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Ideas to Help Get the New School Year Started

Looking for ideas to start the new year? 

Every year, when the calendar turns to August, I start thinking about how I want to make the new school year the very best one yet! (Apologies to those who have already started this year... I'm sure you went through this in July, when people around here were just starting their vacation!)

I have a feeling I'm not alone in trying to "beat" last year's opening!

I have plenty of ideas to share, some are my own blog posts, and some are from my teacher/ blogger friends!

Here is a fun Math icebreaker by Brenda of Enjoy Teaching with Brenda Kovich!


Here are some great suggestions for Back to School Night from Two Boys and a Dad!
 https://www.twoboysandadad.com/2018/08/mistakes-avoid-back-to-school-night.html 


Building community is essential at the beginning of the school year. Here are some great ideas from Michelle of
 https://www.teachingideasforthosewholoveteaching.com/2014/07/five-great-ways-to-build-community-and.html 

I've spent 40 years in the classroom, and have built up a whole lot of "tricks" up my sleeve! Here are some of my favorite blog posts from "Back to School" in years past:

https://www.elementarymatters.com/2017/08/five-must-dos-on-first-day-of-school.html


Another favorite, having experienced plenty of "back to school" first days!


For those of you who AREN'T interior decorators in your spare time:
https://www.elementarymatters.com/2016/08/my-not-so-cute-classroom.html 

I've made this promise as far back as I can recall. It helps them understand why they're there, and what they can do to make school a positive experience: My First Day of School Promise


https://www.elementarymatters.com/2015/08/my-first-day-of-school-promise.html


This is a fabulous book to read on the first day, plus there's a freebie!


https://www.elementarymatters.com/2015/07/your-fantastic-elastic-brain.html 

 There's a freebie with this post as well!
https://www.elementarymatters.com/2018/08/helping-parents-help-their-children-be.html

Speaking of freebies, here are ten, that will hopefully help you get started for the year:

https://www.elementarymatters.com/2015/08/ten-freebies-for-back-to-school.html


 I hope these links help you get organized and awesome! 

If they do, please pin for your friends to see!

Ideas to Help Get the New School Year Started: After many "first days of school", here are several "back to school" ideas to make this year the best year ever!

Space Balls

Space Balls: 
It sounds like something odd, but it really is as simple as can be!
Space Balls are balls that are made up of nothing but space!

Space Balls: Here's a quick game that children love, that develops team work, concentration, and imagination. Plus, it doesn't require any materials!

Space Balls is a great game for team building, but also works on focus, concentration, and imagination! It works well in morning meeting, or any time of day they need a break.

Space Balls: Here's a quick game that children love, that develops team work, concentration, and imagination. Plus, it doesn't require any materials!

To start, establish what a space ball actually is: a ball made of space! Since you can't see the ball, it's important to show the size, shape, and weight of the ball by the way you hold the ball. 

Space Balls: Here's a quick game that children love, that develops team work, concentration, and imagination. Plus, it doesn't require any materials!

Then, slowly pass the space ball around the circle. 
Students should watch to see that the ball maintains its size and shape. 

For many students, that's enough for the first time.

Later, or on another day, introduce a "new" space ball, and review the concept by passing the ball around the circle again. Make the new space ball somewhat different from the first one. (smaller, heavier, etc.)

When the ball completes the circle, it's a good time to break the group into groups of 2 or 3 to play catch with the space balls. (Have some fun passing out space balls to each small group! Encourage their creativity by asking what sort of ball they want, then slowly taking that ball out of your "box" for them to see!)

Another option is to toss the space ball to someone across the circle. (See photo at top.) In these cases, remind the children to show the size and shape of the ball, remembering to maintain the size and shape.

Space Balls: Here's a quick game that children love, that develops team work, concentration, and imagination. Plus, it doesn't require any materials!

On another day, introduce the idea of changing the space ball. Model squishing the space into a very small ball, or stretching it into a very large ball. The space can also become quite heavy (grunting is encouraged) or it can become quite light like a balloon. The students' hands and body language should always show the size, shape, and weight of the space ball, so their partner can follow. 

Space Balls: Here's a quick game that children love, that develops team work, concentration, and imagination. Plus, it doesn't require any materials!

