Teaching Outdoors In The Fall
It's back to school time again, but that doesn't mean you need to stay inside the classroom. Get outside and enjoy nature, exercise, and fresh air before it is too wet or cold and inside recess becomes the norm.
Science topics and ideas for outdoor study
Fall is the perfect time for science lessons for outdoors. There are many science topics that can be covered including plant life cycles, the water cycle, and the effects of weather.
Think of all the amazing questions you can investigate and discuss. Here are a few examples:
Why is it called Fall?
What causes the leaves to change color and fall off the trees?
What are seasons? Why are there four?
Why do we set the clocks back an hour in the fall?
Fun Science Activities To Do
1. Take a nature walk and collect leaves of different colors. Talk about the different shapes, sizes, and textures of the leaves.
2. Visit a pumpkin patch or apple orchard. Talk about how pumpkins and apples grow.
Compare the different types of apples: some are good for eating, some for baking, and some for cider.
3. Rake leaves into a big pile and jump in! Then, use leaf blowers to blow the leaves into the air.
Kids will love playing in the pile of leaves and learning about wind power.
4. Go on a scavenger hunt. Look for acorns, pine cones, rocks, and other objects.
Talk about the different colors, sizes, and shapes of the objects you find.
These are just a few ideas – there are endless possibilities for learning about science outdoors in the fall! So put on your jacket and get outside – it's time to learn!
Take Math Lessons Outdoors
Math is another area that can be adapted to outdoor study. Think of all the data collection activities you can do. Comparing, contrasting, and classifying activities can be endless depending on what you choose to collect.
You can even create glyphs for data collected. These could be follow up activities for outside lessons.
You could create a tree with leaves falling. The colors of the leaves, number of leaves left on the tree, shape of the leaves and number of branches could all represent different attributes of data collection.
If creating a glyph is something you would like to try, grab my free glyph templates.
Sign up for Diamond Mom's Treasury email list and get your free copy.
More ideas and activities
Geometry and measurement activities can also be done outdoors. There are many different shapes in our environment. A scavenger hunt or neighborhood walk would be a great way to find examples of the various 2D and 3D shapes. Area and perimeter are effective measurement activities to try outdoors. It could be fun to measure the school field, playground area, or the school building and then graph them.
Many other subject areas could work well outside. Geography and mapping skills are some of my favorite. Check out this post for a few ideas for social studies outdoors.
Many lessons can be tailored to any grade level and can be adapted to fit the needs of any class size. With a little creativity, lessons outdoors can be an enjoyable and educational experience for all.
So hurry up, beat the inside recess rush, and get outside to learn.
The Power Of Self Esteem
Positive self esteem and a positive attitude is very important for success in life. I believe it can be a game changer for kids if they learn to value their self worth and uniqueness.
Kids that struggle with their own worthiness, find it hard to care about others. Helping them feel good about themselves will build self confidence and set the tone for a more successful year.
Lessons From Tigger And Eeyore
Attitude has the power to change the way the day goes. Just look at Tigger and Eeyore.
Although Eeyore is a lovable character, he see everything through dark clouds. It takes his friends to encourage him to try things out and find good in his world.
Tigger is very happy go lucky and almost too bouncy and positive at times for his friends, but he sees the fun and excitement in everything and wants them to see it too.
Imagine how it must feel for children to always see themselves as an Eeyore. “I can’t do anything right, I might as well not try because I am going to mess up. I’ve misplaced my tail again!” This won’t give them much incentive to try to do things or even imagine that life could work out well.
“Tigger” children are game to try anything and don’t worry about the outcome. Excitement and fun is the focus Because of this, they keep going and trying even when it doesn’t work out the first time.
We don’t have to be bouncing off the walls to have a positive outlook on the world, but it's important to see joy and not just negatives.
Optimism lesson suggestions
Do a lesson on optimism and pessimism using the example of Tigger and Eeyore. Expand it to share a couple of scenarios with kids in different situations that show how a positive or negative attitude affects the outcome of the situations. Discuss ways to change the situations.
Example 1: At the beach: One boy wants to swim to the dock. He talks about diving off the edge, playing water tag, doing flips and having fun. The other complains, "The water is too cold, I can't swim very well, it's too far, I'd rather stay on the beach and watch."
Example 2: The teacher introduces a new game. Sally is excited and ready to play. She gathers all the necessary equipment and asks her friend Nancy to join her. Nancy is hesitant. She worries that she won't be any good at it. She can't remember all the rules. She creates roadblocks that prevent her from trying.
Add in more activities and lessons about self worth, self confidence, and power words. This can make a huge difference to how students respond to each other and situations that arise in the classroom.
The sooner we can help kids to see that they are unique and special, the sooner they will strive to be the best they can be. Their goal should be to improve themselves and not try to be someone else.
A positive attitude is key. One of the sayings in my class was “Attitudes are contagious. Is yours worth catching?” This was a reminder for both the kids and myself that we need to check our attitudes and see if they are helping us to be successful.
