When Fun Is Allowed

Yesterday, I read an article, Solutions When Recess and Play Aren’t Allowed from The Cornerstone Blog.  It was about children going without recess and play time.  Interestingly enough, yesterday was the day for our class Halloween Parties. (Yes, we're still allowed to have them!) 

Since it was an exciting day, as well as the first snow here in New England, I knew the kids would be wild.

Of course, I've been teaching a long time, and I know just how to handle kids the day of a party:  you convince them they have to earn the party!

All day long, they'd talk about the party... how much longer?  Where will we have the party?  What will we do?

Every time I saw something non-educational, I'd remind them they had to EARN the party.  They pulled themselves together and gave me their very best!

Every single child completed their written math work on time for the first time this year.

I went out of my way to make sure the party was worth working for.  We had healthy food, games, music, and lots of laughter.  Lots of happy children!

I was thinking back to the article I read before school from The Cornerstone.  In the article, they managed to squeeze in recess time while increasing test scores.  Those who know brain research know that the brain needs oxygen to function.  Exercise helps that oxygen get to the brain.  And we also know that fun is a much greater motivator than test scores!

I was thinking, I wish we had a party every day!  It certainly has a lot of power!

Marathon Day is Coming

Parent Conference Days are a challenge! Here's a freebie that will help you prepare!
Next Tuesday is Marathon Day. Many call it Parent Conference Day. We have an early dismissal day,  then conferences for the rest of the day. I have a 20 minute lunch and no planning period, then I conference until 8:00 at night. 

I think the hardest part is that I get so thirsty from talking so much, but I don't dare drink much water... that's a long wait for a bathroom break!

Well, there's also the fact that it's a Tuesday. Usually we have these late nights on Thursdays, so we just have to survive one more day before the weekend. One can always make it through a Friday.
Parent Conference Days are a challenge! Here's a freebie that will help you prepare!
Luckily, I have lots of great news to give the parents about the improvements their children have made. They're a great bunch of kids, and are showing lots of improvement in lots of areas.

In order to prepare, I send home this questionnaire for the parents to fill out. Having the input of the parents ahead of time helps me prepare for the conferences. Click HERE for the freebie!

How do you prepare for conferences?
How much time do you have to complete them?

Favorite Read Alouds

I just can't resist a good "linky party", and reading to my students is my very favorite thing to do as a teacher.  So when Swimming Into Second was sponsoring a  Favorite Read Aloud Linky Party, I couldn't resist.
The hard part was deciding on the Read Aloud.  I've read so many wonderful books to my students over the years, how could I possibly decide on just one.  Well, I hope no one minds, but I'm picking a few.

Jubal's Wish by Audrey Wood is a beautiful story about a frog named Jubal who goes looking for a picnic with friends on a beautiful day.  It has beautiful, vivid pictures by Don Wood, and a story line that will grab your heart and leave you feeling positive for the rest of the day.  It's one I could read over and over, and you can hear a pin drop when the children are listening to this one!

Who doesn't love a Patricia Polacco story?  For the Love of Autumn is about a lovable kitten named Autumn, and her owner, a young schoolteacher named Danielle, who loves her students almost as much as she loves her pet.  Clearly Patricia Polacco has had cats, her descriptions are perfect!  It's a charming story, and another one where the faces of the children listening are priceless.
I always read Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch by Eileen Spinelli around Valentine's Day, since the story is focused on Mr. Hatch accidentally getting a box of candy on Valentine's Day.  When he thinks someone loves him, timid Mr. Hatch comes out of his shell and becomes quite lovable. This heartwarming story has a nice lesson for children about earning friendships, and usually leaves me a little "sniffly" when I'm done reading.  Don't wait until Valentine's Day to read it!

Oh, I could go on forever, there are so many good ones. Be sure to head on over to Swimming Into Second's Linky Party to see some more great read alouds!

The Latest Craze

The latest craze, I suppose that could mean many things, but to me, it's about Pinterest. 

Pinterest is like a virtual bulletin board.  You can "pin" anything you see on the internet, and there, you have it saved for future reference.  You can make several different boards with different categories, and you can follow other boards, or pin from the boards of others.

I've just started "pinning", but it's definitely addicting, and quite handy!

You need an invitation to get started.  If you would like one, just leave a comment with your email.  If you'd prefer, just send your email to elementarymatters@gmail.com  and I'll send you an invite.

You'll be pinning in no time! I'd be glad to be your first follower, just go to my Pinterest boards, and follow!

