Thursday, January 14, 2016

Martin Luther King Art

I don't know about you, but I just love teaching my little ones about Dr. King.  He is so inspiring!  I also find it quite a challenging subject to teach about.  Almost every year, none of my students have heard of Dr. King, nonetheless segregation or civil rights.  It is so difficult for their sweet little minds to understand how anyone could hate another person just because of how they look.  

One way that I make this complex topic a bit more kindergarten friendly is through art.  My wonderful para came up with the idea for these adorable portraits of Martin Luther King.  I love how they use both painting and collage, and that they all look a little different.

The children worked together to fingerpaint large sheets of paper brown.  After it dried, they each cut out an oval for Dr. King's head and a small circle for his nose.  They then added hair, eyes and a moustache with black construction paper.  Last but not least, a smile with red construction paper.

After their masterpieces were completed, each child wrote "M is for Martin" beneath his face.  The M is cut from scraps of the brown fingerpainted paper.  I love that this not only added a bit of literacy to the art, it helped them to remember his name.

Happy Birthday, Dr. King!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Simple and Easy Way to Pay for Field Trips

In years past, my grade level team has collected money for each field trip as it came up.  $7 in January for the Aquarium, $8 in April for the Children's Museum and $12 in June for the Farm.  This meant that at least three times each year we were keeping checklists of which child had paid how much, making change to send back in folders, and chasing down parents who hadn't paid the day before a field trip.  It was STRESSFUL to say the least.  It was also tricky for parents to come up with exact change for these random amounts of money.

Then one day I read a blog post that changed my whole perspective.  Maria from KinderCraze wrote about how she and her teaching partner charge $25 per child for fun classroom extras like t-shirts, magazines and a Mother's Day Tea.  A lightbulb went off for me.  Why not do the same for field trips?!

I brought it up with my team, and they loved the idea!  Our next step was to calculate exactly how much all of our field trips for the year cost per child, and to check with our principal to make sure this was an acceptable plan.  I should also note that I work in an inner city school where many families struggle with poverty.  We knew that our approach needed to be sensitive to the needs of our families while also providing the best possible educational experiences for our little ones.

Here are a few tips that were crucial for making it work:

Tell Families in Person
We announced our new plan at Fall Open House, then followed up with a letter the next day.  Be sure to focus on the positive.  Parents want to know exactly what their child will receive in exchange for this money.

Give Plenty of Time to Pay
We gave about six weeks, or three pay cycles, for parents to contribute.  We also offered struggling families to pay in $5 increments every one to two weeks.

Realize that not Everyone can Pay
Realize that for many families, especially those with multiple children, $25 is a lot of money.  These little ones will still be included on our trips.  I wouldn't be able to sleep at night knowing that a child was excluded because his or her parents couldn't pay.  In this situation the other children's funds will cover the cost.

Grab a copy of the letter we sent home with each child (in English and Spanish) by clicking the image above.  The document is fully editable so that you can change it to suit your needs.

You can also check out my tips to make your field trips simple and easy on the Kinder Tribe blog.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Currently November

I am linking up with Oh Boy 4th Grade for my favorite linky party.

I heart Spotify so much... it is so great to be able to choose your own playlists, but I especially love listening to the playlists that they put together.  My favorite is called "Your Favorite Coffeehouse" and it is a ton of calming acoustic songs.  I often play it during our center time at school and find new music that I love because of it.

I love decorating for the seasons, and Fall is my second favorite to decorate for.  Christmas is my most favorite, of course.  I may have even just gone a little nuts in the Halloween clearance section of Target.  I got some white ceramic pumpkins and a light up THANKFUL sign that were all 50% off.  I couldn't resist!

I absolutely love Thanksgiving.  Ever since we bought our house four years ago we have hosted and I just LOVEEEE it!  My grandma, uncle and niece always drive all the way from Michigan and this year we have family coming from Maine, Massachusetts and Washington DC too.  I am already planning the menu in my head.


