Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Rejoining Society

It's been a wonderful, crazy, hectic, chaotic and truly joyful 7 weeks.

On August 31st my husband and I completed our family by welcoming identical twin girls to the world.  Bailey and Avery were born at 8:15 and 8:16 p.m. which means they make the Kindergarten cutoff in 2014 by a little less than 4 hours.

I'm a teacher.  I think of these things.

I've spent the past 7 weeks getting to know them, recovering from being pregnant with twins during one of the hottest summers on record, and trying to develop ways to make our house function smoothly.  I took a break from all things school-related (well aside from helping my 4 year old with his preschool homework) and am now getting back into the swing of things.

I reactivated my store which had been on hold and am preparing to resume teaching next Monday.

I'm excited to add some balance to my life.  I love teaching and am looking forward to not doing diaper duty 24/7.  I enjoy being a "working mom" and feel I am a better mom because I am able to spend part of every day doing something I enjoy and something I feel defines a large portion of who I am.

Hopefully, I'll be doing it with more than 5 hours sleep soon.

I'm going to attempt to document this year in my blog on a regular basis. I'm planning to write about my implementation of the Daily 5 and CAFE with our district-mandated reading program.  I want to include photos of my bulletin boards and projects.  I intend to share ideas and lessons that I've done in the classroom.  I also will do my fair share of venting and babbling I'm sure.  I'm hoping that this blog becomes an inspiration to others and serves as a resource for me to reflect upon.

Thanks for reading.  Stay tuned.  I go back to the classroom on 10/26.

Monday, August 10, 2009


I'm having a BACK TO SCHOOL SALE at www.LittlestLearners.com 
There are many BRAND NEW and gently used teacher resource books to choose from and most are more than half off the retail price! This sale is good until Friday 8/14/09 or while supplies last.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

No Shopping For Me

Let's all be honest.  The best thing about teaching is having the summer off.  Yeah, yeah I know..."making a difference in the life of a child" is right up there in the top three, but if I'm being completely honest it is ranked number three.

I love having the summer off to recharge, reenergize and just frolic in the goodness of sandy toes, ice cream and the lack of responsibility.

What ranks in the #2 spot you ask?  Why shopping for back to school clothes of course.

In addition to the perfect newness of unopened boxes of Crayolas and unsharpened pencils comes the optimism of a new school year wardrobe.   Each August I envision myself made over with smart new clothes, a stylish haircut, perfectly manicured fingers and make-up.  I make resolutions about my new put together appearance and hit the mall in search of some designer duds to help fulfill my new role as "teacher fashionista."

I have a favorite shopping buddy who comes to visit and we help each other validate our purchases.  One "First Day Eve" I pick out my outfit and lay it out for the morning with great excitement.  I look good.  I feel good.  It's a new me.  

Then a few weeks go by.  The clothes start to get spots of tempura paint and marker from the overhead on them and my hair finds itself in a ponytail for practical reasons.  Still the back to school shopping is fun.

This year I'm excluded from the fun.

I'm hoping to make it to the first week of school, but have a scheduled C-section planned for the following Monday.  My back to school wardrobe consists not of a stylish fall wardrobe, but anything that is capable of keeping my twin baby belly and the rest of my important parts hidden from the world.  I debated going with a Greek theme this year so that I could validate wearing a toga to school.

My back to school shopping will come in December when my maternity leave ends.  Surely I will need  a makeover more than ever by then. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Back to School / First Week Activities

I love "Back to School" time.  Well, I don't love trading in flip flops for 'sensible' shoes and I certainly miss the freedom of summer.  However,  I love the excitement and newness of the start of a new year.  I make resolutions the way some people do annually on December 31st. I admire the freshly sharpened pencils and the perfectly pointy Crayolas.  The kiddos are always so adorable with their sun-kissed skin in their new clothes.  I especially love the "getting to know you" activities that help to build a community.  

