School's First Day of School

My gracious... this story is adorable!  It's new from author Adam Rex and I just found it in Barnes & Noble the other day.  Have you seen it?

The school is actually the main character (which is an unexpected point of view).  He befriends a sweet man he calls "Janitor" who tries to help him understand what it means to be a school.  

School is nervous when Janitor tells him children will be arriving soon.  He isn't so sure he's going to like children, but he's willing to give them a chance.  And at first, as expected, School doesn't really like the kids.  They're loud and messy and sometimes grumpy.  But as the day goes on, School's feelings and opinions begin to change.  He visits with Janitor after the end of the first day and asks him if he'll invite all the children to come back the next day.  

Janitor nodded.  "I'll see what I can do."

I love the ending.  It's a feel-good teachery ending that will remind you that you have a special job in a special place. 

"In the beginning I didn't know what I was," said the school.  "I thought I was your house."

"Nope," said Janitor.

"I... I suppose some other place gets to be your house," the school added.

Janitor nodded.  "That's true.  But you get to be a school.  That's lucky."

Happy teaching!  :)

Mother's Day SPA Science!

Just when you thought I couldn't connect one more holiday to science... 

Mother's Day is just a few short weeks away.  It's time to make flowers from hand prints and little cards with pictures of mom (that in no way reflect how she really looks).  My own children used to draw me with the most ridiculous bangs and a circle tummy.  They drew other people with rectangle bodies, but not me... circle tummy.  Funny how a card like that can send you screaming straight to the gym.  

And the hairdresser. 

As much as I have always loved the circle-tummy cards, what mom doesn't love a little pampering now and then, too?  If you've never made homemade spa treatments, think about doing a few this year with your own students.  Things like sugar scrubs, facial wipes, and bath salts are very easy to make and really work!  You can simply make them and give them as gifts OR you can turn it into a science lab and make it educational, too. 

I just finished putting together a science set to go along with our favorite homemade items... peach sugar scrub, peppermint facial wipes, and lavender fizzy bath salts.  It includes:

• teacher notes and directions
• student recording sheets
• scientific explanations
• sequential anchor charts
• and gift tags

I'm giving one of these sets away to one of my blog followers on FRIDAY! To be eligible to win (and in the spirit of Mother's Day), leave a comment below with:

• a special memory you recall with your own mom
• and your email address

A winner will be randomly chosen and announced this Friday... good luck!

And happy teaching!  :)

BUMP! An Engaging, Kinesthetic Tool for Learning

My sweet friend Cara Gingras, from Kindergarten Boom Boom, sent me this video of her children playing one of my sight word BUMP! games. These games are such a fun way to practice reading and math skills with primary children.  They're basically a set of electronic flash cards... with a kinesthetic twist.  Randomly placed throughout the slides are action words like wiggle, snap, and clap.  The children stay engaged in the activity because they're waiting for the action words to come up on the screen.  When it says STOMP, they stomp.  When it says WIGGLE, they wiggle.  :)    

As the teacher, you can circulate or join in on the fun because a student can advance the slides from your computer... and trust me, they LOVE to be chosen to do this.  They feel like the teacher!  

{These children are snapping as they see the word SNAP! come up on the screen.}

{In this picture, you can see one of Cara's student "being the teacher," as she controls the slides.}

If you'd like to try out this set in your own classroom, be one of the FIRST FIVE teachers to leave a comment below and I'll send it to you.  Don't forget to leave me your email address so I know where to send it!  :)

If your children like this activity, you can find more than a dozen more in my online store... there are several choices for literacy and math practice.  Just search for BUMP and take a look!

Happy teaching!  :)

Easter Minute-to-Win-It Games for the Classroom

Wow... two big holidays in the same month.  It won't be easy, but it'll definitely be fun!  (And just think how nice April will be, especially if your spring break is in April... score!)  I have a few more "Minute-to-Win-It" games to share with you... this time for Easter.  They're perfect to use at school, but they're also fun to play with friends and family at home.   

Jammin' Jellies

For this game, you'll need jelly beans and an Easter bucket (or basket) for each pair of children.  Pairs stand facing each other, about 10 feet apart. (You can adjust this distance depending on the age of your children.)  On "GO," one partner tosses a jelly bean toward the other partner who tries to catch it in the bucket.  Play continues this way, tossing only one jelly bean at a time, until a minute has passed.  The pair with the most jelly beans in their bucket is the winning pair.  Note:  The child holding the bucket can move it to catch the jelly beans.  

