Monday, May 22, 2017

Easy Ways to Keep Your Students Reading This Summer

As I mentioned in my last post, I have been working on finding playful, fun ways to keep my students learning this summer.  (If you missed the first post in my Play & Learn This Summer series find it HERE.)  One of the very most important ways to accomplish this is through reading!  So today I wanted to pop in to share some easy ways you can keep your students reading this summer!

Library Love - Access to reading materials is one of the most important ways we can make sure our students are reading.  If they don't have books, they can't read them...pretty simple, right?  Even after all these years, I am always surprised at how many of my students do not have library cards!

A couple of years ago my team started organizing a field trip to our local library during the last month of school.  We pick up the paperwork & send it home ahead of time, so anyone who does not have a library card is able to get one that day.  We take a tour and learn about the children's section, how the books are organized, what special programs are offered etc.  Our library has a beautiful children's section with computers, puzzles and magazines.  They have weekly story-time and lots of puppet shows, crafts and special events...and it is all FREE.  We make sure that the students get to see and experience it all during our field trip and then we send a summer schedule of events home with them that day.  I am always so happy to see many of my students when I take my own children to the special events during the summer!

Summer Reading Challenges - Summer reading challenges are a great motivator for some students!  I do a quick Google search each spring to find out what reading challenges are being offered in our area and I send the information home with my students.

Our school district always has some kind of reading challenge.  In addition, most public libraries seem to have reading challenges as well.  I live in Tampa Bay and there is a great program here where the major league baseball team sponsors Reading with the Rays.  I am sure you can find a program in your area with a quick search.

In addition, Scholastic and Pizza Hut offer national reading challenges every summer!
Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge
Pizza Hut Book It! Summer Reading

High Interest Reading Choices - I always make sure to talk to my students about all the different, fun reading options available to them.  I also make sure to send something home to remind parents about the value of reading a variety of high interest materials.  (Be sure to check out the FREEBIE at the end of this post!)

I find some parents need to be reminded about the value of things like magazines and comic books.  These are great ways to keep our students excited about reading and often these are the materials they will read over and over again...which is fabulous for fluency!

Sneak in Reading Anywhere You Can! I always give parents (and students!) ideas for ways they can sneak reading into their everyday summer activities.  Some of my favorite ways are:

  • Cooking together & having the child read the recipe and/or directions
  • Having the child be the "tour guide" at amusement parks, zoos & museums this summer- letting the child read the map and exhibit descriptions 
  • Keeping the closed captioning on the television for the summer - **This is my FAVORITE** - I kept the closed captioning on my tv for years while my twins were preschoolers and learning to read.  
  • Have students read signs and directions when traveling- environmental print is such an easy, natural way to practice reading skills
Find Little Ways to Make it Special - It doesn't take much to make a moment special for young children.  Encourage your students and their parents to make some of those special moments reading centered!  Some of my favorite ideas include:

  • Setting up a tent to use as a special reading place
  • Reading in the dark with a flashlight
  • Building a "reading fort"
  • Dressing up as a favorite character before reading a book about him/her

I hope this post gives you some good ideas to send your students off with this summer!  I created this FREE resource to help you share these ideas (and a few more!) with the families of your students.  I hope this will give you one less thing to do during this CRAZY time of the year!  And I especially hope this will help to ensure that your students spend their summer cozied up (or cooling off!) with a good book!

Be sure to check back later this week for more fun ways to help your students keep learning this summer!  The next post in my "Play & Learn" blog series will be up by Friday!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Play & Learn - Getting Students Ready for Summer

Can you feel it?  The out-of-control feeling in the air?  Do you see it?  The frenzied, wild-eyed look in the eyes of all the children you see?  Can you hear it?  The unbelievable decibel level of every cafeteria, playground, hallway and bathroom in your school?  It can mean only one thing... Summer is coming!!

And it's coming fast!  If you are anything like me this gives you very mixed feelings.  I can't help but feel a wave of excitement and relief (I mean, I am human... and it has been a long year!) but I also get nervous at this time of year.  There is still so much to do: reports to write, grades to finish, awards to prepare, slide shows to create, festivals to attend... the list goes on and on and on...

And THEN I look at my sweet students and I get all the feelings - you know what I mean.  All the primary teacher feelings.  Are they ready?  Did I teach them enough?  Will they retain it all over the summer?  Are they ready for next year?  Will they be okay this summer?  Are they going to get what they need?  What more can I do?  I only have a few more days with them...what else can I do to make a difference?  (It's exhausting isn't it??)

So, when I start spiraling (because this time of year, I always start spiraling!) I slow myself down and try to think of some simple things I can send my little students off with to ensure that they have a successful summer.

I've spent years trying to figure out how to help my students retain everything they've learned during the year and making sure they are ready for the next year.  I've tried it all.  For many, many, many years I taught summer school.  Which was very beneficial to the students that qualified, but it wasn't really the answer I was looking for...for a couple of reasons.  First, not everyone goes to summer school.  It is great for the kids that attend but that is a pretty small percentage of the students in my district.  Second, it is exhausting to do year after year...I did it for many years but I felt there had to be other options.

