Miss Night's Marbles

Musings, mumbles, marvels, and sometimes mockery, live from kindergarten.

Trial run: One Minute Playdough

Ok, so it is blizzarding to beat hell outside, and so OBVIOUSLY, I spent the morning with the fireplace, a vanilla latte, and my iPad. Both my google reader and my Pinterest feed were fully loaded, and I honestly don’t remember what led me to this:

ONE MINUTE PLAYDOUGH!!! (click through for the original post)

I know.

Playdough with 2 easy ingredients, one minute, NO COOKING? Not even boiling water?

I pinned it (because: of course I did.), and tweeted it out to my #kinderchat posse.

Of course, everyone was immediately skeptical. And the comments section of the original post report mixed results. So, what the hell: snowy Sunday, 2 ingredients – I tried it.

Ingredients: 1 cup regular white flour. Several big swirly squirts of Dawn, (original blue) dishwashing liquid soap. I wonder if a cheaper, more watery brand would make a softer dough…

Process: Put flour in bowl. Add big squirt of soap. Mix with hands until all the liquid is combined. Repeat until it is one lump of dough and not an assortment of crumbs. (I used progressively smaller squirts as it got closer and closer to being dough.)

Once it was one big lump, I pulled it out of the bowl and kneaded on the counter until it was all the same colour and texture. (The colour was sort of light-toothpastey blue. I didn’t add any other food colour, but I’m sure you could.)


  • It is not quite like regular playdough, but more… rubbery/springy/tough. Sort of like when you make floury biscuit dough and it springs back a little when you roll it or poke it. It also feels a little soapy (which, hello Captain Obvious, MAKES SENSE, because IT IS MADE OF SOAP.) In general, it is firmer than regular playdough, but workable, and I think workable for little hands. Would be a good workout for those with weak hand & finger muscles!
  • I set it on a cutting board that was still a little damp, and it got sticky and sort of broke down where it touched, which, once again, MAKES SENSE because IT IS MADE OF SOAP.
  • I rolled it on a dry counter top, and and because it leaves a thin film of soap on the surface, it didn’t have enough traction to roll more than once in any given spot. It was easier to roll between my hands.
  • It doesn’t stick together (see the snowman) as well as regular playdough, and once you break a piece off, it takes some effort to knead it back into the rest of the dough.
  • It seemed like maybe, after a certain point, it got stiffer the more I kneaded and played with it.
  • It has now been sitting on the counter for 15 or 20 minutes, and the surface is getting a little dry, but softened up with I worked it a little.
  • I didn’t try it with a rolling pin or cookie cutters because I don’t have any at home. I think it would work okay, but that cutouts would puff out a little and get not-so-clear around the edges.


(The picture makes it look more crumbly and dry than it really was. I never pretended to be a photographer.)

Unexpected advantages:

  • My hands and countertop are VERY clean, because I basically just rubbed soap all over them and then rinsed with water.
  • It smells clean and pleasant, and you could vary the smell by using different dish soap.
  • While I did not ACTUALLY taste it, I’m thinking that the whole “no eating playdough” thing would be a non-issue, even with toddlers, because IT IS MADE OF SOAP.
  • Because you make it “by feel” and not with a precise ratio of ingredients, it would be super easy to make a batch of any size, or for each child to make their own small batch in a bowl.
  • When you are done with the batch, kids could break off tiny pieces and use them to wash their hands, and they would think it was HILARIOUS to wash their hands with playdough!

Possible pitfalls:

  • Not sure how it would affect kids with very sensitive skin. (Hmmm… I wonder if you could do it with baby shampoo?)
  • Handwashing afterwards is important, because IT IS MADE OF SOAP.

Verdict: I would totally make it with kids. I think they would like the process and the product. Flour and liquid soap are pretty easy to come by. It would also be a good one to keep in mind if you do not have kids, but have friends with kids who ever visit you. You could be the coolest auntie/uncle/grownup IN THE WORLD!

So, there you go. Now, it’s your turn – make yourself some soapdough and let me know how it goes!


1 Comment »

Ask Miss Night: How to ensure “student led” program for all 23 students?

And awaaayyyy we go!

Thanks to  my new friend JB, who submitted my very first Ask Miss Night question, just hours after I first added the page. JB, you will never know what a confidence booster that was. The very least I can do in return is reply to your question first!

