Receive all updates via Facebook. Just Click the Like Button Below

Powered By | Blog Gadgets Via Blogger Widgets

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Our Life-Size Gingerbread House

The kids are LOVING the life-size gingerbread that I build for our classroom.  It really wasn't very hard to make but I didn't think to take pictures as I was working on it ... blogger fail:(  Because there was a lot of interest in the house on Facebook, I figured I'd try to explain what I did.

For the past couple of years I have made some sort of box structure for our classroom.  Here are pictures of my previous castles and big red barn:

In each case I used Mr. McGroovy's plans and most importantly his special box rivets.  The box rivets cost less than $20 for a box. The rivets are reusable but I couldn't find my rivets from last year so I ordered more from Amazon Prime and got them in one day.  Because there are only 2 seams, the house could probably be connected with tape but I know the rivets will stand up to  20 rambunctious pre-k students so I think they are well worth the cost.
Mr. McGroovy's box rivets
For my other projects I downloaded plans from Mr. McGroovy.  For the gingerbread house I pretty much just winged it.
I got 2 large refrigerator boxes and 2 dishwasher boxes from a local appliance store that does its own deliveries.  If you can find an appliance store like this it is easy to collect the boxes.  I suggest you call around.  The trick is to bring a utility knife with you and cut off the top and bottom of the box.  It is then easy to fold the box and fit it in your car.
This is an illustration from McGroovy's website showing how to fold boxes to fit in car.

I brought the boxes to school and cut them open so I basically had large pieces of cardboard with 3 seams. I took the 2 large boxes and cut them like this (the 3 vertical lines are the box folds):

My boxes weren't exactly the same size but working with cardboard boxes is very forgiving (so are  my little ones who don't care at all that the back of the house is a little narrower than the front:) I then stood the boxes up and connected the front shorter sides to the back shorter sides with a couple of rivets. This is what the house looked like after I put the 2 big boxes together:
corner brackets

I then added a door in the front and windows.  The house is strengthened with corner brackets made from the corners of small boxes.  If you look closely, you can see the brackets in the corners. 
The roof was made with the 2 smaller boxes that I cut to the same size and riveted together.  It would have been easier to use another big box but I didn't want to go back to the appliance store.

Before attaching the roof, the kids (and teachers) cut close to 100 paper plates in half and then cut out the centers to make the icing for the roof.  I then hot glued the plates to the roof and put the roof on the house.  The kids used the plate centers and other plates and cardboard to create LOTS of candy decorations.  Most of them have been sprinkled with clear glitter when the paint was still wet so the house looks especially sugary and delicious. I have been attaching candy with a glue gun each day after school.

Paper plate icing on the roof.  The hole in the roof is the little flap I cut and attached to the front of the house with a rivet. 

lots of glittery candy - that little orange gummy worm might be my very favorite decoration :) The black dot is the rivet holding the corner bracket in place.
adding glitter

If you have any questions you can email me at 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Breakfast in Bed for Mommy … on a very special plate!

My little ones are so excited about the simple plates that they made for Mother's Day this year.  I bought ceramic salad plates at the Christmas Tree Shop for $1 and the kids drew pictures of their Mom on the plates with permanent markers. I followed Heidi from HeidiSongs' idea of drawing a circle for the head and somewhat followed her directions for a guided drawing of Mom.  I then put the plates in a cold oven and turned the heat up to 350 degrees. After about 40 minutes, I turned off the oven and let the plates cool in the oven.  Some of the colors did change a little (several got lighter, and a few got darker).  Although the design seems to be permanent I did write "Hand Wash Only" on the bottom of each plate. We will be making muffins later this week and then send them home with the plate, a napkin and a tea bag so that the kids can present their Moms with breakfast in bed.

There are lots of other Mother's Day Ideas here and here and here.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Another Fairy Tale Castle

The finished castle all "blinged up."  The kids love it!

We have another Fairy Tale Castle!  Two years ago, our school did a school wide unit on Children's Literature and I chose Fairy Tales as the genre that our class would focus on.   As part of that wonderful unit, I made this huge castle out of 8 large boxes.
The kids loved it!  Last year I made a giant cardboard barn that was also very popular.  I decided to make another castle this year.  Fortunately, I have learned a lot about cardboard construction that I can share with anyone thinking about attempting one of these wonderful projects.

