Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Pumpkin Patch Trip Tips

Ahh, the yearly Pumpkin Patch trip.  Some teachers love it, some don't...but almost every student adores it!  What isn't there to love?  A bus ride, maybe a hay ride, tromping through the mud, choosing a pumpkin, carrying it around, and bringing those rolling fruits back on the bus.  :)

If you are planning on going on a Pumpkin Patch trip this Fall, here are a few tips for you.

1) Always assume it will rain.  Wear suitable clothing and footwear.  Even if it's not raining on the actual day of the field trip, those pumpkin patches can be muddy!  
(Photo from Dollar Photo/ Adobe Stock)

2)  Prepare your students for the pumpkin patch by learning about the parts of a pumpkin, the pumpkin life cycle, etc.  If your pumpkin patch trip has a learning component put on by the farm, your students will have a lot more fun if they know some of the answers to the common questions!  Also, as this is often the first field trip of the year, discuss some of the emotions your students might be feeling about their upcoming trip.  
3) Ask each child bring along a plastic bag.  And then, assume that none of them will bring one along, so bring along a class set to school just in case!  Before leaving on the trip, write each child's name on their plastic bag in WATERPROOF sharpie (in more then one place if possible).  After choosing their pumpkin, the child will then put the pumpkin in the bag to make transport easier.  Also, those pumpkins can all start to look the same after a while, so this will prevent any confusion.
4) Bring along enough helpers.  Once those kids are let loose in a pumpkin patch it can be hard to reign them back in.  Assigning parent volunteers to groups of 2-6 students can make SUCH a huge difference.  

5) If possible, check ahead of time if your students are going to be allowed to choose ANY size of pumpkin or not.  On my first trip, the students were allowed to choose ANY size of pumpkin.  It was a gong show, because even if they can carry it for the first few minutes, soon they can't.  By then, they've gotten attached to their pumpkin and want someone to carry it.  You don't want to be in that situation.  Ask if they have "field trip" sized pumpkins.  Some pumpkin patches will even bring the students to a field that has only the smaller ones.  That is the best!
6) Take time to reflect on your field trip afterward.  Write about their memories and utilize some of their new vocabulary!  
7) And the most important of all...make sure to bring along a warm drink.  It's amazing how a warm tea, hot chocolate, apple cider, or coffee can make all of the difference :)

If you want to use the Pumpkin Patch Field Trip printables found in this post, you can see them here. 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

How to space your posters evenly

Have you ever embarked on a decorating job in your classroom, only to get near the end of your job and realize that you have spaced out your letters or posters unevenly?  Sometimes you end up with a big blank area where you didn't want it, or your display is off center, or even worse, you run out of room completely?  Here's a tip for how to solve that problem.  And yes, it does include measuring, but it's not super painful. I'm showing the easy version first.  Scroll down to find a freebie and all the way to the end if you want the "perfectionist" version of putting up your posters evenly.

Measure to find out how long your space is, and then divide that number in half to find the middle.  Or, if you aren't in the mood for perfection, use a reference point (flooring, ceiling tiles, joints between whiteboards, etc.) Mark the middle spot with a pencil mark or a push pin or a sticker.

Find the poster that you want to place at the center of your horizontal display.  If you have an odd number, it's easy (with 21 posters, the 11th poster is the middle. If you have an even number, just find the two middle (with 20 posters, find the 10th and 11th posters).

For an odd number of posters, put the middle poster smack dab in the center (on top of the middle mark). For an even number of posters, this middle point is going to be your middle gap. I like to use either push pins or sticky putty so that my initial poster placement can be checked for even spacing before I use staples.

After putting up your middle poster(s), work your way out to the left and the right by using a ruler or other spacing guide (see the cardstock I used below) to make all of the gaps even.

By doing this, you'll end up with an even empty space on the left and the right!  Pain free :)

And a freebie!

Want to do some math for a more specific space to fill, here's the details:

Step 1: Measure your total length that you want to fill up.

For example, say you have 200 inches of space above your boards. You want to fill up that space with some posters and you want it to be evenly spaced.

200 inches is your total length

Step 2: Count how many pieces you want to put up.  Let's say you have 21 posters.

Step 3: Measure the width of each poster.  Let's say each poster is 8.5 inches wide.