We FINALLY bought new couches for our living room and den, and these big purchases have given me the redecorating itch.  I started a gallery wall in the living room (thanks to the help of a very talented friend) and redid the built in bookshelves in our den.  I also just ordered a rug and a coffee table.  With just a few more finishing touches, things should really start coming together!

Not having enough time to blog has been really stressing me out lately.  This blog is my baby, and my baby has truly been neglected for awhile now!  I sometimes come down with a bad case of writer's block, and other times have great ideas with no time to actually sit down and write.  My new plan is to build time into my weekly schedule for blogging.  Let me know if you have any suggestions!

My grandmother makes the best mashed potatoes of all time.  They are fluffy and creamy and I could eat plates and plates and plates of them.  I try to make them from her recipe sometimes, and they never come out quite right.  Yummmmm!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

How Go Noodle Saved my Life {and a GIVEAWAY}

Do you GoNoodle?  I do, and I am officially OB-SESSED!  Using Go Noodle has singlehandedly changed how I run Indoor Recess and Brain Breaks.  Also, my students BEG me for GoNoodle and it makes my life so much easier.  What could be better?!  They are also a company that loves teachers.  I emailed them to ask if they could provide one prize for our  New England Blogger Meet Up.  Instead they mailed me a gigantic box with bags, pens and sticky notes for every blogger who came.  How sweet!

 Before we talk about why GoNoodle is so amazing, let's back up a bit.  It might sound crazy, but Go Noodle saved my life this school year.  Okay maybe that's a bit dramatic.  I can say, though, that GoNoodle absolutely saved my sanity this Winter.

I grew up in Maine.  I am used long, cold, snowy winters.  However, winter 2015 was unlike anything I have ever seen before!

We had more snow days than I have ever experienced.  Seven to be exact, and one "Cold Day."  As in it was so flipping cold out that it was not safe for children to walk to school.  Say what?!

 Can you see the front door of my house?  Neither can I!  Snowbanks were piled higher than I have ever seen, and trucks were enlisted to dump snow into the ocean because there was literally nowhere left to put it.  The last snowbank in Boston did not melt until JULY!

In fact, it was
108 inches of snow.  It was un-be-lievable.

 We did not have outdoor recess for over four months.  A few times the kids were so stir crazy that I let them go outside and spray the snowbanks with colored water, just to get out of our classroom for a little while.  Even when it warmed up a little bit we could not go outside because our entire playground was covered in ridiculous amounts of snow.

 This is how GoNoodle saved my sanity!  As soon as I turned on one of their amazing videos, my kids were 100% engaged.  They sang and danced their little hearts out, and I was one happy teacher.
We did 643 minutes of brain breaks and indoor recess with GoNoodle in one school year.  That is 643 minutes of friends not hitting each other, doing somersaults across the rug or whining "I'm boooorrrred teacher!"  

One of the best things about GoNoodle is how easy it is to use.  If you don't have an account yet, here is how to set it up in about two minutes.

That's it!  Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

When you click the little heart next to each video it is automatically saved in your "Favorites" play list.  Amazing!

If you are not sure where to start, here are my recommendations:

Indoor Recess playlists are an awesome combinations of favorite videos.  They play from anywhere between 7 to 19 minutes, depending on which mix you choose.  These are great if you need to handle a situation and cannot be next to your laptop or Smartboard to switch videos every two or three minutes.

And now it's giveaway time!
I am giving away a class set of Go Noodle sweat bands!  How stinkin' cute would your little ones be wearing these?  My kids would be so pumped to rock these and all match on Field Day.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
If you want to check out more GoNoodle swag, check out the GoNoodle Shop.  They have created a discount code just for my readers!  Use BTSwithGoNoodle for 15% off everything (valid now through September 11th).

I did not receive compensation for writing this post.  Go Noodle is giving away 25 sweatbands to a reader of this blog.  All of the opinions stated above are my honest to goodness opinions!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Teacher Week:: Make Ahead Meals

I'm linking up with Blog Hoppin's Teacher Week again today to bring you my favorite make ahead meals.

