Back to School MUST READ Books!

I know I'm not alone when I say that picture books are my jam! I think one of my favorite parts of teaching is reading aloud to kids. I can get the craziest of groups to hang on my every word when I read a good book aloud.

If I need my class to calm down... Pull out a book.
If I need to fill a few minute before lunch with out them jumping out the window... Pull out a book.  
If I need my kids to understand a character trait...Pull out a book. 
If I need to get my kids thinking creatively...Pull out a book.
If I just need to entertain them...PULL. OUT. A BOOK.
Books are literally like magic wands at your fingertips! 
USE THEM!
My biggest fear when making the jump from Kinder to 4th was that they wouldn't love picture books anymore, and boy was I wrong! My fourth graders loved pictures books! And perk, they had the stamina to also tackle chapter books. #WINNING! Maybe they are so magical because kids are constantly bombarded with so much technology that slowing down and hearing rich literature is something their brains desperately crave. I don't know...Something to research more, for sure! But, y'all, it.is.a.beautiful.thing!

So without further ado, here is my list of encouraging read alouds that every elementary classroom could benefit from during the first week of school (or any time really, because they are beautiful pieces of literature!) and why I love them. These are in no particular order!

You can click to purchase any of the books on Amazon by clicking the photo on each (just click outside of the "Pin It" button in the middle. 😀

1. Have you Filled a Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud
Have You FIlled a Bucket Today? 
There is a significant possibility that this will be my first day of school read aloud from now until eternity! Love isn't even a strong enough word for how I feel about this book. I am obsessed! It is a beautifully written story about how we all walk around carrying emotional buckets. The actions that we make impact not just how full others buckets are, but also how full our own become. I love this book for several reasons.
     →One, it places ownership on each student individually. 
     →Two, the explanations in the book are so easy for kids to connect to. It really matches their schema and my kids always buy into it. 
     →Three, it sets the tone for my kids to be spreaders of kindness. 

This is my number one must have book for every elementary classroom. Period!

Grab Have you Filled a Bucket Today on Amazon by clicking HERE!

2. Teal by Renee Galvin
Teal 

Ok, truth moment...I was first drawn to Teal, because it is my favorite color, and let's be real, we all judge books by their covers! ;) But y'all, this book did not disappoint! It is about a sweet little teal crayon who feels like he doesn't quite fit in; he's not blue, he's not green... As the story progresses, we learn the invaluable lesson that we are all unique; we all have different strengths; we all are special. When we combine our own unique and individual strengths, we can make something truly beautiful together. I love this story for the first week of school, because its sweet story connects with any student who feels like he or she might not fit in. It's the perfect story for celebrating diversity, for teaching kids that we all belong and when we work together (collaboration!), we can make something truly beautiful!
Grab Teal on Amazon by clicking HERE!


3. The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds
The Dot on Amazon 
I remember almost crying the first time I read this book. It's beautiful. Little Vashti doesn't think that she can be an artist. Her teacher urges her to start with a simple dot. With a little praise from her teacher, Vashti quickly grows in confidence as she tries new things and continually improves. My favorite part of this story is how at the end, it comes full circle as she gives another little girl encouragement and praise and  you can just picture the story cycling again. So, so heartwarming. Not only is this book perfect to teach kids to just get started, it's also a beautiful reminder to us, as teachers, that our compliments and interactions with kids have the ability to make or break them. I always have my kids make "Dot Art" after this. We talk about how, if they can be so creative with a dot, imagine what they can create!

Grab The Dot on Amazon by clicking HERE!

4.  The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
The Name Jar on Amazon 

Confession: I once called a kindergarten girl the wrong name for half of a year and she never corrected me! When her mom walked behind her and said "You need to tell your teacher..." and she proceeded to tell my "My name is said Joanna, not Joanna." I wanted to cry for her. The poor girl had an entire class calling her the wrong name for months! I don't ever want a student to feel embarassed by their name or be afraid to correct someone for mispronouncing their name. Whether a name is easy to pronounce or hard to pronounce, they were chosen for us with purpose. They have meaning to them. They are special and we should be proud of them. This story is beautifully written about a girl who feels embarrassed by her name, only to come to realize that it is uniquely and beautifully hers. It's a perfect story to start off the year, and have students research the meanings of their names.

Grab The Name Jar on Amazon by clicking HERE!

5.  First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg
First Day Jitters on Amazon 

The first day of school can be scary and intimidating. We all feel nervous! This story adorably goes through all those first day feelings at a new school in an easy to relate way. Students are sure to connect with the main character, only to be met with a twist at the end that is sure to get your students laughing! The perfect book to ease the tension on the first day. An easy follow up would be creating a "First Day Jitters" anchor chart and writing. A must have for the first day of school!

