Time-Saving Tips for a Smoother Transition into the School Year

It's nearing the beginning of the school year.  The school to-do list is long and you want to keep the rest of your worries to a minimum.  While reflecting on the beginning of last school year, I realized I did a few things (some intentional, some not) that helped alleviate some B2S stress and save some time. So today, it is all about a few tricks to make life easier!!

My mom used to tell me to find a "uniform" aka an outfit that is comfortable and you feel good in.  Then buy a few versions of it.  What is easier than a black top and ANY color pants (except for navy blue, of course)? SO I bought 3 black V-neck Tees.  This actually was a happy accident.  Too much late night online shopping (and wine) will do that to you.

So now I don't have to rummage around for my one black tee.  Truth: I was wearing a maternity one for over year or so. Now, I have a plentiful supply and getting ready in the morning is just a tid bit easier.  Do I wear a black t-shirt everyday? No.  But probably twice a week so that is two less outfits to think about.

Find YOUR uniform.  Buy a few of each item and spend less time worrying about what to wear!
One thing I am low, low maintenance about is my hair. I get one haircut a year.  And I use shampoo and conditioner from the Dollar Tree. #dontjudge #sorrynotsorry

Last year I went short.  Short short.  It cut at least 15-20 minutes off of my morning routine.  And I love it.

I am not suggesting everyone cut their hair off.  Find that hair style that is simple and easy to do when you don't feel like spending a lot of time on your hair.  

When I walk back into my classroom that first day, it is overwhelming. Where to start? What to do? Where are my scissors at?!  To make it go a little smoother and waste less time, I made to do lists for my 2 prep days before PD starts. I planned some of the more fun stuff for the first day to get me excited and then down to the nitty gritty details for day 2. 

Teachers love to do lists and I am sure you already have one. Prioritize the most important items and make it realistic.  Break it down by days or even hours instead of one long overwhelming never-ending list.

In anticipation of the exhaustion and lack of motivation to do anything after school, I planned to make some meals ahead of time. I went with easy recipes--mac and cheese, lasagna and baked ziti. I made smaller portions since it was just me and the hubs eating. I still cooked from time to time (and ordered the occasional take out) but these meals were a great supplement. 

Prep some go-to meals or at least make a plan ahead of time about what you will eat those first few weeks of school when you are too tired to think about one more thing.

What's your best back to school tip to make life a little easier?


Math Activities for the Beginning of the Year

The start of the school year is upon us! Maybe you have started already or perhaps you don't go back to school until after Labor Day. We are headed back August 21st. It is really bittersweet. I love school but once it starts, it feels like you are on a treadmill that is going just a little too fast to keep up at all times.

Alright, let's get into what I am here for today. The beginning of the year for every subject area is a special time. Math is my favorite subject and there are just SO many ways to teach it (that don't include the curriculum workbooks, thank goodness!)  I like to expose my students to ALL the different ways we will learn and practice math so there is a familiarity throughout the year.  Here is what we will do in the first few weeks of school.

I have said it before and I will say it again--math games are my favorite!! Whole group, small group, partner games... I love them all! Not only are they a great way to practice math skills, they teach important life lessons on being fair, honesty, good sportsmanship and healthy competition.

You can find the directions for domino war for free here by Sunny Days in Second Grade.

Bingo is one of my ultimate favs! It's quiet and students are focused so what could be better? I have another math bingo which you can find here.

Seeing students working independently at centers makes my teacher heart happy. It's everything I imagined teaching would be when I first dreamed of becoming a teacher (way back in 1st grade!).

The top center is called Playing Around with Place Value where students use a clue to write the number on the back of football jerseys. You can find more like this in my Football Centers.

These name collection crayon boxes are a great way to assess your students number sense and understanding of different names for numbers.  They are in my back to school centers.

Do you use interactive notebooks? They are such a great tool for learning! I use these once I feel confident that students are ready to show what they know. I often use them as a quick formative assessment. I also encourage my students to refer back to their notebooks to review past skills and concepts.
These are from Lucky Little Learners
Last but not least, we will use our laptops and iPads to practice math daily. 
Here's a few ways we do this.
ProdigyMath is a super fun, interactive game. Students LOOOOOVE it. Like almost too much lol. Last year I told my kids that it only works in the computer lab so they weren't trying to sneak on during other times of the day. You can pick exactly which skills you want your students to work on and it tracks their progress! It provides wonderful data and did I mention students love it? Oh and it's free!