I've compiled some of my favorite activities for the 1st week of school to create a collection of "Back To School Printables" for grades 2-5.  There are elements that could be used for grades K-1 as well (illustrating, self-portraits, handwriting samples, handprints) and you could scribe for the little ones if you wanted, but these are designed for 2-5 to do independently.  

I have two versions now available in my store (www.littlestlearners.com) and you can click on the title of each below to order either.

EMAIL / PDF version: This one will be emailed to you within 24 hours (usually less as I am attached to my laptop and check in often throughout the day).  All you need to do is print the PDF files and copy as needed. ONLY $3.00

SNAIL MAIL / PRINTED version: This is the exact same thing as the email version.  The only difference is that I print and mail them to you.  This version is $3.00 + $2.50 for s/h.

The unit includes:

1. Teacher Guide

2. All About Me 
This is a 2 page set. It includes a lined paper titled, “All About Me” and a drawing page titled, “This is Me.” Students use these pages to write about themselves and/or illustrate a self-portrait. These activities are great to do at the beginning, middle and end of each school year as they really show the progress the child has made as a writer and artist. They also make a quick and easy bulletin board display.

3. Bio Poem 
The students complete the cloze activity to create a bio poem about themselves. The pages can be kept as is or they can be used as a rough draft. These are beautiful keepsakes when they are typed and illustrated by the children.

4. Classmate Bingo
Each student begins by completing the sentences at the bottom to tell about themself. The student then cuts that part of the page off and gives it to the teacher. The teacher provides the class with a list of student names (either reproduced individually or written on the board to be copied) and the children write one name in each box. If there are more boxes than names you may consider asking specialists, the nurse, the custodian, or the principal to fill out a paper as well. To play: pick one info page from the collection and read the sentences out loud. See if anyone can guess who it is before reading the name at the end. Students then mark that space on their bingo board (pasta makes a cheap and easy marker if you do not have bingo markers). 

5. Getting to Know Me Gazette
Students use words and/or pictures to complete this personal newspaper about themselves. You can use the completed pages to make a bulletin board display or bind them into a class book that is sure to be a favorite throughout the year.

6. How I Spent My Summer Vacation
This is a 2 page set. It includes a lined paper and a drawing page that are both titled, “How I Spent My Summer Vacation.” Students use these pages to write about and/or illustrate the highlights of their summer. ou can use the completed pages to make a bulletin board display or bind them into a class book that is sure to be a favorite throughout the year.

7. I Am Poem 
This is a 2 page set. It includes a graphic organizer for branstorming ideas and a cloze activity to create the poem. The cloze activity can be the finished product or it can be edited for spelling and then published as a final draft. These look beautiful when you add a photo of the child and create a display. They are also cherished keepsakes and make wonderful holiday gifts for the families.

8. K-W-L About My New Grade
This is a 2 page set. It includes two KWL charts. The first is formatted in narrow columns and the second has been created with wider columns. This is a great way to introduce or review what a K-W-L chart is. Start by having the students brainstorm a list of things they already know about their new grade level (or classroom or teachers). Then have them generate a list of questions about their new grade level. Bring the class together to share their lists. You may want to compile them into a master list on poster paper or using an overhead projector. At the end of the 1st week of school have the sudents complete the last column by recording some things they have learned about their new grade. 

9. Math About Me
The students begin by completing the sentences using the numbers that apply to them personally. Next, they create a collage of those numbers. To create the collage you can either have them write the numbers using markers, crayons or colored pencils or you could have them cut those numbers out of magazines and newspapers and glue them to the page.

10 My Picture is Worth Many Words
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. To complete this activity attach a photo of each child to the center of the page (or have each student draw a 
self-portrait). Next, have each child brainstorm a list of words that tell about themself. This is a nice opportunity to discuss nouns and adjectives or even introduce a thesaurus. Have the children count the number of words they wrote and write that number on the line in the title. Cut out the box, mount onto colored paper and either display the finished products individually or create a class book.

11. New Classroom Scavenger Hunt
This activity can be done individually or in pairs. The students explore their new classroom and record something that fits into each category onto the chart. They can either use words, pictures or labeled illustrations to document their findings.