Of course, my very first board is about Brain Research, but there are lots of other boards, too.  So far, all my boards are school related, but I've seen lots of boards with hobbies, recipes, crafts, gifts, clothes... I could go on.  (And, honestly, I want them all!)

Enjoy pinning!


Controversial Holidays

There is a school district that's been on the local news lately.  They don't allow their students to celebrate Halloween in school.  I know, there are a lot of districts that no longer allow Halloween celebrations because of its connection to witchcraft, which many believe is too controversial and offends the beliefs of others.  It's something that teachers have had to be careful about.

But it's not just about Halloween.  The students at this school have been told they can't celebrate Columbus Day and Thanksgiving as well!

Check out the news clip on eliminating fall holidays!

OK, I realize that Columbus was as little shadier than we learned while we were kids.  But he was a key factor in exploration and the Europeans settling in the new world.  He's part of our history.

But....Thanksgiving?  How can giving thanks be offensive to people?  Are turkeys offensive to people?  Or is it the cranberry sauce?

Honestly, it's the celebration of these fall holidays that keep the spirits up!  We are so burdened with "teaching to the test" and Core Curriculum and NCLB and AYP... I could keep going, but I won't!   We need these holidays to have something fun for the kids to enjoy while practicing their skills.  Brain research indicates the need to keep learning fun and keep the interests of the learner in the picture.

Just an example: Search Halloween at Teachers Pay Teachers and you'll notice 1,118 results.  Most of these are directly related to curriculum areas such as reading, math, and written language.  (Check out this gem:  Halloween Packet by yours truly.)

What do you think about giving up Columbus Day, Halloween and Thanksgiving?  I'd love to hear your opinion!

Pencil Sharpeners and Other Pet Peeves

Rachel of Sub Hub asked a question today on facebook, which gave me my inspiration for today's blog entry.  Her comment was:
 Pencil sharpeners are from the devil. Like if you agree. :-)
She got tons of responses.  Clearly, many people have strong feelings about pencil sharpeners!

It got me thinking about all the little things we experience during our day that make us the loony people that we are. 

Obviously, pencil sharpeners are a pet peeve of many teachers.  They are loud, Children love to use them constantly.  They grind away at their pencils rather than get their work done.  Teachers have all kinds of strict rules about when and how the pencils get sharpened. 

I have a few other pet peeves:

Staplers:  Why do children have to use a million staples to hold 2 pieces of paper together?  Why do they remove the staples, but the staples never actually make it to the trash?  Why do they add one more page, and another thousand staples? 

Glue Sticks:  Why do they have to roll the entire stick of glue out before gluing one small paper?  Why don't they roll it back down before putting on the cover, so the cover ends up glued onto the gluestick?  Why do they have to smear glue all over a larger piece of paper to glue a small item on top, so that glue is exposed on all the sides and their paper sticks to the next paper in the pile?

Standing and Walking in Line:  Why can't they just walk?  Why do they have to turn around while they're walking?  Why do they have to trade places?  Why do they have to start World War III over who is going to be last in line?  Why do they have to fight over who shuts off the lights?  Why can't they walk without touching the wall?  Why can't they walk without touching each other?  Why can't they walk without chanting my name over and over?

Transitions:  Why can't they move from one area of the room to the other without stopping to chat?  Why can't they move without fighting over space?  Why can't they move without chanting my name over and over? 

And the final pet peeve for the day:

Straw wrappers:  You know those little wrappers that come with juice boxes?  They never make their way to the waste basket!  I don't know why, but the wrappers are on their desks long after snack time is over. 

I tend to overact on the straw wrappers.  I'll say... in a very dramatic voice... Is that a straw wrapper?  The kids know this is a pet peeve of mine so I'll dramatically cover my eyes and start to count...and the kids will scramble to get the straw wrapper into the trash before I open my eyes again.  It's funny how a teacher covering her eyes will get the attention of every child.

Honestly, by the end of the year all these little things are gone.  I do train them well, so hopefully the third grade teachers have a more pleasant experience! 

What are some of your pet peeves? 


Who Was Christopher Columbus?

Who Was Christopher Columbus: Here's a little information and some suggestions for resources and video to teach the children why we have this day off!
We have a day off tomorrow, thanks to Christopher Columbus, but with everything we have to do at school, it's been tough to find the time to even tell the kids about him. 

I just can't go through October 12th without mentioning this explorer, so I made up a little booklet about him. Feel free to download this booklet on Teachers Pay Teachers.

