Wednesday, 4 December 2013

In Awe

It is December.  I am in awe.

Not of the sparkling blanket of snow that covers my yard. (To which my four year old innocently asked, "Is snow made of glass?" which led us to a great discussion over the properties of glass that would make it impossible for snow to actually have glass in it!)

Not of the dazzling display of Christmas lights. (Although my in-laws have really outdone themselves this year rivaling even the Griswalds for their house display!)

Not of the selfless generosity of others as they dig strangers out of ditches, attach tow ropes in sub zero wind chills, and haul their pay loader over to my yard before 7am to clear my driveway so our bus can safely collect my child and I can pull in and out of my garage with ease. (For which I am terribly grateful and deeply touched.)

Not of the precious wondrous look in my children's eyes when the tree lights glow or they find their Elf on the Shelf in some precarious spot, and through the giggles and constant interruptions, tell Daddy what crazy thing Elfie did this time (although I've snapped hundreds of mental pics already and cherish every one of these moments!)

I am in awe of bloggers who blog in December.

Seriously...bloggers who blog in December, especially about December activities, are clearly on a whole new level of organized.

Or maybe they're not necessarily organized but sitting in fact, in squalor, the laundry pile growing ever-closer to their chin threatening suffocation, the Christmas decorations half up, the supper dishes growing their own ecosystem, the Christmas gifts (still) piled in a garbage bag away from prying eyes , baking doing the very opposite and burning in the oven...while they tap tap tap away on their keyboard escaping the craziness by allowing their creative writing demons some air...?

Yes, I'm going with that...anyone who is writing write now must definitely have one or more of those situations (or maybe, just maybe, you're like me - please let there be someone like me? - and have ALL of the aforementioned situations) going on at the exact same time!

I've been subbing a lot which has been a nice little bonus for the pocket book with the December credit card payment looming, but has left little time for blogging although I have no shortage of great ideas to write about in January! Combined with the influx of additional activities that December brings (I'm a huge sucker for family traditions and try to fit in as much baking and crafting as possible) there just doesn't seem to be enough minutes in the day.  But what else is new?

I thought I'd kick off my very limited supply of December posts with one of our latest crafts that despite my list of scratched projects, I simply HAD to make time for.  In addition to being fun for the kids, it is my little attempt at being organized and it does seem to help me keep things in daily check.

For the record, I have fond memories of store-bought chocolate calendars with their little perforated windows and creatively molded treasures just waiting to be discovered each morning.  It was the only time of year we were ever allowed to eat chocolate so early in the day and it was awesome!  My husband and I usually buy the kids one of these still but this year the hubs bought three really quickly without looking too close and in classic fashion (where you assume something so perfect and sentimental can't be improved upon) he bought a New Year's countdown calendar!!  Whaaaat?  Did you know these existed???

Well they do.  They still countdown to the 24th but it's not the biggest window anymore (you know the one with the slightly larger chocolate that dwarfs all the other chocolates and makes you feel so triumphant when 23 other little flaps wave their victory flags signifying your accomplishment and giving permission to savour that glorious last treat)  There are another SIX windows along the side counting down to New Years Day!

We should have known what was up by the absence of the word Christmas anywhere on the packaging, but you know how it is in the grocery store rush when you're buying something of minimal cost.   And not that I'm against celebrating New Years Eve, but I think most of you can sympathize with my desire to countdown to December 25th.

In any case, those calendars quickly got donated and the kidlets were none the wiser when I launched into making our own countdown calendar using up of our halloween candy (will we ever get rid of it all?), some scrap tissue paper, ribbon and a host of good ideas (some generated from pinterest, some out of my own head, some the kids thought of themselves).  I have done some variation of this for the last couple years since I really wanted to add some fun family activities to the chocolate treats to make the season rich and memorable.

First the kiddos counted out 24 pieces of their favorite candy (each).  Then I randomly paired up each piece into a square of paper.  Miss E cut the ribbon to size while her brother made silly faces and deliberated over each piece of candy to ensure he'd chosen the right one. I gathered and tied up the little bundles and Miss E cut out the tags I'd printed off of the computer (onto cardstock).  I wasn't organized enough to have the numbers aligned on the back so she just cut out our 24 activities with dates on them and then wrote the numbers or found stickers to match the dates. The idea was to scatter them in the Christmas tree but so far they've taken up residence on our pony wall in an orderly little parade of countdown bundles.  I didn't pay much attention to which candy was allotted for which day but I was cognizant of the bundle for Christmas Eve and it does appear slightly larger since I let the kids put their "ring pops" in the mix and I although I loath ring pops (and most hard candy in general) they LOVE them so I thought they would be a special treat for that day.

While making up the activities for the back of the tags I had my December calendar open so that I could incorporate any functions already planned into the countdown. So, for example, for my husband's Christmas party, we stay overnight at a hotel, so that tag matched up with the appropriate date saying, "Have a fun family adventure in a hotel and go swimming!"  Any concerts (school or church) also go onto the tags, along with our family traditions of making gingerbread houses (I try to pick a Saturday for this one), skating with friends (usually happens once school is out) and baking cookies and treats for teachers/busdrivers/babysitters (usually needs to happen around the 3rd week so we can deliver before school is done).  I'm not gonna lie, some dates need to be switched around when the day actually comes (otherwise December gets pretty regimented pretty fast and where's the fun in that!?) but for the most part, we all look forward to doing something together each day leading up to Christmas, even if it is a quick phone call to Grandma & Grandpa to sing a Christmas carol or read a special Christmas story at bedtime. 
In case the Christmas craziness defeats the blogging bug this month I'll say Merry Christmas right now and hope you all have a very blessed holiday where you have time to focus on your family, your blessings and spend some moments in awe of the true reason we celebrate of Christmas, Jesus.  

