Welcome to My Journey

For more than 20 years I have been teaching children grades three up to seventh grade, until recently when I moved to a pre-kindergarten classroom.  Until then I had never really given the early years much thought, my focus was always on my job in upper elementary and middle school classrooms.  Moving to PreK brought me both excitement and fear.  I’m pretty sure I didn’t even sleep in that very first week, and my days were a blur.  As my nerves began to settle down, and I settled into my new normal, I began to embrace this new journey of learning about the early childhood age and stages.

It wasn’t long before I fell in love with my new position, but I knew that I needed to do more and to learn more so I decided to go back to school to learn about this new age and stage that I was teaching.  While going through my own college courses through American College of Education, I was able to make connections between what I was seeing in my own classroom to what I was learning in my college courses.  It has been exciting and eye-opening.  This blog is meant to reflect on what I have learned, continue to learn, and share my journey and learning with you in hopes that you can help the little ones in your life grow and thrive.

Big Emotions, Big Learning

When I transitioned from teaching upper elementary for over 20 years to a pre-k classroom, I knew the differences were going to be enormous.  I knew I was up for a huge challenge and lots of learning: learning about cognitive development, physical development, what is developmentally appropriate, and so on.  And, I also knew that classroom management would look very different.  But what I didn’t fully brace myself for was social emotional development at this age and stage.

Our curriculum, that had just been adopted that year, had a social emotional component and, as a pre-k team, we put our eggs in that basket, trusted the system, taught the curriculum, and waited for the social emotional component to come…and we waited…and waited.  It was there, but it did not come quick enough for a new teacher, like me at the time, to be able to effectively address such a huge area of growth and learning.  I needed tools in my my teaching tool belt, and quick.

Tapping into my teaching peers helped enormously.  I’m certain that a day didn’t go by where I ran across the hall desperate for nuggets of wisdom to help me help the children that were placed in my care.  Each week, each day, I learned something new about the social emotional development of my pre-kindergartners, what their needs are and strategies to help them grow in this area of development.  Below are a few things that I wish I knew then.

Frustrated, confused, embarrassed, disappointed, irritated, uncomfortable, discouraged.  These are some pretty big words.  And, they are also some pretty big feelings, especially if you are a five year old.  Children at this age feel something big and they just react according to that feeling, kind of a fight or flight scenario.  They might not understand it.  They might not know how to deal with it.  And, most challenging, they might not know how to communicate about it, so they just explode:  tears, hitting, kicking, running, sobbing, yelling.  These are normal reactions.  

So, what can we do about it?  How do we help our little ones?  We cannot assume that children at the age and stage have the vocabulary and language skills to communicate their feelings.  It is our job to understand this and help them.  When children are experiencing big emotions, we can begin to give them the vocabulary associated with these.  

First and foremost, we must be the calm in their storm.  Learn to help them regulate by simply keeping your own calm (S. Grant, personal communication, August 22, 2019).  Try getting down on your knee so that you are eye level and, in your calm, caring voice, tell your child “You look like you’re frustrated.  Would you like a hug?”  This validates the child’s feeling, it supplies a label for it and it brings calm to the situation.  

Talk about big feelings often, using their name.  You can do this by using yourself as an example as children are always watching (Johnson & Etheridge, 2020):  “I couldn’t get the knot untied, and that frustrated me so much so I decided to take a break from trying.”  This validates your feeling, labels your emotion and it demonstrates a strategy to use when you feel this way.

Read stories that are associated with big feelings.  Talk about the characters, problems and solutions.  Have conversations with your child about when they experience similar feelings and talk about strategies that they can use to help regulate themselves again.  Some stories that I really like to use in my classroom are:

  • The Way I Feel by Janan Cain
  • The When I’m Feeling books by Trace Moroney
  • Sometimes I’m Bombaloo by Rachel Vail
  • When I Feel Frustrated by Michael Gordon
  • A Little Spot of Anxiety by Diane Alber
  • A Little Spot of Sadness by Diane Alber
  • Today I’m a Monster by Agnes Green
  • Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst

Over time, help your child implement the strategies that you have brainstormed together:  “I understand that you are frustrated.  Do you think you might need to take a break like we talked about?”

