Classroom Solutions > Allie Magnuson > Differentiate Your Kindergarten Classroom

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Differentiate Your Kindergarten Classroom

Differentiating in KindergartenIt's a fact: every child is unique, and as teachers we know that more than anyone else. So why do we often find ourselves trying to teach every child the same way?

While it is easier and more natural for us to make students sit still and feed them information, it is no longer a viable option. Children need differentiated instruction.

Children Are Hard-Wired to Learn By Using All of Their Senses

The four primary senses, or modalities, everyone uses to process information are the visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic senses. In addtion, we all have talents, strengths, and intelligences in one or more of eight primary subjects (verbal/linguistic, visual/spatial, logical/mathematical, bodily/kinesthetic, naturalist, musical, interpersonal, and intrapersonal). Some people learn better using one of the senses than the others, and are stronger in some subjects than they are at others. And each child has a different mix of these strengths and preferences. Author and teacher Cindy Middendorf states the situation perfectly:

With children processing information in so many different ways (modalities), with so many different strengths (intelligences), at so many different rates (skill levels) and at so many different levels of maturity (developmental ages), what's a teacher to do?

MultiSensory, Active Involvement Grows Brain Cell Connections

By giving your students as many different ways as possible to learn and understand a topic, you are creating many different neurological pathways in their brains, so if they have a hard time processing information through one part of the brain, they can access it through another. It is a shame that subjects like music, art, and social studies are being tossed aside for more "academic" pursuits, despite the fact that they are clearly needed in a child's overall learning experience. You can easily reinstate these subjects in your classroom to create a learning environment that is holistic and yet still entirely academic.

Tailor Your Teaching to Meet the Needs of All Learners

The best way to do this is to provide a variety of activities related to your topic, being sure to include at least one for each of the four primary modalities and the eight primary strengths (there may be some overlap), and incorporating whole-group, small-group, and one-on-one instruction.

Differentiating in KindergartenSince Mother's Day and Father's Day are coming up, we're learning about families this month. To give you an understanding of how a topic or unit of study can be explored in many different ways, I've listed some ideas below for differentiating while teaching a family unit.

Differentiating in Kindergarten


The Modalities

    Students can . . .

  • Brainstorm and make mind maps about the topic of families
  • Follow along as you take them on a guided imagery tour, such as a day in the life of a pretend family
  • Visualize their own families or scenarios
  • Role-play
  • Look at displays of family-related posters, artwork, vocabulary, and books
  • Watch videos about families, including home videos
  • Have their families show family photographs, make family trees, plot time lines of family events, and indicate on a map where family members live


    Students can . . .

  • Discuss families as a class
  • Talk about their own families
  • Listen to you talk about your own family   
  • Listen to you read family-related books
  • Listen to family-related songs and sound effects
  • Listen to music while working on activities about families 


    Students can . . .

  • Manipulate family objects (e.g., photo albums, hospital name tags, wedding rings)
  • Touch things commonly associated with family members (e.g., neckties, purses, pacifiers)


    Students can . . .

  • Hop, skip, or jump to chants about families
  • Play Mother, May I? or Father, May I?
  • Give hugs and blow kisses like families


The Intelligences



    Students can . . .

  • Read about families
  • Listen to audio books or songs about families
  • Write or journal about families
  • Type family stories on the computer
  • Tell family stories orally in whole group or small groups
  • Write to family members
  • Play Hangman with a family theme
  • Showcase their family books in the Classroom Library 


    Students can . . .

  • Draw comic strips of family events
  • Design family paper dolls and clothing
  • Draw blueprints of their homes
  • Build their homes in the blocks center
  • Play with dollhouses/play sets
  • Play in the housekeeping center
  • Make family illustrations on the computer
  • Play Pictionary with a family theme
  • Display their family artwork in the Classroom Art Gallery               

  Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence BODILY/KINESTHETIC INTELLIGENCE

    Students can . . .

  • Act out family roles, concepts, or scenarios in dramatic play centers
  • Put on family-themed readers theater or puppet shows
  • Imitate common family movements, body language, expressions, and gestures
  • Perform chants, poems, hand claps, finger snaps or fingerplays about families
  • Dance to music about families
  • Answer questions about their families and find others who answered the same way
  • Put together puzzles of families
  • Play Simon Says with a family theme ("Mommy says brush your teeth"; "Daddy says sweep the floor," etc.)
  • Showcase talents in the Classroom Theater


    Students can . . .

  • Discover similarities and differences between families
  • Look at cut-out faces and predict who belongs in whose family
  • Match earlier pictures to later pictures
  • Sequence family members by age, birth date, etc.
  • Survey or ask questions about each other's families
  • Sort and categorize data about each other's families
  • Count family members or traits (e.g., how many blondes?)
  • Write family word problems
  • Evaluate the probability of having a certain height, hair or eye color, etc.
  • Classify physical traits and make deductions while playing Guess Who? with pictures of family faces
  • Share math logs in the Classroom Laboratory


    Students can . . .

  • Identify each other and their families
  • Classify family members by relation
  • Analyze, interpret, and describe family photos
  • Sequence family photos and record the changes
  • Collect and examine family objects
  • Make models of homes and habitats
  • Catalog and describe family pets
  • Watch videos and make observations about families or family pets
  • Plant or dissect anything with seeds to examine how families are made
  • Learn about anatomy and biology while playing Operation with pictures of family faces
  • Share lab notebooks in the Classroom Laboratory


    Students can . . .

  • Talk to each other about their families
  • Give each other responses and feedback
  • Show appreciation for family diversity
  • Role-play family traits such as caring, honesty, forgiveness, listening, respect, loyalty, and love
  • Practice communication and listening skills with telephones made of toilet paper rolls and yarn
  • Work in teams to solve common family problems
  • Share ideas about how to help out at home
  • Play Family Feud with a family theme
  • Plan an event together for Family Night


    Students can . . . 

  • Journal about their families
  • Write about the history of their families (since they were born)
  • Talk about the strengths and weaknesses of their families
  • Share the culture or values of their families
  • Describe feelings about their families
  • Draw hopes, dreams, and goals for their families
  • Relate books, videos, etc. to their own family experiences
  • Play Don't Wake Daddy with pictures of their dads or other male family members
  • Write to-do/chore lists
  • Share family thoughts, stories, and objects in the Show & Tell Theater


    Students can . . .

  • Listen to and interpret songs about families or family events
  • Make up songs about families
  • Create sound effects commonly heard in homes
  • Listen to music from when they were born, when their parents were kids, etc.
  • Listen to music from or about the countries, regions, or cultures of their families
  • Record themselves singing or playing instruments
  • Make music on the computer
  • Play Musical Chairs with family music
  • Perform in the Classroom Concert Hall



You Can't Get It Wrong

Keep in mind that the preferrered modalities and intelligences of very young children may not yet be clearly defined or developed. And don't worry about getting it wrong. All children take in information through all modalities, and have potential strengths in all intelligences. Exposing your students to different ways of learning will enrich them, not limit them. Just try to reinforce each child's strongest modality and most comfortable intelligence as much as you can.

To learn about some of my favorite resources for multisensory teaching, tune in tomorrow for my follow-up post, "Resources for the Differentiated Classroom." Also check out my families booklist.

Have a different weekend!




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Allie Magnuson
Allie Magnuson
Las Vegas, NV
Grades PreK-K
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