So, I am here to happily announce that I have finally found an answer that I am really, really happy with!  After several years of trying different summer "take-home packets" I think I figured out what works for my students and I and I am hoping it will help you and your students as well!

I spent weeks and weeks and weeks creating summer packets for young students that are completely based on play!  I am so excited to finally have developmentally appropriate, FUN activities to offer my students and their families to ensure a summer of playful learning!

So, my plan is to write a series of blog posts that will give you some easy, ready-to-go ideas that you can offer to your students and their families.  Then, you will be able to send them off for a summer full of playful learning and YOU will be able to keep your sanity at the end of the year!  (Well, that might be wishful thinking...but you will at least be able to check some things off your end of the year "to-do" list with some freebies and ready-made resources.)  So, check back tomorrow for some easy ways to keep your students reading this summer and a great free resource!

Friday, April 28, 2017

5 for Friday (FINALLY!)

It's here!! It's finally here!! The weekend! Oh Friday, how I've been dreaming about you ... I thought you might never come ... but you are finally here!!

(If you can't tell it was a long week around here!  But now it's the weekEND and I am celebrating by putting on my pajamas at 6:30 pm and linking up with Doodle Bugs Teaching for a Five for Friday post.)

This was how my week started - at 7:20 on Monday morning:

 I mean...seriously?!?

My "gross out meter" is pretty hard to activate.  I have a lot of years of experience teaching pre-k and kindergarten, and those babies aren't afraid to sneeze right in your face.  AND I'm a mother of 4.  FOUR.  I've pretty much seen and done it all.  I have been thrown up on more times than you can imagine, and if I do say so myself, I handle it pretty well ... I am able to hide my disgust and take care of whoever needs taking care of pretty easily these days.

But SCABIES?  Seriously??

Again, I am a mother of 4...I have sent a kid to school with a runny nose that I wished I could keep home...and I have made a doctor's appointment to have ears checked after school when I thought an infection was cleared up. I totally get that it is hard to be a working mom!


I'm gonna go ahead and say that if you think your child has SCABIES and you find it necessary to tell him "Don't tell anyone that you have SCABIES, we will try to go to the walk in clinic tonight" then you really need to take the day off.

Because #1: He is going to tell EVERYONE.  That is what kids do.  Especially when you tell them not to tell anyone.

And #2: It is SCABIES.

(Okay, public service announcement officially over.)
So, when your week starts off with SCABIES it can only go up from there right?  On Tuesday we went on a field trip to the hands-on children's museum.  

The kids loved it.  They had so much fun.  They tried really, really hard to be good.  (I mean, how cute do they look in the little veteranarian center looking at the snake x-rays?)  But...

Here's the thing: If you remember, I've mentioned before that I have that class this year.  Now, it was nothing like the second worst field trip ever, but it was a lot.  

The museum is set up with one large area in the middle and lots of smaller areas around the perimeter.  Each of the smaller areas has a different theme.  (There is a grocery store, a pizza restaurant, a veterinarian's office, a fire station, a news station etc.  It is really cute.)

So, we were staying together in a large group in 1 or 2 of the areas at a time.  Have you heard the expression "so excited I could burst"?  Well, now I know where it comes from.  They were so excited that I wouldn't have been surprised if one of my boys actually exploded.  It just didn't seem possible for one little body to contain so much energy!

They were really trying to control themselves. but it wasn't totally possible for some of my guys, so before we would go into some of the areas I would have to physically block the entrance for a "pep talk".  

It went something like this: "Okay, there are babies in here.  Do you guys see the babies? Look at me.  Guys? Guys!  LOOK AT ME.  Do you see the babies?  See how little they are? You will hurt them if you fall on them or knock them over... so you have to be careful.  Are you listening? Boys?  BOYS!  POINT TO THE BABIES!  SHOW ME WHERE THE BABIES ARE.  Okay, now, don't step on the babies okay?  Don't bump them, because you are big kids and we don't want to hurt the little kids, right?"

Luckily, the parents of the babies are much better listeners than my boys and they pretty much looked at my boys, grabbed their babies, and chose another area to go play.  We tried.  

(Do you see the blur on the right side of the photo?  That's pretty much what my boys looked like all day.  I'm still tired.)

My sweet intern finished up her semester with us this week.  (After Tuesday I'm sure she is thinking it didn't come a moment too soon!!)

There seemed to be "fingerprint hearts" all over Pinterest.  We wayyyyyyy simplified the idea but I think it still came out cute.
 This was the little gift we prepared for her.  The basket has a few school supplies and a TPT gift cards.  The folder behind the basket has two booklets we made for her.  We wrote some "teacher tips" for her to remember and we wrote reference letters for her to bring on job interview with her.

I am trying to get these things together to share - I will keep you posted :)  The "reference letters" were adorable!  They were so funny and so cute!  She really loved them.

We are going to miss her so much! Fortunately she is coming back on Tuesday to help me with Running Records and spend time with the kids - because she is that awesome - so we don't have to cry too hard (yet).
My "Mom - Uber" is in full service these days.  The twins have swim practice twice a week and my oldest had try-outs this week for cheerleading & dance.  I spent about 2.5 hours a day in the car!