Grab First Day Jitters on Amazon by clicking HERE!

6.  What if Everybody Did that? by Ellen Javernick
What if Everybody Did That? on Amazon

This book shares the important message of thinking critically about how our actions can effect the world around us. I especially love how it helps set the tone for the school year by reminding kids the rules and expectations that are set are there to make our classroom a better place and a better experience for everyone. It dares kids to think outside of their own world and to think about making things better for everyone. The beautiful illustrations and hilarious dialogue make it a must read at the beginning of the school year (and anytime a reminder is needed) for explaining why classroom expectations are set.

Grab What if Everybody Did That? on Amazon by clicking HERE!

7.  Do Unto Otters by Laurie Keller
 Do Unto Otters on Amazon

Besides that this book has the cutest pun that makes me smile every time I see it, it also has the cutest story line that reminds kids about the "golden rule" of "Treat others the way you would like to be treated". The cute interaction between the otters and the rabbits is a perfect introduction to diversity and treating everyone with kindness and respect. As the story progresses, Mr. Rabbit learns that, even though he has never met an otter before, they have a lot in common and can still be great friends. It's a great story to start the discussion of what makes a good friend.

Grab Do Unto Otters on Amazon by clicking HERE!

8.  A Bad Case of the Stripes by David Shannon
 A Bad Case of the Stripes on Amazon

David Shannon is one of my absolute favorite children's authors and I love everything he writes, but besides that, this book is one that hilariously points out the importance of just being yourself! Poor Camilla is afraid to eat lima beans because she doesn't want her classmates to make fun of her. But not being herself has wild consequences that she only learns at the end can be fixed by being true to who she is! One of my favorite first week activities is giving kids a face and letting them draw in whatever designs they want. Creativity oozes and it's a beautiful thing!


Grab A Bad Case of the Stripes on Amazon by clicking HERE!

9.  Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg
Beautiful Oops on Amazon 

Perhaps the most beautiful thing about my copy of Beautiful Oops is that it has been so well loved that the cover is falling off of it and some of the pages are hanging on by a thread. Beautiful Oops teaches kids that mistakes are ok, in fact, they are opportunities to try again and make something better. A message that every perfectionist child needs to read over, and over, and over. Plus, it's really fun to have each student crumple up a piece of paper, have a quick "snowball fight" with them, and use those crumpled papers to make our own Beautiful Oops! :)

Grab Beautiful Oops on Amazon by clicking HERE!

10. Giraffe's Can't Dance by Giles Andreae

Giraffes Can't Dance  
After seeing this book all over the internet for so long, I finally snagged a copy of it last year and it instantly became a forever favorite. Through the relatable story line, students learn several important messages. Gerald the Giraffe wants to dance, but the other animals tell him that he can't. Sad to not be included, he gets encouragement from a cricket, he discovers that his dance looks different, and that he can do anything he wants to do. This story is perfect to help students stand up for themselves against bullying, tackle a growth mindset, and be proud of who they are.

Grab Giraffes Can't Dance on Amazon by clicking HERE!

Full disclosure, this list was extremely hard to narrow down to ten books. There are so many great books for the first week and month of school. If only we could spend more time soaking up literature! What books would you add to this list?

Also, I feel like I should add that these opinions are 100% my own. I was not paid or sponsored to write this post, but wouldn't it be fun if I was that cool! 😉

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links. Please read my disclosure statement to learn more.*
As always, I would love for you to help me spread the word about these amazing books by re-pinning the image below. 😀

Set the tone for the entire year with positive, encouraging read aloud that teach students about diversity, community, kindness, and collaboration. Read more to find out why each of these books are valuable to share during the first week of school! #BackToSchool #GoodReads

 

How I Eliminated Paper Piles in my Classroom



*This post contains affiliate links. Please see my disclosure statement to learn more.*

I've talked about my jump from kindergarten to 3rd/4th before. Obviously, it was a little traumatizing. ;) In many ways, it was like being a first year teacher all over again. I had to rethink and retry many of my management and organization tricks. I won't pretend to be an expert on anything, but there were definitely some things that I learned, that I think could be so helpful for others!

Before I fully explain this, I'm going to give you a little back story (you can skip on down to the picture if you want to avoid my real life breakdown). I had gone from a self-contained kindergarten classroom to a 3rd/4th grade blend that rotated for nearly every subject. I had a 3rd/4th Grade Homeroom, 3rd Grade Reading, 4th Grade Math, 3-5 Reading RTI and a 3-5 Math RTI every day. To say it was an overwhelming change would be an understatement, but I had the most supportive and patient teammates and administrators while I tried to work out the kinks.