In a world where we are surrounded by negative, a positive attitude is even more necessary. It is our job as teachers, to help kids see that they are valued and important and that they have much contribute to the world around them.
We also need to help them develop good team skills and support them if they slip up. If we provide them with the tools to be good team players they will soar in a competitive world, pick themselves up when they fall, dust themselves off, and continue on. They will accept the minor setbacks are part of growing, not failures and they will be able to move forward.
Some Activities And Resources
Success and Power words
Bucket filling activities
Acts of Kindness
Optimist or Pessimist Task Cards
I Am posters
Last time, I wrote about a strong classroom management plan. If you add a self esteem component to your plan, you will have a positive classroom environment and a more successful year. Remember attitude is everything. Focus on what is going right and build a caring and respectful class community with these two things. You've got this!
Positive Classroom Management Strategies and Self Esteem Go Hand In Hand
I would like to give a free set of the smiles/frown edition to any of my email subscribers.
Changing behavior in the classroom - Meet "Johnny"
As I walk down the hallways of the school, my heart breaks when I see kids sitting out in the hall almost daily because they are being disruptive in the classroom. It brings back memories of a child I had a few years ago.
It was the end of the first week of school and I met up with the mother of my new student "Johnny". I was surprised when I heard what she had to say.
"This is the longest he has ever remained in the classroom."
Red flags seemed to jump up all around me. What did she mean? What was I missing?
I pondered this statement and decided I might want to investigate why she said that. I checked on his file to learn more.
Start with a clean slate
It turned out that he had many behavior issues that made it difficult for him to remain in the classroom for the full day in his previous school.
Because I don't read the files of new students right away, I was unaware of this. I just took any movement toward misbehavior and redirected it as I would with any other child.
This is not to say that the behaviors weren't there, but they were not my focus. Since I didn't know his history, I hadn't formed an expectation of negative behavior and he was able to start with a clean slate.
Does this mean that the behaviors had disappeared? No, but we found ways to lessen the frequency and degree of negative behaviors and increase the positive behaviors.
The weeks and months progressed, and "Johnny" and I developed an understanding so we were able to interrupt potential behavior issues and make things work. This took some creative effort, but with the help of his classmates we were successful.
Every day was a new day, so he learned that he could start fresh the next day if he messed up or needed time to self regulate and regain control.
How did we make this work?
I remembered a keynote speech from a couple of years earlier that promoted thinking about what is going right in a negatively charged world. It hit me that this could be a game changer.
I began to focus on developing positive self-esteem and creating a class community based on celebrating successes. We zeroed in on what was going right and learned not to feed into the negative stuff. (More on this next time.)
When "Johnny" didn't get attention for his negative behavior, it became less and less.
Many of his behaviors were ways to distract others from seeing that he struggled with reading and writing or he didn't understand a concept or lesson. I suspect that some of this was because he missed key instructions and practice during the times when he was not in the classroom.
He loved to share what he did know and this often meant that he would blurt out answers and interrupt others who were sharing if he made a connection to something they said. Instead of getting upset with him for this, I quietly reminded him that it was their turn and he could share when they were finished. Little things like this helped him to be able to participate in class activities and have moments to share his ideas.
Differentiation and focusing on learning styles made a huge difference. Here are some of the notes from his report card.
- creative thinker
- enjoys nonfiction topics
- enjoys sharing ideas
- enjoys active lessons
- very knowledgeable about his world
- learns best orally
- works best one on one
One of the key ways we were able to help "Johnny" was to focus on what he could do and be his cheerleaders. His classmates were awesome cheerleaders for him and helped him to feel he was valuable and part of a special team.
When he learned that he wouldn't be teased for his struggles with reading and writing and that he could have support with these areas, he was more willing to do the work. Scribing stories and writing words in an idea book helped to share his thoughts. He loved to share stories and adventures and the kids enjoyed hearing them.
Because he felt accepted by his classmates, he worked harder to fit in and become a team player. His self esteem and confidence grew, he made friends, and he ended up having a successful year. The transformation was heartwarming to see.
Ignoring negative behaviors and focusing on positive behaviors wasn't easy, and I had to intentionally control my emotions, bite my tongue, and not freak out at actions that had the potential to explode into very negative behaviors. But it paid off in dividends. So much so, he told his younger brother that he needed to be in my class because "Mrs. Sequeira gets us."
(Little did I know at that time that his brother also had many behavior challenges.)
I wish I could say that "Johnny" continued to build on this success and have a positive school experience, but it wasn't so. After all the work that was done during the year to work on being a positive, responsible member of the class, it seemed to unravel in the next couple of years.
My heart sank as I saw him spending many days slumped on a chair in the hallway because he was too "disruptive" in class. I could see in his face as he looked down at the floor that he felt uncomfortable when I saw him out there.
I guess other teaching styles didn't work well for him and he was unable to adjust to them and continue to be successful, so he reverted to his old behaviors.