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Learning the 5 W's from Day One

The last few weeks I've been subbing a fair bit and life has picked up so the blog posts have dwindled...but this idea kept coming back to me when I was interacting with the little people at our local schools as well as my kiddo's at home.  I think it's such a fantastic idea so this morning I just sat down and committed to write about it!

It comes from Joanne Cowie, a pretty amazing teacher, who has this great resume of experiences and education, who focuses mainly on ESL teaching and is currently doing some Grade One at Burdett School. (Alberta, Canada). 

During her morning routine of calendar, weather and numbers, she also reads a thematic short story then asks one of the students to pick a foam-card out of the bag.  These cards are not pictured but are simply strips of foam individually labeled with "who", "where", "what", "when" and "why".  The hand on the bulletin board has been memorized and the students know these words by sight. Then she asks a question based on whichever "W" word they pick out that morning.

When I asked Joanne more about the activity she gave me a great list of goals and outcomes this activity fulfills. Take a look!

1.  To help the students differentiate between asking a question and telling a story.
2.  To start the inquiry process/model and to get the students to really understand what the words mean.  It then becomes a way for me to communicate with the students.
3.  To learn to memorize/read and spell these words.  All the students can tell me the 5 W's.  Remember, these are not easy words to remember people!  W and H together?  Try sounding that out and making sense of it!
4.  These words will be used in writing, planning a story, developing a story, building a story.  ie.  Who are your characters?  What  are they doing?  Where are they?  When did this story take place?? Why did the characters act this way?? (Action)  What would the characters think? Say? Do?  Feel?
5.  In Science to help the students identify the facts, who? what? where/ when? why?   To be able to predict and make inferences. To be able to let students come up with their own questions. To teach the children to activate their brains when they hear anyone one of the five questions.
6. Finally, to help the brain look for patterns of thinking.

"All this and I am sure there are more reasons, but it is why I teach this so thouroughly at the beginning of the year and refer to the 5 W's all the way throug the school year.  Every subject can be related to the inquiry learning model so decision making and problem solving occurs while reading, in math, science, social.  Really in everything."

Thanks for sharing Joanne!  I'm so excited about doing a short term assignment with another group of first-graders this week.  I'm sure I will not have much time to blog (which is why I made myself write today!) but will come away with a great number of new ideas and experiences!  Can't wait!

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Handy Hangers Save Space in the Art Room

So you're assigned Art for the year and you're not an Art teacher.  Or, you're an Art teacher stuffed into a traditional classroom without proper materials, storage or appropriate tools.  Although there are a bazillion challenges to face, I promise to solve one of them right here, right now, TODAY!

Actually, I'm not solving anything, one of my good friends and colleagues Mrs. Tricia Smith is going to solve this for you (and if you know her, you'll probably be thinking and wondering, "Of course she mean she's only going to solve ONE problem?)  And yes, today she's only going to solve one, (but I have a sneaky suspicion she may make it to this page again) and yes, if you don't know her, she's just that sort of person...if there is a problem, she'll find the source (possibly raising her voice just a little if necessary to find it!) figure it out decisively and efficiently (again, possibly with a slightly louder voice than you think may be possible to come from her tiny frame!) and without a second thought, move on into Math 7, Art 5 or PE 6, sunny and bright, caring deeply and offering freely.

Just so you know (and if you're a teacher that crosses my path, you may be wondering..."is she going to give a bio on everyone she features on this Classroom Treasures page?")  And the answer is no.  But I sort of feel like Trish's answer to this problem was just one of those smack-dab obvious strokes of genius that practical people like her offer to the world on a regular basis so I felt it was an appropriate build-up. She is not one to sit idly by at any sort of inefficiency or inconvenience and this little brainwave proves just that.

You've already seen the photo which explains it all, but in case you can't quite see the mechanics of it (still working on my photography, remember!) she has fishing line (string would work) hung from a T-bar ceiling, attached at the top with a clasp that hooks on to the metal bars (though I think you could probably loop it around by lifting up the paneling and tie it in a knot).  Then on the dangling end of the line, is a hanger she has probably scavenged from her children's closet (but if you don't have children, I'm sure you could ask around or even ask a department store if they had a handful you could take home)  Obviously, this needs to be the kind of hanger with the sliding pinchy-clips at the sides (I know, I know, I'm getting very technical here!)  She attaches the string to a clip first, then the hanger, but you could also just tie the string right to the hanger.  I think the clip is important though because it's a lot easier to attach the hanger to an art piece (especially something wet with paint) on a table and then hang, rather than trying to clip the wet project onto a hanging hanger.  You could also label the hangers with student's names so they always keep the same hanger.

Hung in a corner of the room, perhaps above a table to discourage people from walking through or playing with them, it's a savvy solution, especially for those paint projects.

I'm not teaching art this year so I can't put this into motion although that won't stop me from re-using these handy hangers elsewhere!  Here's what I do at home.  These hangers are slightly different from above as the "pinchy-clips" are just that, and don't have the sliders.

Happy hanging everyone!

