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Take Time to Enjoy Them!

Teaching can be crazy busy! 
In fact, it's easy to get discouraged by all the extra meetings and expectations for teachers these days.

Here's my best advice:
Teaching can be crazy busy! In fact, it's easy to get discouraged by all the extra meetings and expectations for teachers these days. Here's my best advice: Take time to enjoy them! Here's how!

If you're anything like me, the kids are the reason you went into teaching to begin with. 
It wasn't to go to meetings. 
It wasn't to analyze test data. 
It wasn't to impress the administration. 
It was the kids.
It's always been about the kids.

Once in a while, I have a "game day." 
I kind of sneak it in, pretending it's a reward for being good, but it's really giving them a way to appreciate the skills they have learned and my way of enjoying the kiddos. 

As I'm sure you're aware, most board games practice many academic skills and social skills the children need to work on: counting, reading, taking turns, listening to directions, showing kindness, and plenty more! I have a few favorites I'd like to share with you. 

Teaching can be crazy busy! In fact, it's easy to get discouraged by all the extra meetings and expectations for teachers these days. Here's my best advice: Take time to enjoy them! Here's how!
On a typical game day, I'll have a number of stations for the children, including a "work with teacher" station. That's when I pull out "Apples to Apples." (Click link to see game at Amazon. It's an affiliate link. Don't worry, it doesn't cost you a thing. Promise!) Apples to Apples brings in important skills such as reading, categorizing, and respecting another's opinion. (If you know the game, the judge's opinion is law!)
Another reason I love this? It always includes loads of giggles! (I'll never forget the time one of my little guys put down the "my teacher" card for the category, "ugly." I knew something was up when he couldn't stop laughing as he put down the card... he promised me it wasn't really true!)

Here are a few more recommendations: (Also links to Amazon, I promise it doesn't cost you a thing!)

Teaching can be crazy busy! In fact, it's easy to get discouraged by all the extra meetings and expectations for teachers these days. Here's my best advice: Take time to enjoy them! Here's how!

Teaching can be crazy busy! In fact, it's easy to get discouraged by all the extra meetings and expectations for teachers these days. Here's my best advice: Take time to enjoy them! Here's how!
Teaching can be crazy busy! In fact, it's easy to get discouraged by all the extra meetings and expectations for teachers these days. Here's my best advice: Take time to enjoy them! Here's how!
Teaching can be crazy busy! In fact, it's easy to get discouraged by all the extra meetings and expectations for teachers these days. Here's my best advice: Take time to enjoy them! Here's how!

Teaching can be crazy busy! In fact, it's easy to get discouraged by all the extra meetings and expectations for teachers these days. Here's my best advice: Take time to enjoy them! Here's how!
A couple of games are great for practicing specific math skills. Yahtzee is a classic, plus it's addicting, so they'll play it again and again!
Teaching can be crazy busy! In fact, it's easy to get discouraged by all the extra meetings and expectations for teachers these days. Here's my best advice: Take time to enjoy them! Here's how!

There are a gazillion games that can be played with a regular deck of playing cards! I often give the children a deck of their own as a gift, or I'll buy a bunch for the whole class to share.

Teaching can be crazy busy! In fact, it's easy to get discouraged by all the extra meetings and expectations for teachers these days. Here's my best advice: Take time to enjoy them! Here's how!
I'm sure you know plenty of card games to teach the kiddos, and you don't, make some up! Even just putting the cards in order is great for those little minds developing Number sense!

Here's a game I absolutely LOVE. I didn't make it up, I found it on Shelley Gray's blog. It's called Salute. (That's NOT an affiliate link, it's just a link to Shelley's blog.)

The children work in groups of three. Two of the children place a card on their forehead, facing out so that everyone can see it but them. (The move is almost like a "salute," hence the name.)

The third person, whom I call the captain, tells the other two the sum of their 2 cards. Then they figure out what their own card is. (It's like missing addends, isn't it?)

Salute can also be played to practice multiplication skills. The "captain" tells the product of the two cards, otherwise, it works the same way!

What things do you do to enjoy them?


Teaching can be crazy busy! In fact, it's easy to get discouraged by all the extra meetings and expectations for teachers these days. Here's my best advice: Take time to enjoy them! Here's how!

Laughter is Truly the Best Medicine!