Changing my focus
Sadly, this is not the first time this has happened, and it won't be the last. I have seen several students over the years struggle to adjust to the different classroom situations.
I have to admit, there were times earlier in my career when I had difficulty with some students and found it very hard to manage their behaviors in the classroom. As I did some soul searching, I discovered that it was my own classroom management skills and my understanding of kids and why they might be acting out or behaving in negative ways that needed changing.
When I figured this out, my approach in the classroom became intentionally focused on nurturing positive self esteem, promoting optimism and a positive attitude, and developing self confidence during my first few weeks of school.
Changing my focus to what was going right was a big shift that helped to create a more cooperative and caring class situation.
Focusing on SEL (social emotional learning) and mindful behavior is key to developing a caring and respectful community which can work even for kids with challenging behaviors like "Johnny".
Next time, I will give some specific tips and activities that help develop positive, confident kids and a cooperative and caring community.
Get a free copy of this poster by signing up for my newsletter.
Engaging students to learn
When students arrive back to school from summer break, the room echoes with excitement as kids reconnect with classmates. But that quickly fizzles when it is time to actually do some work. Groans can be heard and the grumbling starts. Some are happy to do the activities planned and others want to get outside and play or take out electronics and zone out. And so it begins.
Kids are not always excited to return to school and start studying again. What can you do to engage your students and get them excited to learn after a summer break from learning?
The answer to that question will be different for each person depending on their personality, experience, and classroom situation, but there are some things that could work for most teachers. Here are a few suggestions to get your kids motivated and wanting to learn the first weeks back at school.
Take learning outside
Kids have been enjoying the summer break and hopefully they have been spending time having fun outdoors. If you wish to keep them interested when they return to school, try to incorporate some outside activities during the day. These could be review activities, exploration, science activities, or maybe even body breaks and daily PE. I know that my students were eager to get outside and do hands on activities and it helped to make the transition back into school easier for them.
Check out my blog post about taking learning outdoors for the fall for some specific types of activities.
Have you ever had a group of kids that were a challenge? Did you wonder if you would be able to get them to sit still, listen and cooperate? Building community is especially important with these types of situations. It is important to build respect and caring in the classroom. This can be encouraged by doing partner activities and group activities that help kids to meet their classmates and learn more about them. You may even need to add some specific classroom management systems. As you are figuring out where they fit in academically, you can start doing games and activities that foster teamwork and respect. Activities that foster positive self esteem and help to develop self confidence could also be a focus.
Focus on developing positive self esteem
Beginning the year with activities that focus on positive self esteem and classroom management will ensure that children have the tools for a successful year. There are many different ways of creating a caring and positive classroom. It is important that you choose what works best for you.
I always start out with teaching about optimism and a positive attitude. I also use bucket filling activities and acts of kindness as a focus.
Here is more about what I tried in my classroom to develop positive self esteem and help kids blossom and display increased self confidence about themselves.
Move, move, move
Just like teachers, kids are tired at the beginning of the year as they start up new routines and stay in class for several hours. Incorporating movement and organizing classroom activities for transitions will help keep kids energized so that they stay focused and alert.
Games and body breaks work well to keep kids active. Doing hands on activities and partner games also work well.
Rules and routines
Kids are creatures of habit as well as adults although they may not be aware of this yet. When you give students routines and schedules to follow, you can help them regulate and focus on daily and weekly expectations. With pre-planning and teaching for when unexpected events and situations happen, we can help them avoid meltdowns.
Create classroom rules and establish routines that work for your students. Depending on the age of your students, you can take their ideas into consideration and create the rules together. This is a great community building activity as well.
Here is a set of routine and schedule cards that I created that may be useful for the classroom. I have made them in both English and French. You can get a free copy by clicking on the image.
First week back activities
When selecting activities for the first week of school choose a mix of fun activities that review concepts and skills from the year before to ensure that they are not lost somewhere in distant memory after a summer of no school and that they will be able to use them to build on for new concepts and skills to be taught. We have all probably experienced the situations where kids stare blankly at us as if they had never heard of the subject before.
If you get your previous students back for the first few days, you will want to ensure that they are doing something that is not a direct repeat of the previous year. It can be similar, but they will respond better if it is varied and approached from a different angle this year.
You may have new students in your class as well. They will need to be able to handle the material given as well. They won't be familiar with your teaching style yet, and they may or may not have covered the same material last year, so there will need to some differentiation and extra support in certain cases.
If you are looking for some back to school activities, check out my back to school category. These activities are geared to primary and cover some basic math and language skills.
I hope these ideas help to make your school year start up successful. Have a wonderful year.
Tips For Planning Ahead To A New School Year
It may seem crazy for some teachers to be talking about preparing for the new school year so soon, but for other teachers, your summer break is already half over. If you are anything like me, your mind is already thinking about how the new year might look, what you want to do in your classroom to make it fresh for your students and yourself, and what resources and materials you might want to start gathering. You may even be thinking about ways you will build classroom community and set up the rules and routines.