Some weeks there are just literally not enough hours in the day.  Between work, homework, projects, sports, carpools, attempting to keep my household running...well, let's just say, I didn't do any of it very well this week.  I kind of lost my cool.  It wasn't pretty.  :(

This week was long.  And hard.  And I did not handle it gracefully.  I hate that.

But, then one daughter sent me this photo of me and my other daughter.

And it all kind of melted away.  (Look at the wrinkles on that little nose.  Couldn't you just eat her???)

And it's Friday night and I am in my pjs before 8pm.  So there's that :)

And all my favorite people are here and in their pjs with me.

My oldest just got news that she made the varsity dance team... so her eyes are sparkling... and everyone else's eyes are sleepy... pretty much a mother's Friday night dream come true.  ;)

Good night my friends.  I hope your weekend is long and that you get to sleep until you can't sleep anymore (a teacher-mom can dream can't she?).

Thursday, April 20, 2017

10 Tips for Handling Meltdowns in the Classroom

Let me start off by saying, I hope you don't have any reason to read this post.  I hope that your students are all happy, healthy and well-adjusted.  In fact, I hope you are wondering exactly what I mean by "classroom meltdowns"... but I have a sneaking suspicion that you do know what I mean.  If you have been teaching for awhile, or if you work with a challenging population or if you... I don't know... have ever met a five year old... chances are, you have had an experience with a meltdown.

So, in the spirit of guiding these little people we teach and love through challenging moments - and keeping our sanity - I decided I would share my "Top 10 Tips for Handling Classroom Meltdowns" with you today. 

Now, I am not a behavioral therapist or a chid psychologist.  This list is the real deal...the "in the trenches" teacher list.  These are the things that I've learned from 17 years of teaching pre-k ESE, kindergarten, first grade, second grade, children with special needs, children in foster care & traumatic care placements and inner city schools.  Oh, and from being a mother of 4 (which includes an adoption and red-headed twins...the twins alone should give me all the "street cred" I need! Ha!).

So, there you are in your happy classroom teaching your perfect lesson when all of a sudden the meltdown of all meltdowns occurs... 

OR there you are in your super challenging classroom where you are doing everything you can to give your students everything they need (even when it is officially more than you have to give) and the meltdown of all meltdown occurs... 

OR you are somewhere in the middle.  Wherever you are...I'VE BEEN THERE.  At some point over the last 17 years I have been there.  It is hard to imagine that there is a meltdown experience that I haven't yet experienced. 

These are the tried and true tips that have worked for me.  They really work.  Sometimes I forget them... because... you know, the crying... the screaming... the melting down... but when I can talk to myself as if I am my own intern (that is one of my best secrets!) these are the tips I remind myself - and they work!  

Here's one of the problems with meltdowns in the classroom: they are usually public and they are generally unacceptable - and kids know this.  So, our students often wind up backing themselves into a corner and they don't know how to get out.

This is why it is really important that we offer our students a little grace, or an "out".  Now, don't get me wrong, there have to be consequences for actions.  I firmly believe that we have to teach students to take responsibility for their choices.  

However, I also believe that if there is never any chance of redemption we can't really expect young students to "hold it together".  Back in the "old days" of clip charts there was a lot of debate about whether the clip should be able to "move back up" the chart after it was "moved down" for misbehavior.  You will have to decide what works for you and your students...but I really encourage you to look for a way to hold students accountable for their actions, while still giving them a chance to "fix things".  If they have "ruined their day" by 9 am it is going to be a very, very, very long day for everyone involved!

You will have to decide what an "out" looks like for your student.  It might mean a chance to rejoin the group activity right away, letting him know you will write a note home about how quickly he is able to calm himself down, or a second chance at something that was frustrating.  

Meltdowns often occur when students are frustrated and overwhelmed.  Giving your student "a break" is an important strategy both for avoiding and for calming meltdowns.

If you have a student that is prone to meltdowns, you might want to consider "break tickets" or "calm down passes".  The best is if you can stay a step ahead of the meltdowns.  A teacher friend of mine used to have a student that she sent around campus to have "very important messages" signed.  The very important message was a note that said I need a break ... please sign this and send him to another room.  It gave her 10 minutes and it gave him a "very important job" and a break when he needed it.

I have had other students who were able to control their own "break tickets".  Depending on the student, they had 3 tickets a day or a week, and could use the tickets for their own 10 minute "break" to calm down either with a book, headphones, a rest etc.

I have always used this as a pretty individualized intervention and it has varied from student to student.  However, whenever I have used it it has worked remarkably well.

My oldest daughter had her share of meltdowns when she was younger and nothing would change her mood like putting her in the tub.  It was an instant game changer.  Unfortunately I am not able to install a shower in my I have learned to make due with a water fountain.

My teacher BFF laughs at me because I think that water is the solution to pretty much all of life's problems.  Seriously.  
-"Oh, you have a headache?  You must be dehydrated, go get some water."  
-"I miss my mommy sometimes too.  You know what makes me feel better?  Water.  Go get a drink."
-"He looked at you? Really?  I can't believe that! You should go get a drink of water."

I am telling you, there is something about getting a drink of water that helps.  First of all, it is a little acknowledgement.  It helps the student to feel "heard".  Second, it breaks up the cycle a little bit - he has to get up and move across the room, and I swear, there is something about the water itself that helps.  