First - Use Mr. McGroovy's Box Rivets and plans

This step is critical!! Mr. McGroovy sells simple to follow, downloadable plans for lots of different cardboard structures.  The castle plans cost $4.95. He also sells the most important feature of my cardboard creations …Box Rivets.  The box rivets look like this:
The cost for a box of 100 reusable rivets is just under $25 (with tax and shipping costs).  I will explain how to use the box rivets below.

Second - Collect Boxes

Collecting the boxes is truly the hardest part of creating a castle (if you follow my advice for the actual construction:) Mr. McGroovy tells you to collect boxes by getting the name of the delivery company used by a  a store such as Home Depot.  Instead, I found two smaller local appliance companies that do their own deliveries and both were happy to have me stop by and take any boxes I wanted.  Each day I stopped by, I could usually find one or two refrigerator or washer-dryer boxes.  Following Mr. McGroovy's suggestion, I brought a utility knife with me and cut off the top and bottom of each box. I then folded the box and could take 2-3 boxes in the back of my small sports utility vehicle.  It took quite a few trips to collect all the boxes I needed.

Third - Get  Someone to Help You!!

If using Mr. McGroovy's rivets is my most important tip,  getting help is the the second most important tip.  When I made the first castle, I did most of it all by myself.  Mr. McGroovy explains how it can be done and it didn't sound that hard.  It is!!  This year I asked for parents to help and 3 moms came in. What a difference!!!  This is what I suggest:
First, decide how you are going to lay out the castle.  Mr. McGroovy's plans are very general.  You need to figure out where you are going to put the different sized boxes that you have collected.  I laid out the boxes by myself .  It is easiest if you have at least 2 boxes that are the same size for the tunnels on either side.
This is what the room looked like when my first volunteer arrived.
Mr. McGroovy explains how to cut the boxes even if they are not the same size.
This is the point where it REALLY helps to have a second person working with you.  I learned that the easiest way to put the rivets in is to have a person inside the box poke a hole through both boxes.  I had lent my awl to another teacher and found that a meat thermometer also worked very well for making the holes.  The person inside the box should then put their rivet through the hole.  The person on the outside will be able to see what's happening and line the 2nd rivet up at a 90 degree angle and then both people push their rivets until they ratchet together. It really is very simple (with help).  It took less than 3 hours to put the castle together and cut most of the windows and ramparts.

Fourth - Paint the Castle

This step can definitely include the kids.  I bought latex "OOPS" paint at Lowes for $4.  My color choices were hot pink or grey.  I chose grey.  Following Mr. McGroovy's suggestion, we used paint pads.  
The whole process was actually incredibly neat.  I used extra cardboard that I stuck under the edge of the castle as a drop cloth.  I then had the kids take off their shoes and socks.  I did this so they would know if they stepped in paint and could wipe their feet before walking across the room.  The painters also put on big t-shirts.  I had 3 painters working at a time.  I put the paint on the paint pad (and took off the extra paint on the edge of the pan) and then handed the paint pad to the child.  Each child got three refills of paint and then it was someone else's turn.  Although I had to paint the high spots, the kids did a wonderful job painting most of the castle.  

Fifth - Decorate the Castle

This is where we are now.  We'd love your suggestions for this step!

 UPDATE: We've Added Lots of Bling!

This year I have a class that loves bling…They wanted the castle to have jewels, glitter, flowers, lights and thrones. This is what we did.
Princesses, Dragons and Knights made flowers.
Everyone made torches (we have enough torches to light a whole kingdom:)
The finished product is spectacular.
Flowers - check

Flames - check

Glitter and Jewels - check

Thrones - check

Windows (and dragons) - check

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Our Chihuly Masterpiece

Last summer when I traveled west to see my son (and a few of my favorite bloggers) in Canada, I spent a day in Seattle Washington.  One of the things I did was go to the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit that is right next to the Space Needle.  Dale Chihuly is an artist who makes amazing sculptures and huge glass installations from blown glass.
I actually first learned of Chihuly from Pinterest where I saw all sorts of art projects for kids using crazy straws.  The actual art is truly amazing.  I especially loved the way the beautiful pieces were lit.  The glass practically glowed.

