Saturday, July 31, 2010

Oh, The Supplies!

Tips for Collecting Supplies on the First Day of School

Despite having a slightly unhealthy love affair with shiny new school supplies (just typing those words makes me float off to a happy daydream involving pointy crayons that reek of Crayola newness and unsharpened pencils with perfect little erasers), I despise the chaos that they can evoke on the first day of school.

If you have been teaching awhile you know what I mean.

If you are new to the classroom this year, you will thank me for sparring you the headache.

Here’s how it plays out: A classroom of kids enters wearing their spiffy new duds, modeling their stylish new haircut and sporting their brand-spanking new backpack full of the bounty you enlisted them to acquire via your annual “supply letter.”

They are excited and they can’t wait to force upon you said backpack.  Those who elected not to adhere to the list that specifically said 24 yellow, #2 pencils are especially excited to show off their collection of Mario Kart pencils with (gasp) scented erasers.  

Yeah, I get it.  I’m not so far removed from my own brand-spanking new Trapper Keeper excitement days to have forgotten the glee it brings.  But, as ring master of this circus it is important to have a plan.

A good plan.  A damn good plan.

The first day sets the tone and it is doubtful that you want that tone to be “crazed lunatic who breaks down on day one when the Rosearts, Sharpies and glue sticks start coming out.  So I have a few options for you.

I’ll start with the best one.  Because it is the most efficient and organized way I know.

Start by schmoozing with the teenage bagger at your local grocery store.  If you can’t butter him up then just go straight to the head Honcho and play the teacher card with the store manager.  However you go about it, you need to get a large paper grocery sack for each child in your class.  If you aren’t in the business of begging for free goodies then just answer “paper” to the “paper or plastic” question for the next few weeks and you should be all set when school starts.

Write the children’s names in big, bold letters on the front of the bags and then place them on their desks.

Make a copy of your supply list for each child and staple it to the back of the bag.  Write their name on that as well.

When the students arrive, instruct them to put all of their supplies into the bag on their desk quickly and silently, hang their bag onto their chair and sit quietly.  

Collect the bags and put them out of the way. Go about your first day plans.  Then after the kiddos are on their way home (or if you are lucky enough to have an aide or a student teacher she can do this), sort through the supplies.  Use the checklist on the bag to make sure that everything is accounted for.

If you are going to use community supplies then put them where you want them. 

If you are going to have them be responsible for their own supplies then print out a sheet of labels with each child’s name on it and stick them on.

It is MUCH easier to accomplish the supply-sorting task when the kids are not there.  It is even easier to accomplish this with help.  My suggestion is to recruit a parent or a former student to come in and give you a hand.

When you are done, fold the bags up and store them in a closet.  At some point during the year I guarantee that you will need to send something home in them and they will come in handy.

Friday, July 30, 2010


Today my Frugal Friday tip is something that has been staring you right in the face.


I'm serious.  It couldn't be any more "in your face" at this very moment.  

Today's tip: Blogger

This little ole blog of mine may look all fancy pants (humor me people), but it's actually very simple to put together.  It's the creative genius and witty wisdom of the posts that take the time (again, humor me people).

The actual blog itself is quite simple.  A few years back I shut down my costly, time-consuming, headache-causing(#$@! HTML) class website and switched to blogger.  It was a great move. Here's what I love:

  • The newest material is at the top so families don't have to check in and hunt for updates.
  • It's kid friendly for the same reason.
  • It's free.
  • That's worth mentioning twice.  It's FREE!
  • You can keep it simple and have it serve it's function or you can make it all fancy pants.
  • You can easily add links, photos, videos, etc.
  • You can blog a post and then set a date and time for it to go live. (Hence all the typos on this blog.  I often compose them at midnight when the Littles are asleep and I should be too.)
  • People can "follow you" which means they are automatically alerted when you make an update. You do follow me, right?

So, how can a blog be a class website you ask?