12. Squiggle Art
This activity shows that everyone is unique and that people often see things differently. The black squiggle is the start of a picture. Encourage the children to use their imaginations and incorporate that black squiggle into their own drawing. There are lines below the drawing box to write about what they drew. This makes a fun display or a class book. It is also a nice activity to do at the start and end of a school year to show personal growth in each student.

13. Time Capsule
This is a 5 page set. You may elect to do any or all of the activities. The idea is for the students to complete the activities at the start of the year and then revisit them at the end of the year. This set includes:
-a self-portrait
-a handprint (either painted and stamped or simply t
-a handwriting sample (perhaps the alphabet or a 
dictated sentence)
-a list of things the student hopes to learn about that 
-a collection of favorite things

After the students complete the pages you may want to seal them all into one box or else create individual time capsules using Pringles can. If you keep portfolios for your students then you could also use these as the first pages.

14. Who Am I?
Have the students complete each sentence starter to tell about themselves. Staple the top of the finished paper to construction paper so that the page can be lifted from the bottom. Attach a photo of the student underneath so that people can guess who it is and lift the page to check. These are especially fun for open house nights as parents love “finding” their litle darling.

Monday, August 3, 2009

My Poor Little Lefty

My son turned 4 last week.  That means next summer he will turn 5...just 6 weeks before starting Kindergarten.  I know firsthand how big the age spectrum can be in K since the trend is to "hold back" the kids with the summer birthdays.  This means he'll be in class with children who are an entire year older than he is.  The age span typically balances out by 3rd, but it can make for a rough start for the little ones.  He's fortunate in that he seems to be pretty bright.  He loves to learn and retains things. He's also had the benefit of an amazing preK experience and will have one more year at his preschool.  I'm doing what I can at home to help prepare him for school.

He loves to write letters and does a decent job. However, I've notice he will often start them at the bottom or else make the lines out of order.  In an attempt to prevent bad habits from forming I decided to do some "formal" handwriting lessons with him and even bought this neat dry erase board book from Lakeshore.

I was excited to use it.

He was excited to use it.

We started using it.  

He worked hard.  He was focused.  He was attentive.  He was determined.

He carefully made a letter...and then the next...and then the next.  He stood back to admire his work and it was gone.  All he had to show for it was a purple hand.  You see my poor little guy is left handed and as he wrote from left to right with his left hand it erased his hard work.  I'm right handed and when I try to do hand-over-hand activities it is a challenge.  

Luckily it's summer and my purple-handed lefty will come clean in the pool

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Activities for the First Day of School

Although my attendance during the 1st week is still up in the air, I started prepping.

I'm getting ready to add a new packet/CD of Back-to-School Activities to my store and am trying to make things easy for my sub in the event that I'm not there.  I thought this would be a good time to share a few ideas with you.

I always start the year by making playdough the day before school starts.  It's really easy and cheap to make  and kids LOVE it regardless of how old they are.  I leave it white when I make it.  

I roll it into balls (one for each student), poke a small hole in each with my finger, add a few drops of food color and then cover the hole. I then place each ball into a ziploc bag and put a bag at each child's seat for their arrival.  

After they arrive I instruct them to squish up the bag to see what happens.  They oooh and ahhh over the "magic" (even in 3rd grade).  Having them mush it in the bag prevents them from getting the food coloring all over their hands.  After the color is well-blended I have them take it out of the bag.  I give them about 5 minutes of "free play" with it and then instruct them to make certain things:
  • their initials
  • their favorite animal
  • their favorite food
  • something to represent their favorite subject in school
After they create each we share them.  It's a great get to know you activity, but also gives them something to do to release any nervous energy they have.  Also if something unexpected occurs (student added to roster, parent that stops by, crying child who won't come in) it gives the class something quiet to do at their seats until you can focus your attention on them.  This is key since you will not have any guidelines, rules or expectations in place at that point.

