Five "MUST DOs" on the First Day of School

Five "Must Dos" on the first day of school: There are a whole lot of fun things to do on that first day, but these are 5 things I'll make sure happen every first day!

A few years ago, I posted THIS
Six Things to remember on the first day of school: for novices and experienced teachers, some helpful reminders for that big day!

I listed six things that are important for that first day, but I want to mention some specifics that I make sure I do every year on the first day of school.

Five "Must Dos" on the first day of school: There are a whole lot of fun things to do on that first day, but these are 5 things I'll make sure happen every first day!

If your school is anything like mine, the kiddos stroll in bit by bit on the first day. 

As each child comes in, of course you'll need to greet them and tell them how glad you are to see them, where to put their belongings, and help them find their seats. 

Therefore the others need to be doing something that doesn't need your help.  Here are some examples:

1. Draw a picture/ write a sentence about themselves. (Depending on their abilities, of course!)
2. Clay or Play Dough
3. Explore manipulatives like Pattern Blocks or Cuisenaire Rods.
4. Puzzles. (at their level, of course!) 

I'm sure you can think of more!
Five "Must Dos" on the first day of school: There are a whole lot of fun things to do on that first day, but these are 5 things I'll make sure happen every first day!

They do tend to get nervous about this, don't they? As soon as everyone is in place, I tell them what they need to do if they need to use the bathroom. 

Of course, I try to remind them about bathroom etiquette without being too "parent-like" about it...
"Since you're second graders, you don't need to be reminded to wash your hands when you finish, do you?"

We have a bathroom in our classroom, so I show them how to lock the door for privacy, how the door unlocks automatically from the inside when you turn the handle, what do if the bathroom is in use (Knock!) what to say if you're in there and someone knocks, ("just a minute") and where to wait if someone is in there. (NOT near the door, since many are self-conscious about someone listening when they're in there.)

Five "Must Dos" on the first day of school: There are a whole lot of fun things to do on that first day, but these are 5 things I'll make sure happen every first day!

I truly believe the most important thing we can teach children is the value of reading. Since in the younger grades, the kiddos are still learning to read, the most important thing is to teach them a love for books. There are a whole lot of fabulous "first day of school" books, but I always choose to read one of my very favorites.

Five "Must Dos" on the first day of school: There are a whole lot of fun things to do on that first day, but these are 5 things I'll make sure happen every first day!

Five "Must Dos" on the first day of school: There are a whole lot of fun things to do on that first day, but these are 5 things I'll make sure happen every first day! 

Five "Must Dos" on the first day of school: There are a whole lot of fun things to do on that first day, but these are 5 things I'll make sure happen every first day!

Why do I choose one of my favorites?  Because it's important that the children see my passion for books. The above book images (also links to Amazon) represent 3 of my very favorites. Every time I've read these, the children have LOVED the books, talked about the books, and looked for the books to read again themselves. I'm sure you have your favorites, too! Those would be the ones to read the first day.

Just be sure to keep it short. Remember, the children haven't had to sit still for a long time!

Five "Must Dos" on the first day of school: There are a whole lot of fun things to do on that first day, but these are 5 things I'll make sure happen every first day!
There are several children who worry about dismissal time. Will they find their bus? Will they know where to go? Will they find their way home? 

I try to settle those worries long before the end of the day by making a graph as our very first math lesson. 
Five "Must Dos" on the first day of school: There are a whole lot of fun things to do on that first day, but these are 5 things I'll make sure happen every first day!
This is the form I use that is specific to my school and my music theme in the classroom. You may notice we have no walkers, That's because it's a very rural community and there are no sidewalks!

One by one, I'll ask each student where they go after school, check it with my master list, then put their name on the list. The children can follow along on their own copy if they want, but I'll keep a master list. 

When we're done, the list might look something like this:
Five "Must Dos" on the first day of school: There are a whole lot of fun things to do on that first day, but these are 5 things I'll make sure happen every first day!


Just to get their brains going, I'll ask a few questions (Which bus group has the most children?  Which bus group has exactly 3 children?) Then I'll encourage them to ask each other questions that can be answered by the graph.