"If... Then..."  Magic words.  

When our students get worked up they often don't know how to deescalate.  They are in a situation that they are now just making worse by the minute.  One of the best things you can do is to provide simple steps toward a solution.

There is magic in the simplicity of "If you do this, then you can do that".  It is such an easy, concrete way to help an overwhelmed student find a solution to their problem or to problem-solve.  

The "trick" to this is to not use too many extra words.  Keep it simple.  This works best when your student is melting down because he/she is overwhelmed and/or frustrated and needs help finding a simple solution.  It's a "less is more" situation.

If you keep it simple and offer a solution, then your student will be able to calm down and regain control. 

This one can be hard if you are a super emotional person like I am.  I am never good at "removing" myself.  I pride myself on being connected with my students.  However, this can be tricky at times.  

For example, if I am going to be honest it is really easy for me to get my feelings hurt by a student who directs a meltdown at me.  "You are so mean!"  "I hate you!"  "You are the worst teacher ever!"  Ouch... (and those are the PG rated insults.  I have definitely had my share of R rated insults over the years).

How about the kiddo that you know is not melting down about a broken crayon but because mom and dad are getting divorced? Or the child living in foster care who is screaming that he hates everyone - but you know she is just looking for someone to show her a little love?  

Okay, here is the thing.  You have to keep your emotions out of it.  Your student has lost control.  Feeling hurt, or empathetic, or angry is not going to help him.  It is very important that you stay calm and in control.  By controlling your emotions and "going on with business as usual" you are showing your student that it is possible (and not all that hard) to move on from this moment - when he feels so out of control.  You are the living proof that "life will go on" and that everything is going to go "back to normal".  (I actually have a lot to say about this and want to write an entire post about it one day soon...but for now this is the short version.)

Staying positive is just one more way for you to stay in control of the situation.  If you are here reading this post, my guess is that you are generally a pretty positive teacher.  It can be hard to keep smiling when your "sunny and bright" classroom is filled with screaming and crying.  However, it is really, really important.  If you are having trouble staying positive then "fake it 'till you make it"!

Remember that you are the "captain of this ship"... especially when you are sailing through a storm!  Whether you realize it or not, everyone in the room is waiting and watching for your reaction.  All of your students are going to look to you to see how to react.  If you can keep smiling the tone in the room will stay positive - but if you give in to the frustration and stress - the ship is going to go down.

It always surprises me exactly how much my attitude affects every single thing in my classroom!  So keep smiling (even when it is really, really hard to smile!)

It's a good idea to have a designated space for students to calm down.  Do you need to do this?  Of course not.  Do I think you should do this?  Yes. Here's why.  If you have a student that is melting down and has truly lost control he is going to need a few minutes to "get it back together".  This is stressful for everyone.

To say it can be distracting for other students to have one of their peers screaming or crying in the seat next to them is an understatement.  We tell students to "just ignore" this, but that is a lot to ask!

It can also be very difficult for some students to de-escalate a tantrum when they feel like "all eyes are on them".  Giving the upset student a "calm down space" can solve both problems.

A "calm-down space" can be a corner of the room with a bean bag or pillow, a small space behind your desk, a little chair in the back of the room near the backpack area ... anywhere that is away from the "eyes" of other students.

I believe that it is important that a "calm down space" is not used as a time-out area.  I don't ever use my "calm down space" punitively.  I don't believe that it would be effective this way, and having a little corner that can be used purely for taking a moment to regain control is going to benefit everyone.

When a student is in the middle of a meltdown he is probably not being super-respectful.  I know I have heard a lot more students scream "LEAVE ME ALONE!!!" than ask "Can I please have a moment to myself?" mid-meltdown.

However, this is a really good time for you to model the respect you would like to see.  First of all, your other students are watching you very closely.  Even if you don't think they are, they are - trust me.  They are watching and noting everything you do and say.  This is a perfect time to model that we can always speak in a respectful tone and choose respectful words...even when someone is being unkind or doing something doesn't have to change the respect that we choose to give them.

Your out-of-control student is also watching you.  He may not be able to process everything you are saying and doing in the moment.  However, your words and your tone matter.  Offering grace and respect matters.  Letting our students know that this behavior is unacceptable- but that we always care for and respect them matters.

Meltdown moments remind me to let my whole class know how proud I am of the way they care for one another...because they do.  They really do - because we have worked so hard on our class culture - just like I'm sure you have.

We have built friendships, taught acceptance and forgiveness.  We have "used our words" and been "problem solvers" a thousand times by now.  So, when these meltdown moments come, I know that I can rely on my students to "forgive and forget".

I have never had a student made fun of or ostracized for a meltdown/tantrum.  Never.  And I have had some very, very challenging classes over the years.  I have had some classes that had a lot of meltdowns and I have had some classes that needed a lot of help being kind to one another.  However, with every single group, I have been able to build a "team" that makes a huge difference in moments like these!

I feel like this quote by L.R. Knost pretty much sums it all up: "When little people become overwhelmed by big emotions it is our job to share our calm - not to join their chaos."

