Friday, July 31, 2015

My 10 Best Tips For Teaching T.K.

Have You Heard of TK?

If you teach Pre-K or K you will probably get a lot out of this post, so read on.

The sign says, "Welcome to The Kingdom"
See what I did there?
T.K. = The Kingdom
We have T.K., Transitional Kindergarten in CA. It all started a few years ago because children in CA didn't have to be 5 years old until Dec. 2. Think about that for a minute. That made about 25% of the K students in CA way younger than most K students in other states. That also meant that when 8th grade scores are compared across the country, no one ever considered that about 25% of the 8th grade students in CA were in a grade one year higher than most 8th graders in other states. So they moved our kindergarten entry date back to Sept 1. 

The state decided to provide Transitional Kindergarten for all of the students born between Sept. 1 and Dec. 1. Those students may attend T.K. for one year and then kindergarten for one year. Exceptions can be made if the parent and school both agree that a child can skip T.K., but they may not enter K until they are 5 years old.

That said, a new curriculum, standards, and assessments needed to be made. T.K. is not just kindergarten light. It focuses more on social development, language skills, and fine motor skills. Academic skills like letter names, sounds, sight words, numbers, and shapes are still taught, but with an emphasis on social and language skills.

My 10 Best Tips For Teaching T.K.:

1. Meet your class outside at least 5 minutes before school starts. 
Then they can tell you all about how their dog threw up last night or how they got to have pancakes that morning with 4 1/2 blueberries. This will save you tons of time when you are trying to take attendance and they just HAVE to share this important information with you.
One morning, I brought the ducks out that we had hatched.

2. Take it easy. 
Avoid rushing kids to finish within a time schedule. Schedules are great, but build in extra time so children won't feel rushed and you won't feel stressed. Does every project need to be completed? Maybe not. Don't worry about building bad habits. They still have next year to practice working faster. For now, plan short projects and build in play time so students are motivated to complete their tasks. And make sure that all students get that play time. Sometimes you just have to ask, "Would you like to finish that later?" Trust me. It will be fine.
Free choice activity to do when your work is done. 

3. You don't have to use a pencil for everything. 
Provide opportunities for students to use other tools such as paint brushes and water. Let students paint their name with water on the playground, use Wiki-sticks to create letters and numbers, or write in shaving cream on the tables. 
To clean up, wipe up with DRY paper towels first. When most of the soap is off the table,
use damp paper towels and then dry ones. 
4. Set up educational centers that promote investigation, exploration, and imagination. 
I love centers that don't have any directions. Just put out some magnets, a variety of objects, and two containers with a happy face on one and a sad face on the other. Students will quickly discover that some objects are attracted to the magnets and some are not and they will decide which container to place the objects in. Other centers might in include Sink & Float or just a variety of seasonal objects found in nature and a few magnifying glasses. 
Just put everything out. They will figure out what to do and they will be so excited
about their discoveries! 

5. Plan free time for you to circulate throughout the room. 
It's a perfect time to give praise, assist with fine motor skills, or just get to know your students better. I tried to schedule about 20 min. each morning when I was able to just sit and work with individual students. 
Making food in our home center.

6. Provide lots of models. 
Samples of their names written with a broad tip marker on on a lined name tag and glued to a piece of construction paper can be laminated and used as a personal workspace. Wiki-sticks will stick nicely to the letters and the laminated work mats keep glue from sticking to your tables. Mats can be easily washed and kept clean. 
You can barely see the blue name tag attached to the blue work mat on the left side of the table.

7. Provide brain breaks. 
Have you heard of Go Noodle. Lots of their site is FREE and your students will love moving and dancing along with their short videos. No Internet? A quick run outside goes a long way in terms of waking up their brains and rejuvenating them. Never keep kids in at recess. They need it and so do you.
Go with
8. Set up centers that encourage oral language. 
If you don't have a home center, hit some yard sales or make a pretend stove out of a cardboard carton. A puppet center can be created by setting puppets inside of single desk and using the desk top as the stage. You can always make stick puppets if you don't own any puppets. Set up a pretend store with plastic coins. Set out "partner puzzles" where two students work together to complete a puzzle. That will encourage language!
Our lemonade stand

Pretending to travel by bus. Just add luggage. 

Place silk flowers and plants at the garden shop.

Working together at the hair salon.

Partner Puzzles.


9. Bring music into your classroom. 
You can play soft music while students are working or playing. You can also bring in an electric keyboard for free exploration. I would take the extra step and add a set of headphones to this center. Provide time for your students to play rhythm instruments and create their own music. If you don't own rhythm instruments, you can make them by placing objects like rice, coins, or beans in sealed containers. And remember to sing about everything you do. Include Heidi's Songs when teaching the letter names, sounds, numbers, etc. Click HERE for her great teaching songs. 
An old keyboard and a set of headphones.

10. Say something wonderful to EVERY student EVERY day. 
Whether you are the only person who says something nice to them or not, it is important to them that they feel loved, liked, and important. Even if they are getting all of this at home, they still need it and want it from you. Of course, you need to be sincere and honest. Wouldn't you just LOVE going somewhere every day if you knew you were loved, liked, and important? They will fall in love with school and will feel at ease. 
Praise, praise, praise!

I hope you found some of these tips familiar as things you already do because you are awesome!
And I hope you found at least one little jewel you can take back to your classroom and try. 
Whether you teach Pre-K, T.K., or K, give these tips a try and let me know how they worked for you. 

Keep your T.K. homework simple too. Here is a set of homework that encourages oral language interaction with each child's parents:

Click the image to see the 34 week set.

Click on the image to grab your entire set.

Do you have a favorite tip? Please share in the comments. 


  1. Thank you for sharing these wonderful tips. I wish our TK students were in designated TK classes rather than in TK/K combos. Nothing has really changed for us except that they have a second year. When you have classes of 28-32 kiddos and only 3 are TK's it's difficult to give them the curriculum that they need. Any suggestions?

    1. 28-32 kids in one class is challenging in and of itself. I used all of these techniques in my TK/K combo. The only difference was during small group time and table work time. That's when I taught the K standards to my K kids and provided them with table activities designed to help them master the K standards. Other than that, they got to experience lots of "play" time developing their social skills and oral language. When you meet with your 3 TKs (and maybe a few of your lowest Ks) provide small group instruction that fosters their fine-motor development and conceptual understanding of letters & numbers. Someone told me to remember that at the beginning of the year, they are all really just T.K. students, right? And even your oldest English Only K students are still English Language learners because they are only 5! They ALL need to develop their language skills. :)

  2. Great tips! I'm sure teachers will find them very useful!