Here are 6 tips and ideas that can help you prepare for a successful year.
1. Give your classroom a fresh look
Changing up your classroom arrangement and giving it a fresh look can help you to feel refreshed and ready to begin a new year.
In our district, we get our former students for the first week of school as the numbers are tallied and the classes are formed. Even though we try to organize things before school ends for the year, there are always changes in the fall. New students come, some students move away, some go to online instruction, etc. These all affect the numbers and how they are distributed throughout the grades.
Once the classes are organized, kids are moved into their new classrooms. Usually, some remain because of all the split grades. Changing up the room and giving them special roles help them to feel like they are important and not missing out.
Do you change up how the room looks or add a new decor to your room?
If you are looking at adding some color to your room, you might want to check out my rainbow set. It has many different elements in it to make your classroom look cheerful and ready for a new year. I have created an English and a French version so that it will work in French Immersion or core French classrooms as well.
2. Use ice breakers to build classroom community
Building a classroom community will help with gaining trust and respect in the group. This is an important part of creating a caring and successful learning climate for the students. There are many different ways to build community. We will look more at this another time, but for now, here are a couple of ice breaker type ideas that might help with getting started.
Getting to know each other is an important part of developing class community, so I like to do many different group activities and partner games to mix up the kids and help them to learn to work together with others. Here are a couple of the activities I have used in the past along with a twist to make it a bit different.
Find Someone Who
Find Someone Who is a well-known icebreaker that is used in various forms. This is my newest version. It is more extensive and can be used for getting to know classmates better. There are interview questions for the 5W and there is also a game component where teams can work together to guess who the person interviewed was. Check it out by clicking the image.
If you would prefer a simplified version that is a fast icebreaker, I have made another version that just asks a couple of questions. Click the image to get your free copy.
Choose a topic and have the one circle share with the person they are facing. Then switch roles. This is a great way to learn information about several others as you can continue to have one circle move so that the partners keep changing. You can ask the same question multiple times or you can change up the questions to find out more information. Choose questions that will guide the conversations to learning more about the class members.
Here is a great way to combine getting to know each other and math. Each glyph has different information on it depending on the likes and interests of the person creating it. After the glyphs are completed, many different questions can be asked for analyzing the data.
3. Have some classroom management strategies planned
Classroom management is an important part of teaching. There needs to be some sort of classroom routine, structure, or rules that are agreed upon in order for good learning to happen. These can be given, mutually developed, or a combination of the two, but they should be established during the first few days so that they can be practiced and followed as soon as possible.
I found that using a t-chart for creating some of these routines worked well. Here are some that I used.
Classroom rules and manners posters can also help to remind the kids of expectations. Here are some that I created for the primary classroom. There are a couple of different patterns available as well as a black and white version if you prefer.
4. Have some quick and easy activities ready
There are often times during the first few days when you are trying to adjust to getting back into the school routine that you may be scrambling to fill in a few minutes here and there. If you have some quick and easy activities or brain break games ready, you can just grab one of them to use. This will also help to avoid confusion, management situations, and it will help to keep the kids engaged.
5. Remember to have some fun
The temptation may be to get started on academics right away, but remember that both you and the kids need to get back into a routine. It is important to make sure that you keep the fun in the activities and interject the academics in a way that isn't too intense as you do review or introduce new topics. Taking some time at the beginning to review and engage with your students will pay off later on.
6. Make sure to take care of yourself
This is actually one of the most important tips I want to share with you. If you want to be able to get through the next year without burnout and stress, it is important to focus on self care.
Every year we seem to forget how tiring it is to start a new school year. Teacher tired the first few weeks of school is real. Make sure that you are getting lots of rest. Take some time for you. Don't just focus on your job. Even if it is only a few minutes a day, do something for you that will help you to de-stress and relax.
These are just a few ideas to think about as you leave school for your summer break or as you continue to enjoy your summer holiday.
Next week I will talk more about back to school ideas and setting your year up for success. Until then, continue to enjoy your summer break. You deserve it.
Marathon Of Hope
Terry Fox's Marathon Of Hope has been happening for over 40 years now. I still remember when we were shown a movie of his journey. He wanted to go across Canada to raise money. His goal was to raise $1.00 for every Canadian. He ran the equivalent of one marathon each day. It is hard to imagine running a marathon every day with two good legs, let alone with one good leg and an artificial leg. Most people would train for months to do one marathon.
That movie really made an impact on me. Terry Fox was around my age and he had his life cut short because of cancer. He didn't feel sorry for himself, but instead put his effort into making a difference. He started the Marathon Of Hope in 1980 and Canadians have been continuing this marathon every year. I remember when it became a yearly event here in our city and our family participated in either the community run or the run with our schools. It is hard to believe that it has been 41 years since he first dipped his foot in the Atlantic Ocean and started his marathon of hope.