Then we'll practice for the end of the day. I'll assign each group a "waiting spot" for the end of the day. I make it clear to each member of the group that they need to work as a team, and make sure all team members make it to the bus safely.

I know in some schools, teachers walk their children to the bus. In our school, the buses are called as each one arrives, and the teacher stays in the classroom while the others wait for their bus. Since I can't go with them, I count on them looking out for each other. 

What about Evan and Michael, who are the only ones from our class who ride those buses? I make it the responsibility of the whole class to make sure these guys leave on time, and I usually look to the nearby classes so they'll see someone they know is on their bus.  

Team work matters! Let's get them all home safely!

Five "Must Dos" on the first day of school: There are a whole lot of fun things to do on that first day, but these are 5 things I'll make sure happen every first day!

If you're anything  like most teachers I know (including myself) you've wanted to be a teacher all your life. This is what you've always wanted to do! It's a very difficult job, but the rewards are totally worth it. Enjoy those children. Let them see how much you enjoy them. It's a win-win!

Paper Bag Dramatics: A Fun Activity for Team Building and Developing Community


Paper Bag Dramatics: A fun activity for Team Building and Developing Community. Here's an idea that can be used just about anywhere at any time. It encourages groups to solve problems, think creatively, and work as a team.

Here's a fun activity that's easy to put together, gives the children a chance to be creative, and gives them a chance to work together. It's called Paper Bag Dramatics.

You'll need enough paper bags for as many groups you'll have. They can work in pairs or small groups, depending on your group.

In each paper bag, you'll put a few items.These can be any items you happen to have hanging around.You can make all the bags identical, or totally different, that's up to you!

You'll need 3 or 4 items per bag.
Here are some ideas:

This is the task: Create a skit that includes all the items in the bag. The group will need to write, practice, and perform the play for their classmates.

Some ideas about the process:

1. The time allowed really depends on your group. It's more likely that older groups will require more time than younger groups.

2. Make sure each group plans a beginning, middle, and especially an ending for their skit.

3. Make some ground rules before you begin: one person speaking at a time, someone to write down ideas, what to do if there is a disagreement, and, of course, using good manners.

4. Resist the urge to "help". This challenge is all about problem solving, so let them solve problems as much as they can. I can't help but remember the comments of one of my former students concerning problems in a group project: "We argued at first, then we started listening to each other, and we worked it out." It was one of those moments you really wish an administrator were there!

5. Don't forget to allow time for bows and lots of applause!

6. After all performances, debrief by having the children discuss questions such as: What did your group do well? What was tough for your group? What do you wish you had done differently? What do you want to remember next time you work with a group?

Enjoy your Paper Bag Dramatics!





What is Wrong with Education?

What's wrong with education? The only way to solve problems is to identify the problem. I'd love your input! Here are 5 ideas to get you started!

Yes, that's the question. I don't actually have the answer or any solutions, but I'm just putting this question out there.

Summer is a good time to reflect. I tend to be a very reflective person, and have always wanted to do the very best I can do for the children. I know there are some problems in education (as in all walks of life) but the first step in solving a problem is to identify a problem. 

As a veteran teacher, I've seen lots of changes in education. Some are great, others, not so much. 

I'd love to have your input on this. You can leave a comment right on this blog page, or if you prefer a more private approach, you can email me at elementarymatters@gmail.com  (Use subject line: What is wrong with education?)

I'll be sharing all ideas in a different post anonymously. Then we can discuss possible solutions.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:
What's wrong with education? The only way to solve problems is to identify the problem. I'd love your input! Here are 5 ideas to get you started!
I doubt there's a teacher out there who believes we need to test as much as we do. I'd much rather spend that time with my students involved in true learning experiences!What's wrong with education? The only way to solve problems is to identify the problem. I'd love your input! Here are 5 ideas to get you started!
This lack of respect can come from administration, parents, and the students themselves. 

