The Books we grew up on; Still as good as Ever!

I must warn you- this post will be mostly picture-less. I am writing it from my 27 hour escapade from Naples Italy to Mississippi. My computer decided to hate wifi in the airports so alas I am writing from my phone. Eek.

Without further ado, my all time favorite class children's books! Whenever I think of classic books I usually think of young adult or adult novels, but there are so many wonderful children's classics! Books that have stood the test of time and still manage to bring joy to the hearts of little ones. These are my top picks for classic children's stories;

 Blueberries for Sal- Such a lovely little story that parallels Sal and her mother picking blueberries on one side of the mountain, while a bear cub and his mother eat berries on the other side. My students have found this books so enticing with its single color illustrations.

 The Giving Tree- Need I say more? This books never fails to make me tear up everytime I read it. 

The Carrot Seed- Persistence, hope, love and care all wrapped up in one teeny book. A perfect easy reader for our on level firsties that teaches such beautiful and important lessons.

 The Snowy Day- I have to be honest, no hate, but Ezra Jack Keats has never been one of my favorites. Nevertheless this makes the list because my students LOVE it, it is a classroom favorite by far. Along with Peter's Chair.

 Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs- We always read this book over a few days because it is so long. Full of humor for bother adults and kids, I always get a kick out of this read aloud.

 Hop on over to Big Ideas for Little Hands to see her picks for best classic books.  This summer long blog hop has been hosted by the lovely Minute Mommy!

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Boo a Twist on Halloween Books

Before I started teaching Halloween was one of my least favorite holidays, but goodness during my first year teaching I jumped right in to the Halloween madness! I decorated my room, wore a Halloween sweater with orange turtleneck and was beyond excited to celebrate this 'perfect' for littles Holiday (sans the scary things!). One way we celebrated was with a week of Halloween themed books. In honor of that, here are my top 5 favorite books for Halloween! The twist is, that none of these books are specifically about Halloween. I have found that so many kiddo books are a bit too scary and sometimes there are families that do not celebrate the Holiday. These books have definite Halloween/fall feelings without being about Halloween!  
Piggie Pie- A delightful book about Gritch the Witch and the piggies on Old MacDonalds farm. This book is full of humorous references to characters in other stories and will leave both teacher and students grinning. The book centers around Gritch wanting to find some piggies to make piggie pie, and has a definite Halloween/fall vibe.
How many seeds in a Pumpkin?- This books is wonderful for anytime in October but I love reading it the day of or before Halloween. The book examines 3 different pumpkins asking which one will have the most seeds! After introducing the books, I will have students help me make a class graph on anchor chart paper of their predictions. Also a wonderful way to introduce strategies for repeated addition or multiplication!<  
Julia's House for Lost Creatures- Not Halloween or Fall themed, but deals with a little girl who moves to a new town. Soon she begins hosting all sorts of mythical creatures in her house! Such a fun little book, my kids loved it, they even voted it as their favorite book of October! I also have a fun book study on this one as well.
Stellaluna- Need I say more about this childhood classic? I have a wonderful freebie companion for this book on Teachers Pay Teachers to help with comparing and contrasting! 
Creepy Carrots- Little Jasper is a bunny who just l.o.v.e.s carrots! But one day the carrots start to follow him... or do they? Hmm. Such a fun little book perfect for K/1 to read leading up to Halloween! 

Whew! What are your suggestions for Halloween themed books? Would love to add some more onto my list! Hop on over to Our Elementary Lives for another wonderful list of seasonal books!
 Blog hop hosted by:

Building Character from Day One

When I started teaching I had many different beliefs, many were proven wrong but one prevailed throughout the entire year. What is that you may ask? Students need to taught how to be good people! This needs to be done through modeling, meetings, interactions, class management and more than ever through the books we read them.

Have you ever been in a store juggling a hundred items as you begin to walk out only to have someone shut the door, not even bothering to hold it open for you? Maybe this is just my pet peeve, but good character translates into simply being a good person, going the extra mile and doing what is right even when no one is watching.

Without further ado, I want to introduce you to my 8 favorites read alouds to build character especially in the first few weeks of school!I know I should have kept this to 5 but 3 are by the same author so that doesn't count right... ;)

Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell- If you do not own this book run to your nearest book store, er, I mean open a new browser and get to amazon immediately! This is the story of a little girl who is a little different than her classmates, but she still believes she is special. It is a heartwarming story and a perfect way to discuss self esteem and bullying in those early weeks. Also a wonderful way to begin discussing characters and comparing/contrasting, I have full questions and lessons in my book guide on TPT.