Step 4: Multiply the number of posters by the width of each poster (I know, this is so obvious...but I've seriously been so desperate to have something fit before, that I have skipped this and felt ridiculous after).  For our example, we get 178.5 inches.  As long as this number (total poster space) is less than your total length, you are good to go.  So far, this is nothing new!

Step 5: Subtract your total poster space from your total length.  200-178.5=21.5  This is the amount of space that can be divided between each poster.  Because we have 21 posters, there are 20 spaces between them (there will be either a bit more or a bit less on each end).  Each space is going to be around 1 inch.

Step 6: take a piece of cardstock and cut it to the width of each space (for our example it is 1 inch).  Use this as your spacer. Start either at the left, the right, or the center.  I prefer the center even if I have measured.

Math check: 8.5 inches plus 1 inch in between = 9.5 inches.  9.5 times 20=190, plus 8.5 for the last poster = 198.5.  I don't know about you, but that's close enough to 200 as far as I'm concerned!

If you are looking for the number posters pictured above, they can be found here.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

First Day of School Plans

What do I do on the first day of school?   The way you start off your year is crucial, but it doesn't have to be difficult at all!  Here are 3 things that I think every primary teacher should do on the first day of school.

1) Provide accessible and non-threatening seatwork

I like to set up my classroom with playdough and blank paper with crayons on the first morning of school.  Most, if not all, students will enjoy being able to focus on something accessible that doesn't require instructions, and YOU will enjoy the freedom that gives you to be able to talk with parents or help students who are having a hard time adjusting.

Throughout the day I also ensure that all seatwork is accessible and review only.  I think it's imperative that the students feel like they CAN DO this new grade.  

Back to my morning....once we are underway and the parents have departed, I gather the students at the carpet and I tell them how excited I am that I get to be their teacher.  I tell them in a whisper voice that I feel like I'm the luckiest teacher in the world because I get to teach them this year. This is the perfect way to ....

2) Focus on Connections with students and break the ice

Connect with the students by learning their names, learning a bit about each child, and telling them a few facts about yourself that students can relate to (favourite foods, pets, activities you enjoy).  Give the students the opportunity to talk with one another by playing ice-breaker games or sharing about something they did in the summer.

Throughout the whole day, the focus is on the CHILDREN and not what we can accomplish.  I usually way over-plan, but this actually helps out, because I can push any unfinished read-alouds, games, or activities onto the next day(s). 

One of my favorite games to play is "Red Elbow."  You simply combine a body part name and a color.  Students need to put that body part on something of that same color in the room.  So "red elbow" means they put their elbow on something red, like a poster or a backpack, etc.  To save your sanity, start off with some really simple ones like combine hand+the color of your tables/desks, etc so that kids aren't too squished :)  

I also like to take the time to do physical activities (outside if possible) to let off some of the first day of school excitement.  If we can't go outdoors for whatever reason, I like to do "animal poses and stretches".  It takes no prep, just ask students to stretch like a cat, or wiggle like a snake, or hop like a bunny, etc.

3) Settle the nerves about what will happen the next day

I know that anxiety is a reality for many of us (teachers AND students) and I try to do my best to relieve any anxieties that I have the power to reduce.  At the end of the first day I make sure that the students understand what will be happening on the next day.  I preview the "shape of the day" and make sure they know what will be waiting for them first thing in the morning (playdough, drawing, pattern blocks).

Some of my favorite activities for the first day(s) of school are found in these packets.  Simply click to take a closer look:

I wish you a most wonderful back to school season.  And remember, you've got this!  Just be you; have faith in your abilities!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Prioritize your Elementary Classroom Set-Up

If you have ever found yourself standing in the middle of your classroom during the summer wondering "Where do I start with the set-up process?" then I have some steps for you to follow.  In my opinion, planning your year-long curriculum and lessons is of the utmost importance, but that can be done at home in most cases.

 If you are IN your classroom and needing to transform it from bare or messy to organized and functional, there are some steps to take to ensure you are efficient and making great decisions!

It is important that you decide on a personal classroom budget and stick to it.  Most teachers do not have a large budget supplied by the school (if you even get any money at all!) so the money you do spend needs to really be planned out.  If you are spending your own money like so many of us, it is really important that you stick to a budget that works for you and your family.  