Terry Fox: A Canadian Hero
Terry Fox is a Canadian hero because he didn't think about himself and feel sorry for himself when he lost his leg. Instead, he decided to help others by raising money for cancer research. He endured pain and suffering for 143 days as he ran across Eastern Canada striving to make a difference. Some days were better than others, but no matter how difficult it got, he didn't give up. He had days when he saw very few people and raised very little money, and he had days where crowds came out to run alongside him and volunteers were needed to help gather up the donations.
When Terry had to stop due to cancer in his lungs, he still wanted to make a difference. He said, "Even though I'm not running anymore, we still have to try to find a cure for cancer. Other people should go ahead and try to do their own thing now."
His Legacy Continues
The Terry Fox Run was established in 1981 to continue Terry's Marathon of Hope. September 13th was designated as Terry Fox Marathon of Hope Day. Every September different communities held a Terry Fox run. Schools would choose a day in late September to do a school run for Terry Fox.
Whenever we did a Terry Fox run at the school, time was spent telling Terry's story and sharing stories about how cancer has affected many people that we know. It is frightening to think that almost every family has been affected by cancer in some way.
After sharing the stories, we chose people to run on behalf of. Posters were made and feet were posted along the hallways to show how we were in this together, even if it was only for one day a year.
I created some activities and posters for my students. They are available here. Hopefully they will inspire kids to do something that makes a difference just as Terry did.
I hope that you will be inspired to participate in the Terry Fox Run in your area and that you will help others to continue to share Terry's dream and keep it alive. Let's all work together to help stop cancer.
For free resources, tips, and ideas, sign up for my newsletter.
Getting back into the swing of things
Summer break is over. School is back in session! For some, you have already been in session for a few weeks. For others, this is your last weekend of break. The question on many teachers' minds is "What will this year bring?"
Some kids are excited, some are anxious, some are disinterested, and some are unhappy. There are so many emotions during the regular return to school, but with the uncertainty and constant changes last year as we navigated through the unknowns of the pandemic, some emotions escalated. Many kids experienced more anxiety, confusion, and frustration as they tried to learn in new environments and situations, many parents experienced anxiety and frustration as they navigated online and at home instruction, and teachers experienced anxiety, uncertainty, frustration, and burnout as they tried to balance in person, online, and hybrid teaching situations.
There was hope that we would be closer to a more normal school year, but things are still changing and we need to be ready to change gears at any moment. This uncertainty is causing teachers stress even before school begins. Many of my teacher friends are still waiting to find out what grade level they are teaching, how many students they will have, and even where they will be teaching.
Primary teachers survival kit
It is important to have some things ready for any situation to help get through the transitions of the first weeks. You might call it a survival kit. This kit would need activities for various grades, subjects, and configurations of students. The question is, what should be in this kit? Here are some ideas for primary grades. (Some could be modified for intermediate classes, but since most of my teaching was in primary, I have decided to focus on that level for this sample.)
Literacy ideas that are ready to go
Here are some literacy activities that will engage and provide reading and writing practice for your students.
Selections are from various free and paid products. The full products are listed below.
Refreshing Idioms Task Cards (sample from the full product)
5 Senses Stories
Story Board Fun (activity from Back To School Math And Literacy Ideas)
Summer Parts Of Speech (one set of cards from the package)
Fall/Autumn Parts Of Speech (one set of cards from the package)
Find The Evidence (sample pages)
Soundo (part of Alphabet Game Boards)
Vocabulary Mandalas (one mandala)
Basic Vocabulary Activities ( activities from the product)
Quick and fun math activities
Here are some fun math activities to help your students work on basic math skills.
Selections are from various free and paid products. The full products are listed below.
Ipad Glyphs (sample from the full product)
Pumpkin Glyphs (sample from the full product)
Measure Up! (activity from Welcome Back To School)
Summer Sports Activity Bundle (activity from the bundle)
Measurement Games Team Events ( one event from the games)
Number Mandalas Addition and Subtraction ( one of the mandalas)
Literacy and Math Game Cards (2 game cards)
Science fun and experiments
These science activities will keep kids entertained while learning about science facts. Selections are from various free and paid products. The full products are listed below.
Amazing Weather Facts Posters (freebie)
Are You A Rectangle Or A Square (freebie)
The Clink-Clunk Test
Team building activities
Team building is important at the beginning of the year, but also throughout the year. Here are some activities that can be done in groups or with partners.
Back to School Ice Breaker (freebie)
Escape Room What Am I? Vocabulary activity (one activity from the set)
Find Someone Who (activity from Back To School First Week Activities)
Stumpers (activity from Back To School First Week Activities)
What Am I? (sample pages from What Am I?)
Self esteem activities
Making sure that children understand that they are valuable and important will help to develop positive self esteem. Here are some activities that will help with this.
Paying It Forward (freebie)
Optimist or Pessimist Task Cards (one set of cards)
Goal Setting And Reflections (freebie)
Brain breaks and active games
Here are some active classroom games that can be played as brain breaks or in the gym or outside to provide movement and stimulation between other subject activities.