Starting very soon, JB will be teaching Junior Kindergarten, in Ontario, Canada. In the province of Ontario, JrK is included as part of the public school system. She has 23 students in her class, most of them are 4 year olds, although there will be a few 3 year olds for the first part of the year: children must turn 4 before December 31st to be eligible for JrK. Her children attend full days, but on alternating days – she will have 2 different groups of 23 children. (I’m assuming it is something like this: Group A comes Monday, Wednesday, and alternating Fridays; Group B does Tuesday, Thursday, alternating Fridays). She will have a classroom aide only if she has a student who needs extensive support, and if that happens, the aide will be for that student only, not the whole group. (This surprises me – I thought the Ontario model included a teacher and an ECE in each class, but maybe I am wrong? Or maybe funding has not turned out as promised?)

The Ontario Kindergarten Program requires that teachers offer a play-based, student-led program, with very little whole group instruction. From what JB has told me (as well as my own research), the role of the teacher is to serve as a guide: enhancing and extending the natural learning that occurs through play. JB has a good grasp of what this means, and seems at ease with the underlying philosophy (YAY JB! The Ontario program really is a model for other provinces, as well as other countries. You go, girl!), but her question is this:

“Do you have some tips, suggestions, strategies to help me move around the room of 23 three and four-year old children throughout the day, quickly and efficiently so that I might respond to, challenge and extend each and every child’s learning ?”


Eeep! Ok, my first thought here is: TWENTY THREE 3 & 4 year olds ALL BY YOURSELF? Cheezus Crisco, brace yourself! However, I realise that is not exactly a helpful response. Also, while we all KNOW the advantages of student-led programming, it is still a little daunting to figure out how to follow the lead of 23 children, without having to do 23 things at the same time, or split yourself in 23 different directions. (We all know the very maximum, even for teachers, is 15 things/directions at once, right?) And JB, I already admire your commitment to connecting with every child, every day. That is a big commitment, but so important. It is so easy for the quiet, compliant, meek little ones to slip under the radar until one day you realize you haven’t had a conversation with one of them ALL WEEK.

So, I think that, if I was in your situation, this is what I would do: I would make a daily checklist that I carried around on a clipboard (or maybe you could bind a bunch together in a little booklet…?). The checklist itself could be super-simple: just a spot for the date, a list of kids names, and room for notes next to each name. If you wanted to get fancy, you could make columns for things like what activities that child was doing, who they were playing with, what skills you saw, what skills need development. But, if it was me, I would just do a “Name” column and a “Notes” column. As I circulated around the room, I would add at least a checkmark, and if needed a quick note about the children as I observed and interacted with them.  I would extend the children’s play as I interacted with them, but would also then use those notes to plan the next day’s play activities. I know that carrying a clipboard is a little unwieldy… if you can write really small, you could maybe make the list just a  half-page, and then bind a bunch into a notebook half the size? As a bonus – think of all the rich material this would give you at report card/progress report/assessment times – you’d have daily notes on each kiddo! With 23 kids, your notes would have to be in some kind of code or short-hand, but that wouldn’t be hard to develop. This could get fun if the kids catch on to what you are doing – it could evolve to a point where they have input into what is in your notes. Once they are settled and into the routine, it might be really interesting to explicitly tell them that you make notes every day about what they are learning, what they enjoy, what they could learn next, and that if they have things they want you to remember, they can tell you. How cool would it be for them to have an active, explicit voice in the direction of their own learning?? “Please write down that tomorrow I want more time to string beads.” “Please write that I want to learn to zip my coat.” Fun, right? If you went that way, you could also make the “by request” lists public, on a white board. (You could take a picture of the whiteboard before erasing it, so you have it documented.) The more I think about it, the more potential I see to involve the children in this process…

If you have an iPad and/or iPhone/Smartphone, the other tool that could be really great for this (regardless of how/whether you involve the children),  is an app called Evernote. I used it for digital portfolios for my kids last year, and am already thinking about how to also use it for ongoing notes this year. I blogged about it in detail here. You could make a notebook for each child, or a notebook for each class group, and then title or tag your notes with kids’ names… With a phone or iPad, you could type a quick note (or even snap a pic!) about each child. The iPad interface makes it pretty easy to see if there are any notebooks you haven’t updated on any given day. Once again, you would also end up with great documentation to answer parent questions and/or  help you write reports.