You could also have large sheets of paper and crayons available to have the children illustrate a self-portrait.  Not only do these make an easy, colorful and appropriate display, but I love having them repeat this activity at the end of the year.  They always grow so much as artists.

Another favorite activity of mine is to create a "Who's in Our Class" word search.  There are some great free online sources for generating them.  All you need to do is type in the first names, print and copy.  Just be sure to check the word search and make sure everyone is included.

I've also done crossword puzzles with their names, but find that some children need help.  The goal is to have some fun, independent activities available so that you are free to tend to unexpected first day issues that may arise.


Monday, July 27, 2009

Shop 'Til You Drop

That's how the phrase goes..."shop 'til you drop."  Unfortunately, this 'pregnant-with-twins-on-a- hot-July-day' thing makes it harder to shop and easier to drop.  I was exhausted 10 minutes into my Walmart adventure, but the back to school shopping has begun.

As I mentioned in a previous entry, we collect money and gather all of the kids' supplies ourselves.  Normally this makes me giddy. This year it makes me tired.  I thought I was being smart by taking all of the store flyers to Walmart because they will honor competitor prices.  I figured we could tackle all of the weekly sales in one stop.  I was surprised to find that Walmart lacked the usual aisles and aisles of school supplies.  Instead they had one aisle and it was almost empty.

I did get my Crayola crayons for .25 cents, but not the glue sticks.

I gathered 30 boxes of Crayola colored pencils for $1.00.  In the past these usually go on sale for .88 cents, but I figured .12 cents a box wasn't worth returning for down the road.

That was it.  Everything else was missing.  I was even going to break my 'only Crayola' rule and buy the Roseart water colors that were in the Target flyer, but Walmart no longer carries them.

While I was there I decided to check to see if they happened to have any Rashguards in stock for my 4 year old surfer dude.  On my way to the kid's section I did find a display of Crayola markers next to Walmart's "fine jewelry" counter and was able to cross those off my list.

Tired, waddling and hot I made my way to the register.  The friendly cashier looked me up and down and said, "How many do you have in there?  Two?"  Man, is it that obvious?  I must look lovely.

I sent hubby into my classroom on his way to work this morning to drop off my loot.  The last thing I needed to deal with was melted crayons in the back of my SUV.  I'm anxiously awaiting a report from him on the condition of my rugs.  My guess is that they still haven't been done.  My bigger guess is that they won't be back to do them.  I'm planning on going in on Thursday and start setting up.

Either I'll get the room set up or Murphy's Law will kick in and they will come clean the room while I'm there.  Either way it is progress.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Literally!  Last year we started the tradition of doing an overnight at the beach to celebrate my son's birthday.  I'm hoping the weather cooperates.  We are staying at the same hotel that my grandparents used to take me to (circa the 1970s) and there is something neat about the fact that NOTHING has changed there in 30 years.  

Anyhow, if anyone is placing orders from www.LittlestLearners.com that will be mailed out on Friday and I'll be around to answer emails tomorrow afternoon!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Try...Even if You Don't Think You Have to!

As a teacher I am sure you have muttered this phrase.  Like a parent preparing for a family roadtrip, I send my students in to the restroom before every field trip with those directions and a warning/reminder that there are no bathrooms on the bus.

Lately, I've been taking my own advice.

We live in a 2 story house and just had new flooring put in our kitchen, hallway and bathroom downstairs.  This means that the toilet has been removed from said bathroom.  At 7.5 months pregnant with twins there is one thing I need to do A LOT and that is pee.  There is one thing I dread doing and that is climbing stairs.  

So lately I've been using my field trip advice anytime I need to come upstairs for something because I sure as heck don't want to have to make that ascent more than I need to.  

We should have bought a ranch.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Where are the Sales?

My summer vacations are typically spent grilling, sunning and scouring the back-to-school sales flyers.  A few years back my teaching partner and I stopped sending home the standard "list of school supplies" to the parents and instead requested that they each send in $15.00.