See those tabs at the top that read Shop Littlest Learners, About Me, Contact Us, etc?  If you click on them you will see that they take you to set pages.

You could just as easily make those pages be: About the Teacher, Class Information, Homework, etc.

Want to know the best part?  I use my blog in class with the kids.  Not this one, Silly.  I have a different one for school.  And in case you are wondering it doesn't play Margaritaville or make mention to my innards.

Have you ever tried having a class of children type in a URL?  Even in today's high-tech era where kids are smarter than adults, the task of typing in a URL is painful at best.  What I do is blog a message to the class and set it to publish just before we go to the computer lab.  My site is bookmarked so my little friends just need to log in, click on the link to the blog and read the daily entry.  In the entry I give them instructions on their tasks in the lab and provide all the links.  No pesky URL typing going on in my lab.  The bonus is that children who are absent can still take part in the daily activity and they can always revisit it from home.

Another bonus is that you can eliminate paper and skip the hassle of doing a weekly newsletter by simply updating the blog.  

Give it a try.

Want another Frugal Friday tip that is also really a FREE Friday tip?  Check out The Cutest Little Blog on the Block for free backgrounds and templates to make your new class blog look super spiffy.


Good Morning,

I'll be back with your regularly scheduled posting later today.  I'm actually headed into school this morning to take a few pictures to go with today's Frugal Friday post and we are also going to wrap up our ULTIMATE TEACHER ORGANIZATION TOOL today
.  In the meantime I have a few quick things to mention:

1. The Clutter-Free Classroom Guide

I received an email yesterday letting me know that my book was out of stock in the store.  I had no idea it had sold out and quite frankly I'm more than humbled by it's popularity.  Thanks to all of you who have bought a copy.  As soon as I added added new inventory I had a few more sales so if anyone else was looking for it, it's back.  

You can Click here to purchase it.

If you aren't sure what it is, here is the original post: Lookie Lookie I Wrote a Little Bookie

2. To My Neighbors to the North (and anywhere else in the world)

Oh, Canada! I was also informed that my friends in Canada have not been able to purchase any of the PDF kits that I have listed.  Since I also have a lot of books and classroom items in the store and shipping is set at a flat rate for those items, it is set up only for US shipping.  I can of course send the emailed files anywhere, but the site won't let me pick and choose that.

If you are located outside the US and are interested in any of the files just shoot me an email at LittlestLearners at gmail dot com and I'll gladly make it work for you.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Kind of Like the Movie Groundhog Day

Have you seen the movie Groundhog Day?

You know, the one with Bill Murray.  He just keeps repeating the same day over and over.  Yeah, that one.

Teaching is a bit like that.  There are things we need to do over and over and over and over...

Things like check email, return phone calls, write lesson plans, etc.  It's easy to get overwhelmed by them.  It's even easier to get distracted while doing them.  I for one ALWAYS fall victim to whatever celebrity gossip story is featured on the AOL homepage so a simple "email check" turns into twenty minutes of reading about the latest on Brangelina.  

There is a way to simplify things and save yourself oodles of time.  

Today I present to you: The Routine Journal

It's the next installment in your Ultimate Teacher Organization Tool.  

Once again, I've created some printouts that match the Plan Book kit.  Click here to print them.

Here's what you need to do:

1. Start with the daily routines.  What is it that you need to accomplish every. single. day?  Now break those down into four categories: before school, at lunchtime, after school and at night.  

2. Create a checklist for each of those things under the time of day you need to do them.  Things like "check email" may fall into several times as you do it throughout the day.  

3. Place your checklist into a clear plastic sheet protector. This will allow you to check your items off with a dry erase marker as you do them and then erase them for the next day.

4. Move on to the weekly routines.  Think of the tasks that you must accomplish over the course of a week.  I have found that by designating my tasks to specific days I am able to be very efficient and streamline what needs to be done.  By establishing a rhythm to your tasks, you won't feel as much of an overwhelming burden to get things done because you know when they will.  This also helps to keep you on top of things.  