As tempting as it is to dive into decorating and creating a comfortable and inviting space for you and your students, it is a good idea to de-clutter  and create empty spaces on walls and surfaces first.  I like to think of it as making a clean canvas upon which you can build your classroom environment in a meaningful way.  Then you can focus on organizing the things you already have.  That might include organizing your teaching supplies, craft supplies, books, resources, and manipulatives. Do all of this BEFORE allowing yourself to work on any crafty or decorative projects that could potentially take up a lot of time...and that you might not even have adequate space to showcase!

Once you have created space in your room or purged extra materials that you won't need anymore, it's time to arrange your furniture.  I highly recommend sketching out your plan ahead of time so that you don't have to move heavy furniture more than absolutely necessary.  Create spaces for a library, for a whole group meeting area, work areas for students, and a small group area among others.  

I know that planning your first week isn't technically part of setting up your room, but I think that's it's imperative to add it into the setting up process.  I've been guilty of getting so caught up in classroom design and decor that I haven't spent adequate time getting my first week of school activities organized.  Then, the summer disappears and I'm left scrambling.  As I've gained more experience (and set up many classrooms) I've learned that before allowing myself to do any fun decorating, I have to ensure that I've planned out my first week.  My tip for you is to plan it, print it, and keep masters in a binder or file folder labeled "First Week of School."  I even put page protectors into my binder and slip in game cards and paperback story books that I definitely want to use.  If you need some first week of school activities, you can see what I use here.  Now that I've set it up, I just pull it out at the end of each school year and put it in an accessible place for back to school!

Remember how I suggested that you leave some empty spaces on the wall and surfaces?  Surprise!  This is not the time to fill them all up!  Set up your wall space with the "must haves" first.  Maybe you need a calendar or a focus wall or word wall. Maybe you want to set up an area for the anchor charts you will create with your students.  Work on those.  Next, choose a few areas in the room that you would like to decorate.  Maybe you want a "Welcome" banner or a grade-specific saying, or a motivational poster or two.  Put those up.  

Also use this time to create or put up a few additional items that bring you joy or you know the students will really love looking at.  In my opinion, moderation is key.  For me, I've used my crafting time to make tissue paper poufs that brightened the space and brought some joy and cheer into the room.  Other times I have created a tree or a banner to make the space unique.  

However, in all of your creative and Pinterest-inspired projects, remember moderation.  Not only will you save yourself time (and money) but you will be creating a space that you and your students can decorate TOGETHER.   You will want to leave room for the students' artwork, the students learning evidence, and charts and posters that you all create as a class and individually.  

All that being said, we spend a lot of time in our classrooms, so don't feel guilty about investing some energy into making your space one that YOU love, however that may look!  Have fun!

I hope you are able to take these tips and tweak them for your needs!  If you are looking for any back to school resources to make your prep a bit easier, you can take a look at my "Back to School" section here: 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Back to School Ideas for Primary Teachers

When you hear the phrase "back to school" do you get butterflies in your stomach?  I do, almost every time!  I think for me it's a combination of excitement, nerves, and a desire to make this back to school season the "best" yet.  For me, the "best first week at school" can be accomplished when I follow these three tips:  1) Be Organized, 2) Be  Prepared, and 3) Be Calm.

Here are some of the ways that you can apply these 3 tips to your back to school season:

Be Organized

A) Have a system to collect student/parent information

Some things that you will want to have organized ahead of time: Some schools do all of the collecting of student/parent contact information for you and they do a great job of passing along that information to their teachers.  However, even if they do, it may be in a format that doesn't work for you.

It's imperative that you have organized yourself and your classroom ahead of time so that when your students and their parents enter your classroom, there is order and predictability.  The beginning of the year can be a very exciting and stressful time for families, particularly if they don't know you or the school yet.  Having an organized classroom is one of many ways to demonstrate to parents and students that you have things under control!  Note: organized does not imply fancy or cute.  Do not spend an exorbitant amount of time making your classroom "cute" at the expense of setting up systems that will work. 

 If you want to collect emergency contact info and other pertinent information that you can keep in a binder in your classroom, have a document ready to go at the beginning of the year.  You can create your own, or you can download this one for free.