Probably the hardest part for me was keeping up with the paper piles. I had 5 different classes to make copies for each day (with different quantities of kids in each group. Five different groups turning in assignments to the same turn in basket. I had copies everywhere, and could never seem to find what I needed when I needed it. I was a hot mess to say the least. Just before Thanksgiving, the stress of feeling like I was drowning in a sea of endless photocopies hit me so hard. I remember breaking down sobbing in front of a co-worker, who happened to have a student teacher with her, and then the principal walked in. They were gracious, but I decided I needed to find a way to keep all of my papers organized so that I wasn't losing them, so that kids knew exactly where to find things, and so that I could access them easily when needed.

So here's what I did...And it has worked beautifully!  

I found these awesome Sterilite slide drawer storage containers. They come in stacks of 3 drawers, but the thing that I loved most about them is that I could detach and re-stack the drawers to make them any height I wanted. (This is not true of all Sterilite drawers, so be sure you are buying the ones that can detach.). You can find the ones that I used HERE. I also printed the labels on Astrobright paper. I check my local office supply store, but Amazon usually has the best price. You can snag some by clicking HERE (affiliate links).

Let's talk about those paper piles for a minute... Are they driving you crazy?! Are you looking for an organizational system that will eliminate paper piles, increase student accountability and ownership, and help save your sanity?! This organizational system helped save my sanity in my 3rd grade classroom! Read more to find out how I set it up, maintained it, and taught my students how to utilize it!
My drawers are five high and four across. Each drawer has a specific purpose.

On the left are my turn in drawers. Since I teach different groups for each subject, it’s easier for me to manage the paper piles if they turn in their assignments separately. I always print a few extra copies and extra copies drawer is there for if students lose an assignment or are absent (these become scratch paper if not used). I send home missing assignment reports every Wednesday, so they always know what they need to find. The No Name speaks for itself. 😉 I also put any incomplete assignments there. I clear out all of these drawers at the end of the week to start fresh.
 
In the Monday-Friday drawers, I keep my copies for the week. I also put my read alouds and our emergent readers for the week in these drawer so I don’t lose them. This makes it especially easy if I have a sub. All of my copies are already printed and in an easy to find place. I've actually had so many compliments from subs on this!

Let's talk about those paper piles for a minute... Are they driving you crazy?! Are you looking for an organizational system that will eliminate paper piles, increase student accountability and ownership, and help save your sanity?! This organizational system helped save my sanity in my 3rd grade classroom! Read more to find out how I set it up, maintained it, and taught my students how to utilize it!

I swear our printer hates me and WILL break if I wait until the last minute, so I make all of my Wonders reading copies 5 weeks at a time. I also make my homework copies in 5 week chunks. Those get stored in the Weeks 1-5 drawers. On Fridays, I just pull them out and sort them in to the Monday-Friday drawers and I'm ready to go!

On the right are the drawers that are mostly for my own benefit. The “grade” drawer is for things that I’ve pulled out of the turn in drawers that someone else can grade for me. A parent maybe (wishful thinking 😉). The Hand Back drawer is for things that have been graded and entered, and are ready to send back to the kids. I have student helpers who can pull from that drawer and put assignments in mailboxes. The “To-Do” drawer is where I hide things that I need to do, but don’t want to. 😉 Lined Paper and White Paper are there for students to grab whenever they need.

Let's talk about those paper piles for a minute... Are they driving you crazy?! Are you looking for an organizational system that will eliminate paper piles, increase student accountability and ownership, and help save your sanity?! This organizational system helped save my sanity in my 3rd grade classroom! Read more to find out how I set it up, maintained it, and taught my students how to utilize it!

The clipboards...This is where I keep my weekly homework. Each students has about 10-15 minutes of homework per night. They get this on Monday and it’s due on Friday. Most of my kids do it all on Monday and have nothing for the rest of the week. It's really up to them. If they lose it or are absent, they always know where to find an extra copy.

Let's talk about those paper piles for a minute... Are they driving you crazy?! Are you looking for an organizational system that will eliminate paper piles, increase student accountability and ownership, and help save your sanity?! This organizational system helped save my sanity in my 3rd grade classroom! Read more to find out how I set it up, maintained it, and taught my students how to utilize it!

One of the bonuses to this system is that it makes kids take accountability. It's really hard for me to lose an assignment, and they know exactly where to look if they're missing something. It gives them tremendous ownership and responsibility. And that, my friends, is a huge win!