“Cultivating a rich vocabulary allows us to pinpoint our emotions accurately, communicate effectively, and identify appropriate regulation strategies” (Tominsky, O’Bryon, Rivers & Shapses, 2017, p. 8).  When we teach young children about emotions, we teach emotional intelligence.  Growing children who are socially and emotionally competent leads to greater success in school and in life (Bettencourt, Gross, Ho & Perrin, 2018).



Bettencourt, A., Gross, D. Ho, G. & Perrin, N., (2018).  The costly consequences of not being socially and behaviorally ready to learn by kindergarten in Baltimore City.  Journal of Urban Health, 95(1), 36-50.

Johnson, A., & Etheridge, L. (2020). Module 4: Teaching desirable behavior by example. In ED5433 Child Guidance. [Class lecture slides]. Indianapolis, IN: American College of Education.

Tominey, S. L., O’Bryon, E. C., Rivers, S. E. & Shapses, S. (2017).  Teaching emotional intelligence in early childhood.  YC Young Children, 72(1), 6-12.

PreK or K:  How do I Choose?

It seems like only yesterday you were holding your baby safely in your arms, taking in his smell, relishing the newborn moments.  It makes you wonder how you actually got to the last day of preschool so quickly.  What next?  

In Michigan, where I teach, families who are sending their children to public school must make a choice between pre-kindergarten and kindergarten.  So, what’s the difference?  And how do you decide?  

  1. Children who enter either pre-k or kindergarten must turn five before December 1 of the year he begins school.
  2. They are both full day programs in a regular school setting.

…and the similarities pretty much end there.

Pre-K in Michigan is considered an intervention year.  Children who just need a little more time are a good fit for the pre-k classroom.  Curriculum and daily schedules allow for children to ease into learning what a school day feels like.  They include play-based, developmentally appropriate learning opportunities in a context that allows time to develop socially and emotionally.  

In my classroom, my pre-k students arrive in the morning and begin their day with a soft start.  A soft start involves choice.  Some students will choose to pull a tub of Legos or Strawbees and build, some students may choose to grab a puzzle, and some might just need some quiet time in the book nook, snuggling in with a favorite story or coloring a picture.  This gives me time to make my rounds and touch base with each child to greet him personally and meet his needs if I am needed in any way.  Just like adults, children need time to ease into their day and a soft start allows children to do just that.  

As we move into our day of learning, children in my pre-k classroom are rarely in their seat.  We practice academic rigor in developmentally appropriate ways that meet the needs of children through a variety of learning styles (Brown, Feger & Mowry, 2015).  You will find us on the classroom rug singing or reading rhymes and poetry, clapping to syllable beats, subitizing numbers with a magic cloth.  You will find us up on our feet, spread throughout the room so that we can jump up and down or clap to count big numbers.  You will find us at the post office center practicing our letters by writing letters.  But you will also find us engaged, at different times of the day, in learning centers that meet the children developmentally where they are and push them to the next level while working cooperatively with peers and receiving assistance from the teacher (NAEYC, 2009).

In contrast, if your child is ready for more challenge, then kindergarten may be the right spot for her.  In a kindergarten classroom, you will see more seat time and formal instruction.  Of course this comes with appropriate, manipulative-based instruction and practice, but a kindergarten classroom will challenge a child to solve problems in his math journal, or write in his writing journal for a selected amount of time.  It is said that kindergarten may be “the new first grade” (Bassok, Latham & Rorem, as cited in Repko-Erwin, 2017).  There may be some truth here, and perhaps that may help you in your decision making.

In a pre-k classroom, your child will still have a rest, or nap, time.  He will have breaks throughout the day to have a snack and sing songs.  She will experience a large chunk of time at the end of the day to engage in free play with her peers, exploring her own interests and collaborating with others independently.  In a pre-k classroom there will be frequent, whole group and small group social emotional lessons and learning opportunities to practice strategies.  