I don't know about you, but I loveee to cook.  A fun fact is that I had no clue how to make more than mac and cheese and cookies until I went to college.  I lived in special housing and had to cook for 24 girls three times every semester.  It.was.traumatizing.  But it worked!  Now I love to try new recipes and whip up all kinds of things.  During the school week, though, I need to keep my meals short and sweet.

Sweet Potato Hash
{recipe and photo from Kitchn}
This is my new go to meal.  It's a breakfast food, but we often eat it for dinner.  I like to make it a day ahead of time, and then heat it up for a few days in a row after that.  I even take it to school for my lunch.  So incredibly yummy, and healthy too!  

Italian Pork Shoulder
{recipe and photo from The Clothes Make the Girl}

This is a to die for recipe that I discovered when I was doing Whole 30.  You grab a pork shoulder, stuff it with garlic and rub it with spices.  Just throw it in the crock pot and voila!  I swear the first time I made this my husband was oohing and aahing.  Now he begs me to make it.

If any of this intrigues you, come check out my Recipes Pinterest board.  Almost all of the recipes I pin are easy peasy make ahead meals that aren't too stressful in the life of a crazy busy teacher.

Last but not least, here are a few very random cooking tips to make your life a little bit easier.

  1. The crock pot is your best friend.  Throw your ingredients in the pot in the morning, and come home to a delicious meal.  I often chop up my ingredients the night before, and just dump everything in before I leave for school.  What could be easier?
  2. Double your recipes and freeze half.  I do this all the time now and am obsessed!  Lasagna, chili, homemade chicken fingers and chicken noodle soup are two things that I will often cook on the weekends and then freeze.  I pull them out the night before a busy day and they are all set to reheat when I get home.
  3. Meal plan!  I plan out our meals for the week and make a shopping list every Sunday, then either my husband or I goes grocery shopping.  It is a little tedious but a huge time saver in the long run.  This is the grocery list I use (and love!).

Monday, August 31, 2015

Teacher Week: 5 Fun Facts

I just loveeee Blog Hoppin's Teacher Week!  I try to link up every year because it's just so much fun!

1.  I am super tall... 5'11.  My whole family is tall... my little sister is the shortest one out of all of my cousins, and she is just over 5'9"!  

I dated a few shorties in my time.  Well, not short exactly, but definitely not "I can rock my cute new heels" tall.  I was lucky to marry a guy who is four inches taller than me.  I can rock my heels anytime I want.  Here he is with my sister acting all tall and stuff.

2.  I have lived in three states in my life, and they all start with the letter M.  I was born in Michigan, moved to Maine when I was two, and went to college in Massachusetts and never left.  I love all three of my M states, but Maine is my very favorite.  This is one of our engagement photos taken by my very talented bff.  I guess if I ever move again, it will have to be Montana or Missouri, ha!  

 3.  I have always taught in an inner city school.  I student taught in two different inner city schools, and got my first teaching job at the school where I currently work.  I am so proud of my nine (yikes!) years of service to this amazing school, serving an amazing group of children. 

Our school community is lucky enough to have families from countries all around the world - Cape Verde, Central and South America, the Caribbean, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Poland and more.  I have students who have amazing vocabularies, and others who literally do not speak a word of English.  It is challenging and fun and exciting and rewarding all at the same time.  I wouldn't change it for the world
4.  I have a big, crazy family who vacation together in Northern Michigan every August.  They have been going to the exact same lake for over eighty years!  My grandpa first went up to "our" lake as a little boy, and our family has been going ever since.  I have been going since I was in my mom's belly, and haven't missed a year since.  It is one of my very favorite places in the whole wide world.
This is Lake Michigan.  Gorgeous, right?

 And this is our amazing lake.  This is an iPhone photo with no filters, no editing, no nothing.  Isn't it stunning?  It is so hard for me to leave this view behind every year, and even harder to leave my family.

5.  I am NOT a great dancer, but I don't let it stop me!  I love love love to bust a move.  I love to dance at concerts, especially.  I love a lot of music, from John Mayer to Juanes, but Beyonce is my very favorite performer.  The best concert I've ever been to was Queen Bey two years ago in Boston.  At one point we were only a few feet from the stage and I was lucky enough to take this video.  I cried like a twelve year old girl and danced until my booty hurt.