I get asked a lot about my labels. I made them and printed on my favorite Astrobright papers. I actually printed, laminated, and taped them to the inside of the drawers, but you could attach them to the outside of the drawer too. If you want to snag them for yourself, I have two versions in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. You can snag them by clicking the photos below. The one on the left can be printed on Astrobrights paper like the photos in this post, the one on the right has colorful stripes and is more suitable to be printed on white paper (they are what I used last year). Both include editable templates, so you can customize. The labels are absolutely not necessary, but they are helpful! :)

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Classroom-Supply-Organization-Labels-BUNDLE-Color-BW-and-EDITABLE-3047390?utm_source=Blog%20Post&utm_campaign=Bundle%20Labels   https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Simple-Classroom-Supply-Organization-Labels-2519219?utm_source=Blog%20Post&utm_campaign=Simple%20Supply%20Labels

 If you end up using these, or something similar, I'd love to hear about it! This system has legitimately saved my sanity, and I wish I would have done it sooner! As always, if you loved this post, I'd appreciate you re-pinning for me! :) Thanks, friends!
 

PIN FOR LATER:
 Let's talk about those paper piles for a minute... Are they driving you crazy?! Are you looking for an organizational system that will eliminate paper piles, increase student accountability and ownership, and help save your sanity?! This organizational system helped save my sanity in my 3rd grade classroom! Read more to find out how I set it up, maintained it, and taught my students how to utilize it!








How I make State Testing a little less stressful

A note of encouragement can go a long way! I believe there is tremendous power in encouragement, and the rapport it builds with students is incredible. Every student should be offered a handwritten note on several occasions throughout the year. These ready to print seasonal, testing, and punny notes make that much easier!

A few years ago, I  made the terrifying leap from teaching kindergarten to teaching a 3rd/4th grade blend. Now, if you've ever been proposed with the idea of jumping grades like that, you will empathize with my initial response of, "Yeah...thanks for thinking I was talented enough to do that, but I'm going to have to pass..."

After the idea of moving grades finally sunk in, I dove in head first without looking back. Turns out, it was a desperately needed change that helped reignite my teaching heart that was feeling weary, but that's another story.

The year went as well as you could have imagined, considering I was hired by my new school just 6 days before classes started and it was a mad scramble to move out of my old school, set up a new classroom, learn a new curriculum, learn a new culture (I went from private to public school) and prepare for a whole new class of 31 darlings who I was sure would be taller than me (some were)...

That is, until the spring came and I could no longer pretend that we didn't have to complete state testing. By the way, whoever decided that 8 year olds should take high stakes, computer based tests, needs to spend a week in an underfunded, overcrowded classroom of 8 year olds, that has no heat or air conditioning, and only tiny pencils left... but I digress...
 
So here I was, a nervous wreck of a teacher trying my best to cram every last minute fact into my kids brains and trying not to let them know how terribly nervous I was for them (and for me!). And on DAY ONE, I had three 3rd grade students cry. I taught the low reading group and they could barely read the instructions, let alone answer the questions. It was too hard. ... and after I was done comforting them and alone in my classroom, I bawled like a baby and overate on any chocolate I could find stashed in my desk. 
I had to stop. I had to stop for me. I had to stop for them. So I decided I was going to take the opposite approach and be the biggest cheerleader on the field (since I couldn't be a coach or a player...). I thought of puns. I walked down the isles of JoAnn's and Target. I found treats. I made notes. I decided that each day of the test my students were going to get a little something-something that reduced the seriousness of it, because 8 year olds should not be so stressed about something as arbitrary as a test! Here are a few of the things we had during the weeks of testing.

A note of encouragement can go a long way! I believe there is tremendous power in encouragement, and the rapport it builds with students is incredible. Every student should be offered a handwritten note on several occasions throughout the year. These ready to print seasonal, testing, and punny notes make that much easier!

A note of encouragement can go a long way! I believe there is tremendous power in encouragement, and the rapport it builds with students is incredible. Every student should be offered a handwritten note on several occasions throughout the year. These ready to print seasonal, testing, and punny notes make that much easier!

A note of encouragement can go a long way! I believe there is tremendous power in encouragement, and the rapport it builds with students is incredible. Every student should be offered a handwritten note on several occasions throughout the year. These ready to print seasonal, testing, and punny notes make that much easier!
A note of encouragement can go a long way! I believe there is tremendous power in encouragement, and the rapport it builds with students is incredible. Every student should be offered a handwritten note on several occasions throughout the year. These ready to print seasonal, testing, and punny notes make that much easier!
And in case you were wondering, yes I did let them wear that mustache and pirates patch while they were testing, because it made them feel relaxed. And when kids are relaxed, they are going to do better work!
A note of encouragement can go a long way! I believe there is tremendous power in encouragement, and the rapport it builds with students is incredible. Every student should be offered a handwritten note on several occasions throughout the year. These ready to print seasonal, testing, and punny notes make that much easier!
My absolute favorite comment of that first year of state testing came from one of my 4th grade boys. When our principal asked him how testing was going, he responded with something like, "Oh, it's going great! Mrs. Bates has a new treat for us each day, and it's exciting to come in and see what it is!"