We were a little nervous about doing this at first because we were not sure how the families would react.  As it turns out the parents were THRILLED.  Never in my career have I received so much positive feedback than this idea generated.  We have not heard one negative peep and have actually been sent thank you cards and emails for doing it this way.  The parents say it saves them time and that they are spending far less on school supplies than ever before.  

As a teacher I am a huge fan of this.  I like things to match and I like as little distraction as possible in the classroom.  I am thrilled that each of my students has the same box of 12 Crayola markers and that there is no class struggle because one child has an 8 pack of Roseart while another brought in the deluxe art kit.  I have everything labeled and ready on the 1st day of school and I don't need to sort through bags of supplies.  It's been great.

But, seriously...where are the sales?  I know Labor Day is later this year, but the trends of marketing are off.  I have spent years studying this as a science and can pinpoint which store will offer which items and for which price in a way that would make Bob Barker automatically promote me to the Showcase Showdown.  It's odd.  Staples offered pencils for a penny, but where were the folders, erasers and sharpeners?  Walmart has some college stuff listed on sale, but the five cent spiral bound notebooks are yet to be found.

Maybe this is retails way of telling me to get my mind off school and go to the beach.  I'll give that a shot.

Saturday, July 11, 2009



If you haven't checked it out or if you would like to see pictures of these items in use just visit CLUTTER FREE CLASSROOM and go the the "themes" pages.  Click on any of the images to make them larger.

26 COW ALPHABET CARDS - fully laminated - great for word walls and vocab


1 BANDANA (The hat and bandana are cute on a stuffed animal , but make great props for photos...I created wanted posters with my kids wearing them)

1 LARGE SIGN READING: Math Vocabulary Round Up
1 ROPE (I pinned it to the wall to form a lasso coming from the cowboys hand)


1 SIGN READING “Words that have been put out to pasutre”


1 LAMINATED MENU BOARD READING “Chuck Wagon” to write the lunch choices on


fits standard sized bed pillow - great for a comfy reading nook

-light denim
-cow print
-black bandana

BORDERS (5 kinds)
-red bandana
-blue bandana
-stick kids western border
-denim with yellow stitching

1 SIGN READING “Hats off to Literacy Centers”
1 SIGN READING “Birthday Buckeroos”

Friday, July 10, 2009

Going Buggy....MAYBE

I'll admit it.  I have theme envy.

I love themes.

Themes make me happy.

It just doesn't make sense to go all out on a new theme since I'll be on maternity leave until December.  Things need to be organized and streamlined for my sub.

But (insert me stomping my feet with clenched fists) I want a theme!!!!!

Luckily my son's birthday is coming up and I can get a theme fix there.  After much debate his party theme switched from "Christmas in July" to "Fiesta" to "Under the Sea" to it's current (and permanent) theme "Insects."  I do love the Christmas in July idea, but decided that would be best saved for next year when I can reap the benefits of 90% discounts on holiday decor, plates and napkins in January.

The bug themed birthday has me thinking a bug themed classroom would be fun for my next theme.  The irony...I HATE BUGS.  I seriously think that every mosquito bite I get will result in my contracting the West Nile Virus and that my backyard is filled with Deer Ticks just stalking me and waiting to embed into my skin and give me Lyme Disease.  I'm a bit of a hypocondriac...can you tell?

Anyhow, real bugs are gross...cartoony bugs in my classroom will be cute.  

Monday, July 6, 2009

Starting Point

I dragged Hubby into school this morning with the hopes of getting my room set up.  I was told the cleaning crew would be done last Friday and I would be all set.  Well, that would be true for all but two classrooms...mine and my teaching partner.  Supposedly they'll be back this week to finish.  Let's hope.

Right now my room looks like this.  It's a new room for me.  It's smaller than my old room, but the higher ceilings give the illusion that it is bigger.  I do like the higher ceilings.  I'm really starting to feel every bit of being "7 months pregnant with twins in the summer" so I'm anxious to get in there and get it set up before I get really sore and exhausted.  