That's really what it all comes down to.  We have to remember that they are just little people. They have only been on the planet for five or six or seven years - they are still new at being alive.  Heck, I feel like I am still figuring everything out and I have been here a lot longer than seven years!

Sometimes everything just gets "too big" or "too much" for these little people and they fall apart... loudly.  When that happens we have to "share our calm".  It is so easy to get frustrated and frazzled when they are yelling and screaming (and believe me, I have gotten frazzled plenty of times!) but that is "joining the chaos" - and goodness knows we don't want anymore chaos!!  

This quote has really helped me a lot.  I have it pinned up in my office and remind myself of it often. I love the idea of "sharing the calm"!  It has really been a bit of a game-changer for me.

I hope you got some helpful tips here today.  I am sure that most of these things are things that you know and already do ... but sometimes seeing them altogether and reminding yourself can be helpful. (I know just writing it all out was a helpful reminder for me!)  Please share some of your best tips for "sharing your calm" in the comments!  I would love to hear your ideas!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The SECOND Worst Field Trip Ever...

The idea for this blog post - I have no idea why - came to me in a dream.  Seriously weird, right?  I woke up after dreaming about writing a blog post about the worst field trip ever.  I'm not sure exactly why my subconscious thought I should share this with you right now, but this seems like as good a time as any.  

However, when I sat down to write I realized that my dream was NOT actually about the worst field trip ever.  It was about the second worst field trip ever.  The first worst field trip ever was wayyyy worse than the one I am going to write about today... but that is a post for another day.  (Believe me, you won't want to miss that one!)

So to honor my subconscious, to give you some good practical life advice, and to hopefully save you some pain (and make you giggle at my expense) ... Here we go!

So, last year I was teaching kindergarten.  I had taught kindergarten (my all-time favorite grade) for many years at several other schools.  However, when I decided it was time to stop commuting and move to the school I'm at now I took a position in first grade.  I enjoyed teaching first grade for two years, but if I'm being honest, I spent a lot of that time angling to get myself a spot on the kindergarten team.  (I'm setting the stage here... stick with me.  It was a really fun, happy year.  I was teaching in the room next to one of my teaching BFFs, teaching my favorite grade, in a sweet little school, close to home ... Can you see it?  It was happy and fun.  "Sunny and Bright" if you will...!)

One of the highlights of kindergarten every year is a spring field trip to the farm.  We spent about a month before the trip learning about farm animals.  It was really, really fun!   I wrote THIS nonfiction, close reading unit about farm animals.  We used this as the basis for our unit and based everything else around it.

We used some of the photo pages from the unit to make our anchor charts.  I laughed so hard the day after this one went on display.  I had THREE parents write me notes that their child had gone home and asked for a pet pig the night before!  Ha!  We learned a lot of fun facts... (I think the favorite was that pigs are smarter than preschoolers.  We had a lot of students with preschool brothers and sisters so this fact hit especially close to home!)

Okay, back to the story... So, we spent a month learning about farm animals.  The kids were totally hooked.  It was pretty fascinating stuff, if I do say so myself!  The unit was going to end with our big field trip to the farm.  Everyone was very, very, very excited.  We had a ton of parents coming with us.  (Many more than we usually have for trips.)

As the day of the trip got closer a few little "bumps" did start to pop up... but that's normal.  Things never go perfectly for these big trips.  The biggest "bump" was that Spring Picture Day was scheduled for the same day as our field trip.  (There was a major mess up with the master calendar.)  We were supposed to get on the bus to leave at 7:45 am- but the earliest we could take pictures was 8:00... Minor setback... Of course, the pictures took MUCH longer than they should have and we were almost an hour late getting on the road.

However, once we got on the road we were good-to-go!  It was a beautiful day and we made it to the farm relatively quickly ("relatively" still being an hour on a school bus with 45 kindergarteners... ).

When we got to the farm it was "outdoorsy magic" (and I am not an outdoorsy sort of girl!).  We started with a hayride and then went into the chicken coop.  Where we got to hold chickens!  So much cooler than I expected it to be!

We saw donkeys, pigs & hogs.  There were horses and some (kind of scary) turkeys.  (Apparently, turkeys can be pretty mean and a bit aggressive.  They were not my favorite!)

You know what was my favorite?  Milking a cow for the first time!! For real... a real cow and real milk!  We watched lots of videos about it, read books & learned a lot about the different ways cows are milked... but getting to actually do it?? Well, I don't know what it was like for the five year olds... but for this thirty-something (lots of something) year old teacher it was quite the thrill!  (In case you can't tell... I have to work on not hiding my emotions... I should really be more expressive... ;)

So, you are probably thinking... apart from scary turkeys, this field trip doesn't sound bad at all... no lost kids, no broken-down bus, no tantrums or breakdowns in a crowded parking lot (I had that once on a field trip to the State Fair when I taught a pre-k class for students with Autistic Spectrum Disorders... we'll go ahead and call that the "Third Worst Field Trip Ever"... and in case you are wondering, I do not recommend taking your ESE class - or any class for that matter - to the State Fair.  It sounds fun.  It sounds like a great community learning experience.  It's not worth it.  Trust me on this one.  NOT. WORTH. IT.)