• Have older children hold the bucket on top of their head.
• Provide a larger plastic bowl for younger children.
• If time permits, let the partners switch roles and play again.

The Carrot Patch

This game is similar to the first game.  Place students in pairs and have them face each other, about 10-15 feet apart.  I recommend marking off this distance with masking tape so they know where to stand.  Give one partner a bag of baby carrots.  At the opposite end, place a large bowl or box filled with Easter grass.  The second partner stands behind the bowl, facing their partner.  On "GO," the partner with the carrots tosses them, trying to land the carrots in the grass... or "The Carrot Patch."  Any carrot that lands in the grass stays, but any carrot that lands outside of the grass is out.  The second partner tosses those carrots back to the first partner so they can try again.  I let the partners toss as quickly as they want to in this game, so it's possible both partners might be tossing at the same time.  It's a bit crazy, but so fun!  The pair with the most carrots in the "patch" at the end of one minute is the winner.

• Increase the distance for older players.
• Provide young children with a larger "patch," such as a hula hoop.
• Double the time for greater success.

A Bucket of Bunny Tails

In this team relay, children are basically moving bunny tails (large marshmallows) from one bucket to another.  Use masking tape to mark off two long lines about 20-30 feet apart.  One line will be the starting line and the other line is where each team's bucket will sit, waiting for bunny tails.  Divide students into teams of 3-4.  Give each team a large bowl of marshmallows and a "tool" for carrying the marshmallows to their team's bucket.  You can use chopsticks, straws, toothpicks, or spoons... whatever will be most fun for the age you teach.  When you're ready to play, have teams line up on the starting line.  On "GO," the first player on each team picks up one bunny tail with the "tool" and moves across the floor to drop it in the bucket.  (No helping-hands allowed.)  You can decide how you want your kids to move... walk, run, hop, skip, side-step... be creative.  When the tail lands in the bucket, the child races back to their team and hands the tool to the next person in line.  Play continues in this way for one minute.  When time is called, the team with the most bunny tails in their bucket is the winner.

• Increase the time limit.  (It's too fun for just one minute.)  
• Let young children use their hands.
• Challenge older children by using mini-marshmallows.
• Form smaller teams for higher engagement.

Scrambled Eggs

This is a partner game that uses a paper bag and plastic Easter eggs. Prior to playing, ask a volunteer to prepare your paper bags.  You'll need one paper bag filled with mixed-up eggs for each pair of children.  On "GO," the partners have to work together to take the mixed-up, or scrambled, eggs out of their paper bag and fix them by putting matching tops and bottoms back together.  The catch?  They can each only use one of their hands during this minute... the hand they DON'T write with. They have to keep their writing-hand behind their back during the game, working together to take the eggs out, pull them apart, and snap them back together correctly.  At the end of one minute, the pair with the greatest number of matching eggs is the winner.

• Allow younger children to use their dominant hand, or both hands.

Peep Tower

The idea of this game is simpler than the actual task.  Divide students into teams of 2-4, depending on your preference.  Give each team a pack of 5 Peeps and some type of connector, such as sturdy straws or toothpicks.  On "GO," each team works together to construct a tall tower of Peeps.  At the end of one minute, the team with the tallest tower is the winner.

Bunny Ears Count Down

This game can be played individually or in pairs.  Each student (or pair) will need five plastic Easter eggs.  (To prepare your eggs for the game, fill 1 egg with 1 jellybean, another egg with 2 jellybeans, another egg with 3 jellybeans, another egg with 4 jellybeans, and the last egg with 5 jellybeans.)  On "GO," the children shake their eggs, listening carefully and trying to determine how many jellybeans are inside each egg without opening them.  The goal is to line the eggs up on their desk in order from the greatest number of jellybeans to the least number of jellybeans... 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.  They have one minute to get their eggs in the correct order. When time is called, they open their eggs and check.  This game may have multiple winners.  :)

Word Up!

Work a little literacy into your game schedule!  Put children in groups of 2-3 and give them the letters in the word EASTER.  How many words can they make using only the six letters in the word Easter in just one minute? Ready, set, WRITE!  At the end of one minute, the team with the most correctly spelled words is the winner.

• Play again using a different holiday word, such as RABBITS or BASKET.
• Provide more time for younger students.

Want to save these ideas for later?  Use the PIN ME button from your favorite picture to save this post on your Pinterest page.  