As much as possible, I would try to move through the room naturally, interacting with the children in small groups as they play, rather than being super-systematic about following the checklist. Once there was less than an hour of potential interaction time remaining, I would check to see if there was anyone I was missing, and make a point of checking in with that/those child(ren). Again, if the kids were involved, and knew this was part of your daily routine, they would be happy to let you know if you have not checked in with one of them!

To me, the important thing here is that JB is on board with the philosophy of her program, and has a good understanding of what “student-led” should mean. JB, I hope this is helpful in some small way – please check in and let us know how it all goes! Readers, if you think of something I have missed, please jump in in the comments.

Smiles and Sunshine to all;

Miss Night

Do YOU have a question for me and/or the readers (who are, truly, ever so much smarter than me)? Click here to share the juicy details!





Peace like sleeping in a new bunk bed

I knew there was no way I would get away with mentioning a “Peace Potion” on the Twitterz, without doing a follow-up blog post. Plus, I want to record every bit of this little project, because it blew away my wildest expectations.

So, first, you need to know about this group of children. They are so many things: bright, articulate, impatient, talkative, curious, enthusiastic. They are FUNNY. They are quirky. They are LOUD. They are generous. They are chaotic. They are reflective. They are emotional. They are so many wonderful things.

They are rarely peaceful.

Because of these children, our classroom is many things. It is friendly, it is busy, it is active, it is colourful. It is LOUD. It is full of laughter and songs, questions, investigations and tangents. It is messy. It is FUN. Did I mention it is LOUD?

It is rarely peaceful.

And, while I am certainly NOT of the belief that silence is required for learning, I do think we all need a little more peace in our lives. And I definitely have some kiddos this year who need support to find peace within themselves. Whether it is anxiety, anger, impulsiveness, or agitation, many of them have times when they struggle to have peaceful bodies and minds. We do a lot of “balloon breathing.” We do a lot of yoga. We listen to a lot of ocean waves and dolphin calls.

So then, on Pinterest, I came across the idea of a “Calm-Down Jar”: basically, a jar of glitter and coloured water, which a child shakes, then watches (and relaxes) until all the glitter settles.

So simple. So brilliant. So perfect.

Ok, we need one in my class. But the kids need to help make it. And we need to call it something else (because a “calm down jar” sounds little too much like a “time out jar,” which these kids will interpret as an “in trouble” jar.) A Peace Potion? Perfect. And the alliteration works in French AND English!

While the kids were at the gym, I set the stage. On a towel in the middle of our circle, I put out a wide-mouth plastic jar (not brave enough to encourage kids to shake a glass jar over a tile floor), a jug of water, a dish of blue food colouring with an eye dropper, blue and silver glitter glue, and big shakers of blue, silver, and purple glitter.

When they returned from gym, I stopped them in the hallway, explained that we were going to make a potion, and for it to work, we had to be very very quiet and peaceful before we even went into the classroom. We did deep breaths and shook off our sillies, and moved quietly into the dim classroom (peace, of course,  is much easier to achieve with the lights off.). The children sat in our circle, around the “ingredients.” and we talked about peace: what it feels like in your body and your brain,  times and places we feel peaceful, why it is good to have peace in your mind, heart, and body, why sometimes we don’t feel peaceful.  (They are very comfortable with this kind of conversation, as we have been talking a lot about how feelings FEEL in our bodies, minds, and hearts, and when/where/why we feel different things.)  Their answers left me misty: “Our classroom is peaceful at rest time when everyone has a book they love.” “Peace feels calm like water, or sleeping in a new bunk bed.”  “I feel peaceful when my whole family puts on our snowsuits and we go outside and lay on the ground and look at the clouds.” “Peace feels like love. Like when you see your mom after school and you love her.”

Lots of their answers included mentions of the sky and/or water, which made a nice lead-up to how blue is a very peaceful, calm, colour, and therefore the best colour for our Peace Potion. I then asked them to close their eyes and think peaceful thoughts, and said that, when they could feel peace in their bodies, minds, and hearts, to raise their hand and I would invite them to come add the ingredient of their choice to the jar. (The choices: a drop of food colour, a spoonful of glitter glue, or several hard shakes of loose glitter.) Each child took a turn, carefully adding the ingredient that most appealed to them. It is worth mentioning that this whole series of events took more than 20 minutes, and they were COMPLETELY engaged and quiet THE WHOLE TIME (this never happens. N.E.V.E.R.)