Each of these areas is available as a separate package, or you can get the whole bundle to keep on hand for activities to use throughout the year. It will be helpful when you need to prepare for substitute teacher on short notice or if you just need a quick activity to use.
You can find them here.
As I indicated, this is just a sample of some of the things that could be done. It will be up to you to add your own creativity, experience, and preference to your survival kit.
For more ideas and resources, you can check out the various categories in my TeachersPayTeachers store.
If you are looking for back to school resources, you can check out my recent blog post for resources and tips. I wish you all the best as you venture into a new school year.
Back To School Fun
Using fun activities will make back to school more engaging and exciting for kids and they will probably participate more in the activities. The types of activities that you choose will depend on the age and composition of your class, but there are some that can be used in most situations. The key is to get kids participating and enjoying their time back at school.
Getting To Know You Activities
Getting to Know You activities and ice breakers are great ways to get started. How many times have you been to workshops where you do activities like "Find Someone Who...." These activities are meant to get you moving around and interacting with others instead of staying with one or two familiar people. It may not always feel comfortable for some, but they may meet someone with common interests in the process. A fun twist to this might be to have the four corners of the room as meeting places and then ask questions that require the kids to choose one of the options and move to the appropriate corner. For example: Do you have brothers? Go to corner 1. Do you have sisters? Go to corner 2. Do you have brothers and sisters? Go to corner 3. Are you an only child? Go to corner 4.
If you are interested in some ice breaker mixer cards, check out this freebie.
Learning about your students' interests will help with planning and preparing activities that will engage them in their learning. Just like us, kids are more likely to want to do something if they are interested in the topic.
I always started the year with different interest profiles or activities that helped me to find out more about my students. There are several kinds of activities available, but these are the ones that I used most often.
This is Me booklet (this is part of my basic vocabulary activities booklet)
My heart....my passions (likes and hobbies that are later used for writing prompts. It is part of my using five senses and details writing packet)
Shield (this can be used for displaying talents)
T-shirt (another form of all about me)
Team building and classroom management activities
Another crucial piece of my start up was creating a great community. Team building is important if you want the kids to work together to have a successful year. They become each other's cheerleaders and they encourage each other when things get tough or when behaviors need to be improved.
I did many different activities to make this happen, and I also incorporated classroom management techniques. One of the techniques I started using before retiring was Whole Brain Teaching. This worked well with my kids and I was amazed at how quickly they latched on to the strategies that I used. I didn't get to use it fully, but I was very happy with how the parts I used worked. If you want to learn more about this, you can check it out here. I also created some posters of the rules to use in my classroom. You can find out more here.
Bucket filling activities and Acts of Kindness activities were also part of my lessons during those first weeks of school. These were instrumental in helping the kids to think about others instead of always focusing on themselves.
Positive Self Esteem And Growth Mindset
By now, you probably know that developing positive self esteem is one of the most important things that I focus on with kids. Positive self esteem is so important when developing self confidence and a positive outlook on the world. It is our job as teachers to help kids see that they are valued and important and that they have much to contribute to the world around them.
Having a positive attitude is key for this to happen. In recent years the focus has been on social emotional learning and developing growth mindsets. This has a direct impact of learning. Helping kids to see that they "can" do things and that they are moving forward encourages them to keep trying and they begin to experience more success and their self confidence grows.
You can find several resources in my self esteem category and you can read more about optimism and pessimism activities here.
Communication is key
Communication is a key component for a successful year. This communication involves parents, students, and colleagues. All of these types of communication are necessary. Students need to know what is expected of them and they need to know they are accountable for their actions. They also need to know that there will be communication between you and the parents. This communication should be positive and should not be restricted to problems or concerns that have occurred. Successes should be communicated too. It is very exciting for a parent to hear what is going right with their child. Most parents are used to calls being for negative situations. A positive call can make their day too.
Communicating with colleagues is helpful for many reasons. Collaborating on common units, getting familiar with concerns about other students that you may encounter when on duty or field trips, sharing of materials and other resources, and agreeing on some common rules and routines are some examples.
Back To School Forms
One of the first things I did each year was send home a Getting Acquainted form. I remember being told once by my administrator that kids are precious and parents have entrusted them to us. What better way to acknowledge this than to ask for their input about their child. The Getting Acquainted form also provides valuable information from the parents' perspective which can be helpful during future communication.
The other form that I send home is a Home Reading letter. Many parents want to be able to help with their child's learning, but aren't sure what to do. This letter provides different strategies to use when reading with your child. It also helps parents to see that this is something that should be positive for both the child and the parent rather than stressful and a struggle to do.
Many teachers have sharing times or special helpers or stars in the primary grades. I used to assign certain days for sharing for small groups of children so that it was consistent and not to time consuming during the morning start-up. This routine also helped children to prepare ahead of time when they knew that their sharing day was coming.
For the star or special helper, I changed the person each day. I know that some teachers keep the same person for the week or do some other variation of this, but for me, daily changes worked well. If someone was absent, it was easy to see who was next and make adjustments as needed.
