What 4 Things Your Kindergartener REALLY Needs Before School Starts

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Hey, y'all! School is starting, supplies have been purchased, lunch boxes have been filled, but what does your child really need to start school. The list is simple and all things are free.

1. Your child needs to know how to tie their own shoes. In a world of Velcro and slip ons, we need to take the time to teach our children how to tie their own shoes. This is a step toward independence and your child's teacher will thank you for it. I assign this task for homework the first week of school. Those who already know how get a free week without homework. Those who don't, learn a meaningful skill.

2. Your child needs to be able to recognize and write his or her own name. And if your child goes by a nickname, they need to know what their real name is since that's what the teacher and school are going to recognize first. I was helping a kindergartener in the breakfast line one year on the first day of school. The students were to tell the cafeteria person their name to be charged for their breakfast. I asked one child what her name was and she responded, "Baby Girl." This baby had no idea what her real name was because her family had always called her "Baby Girl." Since she didn't know her name, she certainly couldn't write or recognize her name, and couldn't tell where her stuff was supposed to go in the classroom. It was a tough start to the year for her. So please, teach your child how to recognize and write their own name. Your child will thank you for it. (You know, when they're like 35 and taking their own kid to kindergarten!)

3. Your child needs to be able to read the words "the" and "said." In addition to having a firm foundation in letter sounds and identification, you child needs to learn these two sight words as soon as possible. This will make learning to read so much easier on him or her. I can't tell you how many times I've sat with a kiddo who's trying to sound out the word "the" and saying "tuh-huh-e." It's painful. Both of these words are in almost every picture book. Find the word together, say it together, spell it together. Do this repeatedly until your child starts finding them on their own. Your child's teacher will thank you for it.

4. Your child needs to know how include the lonely kid. There will always be a kid who's playing by alone. Teach your child how to include others in their play. I know some kids are more shy than others, and you may have to teach your child to accept the new kid rather than reach out to them. It's totally your call. But in a world full of exclusions and divisions, teach your child to be accepting of others and compassionate. Your child's teacher and classmates will thank you for it.

There are obviously many more skills that you can teach your child to set them up for success in school. Manners, using an inside voice, and following directions right away are also extremely important. I included the skills above because they are so often overlooked but so powerful in education. You don't have to have lots of money or a huge supply of books or pencils to teach these skills. You only have to care and that's the best support your child could ever have.

I hope your school year is off to a smooth start and you and your child have a wonderful year.

Halloween STEAM Centers

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Hey y'all! Fall is in the air! I know it's still over 100 degrees in much of the country, but that won't stop me from drinking my salted caramel mocha from Starbucks and dreaming of pumpkins!

Now we all know academics are TOUGH during the week of Halloween. And this year, Halloween falls right smack dab in the middle of the week. So rather than fight it, our class is going to embrace it!

In our class, science centers are the norm. We LOVE the independence and exploring things on our own. Why should Halloween be any different.

On Monday, we read "Five Little Pumpkins" and check out what happens to candy pumpkins when we dissolve them in different kinds of liquids.

Tuesday through Thursday, we rotate centers. We build bridges from popsicle sticks to hold our 5 little pumpkins.

We race spiders across the table by blowing into straws. We learn about force and motion by creating our own wind. If you can't find plain plastic spiders, you can cut the ring part off some spider rings. 

We learn about engineering and anatomy by building skeletons out of cotton swabs. This picture was of a cat skeleton but it got a little wonky. :-p

We learn about light and shadows by making shadow puppets out of construction paper. Oh the excitement! Who doesn't love shadow puppets?

Wanna blow your students' minds? Teach them how to make optical illusions! They will still be making these long into next semester. What better way to teach a love of learning and exploration!

Totally gross out your students by building a maze for an eyeball! You can use a marble or draw an eye on a ping pong ball. Either way, your students will love building their own maze and trying to get the ball from one end to the other. Talk about problem solving in action!