~ Tricia Smith is an upper elementary junior high teacher at Burdett School in Southern Alberta. ~

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Embracing the Beauty that Surrounds Me

My "Mom Moment of the Month" comes from my personal challenge I've had since the find joy in my daily life.

Like that quote from the Sex & the City movie where Samantha says, "Relationships aren't just about being happy. I mean, how often are you happy in your relationship?"

Charlotte replies, matter-of-factly, "Everyday."

Samanthaincredulously: "Every day?"

Charlotte, with certainty: "Well, not all day every day but yes, every day."

But my goal wasn't just relationships (although, admittedly, my relationship with my kids on a second to second basis can change from over-the moon-peacock-proud to throw-you-out-the-window-frustrated and back again!)

Ultimately, at the end of everyday I wanted to, not only be able to say I was happy, but to feeeeel happy.  Content.  Satisfied.  Joyful even.  To truly know that "my soul was joyful in the Lord: it rejoices in his salvation." Psalm 35:9.

So, my little wheat-bouquet-excursion with the Hud-man was one of those moments.  I know of no better way than to experience the awe of Our Creator than to admire His creation.  We trudged out to the closest wheat field, snipped and piled, snipped and piled.  There was some clean up to be done, but it was a beautiful day and this type of work needed to be done outside anyway.  So, as the little one played in the sunshine, I stripped each stalk of it's outer husk and trimmed each end to sit evenly in my vase.

I love bringing the outdoors in.  My beauty usually comes from the great outdoors and although I am always humbled and overjoyed by the ocean and expansive beaches, I can't see them everyday. Out my kitchen window, it's the wide-open prairie. Yours may be majestic mountains, towering trees, or maybe even calculated, repetitive cinder-block.  Or perhaps your beauty isn't in the scenery, but in the sounds, smells and textures surrounding you.  At this exact moment, for example, the beauty is certainly not in the piles of paperwork littering my computer desk, but in the "calm before the storm".  It is 6am on a Saturday and none of my children, nor my husband are awake yet.  I am savoring a steaming latte and letting my brain wander in the serene silence of dawn.  I wouldn't want the house to be this quiet all day long, and so the beauty of this hour that I have is all the more potent.

It's been nearly a month since I took these photos.  The frosts have come, the crops are all off now and even in these photos you can see the fall moisture affecting the heads of wheat as they droop.  But it's still fall, and I'm still enjoying this lovely bouquet that I don't have to water, trim or clean up falling foliage.   What a great daily reminder of the beauty that surrounds me.   Do you think I can hang tinsel on this arrangement and keep it through December?

What beauty surrounds you today?

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Dear Teacher...7 things to Tell Your Teacher About Your Child

I'm writing as a teacher today.  I'm writing because I have well and truly been in a parent meeting in November and had the parent blow me away with some interesting little tidbit of information about their child, and all at once, like a wobbly game of dominoes, circumstances, words, marks even, fell into place.

Being the calm controlled kinda gal I am, I usually replied to this with a knowing nod and reassuring murmur all the while doing my darndest to smother the deafening screeching of my mind shouting 
WHAT THE !#$& ?

And I'm yelling this (in my head) not to said parent, but to myself!  "Really Jill?  You've taught this kid for two solid months now!  You've seen her almost everyday for the past 60 days!  How could you not know this!?"

At this point, I'll do a good 24 hours of self-doubt cross-examination, acting like a CSI spy trying to figure out how I missed this, who I should have spoken to first, and which file I obviously glossed over. 

In my defense, I've never taught primary.  I've never had 20 or 30 kids all day every day that I could observe and speak with whenever I wanted.  Sometimes I saw 75 kids in a day and taught three different grade levels (grade 4 through to grade 12).  Teachers do this all this time, in fact, many see upwards of 150 students in a day.  It still doesn't excuse me from knowing something important about my students' learning but I think it's understandable how, if it's not a disability blaring from a loudspeaker, or some obvious talent waving a red flag, in the hustle and bustle of classroom life, it can get missed. 

So here is my plea to parents to help teachers like me, avoid the uncomfortable situation of discovering new information too late in the game.  I know, I know, you don't want to be THAT parent...over-stepping boundaries, hovering, interfering.  Don't worry, with this short letter that really only takes about 10 minutes to fill out, you will NOT.  What you WILL do, is, just maybe, give your child and their teacher a little boost, so to speak.  A boost towards understanding and developing a meaningful relationship where learning can flourish.

It should be noted that I borrowed heavily (at least it would seem, since I did my research for this post backwards (tsk, tsk, finger wave) and wrote first, then googled & asked colleagues later).  I found Kelly at Mocha Momma was on the same wavelength here so I do want to give her credit, and I'm sure there are many others because what I'm suggesting isn't revolutionary.  Yet, I wrote it (again) because I believe it is important to be reminded, and in my research, I never did find a free download (like this! or this!) for a quick letter to pop in the backpack or copy & paste in an email. 

When you open the letter itself you'll find that it starts with a nice little paragraph opener, a disclaimer if you will, notifying your child's teacher of your intentions with this inform, without preaching, to assist without expectation. Then there are 7 short fill-in-the-blank sentences that you fill out for your child.  Here they are: 

1. ___(child's name here)_____'s favorite activity is __________________. 