Where was I?  Oh, right...the farm.  It sounds like it was a perfectly nice field trip, right?  Well, yes, you're right.  It was.  It was lovely.  We were just about to sit down for a nice little picnic lunch before heading back to school when "our Farmer" told us we had just enough time to go see the baby goats.  And THAT, my friends,  is where the story takes a turn.

I can hear you now.  You are thinking, "Baby goats - what could possibly be so terrible about baby goats?"  **That reminds me of the night when my twins were 15 months old and disassembled their dresser (after climbing out of their cribs) at 2 am.  By 3 am I was pushing all the furniture from their room out into the tiny foyer in a move of total desperation.  When my husband went running downstairs (to leave for work) at 7 am and slammed into a dresser (awkwardly wedged into the foyer) he made the rookie mistake of yelling "What is a dresser doing in the hallway?!?!"

Well, that was almost 9 years ago and we still tell the story of how I came running out of the bedroom, wild-eyed screaming "IT MUST BE NICE TO WONDER WHY THERE IS A DRESSER IN THE HALLWAY!  I SURE WISH I HAD THE LUXURY OF NOT KNOWING WHY THERE WAS A DRESSER IN THE HALLWAY!  BUT ONLY THE PERSON WHO GETS TO SLEEP THROUGH THE MIDDLE-OF-THE-NIGHT DRESSER MOVING DOESN'T KNOW WHY IT WAS MOVED!!! I SURE WISH I WAS THAT PERSON!" (It was not a proud mothering moment... but I've made the most of it by retelling the story 987 times... and I love a good story ;)

Okay, back to baby goats!

First, let me set the scene...the goat pen was an approximately 12x12 area.  There were a few waist-high platforms/tables in the middle.  There were also about half a dozen stumps that were between a foot and 18 inches high.  The ground was covered with dirt, mulch and thick roots & vines.

My class went into the pen with my friend Rachelle & her class.  We had about 35 kindergarteners, 2 teachers, a farmer, and 3-4 parents inside the pen.  There were another dozen parents around the outside of the pen watching.

...There were also a lot of goats.  There were a couple of "big goats" but the vast majority of the goats were babies.  They were tiny and super cute...and they were everywhere. They were resting on the platforms, hopping up on the stumps and walking every which way.  (Which means there were five-year-olds everywhere.)

(For the record: that goat is sleepy and enjoying being pet - he isn't dead.  That isn't where the story goes bad.)

You might notice, in the photo above, all the sensible "day at the farm foot ware"... lots of sneakers... pretty much everyone wore sneakers... everyone except me.  I am a true "Florida girl".  I live in flip-flops.  I have "fancy" flip-flops and athletic flip-flops... totally different than beach and pool flip-flops.  So, even though I sent a note home reminding students to wear sneakers to the farm it never even occurred to me that I wouldn't just wear "farm appropriate flip flops".  I mean, do people on farms just always wear close-toed shoes?? (You can probably see how this is about to go bad...)

So, there I am in the goat pen, with lots of baby goats and 5-year-olds in my flip-flops...  I had turned around to take a picture of someone... somehow in the turning, or the picture taking, or the "being me-ing", my foot got caught in a vine like this one:
Well, once my foot got caught I tried to re-gain my balance - which did not work - and I realized I was going to fall.  However, in the split second that I started to fall I realized that there was a tiny, baby goat right in my path.  You know how they say that "your whole life can flash before your eyes" in a split second?  Well, that baby goat's whole life flashed before my eyes because I knew I was about to land on him hard.

So, in an effort to not kill a baby goat or traumatize 35 five-year-olds with the goat carnage that was about to occur, I awkwardly threw my body the other direction.  The problem is that when I did that I wound up slamming my knee down on a stump.  It hurt so badly that I don't even know how to describe it.

After slamming down my knee I landed face-first (literally face-firstl) in the dirt... and I stayed down.  I don't know how long I was lying there in the face-down in the dirt, arms & legs thrown out, but my friend Rachelle eventually kneeled down and whispered, "Can you move?!?".  

I slowly sat up and started spitting out dirt & mulch.  (For the record, Rachelle likes to laugh and insinuate that it was more than dirt & mulch since it was on the ground on the bottom of a goat pen... but since it was in my mouth, eyes and hair I like to pretend it was just dirt.  I'm going to ask you to go along with that, okay?)  

That's when Rachelle started to mention that my foot was bleeding.  "I don't care about my foot... It's my knee.  Oh my goodness, I'm so embarrassed... but my knee..."  I think I said that about 30 times.  (My knee really hurt a lot.)

I limped over to a picnic table and was given an ice pack for my knee.  Someone else got my class set up with their lunch.  Rachelle came back over to see how I was and again mentioned, "Your foot is really bleeding...can I get you a Band Aid?"  "No, it's not my foot it's my knee" I answered.

Then I looked at my foot.  And this, my friends, is why you wear sneakers to a farm ... because if you don't wear sneakers and you trip over a vine and try not to kill a baby goat, you might rip the toenail off of your big toe. 

When I finally looked down at my foot, my "farm flip-flop" was completely filled with blood and I was toenail-less.  (Rachelle's offer for "a band-aid" had really been very calm... it took a heck of a lot more than a band-aid to clean up the gory mess where my toenail used to be.)