Now it's time to let the children be creative: pass a space ball around the circle, letting children change the space ball any way they want to.  The students should be very clear in taking the space ball from the previous person, maintaining its shape, then showing the group how they are changing the space ball.

 I'll bet you (or your students) can think of more variations of "Space Ball!" 
Can you think of a way to include curriculum concepts?
I'd love if you shared these variations!

You might even see them playing it at recess time!



Side note: the teacher in the photo above is my daughter playing space balls with her students at summer music camp! She has her own blog, Me vs Rent!

Predictability and Novelty

Children will not learn until their needs are met. 
These are two of the most important needs of children:


Predictability and Novelty: Here are some ideas for teachers to help reach these two needs in their students.

 Predictability and Novelty.
Yes, I know what you're thinking, those words are opposites, how can a child need both?

Well, yes, they need each. 

They need a classroom that's predictable. This is a source of security for children. They need to know what to expect. They need to know what's coming up. They need routine.



The first month or so of school is when most classroom routines are established: entering the classroom, morning routines, lunch count, taking attendance, moving between classes, bathroom procedures, lunch procedure, dismissal, recess, and so on. Once these routines are established, the children feel secure in their routines, know what to expect and feel safe. Now the REAL teaching can begin!

For more ideas on teaching procedures, see this blog post: Tips for Teaching Procedures

The trouble with routine, is that it gets boring. They need a change of pace and new experiences. That's when novelty is needed.


Novelty is the way to shake things up! When boredom sets in, the brain tunes out, so it's the job of the teacher to keep things alive. 

Here are some ways to shake things up in the classroom:
Have a backwards day
Change the seating arrangement
Theme days or theme weeks
Create a new routine
Establish higher expectations
Swap classrooms with another teacher for the day
Rearrange or add to your classroom library
Ask your students for ideas

Here's a resource where you can establish a "safe" routine, raise expectations, and it changes every single day, so it never gets boring: Daily Calendar Questions


And by the way, it's not just children that have these two needs!

Predictability and Novelty: Here are some ideas for teachers to help reach these two needs in their students.

A Few Summer Freebies!

Ah, summer! Isn't it a wonderful time of year? 

Summer is the time of year most people enjoy going to the beach, going camping, or maybe just hanging out with friends. It's a great time to be outside!

A Few Summer Freebies! This post shares 6 different freebies that can be used at the end of the school year, during summer school, or in the early days of autumn!

If you're still in school, or if you're working with kids during the summer, you're probably looking for things to do with the kids that also allows you to enjoy the summer! 

Well, I've got a few resources for you, and guess what... they're all free!

If you're into the beach, here are a couple of resources related to the seashore:

Because sometimes you just need to write about the ocean!

A Science Activity with a Seashore Theme!
A Few Summer Freebies! This post shares 6 different freebies that can be used at the end of the school year, during summer school, or in the early days of autumn!

 For those who enjoy camping, here are a couple of freebies for you:

Learn about the life cycle of the frog!
A Few Summer Freebies! This post shares 6 different freebies that can be used at the end of the school year, during summer school, or in the early days of autumn!

Practice Mapping Skills at "Happy Days Campground!"
A Few Summer Freebies! This post shares 6 different freebies that can be used at the end of the school year, during summer school, or in the early days of autumn!

Here's a fun way to get the kids excited about learning during a time of year when they all want to play:

Team Building along with learning fun!
A Few Summer Freebies! This post shares 6 different freebies that can be used at the end of the school year, during summer school, or in the early days of autumn!

Speaking of Team Building, here's a freebie that's all about learning to work together!

6 different games with a "work together" theme!
A Few Summer Freebies! This post shares 6 different freebies that can be used at the end of the school year, during summer school, or in the early days of autumn!

I hope these freebies give you a little more time to enjoy the summer weather!

A Few Summer Freebies! This post shares 6 different freebies that can be used at the end of the school year, during summer school, or in the early days of autumn!



Communication With Parents

Communicating with parents can be a challenge, for many reasons! 

Communication With Parents: Here are 7 ideas for opening and maintaining positive communication between teachers and parents.

It’s important to keep that communication open, but you don’t want parents to feel inadequate or make them feel inferior. The last thing you want to do is make them feel like you don’t believe in their competence as parents!