Not only does this give the teacher some fodder for playground/hallway chat but perhaps they will be able to offer some lessons one day that really tune into to your child's favorite thing.  For example, if your child really loves building things, the teacher may be able to incorporate that into a science lesson or perhaps a language arts project where the child comes up with five fantastic sentences with awesome describing words about his new cardboard box house. 

2. ___(child's name here)_____responds really well to ______________.

What is your child's best motivator?  Candy, hugs, high-five's, encouraging words, stickers, prizes?  You may be surprised that some kids could care less about candy (or, because of an allergy or sensitivity, can't eat it) but get super pumped about a new pencil.  Likewise, some kids are NOT touchy-feely, whereas others, hug any chance they get.  Teachers usually figure out the "huggers" pretty quick, but it's still nice to reinforce.  A great resource I love love love is Gary Chapman & Ross Campbell's "The 5 Love Languages of Children".
They do a great job explaining how we all respond to different love languages ranging from words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch. To take a quick quiz to see what your child's love language is visit:

3. ___(child's name here)_____ is involved in these sports/clubs/arts:

Of course not all children are into organized sports or clubs, but if they are, it's nice to know for a couple reasons.  1) General interest.  Another hallway topic to bring up to make Jr. feel special and thought about.  2) Possible interference with homework or after school study times.  Most activities won't demand that much attention and certainly won't justify missing homework all the time, but the occasional away game or late night (with the consequence of homework not being done) is usually acceptable if the teacher knows about it ahead of time or gets a parent note explaining the reasons.

 4. ___(child's name here)_____ needs to be reminded of/to ___________________________.

It seems I could send a new sentence like this each month to my daughter's teacher, as her "bad habits" seem to shift so frequently!  At one point at the beginning of kindergarten -and I shudder again thinking about this- she licked things.  Yes, with her tongue, up close & personal to whatever she saw or her could get her hands on...pencils, tables, her jacket.  The old "ignore it and it will go away" didn't apply here and I sent a quick email telling her teachers that if they saw this behavior to please firmly but quietly remind her that, "our mouths are for eating food and talking, NOT licking."  I don't know that she actually did this a lot in school (she actually didn't do it a lot in public places) but I think that by both of us watching and using the same vocabulary to warn her, she eventually dropped it within a month. I have no idea what the root of this issue was (attention-seeking? stimuli-seeking? boredom? acting like a baby to reminisce of days "long ago"?) but fortunately another behavior did not replace it (that I could tell) so we seemed to nip it in the bud pretty effectively.  I can imagine that had she been attention-seeking, she would have found something else equally as disgusting or bothersome to do.  Again, with the help of her teacher, I have faith we would have figured out the root of it together, thereby eliminating the need for her to be "fighting a battle" in the classroom and me to be "fighting" it at home, perhaps trying two failing strategies. 

This year, this month anyway, my request would simply be to remind my daughter to grab her jacket at home-time.  I'm positive that come winter, no teacher would even pass her in the hallway in a tee-shirt and not ask her to go back and find her coat, but with the balmy fall we've had, and the hustle and bustle of post-bell packing and bus-catching, Miss E has managed to leave four hoodies/jackets in her tiny little Gr. 1 locker!  It's not a big deal, but if her teacher knew she was so bad at remembering, I know she'd be happy to throw out a reminder here and there so that all the lockers got emptied every night.  

5. ___(child's name here)_____ is diagnosed with _______________________.

This is usually redundant but never hurts to reinforce with a simple one-line statement.  Out of a class of 25, many teachers will have 5-10 "coded"/"IPP" students (the term may vary but basically means the child has a doctor-certified diagnosis and requires accommodations).  If your child needs accommodations in the classroom this will probably be discussed with you by the first week, but if you have an older child with a non-visible or very mild disorder it doesn't hurt to remind.  

I remember teaching one such high school student who had a very mild case of Asperger's.  Although the doctor had confirmed it, it had never been filed nor had he been given a "code" (as our school district calls it) and there was really no major concerns over his grasp of academic subjects.  I only taught this boy one class a day as as such, I didn't have a clue that he struggled with this.  It wouldn't have changed my grading or expectations of him, but once his mother informed me of this (in a casual after school chat) a few situations suddenly made sense and I was more sensitive to placing him in group work and large class discussions. 

6.  ___(child's name here)_____ has had trouble with __________________in the past.

The unfortunate reality of many classrooms is that, yes, there will be 5 or 6 diagnosed disorders (to which accommodations will be made and educational assistance above a classroom teacher will be given) but the majority of children will struggle with certain things such as focus, organization, reading in general, the ability to write stories down etc. They struggle, but not to the degree to warrant another body in the classroom to help. This means that one teacher is responsible for organizing the accommodations of 5 or 6 students as well as finding creative ways to encourage roughly 15 other students to read, write and do math.  

Knowing your child has struggled with reading in the past, will give their teacher a nice heads-up to perhaps direct him/her to more level-appropriate books, or maybe even, if an extra body is available one day, give them a little extra attention. 

7. I would say ___(child's name here)_____is a(n) _______________________learner.

The eight major learning styles are as follows and we all fall into at least one of these styles (certainly some of us fall into two or three):

I took these "mantras" from which has a great quiz for older students to determine what their learning style is.  Visit the site to pull up more detailed descriptions of each learning style and tips for the way you learn.

i) Naturalistic. Your mantra: Let's investigate the natural world.
ii) Bodily-Kinesthetic. Your mantra: Movement is fundemental.
iii) Musical. Your mantra: That sounds good to me!
iv) Interpersonal. Your mantra: I understand what you mean.
v) Intrapersonal. Your mantra: To thine own self be true.
vi) Visual-Spatial.  Your mantra: What you see is what you get.
vii) Logical-Mathematical.  Your mantra: Why?  Well, because it's logical!
viii) Verbal-Linguistic. Your mantra: Tell me in words - written or spoken - and I'll understand

I have done quizzes with my older students in the past so that they can see for themselves what type of learner they are, but it's always helpful to get the "at-home version" from a loved one who has known them since day one to offer another perspective on the student's learning style.