What's wrong with education? The only way to solve problems is to identify the problem. I'd love your input! Here are 5 ideas to get you started!
Between lack of recess time and children in overcrowded classrooms and everything else in between, their needs are being neglected. If we don't attend to their individual needs, how can they learn? (Think: Maslow's hierarchy of needs)

What's wrong with education? The only way to solve problems is to identify the problem. I'd love your input! Here are 5 ideas to get you started!
You know the parents... they love their children so much, they'll do anything they can to make the child's life perfect. For example, rather than watching their child struggle to tie their shoes, they tie the child's shoes whenever necessary. What we end up with is dependent children who can't function without their parents being their for their every whim.

This leads us to #5:
What's wrong with education? The only way to solve problems is to identify the problem. I'd love your input! Here are 5 ideas to get you started!
These are the children who expect a toy or a prize for every little effort. They're not expected to do chores or lift a finger to help others. Getting them to do any classwork involves a carnival act or an act of congress. 

So there are 5 things to start you off! Luckily, there are still a whole lot of wonderful teachers, administrators, parents, and students out there that make it worth it, but I really want your ideas on what's hurting us. 

Again, you can share your ideas here, or (if you wish to remain anonymous) email me at elementarymatters@gmail.com with the subject line: What's wrong with education? 

Did You Check Your Work for S.P.U.N.C?

Did you check your work for S.P.U.N.C? Here's a trick to help children remember to proofread their work.

Getting children to remember to check written work before passing it in is always a challenge. 

I always tell them to check it for S.P.U.N.C. before passing it in. 

What's S.P.U.N.C? 

 It stands for Spelling, Punctuation, Use of words, Neatness, and Capitalization. 

 That "Use of words" is all encompassing. It includes making sure sentences are grammatically correct, but also making sure they make sense and hold the reader's attention. If the assignment includes answering questions, the children need to make sure their answer makes sense with the question.

I suggest the kids do a "finger read" as they double check for each part of S.P.U.N.C, that really helps them figure out if they left out a word or wrote something that usually makes sense. 

 Sometimes I'll remind the kids to make their work S.P.U.N.C.Y. What does the Y stand for? Your very best work!

Did you check your work for S.P.U.N.C? Here's a trick to help children remember to proofread their work.

A Happy Math Website for Lower Elementary Students

A Happy Math Website for Lower Elementary Students: This is an awesome website you need to explore!
Are you familiar with Happy Numbers

I was lucky enough to stumble upon Happy Numbers several months ago and decided to try the free month they offer.

It was mighty easy to set up my class and give them passwords.
Since I teach second grade, I set them all up for the second grade curriculum. (They have curriculum for grades K-2.)

Once set up, I spent my math period pulling small groups of children to show them how to log in and use the program on our tablets.

We are lucky to have 7 of these tablets (with the bright green covers) in our classroom, which means 1/3 of the class can work on them at a time! (Image is link to Amazon.)


Happy Numbers works very well on the tablets, but it also works on our Chromebooks as well as laptops and desktops.

It's very easy for the children to log in, and they took to the program right away, and quickly became quite independent with it!

Each module moves along quickly, and has fun activities for the children. Here are some examples:
Here are a couple of screen shots of Module 1 for Grade 2: Sums and differences to 20. The children are asked to slide the sets of ten, then the individual ones. They love doing it, and it really helps them see how place value helps addition and subtraction!

Here's a fun way to add 4 addends! And a great way for children to see the benefits of looking for sets of ten.
Now they're getting real familiar with the number line, as well as counting forward and back.

One of the things I like about this website is the feedback it gives to the children. When the children give an incorrect answer, it gently lets them know. I purposely typed 72 instead of 73 into the table above. The number turned red. Once I clicked "OK," I was able to type the correct response. 
Then this cute little guy congratulated me!
I love the way Happy Numbers helps the children see the parts step by step before it requires the children to show mastery of the skill.

The above screenshots first show how each 3 digit number is broken up into place value (which appear one by one in the animation), then the children are later asked to compare the numbers without breaking the numbers down for the children. It builds at a good rate for little learners.

These screenshots show a couple more activities the children do at Happy Numbers.


Here are a couple more screen shots from the teacher screen. (Names are blocked, of course!)