Happy teaching!  :)

5 Anchor Charts to Support Reading Discussions

Anchor charts don't have to be complicated.  As a matter of fact, they shouldn't be... especially for primary children.  I once read that anchor charts should be designed the way advertisers design billboards... simple, clear, and to the point.  A driver needs to be able to look quickly at the sign, see a few key words and images, and understand what the message is about.  I know anchor charts are a little different than billboards, but the advice is good:  Keep it simple.

These are some of my favorite anchor charts for helping young readers navigate rich conversations about texts.  They're not specific to any particular genre, so they'll work across multiple units of study.  The strategies even apply during science and social studies discussions.

Remember, anchor charts are unique to each teacher's expectations and needs, so you may have to revise some of the wording or you may even want to change up the title, format, or illustrations.  Be inspired to make them your own... they may even spark a new idea for a different chart. 

This is a good lesson for young children who need to understand the foundational principle that actively listening to other people's ideas is the key to a strong discussion.  It also lays the groundwork for you to model how to stay connected to the topic.

I like this anchor chart because it gives the children strategies for developing and maintaining a rich conversation.  It's easy to customize it to fit your particular needs... just change the prompts inside the speech bubbles to match your style and expectations.  The dialogue prompts should help keep the discussion active and stimulate deeper thinking about ideas.

It's okay if readers disagree about ideas.  In fact, it's necessary sometimes.  But teaching children how to disagree constructively and politely is critical to building healthy conversations.  You can try these response stems or write some that sound more like your style.

If I make this chart again, I'll add something about paying attention to the conversation because I've discovered that, sometimes, a student's lack of engagement is the cause of the repetition.  When kids "tune out," they tend to have little to contribute or they wind up repeating something they heard early on in the conversation.  I think repetitive dialogue is a red flag that the conversation has grown stale.  Kids need to be aware of this, realize it's a problem, and then proactively try to revive the discussion. 

Or end it.  I might even add that as a fourth speech bubble:  "Have we said everything we need to about this topic?"

This anchor chart is my favorite because it addresses a pet peeve of mine... totally random comments... like when we're discussing why the boy and his father are living in the airport and I'm amazed at how deeply the children are processing the topic of homelessness and suddenly one child adds, "Tomorrow, I'm going to see the new Avengers movie with my family."  (Can you hear the screeching tires?)  I know, sometimes, children are desperate to tell "their" story to someone.  But my goal is to continue to create an awareness and a habit of why and how we have strong conversations around texts, so I have to teach why unrelated comments aren't helpful at that time.  To help, I make sure we have time in the morning to discuss any personal news the children want to share with everyone.  I find doing this helps to eliminate off-topic comments during reading discussions.

Do you have other ideas to add?

Happy teaching!

It's Time for Leprechauns & Rainbows!

Yep... it'll be here before you know it!  And, soon, all you'll be thinking about are rainbows, leprechauns, and pots of gold!  This is such a great holiday to celebrate in a classroom full of young kids... the legends, the bright colors, the trickery... it can be so much fun!  

If you're a new teacher and don't know where to start (or you're a seasoned pro and just want some fresh ideas), start on Pinterest.  This is one of my go-to resources when I'm looking for new activities, books, and crafts... especially for the holidays.  Hundreds of other teachers have come before us and their amazingly creative ideas are right there to inspire your planning... it's awesome!

This Pinterest board, St. Patrick's Day, has more than 100 kid-friendly ideas for helping you tie literacy, math, science, social studies, and art into your holiday plans.  Go check it out... but plan to stay awhile... it's loaded with smart and creative ideas.  You'll have a hard time deciding what NOT to do!  :)

I like to play off the tricky mischief that is the hallmark of any good leprechaun. One of my favorite activities to do leading up to St. Patrick's Day is to let the children design and construct leprechaun traps. Depending on how you structure this activity, it can be a really cool STEM lesson, so you can feel good that your holiday fun isn't "fluffy," but super smart.  (You can find ideas for making traps on the Pinterest board pictured above.)

We've always focused on just making our traps, but I love how these students in Katie Byrd's class made their traps accessible to the littlest of leprechauns by adding a cloverleaf  ladder... how cute!  And creatively smart!  You can check out her post HERE.

So, it's your turn to share!  What is your favorite activity to do on St. Patrick's Day? Leave an idea in the comments below... I'd love to hear from you!  :)

Happy teaching!

St. Patrick's Day Games

I love Minute-to-Win-It games.  A few years ago, I even planned a whole "Christmas Minute-to-Win-It Day" where each adult came over with a game idea of their own and a small amount for the Prize Pot.  We didn't exchange gifts that year (except for the lucky person... my sister... who won the prize money). Instead, our gifts were memories... it was so fun! 