Photo cc licensed by Flickr. Shared by jurvetson.

Once everyone had added their ingredient, I had them close their eyes again and think their most peaceful thoughts, while I filled the jar with water. Some of them were so completely caught up in the “magic” of the moment that, when they opened their eyes, they thought the jar had magically filled up, all by itself. I put the lid on the jar, and we passed it around the circle, each child shaking it 3 times until all the ingredients were mixed up. I then said that the potion needed to rest until after lunch recess. (This was because I wanted to hot glue the lid on before putting it in the kids’ hands.)

The children talked about peace, and The Potion, all the way through lunch and recess. They urgently reminded each other to stay peaceful “so the potion will work!” One of my most scientific, analytical, little dudes came over and said: “Mme, the glitter in the jar is OUR THOUGHTS! Our peaceful thoughts are IN THE JAR!” After recess, I heard many reports that students in other classes had been “not very peaceful outside.”

And, while all of this was very wonderful, the real magic was only beginning…

More tomorrow, when I am recovering from Daylight Saving.

Peace on Earth.


Of bellybutton lint & glitter…

So, you teach. (At least, I assume that most of my readers teach.  Those of you who don’t teach, this is still good, I promise.) You are tech-friendly, as evidenced by the fact that you read blogs. (Or, at least, you read THIS blog, which seems like a good first step.) Maybe you LIKE some teaching-related stuff on Facebook. Maybe you blog yourself. And maybe you have heard or read a little bit about how teachers are using Twitter for professional development. And you think it sounds sort of cool, but it’s also like trying to decode a whole other language. What in the name of heaven is a hashtag? What’s with the @ symbol in front of everything? With 100 million users, how do I even FIND these amazing teachers?

Alternatively: you teach. You are tech-friendly (if not downright tech-crazy). You blog and you read blogs and you belong to 856 Facebook communities related to education. You are on Twitter and you LOVE it, and you sing the praises of your PLN to everyone who will listen. The problem? No one will listen, because “Twitter is just a bunch of celebrities tweeting about their bellybutton lint and what they ate for breakfast,” and they “just don’t have time to figure all that out.”

Whoever you are, this, my friends, is for you:
(Watch it in full-screen, if you can; it’s better that way.)


So you want to tweet with kindergarten…

So, based on the response I have had to my recent media exposure, it seems that another how-to post is in order. Many people have asked me how to get started tweeting with young students, and honestly, the responsibility of guiding you through this is sort of daunting. To simply tell you: “Set up an account and go!” is woefully inadequate, and possibly negligent. As I have described in previous posts, my own decision to tweet with kindergarten was slow, thoughtful, deliberate. Your decision should be, too. With that said, this is my attempt to walk you through Twittergarten (as it has been coined by a reporter I know…). This process remains equally true if you are tweeting with any grade level, by the way, so don’t be turned off by the frequent kinder-references. Also: I stand by my statement that this is not a how-to blog. I don’t think I tweet with kindergarten any BETTER than anyone else.  This is just how I do it, and this is the only way I can, in good conscience, advise you to do it.
**An opening sidebar:  If you are tweeting with just one other class, in the context of Kindergarten Around the World, I’m not sure that ALL of these steps are strictly necessary, and some of them have been done for you, by me. In fact, Kindergarten Around the World would be a great way to start tweeting with your class, and then move on to tweeting with multiple classes. That said, effective 2012-13, participation in Kindergarten Around the World has required teachers to have their own twitter account, independent of their class account, for all of the reasons listed below. End of sidebar.**
  • Step 1 – Get on Twitter yourself. I cannot emphasize this enough. If you are not active on Twitter yourself in a professional capacity, I’m not sure that it is responsible for you to start tweeting with your class. From perspectives both technical and ethical, I believe it is important in this situation for teachers to KNOW the medium. Create a personal account, start building a network. Start with me, @happycampergirl, if you don’t have anyone else to start following. Other good choices are @hechternacht (my partner in #kinderchat crime, more on that in a  second), and other #kinderchat stars: @mattbgomez, @mr_fines, @mathmurd @tori1074, @havalah. Follow us, interact with us (we’re nice, I promise), get a feeling for who is who and what is what. Follow links, read some blogs (and comment, too!), make some friends. Participate in a chat or two (the Newbie’s Guide to KinderChat is here, and holds true for other chats, too). This is important for several reasons: a) you will learn HOW to interact on Twitter; b) you will develop some instincts for who your “people” are, and when something is just not right; c)people will get to know you and trust you, which you will need once you start tweeting with your class and are requesting to follow other teachers’ classes. Let’s put it this way: I do not accept follow requests for my class if I have never interacted with their teacher, and (to be completely honest) my class interacts more with the classes of teachers I know well.