Oh yes, and teachers can print certificates. 😊
My favorite things about Happy Numbers:

1. The activities are varied and fun for the children, advancing the complexity of math skills slowly so the children don't even realize they're building their math skills!

2. The children can work independently. They can easily log in, and with a click they proceed to fun math building skills. It makes for a great independent work station while the teacher works with individuals or small groups.

3. The teacher can easily see if the children are spending time on the program, and if they are having success.

4. It gives children immediate feedback on their accuracy.

5. Did I mention it was fun for the kiddos?

My Least Favorite Thing About Happy Numbers:

1. It only goes up through second grade skills. Most of my second graders fit perfectly into the skills presented by Happy Numbers, but I have a few students that are very advanced, and could use some exposure to upper level skills. 

Maybe if we try, we can convince Happy Numbers to extend their programming through the upper elementary grades?

What Color is the Ribbon?

What Color is the Ribbon? A simple strategy to help students solve math word problems.

One of the hardest things for little mathematicians is figuring out how to solve word problems in math. 

I have a little strategy that helps in many cases: get them to visualize the situation. 

The other day, my students were doing a word problem that included measuring a ribbon, and comparing it to another ribbon. 

They looked a little confused, so I suggested they pictured the story problem in their minds. Then I started asking questions...


Then I kept going.


Then I worked on getting them to visualize the story.


And a little more directed questioning...


This pretty much wrapped it up! (pardon the "ribbon" pun!) They were able to use the picture in their minds to solve the number problem.

This strategy helps in many cases! 

In fact, after a while, they start to ask themselves these questions and can solve the problems by themselves!

Of course, independence is our goal, but we have to lead them there, don't we?


5 Tricks to Help Them Remember Sight Words

5 Tricks to Help Them Remember Sight Words: based on brain research, here are 5 different strategies to help little readers remember sight words.

I've been fascinated by the brain for years now. I have been reading quite a bit about how the brain works and the best ways to help children learn. 

There are basically two types of words for the children to learn. One kind is based on letter sound relationships and letter patterns. In other words, they can be "sounded out." The other kind of word can't be "sounded out" and must be learned by the way it looks: by sight! These suggestions are to help with sight words. 

Here are some brain strategies that are easy to implement into the classroom to help the kiddos remember those important sight words.

Practice makes permanent! When the children practice a little bit each day, it will help them remember. It's also a good idea to introduce small amounts at a time. If they need to know the first 100 Sight Words, only give them 10 at a time, then slowly adding on as they master those. Going through their pile of sight words for 5 minutes every day is more valuable than once a week for 30 minutes. Remember when you were in college and cramming for an exam? It didn't work so well, did it. (But somehow we got through it!)


 Exercise brings oxygen to the brain, and helps the brain become more receptive to learning. We all know that sitting still for too long makes for cranky, wiggly children (and adults!) Experts say bodies to move every 20 minutes. Bodies of children need to move more frequently than that! A quick walk, a little yoga, or a nice stretch are perfect Brain Breaks for little learners.

 Emotions play a big role in memory. If you make it fun, they're more likely to remember. Games make learning fun! A little healthy competition gets the pulse moving and the emotions rolling. It really makes a difference!

Brains are visual! Brains remember colors and other visuals, like cute little pictures. Use color when making word lists or word cards. You can use a variety of colors, but make sure they can be easily read. Make sure the words are appealing for the children.


Experts recommend sight words be practiced in phrases rather than in isolation. Words in isolation don't have much meaning to the children, and brains need meaning. Three or four words in phrases have a lot more meaning and are more likely remembered by growing brains.

I do have some sight word phrases that follow these suggestions. You can find them HERE.

There are built in Brain Breaks.

There are color coded word cards, if desired, with "cute pictures."

There are plenty of color coded phrase cards, again with "cute pictures." The different colors on the borders correspond to the Fry Sight Word level.


There's also a game that can be used to practice the words or phrases! The pictures correspond to the pictures on the individual cards. Each level of words is compatible with the game board, so it's easy to differentiate.


The game board and cards are easily stored in ziplocks!




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