Friday, November 25, 2016

Teachers That Give...A Little Sparkle

I love this time of year! I love the the sweet times with family, the special memories with friends, the scents of freshly baked treats, the crisp breeze (okay, so in southern California that's not exactly true, but I like to imagine), the extra lights and sparkle all over, and the magic that seems to fill the air. I am so very thankful for a few extra days of love and laughter to consider and be thankful for all that I have!

As I was writing some Thanksgiving cards to my students, their families, my teacher team, my friends, and my family to thank them for all that they are and do, I was overcome with gratefulness for all the joy and sparkle they bring to my life. Though cliche and corny, especially in this past year, even in the darkest of times, these ones most dear shine brightly and give a glimmer of hope!

I am also extremely thankful for my teacher friends, those I work with, those I know, those I've met in real life via social media, and those I've only interacted with online! Your incredible ideas, wealth of knowledge, inspirational quotes, "real" posts about teacher life, and much more have been such an encouragement to me! Your sparkle allows other teachers to sparkle and shine as well!! I wanted to pass along some of that sparkle to you all!!!

I am excited to join some teacher friends to celebrate Teachers that Give! We'd like to thank you for being a teacher who always gives their best to their students, school communities, and much more! We'd like to take the opportunity to give back to you! Join us by checking out our blogposts with lesson ideas, freebies, and over $250 in giveaways!!!

To continue to add to the sparkle, I wanted to share a few glittery New Year's products that you can use with your students! The first is a holiday photo frame tag FREEBIE! Simply cut out the parts, tape to a photo frame or sticks for photo props, and allow your students to celebrate the new year!

The second is a treat topper tag FREEBIE you can give as an end of the year/beginning of the new year gift to your students. All you need to do is cut it out and attach to a ziploc baggie (either snack or sandwich depending on what you decide to put in it). You can fill them with blow pops, ring pops, and/or bubbles. I also happened to have a free restaurant coupon last year so I added that in as well! Grab them in my TPT store HERE.

Hope you find these two freebies useful!! To continue to share the sparkle, enter the Rafflecopter below to win a $25 Kendra Scott gift card!!!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Keep sparkling, teacher friends!!! Happy holidays!!



Friday, September 9, 2016

Flying Into First Grade: Soaring Into the First Day of School

Happy September, friends! We've been back to school for about three weeks, but I wanted to post a little about our first day of school (sorry this is so late -- you know how crazy BTS can be)!!!

I wanted to share this "Classroom Idea" for Laura from A Grace-Filled Classrom's blog linky! This was something that was new this year, but definitely an event I plan to do again in the future!

I've been so impressed with the way that the Ron Clark Academy (if you don't know what this is -- talk to me!! It's like Disneyland for teachers!!) begins each school year with a celebration. I decided to kick off a new year with a special celebratory event for my firsties and their parents!

A few months before school started I began planning a "Flying Into First Grade" airport-themed adventure! Here's a little sneak peak into what we did!! Hope you enjoy!

Travel Kits

At orientation the Saturday before school started each of my firsties received a "travel kit" equipped with all of the things they'd need as we flew into first grade! Their kit included their boarding pass, first class passenger name tag, welcome card, and some treats.

Welcome Video

Each travel kit had a welcome card with a poem and QR code to our welcome video to get the students prepped and excited about the year. You can check out our WELCOME VIDEO HERE.

The First Day of School

To help really "sell" our adventure of flying, I transformed my classroom into an airplane and the back parking lot right by my room into an airport! Students cycled through a series of activities at the different airport gates before we boarded the plane. The Allison Airlines crew (composed of my family, friends, former first grade parents, etc.) were amazing at helping to run each station and activity! There is no way I could have done it without them!! Thanks SO MUCH!!!

Airport Check-In

When the students arrived the first day, they came to the Airport Check-in table. Here they showed a crew member their boarding pass and name badge!

Students were then given their pilot wings, and parents got to put on their "First Class Parent" badge!

Each student was also given their own travel itinerary. Since there were so many stations, each child had a specific schedule that listed stations to visit at what times. All stations were marked by their airport gate!

 Baggage Drop

After checking in, each student dropped off their baggage. They used their seat number to know which cubby to place their luggage in!