8.  This one isn't listed on the downloadable letter because I don't feel it can be quite as succinct as a one line statement, but I would also encourage you to either write or discuss with the teacher any "at home struggles" that may be going on in your child's life.  Divorce, sickness of a loved one, even a pet's death, are really hard on kids (even, and sometimes especially teenagers, who are "supposed" to act like adults so much of the time)  It never ceases to amaze me how hurt feelings or confusion actually manifest as displays of aggression, disruption or complete inability to focus or participate even on a favorite subject.  Most children won't know how to deal with these feelings in the "traditional way" grown-ups have learned to deal with them (meaning, for example, when you're sad, you cry or when you're mad, you want to yell)   For many children, a feeling of sadness may not trigger tears, but cause them to pick on one of their best friends, be the crazy class clown trying to make everyone laugh or cause the extrovert to become introvert.  There is no telling how or why these emotions turn into specific actions but a little insight (details aren't necessary) can go a long way into dealing with behavior changes.

Here is the link again for the downloads. They are the exact same letter except the boy version is dark navy blue and the girl version is purple and all the "he's" and "she's" are in the right place.  Apologies for not making the letter any "prettier" and my "free version of Word" doesn't even let you see the font and format in the image preview, but in this case, I think the content is meaningful enough as it is!
Things to tell Your Teacher About Your Child boy version

Monday, 9 September 2013

6 A+ Ideas for Spelling Homework

Ahhhh homework.  Opinions abound.  Facts remain.  If you practice something diligently, whole-heartedly, with intention to improve, you will improve.  It doesn't matter if it's basketball or piano, karate or reading.  

Or spelling. 

So spelling is my topic today.  Again, opinions abound.  Facts remain.  If you spell something wrong, you will confuse or mislead someone.  You may, in turn, be confused or misled yourself because spelling is the act of producing words, which comes after comprehending words.  It is a secondary act of showing comprehension and a possible signal that you are confused or misguided when you're reading.

Yes, spelling involves memorization.  Some people are not good at memorizing. 

Do they comprehend?  Yes. 

Can they create?  Oh yeah! 

Can they memorize specific letters in a row?  Not so much. 

Spelling is a skill like any other that comes naturally to some and takes persistent effort for others. Teachers get this.  This is why your child's mark in language is not based solely on their spelling tests.  Any English language arts mark will have several components that comprise the total mark.  A teacher's grade book will usually look something like this:

English/Language Arts:
Reading comprehension - 25%
Spelling - 25%
Writing - 25%
Oral presentations - 25%

Every assignment the teacher gives will filter into one of these categories and go towards the total mark.  The spelling category, by first report card mark, may have 10 different marks contributing to it.  The average will be taken of those 10 to make a certain percentage.  So, if little Johnny earns 100% in all his spelling quizzes, his average will be 100%.  Is that enough to guarantee a passing grade in English?  No, because that is only one quarter of the total mark.  It helps, but if he bombs reading, writing and oral, he will bomb English.  This mark breakdown may or may not be given to you as part of the teacher's year plans but I guarantee they have this and shouldn't have a problem sharing it.  It is also a really good indication of what the teacher wants to prioritize that semester or year.  For example, not every breakdown will be perfectly equal like the example above.  It may look something like this:

Reading comprehension - 50%
Spelling - 10%
Writing - 30%
Oral - 10%

In the above example, spelling is only given a weight of 10%.  Does that mean less spelling tests?  No.  But the total marks count for less towards the final grade.  First graders will not understand this (heck, most 10th graders don't understand this) but as a parent, it helps to put things in perspective. You will not always agree on a teacher's break down but at least everyone will be on the same page.

But I digress.

After a full week in the trenches we are starting to get our after school routine in place. I printed off a handy dandy PDF door hanger from Thriving Family (you have to look in the middle right of the page, under Quick Links, it's called Homework Chart and Afterschool Reminders) and put it on our door to greet her before she comes through.  It seems to help her take charge of this routine.

When it comes time to do the homework part of the checklist, she balks a bit.  The TV must certainly not be on (much to my younger sons dismay) but if we all do "homework" together, it's a bit easier for her to accept.

In case you hadn't guessed by the aforementioned ramble, our homework focus for the foreseeable future is language arts.  Reading her take-home book. Practicing sight words.  And spelling.  The first two tasks are usually pretty easy to get through.  After all, she has picked the book so it's of some interest to her.  There is always a new sight word to learn and we can manipulate the words to make funny sentences.  But spelling?  The same words day in and day out.  How can this task be fun?  I realized in the first 30 seconds, we needed help doing this.  So who do I ask when I don't know which way to go?

No, it's not MAP, it's PINTEREST, of course!