On Fridays, we do whole class experiments/activities. For this week, we'll be making catapults and launching marshmallow ghosts into a cup. I purchase plastic cauldrons from the dollar store for this activity.

Now, I am the LAST person that wants to shoot things across my classroom. (Can you say "chaos?") But if there's one thing my high school physics teacher taught me is that you have to take chances. And that those chances are the things that stick with your students and get them excited about science. (Thank you Mr. Didier!) So…we're going to launch ghosts.

In this activity, students learn physics, momentum, velocity, problem-solving, teamwork and so much more. It's a win-win.

To check out the full Halloween STEAM Unit, click here. I hope you enjoy these centers in your classroom and stay on the lookout for Thanksgiving STEAM Centers coming soon!

What New Teachers REALLY Need for Back to School

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Hey y'all!  I know you've heard you need everything to set up a successful classroom. If you're online or on any social media at all, you've seen all kinds of cute things for back to school. And of course these things are great…but what do you really need? 

I'm not talking centers and mini erasers. These things are great, but I'm talking things to keep you sane and uplifted, even on your toughest days. What are these things? Keep reading to find out. 

1. You need a teacher bestie.
Why? Because this person will celebrate your successes with you and help you through the worst days. Your significant other may be helpful also, but no one understands like another teacher. Not every teacher BFF has to be at your school either. Social media has opened up a world of networking opportunities. Some of my BTFs (Best Teacher Friends) are several states away. Why? Because they get it, and now days, distance means nothing. We're only a text message away. :)

2. You need a mentor teacher.
This person may or may not be your BTF, but this person WILL be there to answer questions and help you when you really need it. DO NOT be afraid to ask for help! None of us know everything and you can learn so much from watching others. ASK! OBSERVE! SHARE! And learn from others. You and your students will gain immensely from it.

3. You need comfy shoes.
When your feet hurt, your attitude suffers and you can't be your best. If there was ever a time to embrace orthopedics, now's the time! Just kidding. Sort of. But seriously, spend the money on shoes your feet love, your body will thank you for it.

4. You need a favorite outfit.
Preferably something super comfortable. Your body is your temple--dress it like you mean it. My current favorites are teacher tees and comfy colorful jeans or pants. When you're comfortable, your mood improves and so does your teaching. No stuffy clothes when you're in the trenches of teaching!

If you need some new teacher tees, my favorites are from The Blue Envelope (the shirt above), The Write Stuff Chicks, Trendy Teacherz, and Wire and Honey to name a few.

5. You need something that brings you joy.
Some days are going to be more taxing than others. This is just a reality. Some days, you will just want to sit in your classroom in the quiet while your class is at specials, and you will need something to bring you joy. Yes, your BTF and your mentor will be amazingly helpful, but you may just need something simple to uplift you. It may be flair pens. It may be an inspirational poster. It may be that pretty binder with the cover you so carefully made and printed off and slid into the cover. Whatever it is, make it yours.

6. You will need a source of caffeine.
Coffee, tea, chocolate, soda (maybe not too much soda). Pick you passion. Don't want to drink your caffeine or load up sugar? Apples have a significant amount of energy boosting good stuff. Why do you think they say, "an apple for the teacher?" It's because we're TIRED, and apples give you energy. (And fiber, just FYI.) Get a Keurig, a Starbucks, or a basket of fruit, whatever you need to keep yourself going!

7. You will need an account with Scholastic Book Clubs. 
Because you teach and you'll need books. This is by far the best way I've found to get new, inexpensive books. You just can't beat their dollar deals, and they seriously have everything! If you're not familiar with Scholastic Book Clubs, you need to check into this. The bonus points you earn from student orders and your own is incredible. I get TONS of free books each year because of it.

This is really the basics to keep you happy and taken care of during the school day. There are so many things that go into making a classroom a home, but taking care of you is the first step. It's not being selfish to put yourself first, it's being proactive. You can't pour from an empty cup. I'm sure you've heard the saying, "If momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy!" Well the same goes for teachers. If you're not happy and taken care of, you can't be the light and the hope for your students.


