Holiday Books that Celebrate Diversity

I love books! Over the years, I have amassed a large collection of books that I love to share with my students. I look for books that reflect the diversity in my classroom. During the holidays, I also want to be respectful of the holiday traditions that my students may celebrate. 

Here are a few of my favorites for the holidays.

Happy Reading!


How to Draw an Elf Directed Drawing

As a mom, I began the tradition of having an Elf on our shelf during the holiday season. It brought my own child so much joy to see his elf appear magically each year. 

I was inspired by our family tradition to create this. While I do not believe that an elf should be used as a behavior management strategy, I can see how some children might want to know how to draw an elf based on their own experiences. 

I created a movie that you can use for yourself or use with your students.  

Lastly, here are a few other Elf inspired books and resources that you might like to add to your collection. In my classroom, I like the read The Littlest Elf before our directed drawings.  I also love Harry Connick Jr.'s The Happy Elf; the music alone brings a smile.  

If you use this in your classroom, I would be so honored if you shared them with me.  You can connect with me on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.  

Happy Teaching!

Star Wars Inspired Bulletin Board

It's Red Ribbon Week at our school. This year's theme is Respect Yourself which aligns perfectly with our school's exceptions; Be respectful. Be responsible. Be safe.

Our door this year was inspired by Star Wars.  Each child created a folded Yoda. I originally found the idea for this craft from Origami Yoda but modified the craft to better suit the needs of my students.  

How to Make Yoda:
Fold a brown construction paper into thirds.  
Fold down to create the robe. Glue it shut. 
Use green #Astrobright paper to make Yoda's face.  
Add face details with black marker.

Happy Teaching! 


Building Relationships

I've thought about this quote many times this school year. My class this year is not like my class last year. Oh, how I miss my class! I see their smiles, hear their "Mrs. Parker!" and wish that they were still mine. Although, they will always be mine in my heart, I have a new class to love. 

And, that's exactly what I've tried to do. Love each child for who they are. It's not always easy; even when they are 5. I've had many sleepless nights wondering how to connect with a child so that I can help improve their behavior. Wondering how we will survive the next 100 days if we can not get behaviors under control.

But, I have learned that before I can teach them, I must build a relationship. Talking, learning about their interests and listening to them. The power of creating a relationship is limitless. I witnessed this  at conferences, when a child told his mother, "She loves me." It didn't matter what I had taught him, that was all he wanted her to know. 

So, as I sit here writing this, I know that I am doing the right thing; one child at a time. Creating and building relationships with kids and families. That's the most important work I can do as an educator. 


Our Learning Space

Each summer, as I see teachers laboring for weeks in their classrooms, I wonder if I should do the same.  But I refrain, because I love my students' work and learning to be as much of our space as the decor I set up prior to their arrival.  The first few weeks, our walls are minimal.  Weeks later, this is what our classroom has become. It may not be "magazine worthy" but it is a homey learning space.  
View as you enter
Our Meeting Area
This is the heart of our classroom.  Much of our learning takes place here.  
Book Boxes
One change I made this year was to purchase these shelves.  Our book boxes fit perfectly and it looks much more streamlined than it has in the past.  

Library Area
Our library space contains a mixture of board books, easy readers and themed books.  I also have our listening center here.  

Writing Center
Currently, our writing center has student generated word lists and focused vocabulary from our Language arts adoption.  I will add words into the pocket charts as students become more confident to write.  

Exploration Table
I am trying to add more play and STEM projects.  This table will house different activities.  So far, we have used it to explore magnetic and non-magnetic items, build with legos, and to play with letters.  The class really likes this space.

Guided Reading Area
I use one of the tables my students sit at for Guided Reading.  I like to do this so that I can have as much open space as possible; less tables.  

Our classroom is beginning to look and feel lived in.  I am sure that our classroom will evolve as the year progresses. 

Happy Teaching!  


A New School Year: New Beginnings

We just completed our eighth day of school.  And, to be honest with you, I am exhausted.  You just simply forget how much goes into teaching; let alone teaching kindergarten.