I decided I wanted to add Chihuly to our Art Unit this year and chose to try making something inspired by this ceiling in Las Vegas:

I have melted plastic cups before and saw that Jeanette from Artchoo! had used them to emulate Chihuly's glass pieces.  I had each child color several plastic cups using permanent markers (bigger markers worked better).

I then put the cup in a toaster oven set to 350.  The artist came and stood next to me and told me when he or she thought I should take the cup out of the oven (it was less than a minute).  I then removed the cup with my bare hand.
It was interesting to see how differently each of the cups shrunk and melted.  We used several different types of cups that I found around my house and school. Originally, we used clear "soft" plastic glasses.  Some turned a little milky and some stayed clear. The Chinet "cut crystal" ones rolled up. When I still need more cups, I found a few blue and pink plastic cups (still transparent) and let the kids decorate those. Because they were too tall for the toaster oven I cut them down which worked  well.  I'm so glad that we ended up using  different types of cups because it added a lot of interest to our final project. I think that all of the cups had the recycle number 6 on the bottom. 

I wanted our Chiluly inspired work to be lit up like the ones I saw in Seattle.  Since one of my light covers was broken, I decided to tape it back together and then hot glue our art directly to the light cover.  It took a lot of cups to cover the entire area but the result is really cool!
Of course my iPhone doesn't begin to do justice to how cool this project looks.  

It makes me want to cover all of my fluorescent lights. Now that would be spectacular!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

OREO Words

         We LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Oreo Words in my class.  Oreo Words are 2 letter words that we memorize by spending 1-2 minutes a day with our Oreo Words book. I first heard about Oreo Words at a Dr. Jean conference and they are more effective than anything else I have seen at giving young kids a genuine excitement about their emerging ability to read.  When I taught Kindergarten, I introduced Oreo Words as soon as school started.  In Pre-K, we start learning Oreo Words in January.  Below is a page from our Oreo Word book.  We usually begin with 5 or 6 words (such as no, go, at, it, my) and add a few new words every week or two (the book has 24 words eventually!!!).
         Oreo Words can be read using real Oreos or just with our hands.  I usually introduce the words with real Oreos.  I give each child an Oreo (that I twist open as I hand it to the child).  The child opens the Oreo and holds a side in each hand.  We then say the first letter together as they lick the left inside of the Oreo.  We say the second letter as they lick the right side and then they put the Oreo together and say the word.  I might then say "Let's try that again" or I often use the word in a sentence "It is a beautiful day." or I ask a child to do it alone. When the children are really comfortable with a word such as "at" I will say "put a b in front of it" and they will say "bat."  They also think that is really cool.  After we have gone through all the words the kids eat the Oreos.

We only use real Oreos about once every couple weeks (often when we introduce new words).  On the other days, we practice with our hands (we don't lick our hands - we just wave them in front of our mouth!).
"i" "t"

       It is amazing how quickly the kids learn the words this way.  However, what makes Oreo Words SO cool is that the kids find them everywhere. They find them in our Morning Message and on bulletin boards and in books and on signs and .…They LOVE finding Oreo Words!  I make a big deal when they point out Oreo Words and the kids' parents naturally get excited when the kids point out Oreo Words.  It's hard not to be happy when your 4 or 5 year old child is so delighted to find "m-e, me" in ACME Market. 
      After we have been doing our Oreo Words for a few weeks (for just a minute or two a day) I bring out the Melissa and Doug hangman game.  
I introduce the game to the whole class and then put it out for free play.  I have the child who will be thinking of a word  move away from the kids they are playing with and write the Oreo Word they are thinking of on a small post-it that they put on the back of the board.  They then draw 2 lines on the bottom and  then the others guess letters.  The kids love playing this game and it is great because they are getting writing practice (writing the word on a post-it), fine motor skill practice (turning the letters and body parts), taking turns and following rules practice and great reasoning skills practice (some have already figured out which vowels are most likely to be used).  I love that all these complex skills can be practiced without adult supervision and that the kids get so much pleasure out of playing the game.
writing an Oreo Word on a post-it
           I love Oreo Words even thought I don't think that it is appropriate to push young children to read.  As I told our parents in a newsletter:

What I love about Oreo words is they give kids a great deal of confidence to explore text and words. Please congratulate your child when they notice Oreo words, either alone or in bigger words.  Of course, Oreo words, like all learning in Pre-K, should be fun so please let the kids introduce them to you.