My goal is to keep it simple and organized for the sub so that it is easy for him/her to find everything and implement routines as close to my own as possible. 

Saturday, July 4, 2009

World's Colliding

Happy 4th of July!!!

It is very important to note the date.  We've been out of school for less than two weeks (both of which were cold and rainy).  It feels like summer is just kicking off!  I made a quick trip to Target this morning to pick up a birthday present.  As I entered the door, my eyes tried to focus on what was at the end of the VERY long row leading to the back of the store.

Could it be?

Was I seeing things?


Sure enough the school supplies were out in full force.  They surrounded a sad-looking pile of clearanced patio furniture like they were planned for their attack.  They were.  They are closing in.

Admittedly, the 'back to school sales' (especially Staples .01 cent sale) is my idea of a good time, but please retail: At least let us have the 4th of July before you start discounting the bug spray and replacing it with colored pencils and 3 ring binders.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Murphy's Law for Teachers

I just set up excel grade books for the fall.  I completed the task and took my son to the library.  When I returned home there was a message from school...saying I had another student added to my roster.  It never fails.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Let's Go Camping!

UPDATE: The package sold today (6/29) and is en route to it's new home.  Thanks for all of the interest and really sweet emails.  I appreciate the feedback!

A few years ago I did a camping theme in my classroom.

You can see photos of my room at my Clutter-Free Classroom site.  I try to do a different theme each year and not duplicate them so I'm looking for a new home...well, classroom...for all of my stuff.  Hubby and I spent a good chunk of time photographing and listing everything this afternoon.  It is all packed up neatly in a big box and is ready to ship.  The kids loved this theme.

Included in this package are:
1 Camp fire - includes plastic container/lights/cellophane
BULLETIN BOARD BORDERS (3 kinds: Frogs / pawprints / tree stumps)
1 stuffed moose
5 paper plates with “retired words” written in an ant font
3 frogs
2 wooden bathroom passes
6 six trait boot cards
1 squirrel on a stump
1 skunk
1 raccoon in a stump
4 dragonflies
1 speech bubble reading, “Don’t be a stinker! Always exhibit role model behavior”
1 laminated conference request
Busy Beaver Classroom Job chart
1 Writer’s Workshop at a Glance sign
1 sign reading “Are you stumped about Try one of these ideas”
1 sign reading Outhouse passes
1 Whoooo’s Here Today chart
6 frogs
6 dragon flies
3 worms
1 pkg BRAND NEW/UNOPENED - Trend T10504 36 mini frogs
1 pkg BRAND NEW/UNOPENED - Trend 35 sheets mini notepad moose
1 pkg BRAND NEW/UNOPENED - 50 sheets, bear notepad
1 pkg BRAND NEW/UNOPENED - 50 sheets, camper notepad
1 pkg BRAND NEW/UNOPENED - 50 sheets, pine tree notepad
1 pkg BRAND NEW/UNOPENED - 36 ant/picnic blanket name tags
1 large moose decoration (comes in 3 pieces)
1 log decoration
2 swamp weed decorations
1 large frog decoration (has been repaired with tape, but will look fine when hanging)
1 large pine tree wall decoration
1 blank yellow camp sign decoration
1 firefly/worm sign
1 squirrel decoration
1 porcupine decoration
1 possum decoration
1 pkg BRAND NEW/UNOPENED - jumbo removable wall stickers with woodland theme (bear, moose, pine cone/branch)
2 incomplete woodland alphabet sticker sheets
1 flash light
37 tree branch paper frame
24 brown/tan card stock accented with Evergreens, birds, and pine cones (I used these as a word wall)
1 large “fishing bear” decoration with tackle box, net and basket (some tape)
3 Pillowcases (fit standard pillows): acorn fabric, leaf fabric, maroon plaid fabric)
8 types of fabric for bulletin boards / table covers etc.
includes: brown fuzzy, light green, brown, tan, 2 light blue, swamp green, shiny green (tent like)
1 vinyl red and white checkered tablecloth (I used this as a bulletin board)