These short games are fun in the classroom, too, and you only need a few supplies for each.  Consider asking your students' parents for donations. Many parents love to help out in this way!

Rainbow Relay

For this game you will need rainbow-colored candy, paper plates, straws, and plastic cups.  In my classroom, children sit in small teams of 4-5 students, so we play this game in our small groups.  Give each team one plate of candy and one plastic cup per color of candy.  (In the example above, each team needs five cups because there are five different  colors of candy.)  Separate the empty cups and place them in the center of each group.  Put one different colored candy in each cup so there is a cup for each color.  Give each child one straw and decide which child in each group will go first.  On "Go!," the first player uses their straw to suck one piece of candy to the end of their straw.  They have to maintain suction through the straw and drop the candy into the plastic cup that matches that color. If it drops too soon or is dropped into the wrong cup, the child has to keep trying and put it into the correct cup.  Players cannot move the candy or the cups with their hands.  The game continues to the left until the minute is over.  The team with the most pieces of candy in the plastic cups wins.

• lengthen the time limit
• play in pairs to increase student engagement
• use plastic tweezers instead of straws

The Lucky Charm Challenge

This game has simple directions, but it's challenging for little hands. Place a bucket of Lucky Charms™ cereal in the middle of each group of kids and give each child a clothespin.  In one minute, how many lucky marshmallow charms can they stack on top of each other?  Although they're sharing the bucket of cereal, this is a solo game... player against player.  They may not touch the cereal with their hands and if their stack falls down before a minute is called, they need to start over. The player with the tallest stack of charms at the end is the winner. Have more time? Put them back in the bucket and play again!

• use fingers to make it simpler for young children
• or use chopsticks to increase the level of difficulty 
• pick a flatter object to stack, such as gold Rolo™ candies or gold coins

Shamrock Shuffle

Disclaimer:  This game takes more than a minute, but it's so fun... and smart!  

In this game, the children will be shuffling from one side of the room to the other, so you may need to move a little bit of furniture (or play outside).  You will need one large sturdy shamrock and a set of letter cards per group.  The letter cards should be the same for each group and should spell a secret holiday-themed word when arranged correctly.  In the example above, the cards spell out shamrock, but you could also do clover, leprechaun, gold, rainbow, etc.  Choose a word that's developmentally appropriate for your age group.  Line children up in teams at the starting line.  On the other side of the room (opposite each team), place the mixed up cards in a pile.  There should be one set of cards for each team.  Give the first child in each line a large shamrock. On "Go!," the first person in each line puts the shamrock between their knees and shuffles to their pile to get one card.  If the shamrock falls, the child has to stop and put it back between their knees without moving forward.  When they're back at the starting line, they have to pass the shamrock to the next person in line WITHOUT using their hands... the challenge is to pass it knees-to-knees.  If it falls, the first child puts it back between his knees and tries to pass it again.  After it has been passed, the first child goes to the back of the line and the next child shuffles to get another letter for the secret word. When all the letter cards have been retrieved, the group works together to figure out the secret holiday word.  The first team to do this is the winner.

• increase the time limit
• shorten the walk
• pass off the shamrock using hands
• spell known sight words instead of holiday words

Pots of Gold

This is a game where blindfolded students use their sense of touch to fill their team's pot with "gold."  Ahead of time, prepare a small paper or plastic bag for each team.  Place 20 pieces of one kind of gold-wrapped candy, such as Kisses™ or Rolo™ candies, into each bag.  (Please be aware of student allergies in your classroom.)  Then fill the rest of each bag with "distractors," such as pom poms, marbles, coins, etc.  On the day of the game, you will need a blindfold for each student. Each team will need one empty pot and their bag of candy & "stuff." To play, have small groups of 3-4 students sit in tight circles on the floor. Show them the contents of the bags so they're familiar with the items inside. Then have them place their blindfolds securely over their eyes. Give an empty bucket and a bag of candy to one child in each group.  On "Go!," the first child in each group reaches inside the bag, feels around for one piece of the gold candy, and places it in the empty bucket. When it's in the bucket, the child says, "I got it!  I'm passing it!," and then passes the bucket and bag to the player on the left. Play continues in this manner until time is called.  At the end of the game, the kids can take off their blindfolds and count the number of gold candies in their team's bucket.  The team with the most pieces of candy in their bucket is the winner.

• increase the playing time
• put tougher distractors in each bag, such as other types of candy
• use dark bags and skip the blindfolds
• or pass the bags behind backs and skip the blindfolds

Happy teaching!  :)

(And playing!)

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