Symbaloo is a free place to store bookmarks of websites you want your students to be able to access quickly. They only have to learn one link to access anything you want for the whole year! I use this for Listen to Reading as well as math games. I change out the math games depending on what skills we are working on. Here's an example of what mine looks like right now. I keep all my math games on the left side.

FasttMath is a free program for students to practice math facts. It starts with a pre-assessment so they are practicing exactly what they need to be! My goal is to have my kiddos use this for 15 minutes a day.

Happy teaching!


Perfect Zero: A Subtraction Game

Hi there! Today I am going to share a really simple and easily differentiated subtraction game (could be adapted for addition, too!). I just love love love using games for learning. My math block usually looks something like this:

Mini lesson: 15  minutes
Whole group practice: 10 minutes
Independent practice: 10-15 minutes
Games/Centers/Technology: 15 minutes

My goal is to teach my students one new game per week. Then I rotate games and make them options throughout the year. 

When I am teaching a game, I usually play it whole group first. I have found this works best. When I have tried to model playing with a partner in front of the class, many just aren't paying enough attention to be able to go play independently. 

The kids LOVE it when I play versus them. So that's what I do! And I use these large inflatable dice which makes it even more special.
You can find some like these at Oriental Trading: Click here

*side note: the first time I went to use these, I hadn't blown it up beforehand. And I was 9 months pregnant so using my full lung capacity just wasn't happening. So definitely blow up ahead of time--haha!*

Today's game is called "Perfect Zero". This makes a great partner game. 

What's great about this game is you can easily differentiate EACH partner group by assigning a different starting number or changing the amount of dice they use!

In order to win, the person needs to get a PERFECT zero. So if you are down to 5 and you roll a 6, you have to roll again.

My students have a number grid and number line on their name tags. I attach their name tags with a Velcro dot so they can easily remove and take around the room with them which is super helpful for this game!

If you are interested in this name tag template, you can find it here:  Editable Name Tags

Looking for more subtraction games? You can find more like this here:

Happy teaching!


First Day Plans 2017

It's mid-July and already starting to feel like a Sunday night, even have about a month of summer left. Our first official teacher day is August 16th, students come in on Monday the 21st. (EEK!)

My family is going to the beach at the end of July which I planned on purpose to try to make that summer feeling last as long as possible. So, since my vacation is fairly close to when I should be starting to prep for B2S, I am going to do some things now so I am not completely overwhelmed later.

Last year, I shared my first day plans and my first week plans which you can find here and here. I switched up a few things for this year so let me show you what's in store for this year! You can download a copy of the plans here which includes links to all of the resources I will be using (most of them free!).

My morning seems kind of rushed because we have our special daily at 9:15. I like to start the first morning with a coloring sheet--requires zero directions and keeps them busy while I am sure to be dealing with other first day logistics! It allows me to greet my students at the door and show them to their seats. I don't have them hang up their stuff in our closet until we can go over exactly what that should look like and where they should hang it!

After a quick introduction and brief schedule review, they will head to Art. When they get back, my grade level will be doing a walk-through of lunch room procedures and then head out to the playground to go over recess rules.  We let them play for a little while before practicing lining up.

Finally, we will be back inside and ready to really start our day. I will start by reading "How to Get Your Teacher Ready" by Jean Reagan (you can find it on Amazon here). After reading, we will talk about how we got ready for school.  I am going to just type up each students name and write their response on the Smartboard.

Then, before recess/lunch, I will share about myself and my family. Students will write about theirs in an All About Me flip book. We will do some sharing then get ready for lunch!

After recess and lunch, we will get into some classroom routines and procedures.  I will limit this to about 3-4 of the most important: lining up, hand signals (for using bathroom, getting drink ect), coming to the carpet and getting a new pencil. We will talk about it, model it, and practice it a few times. One of my favorite tools for discussing expectations is these fictional stories about students who make both positive and negative choices. It helps students recognize what others do well and what they need to improve.

Then we will read THE MOST adorable book. It makes me tear up a little, it's that cute. It's all about a principal giving his teachers their "seeds" for the year and all the teacher does to help them grow. The kiddos might not get the connection right away. I usually read it at the end of the year, too and light bulbs go off! We will make this craft to go with it. 

 Four corners is a repeat from last year because it is PERFECT for the first day. It is a wonderful interactive way to get to know students while getting them moving around!

Finally, these bus bracelets will be a fantastic tool for keeping track of everyone during dismissal. Because getting them fed and getting them home (the right way!) are the two most important goals that first day!

What is your favorite first day activity?


