidence;
  • Encourages sharing and turn-taking, particularly in call-and-answer songs;
  • Helps children develop important gross motor skills, such as balance, body awareness, and cross-body movements;
  • Encourages cultural awareness when experiencing songs and instruments from other cultures;
  • Helps develop cognitive skills such as counting, rhyme, memory, symbolic play, patterns, literacy skills, phonemic awareness, and cause and effect (to name only a few!);
  • Introduces children to the world of music, where they can express, feel, find their rhythm, learn about pitch, tone, beat, instruments, be silly, and have fun!

Shimmy and Shake is designed to encourage all of these skills through careful song choice, the use of instruments, and a safe environment for children and their parents to experiment, explore, and enjoy themselves!

Please visit the Shimmy and Shake Facebook page HERE for information on classes, location, and cost. I will keep the Facebook page updated weekly with class information, articles, videos and resources. Olivia and I can’t wait to Shimmy and Shake with all of you!




It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

There is one day in Kindergarten more celebrated than any other holiday; birthdays can’t hold a candle to it, and Halloween is barely a blip on the radar in comparison.

We used bingo dabbers to fit 100 gum balls into our gum ball machine!

We used bingo dabbers to fit 100 gum balls into our gum ball machine!

I’m talking about the much-anticipated 100th Day of School! Starting on the very first day of each school year, lower elementary classrooms around the country carefully mark each and every day they spend in school until the 100th Day milestone arrives.

There is a lot of debate as to the origins and purpose of the 100th Day of School, from it being a powerful classroom math tool to it being nothing more than a fabricated “holiday” created for the purpose of selling stickers and trinkets.

Students used Ten Frames to group their favourite sea creatures

Students used Ten Frames to group their favourite sea creatures

I believe that, like so many subjects, it’s really what the teacher makes of it that is important. I have always used our 100th Day countdown as an opportunity to build rich math foundations in my young students. Our daily work with our number chart helped us learn to group by tens, solve simple algebra equations, identify numbers 1 through 100, count backwards, and understand important concepts, like: “ten groups of ten equals one hundred.”


After sorting 10 groups of 10 Fruit Loops, students loved stringing their cereal onto necklaces and eating their creations!


This year, I spent the 100th Day of School in a kindergarten classroom where the teachers worked hard to strike a perfect balance between reinforcing math concepts and throwing a celebration. As the students moved through different activities, they excitedly counted by 10s, ate Fruit Loops, and proudly pinned their 100s Day badges on each other. I think that the 100th Day of School can help serve as an excellent opportunity to create a positive attitude towards math, and help young students experience all of the ways that math can be fun!


Top Education Trend: Great Teachers

The implementation of technology in classrooms has become a regular topic in education. As a relatively active member of the EdTech community, I was not surprised to find that many 2015 education trend reports were heavily weighted with predictions for the increased prevalence of tech products and services in school communities. After discussing these trends with colleagues, I realized that many of them shared a somewhat wary outlook towards EdTech. It’s not that they were being inflexible about adapting to changes within the profession; it was more of a concern about trying to implement these trends in schools where their students don’t even come to school with food in their bellies, let alone have the resources to participate in “bring your own device” day. If these are the trends expected to give students the best chance at a successful future, then where does that leave the huge number of teachers and students who don’t have access to these resources?

Mrs. Colquhoun's weekends are full of DIY projects; she combs neighbourhood rummage sales to find pieces that she can transform into learning centres, sensory experiences, and inquiry-based projects.

Mrs. Colquhoun’s weekends are full of DIY projects; she combs neighbourhood rummage sales to find pieces that she can transform into learning centres, sensory experiences, and inquiry-based projects.

I endeavoured to collaborate with a fellow educator who could relate to working in an environment with limited resources, yet who was also undaunted by the high EdTech expectations making their rounds through school communities. I began learning about Mrs. Ashley Colquhoun’s full-day kindergarten classroom, where Mrs. Colquhoun and her assistant teachers practice creativity, patience, dedication and high expectations tirelessly in their low-income community.

Mrs. Colquhoun puts careful consideration into her inquiry projects, ensuring that they contain enough interest to incite genuine curiosity, and enough of a challenge to help students stretch their thinking and achieve a sense of accomplishment when they complete a task. While showing me the colourful walls and enticing learning centres in the room, Mrs. Colquhoun spoke confidently about how she believes the lack of technology available for her students is far from being a disadvantage.

Inexpensive materials serve as helpful reminders for young readers.

Inexpensive materials serve as helpful reading-reminders for young students.