Treat yourself right so you can do the same for your littles. You will all enjoy your time together more. I promise!

6 Tips for a Stress Free Year

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Hey, y'all! We officially go back to school tomorrow. Yes, TOMORROW! Where did the summer go?!?!?!?! Whether you're still enjoying your summer break or already back in session, there are a few things you can do to make going back to school a little bit sweeter and find some balance. 

I know, I know, easier said than done. But seriously, I know many of us go into panic-and-do-all-things-school-prep for two or three weeks before school starts (please tell me it's not just me!), but finding balance and taking a break are super important right now. 

1. Eat
I don't mean stress eat—put down the chocolate. I mean really eat. Go to dinner with your significant other or friends. Talk to people outside of your classroom. Talk about things not related to your classroom. Just take a break… The to-do list can wait until tomorrow. (It really can, trust me.)

2. Travel
You don't have to go far. Take your kids to the park. Drive to a nearby town you love or haven't explored yet. A change of scenery can do wonders for your perspective. 

3. Read a book
Read a book NOT related to school. I love  a good fantasy novel just before school starts. It's great to get away before the chaos begins, even if it is to an imaginary place.

4. Exercise 
It does a body good. You'll lower your stress levels and help your heart at the same time. Take a walk, do some yoga, take a Zumba class, whatever works for you. Any of these things will help keep you regulated and upbeat.  

5. Take a bubble bath
No tub? Take a hot shower. Put some bath crystals in there and detox your mood. Nothing says relaxing like a steam session. Want to amp it up? Light some candles, have some wine, put on some music. Enjoy your quiet time. 

6. Buy something
Seriously. It's called "retail therapy." Get you some new earrings or shoes. Flair pens are always a favorite. Classroom setup upset your budget? Target dollar spot erasers are cheap and cheerful at the same time. :) 

But whatever you do... 
DO NOT binge watch Netflix. Why? Because 10 minutes into the show you'll be on Pinterest looking at cute ideas for the classroom or you'll start printing and laminating all the things. You know I'm right… ;)

I hope you have a wonderfully, stress-free back to school season. What would you add to the list? Let me know in the comments below? 

I am in no way discouraging the watching of Netflix. That comment is meant to be humorous and not a bash on Netflix. 

Classroom Reveal 2017 and a Giveaway!

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Hey, y'all! I know many of you are already back to school, and many of you are still sleeping past 6am, but here in northern Nevada, we are setting up classrooms and just starting lesson planning. My room is almost completely setup and ready for the first day, so I thought I'd share some highlights and giveaway to go with it!

For starters, I have an ugly portable. I'm talking 1970's wood paneling, y'all. Gross. But when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. Or in this case, when life gives you paneling, you make a camping themed classroom! So…here's the before…

A lemon, right? And so dark! There are windows, but the wood paneling absorbs all the light. It really does feel like we're in the woods.

But, over at Creative Teaching Press, they have the most amazing Woodland Friends classroom decor set. It can totally turn drab into fab. I love how this little birthday display turned out! It's so light and airy. And the pom poms from Target are a great touch.  I just need to add the candles once I get my class list.

I used the calendar numbers in my pocket chart since we don't do a full calendar time in 2nd grade. I love the way it turned out and I love the little deer above. <3

The library area is my favorite, I think. (Please ignore the cord I can't hide.) The star and the leaf are from IKEA, the signs are from Target, the labels on the book bins are from my store, and the trees are from Creative Teaching Press

Here's a close up of the book bins and labels. All book bins came from Dollar Tree. 

The word wall is another favorite spot in my room. The birch tree border goes great with a basic solid color border. And the accent pieces are adorable.

Our thinking map posters look great with the accents. And, of course, I had to grab a pigeon from Kohl's this summer. The woodland friends on the bookshelf are magnetic strips. How fun is that?! The rainbow is from Sweet Whimsy Designs.