This is one of my favorite bulletin boards.  (I hope to share more detailed pictures of my room later.)

We have been busy working on routines and procedures.  My class this year needs more direction so I am finding myself looking for new ways to effectively deal with classroom management and behavior.  First off, we are beginning our day with community circle.  During this time, we greet one another, share and work on creating our classroom community.  I am also using some Whole Brain Teaching Strategies to keep us focused.

Here are a few activities that we have used in our classroom; many are freebies.

1. We used beads and dry erase markers to write our names.  Find this excellent freebie here.
2. We read from our book boxes.  The book on the table is from my blog about school expectations.
3. We built number towers.
4. We love Pete the Cat!  We made these directed drawings from First Grade Blue Skies.

Overall, we've accomplished a lot in these last few days. 

Happy Teaching!

Learn the Alphabet with Letter Factory

Image Source

Teaching the alphabet is not as easy as singing the "ABC Song."  Some of the students I teach come to kindergarten with little or no alphabetic knowledge.  Our team tries not to see this as a setback but rather a starting point.  In years past, it may have taken a student an entire school year to master the alphabet and letter sounds. How silly is that?!

Then, a teammate shared the Letter Factory DVD with us.  It has completely changed how we teach the alphabet.  Students are now mastering the alphabet and letters sounds in weeks rather than months. 

As we all know, kinders have a short attention span especially during the beginning of the year.  But, their ability to watch a DVD can be much longer.  We use this to our advantage. Each day, we watch a short snippet of the Letter Factory DVD.  We, then, review the letters and sounds.  As we do, we teach our students the hand motions which go with the letter.  

This video shows you what it sounds like. Imagine your students singing along. 

I always have an extra copy or two of the Letter Factory DVD to share with families when a new student arrives.  Parents are always commenting how their child comes home singing the song.  And, oddly enough, students never tire of it.  

This is not the only tool we use to teach the alphabet but it is one of the most effective.  

Thanks, Abby from Inspired Apple for hosting this Alphabet Boom Link.
I am excited to see what other fun things I can do to make learning the alphabet engaging for my students.

Happy Teaching!


Creating With ThingLink for Education

Have you heard about ThingLink? Thinglink allows you to turn your images into stories; Common Core writing at its best. This web based platform can be used via the computer or on a mobile device.  To get started, you will need to register.  Be sure to register as a teacher. Educators can use the site for free and have their students use the site as well.  You are ready to start.  Upload an image or video and begin creating! This interactive platform is easy to use.

Here is the Thinklink that I created about myself. (If viewing on a mobile device, you might need to tap on the picture to view.) I plan on adding this to my classroom website as a way to introduce myself to families this upcoming school year.  I also hope to have my students create one about themselves. Since I teach kindergarten, I may ask our upper grade buddies to assist us or do this later in the year.

The possibilities are endless! 

This is the ThingLink my son created about our recent vacation trip.  Isn't this a great way to write a paragraph without feeling that your are writing a paragraph?!


I hope you'll explore this resource.  This is a great technology tool that allows our students to create, think and collaborate.

Happy Teaching!

My #EduStory

Recently, I came across the hashtag - #EduStory on Twitter which challenges participants to reflect on a variety of topics.  

I've decided to share my #EduStory.  

This blog is my way to record my reflections as a teacher.  Teaching is a difficult job.  There are ups and downs.  But along the way, there are many awe inspiring moments.  It is in those moments that I understand why I became a teacher.  

As a child, school was my safe haven. It was a place where I escaped my difficult childhood. It was the connections that I made with my teachers that made me yearn to be like them.  

I am a firm believer that education is a gift that lasts a lifetime; it's the tagline of my blog.  I have been blessed with an education through school but also the lifelong lessons that I have encountered over the years as a child, student, wife, teacher and now, mother.  

I have always taught at schools with a diverse student population with limited or low income including many second language learners.  I do not see this as a challenge but as a blessing.  


My hope is that I touch the life of one child or perhaps, many, who will believe in themselves and to know that hard work does matter.  It may not be easy but it is worth it.  In the meantime, I will keep on teaching, reflecting, and refining my teaching practices.  Along the way, I hope to record my journey for myself but also with you.  

