Sunday, January 14, 2018

Getting Ready for Valentine's Day

I just love Valentine's Day in the classroom. It is just so fun. I love the crafts, making things for parents, exchanging cards, and all the pink. I love the candy, the excitement, and the games. Here's some of my go to favorite things to do on Valentine's Day.

1. I love Valentine's Day boxes that the students create. A few years ago, I started having students create Valentine's Day boxes with their families at home. Each year I cannot wait to see their creativity. Some of them are pretty simple and some are elaborate, but they are all so fun to see. Here is one from last year.
How amazing is that little owl? And the feathers were all made from hearts....super cute! I just sent out the project this Friday so my students can get started. I just can't wait to see this year's boxes. It's a great way to store all of those cards, pencils and candy that the students bring in to share with the class. Here is a blog post from last year with more ideas. 

2. I love doing this simple Valentine's day activity with conversation hearts. Students get a small box of the hearts and a writing paper. They create a story or a letter and use the conversation hearts in it. I did this way back in the day when I was in school. I always remembered how fun it was. Now I do this with my students. I enjoy hearing their stories each year after they write them. 

You can get this activity for free by clicking here. I have used this resource even with my firsties when I used to teach them. It is still something I could use in middle school or even high school too. Different age groups would just do longer or shorter stories.

3. I love the stories around Valentine's Day. I like to collect different stories to share this time of year, but these two are some of my favorites. This one is super cute. It's called Will you Be my Valentine? You can find it here.

This one is my number one top all-time favorite for Valentine's day. If you have never read it, you need to get your hands on a copy right now. It's called Somebody Loves you Mr. Hatch. you can find it here.

4. The games are so fun. In the past, I have enjoyed doing Minute to Win It Valentine's Day games in my class. My class has had a lot of fun with them and so have I. You can do a search and find a ton of different games but here is one example of a bunch of different options. 

5. I love giving cards. I try to put a lot of thought into the cards I give. Sometimes I have done a candy craft card to give out and that can be a lot of fun. This year I made several different cards. I'm really loving llamas right now so I created three different types of llama cards and also some flamingo cards. Here is what they look like. You can find them here, here, here, here, and here

So that's how we celebrate in our classroom, what about you?

So this year, as every other, we loaded up our family and headed off to experience something we would otherwise NEVER get to experience...a WHITE Christmas! Everything always seems to go well for us until (and this happens EVERY year)...someone gets sick. So this year has been the craziest of all. Usually just one of us falls prey to the sickness, but this year, every. single. adult. fell ill. The rest of us just got a cold...which is miserable, but at least you can still do things. But my husband came down with the flu and has had it since Wednesday! I'm so glad that we made good use of the time we had before he fell prey to the sickness. It is however putting a damper on our enjoyment of the snow that has been falling the last two days. It's like a winter wonderland out there, people, and we are stuck inside. First of all, we do rent a car, but my name is not attached to it. And secondly, being raised in Florida does not necessarily give you confidence to navigate hills in the snow. So, we have a car but can't go anywhere. Sigh....but at least we are together and I can go outside and walk around. There's a school not too far up the road and I think I will walk over to take the kids sledding at some point after lunch today, otherwise we may miss 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Christmas Holiday Math Games

I know you feel it too. Excitement is in the air. Students have shorter attention spans. School can seem like a drag to them as they anticipate the upcoming Christmas break. They (and let's face are barely hanging on. 

It's time to bring even more activity and fun into the classroom to conquer the wiggles that come around every year at this time. With that thought in mind, I decided to turn some of my math lessons into games and activities that get my students working with partners, doing games, and getting in some movement around the room. The engagement has been so high in my class while implementing these fun activities with my second graders. 

Bring some sanity back to your class at math time with my Common Core aligned activities. Be sure to check these games out at my TPT store here: Math Activities Pack or they can be purchases individually here, here, and here. Sign up for my give away on Instagram over here.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Winning the Communication Battle

Communication can be a battle even in the best of circumstances. How much is too much? How much is not I right? In the case of communication, I always think more is definitely more....and better. 