So, I think you get the idea... add having a student step on my bloody toenail-less foot two times while getting back on the bus and having to pretend that you are still having fun "making memories at the farm" and you have the second worst field trip ever.

Being the eternal optimist I am, I always try to look for the bright side ... I do think that the story brightened the principal's secretary's day.  She really hates doing the paperwork involved with filing accident reports.  You should have seen the look on her face when she asked for the "location of the accident" and got to type in "goat pen".  It was almost as good as when she asked, "What were you doing when the accident occurred?" and I answered "Trying not to kill a baby goat".

True story.

The student who stepped on my foot while getting on the bus stepped on it exactly 13 more times that month.  It only took 9 months for my toenail to grow back.  I am still waiting for my pride and dignity. I'm hoping they will be back any day now.  And I still wear flip-flops everyday.  

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Earth Day Activities for First & Second Grade (and a Freebie!)

I always love teaching my class about Earth Day.  I am a little embarrassed to say that before I began teaching I was not at all "green".

I have always been involved in a lot of different charities and service organizations.  I have donated and participated in fundraising events for St. Jude's and the Shriners for years.  I am always an enthusiastic participant in toy drives and food drives.  I have helped my own children create service projects to benefit the NICU unit at our local children's hospital and my favorite project of the year is having my class collect candy for overseas soldiers.  When I was in college I was even volunteered as a "cuddler" at the university's medical hospital.  (That was a GREAT gig!  I got to go from one unit to another and just hold babies for 3 hours every Tuesday night... I was in HEAVEN!  I wish I could do that full time!)  

The point is I care.  I care a lot.  Caring is kind of my thing. ...

But in my "I care about everything" way of living... I kind of left the environment out... UNTIL I started teaching!  It's funny how these little people change us, isn't it? 

My first year teaching I hardly knew what Earth Day was but now it is a holiday (and a full instructional unit) that I look forward to all year long!  So, I thought I would share some of my favorite Earth Day "tried and true" activities and some of the new things we are going to try out this year!

I usually start by front loading some vocabulary that will will be using this month.  I go right ahead and teach the "big words" to my students.  (I have taught these "big" vocabulary words to kindergarten, first & second grade classes.)  I find that they are very capable of learning the real vocabulary when it is taught in a fun, developmentally appropriate way.  So, to introduce the vocabulary, I have a poster for each word that I hang up for the entire month.  I like to use vocabulary posters that have big, clear photographs and simple explanations.  The picture support is especially important for young students and English language learners.  Whenever I teach the kids new vocabulary I make a big deal about telling them their parents are going to think they went to college today instead of second grade when they come home and say they learned about _____.  (They love it.)  Then, we clear our throats and say the word in a very over-exaggerated "college voice".  (It is kind of ridiculous but it works.  I promise.  They LOVE to use the "big words"!  AND if you leave the posters up they will start to use them in their writing too!  I have had kindergarten students writing about recycling and landfills because it was easy to find the words they were looking for on the posters!)

There are so many great books that we are enjoying this month!  Teaching second grade, I found some new books this year.  They go more in depth than the kindergarten books that I've used the past few years- so, I thought I would share a few of my favorites!

Why Should I Recycle?,  Why Should I Save Water? and Why Should I Save Energy? This series will work for any primary classroom.  The stories are easy to understand and the illustrations are cute and clear.  My students really liked these books and have gone back to read them many times.

 Recycle: A Handbook for Kids is fabulous.  This is the book that we have used the most.  It is packed with information, just like all Gail Gibbons books.  You can use it to teach a lesson on text features or informational text.  It is also great to use as a mentor text for informational writing.  (I have 3 copies of this book and they are all always being used!)

Michael Recycle is such a cute book!  It's about a little superhero whose superpower is teaching people about recycling.  The kids loved it.  It led to a cute class discussion about how we cold be earth superheroes too!

George Saves the World by Lunchtime is another really cute book!  This one is about a little boy who decides he wants to "save the world".  At first he isn't sure quite how he is going to do it... but soon he realizes what a big difference he can make by recycling and creating less trash.  It was another great "We can be superheroes too" kind of book... very cute.

We are going to begin learning about composting next week.  I haven't gone deep into composting with a class before...  I have always just quickly mentioned it- but this year we are going to go more in depth... we are going to start by reading Composting- Nature's Recyclers  and Compost Stew.

We are also going to try to learn more about composting by watching it happen with this compost kit. I have never tried this before... I really hope it works!

Last week we also made "Recycled Robots".  I need to hunt down more photos... but how cute is that little guy?

Okay, here are a few more quick things I want to share with you!  First, some of my favorite Earth Day songs... 

"Going Green" is our favorite.  (Warning:  You won't be able to stop singing it.)

"Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" is a very simple song about the recycling loop.

"If You're A Kid..." is another one of our favorite songs.  My kids LOVE this one by Harry Kindergarten.

This is my all time favorite hallway display.  I wrote more about it here.  This is part of my Earth Day  Bundle and my Earth Day Close Reading packet or you can grab just this writing/art project HERE.

I wanted to share a recycling FREEBIE with you as well!