I scoured my Teaching & Learning board (which, by the way is not near as organized as it should be so don't waste your time if you're after something is however I lovely "stroll in the park" if you feel like "stopping to smell the roses") and found a few tips and inevitably got side-tracked into the deeper and deeper waters of TeachersPayTeachers and Google in general!  When I finally came up for air, I narrowed it down to these 6 ideas/sites.  To make the cut, the ideas needed to be quick and simple to set up (sometimes I'm getting home from work the same time Miss E is getting off the bus) and I had to have the materials on hand.  That being said, I do have a lot of crafty stuff on hand. You may not.  In any case, the supplies can be found for a buck at your local dollar store and whipped into use in less than 10 minutes.

If you're feeling techy:
If you have a computer or tablet the kids can use, this is a good site for younger children (ie. grades 1-3) because the games involve minimal mouse moves/clicks and you can create a free custom list free without having to sign up.  (I don't think it will save your list, but for us, I'm only going to use this as practice once a week so that's ok) is a great one too, but I find its games need more mouse control to play. 

If you're feeling science-y:
Have your child write words in "invisible ink".
We tried the lemon juice trick but realized that we actually have very few lamps in our house to see the results appear before our very eyes and the ones we do have, have the energy saving bulbs in them so that they actually don't give off enough heat to activate the secret message!  FAIL!  But I still include the list because Miss E had such fun doing it, and we may still try the white crayon/watercolor trick.  As a side note, be sure to supervise the writing because you want them to be practicing the words the right way.  If you suspect they've spelled it wrong (and of course, being invisible, it will be hard to tell unless you're watching every stroke) suggest they do it again.  Because this needs time to dry, the lesson could be lost if 10 minutes later you realize the words were spelled wrong.

If you're feeling "Michaelangelo-ey":
Roll out the playdough. Have your child write in it with a toothpick, then use a rolling pin to "clear the slate".  Or shape dough into letters. If you have letter stamps, use them to print the words out (hint: this works better than a toothpick since most playdough drags a bit and makes letters very messy). 

I loathe playdough but will tolerate it with strict supervision and an old cookie sheet as the work surface. I like this image from MrsStewartsSuperstars:

If you're feeling "confetti-ey" (ok, ok, I realize I'm struggling a bit here with my adjectives, bear with me!):
I snagged this one and a few other gems from Amanda at Kind of a Hippie Homeschooler

Re-use those magazines, catalogs and newspapers in the recycle bin by having your child snip out letters for the words and pasting them down on a piece of paper.

If you're feeling crafty:
This comes from Kelly at The Complete Guide to Imperfect Homemaking.

Clothes Pin Words.  I like this because once you invest in making the clothes pin letters, you can use them again and again so it doesn't become such a "craft" anymore. For first graders who know their letters, let them make the clothes pins themselves (and be sure to have a few extra vowels, and common letters like R,S,T, L & N's), then manipulate them to spell their words.  This is a great "differentiated learning activity" (fancy  buzzword for something that's good for a variety of ages/levels) because you could either create cards like Kelly does or scrap them altogether for more difficulty and just let your child pin the letters to a piece of blank paper to create the word.  My four year old son will participate in this too because it can be geared down for his level, so everybody wins!

If you're feeling touchy-feely:
I know this heading sounds weird, but strangely enough, for my super tactile-"always in your bubble"-"tickle my back" kind of girl, this "finger tracing" activity is just the thing.  Plus, it's a great way to connect with your kid after a long day apart.  Simply trace a word on your child's back or arm and have them guess.  Then switch.  Today, I take it from Caitlin at Simply Second Grade but I'm sure she's not the first to suggest it.  I give her props though because it is just one of 30 - YES THIRTY! - more FREE, CHEAP, SIMPLE ideas to help me and Miss E practice spelling. I pinned this one like, yesterday, and can't wait to try them all!  (Except the handwriting one...we've got a ways to go 'til that one!) Click on this link to her free download.

How will you practice spelling next week?

Carving Time

Are you time starved or do you time-carve?  How do you make time for everything?  

By everything, I mean, the non-life-threatening life events that really are life-threatening if left for too long undone.   You know what I mean don’t you?   The exercise, the chopping of veggies for healthy whole food meals, the husband-wife moments, the time with girlfriends…

Of course with children, there are more than enough “life-dependent” tasks to be done…feeding said children, clothing them, bathing themOn top of that, there is schooling them, exercising them, and disciplining them which again, NEED to be done on a moment to moment basis as the time arises.  No matter how good you are at scheduling (and I would hazard a guess that everyone reading this could successfully land the logistics manager position at any major airport) you simply cannot schedule in time outs, the third bath of the day, the extra load of laundry created by an accident the night before or, of course the dreaded stomach flu.

And so, it seems, caring for all these “right-nows” steals away time for any of those aforementioned niceties. 

But we are told to “make time”.  Fit it in.


There is another saying I’ve been told and this one, this one short phrase makes far more sense.  Yes it’s cliché but if you really visualize it, like with a knife in hand, it makes complete sense.  It’s far more challenging and yet it’s the cold hard truth.  “Carve out the time”.

Now that’s something I can wrap my head around. 

Because quite literally, making time for exercise equates to chiseling twenty minutes out of an otherwise granite-like 16 hour day.  But twenty minutes out of 960 really shouldn’t be hard should it?  No it shouldn’t but we’re not just hacking away here people!  We are carving, we are creating with purpose, we are stone-masons! IT'S NOT EASY!