Did you realize that laughter is not only fun, but actually healthy for you?  
Laughter is truly the best medicine: This post contains evidence that laughter is healthy AND helps learning happen! Plus, there are a few suggestions on squeezing a few laughs into the classroom.
Here are some of the benefits of laughter:

1. Laughter releases good hormones - the kind of hormones that fight the stress hormones.  We all know that children these days have a great deal of stress in their lives!  (Can we say TESTING?)
2. Laughter boosts the immune system - those same hormones that fight stress help your body fight germs!
3. It lowers the blood pressure.
4. It relaxes your muscles.
5. According to a study at Johns Hopkins University Medical School, laughter during instruction increases test stores. (I don't know anything about this study other than seeing this information in several different places including THIS link.  I want to learn more about this study!)
6. Humor can help erase negative emotions.  Seriously, how angry can you feel while laughing?
7. Laughter provides a workout for many muscles including your abs.
8. Laughter is contagious, and builds social bonds.
9. Laughter is free!
10. I may be biased on this one, but I think there are few sounds more pleasant than the sound of children laughing.

I do make a point to include humor in my classroom every day.  Luckily, second graders have fairly simple senses of humor.


In a writing lesson a couple of weeks ago, (about including things to get the reader's attention) I told them there were two words that are guaranteed to make children giggle:  bellybutton and underwear.  (Of course I was very dramatic when telling this, with that dramatic pause after each word so that I got two sets of giggles!)  Try it on your kids, it works!



One thing I love about teaching little ones... they always laugh at my jokes... no matter how many times I say it!  I've been known to wear out many a joke, yet still get laughs!  Yesterday, when we cleaned out desks, I told them to take home their Christopher Columbus booklets, since "That ship has sailed".  Those booklets kept showing up for the rest of the day (yes, we're working on organizational skills) and I kept repeating... "because that ship has sailed".  I got a laugh every time!



But it's almost November, when I get to use one of my favorite jokes to wear out:



Question:  If April showers bring May flowers, what do May flowers bring?

Answer:  Pilgrims!


Sometimes it takes some explanation, but that's half the fun!
Laughter is truly the best medicine: This post contains evidence that laughter is healthy AND helps learning happen! Plus, there are a few suggestions on squeezing a few laughs into the classroom.



What jokes do you share with your students?

Where Will the Pendulum Swing Next?

So many teachers I know are frustrated. Report cards, meetings, data, conferences, planning, reports, IEPs, and so on! There is far too much to do in the little time we have. The children are needier than ever, and we don't dare stop pushing the curriculum to see to their needs.

I've been in education for a very long time. I've seen that pendulum swing in every direction!
The educational pendulum has swung out of control. Read about some of the educational fads as well as ideas for the ideal school!

I've seen Whole Language, phonics based reading, language experience, basal readers, invented spelling, standard spelling, Math Their Way, computer learning labs (Waterford in the 90s!), The Writing Process, 6 Traits, individualized reading, whole group learning, worksheets, seat work, round robin reading, time-on-task, lecturing, teacher centered classrooms, student centered classrooms, technology centered classrooms, reading across the curriculum, phonemic awareness, think-pair-share, cross-curriculum units, collaborative learning, differentiated learning, learning styles, multiple intelligences, activity based learning, STEM, STEAM, flipped classroom, developmental learning, problem based learning, regimented classrooms, open classrooms, teachers as knowledge dispensers, teachers as facilitators, rubrics, hands-on learning, posting learning objectives, PLCs, Values Clarification, Precision Teaching, textbooks, trade books, sitting in rows, sitting in circles, sitting in groups, Brain Gym, Bloom's Taxonomy, Madeline Hunter's lesson design, Smartboards, ipads, Chromebooks, mainstreaming, inclusion, prior knowledge, peer tutoring, learning centers, left-brain and right-brain, portfolios, authentic assessment, creative thinking, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, gifted education, integrated curriculum, standards based, self-esteem building, No Child Left Behind, and Race to the Top.

Wow, no wonder I'm so tired! If you recognize all the fads above, I'll bet you're as old as I am! I'm sure I've missed a bunch as well, but I think this list will bring back lots of memories, if not nightmares!

I've used all of the above teaching strategies. I'm not claiming to like or dislike these methods, but I can honestly say I've learned something from each! And I can honestly say I've seen many of these forced upon teachers until they were proved ineffective, or until something "better" came along.

There are many good things happening today in education. Yet, today's kids are stressed out more than ever before. Teachers are losing confidence and determination, and are leaving the profession.

Something is not right. Something has to change.

And I predict it will. Why? Because that's how education works!

I read this article this morning:

It really got me thinking... if I were to design my own school, not based on data or test results, but based on the needs of children, school would look quite differently.