Ruthie and the (Not So) Teeny Tiny Lie- Ah! Honesty is the best policy after all! Begin your year by discussing a foundational skill, this is a book that you will return to again and again as different events come up in the classroom.

Any of these books by Julia Cook! From the first sign of he's touching me to she's looking at me these books are wonderful ways to teach self control, wisdom and discernment.

Amazing Grace- A book about a little girl who perseveres and learns that she is capable of anything! This book especially hits home for my kiddos as I teach at a school with a population that is predominately black but is a wonderful book for any school make up. I have a close read lesson plan for this book as well that is loved by many readers!
The Name Jar- This book tells the story of a little girl who is afraid to share her Korean name. This book is a wonderful first week of school read and a beautiful way to bring up acceptance of each other and of other cultures.
Those Shoes- My students adore this book! It's about a little boy who really wants a special pair of shoes but his family cannot afford them. Eventually his grandmother acquiesces and they go to search for the shoes... only the pair they find are too small. You'll have to read to see what happens with these beloved but too small shoes. A wonderful book about trying to fit in, looking for people in need, sharing and making friends!

I hope you have found a new book to share with your class this coming school year. Let's all join together in making this world just a little kinder day by day!

What are your favorite books to read in the beginning of the year?

Continue your blog hop by going to Big Ideas for Little Hands by clicking the image below!

Blog Hop hosted by Minute Mommy!

Social Justice in the Primary Classroom

She slipped her hand into mine while keeping her eyes fixed on the group of children building signs in the school yard. We had just had an invigorating social studies discussion on unionization and my students had decided to picket the refugee crisis. Dust blew across the yard as she looked up, "Ms. Smith why is our class so different?" 

I felt cornered by a six year old and by my rather unique teaching style, "Oh... uh... what do you mean sweetie?"

"We get to learn about real people! All the babies and mamas dying in that /g/ /g/ you know that country far away..."

I smiled at her as she tried to come up with the name for Germany and as a I listened to her discuss the numerous things she perceived as setting our classroom apart. Yet, she didn't mention the things that I thought really set us apart. the alternative seating, daily 5, our focus on song, Waldorf and Montessori influences at every corner. No, this little one thought that our focus on social justice set us apart, which made me wonder, are we as a society failing to introduce out students to concepts that will help them fight for a more just world?

In all fairness, I attended a Jesuit University that focused on social justice, my college career was steeped in what could be done to create a more just and humane world and I wanted to carry that over to my first graders.

So here are 5 ways I introduce social justice into my classroom-
  1. I start every day with a major news headline, bringing it down to a first grade level. In the fall we largely focused on the refugee crisis. Since children are not economically minded they truly move on the side of compassion. 
  2. I let children direct the conversation. Every day my students bring in 50 cents for snack at lunch. One day I showed my students pictures of mommas trying to carry their babies to safety through Eastern Europe. I wanted to discuss perseverance with them. Without a beat my students wanted to send their 50 cents to those mommas right now so they could buy slings.
  3. I tell students my feelings. This year some students at my college held a sit in to demand change within the college. It was a complicated issue that I had mixed feelings about. So I told my kids that some friends of mine were having a sit in because they wanted to be able to learn about more people that look like them. One of my students called out, "But Ms. Smith they just wants a good education like you wants for me!" Wow, never thought of it that way, maybe I don't have the same reservations when I look at it that way... When I am honest with my students and show them shades of gray as well as my own thinking, they are then able to think critically about issues around them. 
  4. I allow my students room to learn about education. They know our society has stacked every card possible against black children and therefore against them. They know that education is power, education makes you free, education makes you think. They know what society has done to cause this race and education crisis and they know that it is not okay. This is reality folks and my students live the reality of underfunded education due to their race and class every single day. They deserve to know this reality and they deserve to know it is unfair, they also deserve to know that there are big people that will fight for them all their days until they walk through those high school doors.
  5. I make room for feelings. Life is hard and feelings are valid, all feelings. My students hear a lot of things at home that they have no words for and that they are not ready for. Sometimes life is hard and scary. Imagine being a black six-year old growing up in a world where every night the news if filled with children just like you being killed by gun violence and police brutality? Ouch. Make room for feelings teachers, make room for feelings.
How do you integrate social justice intro you classroom? Would love more ideas!