 Passport Pavilion 

One station that the first grade passengers visited was the Passport Pavilion. Here Allison Airlines crew members helped the firsties put together their own passport. We used these later in the day when we went on a scavenger hunt through the school (learning about where the bathrooms, office, etc. are). At each station on the scavenger hunt they got their passport stamped!

Here are some of the crew members helping the travelers put together their passports!

First Class Lounge

Another station the travelers got to enjoy was the First Class Lounge. 

Here they were able to visit the Fueling Station for drinks and eat some yummy airplane sandwiches!

Customs Center

At the Customs Center, students and their parents "declared" things. They worked together to declare areas they soared in, areas they wanted to work on, etc. Since it was the first day of school and I didn't really know each of my students' strengths and areas of growth, having the parents work with their child to declare goals was awesome! Also, the parents had the opportunity to write a letter to their child declaring wonderful things about them! 

Photo Place

If you have ever been outside an elementary school classroom on the first day of school, you know that parents always want to get pictures! I wanted to have a photo booth area so that I could get pictures of each child as well as allow the parents the opportunity to get pictures of and with their child. I had a sky backdrop, airplane cutout, photo frame, and fun props for them to use! 

Here's a photo of one of my firsties and her family!

After the students had rotated through all four stations, we took one class photo before we boarded the plane!

Boarding the Plane

Up until this point, all of our activities had taken place outside! When it was time to board our plane, the students lined up outside our classroom with their boarding passes.

Here's what our transformed classroom looked like. I hid all the desks and covered the walls with grey sheeting and then added some "windows." The chairs were arranged in rows with seat numbers on the back so that each student knew where to sit.

I also projected a photo of a cockpit on our screen. There were also plane noises in the background which really added to it feeling like a real airplane!

On each seat was a seatbelt that could be fitted to each child, Allison Airlines water and Passenger Peanut snacks! (The seatbelts may have been my favorite thing! They were a last minute addition, but I was so happy with the way they turned out. Behind the seatbelt picture was a clothespin that would clip the ribbon to whatever size was needed to fit the child. They were so easy to make, but the kids LOVED them!!)

We boarded the plane by rows, and some Allison Airlines crew members helped each traveler get bucked in for our flight!

Once all of our passengers were safely strapped in (and parents were standing in the wings), I welcomed the class by reciting a poem I had written. I shared with them how excited I was to soar with them into the many lands of learning we would get to explore, helped the parents know that even if we experience some turbulence as we fly we would face it as a team, and much more! It was a special start to a special year!

Baggage Claim

After our short 10 minute time of being in the plane and officially flying into first grade, we deboarded with the parents since it was time for them to leave and for us to start our adventure! All the passengers visited the Baggage Claim area. The students each got a special suitcase with treats and the parents each got an "in case of e(motion) sickness" bag with a poem about leaving your child on the first day and some other goodies! 

Overall, the whole celebration took about one hour! It was short and sweet, but definitely a very memorable and fun day! After the parents left, we flew right into learning and first day procedures! I loved starting the year off with sometime special for my firsties and their parents!! I can't wait to soar with them this year!!

For all my teacher friends who are already back, I hope your first few weeks have been awesome! I'd love to hear how you kicked off your first day of school!

Link up with some of my fav blogger buddies to share some of your classroom ideas!!!


Friday, August 12, 2016

Back to School Fun Linky: Home Visit Tips & FREEBIE

Happy August, teacher friends!! I love this time of year -- browsing the school supply aisles, prepping my classroom, planning exciting first day events, but most of all, meeting my new fabulous firsties! This year, I did something new to meet my firsties..home visits!! Definitely, the best thing I have ever done!!! I loved being able to spend time to get to know my new students and their families. It was so valuable to be with them, talk with them, and begin to develop positive relationships with both the students and parents. I love, love, loved every minute of my home visits!! I think they were an incredible foundation to this new year!

I'm so excited to be linking up with my friend Laura from A Grace Filled Classroom for some Back to School Fun with the MOST VALUABLE THING I'VE EVER DONE BEFORE SCHOOL STARTED!

For several years I've always wanted to do home visits with my students, but it's never happened. Through the years I have visited some families, but I've never visited each of my students. I was determined that this was the year I was going to make it happen! It was an incredible and extremely valuable experience that I am so thankful to have had going into the school year! Here my top 10 tips that I would recommend for home visits!!