The guided reading bins (Target) are ready for groups, they just need their labels. And the IKEA book boxes look great with the Creative Teaching Press borders

For labels, I used the 3" animal cutouts and hand wrote what's in each box after laminating. They hold some of our classroom read alouds. 

We're doing flexible seating this year, so I grabbed some floor pillows from IKEA for $2 each! (Yeah, that's what I do when I go to Vegas—shop IKEA.) 

Yes, I know there is an empty spot above the chalkboard. There will be a few more posters up there after I sneak away to the teacher store! And that empty spot in the bottom right corner is where our rug from my Donors Choose project is going to go! 

I just love the hanging balls above the table and how this whole room is coming together! 

Our classroom jobs board is just adorable. Student names will go on them as soon as students fill out their job applications the first week. :)

And I love the Let's Get Along together poster. It lays the foundation for our class rules and makes an excellent spot for students to work out any problems. 

Our maker spaces things are in these plastic tubs from Target. They're so easy for students to take to wherever they decide to work.

Extra supplies like highlighters, glue sticks, and scissors are being stored in these metal buckets I found at the Target dollar spot a few years ago. 

And science stations are already prepped and ready for our first round of rotations! Woo hoo!

And now, I get to share the most amazing news with you! Creative Teaching Press has offered to share the ENTIRE Woodland Friends collection with one lucky winner. Y'all, I can't even begin to tell you how amazing this is. All you have to do is enter the Rafflecopter below. The giveaway closes on Tuesday, August 15th at 11:59 pm so don't hesitate!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thanks for stopping by. And good luck! The winner will be announced Wednesday!


Back to School Read Alouds

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Hey, y'all. Happy Sunday morning to you. I hope this back to school season has you feeling inspired and excited! This week, I'll be sharing a few of my favorite back to school read alouds for kinder, first, and second. (This post includes affiliate links.)

Every year in kindergarten, we start the first day of school off with The Kissing Hand. Chester is worried about leaving momma on the first day of school, but Mom's comforting encouragement helps give him the confidence to have a good first day. We use this book to discuss how we are feeling and we graph our first day emotions. 

In first and second grade, we start the year off with First Day Jitters. Sarah is having a hard time getting out of bed on the first day of school. She is afraid the kids will be mean and won't like her. After lots of coaxing from Mr. Hartwell, Sarah finally gets up and goes to school. When she arrives, the principal greats her and introduces her to the class…as the teacher! This is a great book to teach empathy and other people's points of view. Could the teacher actually have first day jitters too?! This is a great conversation starter about feelings. 

How Full Is Your Bucket? We read the bucket filling books to discuss how we can be nice to our classmates and considerate of their feelings. Each person has an invisible bucket. When positive things happen, the bucket fills up. When negative things happen, the bucket gets dipped into. We talk about the importance of being a bucket filler versus being a bucket dipper.

The Crayon Box that Talked teaches kids about cooperation, diversity and acceptance. The crayons in this box just can't seem to get along, until someone special takes them home and shows them how important each and every color is.

17 Things I'm Not Allowed to Do Anymore leads into our discussion about why we need rules and which ones we should have. The main character has a hard time knowing what's okay and what's not okay. We discuss how we should behave in school and develop rules we can all agree on for our class.

Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes is a super cute book about being awesome in school. Pete is rocking and rolling through his day at school. He discovers all the major rooms in the school (library, lunchroom, etc) which leads us into a school tour.

Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses is an adorable story about how you have the power to have a positive attitude. It helps us own our actions and sets the stage for positive conversations. It's a fun and exciting addition to the first weeks of school.

And we read Chicka Chicka Boom Boom to begin our study of letters. We graph the letters in our name and see who has the longest and shortest names. 

This was our graph from a few years ago. 

What are some of your favorite back to school books? Let me know in the comments below and have a great week!

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