Phonemic Awareness

When I began the school year this past August most of my classroom was well below grade level in reading. I knew that I needed a year long systematic phonemic awareness program but I couldn't find anything to fit the bill that was also reasonably priced. Therefore I did what any teacher would do, I researched and read, a lot! From there I began implementing my own phonemic awareness program and to my joy, it worked. Not only did it work, it worked incredibly well!

I saw all of my students go from below grade level to being on grade level in a matter of months. Five of my firsties came to me reading on an AA level and by January they were reading on an E or F. I contribute most of that success to this amazing program. At the end of the year all 27 of my students were above grade level in phonemic awareness and on level or above for reading. But more importantly they loved reading and using this program!

My phonemic awareness program is 9 units, or 180 days, of systemic straightforward instruction made by a teacher for teachers. Phonemic awareness has been missing in many lower elementary classrooms for years, simply because it has been thought to be unnecessary due to phonics instructions. Yet, phonics is the study of graphemes (letters) with a focus on print to get children reading and writing. Phonemic awareness on the other hand focuses on phonemes (sounds), it is all auditory and helps children with their ability to manipulate sounds. With a strong foundation in phonemic awareness children can easily grasp phonics concepts.

These units are an amazing way to add a much needed concept into your classroom in just 10-15 minutes a day! Every day includes the following:
-Language Awareness
-Deleting Phonemes
-Adding Phonemes
-Substituting Phonemes

Each unit builds on the previous one as students continue to move from large concepts such as compound words to breaking apart words into 7 or 8 phonemes! It is incredible what our students are capable of. Every day has brief instructions and many include hand motions. Here are example hand motions for unit 1:

Not only is this classroom tested by me, but it has also been classroom tested by over 100 teachers with rave reviews! Most recently I received this feedback:
This is exactly what I was looking for to build my kindergarteners' phonemic awareness skills. I use it for whole group instruction and then pieces of it during guided reading groups. I saw a difference in only a few days of use!
Yesterday I had a teacher contact me to say that her entire building wants to purchase this curriculum because it was so successful in her room. 

A few days and you too can see a difference in your classroom! The growing bundle is available here! These are no prep lessons, simply print and go. Everything you need from instructions to words are right in front of you. I also use this program in conjunction with phonemic awareness activities. Here is one of my littles completing a blending activity:
Phonemic awareness is a blast for the pre-k to 2nd grade crowd and why wouldn't it be? If we make it fun the children are bound to think it is fun! My students love using hand motions and phonemic awareness is never seen as difficult to them as it has slowly built on itself! Students beg to complete this program and I love seeing the joy they take in their own learning.

Would you like to give this a try in your own classroom? Here is one day for FREE! Unit 1 is available here and the whole year growing bundle is available here. The growing bundle currently includes units 1-5 (100 days of instruction) with unit 6 being added shortly.

One Breath Boxes

In my classroom I am always trying to find a healthy balance between phonemic awareness, phonics and sight words. When I first started out in first grade I was pushing the sight words, we would do tons of activities, flash cards and group games.

And it didn't actually work! So I sat down and thought about what I could do to quickly and efficiently review sight words without the drill and kill.

Introducing one breath boxes!
How do they work? For my red group we will use them during guided reading and for my higher groups they will use them once a week in centers.

The premise if that you take a deep breath and try to read all the words in a box without stopping. If you successfully complete the first box you move onto the second. After the child has mastered the first page of fry words 1-25 I will flip it over to version two where the words are in another order!

Here is a video of us using these in our guided reading group! This is only the 3rd time we ever did it so I was pretty impressed. :) Give them a try in your classroom and let me know what you think!!

Waldorf Multipication Wheels

Want a new and fun way to teach Multiplication to your students? Maybe a more visual and artistic way? Look no further than Waldorf Multiplication Wheels! My philosophy is that a picture is way better than words and a video is even better, especially when learning a new foreign concept.

This is a video of one of my first graders, age 6, successfully completing and begin to conceptualize what multiplication really is.  Wanted to preface this with his age simply because he struggles with some of the math but grasps the idea behind the wheel quickly and readily!

Interested in giving this a try in your classroom? You can buy the my set of Waldorf Multiplication clocks online right here! My kids absolutely BEG to do these in class and think it is the best thing ever. I am a firm believer that we make multiplication too hard with all our fancy terms and crazy ways of doing it. Bring it does to earth for your little scholars, teach it the way they learn! Let me know how it works in your class!

Buy here.