This mini-unit is perfect for grades 1-3. It includes and article that explains recycling written on 3 different levels of text and vocabulary complexity... so the differentiation is done for you!  It also includes text dependent questions and some recycling posters.

I always use Earth Day as an excuse to sneak my Butterfly and Sea Turtle units into centers as well.  I LOVE these units.  They are so much fun to teach- the kids love them!  (The Sea Turtle unit is actually a part of the Earth Day Bundle- which is a great deal if you are looking for some materials!)

So... that's where we are in our Earth Day preparations... we are going to be planting seeds today (which is for our science fair project... but fits nicely in with Earth Day)!  What do you have going on for Earth Day?  I would love some new ideas!

(F.Y.I- This post contains affiliate links to books & products that I love & use in my classroom.)

Friday, March 24, 2017

5 for Friday

Happy Friday!
We made it!  I wasn't sure if I would.  It was the week after Spring Break... which is hard enough... but we also had testing alllllll week.  Brutal! To celebrate making it through the week I'm linking up with Doodlebugs Teaching for a Five for Friday Linky Party- Here we go!

So, after a glorious week of Spring Break and a difficult re-adjustment to real life (getting 4 kids into my minivan at 6:20 am Monday morning) I had to administer SAT-10 testing to my poor kiddos all week.  It's a lot on these little guys under the best of circumstances... and let's just say, in my humble opinion, standardized testing at 8:00 in the morning after coming back from vacation is not really the best of circumstances... but they were troopers!!!

In addition to getting back into the swing of early mornings and standardized testing, I started a new professional development class this week.  It's a bit of a long story... I will spare you... the short version is that certification requirements have changed in the past few years and when I got ready to renew my certificate this spring I found out that I needed to take ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY HOURS of professional development hours to keep my ESOL certification.  (Again, long story...)  

I knocked out the first 60 first semester and it was pretty painless.  I signed up for another class this spring where I would do 5 modules online and then go to 5 weeks of classes.  Of course, the classes started this week... AND the online modules had to be completed before the classes began.  (I had missed that little asterisk when I signed up...)  So, I found myself sitting at my computer for many, many hours completing the online portion of the class this week... AND I spent Thursday night sitting in class.  

I guess that wasn't the "short version".  (I am never good at "short versions"!)  Okay, the short version of that story is:  I'm taking a linguistics class this spring.  I completed 60% of it this week.  I'm tired.

My adorable nephew is turning 8.  I love this kid so much!  He is just the cutest, funniest kid.  He had a "Nerf Battle" party last weekend.  (It was such a cool party.  It was held at a gym that was set up with blockades and barriers.  The kids were divided into teams and it was a full-on Nerf war.  He was in heaven!)

And as much as I loved watching my nephew in "8 year old boy heaven" I also loved watching my little Ella let her personality shine through.  She isn't one to be left behind, but she was much younger than anyone else at the party and was definately the only "warrior in a tutu" but it didn't slow her down for a minute!

We have been continuing with measurement in math this week (which the kids are LOVING!).  My awesome intern had the kids do this adorable "Measurement Monster" activity from the Applicious Teacher this week.  They came out SO CUTE!  They had so much fun.  It was the perfect "after testing" activity.  They were working on the standards, using the vocabulary and talking about math... but they were also getting to be creative, make something cute and act like 8-year-olds... I love that kind of activity!

It's officially spring!  I hear that in some places that is a really big deal!  (I can not even IMAGINE being somewhere where it snows in MARCH! - or ever I guess...)  Here in sunny Florida we don't really get "seasons".  Our seasons go from warm, to warmer, to hot, to so hot you can't breathe outside.  You don't really want to be here in August... trust me on that one... but March?  We are good at March here in Florida!

My girl is especially good at March.  She is soaking up every moment of sunshine!  She got new rain boots for her birthday.  Aren't they cute?  Poor girl has been DYING to "stomp in muddy puddles"... but she's not going to let a little sunshine get in the way of her plans!  She will wear her rain boots and she will look adorable in them!  So there, sunshine!

Well, I don't know about you, but I am having a "wild and crazy" Friday night!  I am sitting here on my couch next to a sleeping 5 year old.  I just finished watching "Night at the Museum" with my cute dates and I am sipping a glass of Chardonnay while cutting out my butterfly laminating. Oh, the wild and crazy life of a teacher-mom ;)  Wouldn't change it for the world!  (Well, I might change the amount of sleep I get... but that's about it).
So, after listening to the squeals of joy my kiddos let out while cutting out their monsters this week I vowed to spend the next 9 weeks (ONLY NINE MORE WEEKS!!!) giving them more of those fun, eight-year-old experiences.  I am just going to find ways to make it work.

So, this upcoming week, I am going to integrate science and literacy standards and put my Butterfly Close Reading Unit in a literacy center for students to work on independently.  There are lots of great informational texts, text dependent questions and writing prompts included.  Once they have completed the "work" activities they are going to do the craft and make their own butterflies... because they are eight... and eight year olds should learn about and make butterflies.  So there.

Have you found ways to squeeze "more childhood" into your classroom?  I would LOVE to hear your ideas!  I need to find more ways to put FUN in my lesson plans.  Please leave a comment and let me know how you are making it work!