If we haaaaave to do the testing, we might as well make the day something to look forward to! You can click the link below to check out my notes. What do you do to get students excited to come to school on testing days?



 

 

 

 

 

GRAB THESE NOTES HERE:

FULL SET: 

A note of encouragement can go a long way! I believe there is tremendous power in encouragement, and the rapport it builds with students is incredible. Every student should be offered a handwritten note on several occasions throughout the year. These ready to print seasonal, testing, and punny notes make that much easier!

FREEBIE:  

A note of encouragement can go a long way! I believe there is tremendous power in encouragement, and the rapport it builds with students is incredible. Every student should be offered a handwritten note on several occasions throughout the year. These ready to print seasonal, testing, and punny notes make that much easier!

OR PIN FOR LATER: 

A note of encouragement can go a long way! I believe there is tremendous power in encouragement, and the rapport it builds with students is incredible. Every student should be offered a handwritten note on several occasions throughout the year. These ready to print seasonal, testing, and punny notes make that much easier!

HOW I GET MY STUDENTS TO WASH THEIR HANDS (without me reminding them!)



Are you struggling to get your students to wash their hands regularly? Is sickness making it's way through your classroom? Get students to recognize why hand washing is so important to help stop the spreading of germs and sickness with this simple, but powerful science experiment!

I wouldn't consider myself to be a germaphobe. I grew up on a farm with three younger brothers. We were constantly playing outside, we had a lot of pets, were always catching snakes or fish. I remember vividly my 10 year old self sharing my ice cream cone with my dog... I grew up under the notion that, "A little dirt will just build your immune system". And it probably did.

My immune system is, and always has been, pretty solid. But a strong immune system is still no match for germy elementary school kids, y'all! When I taught Kindergarten, I expected to have to remind kids to wash their hands after using the bathroom or before eating, but when I moved to a 2nd and 3rd grade blend, I was disgusted that this was still a reminder that I was giving multiple times a day, to the vast majority of my students!

Now, I don't know about you, but I'm a visual learner. Sometimes I really need to see things to understand them. So, my 2nd and 3rd grade class and I set out to observe what happens when we don't wash our hands. And y'all, the results were nasty, but highly effective! I didn't have to remind a single student for the rest of the year(s), and they extended what they learned to other classes.

THE EXPERIMENT
It's a super simple experiment actually. You don't need anything fancy. Just a couple slices of bread, some bags, and a sharpie. Slip one slice of bread into a Ziploc bag as the control. Have a student (or you) wash your hands *properly* with soap and warm water, and dry to completion. (this step is actually really important. Mold is a fungi, so it will grow on moisture. If you touch the clean hands bread with wet hands, it will probably make your mold grow faster and send the wrong message to students!). Then, have students touch the third slice of bread with their unwashed hands. Sit back and observe.... after a few days you will see a little mold emerge. By a week in, you will see a lot of mold starting to emerge! I've done this experiment 3 times, with very similar results each time.

OBSERVATION
You should start to see mold growing after about 3-5 days. I usually throw mine away around 10 days, because it gets gnarly looking and I just don't want it in my room anymore, but that's up to you. ;) Take pictures of each day if you want to be able to look back and compare day to day.
Are you struggling to get your students to wash their hands regularly? Is sickness making it's way through your classroom? Get students to recognize why hand washing is so important to help stop the spreading of germs and sickness with this simple, but powerful science experiment!
This was the first time I did this experiment. Gross, but effective!
RECORDING
This experiment has been around forever, but I could not find any resources to help my students expand and record their learning. I wanted for them to be able to write down their observations, learn about the different types of germs, and explain to me what they learned from this experiment. I decided to make a packet for my kids where they could do these things. While you don't necessarily need those pieces for this experiment to be highly effective, it definitely helped my students expand their learning. I included things like an observation journal, close reading about bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and viruses, and more. We used these to fill in the time between when we started the experiment, and when we saw mold begin to grow. You can find the activities I used by clicking on either of the pictures below.

Bread Mold Experiment on TpT     Bread Mold Experiment on TpT

TROUBLESHOOTING
This experiment has worked beautifully for me each time I have tried it; however, I have gotten several messages from others saying that it did not work for them. So here are a few tips:
-Use fresh, bakery bread. This is often void of preservatives, so it will mold easier.
-Use bread right at it's expiration date. I have actually used cheap store bought bread every time I've tried this experiment with no problems; however, I use my bread when it's right at its expiration date, so we don't have to wait weeks for it to get past it's prime...
-Squirt a little water on your bread. Since mold is a fungi, it grows where there is moisture. You could try to spray your bread with a little spray bottle to expedite the molding process. Since you can't spray each piece identically; however, this could be an added variable that is unpredictable.
-Do NOT use white bread. The bleach in it makes it take longer to mold, and kids get impatient. On that note, don't eat white bread either. ;) Waiting for that to mold definitely makes you second guess ingesting it!
-Try several variables. This could lead to a many authentic, curious conversations among students!
My third time trying this experiment, I used a wide variety of variables, as well tried the same variables with both white and wheat bread. By nine days in, the wheat bread had molded much faster.
               

