Friday, November 4, 2016

Teaching Thankfulness

Thanksgiving has always been one of my very favorite things to teach.  My first few years teaching, I had such a difficult time figuring out how to teach kindergarteners, especially my sweet ELL friends, the meaning of being THANKFUL.  It is such an abstract concept for them!  

After a few years of trial and error, I am happy to say that I figured out the best way to teach my little ones about Thanksgiving.

First, we read books to understand what the word thankful means.  So many books focus on the story of the Pilgrims meeting the Native Americans, and everyone joining together to have a peaceful, delicious meal.  There are two problems with this.  First, my pre-k students cannot understand the concept of life 400 years ago.  They do not understand persecution, why the Pilgrims chose to come to America, why there are no cars, apartment buildings or streetlights, and why these books feature people wearing "funny" clothes.  According to this article, children cannot understand these concepts until ages 9 to 11.  Second, I do not want to teach students something that is not historically accurate.  

After reading these three books over the course of a few days, I ask the students to define the word thankful.  Then we compare the definition they have created to the definition to our thankful definition poster.  The two definitions are usually quite similar.

We also review the synonym subway art, and I share something that I am thankful for, displayed on the example poster.  These three steps ensure that children are learning the vocabulary and it's correct definition, and that they are able to understand it in a concrete way.

After that, students think-pair-share to come up with things that they are thankful for in their own lives.  Now they are making connections to their new knowledge.  We add all of their ideas to a class bubble map.  I recently started making my anchor charts on the computer and printing out the pieces.  Then all I have to do is cut them out and glue onto chart paper.  The anchor chart on the right took me about three minutes to prepare!  If you want to save the chart for next year, just laminate it BEFORE using it with students.  Then use a dry erase marker to write down their ideas.  At the end of the unit, just erase and you are all set for next year!

Students then make their own individual bubble maps as a pre-write activity.  This helps them focus their ideas and decide what to write about.

Last, each student creates a page for our class book, titled My Thankful Book.  I make a page as well, and photocopy a book for each child.  Each child decorates a cover page for his/her book, and voila!  This book is always a favorite keepsake, and the parents LOVE it.

These examples are from my pre-k students last year.  We used Thanksgiving word cards so that they could do some of the writing independently.  

I am thankful for books because I like to read!  So precious!

Here are a few pages that I made as examples for my students:

Here is one way to create a book.  Just place the cover into the front of a clear binder, then each page into a page protector.  Voila!  You've got a book in just a few minutes.  You can also pop the pages into a report cover, or use a good old fashioned stapler.


Here is a closer look at how you can easily differentiate this activity to best meet the needs of your students. 
The horizontal pages have more space for drawing and less space for writing, which make them more appropriate for younger or struggling writers.  The vertical pages have less drawing space and more lines for writing, making them better for older or more advanced students.

Have you ever noticed that behavior problems seem to pop up when children are bored or not sure what they should be doing?  A fast and easy way to prevent this from happening is to provide activities for your fast finishers.  A writing and coloring activity allows students to be creative while still keeping them focused on the lesson.

To see each page of this unit, please check out My Thankful Book.  You can also "gobble up" some Thanksgiving freebies.

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!).