😊Teachers would have more respect. They would know what their students need, and would offer lessons along those lines. 

😊Classrooms would have far less structure and a whole lot more fun. 

😊Focus would be on learning to work with others, not doing well on tests.

😊Basic skills, such as reading, math, spelling and handwriting, would be taught when the children are ready to learn them.

😊Class numbers would be smaller, more flexible, and teachers would be encouraged to co-teach.

😊Children would have recess several times a day.

😊Art, Music, and Physical Education would be offered daily.

This has been rather therapeutic! Many of my ideas are based on things I've read, but this sure was fun! 

Give it a try! It doesn't have to be realistic, but what would your ideal school look like? I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments!

The educational pendulum has swung out of control. Read about some of the educational fads as well as ideas for the ideal school!

In the meantime, if you're feeling crazy, exhausted, and/ or frustrated, you are not along. It won't last forever.



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.)  
Brainy Kinesthetic Vowel Sounds: Here are some movement tricks to help the children remember the short vowel sounds.

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 minuscule, but essential for encoding and decoding words.



I'm a teacher 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.

Brainy Kinesthetic Vowel Sounds: Here are some movement tricks to help the children remember the short vowel sounds.

When practicing the short e sound, they turn into an E and say  ĕĕĕxercise!
Brainy Kinesthetic Vowel Sounds: Here are some movement tricks to help the children remember the short vowel sounds.


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!
Brainy Kinesthetic Vowel Sounds: Here are some movement tricks to help the children remember the short vowel sounds.



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.
Brainy Kinesthetic Vowel Sounds: Here are some movement tricks to help the children remember the short vowel sounds.


Finally, the short u sound is remembered when the children make the shape of a u, while holding an ŭŭŭmbrella.



Brainy Kinesthetic Vowel Sounds: Here are some movement tricks to help the children remember the short vowel sounds.


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!

Brainy Kinesthetic Vowel Sounds: Here are some movement tricks to help the children remember the short vowel sounds.

Six Ways to Integrate Team Building into Your Curriculum

Six Ways to Integrate Team Building into Your Curriculum: this post lists 6 different Team Building Activities and ideas on fitting curriculum ideas into these games

Of course I have always wanted my students to be successful in their school experiences. But I've always wanted more than that. I've wanted my students to be successful in life!

I recently did a search for skills needed for success in life. Most of the skills mentioned in each article overlapped. These are the ones that came up most often:
Six Ways to Integrate Team Building into Your Curriculum: this post lists 6 different Team Building Activities and ideas on fitting curriculum ideas into these games

There is so much we must teach in our classrooms these days. How could we possibly squeeze in these important skills as well?

It just so happens in my studies of brain research, I've been focused on numerous Team Building activities, and I've got some ideas on how we can squeeze these activities into our curriculum. (After all, brain research tells us that FUN is an element that helps a brain remember things!)

Six Ways to Integrate Team Building into Your Curriculum: this post lists 6 different Team Building Activities and ideas on fitting curriculum ideas into these games

Countdown is a game the kiddos love, and there are many ways to tie some curriculum into the game! You can find a freebie download of this game here: How to Play Countdown.
(You'll have to scroll down for the freebie.) In "Countdown," all you need is a sequence. In second grade, I often play the game with skip counting, since that's something they need to hear and practice over and over. Other ideas for a sequence could be: seasons, states of matter, types of communities, types of rock formations, names of presidents, or countries in Europe. 
Six Ways to Integrate Team Building into Your Curriculum: this post lists 6 different Team Building Activities and ideas on fitting curriculum ideas into these games

Speed Chatting is a Team Building activity that gives the children a chance to talk... a LOT! All you have to do to include an area of the curriculum is to give them a topic to discuss! It might be: books you've read, facts about weather, interesting words you know, a country in South America, or whatever you happen to be studying at the time! Plus, talking about what they're learning enhances the learning!
You can see more about this activity here: Speed Chatting.
Six Ways to Integrate Team Building into Your Curriculum: this post lists 6 different Team Building Activities and ideas on fitting curriculum ideas into these games
Paper Bag Dramatics is another fun Team Building activity. It involves creating skits with the props in a bag. This can easily be connected to the curriculum by putting things in each bag that are connected to an area of the curriculum. If you're studying the 5 senses, you can put things (or pictures, or word cards) that can be smelled or tasted. If you're studying plants, you can put some plant types (or pictures, or word cards) that show the parts of plants. Get it? You can find more about paper bag dramatics here: Paper Bag Dramatics.