I created a set of start up forms for back to school that include star of the day, sharing day schedule, and some criteria forms and examples, as well as the Getting Acquainted note and the Home Reading letter. You can check it out here.
First Week Of School Resources
I have created several first week of school activities that can also be done virtually, if necessary. These activities are an easy startup to math and language skills after summer break. They can be done in any order, and you can select which ones to do. They are available individually, or as a bundle.
This is only a sampling of what can be done the first week of school that will provide engagement for the kids and set you up for a successful year.
Some Final Tips
Here are a few final tips to think about.
• Simple management things will help you keep your sanity. For example lining up routines, how to walk in hallways, rules for working in small groups, etc.
• Focus on the positive, not the negative. It can be exhausting to constantly redirect those who choose to misbehave or distract others. When you focus on those doing what is expected, often it will encourage other to follow suit.
• Everyday is a fresh start. This goes for students and for YOU.
• Have fun with your students and share stories, anecdotes, etc. with them. Enjoy your time together.
If you are looking for some activities and resources that are free and fun to use, sign up for my newsletter.
Returning To School
The first week back at school can be different things for different kids. Some dread returning, some are scared, some are excited, some are nervous, and some don't really know what to feel. We need to be aware of all these different emotions and find ways to help each child feel comfortable and excited to learn. This won't be easy, and there may be some kids that take a while to adjust, but it is a goal that we should aim to achieve.
If kids are eager to learn, it makes life easier for the teacher as well. It can be challenging to motivate and encourage kids if they don't seem to be interested and they resist participating.
Tips To Make The First Week Back Positive
There are many different things that you can do to help make the first week back positive and help the kids to engage in their learning. Here are a few suggestions.
Use games and ice breakers to help kids to get to know each other and work together as a team. This may be uncomfortable for some of the kids, so be aware of this and try to relieve some of the anxiety or lack of comfort by pairing them with someone they know, or by being their partner or team mate. Make sure the activities are low pressure so that they can be fun, but not too stressful.
If you have kids that were with you last year, give them roles of leadership and allow them to help guide the new kids through the rules and routines and be "the teacher" sometimes. Have them buddy up with some of the others who may be feeling nervous or anxious about joining in.
I often had my students write about their summer holiday and all the adventures they had. But, as I learned that summer break is not always a happy time for some kids, and it is something that they may not feel comfortable sharing about in a written activity or an oral sharing time, I made some adjustments.
I started to share some of my summer adventures with my classes and then do a quick written summary example with them. I then gave kids an option. If they wanted to, they could share their own summer adventure. If they found this difficult, they could write an imaginary story of summer adventures or they could write about another topic. The goal was to get them back to writing so I wanted them to have options that would work with their experiences.
Team Building And Developing Positive Self Esteem
Getting the class to become a team and learn to work together, is really important if you want to have them develop trust and respect for each other. There are many ways to do this, but I feel that the most important piece is creating positive self esteem and a caring attitude towards others.
There are many activities that can be done to help make this happen. I often begin my year by teaching about Tigger and Eeyore and how they view the world. We look at the difference between optimism and pessimism and how that can affect our day. I created some optimist/ pessimist task cards that allow the kids to talk about different situations and how they can react positively or negatively in them.
Once we have learned about optimism and pessimism, I talk to the kids about attitudes and how important they are. I use the phrase, "Attitudes are contagious. Is yours worth catching?" I like to have this posted in the classroom as a reminder when lots of complaining happens.
Success Words, Bucket Filling, And More
Developing self confidence and a belief in oneself is necessary if one is to feel successful and valued. There are several different things that can be done to help with this. Name acrostics, all about me activities, and talent shields are some examples.
One of the activities I like to do is "success or power words". It is amazing how these words can become so powerful when they are a focus. Many of my students would find things that said "believe" and point them out to me when they learned that it was my power word. I even received a couple of gifts that had the word on them. You can find out more here.
Bucket filling activities are also a great way to help kids to see how they cause others to feel based on their words or actions. I remember sharing stories with my class about different situations that happened to me. One time my daughter had her young children talk to me on the phone because they needed reminders to fill buckets instead of emptying them. They immediately changed their behaviors. (Was it the bucket filling reminder or was it wanting to please Grandma? Does it matter, it worked.)
I like to tie in Acts of Kindness to bucket filling. They complement each other nicely. It is great to see the kids focusing on others instead of themselves, as well.
Brain Breaks And Movement
Make sure to include some brain breaks and movement activities during the day. Remember, if we get exhausted the first week back, kids do too. They have been away from school for a couple of months and they need to readjust to sitting and doing activities for several hours of the day.
Each Day Is A Fresh Start
Kids need a reason to want to be at school and learn. If they have a cloud of negative behavior following them around, it is hard to feel motivated to try again or to improve. It is important to allow them to have a fresh start every day and to recognize the improvements in both attitude and behavior. We would want a fresh start and maybe even a do over, so it makes sense to provide this for our kids.