I'm not a natural communicator. I am usually quiet. So this is an area I have had to work on. I usually think about communication when I have a parent that I have heard horror stories about from previous teachers. I obsess and make it my second job to find out what makes them tick...what are they looking for. What makes them happy and what upsets them. Often times, I find that it boils down to communication. Several years ago, I knew of such a parent that was coming up through the grades with her child...until I was staring at the year I would have her, like a deer in a headlight. 

I decided that I was going to become a communication super-star that year because that is what I found her to need most from a teacher. And so I went about researching and devising a plan to help our communication be open and so that we could have a great working relationship. That work paid off and that parent is one that I still consider my friend even all these years later.

My communication methods and processes have morphed over the years. Some have stayed the same, some have been tweaked to meet my current needs, I have added more and in the process, I am growing as a communicator and educator.

So here are eleven of my tips for being a better communicator.

1. Start the year with a positive phone call home. A quick phone call at some point during the first week of school is ideal. It gives you time to make a positive connection while students are generally on their best behavior and before any problems arise. I usually just tell parents that I am enjoying  having Johnny in my class. I try to point out one specific thing to praise. Then I close by telling them I look forward to working with them and if they ever have any questions or concerns to please contact me right away. 

Done...simple. And parents enjoy a first and happy phone call. This is especially true with parents who are often the recipient of many negative calls because their child may have had problems in the past. 

While I usually do this at the beginning of the year, I have also done this throughout the year as well. 

2. Communication Binders are a necessity, especially in the primary grades. I am telling you that this is the number one way I won over my "tough" parent. I know this because her friend told me. She was on the school board and took it there to show the other members and suggested that it should be a requirement that all teachers do a communication binder. 

My original binder was a M.O.O.S.E. binder that was an acronym for Management of Organizational Skills Everyday. Through the years, I have made all kinds of different covers for the binder, but the important thing is what is inside. I used to have the students keep a lot more in there, but I have paired it down to just the essentials. I start with a one inch binder that has the clear plastic sheets in front and back. I slide my cover in that usually has a picture to match the classroom theme and the school calendar goes on the back cover (our school gives a new monthly calendar at the start of each month). At the very front, I have the students keep a zipper pouch. This is perfect for sending little things back and forth between home and school. It is especially perfect for sending lunch money or money for field trips. With the zipper, you don't have to worry that something might get lost. 

The other thing I have students keep inside their binder is a folder. We use the homework folder that you can find here. This is a folder that all teachers are required to use in our school. I do like it because it also has a clear pocket on the front and back where you could slip your newsletter or anything else that you want. It has two pockets inside marked with keep at home and return to school. Our folders did not come hole punched to fit in the binder, but it was easy to do that myself.

I use this folder to send returned work home each Friday. I also send home the newsletter and new spelling list for the upcoming week. Parents always know where to look. 

When I taught 3rd and 4th grades, I also required them to have a planner inside to write their assignments. We got the full 8 1/2  x 11 inch ones that had holes and could fit in the binder. Here are a couple of binder covers that I have in my TPT store here and here.

3. Have a rockin' newsletter. This is so important. In the past, I have not had a set day necessarily to send home the newsletter, but this year, I wanted consistent communication and I saw this as a good way to achieve that. In the past, I formatted my own newsletter (sometimes with the help of my husband. But then I purchased a template that was cute and attractive for my newsletters. The newsletter template I purchased felt a little small for the details I wanted to include in my newsletter, so I just whipped up a template for the back and do a full front and back sheet. 

Just today I got positive feedback on my newsletter. The one thing the parent mentioned liking most was the details. I included details on the back to show what we are learning and how you can help. The newsletter goes through many of the core subjects and breaks it down so parents do not just see that we are learning about jobs, for instance. They can see that we are specifically learning about why we need jobs. I let them know that we are working on needs and wants and and finding out how jobs can supply those needs and wants at home, at school, and in the community. Then I give them a section that shows ways they can reinforce that skill at home. Going back to my example about the jobs....I put simple things that parents can do or talk about with their child. The parent can choose whether or not they actually do it, but some parents want more...they want to keep the learning alive in their homes and this will give them a simple way that is not stressful. So for the job topic, I might put things to your child about things your family needs. What things do you want and how does your family decide when to spend money on something the family wants. Talk to your child about your job and how it provides for your family. Point out what needs are taken care of when your child completes a job at home. 