5. Leave a few blank lines so that you can write in additional things that come up (IEP meeting, report cards, etc)

Below is my weekly routine journal to give you an idea.



 lesson plans: language arts

 organize copies and materials to go with them

 communicate with 6 parents


 lesson plans: math and science/social studies

 organize copies and materials to go with them

 communicate with 6 parents


 create homework packets for next week

 communicate with 6 parents


 weekly newsletter

 communicate with 6 parents


 correct formal assessments

 update class website

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Sorry for the delayed posting today.  I had to go for an ultrasound at 7:45 this morning.  Not the "really-cool-and-exciting-see-a-baby (or 2 as was the case for me all last summer)" kind of ultrasound, but the "hey-let's-check-out-your-gallbladder-yicky" kind.  Only nobody felt the need to tell me to fast before going and so my entire morning was thwarted by an english muffin and I need to reschedule. Anyhow, enough talk about my innards.  I'm sure that's not why you're here.

Yesterday's task was quite lengthy so today we are going to keep it simple.

You should be able to bang it out in a few minutes which means you'll have more time to work on your procedure manual.

You know, in case you opted to swim or garden or read or do some other equally fabulous summer activity and not slave away on a list of procedures all day.

We're actually going to create two sections of the UTOT today.

Talk about overachieving, huh?

The first is a section for your meeting notes.  I like to have a central location for jotting down important tidbits of info from our meetings.  It doesn't hurt to have a central location for doodling during said meetings either.

Just saying.

The easiest thing to do would be to gather some 3-hole punched notebook paper and add it to the binder.

You could also create something cute on the computer.

Or you could print out copies of the cute page I made you as a gift.  It matches the plan book set I designed.  I'm a twin mama.  I love me some matchy-matchy.

The next section is even easier.  It's simply an empty space that will house any important newletters, handouts, school info, etc.  Basically this will be a "temporary home" for papers you don't want to lose and may need to access.  We get things like schedules for bus evacuation drills and info on an upcoming event.  I put them into this section and then purge it regularly as events pass.  All you need to do for this part right now is create a tab.  Easy peasy.

Now get back to work on your procedure manual.  For those of you who worked on it yesterday...Did you think of any additional procedures that I didn't include.  Feel free to share them in the comments in case others could benefit from them as well.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Camping We Will Go

My 50 Page Camping Themed Classroom Kit is now available in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store. It includes all of the printable items shown in the sample picture, plus more! Click here to purchase the kit!

I've been wanting to get this up here for awhile, but haven't been able to find my original photos. I know a lot of you are getting busy with back to school prep so the smaller versions will have to do for now.

Note for the curious:
Before I switched to the blog format (which I adore btw), I had a website. If you haven't checked it out yet, you really should swing by for a visit. I don't want to toot my own horn, but it's got some good stuff on it. Anyhow, that is why all of these pictures have Clutter-Free Classroom written on them. You'll also find full explanations of each of the pictures there under the classroom themes section.

I did the Camping Theme for the 2006-2007 school year and it's one of my favorites.

That is completely ironic because I make no secret about the fact that I hate nature.

I'm far from being a girly-girl, but bugs and dirt are not my thing. Plus, I'm a total hypochondriac and pretty much convince myself that every mosquito bite will lead to Triple E and that if I step foot off of the pavement I will contract Lyme Disease. Disney's Wilderness Lodge is as rustic as this girl will ever get. But, the theme was fun.

So without further babble, I present you with a collection of ideas to help get your Camping Theme underway.