What's your #EduStory? Share your story.


Google Classroom Tips for Young Learners

In a previous post, I shared about using Google Classroom in my kindergarteners. Today, I am going to share a few classroom tips for using Google classroom with our youngest learners.

Tip #1
I can't say how important it is to model.  In the beginning, I would model and my students would do the same step right after me.  As they became more proficient, I could show several steps.

For example, I would show them how to find the Google Classroom tab to open up the app. Then, they would do the exact same step and wait.  

As students became more comfortable, I was able to give a mini lesson and then, let them get to work.  The first few minutes of them getting started was always filled with high energy.  Once, they settled in, they became much more settled in their work. 

As with all good teaching, modeling is important.  

Tip #2
I would suggest that you begin Google Classroom after you have taught routines and procedures.  I always tell my students, "Slow and steady wins the race." I think it is true in this case.  Google Classroom is a tool that can enhance learning.  

I did not launch Google Classroom until the second half of the year.  This was well after my students had some basic computer skills such as the ability to log onto their Chromebook, click and were very familiar with using other sites for learning. More importantly, young learners need to have at least some alphabetic knowledge and writing skills.    

This year, I hope to launch Google Classroom earlier in the school year.  This is only because I feel more comfortable with using it. It took me some time to get familiar with the platform and to be willing to try it out.

Tip #3 
In order for this to be successful, you will have to make time.  I purposely planned at least an hour at week when first starting. The time actually increased as we began to create larger projects and work collaboratively.  

We did all our work in class rather than asynchronously.  This meant that I had to embed technology into my teaching and into my students learning. I had to think "outside the box" and somewhat outside of my comfort zone.  For example, when learning about 2 dimensional shapes instead of make an art collage with paper, we used Google Drawing to create our art.  This was all new.  

I hope that these tips encourage you to give Google Classroom a try with your students.  If you have any questions or comments, I'd love to hear from you.

Happy Teaching!

Google Classroom in Kindergarten

Have you tried Google Classroom? Google Classroom is a blended learning platform for schools. It is part of the Google Apps for Education (#GAFE) tools.  

I never in a million years imagined using it with kindergarteners. But, guess what?! I did!

I was amazed with my students ability to navigate the system and its overall ease of use.  

Via Google Classroom I am able to give my students assignments, links to websites and send announcements.  We primarily used Google Classroom to learn about various Google tools such as Google Docs, Google Drawings and Google Slides.  Yes, you could use Google Drive to get to these tools but Google Classroom is much less work and easier to navigate.  Trust me. I tried both ways.  

What I loved about this platform was that it gave my students the opportunity to create, collaborate, learn and explore. Students discovered that they were capable of creating digitally.  

Rarely did students finish assignments in one sitting.  That was okay. I made sure to provide time throughout the week as well as to make sure that the assignment did not have an immediate due date.  For early finishers, I was able to differentiate by adding a writing component, having them help other students or giving them a different assignment.

Our culminating assignment was to create a Google Slide presentation about an ocean animal.  This assignment allowed my students to show their mastery of many of the skills that we had learned over the course of the school year. 

Want to learn more about how to get started with Google Classroom?  Sailing into Second Grade has a great blog post about Google Classroom basics.

Happy Teaching!


Educational Books That Transform Teaching and Learning

Summer is here! Like many of you, I have a long list of educational books that have piqued my interests. Here is what I am currently reading.  

These educational books can be sorted into three categories of learning.

I am interested to learn how mindset can affect how and what we think about ourselves and our capabilities. We see this all the time as teachers and parents. Children believe that making mistakes is bad or wrong.  Where in reality, making mistakes is part of the process; learning.  Perhaps, this Frost quote, which I have loved since high school, sums up best Growth Mindset.

Last school year, I began the journey with my students of using technology in our everyday learning.  It's amazing to see what five and six year olds are capable of doing if you give them the tools and time to explore.  This upcoming school year, I would like to further develop these skills.