Six Ways to Integrate Team Building into Your Curriculum: this post lists 6 different Team Building Activities and ideas on fitting curriculum ideas into these games

Pass the Clap is a favorite for the kiddos! Now I'm having a hard time trying to think of a way to include curriculum ideas for this one, since it really doesn't include verbal communication. However, if you look at the list of important skills above, we've got #2 and #8 covered! If you can think of a way to include curriculum with this one, please leave it in the comments below. But in the meantime, squeeze this one in somewhere, since these are important skills. (It only takes a couple of minutes, and it's a great warm-up activity during Morning Meeting!) To read more about this game, see here: Pass the Clap.
Six Ways to Integrate Team Building into Your Curriculum: this post lists 6 different Team Building Activities and ideas on fitting curriculum ideas into these games
High-Low is an activity I always play with students at the end of the day. However, it doesn't have to be at the end of the day. It could be at the end of a certain subject in school. The children could discuss the high and low of their math lesson, the book they're reading, a science experiment, a country they've been studying, and so on. As we know, talking about a lesson reinforces learning. Plus, they LOVE to talk about themselves! To learn more about this activity see here: High-Low.
Six Ways to Integrate Team Building into Your Curriculum: this post lists 6 different Team Building Activities and ideas on fitting curriculum ideas into these games
Party Talk is super fun and a great culmination activity! I was introduced to this when I was taking my masters program in Creative Arts in Learning. In my Music Integration class, we were to do research on a composer. I chose to research Steven Sondheim, who composes a lot of music for the theatre. (Into the Woods, Sweeney Todd, FolliesCompany, etc.) Instead of having us get up and just talk about our composer, the instructor gave us "Hello My Name is" badges and we had a "cocktail party." We went around, with our (non-alcoholic) drinks, and introduced ourselves and talked about our lives. It was so much fun! Many years later, I was teaching 5th grade Social Studies. The children were researching famous people in the revolutionary war era. Of course I couldn't have a "cocktail party" with 5th graders, but we could have a "Boston Tea Party!" In this case, the kids were drinking tea, not dumping tea into the harbor. Again, we made "Hello My Name is" badges, served tea and "crumpets" and we had ourselves a tea party! Many of the kids even dressed up colonial style! I'm sure you can think of many other ways of having a "Party Talk."

Still looking for ideas to squeeze these important into your day? Be sure to check out this resource: 60 Team Building Games and Activities.

Six Ways to Integrate Team Building into Your Curriculum: this post lists 6 different Team Building Activities and ideas on fitting curriculum ideas into these games

Music: a Key to the Brain!

Brain research tells us that listening to music actually helps the brain. 

Music: a Key to the Brain! This post lists some of the advantages to using music in the classroom, and a couple of great sources of free music!

There are many ways to use music in the classroom, and here are a few to get you going!

Music: a Key to the Brain! This post lists some of the advantages to using music in the classroom, and a couple of great sources of free music!
Did you know that music boosts brain organization? It affects our moods and emotions. Playing music in the classroom really makes a difference. Different kinds of music work at different times. Playing slow, classical music helps kids focus and concentrate. Fun, upbeat music helps them find energy during those sleepy times of day (after lunch?) or just plain makes the kids feel good. Putting important information to a familiar tune helps them remember things. There is no end to the possibilities of music in the classroom.

Music: a Key to the Brain! This post lists some of the advantages to using music in the classroom, and a couple of great sources of free music!
Although I have a huge collection of music for the classroom that I've downloaded or bought in CD form, (See THIS link, and THIS link.) there are other sources for music that are much more appropriate for a teacher's salary!

1. Free downloads! I found THIS link, 10 places to go to get free music downloads, including Free Music Archive and Amazon! It's worth exploring!😉)

2.  You-Tube! Just search You-Tube for the kind of music you want, and you'll see several options pop up! As long as I don't need my classroom projection system for something else, I'll find a long video and let it go on in the background to help the kiddos focus. Here's one I found when I searched "Calming Music for Kids"


Then I searched "Happy Music for Kids" and got this. This is great music for kids to hear when they're entering the class in the morning, because it makes them feel good!


Here's one I played often at the end of the school year, especially when we had our "seacoast week." I searched "Ocean Sounds with music." (This one is 8 hours long!)

I searched this one for Cinco de Mayo. ("Mexican music")



and, of course for St. Patrick's Day I might play this one! ("Irish Music")


Honestly, you can find just about anything on You-Tube, but be careful to check it ahead of time. As you know, there are things you DON'T want to share with the children! (For example, the Irish music category has plenty of Irish drinking songs!)