I also show a video.  Here are a few I found on You tube:

They give a bit of kid-friendly information.  The cartoon is a little corny, and dated, but cute.

I also add a little of what I've learned about the how the brain remembers.  I have the children act out the Voyage of Columbus.  I put some children the Nina, the Pinta, ad the Santa Maria. Then we set sail, waving goodbye to our loved ones. Naturally, the seas will get a little rough.  Some of the sailors might even get seasick!  Kids do remember when they hear what the sailors had to eat for those 90 days, especially when they hear the sailors drank beer instead of water!  And boy, do they remember the sailors went that long without showers or flushing toilets!

With second graders, I typically teach the basics of Columbus' impact on history and exploration, but I don't go into much about the controversy of how he treated the natives. I think this book gives a nice introduction to this controversy, but not too much for the little ones. But it definitely gets them thinking! Click the image for a link to Amazon.

How are you celebrating Christopher Columbus and our day off?

Are Rewards Good or Bad?

As I was relaxing this evening after another very long day at school, contemplating the special challenges of this year's students, I came across this article:  The Day "Reward" Became a Bad Word. 

I thought it was a great, thought provoking article, and something I've thought about many times. 

Children should want to do the work we give them.  They should have pride in what they do, and want to do well. 

But they don't.

When I first started teaching, they did.  But they don't.

When I was little, I did the work because I feared the consequences... the wrath of the nuns.  When I got older, I did the work because I took pride in myself and wanted to do well.  When I was in college, I did the work because I wanted to get a job when I graduated.

But not kids nowadays.  They expect rewards.  They expect stickers, toys, or treats.  They want to get rewarded for doing the things children are expected to do, for doing what they're supposed to do.

I wish so much we didn't have to give in to this.  I wish kids did their best simply because that's what they wanted to do.  I wish kids wanted to behave, and made the effort to behave, simply because they wanted to.

But kids want to be rewarded.  As I've mentioned in some other blogs, I reward mine with beanie babies.  They get to keep one on their desk for the day.  For something really, really great, they get to keep a flag on their desk. 

I do avoid the big rewards.  You know, the ones that cost money and time.  I just don't have money or time.  I give them beanies. 

How do you feel about rewards?  Do you reward your students?


Brainy Kinesthetic Vowels Sounds

The English Language has 18 vowel sounds, but only 5 actual vowels. (I know, "sometimes Y", but Y doesn't have its own sound, it borrows from E and I.)  Where do we start?  With the short vowel sounds!  Why?  Because close to 50% of the times those vowels are used, they make the short vowel sound. 

Unfortunately, the short vowel sounds are tough for the little ones to remember. The difference between the short e and the short i are pretty miniscule, but essential for encoding and decoding words.

I'm one who needs to get the kids moving.   I have all sorts of little tricks for the children to do to help them remember certain things, including vowel sounds.

When we practice short a, the children turn their body into an A shape, then "take off" saying ăăăăstronaut.

When practicing the short e sound, they turn into an E and say  ĕĕĕxercise!
The key word for the short i sound is insect.  The kids are always very creative hopping around the room as the letter I, saying  ĭ ĭ ĭnsect!

You guessed it, short o's key word is octopus.  Can you picture the little ones running around saying  ŏŏŏctoopus?  There's lots of giggling involved.
Finally, the short u sound is remembered when the children make the shape of a u, while holding an ŭŭŭmbrella.

I'm combining many of the ways that research shows brains remember:  Getting involved physically, combining the physical with the auditory, and, of course, making it fun.  It takes some practice, but the little ones learn to identify those 5 sounds with those 5 letters.

Enjoy these brainy vowel sounds!

A Treat for My Readers

I must apologize to my readers for not posting anything new in the last few days.  Unfortunately, real life has been getting in the way.  (Nothing horrible, just school has been keeping me way too busy!)

To make it up to my readers, I'm giving you a treat!

There's a brand new blog out there that's totally dedicated to freebies for classroom teachers!  It's called Classroom Freebies

There are over 50 teacher bloggers contributing (yes, I am one of them) and there are already tons of freebies for you to download, as well as clever ideas to try in your classrooms.  While you're there, be sure to connect to some of the blog links for the contributors.  It will keep you busy all week! 

Now I'm getting sentimental about the quality of people in my career... they are most definitely "team players"... they want others to succeed and show that by sharing their knowledge and hard work.  When I think about how many people are critical of teachers these days... I'm thinking they just don't know the teachers that I know!  I'm proud of my career!
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