(And, all of this aside: even if you do not want to  or cannot tweet with your class, get yourself on Twitter. It is truly the greatest, free PD you will ever find. If #kinderchat doesn’t float your boat, find a chat that does. There are chats for most grades and subject areas. @cybraryman has a great guide, here.)


  • Step 2 – Think through the logistics and reality of tweeting with your class: When will you do it? Do you have the technology? I honestly can’t imagine tweeting with my class without having an Interactive White Board. If you don’t have one, how will you facilitate students’ interactions? (A good PLN can help you figure this out, by the way.) When in your day can you work it in? Twitter is only meaningful if your kids are building relationships with other kids, and that means tweeting regularly. Are you, yourself, completely sold on this medium as a meaningful tool for young children? (Obviously, I am, but you need to draw your own conclusions on this). Read some of the criticisms, here, and here, and think about them, please.


  • Step 3 – Figure out your curriculum connections. What are your goals for tweeting with your class? These will provide you a road map for how you will use twitter in your classroom. Are you focusing on geography and social studies? Literacy and literature? Second language development? Math and numeracy? Intercultural awareness and internationalism? It is okay if your answer is “all of the above!”, just be sure you know where you are going.  Again, there are teachers around the world who are using Twitter for all of these things, and being active on Twitter yourself will help you find them.


  • Step 4 – Talk to your administrators. I want to be clear that, while tweeting with kindergarten seems  to be considered cutting-edge, and, in some eyes, makes me some kind of rebel (if I figure out what exactly I am rebelling against, I will let you know), my boss (and her boss) has always been completely, 100% aware and supportive of what I am doing. Another good reason to be active on Twitter yourself is that it will help you build your case with your admins. Long before I wanted to tweet with my class, my boss knew about all the great ideas and support I was getting from teachers I knew through Twitter.


  • Step 5 – With your boss’s help, think through privacy and security questions. Will you tweet photos/video/audio that shows your students? Your classroom? Your school? How will you identify your students? Full names? First names? Initials? Can you/should you name your school and/or city?  Will your class account be private or protected (I highly recommend private to start, but I know of classes for whom a public account best meets their goals, and I know their teachers are handling safety and privacy very well.) Who will you follow? Who will be allowed to follow you? A good PLN can help you think through these things, and share samples of their own policies/consent forms (are you starting to notice a pattern, here?)


  • Step 6 – Talk to your students’ parents, preferably face to face. Even if your school already has a photo/video/online release policy that covers the use of Twitter (this is pretty unusual, by the way), talk to parents and get their written consent. My students’ parents KNOW what we are doing, they signed written consent forms, and about 1/3 of them are following our class. Before I created my class account last year, I added twitter to my agenda for our November parent-teacher conferences. I explained it to parents, encouraged them to talk/think about it, and to follow-up with me with any questions or concerns.


  • Step 7– When ALL of this is done, and (as my grad school advisor would say:) all of your ducks are in a row: create your class account. Share your screen-name with your admins and your students’ parents.  Use DMs (a DM is a direct, private message on Twitter) to share your class screen-name with teachers you know and trust through twitter, yourself. My class’s screen-name rarely appears in the public stream on Twitter, because I don’t want to field follow requests from spammers or people I don’t know. I share our screen-name only via DM. With your students’ help and input, write your twitter bio, choose an avatar, and send your first tweet.
With that, you are off to the races. I trust that you are all competent teachers, and capable of creating your own activities, organizational systems, and management tricks (although I’m happy to share my own, if you ask.) If all of this sounds a little confusing, and you are wondering why I kept putting a “#” in front of kinderchat, and you’re still not sure how a DM is different from a regular tweet, well…. I would suggest you are not ready to tweet with your class. There are lots of situations where I am completely in favour of learning alongside our students, but, given the attention span of 5-year-olds, and the (manageable, but still present) risks of a social media environment, my position here is that Twitter is not one of those.
For perhaps the 347th time: If you want to get your class on Twitter, you need to get yourself on Twitter, first.