If we simply hacked away the 20 minutes, the kids would be left to their own devices (which means my 5 year old would take it upon herself to scramble everyone eggs, my 4 year old would go check out the latest heavy duty mechanics going on underneath the nearest tractor - which is within his walking distance - and my 1 year old would be seeing what new heights he could reach after discovering he can push our bar stools next to the stove top)  And this would all happen in 5 minutes!  If that was 5 minutes left alone, imagine the “fun” we’d have with 20!

Of course, twenty is a random number.  It happens to be the length of one of Jillian Michaels’ Shred-it DVD’s which I love and has earned it’s respectful spot with my carving knife so I'm going to run with this example.  But maybe all you can realistically carve out is five minutes in the morning and five minutes in the afternoon (and no, doing your business on the toilet does not qualify for “me-time” even though I know, some days that’s the only time that is set aside just for you – minus the fingers wriggling under the door and the shouts of unfairness drifting through the wall.)  Or maybe what you really need is an entire evening out (like four complete ,unadulterated...or should I use the word unchildrenated...hours!  Oh my, the extravagance!)
Whatever the time needed, it's carving you must do.  

Carefully, with precision, realizing that when you cut into your day, a piece falls off, so you better not need it that much.  And really ladies (and gentlemen!) I challenge you to scrutinize what you think you need.  I only suggest this because I have to do it hard-core to myself every now and then, and I know, it isn’t easy.   
Do you really need that pile of laundry folded right now?  Do you really need the house in perfect order after suppertime (because you know if you leave the house for an evening and Dad is in charge...the supper dishes, crafts from the morning, toys from the afternoon may or may not still be there in all their glory when you get home).
Here's my example.  By exercising for 20 minutes in the morning, I will not get the breakfast dishes done.  They will sometimes even remain on the table…milk souring, eggs hardening, crumbs scattering throughout the kitchen.  Is this pretty? No.  But so what?  Am I entertaining the queen today?  Leave ‘em for lunch, or better yet supper!  When I challenged myself to only do dishes once a day, my day opened up considerably.  But I can’t stand dishes in the sink!  Believe me, neither could I, but if I was exercising (and I presume you’re not exercising in your kitchen), guess what?   I couldn’t see them!  But I still know they’re there causing me more work for later.  Yes you will and this is what the unpleasant but necessary carving is all about.  Get over it and carve away.  Likewise, to avoid aforementioned hacking and leaving the children to their own devices, you will need to give them something to do.  A simple craft is nice but requires instruction and supplies.  You could try and entice them to do the task with you but in most cases, it's not safe (ie. a 1 year old chopping veggies?) nor something they will actually love to do, and in some cases just not possible.  But here's the thing.  Technology is a tool.  It can be used and abused.   Use it.  Purposefully and with intention.  Control the amount of screen time they get so it's a novelty, and pay attention to the program that's on and ask them questions about it later.  A little forethought and your carving just became much easier.

Sometimes you’ll carve the wrong thing.  It happens.  Like when I decided to carve out some one-on-one time with my daughter by listening to her read while expecting the boys to stay in their room for some quiet time.  Forgetting that there are books on a shelf in their bedroom.  Egad!  And there are blankets in there. Horror!  And there are clothes hung up on hangers.  Ha!  Not anymore!!  And it turns out the 15 minutes I wanted with miss E is now costing me an hour to supervise and implement operation bedroom-clean up.   Yup, well-intentioned carving gone wrong.  

Lastly, certain carves will just not happen when you want them too.  Personally, I could not, would not, not in a house, not with a mouse, carve 20 minutes for exercise into my daily schedule in the first six months of my childrens' lives.   Similarly, carving out the necessary hour in my morning to blog never happened until this year, the first year I am not teaching full time.  Usually, when I try to carve time out for something that's not ready to happen, I end up slashing and slicing away and the whole rest of my day ends up looking pretty ugly. I'm pretty sure Michelangelo never whittled David up on his first go either, so be patient with yourself, carving out time is difficult and there are seasons for certain things.

The best part about being a time carver is that we get a new piece of granite every day, whether we like it or not.  Plus, we're clever so we won’t carve the wrong piece off twice, after all, it leaves a mark.  And, like any great stone-cutter, once we get used to it, we feel much more comfortable holding the knife and watching pieces fall. 

What will you carve out today?  

Friday, 6 September 2013

7 Questions Teachers Want You to Ask - Part I


----This ended up being a real novel of a post (conciseness has always been my nemesis) so I’ve divided it up just so I can get it off and at least offer a few suggestions in case you’re interested tonight!  More to come tomorrow! ----

During the first part of September, many schools offer a “Meet the Teacher”  or some sort of Open House event.  As a teacher, I’ll admit to always being a little taken by surprise (why, I have no idea…it’s always been done and always will be done!) by this night, but I suppose it’s because those first few weeks of school starting are always so hectic.   

Organized chaos is an understatement at this time of year.   Clubs and sports are starting, classroom routines are being implemented, learning difficulties are being assessed, year plans and personal growth plans are being demanded by the powers-that-be.  There seems to be so many things taking precedence over a silly little evening where parents drop in just to say “hi”, after all it’s not like we can give a fair assessment of little Johnny when we’ve only taught him for 5 days!  

Yet this is SUCH an important opportunity that teachers and parents should never let pass because we all know how busy things get once all those clubs, sports, routines, homework and challenges get going full-swing.   No one should miss this opportunity to help get their child off to the best start possible, and make no mistake, although teachers spend a great deal of your child’s awake hours with them, the parent’s role and attitude towards their learning is paramount.  