Music: a Key to the Brain! This post lists some of the advantages to using music in the classroom, and a couple of great sources of free music!

Tips to Prepare for Parent Conferences

Tips to Prepare for Parent Conferences: This blog post lists several ideas to help you be prepared and help those conferences run smoothly.

Just when you think you've finally got the routine down, it's suddenly time for Parent-Teacher Conferences!

Honestly, I have a "love-hate" relationship for Parent-Teacher Conferences.  Why? Well, they certainly are a whole lot of work, along with late nights, which is the "hate" part. But sitting and chatting about little ones you care about with other people who care about that little one can be very enlightening, and very satisfying. 

Most parents I've worked with are really, really nice people! I particularly love it when I've already had a member of the family, and I get to "hang out" with parents I already know. (Of course, the down side to this, is that it's even harder at the end of the year to say goodbye to a family with whom you've had a 2 year relationship!)

Conferences shouldn't be the first communication you've had with a parent. Newsletters, personal notes and phone calls should have already happened so parents already know who you are.

I find being super prepared helps the conferences go more smoothly. I start sending home notifications requesting conference dates and times, and I send home this form for parents to fill out and send back before the conference.
Tips to Prepare for Parent Conferences: This blog post lists several ideas to help you be prepared and help those conferences run smoothly.
Tips to Prepare for Parent Conferences: This blog post lists several ideas to help you be prepared and help those conferences run smoothly.
I find this form gives me a lot of information. Once I get the form back, I can start preparing my paperwork for Conference night:
Tips to Prepare for Parent Conferences: This blog post lists several ideas to help you be prepared and help those conferences run smoothly.
Tips to Prepare for Parent Conferences: This blog post lists several ideas to help you be prepared and help those conferences run smoothly.
I've left this form a bit more flexible, since the kids and their needs are all so very different. The "strengths" and "need to improve" sections can be filled out ahead of time, and any questions from parents on the questionnaire can go into the "things to think about" section. Most of my notes on this sheet are behavioral notes, since 

As behaviors or struggles appear during the week before conferences, I'll be sure to run to my pile of conference notes and jot things down, so things will be fresh in my mind.

Tips to Prepare for Parent Conferences: This blog post lists several ideas to help you be prepared and help those conferences run smoothly.
1.  Keep a couple of bottles of water nearby. (I get very dry from all that talking!)
2. Post a schedule outside your door so parents are aware of your limited time.
3. Slip in a couple of extra meetings ("meeting with principal") or "meeting with Mrs. Smith")  These are your bathroom/ snack breaks. (See step 1... water!)
4. Keep a couple of chairs outside your door along with things for parents and siblings to do. I usually keep the children's writing folders in the hall, along with some books and blocks for the kiddos to use. Some people keep some mints outside as well. (Keep a few for yourself, too!)
5. Dress comfortably. Yes, it's important to look professional, but it's not "date night."  I keep a little extra makeup, brush, comb, and a toothbrush in my desk to freshen up, but being neat and professional looking is most important.
6. Don't hesitate to ask an administrator to sit in during a conference if you think there may be some challenges.  They're usually glad to sit in, and often learn a lot about your teaching and your students. Just warn the parents ahead of time.
7. Be sure to invite others who also work with the child, when appropriate: Title I, OT, PT, Sped, SLP, and even Art, Music, or Phys. Ed. 

Tips to Prepare for Parent Conferences: This blog post lists several ideas to help you be prepared and help those conferences run smoothly.
1. Smile and say hello. Show everyone involved where to sit.
2. Start by saying something positive about the child. That shouldn't be too tough, but it's important to start on a positive note.
3. One of the most valuable phrases I learned in my teaching experience was this: "he's working on..." If a child doesn't already have a skill, he's certainly working on it. It sounds so much better than "he's not good at..."
4. It's a good idea to have work samples nearby, especially if the child is struggling in some area.
5. Make sure you say something personal that has nothing to do with school. "David has such a nice friendship with Paul."
6. End the meeting by repeating something positive about the child. 
7. The following day, make a copy of your conference notes to share with parents. File your own copy where you can check it frequently.

Tips to Prepare for Parent Conferences: This blog post lists several ideas to help you be prepared and help those conferences run smoothly.
Tips to Prepare for Parent Conferences: This blog post lists several ideas to help you be prepared and help those conferences run smoothly.

Tips to Prepare for Parent Conferences: This blog post lists several ideas to help you be prepared and help those conferences run smoothly.




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