  • S’More Good Work
  • Camp Learn-a-Lot
  • Camp Fire Stories (Writing Board)
  • Hike into ________
  • Camping Out With a Good Book
  • Spotlight on Good Work (with flashlights)
  • ______ is a Picnic
  • Making Tracks in ______
  • Mountain of Good Work
  • Reach the Summit
  • Fired Up for ______ (with a campfire)
  • Glowing Good Work (with fireflies)
  • We’ve Got Our Sight Set on ______ (binoculars)
  • Lodge Rules
  • Don’t Be a Little Stinker, Follow the Rules (with a skunk)
  • Whooooo’s Here Today (with an owl)
  • What a Catch
  • These Boots Are Made for _______ (hiking boots)
  • Now We’re Cooking (grill)


  • Take Only Pictures, Leave Only Footprints
  • Star-Gazing (stars with pics)
  • Mr./Mrs. ________’s Happy Campers


  • This Year Will be PACKED With Fun (with hiking packs)
  • Look Who’s Camping Out in _________


  • Camp Chores
  • We Al Pitch In (with a tent)


  • Word Woods
  • Word Watching (with birds and binoculars)


  • Bug Jars (jar for each month with bugs inside for each child)


  • Earthy-Toned fabrics or craft paper
  • flannel
  • red and white checkered table clothes
  • maps
  • tye-dyed (like camp shirts)


  • bag of marshmallows
  • sticks
  • graham cracker box
  • Hershey bar wrappers
  • paper plates (on red checkered background)
  • plastic bugs (hot glue on to fabric)


  • pine garland (available in most craft/dollar stores and super cheap after Christmas)
  • camp themed lights


  • tent
  • sleeping bags
  • artificial Christmas trees
  • logs/tree stumps for sitting on
  • camp chairs
  • coolers for sitting on (also great for storing items inside)
  • picnic baskets
  • fishing poles
  • Woodland Stuffed Animals
  • Flashlights

Use Woodsy-themed or flannel fabric to make pillow cases.

Instead of just numbering tables refer to them as “Camp Sites”

Use tackle boxes as supply boxes.

Create a Survival Guide as your welcome letter and info to parents.

Instead of bathroom passes I made outhouse passes.

Use flashlights to “read the room” or for word wall games.

Make a CD of nature sounds to play.

Provide Lincoln Logs for recess/choice time.

How to Make a Campfire:

Have you seen my classroom themes page at my new site? There are photos and ideas for over 30 themes. Click on the CLASSROOM THEMED button below at the top of this page to check it out. :)

camping theme classroom camping themed classroom bulletin boards ideas printables deskplates pictures of classrooms with camping theme

Spell it Out in Black and White - PROCEDURES

Happy Tuesday.

Or as I like to call it day two of creating THE ULTIMATE TEACHER ORGANIZATIONAL TOOL.  Which, for lazy typing purposes will hereby be referred to as UTOT.

(If you missed day one you should read this first.)

Even if you are not following my "build a binder from scratch" recipe, I highly suggest you take part in today's activity.  This is probably my number one tip for effective classroom management.

And as you know, I've got oodles of tips, so number one must be impressive right?

Today's assignment is to work on a Classroom Procedures Manual.  It's micromanaging, um, I mean consistency at it's finest.  I include it in my UTOT because I feel it is important to have on hand for reference.  I also think it's important so that anyone can step into your classroom and run it if an emergency arises.

What It Is:
A collection of your expectations on the process of just about everything that will take place in your classroom.

Why Do It:
By making the expectations clear and consistent to the children (and by having a way to reference them) your classroom will soon run itself.  It also allows subs, aides and volunteers to maintain consistency.

I have a copy of my procedure manual in my UTOT, my Sub Binder, and on the counter.  I also make several copies for the students that I use for mini-lessons at the start of the year.  If a student is having a problem following directions, I will ask him to look in the manual to see what he should have been doing.

Most importantly though, creating it is going to make you aware of what you expect from your classroom and that alone is key to being an effective teacher.  

1. Brainstorm a list of all of the procedures you need to teach the children.

I've put together a few worksheets (pictured in this post) to help you.  You can print them out for free at the link below.  I included two sheets.  One is filled with ideas I had that you may want to include. The other is blank for you to fill in with procedures you feel apply to your classroom. 