MATERIALS
This experiment, and the extras that go along with it are in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. I have a freebie that helps you set up the experiment and and a larger packet that helps to expand students learning (which includes close reading passages, an observation journal, science fair tools, and more). You can find either of those by clicking the following pictures (do not click the "pin it" circle in the middle, just click on the outside of that little circle).

                        FREEBIE:                                            FULL UNIT: Bread Mold experiment on TpT Freebie!     Bread Mold Experiment on TpT.


PIN FOR LATER: 
Are you struggling to get your students to wash their hands regularly? Is sickness making it's way through your classroom? Get students to recognize why hand washing is so important to help stop the spreading of germs and sickness with this simple, but powerful science experiment!            Are you struggling to get your students to wash their hands regularly? Is sickness making it's way through your classroom? Get students to recognize why hand washing is so important to help stop the spreading of germs and sickness with this simple, but powerful science experiment!



Creating a Classroom Community that promotes kindness


Let's flash back to January of 2017, shall we? I was 7ish months pregnant with a high risk pregnancy that had left me drained emotionally. Then, I got the flu. The flu. That drained me physically. If you've never had the flu, I can only describe it as feeling like your body is shutting down. I remember laying in bed one afternoon, literally contemplating if I should just pee myself because getting up and walking the 10 feet the the bathroom seemed like an impossibly exhausting task. (TMI? That's my specialty.)

Here I was, broken tired. And while I was laying in my bed, believing that this was what death felt like, I got a few emails from parents informing me of events that had happened in my class. I can only describe them as "mean girl" issues. I couldn't deal. 

First, I cried (did I mention super pregnant, and super overwhelmed?) Next, I pulled out my computer and typed out the only thing I could think of, "Kindness: The only thing more contagious than the flu!" That was actually the first draft of this bulletin board, y'all! Probably not what people want outside their walls, so it quickly morphed into what you see here.
Encourage a classroom community built on kindness with this FREE interactive bulletin board!
When I came back from being sick, I reviewed our community expectations with my class. We discussed how we treat others, and how we respond when we see others being treated disrespectfully. We talked about being bold. A word we used all year long. We have discussed being bold as doing the right thing, even when it's hard, even when we know it won't be popular. We are a class that does the right thing, and by doing the right thing, we will make our classroom, our school, and our community better.

So I challenged my kids to be bold. Then I challenged them to look for others showing the character values that we spent so much time practicing all year. And not just to look for them, but to notice them. And when they noticed them, to write them down on these notes, and pin them to the bulletin board. On these notes, they got to highlight who they saw showing kindness, but they did not sign it. This was not meant to be a popularity contest. It was not meant to be friends lifting each other up. I wanted genuine, anonymous responses.
Encourage a classroom community built on kindness with this FREE interactive bulletin board!
My heart leapt for joy, when within the first few days, our board was already covered in the sweetest notes. My kids were asking if they could spend their recess writing notes of kindness that they witnessed. Kids from other classes started asking if they could write down things that they saw. It was beautiful. My kids were even shouting out teachers, cafeteria workers, and the custodian probably had more notes than anyone. I tried to keep tabs to make sure everyone was being noticed, but our board covered up so quickly that notes were getting pinned on top of each other.

Dummy me, I left for maternity leave without taking a picture of it all beautifully filled, but it's amazing what kids can notice when we provide them with the opportunity!

Want to do this activity in your class? It's a FREEBIE! :)
YOU CAN FIND IT HERE: 
Encourage a classroom community built on kindness with this FREE interactive bulletin board!
OR PIN IT FOR LATER:
Encourage a classroom community built on kindness with this FREE interactive bulletin board!

Create a Meaningful Class Birthday Gift



Help your students feel special on their birthday with a class created book that they can keep for years to come. Students will sharpen their letter writing skills as they write about each birthday student and why he/she is special. These books are easy to create, easy to assemble, and are sure to be treasured by both students and parents!

I'm a summer baby, which means that in all of my school years, I never got to have a school birthday party. I'm obviously not over it, since I'm in my early 30's and still feel sad about missing out as a kid!

My first year of teaching, I decided two things. One, every child, even those summer babies, was going to get a party in my class. Everyone deserves a day to be celebrated! And two, I was going to create a handmade gift for each student that showed them how much our class cared about them! I also was a poor teacher, drowning in student loans, teaching at a private school. I needed something cheap, if not free! So I decided we would make a birthday book for each student on their birthdays!