4. Pictures speak a thousand words. Take pictures in class. Parents love to see what their child is doing throughout the day. I try to take pictures of anything interactive or fun...or even students doing quiet work like when they are engrossed in a book. I share them on the school website and will even email them to the parents on occasion. You could include them in your newsletter too.

At the end of the year, give each parent a cd of pictures from throughout the year. What a treasure that is to them.

5. Keep a binder for parent communication. You can document what you have talked about with a parent and when. You could even document the method that you used to communicate and of course the date. This gives you documentation on any discussions you have had during the school year in case you need to refer back later. I keep a page for each student in ABC order. Then I can include any letters that I sent and document any other conversations. If I run out of space, I can just add another sheet with that child's name. I used a one inch binder and one of my binder covers from this set.  

6. Send positive notes home + positive texts often. Seriously, who doesn't love to feel that you value their child and see what is good in them? The parents will be on your side when they know that you are looking for good. I made it my goal to send two positives every month for every child. I don't think I've quite met my goal, but I have sent notes home fairly often. And of course parents love this. I even had a parent tell me that I can feel free to tell them negative things too. I created these little notes to use in my classroom and have received positive feedback on them from parents. 

Parents these days also text a lot. So send texts can even include a picture here or there. 

7. Have positive parking lot conversations. As you tuck students into cars during car line, send them off with a quick positive something from the day. Address the positive comment to the parent. They will leave the school with a smile on their face for sure.

8. Look forward to conferences. LOOK FORWARD TO CONFERENCES! Usually I do not take my own advice. I actually get nervous and have butterflies. I'm always relieved when they are over, but when I look back, I am usually very pleased at how the conferences have turned out. In all my years of teaching, I have had very few bad conferences. This year, as a part of my conferences, I specifically asked parents if there was anything they would like to see me doing in class that I am not currently doing. All of them assured me that what I was doing was what they want me to continue to do but giving them an opportunity to tell me ways I could improve is a great way to show that you are flexible and willing to grow.

9. In your report cards comments use the model: good, needs work, a sandwich. In other words, tell the parent something good that the student is doing. Then share what needs work. Finish it off on a good note with something else that is positive. Sandwiching the work that needs to be done between two good comments takes the sting out of hearing about the need for improvement. It softens the blow. Make it a rule to always notice more positives in your students than negatives. Then share those positives.

10. Send follow up letters from parent teacher conferences. This year I decided that I was going to send letters thanking parents for taking the time to come in to discuss their child's progress and just recapping some of the main talking points of our time together. Again, I try to keep the tone of this letter positive, focusing on mostly what the child is doing well at within the classroom. It's the little things that make a difference.

11. Send thank you notes. Anytime a parent sends you something personally or for the class, be sure to follow up with a thank you note letting them know that you appreciate it. If a parent spends time helping out on a field trip or program for your class, send a note to thank them. People like to feel appreciated and a quick hand-written note is easy and effective.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Boot Scootin' Math Boogie

Just in time for fall fun with a cowboy twist....check out my new Boot Scootin' Math Boogie classroom review game. The game is a review of place value and number sense. It would be great fun during a cowboy style room transformation paired with other activities for the day. Your little classroom cowboys and cowgirls will thank you! Check it out here.

Monday, October 16, 2017


Magical things happen when students collaborate across grade levels. The past few weeks, my second graders have been learning and creating books and hands-on activity tubes all about creation. We've gone through all seven days, one by one. 

I wanted the students to have a meaningful way to share what they learned. I teamed up with the kindergarten teacher at my school because each of us has 19 students...what a perfect fit!