As I mentioned, home visits were always something I wanted to do, but by the time I was able to rosters and contact information from the office, it was too late to make it happen before school began. This year, I was able to get ahold of my list early giving me enough time to conduct most visits several weeks before school started! It was the perfect timing -- close enough to the start of school, but not in the final week of crazy prep before school began. Not doing them to close to the start of school made it feel very manageable and enjoyable! I know many teachers don't get their class lists and parent contact information until very late in the game, but if you are able to get it early, I highly recommend visiting mid-way through the summer! (Just as a disclaimer, I teach in a private school with very small classes. Having less than 20 students made visiting all of them over the summer practical. For those of you who have upwards of 36 students, that just may not be realistic. Even if you made it a goal to try to visit each student within the first trimester or semester of the year, that would still be awesome!!!)


I used a SignUp Genius form (totally free) to allow my parents to signup for a home visit. I listed several days and time slots that they could choose from. I recommend putting some morning options, mid-day options, evening options, different days of the week, etc. so that regardless of a family's schedule, there is an option that meets their needs. Also, I tried to stress to the parents that it would be an informal time to get to know them and their family -- the last thing I wanted was for the experience to be overwhelming or stressful. In addition, I made it optional for parents. For some families, having a teacher come to their home may not be something they were open to, so I wanted parents to know that it was not mandatory. Having parents sign up online was easy, quick, and convenient both for them and myself. 

I used the form below to keep track of contact information. There is a link to a free copy of these at the end of the post. 


Two days before each home visit, I sent an individual email confirmation to each family. I confirmed the day, time, and address for the home visit. I also asked each family if there were any gate codes or parking information I needed to know! This was important!! Parents emailed back with some very key details I would have otherwise not have known! Definitely be sure to ask ahead of time!! 


I was raised to never go to someone's house without bringing something (or at least offering). I baked some very simple treats for my students and their families that I brought to the home visits. They were quick, easy, but something special to give to each family as I arrived. You could make treat bags, bring something store bought, or even bring a book for the student. Regardless of what you choose to bring, I think coming with something helps the home visit start off on a very good note!


For me, the goal of the home visits was two-fold: get to know the students and get to know their parents and families. On the student's side, I wanted to spend some time for them to be comfortable with me, to see what kinds of toys they liked, what their interests were, and just get to know them. It was so sweet to get to just play with my new firsties. Even though we play lots of games at school, they are all content-related. Being able to have special times of playing Shopkins, ninja sword tag, and Star Wars legos is something I will always treasure! 

On the side of the family, I wanted to get to know their siblings, parents, etc. It was also a great time to chat with parents. Many parents jumped right into telling me about their goals for their child this year, what they hoped their child would learn, concerns they had, etc. Even though I always send a parent survey out the first week of school that often conveys this same information, being able to talk with them is so different than an informal piece of paper. I left the home visits already feeling so connected with the parents and excited to work with them for their child's success this year. That relationship isn't fostered with a parent survey, but was able to start to develop through the home visits! (As a side note, I have some AMAZING parents this year that I am so thankful for!!)


As teachers, we are planned people who balance structure and flexibility on a daily basis. As I mentioned above, I definitely had a goal to spend time with both students and parents. However, each family was different and so each home visit was different...and they were all so valuable. Some of them I spent the whole time with the child playing with only a few minutes talking to the parents. Others we sat in the living room or around the dining room table and talked as a whole family together. One even turned into a one-on-one Chick-fil-A lunch because that worked best for the family. My perspective was to just follow what seemed most comfortable with each family!!

In terms of timing, I had originally told parents I would just stop by for about 10-15 minutes. I did this because I didn't want my visit to seem overwhelming to families. However, if we were mid-conversation at the 15 minute mark and it didn't seem like they were trying to kick me out, I just followed the parents' lead. Most visits lasted 45-60 minutes. That may seem like a long time, but it allowed for a good balance of getting to know both the child and parents; when I was there, it never seemed too long. On the flip side, some were only 20 minutes (especially when I had back to back appointments and I had to drive from one to another) and those were also great. One family invited me to spend the whole day with them playing, swimming, eating a meal, etc. so that was over 5 hours. I think the key is to be flexible and follow the parents' lead on how long to stay. 