This has been my policy for many years. I also find that if I don't look into the history of a child or get the low down from previous teachers immediately, unless it is related to a health or safety issue, or an IEP, I get to form my own opinion of the child and they have a chance to start with a clean slate.
I learned how valuable this was a few years ago when I had a child with behavior issues that I was unaware of and after 3 weeks in my classroom, his mother commented that it was the longest he had ever been in a regular classroom. At this point, I did check into his history and I learned of some of the issues, but because we had already built up a relationship and he had not exhibited huge behavior issues, we were able to have a successful year. I did have to make some adjustments to different assignments and allow him to have some flexibility in his learning style, but it worked.
Have Fun With Your Students
Have fun with your students and let them into your world. It is important for them to make a connection with you. I find it interesting to see how they react to some of my personal stories about my family, my pets, and my adventures outside of school. They often have wonderful connections and they love sharing them with me.
Years ago when I first started teaching, I was told not to relax and smile at first. It was thought that it would be easier to maintain control and manage the class this way. I learned that it was better to share a part of me and build the relationship immediately. Kids want to feel included, not managed. Enjoy being with your students and they will respond accordingly.
I hope these tips have helped and that you will have a wonderful year. Next time I will share some resources and activities with you. In the meantime, if you are interested in getting some free resources, sign up for my newsletter.
Back To School Insights For The New Year
Back to school time is approaching. For some of you, summer break is over and you are heading back to school. For others, you have another month to go. Of course, as teachers, many of you are already thinking about the new school year and some of the things you will be doing.
I hope you have had time to rest and recharge and that you will have a renewed energy and motivation to get started again. After an exhausting and unprecedented year of teaching through a pandemic, it will be great to return to the classroom again and back to some of the familiar routines and activities.
Here are some insights and suggestions that I hope will help you based on what I have learned throughout the years.
Returning to school this fall will be a bit different since it is at the end of a very difficult year teaching during a pandemic. There will still be some uncertainty as to how things will progress. Will there be another wave, more online or hybrid teaching situations, or extra precautions needed in the physical classroom? Hopefully not, but we still need to be somewhat prepared.
Take what you have learned from teaching virtually and use the good parts to enhance your in-person teaching. Have a plan for teaching using a mixture of in-person and online activities. That way, you can find a blend that works with the current situation. It may not be as overwhelming that way. Many teachers have decided that they will continue to use digital resources in the classroom to supplement their teaching this year.
Preparing For Back To School
Setting up a special classroom environment for teaching is not necessary, but it will definitely make a difference to both the kids and you if it is inviting and well laid out. Just like people are attracted to different homes and designs when choosing a place to live, kids will have an emotional response to their classroom environment.
I know it is not always easy to get into the room ahead of time and do decorating and arranging, but even small things like pops of color, desk groupings, messages on the board, and special centers will help create a positive atmosphere. Once school begins, the kids can perhaps help with adding special touches to the class decor.
Getting Ready For The First Day
Every school and district has it own way of getting classes organized and ready for the new year. In our district, the classes are determined by the numbers of students enrolled and a class size formula. That means that the classes are not finalized until the end of the first week of school.
Instead of forming classes and then restructuring them all after a few days of school, the standard process is to have students return to their classes from the previous year. New students are added to classes of similar ages/grades. After the numbers are finalized, new classes are formed and the whole school is shuffled on the same day.
This process works, but it does require some extra planning when deciding on what activities to do, what the classroom set up will be, and how to make the new students feel welcome and included in a class that is already familiar with rules and routines.
When the reconfiguration is done, some students will move to different classes and some will remain in the same classroom. It is important that they feel special if they are staying with you. I will elaborate more in the next blog post.
School Rules and Routines
It is important to know what your must have rules are for the classroom and also which ones are flexible. During the first few days of school, if you are still not in the final class configurations, some of these rules can be introduced and practiced right away. Regardless of the different groupings, school rules can be introduced and practiced.
There are different ways of doing this. One practice that we have used in the past, is to create family groupings of mixed ages and have them rotate throughout the day to different teachers for lessons on specific rules and expectations. That way, every student is getting the same instruction and information for each expectation.
Another method is to have a school wide chart of expectations posted in each classroom and have the assigned teacher go over each of the expectations with his/her class. Or perhaps, buddy classes could combine to do these lessons.
Remember Self Care
It is important to remember self care as you return to school. Get lots of rest and give yourself some slack. I remember how exhausting the first few weeks of school was. Even though you intellectually know it will be tiring, it still comes as a bit of a shock when it actually happens.
Being well planned will help you to get through this. Brain breaks and physical movement will not only help your students as they adjust to being in school all day, it will give you a mental break and perhaps help you to get through the day better as well.
Next time I will focus more on the first week of school and ways to start the year off positively.
About Me Charlene Sequeira
I am a wife, mother of 4, grandmother of 9, and a retired primary and music teacher. I love working with kids and continue to volunteer at school and teach ukulele.