On Friday, we hosted the kindergartners in our classroom. We teamed up as partners (one kindergarten student with one second grader. The second grader read their books to the kindergarten buddy and also had questions for them as they went through the story. They also shared their creation tube that showed different items created on each day of creation. Afterwards, we all came together. I asked them about each of the different days of creation and what God created on each day. If the kindergarten student couldn't remember, their buddy was able to support them and help them out. 

We enjoyed snacks for each of the creation days. 
Day one: an Oreo (for light separating darkness)
Day two: a small cup of water (for God separating the water above and below with the sky)
Day three: some flower shaped cereal pieces
Day four: star shaped snacks
Day five: goldfish 
Day six: animal crackers
Day seven: we did not represent the day of rest with a snack

My students took their projects home to share with their families. The reaction from the families was amazing. 

We had positive feedback on our project with kindergarten. Can't wait to do some more collaboration this year. 

The source I used for the tubes
I also found several sources on Pinterest for the booklet but cannot find the links currently.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Curling Up with A Nature-Themed Book

There are so many great nature-themed books these days. Here's a look at some of my favorites.

 What if You Had series by Sandra Markle  
This series is all about different creature adaptations. Each book features a different adaptation and shows what you might look like if you had the same adaptation. It's a great series! I love the illustrations. 

The books in the series are (click the links below to go to the link on Amazon) : 
What if You Had Animal Eyes
What if You Had Animal Teeth
What if You Had an Animal Nose
What if You Had Animal Feet
What if You Had animal Hair

Backyard Books Series by Judy Allen
I discovered these books several years back. They are a great way to show students what insects and bugs are like. It talks all about what your life would be like if you were an insect or bug. At the end of each book it ends with a part about you being a human and not an insect. 

The books in the series are (click the links below to go to the link on Amazon):
Are You a Bee?
Are You a Ladybug?
Are You a Butterfly?
Are You a Dragonfly?
Are You an Ant?
Are You a Grasshopper?
Are You a Spider?
Are You a Snail?

Race the Wild Series by Kristin Earhart
This series is kind of like an Amazing Race except with teams of kids playing the games. In the stories, you will join groups of kids as they race through one habitat somewhere around the world. The kids compete against other groups of kids in solving challenges and learning more about the habitat they are racing through. At the end of each chapter, there is a feature that gives more information about each habitat or an animal that lives there. My students go crazy over these!

The books in the series are (click the links below to go to the link on Amazon):
Race the Wild Rain Forest Relay
Race the Wild Great Reef Games
Race the Wild Arctic Freeze
Race the Wild Savanna Showdown
Race the Wild Outback All Stars
Race the Wild Mountain Mission

Who Would Win Series by Jenny Polleta
The boys in my class, especially, love this series. The books compare two different animals and their adaptations and features. It goes back and forth showing the strengths of each. At the end it makes a prediction about which animal would win in a fight.

 Who Would Win Lion Vs. Tiger 
Who Would Win Killer Whale Vs. Great White Shark
Who Would Win Polar Bear Vs. Grizzly Bear
Who Would Win Tarantula Vs. Scorpion
There are so many different books in the series I am not gong to list them all, but by clicking on the links above you should be able to browse the others.

Our Tree Named Steve by Alan Zweibel
I love this book about a tree named Steve. Steve becomes the center of life for the family featured in the book. Love how the tree feels like a part of the family. The book goes on to show what happens to Steve through the years.
Our Tree Named Steve by Alan Zweibel

Shine a Light Book Series by Carron Brown
Uncover the secrets of nature! These are great books for reading under the covers with flashlights. There are hidden animals and items hidden in the pages of the book that can only be found when they are lit up by a flashlight. 

Books in the series (Click for a link to Amazon):

Take-Along Guides Different Authors
This series features great field guides designed especially for children. They have pictures as well as information about a wide variety of nature topics.
Some of the other books in the series (links on Amazon):
There are many other ones as well.

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder
This book is geared toward adults who are working with children, either their own or in a school or children's program. It touches on what nature-deficit disorder is and gives ways to save our children from being deprived of nature. 
Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv

Those are my favorites when it comes to books about nature. What are yours? Leave a comment below.