B) Have a plan for where to keep school supplies (and how to collect them if necessary)

There are many ways that schools deal with school supplies.  Some schools hand out a supply list ahead of time, some schools hand out a supply list on the first day, and some schools collect money for the teacher to use to buy in bulk.  I'm sure there are more variations...if so, please let me know in the comments!

First, you need to decide if your students will be using individual or shared supplies.  If you are doing shared supplies, have empty bins ready to put the supplies in by type.  If you are doing individual supplies, you need to decide if you will be labeling the supplies or if you want the parents to take care of that.  Next, you will need to decide how those supplies will be stored throughout the year.  Many teachers have shared pencils so that the students always have access to sharp pencils.  Others hand out pencils at the beginning of the week and the students are responsible to take care of them until Friday when they hand in a set of pencils for sharpening.  Others have students responsible for sharpening on a constant basis.  Decide on a plan, set up for that, and then be willing to change your routine if it's not working for you!

C) Design your classroom layout to match your function. Know how students will enter the class, move to various activities, pick up work, and hand it in.

Your classroom layout will have a big impact on the way your students interact with each other and how they are able to follow directions throughout the day.  It is imperative that you figure out the flow of students throughout the school day.  Where will they enter your classroom?  Do you need to collect them or will they arrive at your door?  What will they need to do first?  Where do they put their belongings, and once they have, what do they need to do next? You will want to know exactly what the children need to do and where they will need to go.

In order to instill confidence and respect, you need to have a plan!  If you have your class list ahead of time, label the student's lockers or cubbies as well as their seating spot.  The first day is not the time for "flexible seating".  Having a spot with your name at it can feel very comforting for students, so prepare for them in that way if at all possible. If you do plan to use flexible seating, you can just have a wearable name tag set out at seat spot so that the student can sit down there, but then their spot isn't actually labeled.  For some students, simply having to choose a spot can be overwhelming, especially in the younger grades.  Beyond the first few moments, also have a plan for where students will move to for instruction (carpet area, remain at tables/desks) and how you will hand out papers and where they will hand those papers in.  With all of the craziness of the first day(s) of school, you will really benefit from having thought all of these things through.

D) Have a basic plan of how your days will be structured

I'm a firm believe in the fact that you will need to remain flexible with your plans and routines until you have met your students and have gotten to know them.  However, you should have a basic idea of how you want your day to be structured.  Once you figure out your schedule from your school administration (preparation times, specials schedules, duty times) you will need to plan the basic flow of your day.  In general I have done Literacy in the morning, Math in the middle of the day, and Social Studies, Science, and Art in the afternoons (with Literacy mixed in there as well).  You might also want to think about planning a Morning Meeting daily, as well as a read-aloud session separate from your literacy lesson.

E) Designate spaces in the classroom for particular activities

Depending on your style of teaching, you will need to plan your classroom to suit the various parts of your curriculum.  Do you need a writing center or will students complete writing tasks at their desk?

  Are your students going to have assigned seats or flexible seating?  Do you have a carpet area?  What materials would be handy to have close by to your teaching area?

Do you have a guided reading table?  It's nice to set up your classroom in zones that have clear uses, but that can also double/triple their uses for other tasks throughout the day.  In my room, my guided reading table is where I teach guided reading/writing/and math, and also where students gather for science experiments or to work on group projects.

Think through the work spaces and teaching spaces and plan the walls close to them to suit the needs.  I have my CAFE board posted behind my guided reading table so that we can refer to it during guided reading lessons.

 I originally had it posted in my carpet area where I teach whole group, but found that it wasn't handy for when I was really referring to it in small groups.  Plan it out, but be flexible if you find something isn't working later on!

Be Prepared

The first week of school can be a bit overwhelming.  There are new faces, new expectations, last minute changes, and many demands on our time.  It's essential to have many activities ready to go so that you are never left scrambling for things to do with your students.  I probably tend to be an over-planner because I am well aware that I can always use extra printables, lessons, or ideas later if I run out of time to use them on the day I had originally planned to use them.

1) Lessons for the first week of school

Some of  my favorite activities involve "get to know you" activities, name activities, and review/assessment activities that allow me to get a better understanding of where my students are academically.  It's ideal to have a balance between paper and pencil, whole group, partner, and movement activities every day.