I have seven suggestions for maintaining positive communication with parents:

Communication With Parents: Here are 7 ideas for opening and maintaining positive communication between teachers and parents.
Start your communication routine at the beginning of the school year. You might write weekly or monthly newsletters. You might call or text a few parents each week, or you might do individual notes or messages. Whatever it is you choose to do, make sure the parents will expect what's coming and when it's coming. That way, they'll anticipate the communication and be ready for it.

Here's a link to a blog post going into more detail about a routine for communication: Getting Parents to Read Your Notes!


http://bit.ly/ReadYourNotes

Communication With Parents: Here are 7 ideas for opening and maintaining positive communication between teachers and parents.

Be sure to mention how hard it is to be a parent, and how busy they must be! Be sure to ask basic family questions about siblings, jobs, pets and hobbies. The more you know about them, the more you'll have to talk about! If you show an interest in who they are, it helps keep the communication open!

Communication With Parents: Here are 7 ideas for opening and maintaining positive communication between teachers and parents.
This works with notes, texts, phone calls and face to face conversations! No matter what the context or purpose of the communication might be, there's got to be something the child is doing well. It might be as simple as... "I really enjoy working with Johnny." or "Mary always walks into the classroom with a smile." 

It's not a bad idea to end the communication the same way, along with a "Thank you" of course!

Communication With Parents: Here are 7 ideas for opening and maintaining positive communication between teachers and parents.
 Parents are mostly interested in what their child is doing, but also are interested in what the class is studying! 

Here's a piece of advice I got when I was a beginning teacher, a very long ago. If a child isn't doing well on a skill, they are "working on it." Rather than, "Mark is struggling with his math facts," or "Jenny doesn't remember her short vowel sounds," I'd say, "Mark is working on his math facts," and "Jenny is working on remembering the different vowel sounds." 

And of course: "Brian really enjoyed our unit on Earth Changes."

Communication With Parents: Here are 7 ideas for opening and maintaining positive communication between teachers and parents.
Children enjoy being part of the communication. Of course they love their parents and want their parents to know their successes in school.  Quite often I'll send home a quick note asking the parents to ask their child about a situation. It might sound like this: "Ask Emma about how she helped her classmate today." or "Be sure to ask Randy about his thoughts on South America."

Communication With Parents: Here are 7 ideas for opening and maintaining positive communication between teachers and parents.
Communicating with parents is a two way street. They are the experts on their child, and know things the child might hide from their teacher.

Yes, it's true. No matter how loving or nurturing a teacher might be, the child holds back information.

There's an easy explanation for this: the parent gives unconditional love, and the child lets the parent know when they're upset. Often the same child will see the teacher's love as conditional, so they hide their feelings, afraid the teacher won't like them anymore. I've experienced this many times, both as a parent and as a teacher. 

I've learned many things about my students that I never would have known without those conversations with the parents. It's definitely worth the time to understand your students better!

Communication With Parents: Here are 7 ideas for opening and maintaining positive communication between teachers and parents.
It's tough to give parents advice on parenting, isn't it? (Especially if you're not a parent yourself!) I find it best to "pass the buck" and refer them to links, books, or research that was developed by someone else. 

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Parent-Communication-Month-by-Month-Brochures-for-the-Whole-Year-4210810?utm_source=blog%20post%20Parent%20communication&utm_campaign=Parent%20Communication%20Bundle

Each month has researched based information that parents can use to help guide their child, and make your life a little bit easier. Each brochure contains links to articles, ideas, suggestions, seasonal quotes and jokes, and even tips for family fun!

If you're interested, here are links to more blog posts about parent-teacher communication:

http://bit.ly/OpenHouseSuccess

http://bit.ly/ConferenceQuestionaire

http://bit.ly/HelpingParentsHelp

Communication With Parents: Here are 7 ideas for opening and maintaining positive communication between teachers and parents.

The Bulgaria Game

 Brain research tells us that getting students engaged physically will help learning happen!

This game is a great "filler" that will get the kiddos thinking about communication without words.

The Bulgaria Game: This game is a great filler that will get the kiddos thinking of communication without words. Plus, you can connect it to the curriculum, too!

The game's title only works well if you don't have anyone in your group that speaks Bulgarian. If you do have someone who speaks Bulgarian, you'll have to change the name of the game to some language that no one knows, since the game depends on broken lines of communication.

Here's the scenario: you happen to be traveling through Bulgaria. You need something, so you pull over into a convenience store.