Motivation Monday: Daily Schedule

I am linking up this week with Teacher By The Beach to talk about our daily schedule. It will most likely change a bit because that happens. Every year we are asked to include more subjects/programs/initiatives into our day. Yet, nothing ever gets eliminated. The schedule is like a balloon that's about to pop.

Anywho, let's get down to business.

The bell rings at 8:40 (teachers have to be at school at 7:55, however). I usually get there somewhere around 7:30. The morning is my best work time and I leave right away in the afternoon. Kids come in for about 10 minutes. I think after 8:50 they are considered "late". 

This year, I have to squish in a morning meeting before my special at 9:15. Our specials are everyday and they include gym, music, art, computer and library. I actually volunteered for morning special this year.  Last year I had afternoon and I was always so tired I barely got anything done.  

When they get back, we will have a short snack break and I will read aloud from a chapter book. Or we will finish morning meeting or go over morning work.  I am not totally sure yet. 

Next up is my least favorite part of the day--Fundations.  In my opinion, there is nothing fun about it. So I want to get it over with as soon as possible.

Next is my favorite part--guided reading. Students will be pulled for Tier 2 reading support. I will teach 3 reading groups. Students will engage in 3 centers. I am simplifying this block. My system last year was a bit complex.  You can read about it here.

This year we will have recess before lunch despite the way in which I ordered it on the schedule. This is new and I am sure we will find something wrong with it. Does anyone else do this?

When they return from lunch and recess, it's time for shared reading. I kind of wish I could fit this in the morning before reading groups/centers.  Next is writing. That's our new initiative this year--Lucy Calkins--to be exact. I have the kit and I am supposed to be reading it this summer....

I have always wanted to teach math in the afternoon. But not really after reading and writing. I feel like that's a lot of subjects smushed together.

2nd recess is necessary with a long afternoon. Next we do science or social studies. Then pack up! The day is over. Whew I am tired!


Why I'm Not Shopping for my Classroom

Disclaimer: I find nothing, absolutely nothing, wrong with wanting to spend money on your classroom.  I have in the past and I will in the future. 

But there are some stages of life where other things take precedent over a new set of plastic organizer bins or a stack full of books for your library. And I want to remind you that it's okay.

You might be seeing all the things everyone else is buying, the Target Dollar Spot finds, pretty colored bins from Hobby Lobby or new flexible seating options from Big Lots.  Teachers love shopping for their classrooms.  And there is no shame in that game.  But if that's not your prerogative this summer, it's easy to feel a little FOMO or shopping envy. #thestruggleisreal

Here's why I am choosing to have a frugal summer as far as it comes to purchasing items for my classroom.

   It was the summer after my first year teaching and I had #alltheideas for the upcoming year. I truly did need some of it but a lot of it was for fun. The pile in my living room grew and grew.

And it was great! I have zero regrets.  I used all of the stuff I bought and it really helped make my classroom feel more like my own. But this summer, I sat down and thought "What do I really need?" Trust me, there are things.  But I am going to try to hold off and purchase what I need through my allotted school, PTO funds and Box Tops! I realize not everyone is fortunate to get any money from school and we don't get a lot but it will be enough to cover the essentials.

With a baby on the way, it is really difficult to justify dropping dough on classroom decor. Also, when I head back to set up my room I will be in my 3rd trimester so any drastic room changes are going to be too physically challenging. Instead, I am going to try to simplify the best I can for my sanity (and my substitute!).

Maternity leave also equals weeks that I will go without a paycheck. And while staying home for 12 weeks with my new little one is priceless (and wayyy better than the 6 weeks I did last time!), it will require some creative financial planning. 

Paying off debt is a new obsession.  I started following some major debt crushers on Instagram and realized how possible it is for us to reach this goal.  So if you are struggling with seeing all the shopping pics, I highly recommend looking up the #debtfreecommunity for some inspiration!

Being debt free (besides our mortgage) will be a huge help with that unpaid maternity leave and additional childcare costs with #2. I keep asking myself why we didn't start knocking out debt sooner!

With our expanding family, we are anticipating needing more space. We currently live in a 2 bedroom 1.5 bathroom townhouse.  I still really love our house but the 2 major issues are 1. backyard and 2. school district. Our almost 2 year old obviously has a few years before we need to worry about school but as a teacher, I think about it often.

Regardless of reasons, I think it's important not to get caught up in the summer spending spree if you aren't really wanting to this year. Think about what you really need and what you really want that doesn't have to do with school.

What are you not spending for?