“During activities, students are constantly talking with each other,” she explained. “They ask questions, think critically, and work together to solve problems and create solutions. Maybe they could also do some of these things on a set of classroom tablets, but we simply don’t have access to those resources. The improvements that my students demonstrate are a real indicator of just how much they are thriving. Many of my students don’t get a chance to interact with kids their own age outside of school, and the majority of them are not involved in sports or other clubs. So why not utilize every moment of the rich learning that can happen when all of their little minds are together? Technology or not, I am determined to help my students have the same advantages and opportunities as everyone else. They deserve it.” I had to agree that I couldn’t imagine a future where determination, curiosity, creativity, and strong teamwork and problem solving skills wouldn’t be an asset.

Mrs. Colquhoun’s attitude and efforts served as an inspiring reminder that despite the availability of resources, a dedicated teacher is often the most important and irreplaceable education trend of all.

Transforming a Dramatic Play Area into a Doctor’s Office sparked engagement, personal connections, and a lot of fun!


Hooked On Phonics “Learn To Read Classroom Edition” Review

In June, Hooked On Phonics released their entire Learn to Read Classroom Edition free of charge for tablet users. Purchasing all of the program components can cost upwards of $100.00, which is no small price tag. I was able to download the free edition and give it a multiple month test run – hopefully this review will help you decide whether it is a product worthy of your limited classroom budget!

My "Hooked On Phonics" lesson with one student quickly prompted interest from all of her siblings!

My “Learn To Read” lesson with one student quickly prompted interest from all of her siblings!

I use many different literacy strategies and activities in my classroom with great success, consisting mostly of play-based activities, learning centres, and inquiry projects. I wanted a program that I could use on my tablet for whole, small or individual group literacy learning to incorporate more technology and media into my classroom. I decided to download the Hooked On Phonics Classroom Edition – why not, it was free! – and test it out with individual students that I was scheduled to tutor for 8-week programs.

So how does this app work? There are 12 units in total, and each unit is organized into three lessons. The lessons are structured around a word family, so for example lesson one aims to teach “-at” words, lesson two “-an” words, lesson three “-ap” words, and so on. Within each lesson, the students work on multiple skills including studying individual letters, working with all of the sounds of the alphabet, blending sounds, becoming comfortable with the various word families, and reading simple books using the skills that they have acquired through the lessons. Each lesson builds on the last, introducing new skills slowly while ensuring that the students are frequently practicing skills from previous lessons. The students are also introduced to common sight words throughout the units.

The program has many “bells and whistles” that made it very appealing to the children I worked with. There are songs and music videos in every lesson, which will inevitably get stuck in your head for days, verbal positive reinforcement for correct answers, the activities varied frequently to keep the children engaged, it was interactive so the students had to touch, turn and shake my tablet to work through the lessons, the graphics and voices were appealing, and the books had fantastic visual cues to help with the reading aspect of the lessons. The app itself was also quite user friendly, as all of my kindergarten students learned to maneuver the app and it’s various components within a few lessons. A recent update addressed one of the only complaints I had about the app, which was the inability to create a “sign in” for different students or groups of students. For example, each time I opened the app I had to refer to my notes to remember where each student had left off. Now, you can sign in/out and save the progress of multiple users. Perfect.

I personally liked being able to move at varying paces with different students depending on their ability level. One student whizzed through two lessons each week, completing nearly 6 units, 16 word families, and 32 books in total, while another student was able to comfortably work through four lessons and eight books by the end of the summer, which was an incredible milestone for this student. I also found the nature of the program made it easy for me to assess if the students could transfer the lessons to other literacy situations. For example, I had the students use letter tiles to recreate words they had learned during their Learn To Read lessons, and read levelled texts containing similar words. All of my students were able to successfully transfer the skills they had learned from the app to these new settings, which was a terrific indicator for me of the success of the program.

I will continue to use this program in the classroom, particularly with small groups of students. The easy usability makes it a fantastic learning centre choice, as the students can work through the lessons at their own pace under the supervision of a teacher, aide or volunteer, and you could very easily run through a lesson in a whole-class setting in about five minutes to review or introduce phonics skills in an engaging way. Now, back to my original question. Is this program worth the hefty price tag for those who weren’t lucky enough to score the free edition? In my opinion, yes. I believe it could be a valuable investment for schools that have tablets as a part of their media centres, it is current enough that it will not be outdated for quite a few years, and I think that people who tutor or read with their children at home would have use for it individually. But word on the street is that the program is offered for free every few months, so keep your eyes open and maybe you can score a free edition too!