Ever since I began my teaching career, I have loved to read about other teachers who not only are great teachers but are mentors.  Teaching is demanding. But reading stories like these, always uplift and give me hope that what I do has purpose and meaning.

My hope is that these reads will inspire and transform my teaching and learning as I head back into the classroom this upcoming fall.   Now, a question for you.  What are you currently reading?


Learning through Music and Movement

I love this picture.  Like, really LOVE this picture.  


Because I was able to capture a moment where our learning was not based upon a scripted lesson from a textbook but rather in an active and engaging whole brain method.

Something magical has happened as we've danced to  Blends are Letter Friends created by kindergarten teacher, Kathy Griffin.

At first, the class was just following the dance moves.  Dancing, listening and having fun.  Eventually, they learned the words to the song. That is when the "aha moments" began. Students transferred their new learning into the academic setting. They began to see blends in their reading, our shared writing, and in their names.  Suddenly, blends were everywhere.

Over the years, I have found that if I can incorporate learning through music and movement, my students are more apt to learn the concept at a faster rate and can retain the information for a longer period of time. I have also learned that it doesn't feel much like learning.  It feels like play and fun. And, we all know that our classrooms need that.

Here is a list of some of my favorite resources that use music and movement.

How do you think students learn best?  Do you have any other resources that I should try in my classroom?


Self Portraits Made Easy

I love how children draw themselves.  Each is as unique as they are.  I like to have my students draw self portraits several times during the year.  It is amazing to see their growth and development.

Recently, I shared my students' self portraits on Instagram.  Several teachers wanted to know more about them.

I have a little secret that helps keep these self portraits large rather than small.  I give them a starting point by drawing a u-like shape on their paper. This makes a huge different in getting a good sized portrait.

We complete all our drawings in pencil first; no erasing.  Depending on the time of year,  I may model and coach them on how to draw different features.  For the one displayed above, I gave them the paper and they completed them independently.

Students trace with marker before coloring. I try to emphasize that they should press hard as they color to get a bold look.

Here is what our self portraits looked like at the beginning of the year.

I think these are the perfect anytime of the year.  

Happy Teaching!


Books that #CelebrateDiversity

I am honored to be able to spotlight Maria Dismondy's latest book, Chocolate Milk, Por Favor!

Maria is well known for writing books which #CelebrateDiversity.  As a former classroom teacher turned award-wining author, Maria creates books that make a difference by empowering children with courage and confidence.

Chocolate Milk, Por Favor! is no different.  In fact, it may be my favorite!  In this book, Gabe is a newcomer and learns to navigate through school despite his lack of English skills. Johnny, his classmate, doesn't understand why Gabe is getting all the attention. Learn how chocolate milk plays a role in Johnny's discovery that actions speak louder than words.

One unique feature of the this book are the Teacher Tips.  Personally, Your Name is Important reminded me of an experience that happened in our family. As a child, my sister had her name changed by the school. Yes, the school! When my parents enrolled us, they told them that her name was to hard to pronounce so that they could call her this instead.  Unbeknownst to them, my parents agreed.  It stuck and to this day, it is the name my sister uses.  Today, we would think of this as unacceptable but it does happen, in subtle ways; usually in our attempts to use the English version of one's name.

As a minority teacher and a teacher of minority students, I feel it is important to read books which have characters that not only look like us but share the message of acceptance and understanding.  I must admit that finding these types of books can be a challenge. Thankfully, there are authors like Maria Dismondy who strive to celebrate inclusion.

I am delighted to add Chocolate Milk, Por Favor! to my collection of Books that #CelebrateDiversity.  I hope that you, too, will add this book to your collection.  Maria Dismondy has graciously offered a signed copy of her book, Chocolate Milk, Por Favor!, to readers of this blog.  All you have to do is leave a comment. Perhaps, share how you celebrate diversity in the classroom or make a book recommendation.  I will select a person to receive this book on Friday, April 17th.

In the meantime, enjoy listening to Maria read, Chocolate Milk, Por Favor!.

Happy Teaching!

UPDATE: Comment number 1 was selected as the winner of Maria's book.

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