2. Write out very specific instruction for each procedure.  Keep the wording as simple and kid-friendly as possible.

3. Put them into an order that makes sense for you (alphabetical, by category, etc.)

4. Create a table of contents to make each specific procedure easy to reference.

5. Select the most important procedures to teach first and include them in your lesson plans for the first week.

For some of the procedures I also make a poster that can be used for the initial lesson and referenced for the first week.

Click here to print the free worksheets pictured in this post.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Let's Get Organized

Did you obtain your super-cool, new, 3-ring binder yet?

I heart binders.  The main reason is that they are so flexible and forgiving.  You can add to them.  You can subtract from them.  

It's OK if you didn't.  You can still play along.  This week we are going to be building (insert announcer voice) THE ULTIMATE TEACHER ORGANIZATION TOOL.  

There are several components to it.  Today we are going to focus on the PLAN BOOK part.  

I've tried keeping lesson plans in one of those traditional books.  I've tried doing them on the computer.  Both had pros and cons.  What I have found to be best is to customize and create my very own binder that houses lots and lots of information and tools to keep me on top of things.

You can create your own on the computer, copy a favorite version you have found or better yet, purchase the one I created at my store for only $3.00 by clicking here.  I told you I was busy creating this weekend.

Whichever option you decide to go with, you will probably want to include the following components or some form of a variation of them.  I like to start with the big picture and work toward the details from there.  I start with...

This is a snapshot of the year, but with less details.  It's great for recording special projects, themes, author studies, etc.

Create a row for each week of the year (should be 40) and columns for the different subject areas.  I made one sheet that I can print several times so I can use specific categories for language arts like spelling, word study, comprehension skill, writing, etc.

This takes on the look of a traditional plan book.  The left column has the days of the week with space to write the date and the number that corresponds to the day of school.  This feature comes in especially handy in the spring when you start your countdown to the next summer vacation.  C'mon, you know you do!  

All you need is one template.  You can then copy/print as many as you need for the year.  Hint: add in the recurring items like specialists, lunch, snack, etc. before copying to save yourself time.

Now that we have the plan book foundations down, let's move on to the "extras."  These are items that are normally found in a commercially-made plan book so I keep them in this section of my binder as well.

It's important to have a calendar that is separate from your planning calendar to record meetings, conferences, assemblies, holidays, and those sorts of things.  The one I designed has empty boxes to fill in the dates so that I can just print new ones for the next year.  If you are going to take the time to make one I suggest doing that to save the hassle of recreating it next summer.

I number my students so I like to have a column for numbers next to the name.  I also include parent names, home addresses, email addresses, phone numbers and cell phone numbers.

I use this section to house specific medical concerns about students as well as general school info regarding policies and the nurse.

I designed two versions of this.  I plan to leave one in my plan book and hang the other by the door for easy reference.
It's nice to have all the birthdays at a glance.  I do have a chart in my classroom for this purpose, but I also include coworkers on the one in my plan book.

We actually do our attendance online, but I found I missed having my own records in writing so I keep this as well. It's helpful to reference in a conference or student meeting.
I also have a grade book on my computer, but again prefer to have the original on paper.  This allows me to correct papers anywhere and record the grades.
You need a cute cover.  There are the three I designed to include in the teacher plan book set.  I used the middle one for myself.  I am making a collage of personal photos for the back sleeve.

Be sure to include your name and contact info in the book so that it can easily be returned to you if it is misplaced.  

When I sent you off to get your binder yesterday, I probably should have told you to get page protectors and tabbed dividers as well.  You might want to think about getting those.  

It's time to get cracking on the first section of your binder.  Decide which of the components you feel you need to include and design away.

...or have I mentioned that you can click here to purchase ALL of the items pictured for only $3.00 and I'll email them to you speedy quick.