Unfortunately, the people working in the store only speak Bulgarian, which you don't speak. 

Therefore, you have to "act out" what you'll need!



There are a couple of ways to proceed once they know the story:

1. Let individuals think of things to act out.
2. Let groups think of things to act out.
3. Have slips written up with things to act out.

Of course, #3 can be done with individuals or teams.

If you go with #3, you can find ways to use content vocabulary and make it count as academic! 

Yes, it's not very likely that they'll have to pull into a convenience store in Bulgaria for landforms or geometric shapes, but they are usually having so much fun acting out vocabulary words, they don't mind!

 A word of caution: some children are VERY competitive, and try to make it difficult for others to guess their word. Or, they're disappointed if their audience figures it out right away. 

I have to remind them that the goal of the game is to communicate enough information so that their audience understands what they're acting out. If the audience gets it right away, they have communicated successfully!

I know, it's kind of a silly scenario just to get children to act things out, but it's a fun story, and the children enjoy it!

After all, if it motivates the students to engage, it's successful!

The Bulgaria Game: This game is a great filler that will get the kiddos thinking of communication without words. Plus, you can connect it to the curriculum, too!

Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask First

I'm sure you've heard this phrase before:
Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask First: Teachers tend to ignore the need for self-care. Here are some ideas to help teachers keep their strength so they can do their jobs.
Have you thought about what this means for teachers?
Like moms, teachers tend to put the needs of the children first.

Yes, I am guilty as a teacher AND as a mom.

I've been known to hold stress in, and just keep going. This is NOT healthy, and your body will eventually stop working properly. Stress is a killer.

So what can we do about self-care?
Most teachers I know don't have a whole lot of time for self-care (especially if they are moms as well!) 

But taking care of ourselves is essential. After all, if we don't put on our own oxygen masks, how can we help our students with their masks?

I like to put self-care into 3 categories:
Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask First: Teachers tend to ignore the need for self-care. Here are some ideas to help teachers keep their strength so they can do their jobs.

Letting off some steam is a great way to take care of oneself! These are some great ways to "burn off" some of that tension:
1. Dance! This can include every kind of dancing from dancing at a club, dancing in your living room, or even taking tap dancing lessons!
2. Sing! You can sing in the shower, or just sing out anywhere! My favorite singing location is in the car!
3. Scream! Yes, that says scream, but be careful where  you do it, and who is watching. My favorite "socially acceptable" place to scream is on roller coasters! 
4. Exercise! Go for a run, do some jumping jacks, or take an exercise class. 

Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask First: Teachers tend to ignore the need for self-care. Here are some ideas to help teachers keep their strength so they can do their jobs.

Sometimes going wild just doesn't do the job. Sometimes the opposite is what is needed. Here are some self care ideas for going mellow:
1. Take a nap! You can take a nap on the couch, or a big time nap in your bed!
2. Take a bath! Get yourself some essential oils or a "bath bomb" and treat yourself to a nice hot bath!
3. Sit outside and watch the clouds! Doesn't this sound delightful?
4. Meditate! Just let your head clear. Put on some very quiet music to help relax.
5. Read a book! Personally, I like historical fiction or mystery, but anything will do!
6. Write in a journal! Get lost in your own thoughts as you write.
7. Cuddle your pet! There is scientific evidence that this will lower your blood pressure!

Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask First: Teachers tend to ignore the need for self-care. Here are some ideas to help teachers keep their strength so they can do their jobs.
Although a vacation is always a delight, most teachers don't make enough money to make a habit of going away all the time! But a simple escape from the usual routine can help bring peace.
1. Go for a walk! It doesn't matter to where. I'm lucky to live close to the ocean, so that's my favorite escape spot, but it could be a park, a block away from your home, or even a mall!
2. Take a class! Learn something you never knew before, but were always curious about! You might even make some new friends!
3. Watch a movie! Try one you've never seen, or maybe one you've seen over and over! (My favorite is The Notebook!)
4. Read poetry! I'm sure your local library has plenty of choices!
5. Look through an old photo album! What a nice way to escape to your own past!
6. Go to a comedy club! They say laughter is the best medicine!


Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask First: Teachers tend to ignore the need for self-care. Here are some ideas to help teachers keep their strength so they can do their jobs.

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