There are varying degrees of communication at any given “Meet the Teacher” night.  Some schools require teachers to present certain aspects of their classroom and year plans and parents just sit collectively and listen.   While there is usually time for questions, sometimes there may not be time for individual conversations.  At the other extreme, some schools let parents informally drop-in, seeking out the necessary teachers (usually one or two at the primary level and other times five or six for teenagers) and let the conversation go where it may.

If your school happens to be more like the former, this list of questions may end up being answered in the presentation already.   A paper copy of these questions can be downloaded for free from my teacherspayteachers store (7 Questions Teachers Want You to Ask ) so you could just print out this handout at home and write notes directly on it.  If the questions don’t end up being answered, I would still seek out the teacher at some point and ask them.  For the school with a more casual approach, this may be helpful because your teacher may end up being a tad like me and without a prescribed checklist of things to cover, ends up scrambling for child care that same night and barely managing to put on a clean shirt! (Oh, of course I have my classroom perfectly organized, my year plans color coded and my reward systems posted, after all that was necessary for the students on Day 1, but to think about and distribute parent-focused material??…that’s a different story!)   So, again, here are some great questions that might just get overlooked and will help start a healthy, quality dialogue between you and your child’s teacher.

 1.       How can I help my child read/study?

      No one needs to tell you how important reading is.  If your child is just learning to read, the teacher may have specific books and allotted times that he/she wants the children to read.  (ie. 15 min each night, book taken out from class library)  If your child is older and reading is now expected in order to study for a variety of subjects, ask what resources might be helpful.  Perhaps the teacher has some supplementary books/texts/magazines/websites/audio material that he uses for hisr specific subject.  Also, finding material that your child likes to read “just for fun” is also vital.  Pick your teacher’s brain for ideas.  This is especially important if your child doesn’t enjoy reading.  Again, this is a starter question and can lead to passing on helpful information if your child has problems in some area of literacy, is disinterested or has trouble concentrating.

2. Where does my child sit?

      This is crazy-important and can explain a lot of things if troubles arise.   If your child wears glasses or has any trouble hearing, a spot near the front may be imperative and the teacher may not realize how weak a child’s eyesight or hearing is just by looking at them.  Obviously, easily-distracted students will find windows, class pets on the shelf and even posters disrupting.  Even a best friend nearby can be a worst enemy when it comes to concentrating on a lesson.   Usually, one of the first consequences of not listening or interrupting a lesson will be a desk move, but if you can help the teacher avoid even that, by letting them know of possible difficulties, I’m sure they would be most grateful.  If nothing else, it’s nice to just have your own visual of your child in the classroom.

      3. Where do the students go for recess/break and which areas can my child play/hang-out in?

I like knowing this as a parent, but often take this information for granted as a teacher because it becomes so habitual to teachers so fast.  After all, we usually have minimum three breaks a day, not to mention before and after school arrival/pick-up so teachers (who usually supervise these breaks) and students get to know these places immediately.   As a parent you might be interested in this for a few reasons:  

a)      Physical Challenges.  Is your child a dare-devil?  Like, not just curious, like a real kamikaze-energy-bomb that pays zero attention to consequence.  Say so. While the teacher probably knows this already (those things tend to rear their heads in the first 10 min of class) it’s not a bad idea to throw this out there just to let them know that that delightful teeter totter over there likely looks more like a catapult to your darling David and he may need to be encouraged (by you and teachers) to play games on the ground.  You’ve been playing with your child at parks for at least five years now, so you know better than anyone what they’re drawn to and capable of!

b)      Bullying. Be pro-active with “bullying”.  Because this is such a volatile buzzword these days, I’m quoting  it and am now about to qualify.  An ounce of prevention is worth a hundred pounds of cure.   Or maybe a thousand.   While there are umpteen ways I can suggest to avoid your child becoming a bully-target, I will leave that to another post.  I will however indulge a little in bully-friendly locations.  Bullying often doesn’t happen two feet in front of a teacher in plain daylight.  Under a jungle gym, around a corner, behind a building…not every schoolyard is perfect and these places are hot spots.  Teachers know that and are aware of them, but they are also only one person.  One person in a sea of sometimes 50 or more little bodies, running around carelessly, scraping their knees, falling off swings, throwing garbage on the ground or bickering amongst themselves – all things that demand their attention.  And then there are the students that like, or even need, to be alone.  If you have a child like this, you’ll know it. Unfortunately, the same places they go for refuge are are the key places a snide remark or a hurtful shove will start.  Visit the child’s playground after school one day or on the weekend and do a walk-about to show them possible trouble spots where bullying may occur.  I feel this is especially important if your child is a bit of an introvert because even though they thoroughly enjoy or maybe even need some quiet-time to themselves, it can also be an invitation for trouble.  For older students, lower level hallways, bathrooms and change rooms are always the red-flags, but be aware of classrooms far from the staff lounge or even a courtyard area that students are allowed to hang out in in good weather.  Identify these locations and figure out ways your tween or teenager can avoid these places, especially if they’ve encountered teasing in the past. 

c)       Peace of mind. Again with the visual…I like having a real-life place where I can “see” my child playing, not just an abstract term called recess. 

 If you have your teacher meeting tonight and would like the complete list of questions (minus the commentary) download the word doc from here: 

----Stay tuned for the remaining four essential questions tomorrow! ----