A year in pre-kindergarten is meant to expose children to what a school day feels like, to expose them to preliminary skills that they will build on in kindergarten, and to allow for time to grow socially and emotionally.  A year in pre-kindergarten for many children is a gift.  As a parent, you have a difficult decision to make for the right placement of your child.  Your school district can help you through a screening and recommendation process, but in the end, you know your child best and what is best for him.  Equip yourself with knowledge of what both pre-k and kindergarten looks like and feels like in your school district, and you are sure to make the right decision for your child and family.


Brown, C.P., Feger, B. S. & Mowry, B., (2015). Helping others understand academic rigor in teachers’ developmentally appropriate practices. Young Children, 70( 4), 62-69. 

NAEYC. (2009).  Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs serving children from birth through age 8.  Retrieved from https://www.naeyc.org/resources/position-statements/dap.

Repko-Erwin, M. E. (2017).  Was kindergarten left behind? Examining US kindergarten as the new first grade in the wake of no child left behind.  Global Education Review, 4(2), 58-74.

Work in Play

My absolute favorite time of day in my classroom is the last 45 minutes, during play time.  If all is going well, I enjoy sitting back in different areas of the room and just taking in the scene.  At first, I felt like I was cheating…teachers don’t sit down.  But it was soon that I realized that I was doing my greatest work, while my students were doing their greatest work.

Sitting back and observing the children that I teach, enables me to know and understand them on a different level as “play is significant as a means for learning, development, and intervention (Myck-Wayne, 2010).  When children engage in free play with their peers, I am able to observe social emotional skills, cognitive development and physical growth.  While this engagement is taking place in an unstructured setting, I am able to intervene and work one on one with individuals in small doses.  More than that, I am also able to take the temperature of the group as a whole and design whole group and small group lessons around the greatest needs that I am seeing during these times.

When I watch the children play in the dramatic play area, I see communication, negotiation and cooperation.  I notice when the children are able to share and take turns, and I notice when this may be a struggle.  It is the perfect time for me to join the group and help the children problem solve their way through these struggles.  I might suggest a strategy that we have learned and practiced, like using a sand timer to help taking turns.  I might help a child find the words to communicate his feelings if he is frustrated with a friend.  The dramatic play area is a favorite of most children and offers many opportunities for both myself and the children to work together to learn and grow.

While watching children in the puzzle area, I see problem solving skills, cooperation and collaboration at work.  The puzzle center shows me incredible communication skills as the children observe the pieces and point out to one another why they do or do not go together.  This communication offers opportunities for the children to learn problem solving and observation skills from one another.  Again, if I see a struggle, I can swoop in to join the group and help children work through these problems, developing skills along the way.  

In the block center children develop problem solving skills while building tall towers, realizing they need certain pieces for strength and stability at the base.  They learn this through trial and error as their towers get taller and topple over (Andrews, 2015).  I observe boys and girls zooming trucks around, strengthening their core as they bend over to push them along the carpet.  I watch children developing fine motor skills while they work in the Play-Doh center, turn the page of the books in the Book Nook, and button the jacket that they just put on the doll.  These are all opportunities for me to watch growth in each area, intervene and offer guidance when needed and take note of which skills could be integrated into whole group and small group lessons.  

Observing children during play not only is an enjoyable time watching the laughter and  fun, it is also a time for me to collect valuable information about what their individual needs are, what the needs of the group are, and it is a time for me to work one on one with children to develop socially, emotionally, cognitively and physically (NAEYC, 2009).  While engaged in play, together we all do our greatest work.



Andrews, N. (2015).  Building curriculum during block play.  Dimensions of Early Childhood, 43(1), 11-15.

Myck-Wayne, J. (2010).  In defense of play: Beginning the dialogue about the power of play.  Young Exceptional Children, 13(4), 14-23.

NAEYC. (2009).  Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs serving children from birth through age 8.  Retrieved from https://www.naeyc.org/resources/position-statements/dap