I'll be back tomorrow with my favorite make ahead meals.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Teaching Names in Kindergarten {with Freebies!}

In my classroom, names are the first academic subject that we tackle.  It is a perfect topic to study for little ones who have a wide variety of letter identification and phonics skills.  The kids are always super engaged in learning about their own and their friends' names, and it gives me a peek into how much knowledge they have about letters and sounds. 

Here are a few of my favorite go to name activities from past years:

 I love this activity because it is easy for children to complete.  All they need to do is write their names (with or without adult help) and decorate their page with stickers or drawings.  It is SO empowering for little ones to realize that they are authors too!  This book is always my students' favorite.  They love it to the point of it falling apart and needing to be repaired a few times throughout the year. They can be heard "reading" it all together in the library almost every day.  

You can grab the whole twelve page class book freebie {here}.  This freebie is fully editable so that all you have to do is insert your kids' photos and print!

I am a sucker for easy peasy art projects at the beginning of the year.  The piece on the left is a Chicka Chicka Boom Boom tree with stickers from Michael's.  I gave each student the letters from his/her name and allowed them to stick it on as they wanted.  You can see that Justin's letters are climbing up from the ground instead of hanging in the leaves.  That is the fun of this art project... they are bright and colorful, and everyone's looks different.  I  usually do not cut pieces for my students, but because this project takes place during the first week of school AND many of my students come in with little or no scissors skills, I do prep this one for them to limit frustration.  The second activity is even simpler.  I lightly write each child's name on a piece of white art paper, and they use do-a-dot markers to form each letter.

This is always a favorite in my class at the beginning of the year.  Just snag {this freebie} and print a photo of each child.  Easy peasy and the kids love it!  To see an updated version of this activity, keep reading!

Here is another super fun and easy freebie for you.  Just take photos of your kids' shoes, pop them into the freebie template and print.  Voila!  You have an instant predictable text that is highly engaging for little ones.  I often have a student teacher or parent volunteer take the pictures for me.

To snag this freebie, just like my Facebook page {here}, then click on the Fan Freebies tab.  You will be able to download it right away!

And here is my new FAVORITE name activity:
This is a very updated take on The Good Morning Song.  My district has been really pushing technology lately, which I think is great!  The kids are never more engaged that when I am projecting videos or photos during a lesson, plus my principal loves it.  Win, win!

While thinking about how I can use technology at the very beginning of the year, I came up with the idea of a name powerpoint.  I wanted the powerpoint to be simple, visually attractive, and to teach letter identification using children's names.  I also wanted it to be easy peasy lemon squeezy to put together.  We all know how absolutely crazy the first few weeks of school are!

This powerpoint has everything I need to create a fun and beautiful activity that will hold my students' very short beginning of the year attention spans.  I am using clip art kids in this blog post for privacy, but in real life I will be using photographs of my students.

Here is how easy it is to make each slide.  Ta da!

Pretty cute, right?  Can you just imagine a rug full of kids saying "OOH!  There's Alison!  Oh there's me!!!"  Not only will they be exposed to letters and sounds, their sense of self esteem and belonging to our classroom community will improve as well.

Here are some of the activities that I plan to do with this powerpoint:
Read the slides
Have the kids echo me
Have the kids read the slides
Say each letter of each name
Sing the slides
Chant the slides
Take the photograph off to see if students can figure out the name
Use as a warm up for guided reading
Print a copy for literacy centers so that students can build each other's names with magnet letters, write on dry erase boards and more
Print the slides to create a class book
Print the slides to create a poster for our writing area

 After my students have mastered the first version of the powerpoint, I plan to add some of our favorite story characters as well. 
These slides are an ode to a few of my favorites:  Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, Pete the Cat and The Mitten.

You can do this, too!
If you would like your own copy of this powerpoint, click {here} to check it out.  It's on sale in my store, and I am pretty sure you'll love it!
If you're not savvy with PowerPoint, DON'T WORRY!  There are very simple step by step directions with visuals included.  
Happy back to school!