After each visit, I jotted down a few notes regarding the child's interests, general observations, any concerns or goals the parents brought up, any gifts I received (to be referenced in the thank you notes -- see tip #9), etc. Even in planning for the first week of school, I have been able to incorporate some of the students' like and interests into our activities. In addition, knowing the parents' feeling about different content areas, etc. has helped in my planning as well! 

This was the note tracker that I used! There is a link to this FREEBIE at the end of the post!!

One thing I was also trying to note at each visit, was how to incorporate each students' interest into a lesson. I ended up seeing some new toys that would be so fun to use in the classroom. For example, this adorable penguin toy below "eats" other toys. I was thinking this would be SUPER fun to use with flash cards (if you read the word or answer the math fact problem correctly, you could feed it to the penguin). I already asked the student if he would be willing to bring it in for us to use one day, and he is so excited to be able to play a part in one of our lessons. 


Just like bringing a treat, I think thank you cards are a seemingly small, but hopefully personal touch that continues to foster positive relationships with students and their families. It definitely does take time, but I think it's very critical! If you were given any treats of gifts, be sure to thank the families for those as well! 


It's awesome to start the year off with home visits (honestly, best thing I've ever done for fostering relationships with parents), but I think it will be key to maintain these relationships during the year. With my students, I'd like to have at least one more time with each one of them as the year goes on -- attending one of their sporting events or music recitals, etc. I want them to know that I value all their talents and skills both inside and outside the classroom. Also, the more they know I care, the more they are willing to invest at school. This is why I think it's such a key to keep this relationship going. 

In addition, there were goals that parents had that I'd like to check in on after the first few weeks of school -- how do you think we are progressing? Are there additional things we should be doing at school to help meet this need? I think having a home visit was a wonderful foundation for us working as a team this year! 


If you'd like a copy of the Student & Parent Contact Form and the Home Visit Notes & Observation form, click on the picture below for the link to the product. Hope you enjoy!

I truly believe home visits are such a sweet and extremely valuable experience! They got me truly excited about the wonderful year we will have!! If you end up doing some visits, let me know! I'd love to hear all about them!! 

Happy Back to School Fun, friends!!


Friday, March 11, 2016

Books & Brackets Blog Hop

I love books! I love basketball! I love blog hops!!!!

I'm so excited to be teaming up with Jackie from Neat Sweet & Hard to Beat to giveaway some of our favorite March books, freebies, and a chance to win a $75 TPT gift card!!!

March is standardized testing month for us. For my dear firsties, it's their first year taking standardized tests, so it's incredibly important to me how I introduce it and what their first experience is like. On the one hand, I want them to understand the significance of the tests, but on the other hand not be too stressed. I like to present testing as a way for them to showoff all that they've learned and accomplished this year! My scholars are so smart and these tests are a way for them to shine!

I book that I found several years ago that I love to read about testing is called The Big Test by Julie Danneberg. It features Mrs. Hartwell (the main character in some of my other favorites, First Day Jitters and Last Day Blues) and her class during testing week. She spends the week with her students practicing test prep strategies, how to bubble in answers, proper nutrition, etc. However, both her and her students are not huge fans of all the prep. In the end, Mrs. Hartwell is reminded that the most important thing is to relax, have fun, and try your best! This book helps me to really hit this home for my students! If you'd like to win a copy of the book, enter the Rafflecopter below!!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
In addition to reading The Big Test with my students, I like to have a few treats to help encourage my super smart scholars. As we prepare for the test, we talk about how each student is a SMARTIE. I give them each a poster with some SMARTIE testing tips! The day before the test they also each get a special treat bags with Smartie candies in them! They were so excited about their SMARTIE treats!!!

After the first day of testing, I tell students that I will be watching to see who is focusing and trying their very best. They have the opportunity to earn a SMARTIE brag tag as well! My scholars were so excited to earn their brag tags!!

You can grab a FREE copy of my Standardized Testing SMARTIE pack at my TPT store. Click on the picture below!

To celebrate all of the fabulous things that happen in March, 14 other blogger buddies and I are giving a chance to win 15 book, grab accompanying freebies, and the opportunity to win a $75 TPT gift card. To enter for the gift card, use the Rafflecopter below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Be sure to hop through all the blogs for to enter and grab some amazing March freebies!! Next, be sure to visit Sandra at Sandra's Savvy Teaching Tools. Click on her button below to keep hopping!

Happy March & happy hopping!!!