I did this every year that I taught Kindergarten. On each student's birthday, as a whole class, we talked about reason why the birthday kid was special, things we appreciated about him/her, and discussed adjectives that described them. We would make an anchor chart and leave it up all week! The birthday kid always got to color the cover of their birthday book while they listened in as our whole class bragged about them. They usually acted embarrassed (wouldn't we all), but they beamed from ear to ear all day long!
Help your students feel special on their birthday with a class created book that they can keep for years to come. Students will sharpen their letter writing skills as they write about each birthday student and why he/she is special. These books are easy to create, easy to assemble, and are sure to be treasured by both students and parents!
After discussing all the adjectives, characteristics, etc about the birthday kid, I had my class create a page to be added to the birthday book. Depending on the time of year, and the ability of the kid, I game them different tasks. Early on in kinder, I just wanted them to write one word; by the end of the year, I expected a sentence or more, depending on where each student was. After collecting all the pages, I compiled them in to a book. The book book was super simple to assemble. I used a large 12x18 piece of construction paper, folded in half, with the student created pages stapled inside, and the cover that the birthday kid drew glued to the front. About as simple as you can come, right?!
BirtHelp your students feel special on their birthday with a class created book that they can keep for years to come. Students will sharpen their letter writing skills as they write about each birthday student and why he/she is special. These books are easy to create, easy to assemble, and are sure to be treasured by both students and parents!
I always scheduled the parties at the end of the day. *I ain't no fool...I know what sugar does to kids!* We would read the birthday book while eating our cupcakes (and then immediately play a movement game to burn off sugar!). As soon as the birthday kid's parent came to pick them up, they were begging their parent to read their birthday book to them! It was beautiful to watch them be so excited about something so simple (and cheap!). I can't promise that the book was treasured forever, but it was certainly impactful in the immediate!

What do you do to make your students feel unique and special on their birthday?


CHECK OUT THE BOOK I USE BY CLICKING HERE:
Birthday Book TpT 

 OR PIN IT FOR LATER:
Help your students feel special on their birthday with a class created book that they can keep for years to come. Students will sharpen their letter writing skills as they write about each birthday student and why he/she is special. These books are easy to create, easy to assemble, and are sure to be treasured by both students and parents!

Why I Still Teach Cursive, and You should too!

Learning to write in cursive has many cognitive advantages. Help students master cursive handwriting with this fun handwriting unit. There are over 120 pages of activities to help sharpen handwriting, including uppercase & lowercase practice, word writing, paragraph writing, and search and graph. Use the pages as standalone practice, or turn them into a handwriting book that can be used all year long!

A few years ago, my school was contemplating giving up cursive in exchange for keyboarding. I'm all about those 21st century skills (actually, I'm a huge proponent of it...I wrote my masters thesis on technology integration!). There is no denying that we live in a technology driven world where digital literacy, keyboarding, and coding are imperative skills for students to learn. Unfortunately, these are replacing handwriting in many schools. Many policy makers, administrators, teachers, and parents believe that handwriting is a think of the past, an art form rather than a necessary skill to aid in the education of a child. but ya'll, there is actually a plethora of research behind the importance of kids learning cursive! Cursive is absolutely still relevant!

So here are 5 reason that I still teach cursive, and you should too!

1. Quality handwriting increases brain function. Brain research shows that kids with good handwriting activate brain regions associated with cognition, language, and executive functions more than kids with poor handwriting. Quality handwriting comes with practice. Cursive is especially important, because it is a quicker form of writing than print. As kids develop fluency with their writing, they are able to put their thoughts onto paper quicker and more efficiently. (And before you argue that you can type faster than you type...read the next point).

2. Information is processed and retained better when written. There has been an abundance of research that studies the rate of retention for information written versus typed. While students are able to type information quickly, it is an automatic, thoughtless process. As students write, they have to form their own thoughts, by summarizing, paraphrasing, and organizing information. When it comes to retaining information that has been typed or written, students who wrote information perform higher than students who typed information.

3. Cursive is an art form. This is often said as though it's a bad thing. As if art has no place in academia. Art is essential for brain development. It allows kids (and adults alike) to be creative, to express themselves, to be unique, and to take ownership of something personal. Art can also have a calming effect on our brains and help relieve stress. As kids practice cursive writing, they must focus on the fluid motions of the letters, the connections, etc, and this activates different parts of their brain.