I like to introduce myself to my students by charting information about me.  I do this activity by doing it on chart paper in front of the children.  If I am going to ask the children to share things about themselves, it only seems fair that I should share about myself first.

We collect information about the class by doing numbers about the students in the class.  I do a quick number talk about how many boys and girls we have, and then the students complete their own sheet.  Then they get autographs from some of the students in their class.
 We do a lot of goal-setting in my class.  We spend time brainstorming on a chart, and then each student fills out their own goal sheet.  We display these during Open House and talk about them during student-led conferences as well.
 Depending on the group of students (and the grade I'm teaching that year) I also do some letter or digraph activities.  This also gives me the opportunity to see some of their fine motor skills and do some discussion around school supplies, storage, and those kinds of routines.
 Name activities are a *must* in the first week and beyond.  We do some graphing, sorting, and discussion about vowels and consonants.

While these activities might be most appropriate for K and 1 students, I also have a separate set of  activities that I've used with 2nd and 3rd Grade students such as these:  

 Click for Back to School Printables

2) Filler activities for the first week of school

Be sure to have a good supply of filler activities on hand.  Some ideas are coloring pages (I like to use the title page of my First Week of School pack as a filler activity because it has a purpose as the title page, but it's also just fun to color!  I also like to have color by number pages ready to go.

In addition, simple games like I Spy, Red Elbow, and Simon Says are always good to have at the front of your mind!  If you have a projector and screen you can also introduce your students to GoNoodle and Mind Yeti for energy blasts and calming activities.  I personally prefer to rely on very little technology during the first few days of school, but if everything is all set up and ready to go, why not!

3) Year plan for the rest of the year

If you are able to have a general year plan ready before the start of the school year, that will help reduce a lot of stress for you, especially since you will probably (at least in my experience!) be required to hand it in.  If you are a first year teacher, ASK colleagues at your school or at other schools if they would share theirs with you.  There is no use in "re-inventing the wheel"!  Of course, always base your year plan on the most current learning standards that your district must adhere to.

Be Calm 

1) Don't compare yourself to others

It is so easy in this profession (especially in the digital age!) to compare yourself to others and start feeling like you aren't measuring up to others.  Don't compare yourself to others.  Sure, be inspired by what others are doing, but be very careful with your motivations. One cool idea that you see on Pinterest or on Facebook can take up hours and hours of your time to implement, but it could have little impact on your teaching.  Prioritize.  Don't over decorate! Don't just jump on the bandwagon of Pinterest craftiness just because "everyone" in your Facebook teaching groups is doing it.  Before you invest hours of time and many dollars into projects for your classroom, ask yourself, "Will this benefit my students?  Does the investment of time and money equal the educational/emotional value that will come of it?"  If spending hours making tissue paper flower poufs for your classroom is going to make a big difference for how you feel about your classroom, go for it!  I've done it myself!

One of my previous classrooms.

Don't just do it because you feel pressure.  Spend your time, energy, and money on what actually matters to you.  For me, it's important to have a simple, cheery, and not overly stimulating classroom.  I want to leave a lot of wall space for student art and work samples.   But I spend a lot of time in there, so I do put some effort into decor.  If that's not important to you, let it go and work on other things that matter to you. 

2) Focus on the children- relationships and routines first!

When the first week of school comes, and you have done your prep work of organizing your room and planning your activities, remember that teaching is about the KIDS!  Slow down, take time to get to know your students.  Get lots of eye contact and small group or individual conversation time in.  Make the connections with your students that can make all of the difference!  Take the time to show that you are a caring adult in each student's life. Spend time reading books about "bucket filling" and kindness so that you have a foundation to build your classroom community on.  Teach the children the routines and expectations they need to know to feel safe and to understand that your classroom is a predictable place, but slow down the pace and build relationships!

3) Rest

In the weeks leading up the start of school, take time to rest if at all possible.  Pencil in some days into your summer calendar where to "turn off" your teacher brain.  Stay off of Pinterest for a few days, and don't print or laminate anything!  Once school starts and the routines begin, you will be so thankful that you took advantage of your break to get in some relaxation!

If you have any questions about getting ready for back to school, please leave a comment below. I would love to hear from you!

If you are interested in checking out any of my back to school printables to make your preparations easier, you can find them all here: