I love a good theme.
Teaching with a theme never gets old. In fact, I find it brings excitement and wonder back into the classroom after the holidays. Winter months always draw me to themes of snow, arctic animals and penguins. I intertwine themes in our center time. Centers look different due to COVID, but we are still having a blast doing individual activities! Here are some of my favorite winter themed activities, a peek into my center lesson plans this week, and some tips on planning for themes and centers.
Using these pretend ice blocks (Amazon, $10 for 50 pieces) and penguins (Amazon, $26 for 48 penguins) make for some great center ideas. We have these guys in individual sensory bins for students to pretend play. For extra fun, we add some shaving cream! We also use them for block design. We design an ice tower and place a penguin on top and have students mimic our design.
Blank dice (Amazon, 50 for $10) are one of my favorite items to keep on hand. I pair them up with small, reward chart stickers and we have an instant math game on our hands. Pick 6 unique stickers and place them on the sides of the blank dice. Have students roll the dice and then find a matching sticker and add it to their paper. We keep rolling for 2-3 minutes. When the timer goes off, we count how many of each sticker we have.
These adaptive books from The Autism Helper are perfect for a literacy center! They are easy to prep, simple to use, and come with three books in a set. I prep two or three sets of each book and use them in small groups (that way, with COVID, everyone has their own book to use!).
A good craft and art project are a must for a thematic unit. One simply and easy idea is to build igloos with cotton balls. Directed drawings are always simple, too! I love Art For Kids Hub on YouTube for directed drawings. They have a great video on making a penguin! These are fun to do on Zoom calls, too!
Each theme will last for about 2 weeks in my classroom. I change out activities for our centers Monday through Thursday and incorporate holidays, events, and motivating topics for my students whenever possible. I plan for four days of centers (Monday – Thursday) on most weeks, then on Friday, we vote on our favorite activity we’ve done that week in sensory play, math, and literacy and we repeat the center.
No matter the theme you choose, make sure to have fun with your students while they are in centers. Be an active participant! Don’t just stand there and take data. Rather, make sure you have fun, too! Make memories, play with the shaving cream and race your students to see who can make the fastest tower. The more you interact with your students, the more likely they are going to be to work for you.
It’s okay to start small when planning around themes. Don’t go overboard and buy hundreds of dollars worth of materials! There are plenty of resources available within your community with a little digging. I visit our local library and school library for any books I may need. When I purchase things, I try to have a rule that I can use the item in at least three different ways before buying. The goal of a theme is to engage your students and expose them to new ideas and vocabulary. Bottom line: Don’t over think it! Have fun with it! No matter which theme you choose, you and your students will be set up for success!