4. Cursive helps develop fine motor skills. This goes along with the previous point. Handwriting, and cursive specifically, requires us to use and develop different hand muscles than keyboarding would. Additionally, as these muscles are used, they send signals to the brain, similar to whey you learn to play an instrument. The signals sent between your hand and your brain when writing are stronger and more developed than with typing. Research has shown that students with good handwriting also have more confidence and perform higher on evaluations.

5. So kids can read artifacts of the past  Ok. this might be a completely selfish point here, but I want for kids to be able to interpret historical documents. I want them to be able to read cards from their grandma. I want students to be able to sign documents. I want for students to be able to connect to the past! In our never-ending quest to move forward, we shouldn't completely forget about the past!

Honestly, I love teaching cursive. When I was a kindergarten teacher, my students were constantly begging to learn cursive, so when I moved to third grade, it was a dream! Except, the only cursive curriculum I could find looked like it belonged in 1983!

Like any rational person would, I grabbed my computer and took on the challenge of making a cursive handwriting book that looked like it belonged in this decade! I'm pretty excited with how this turned out! You can check it out by clicking the pictures below. :)

Learning to write in cursive has many cognitive advantages. Help students master cursive handwriting with this fun handwriting unit. There are over 120 pages of activities to help sharpen handwriting, including uppercase & lowercase practice, word writing, paragraph writing, and search and graph. Use the pages as standalone practice, or turn them into a handwriting book that can be used all year long!Learning to write in cursive has many cognitive advantages. Help students master cursive handwriting with this fun handwriting unit. There are over 120 pages of activities to help sharpen handwriting, including uppercase & lowercase practice, word writing, paragraph writing, and search and graph. Use the pages as standalone practice, or turn them into a handwriting book that can be used all year long!

Do you think cursive is a thing of the past or do you think that it still has a place in schools? Let me know in the comments!








Why I Teach Class Values Instead of Rules

I am a firm believer that kids will become whatever you tell them they are. If you tell them they are hard workers, they will work hard. If you tell them they are generous, they will be more generous. This is true for any value. Kids need opportunities and reminders to practice a growth mindset.

Confession: I don't have any rules in my classroom. Not a single one.

Before you roll your eyes, hear me out...

My son is 3. Which means that he is the master of taking what you say he can't do, and looking for loopholes to see how far he can push the boundary that's been set. Sound familiar? He is only three and he does this, which means darn tooting the kids in your class will do it too! Let's be real, how many times in school did your teacher tell you that you needed to write enough to fill a paper front and back, so you wrote in your biggest handwriting and skipped two lines to get done faster? (guilty, here!) Or, have you ever told a kid "keep your hands to yourself" to then watch them elbow someone and say, "but you said to keep my hands to myself, not my elbows." (insert eye roll here). Friends, these are normal kid responses. I mean, even as adults, we find loopholes to the rules.

So...I got rid of rules in my class and I replaced them with expectations. Not just any expectations though; I replaced them with character traits, or as I call them "Our Class Values".

Did you know that research has shown time and time again that kids become what they are told they are?! This gives a whole new urgency in how I want to treat and respond to my students. I wanted to use this to my advantage and and that is where the idea of creating our class values started. These values are things that are a part of our community; a part of who we are and who we will strive to be.

I am a firm believer that kids will become whatever you tell them they are. If you tell them they are hard workers, they will work hard. If you tell them they are generous, they will be more generous. This is true for any value. Kids need opportunities and reminders to practice a growth mindset.

When discussing class values with my students, I obviously have values that I want our class to embody, but I also let my kids choose. We create the list together. We sign a class contract. These values become a part of who we are and who we will strive to be each day. The classroom dynamic takes on a whole new level of ownership for students when it is addressed this way.

This is a class that shows kindness.  
This is a class that dares to be bold.
This is a class that laughs daily. 
This is a class that thinks critically. 
This is a class that works hard.
This is a class that learns from our mistakes.
This is a class that gives generously.
This is a class that shares selflessly.
This is a class that respects others.
This is a class that cares deeply.
This is who we are.

I made these banners (above) to serve as visual reminders of who we are. They are simple, but I printed them on my favorite Astrobrights paper to make them pop. They hang in the front of our classroom where they are always within our view. I deliberately chose to frame the wording as "This is a class that..." because I don't want them to be seen as rules. I don't want it to be seen as "do this, do that". I don't want kids to look for loopholes or exceptions. I want them to be seen as, "This is who we are", because research shows that if you tell a kid they are something enough times, they will actually become it! 

*This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure statement to learn more*














GRAB THESE BANNERS BY CLICKING HERE:
There are 15 ready to print banners and an editable template to add your own.


OR PIN THEM FOR LATER:
I am a firm believer that kids will become whatever you tell them they are. If you tell them they are hard workers, they will work hard. If you tell them they are generous, they will be more generous. This is true for any value. Kids need opportunities and reminders to practice a growth mindset.