Pets in the Classroom for Classroom Management

Hi there friends!

Today I'm sharing a great organization that you may or may not be familiar with. I love free stuff (what teacher doesn't?) and I love finding new ways to motivate my sometimes challenging kiddos. Last year my friend Jenn told me about Pets in the Classroom. I looked into it this summer and realized how easy it was to apply for a grant for a pet in my classroom. The application took all of five minutes to complete and within a few weeks I had a letter in the mail with a coupon for a free aquarium and fish at Pet Supplies Plus! It's totally worth it. Click here to read about the different grants and stores that participate. You can also apply for the sustainable grant each year which grants you $50 to maintain an existing animal in your classroom.

So how am I using it? I wanted it to be something that the students had to earn for good behavior. My idea was that when our Elf on the Shelf left after Christmas he would leave the aquarium with a note explaining that they earned the aquarium for being good in December. Well, guess who forgot to bring it to school the day after break? Oops. So instead I used the tank as a reward after we saved up a bunch of ClassDojo points in January. The nice thing about using a class pet as a reward is that you can gradually release the rewards (and with a grant it's a cheap system!). Take a look:

One month of good behavior
Earn the tank

One week of good behavior
Earn the rocks in the bottom

One week of good behavior
Earn some decorations for the tank (you can drag this out for many weeks)

One week of good behavior
Earn the water in the tank

One week of good behavior
Earn a fish!

Right now we are earning 1 fish per week. You can also mix it up and some weeks earn a fish or some weeks earn a new plant for the tank. The kids love that they are part of the process and they love the responsibility of caring for a pet. It's also motivating because I can use caring and feeding the fish as an incentive for good behavior. Erica Bohrer has a great packet in her Teachers Pay Teachers store that has resources for every kind of class pet! 

Our Aquarium

Our First Fish!

Some of my boys teaching the fish how to count by 5s with a hundreds chart :) How cute!


Welcome Letters for Parents

Seriously!? It's hard to believe August begins this week. Where does summer go?! The first few weeks of summer I couldn't even think about school. Then in the past week as I was on vacation (pathetic, I know) I started to get that itch. I'm not ready to go back yet, but I started to get the itch to get things ready. On our 9 hour drive to Maine, I worked on my laptop the whole time. I know I am not alone! August starting in my school means that letters with teacher placements will go out to families this week and kids are back-to-school shopping. Although my school sends home a letter to inform the families of teacher assignments, I always send home a welcome letter from me. It puts the families at ease to learn a little bit more about the teacher and to feel as if they've been reached out to before the school year begins. Here is a look at what I sent home!

My welcome letter includes:

  • A brief biography and background of me
  • A brief overview of my philosophy of teaching and parent communication
  • A request for a letter back from the parents (this wonderful portion of the letter comes from Beth Newingham's opening letter)
  • A supply list
  • One sheet of Avery labels with the student's name on them (I like everything labeled and this way I know it is labeled to my liking and it also helps the parents out!)
  • An invitation to Meet the Teacher Day (This is optional, but since I teach a K-1 self-contained room, it is helpful for the families and students to be able to come visit the classroom and meet me before the first day of school. This is also a good idea if you have students who have recently began receiving special education services or are transitioning to a new building or special education setting.)
In addition to welcome letters at the beginning of the school year, I have always sent home introduction letters to the families when I was in long-term substitute positions.


An Open Letter to a Teacher Basher

This week one of our local news stations posted an article "exposing" what a teacher's pension was. I came across the link to the article on Facebook because one of my friends had commented on it. Like any news story that goes through Facebook, there were over 40 comments from people putting in their two cents about the article. Most were teachers saying, "Hey leave us alone for once!" Some comments were from people that were seemingly pleased that this news station "exposed" this public information, as it added fuel to the ever-burning fire that people have against teachers. As I read through the comments, I started getting angry as this person continued to bash teachers, calling us babysitters, overpaid, ungrateful and "simple". Teachers continued writing back to him, defending what we do and correcting his grammar, as to prove a point that it is ignorant people that must hate teachers or disagree with our pay scale and pensions. I attempted to write a response to this internet troll, but found myself not being able to find the right words to explain to him why he was wrong. I kept typing then erasing, editing, typing, erasing. I wanted him to so badly understand that we earn our summer vacations and pensions and incomes just as much as anybody else. My blood was boiling. I wanted to teach him a lesson (no pun intended).


My Favorite eBook App- and a Giveaway!

Last summer while I was setting up my new classroom, I wrote this blog post, searching for input on a great program or app that has audiobooks for kids. I used Storia from Scholastic, but it was expensive and I couldn't justify buying books after a while. I loaded up iPods with audiobooks from the library, but my kids got sick of the same twenty books. My school subscribes to Raz Kids, which my kids loved this year. Raz Kids is nice because it is from Reading A-Z, so I can print the books and resources for my kids for guided reading, and they can read the books on the computer on their own. I still didn't have an app that I loved for centers/Daily Five on the iPad though, because I liked to reserve Raz Kids for my direct instruction and guided reading only. I wanted my kids to have an app they could go on and just explore books with no assignment or guidelines. I also wanted them to feel like it was a game or a reward. Then I found FarFaria! You guys know how much I love a good app and bringing technology into my classroom.

FarFaria is an app for Apple and Android devices. It's $3.99/month and it is TOTALLY worth every penny. I use the iPad app and it's amazing. FarFaria has over 600 books for kids ages 2-9. They add five new books each week. Here are some of my favorite things about it!


Wedding DIY: Homemade Jam Favors

This weekend we celebrated our six month wedding anniversary.  We are halfway through our newlywed year. Where does time go? Next week will be one year from when we got engaged. Yes, I planned our wedding in five months! As I kick off my summer vacation this week, I can't help but think about the past year and how much happiness there was. I had so much support from my family, friends and fiancé as I planned my dream winter wedding and did as much of it as I could on my own! I also can't help but feel relieved that I am not getting married this summer (that was our other option), because I would have been wedding planning this entire year.
Here is some of the first DIY that went down when we began wedding preparations. A friend of mine once said she thinks all of the people who got married before Pinterest should get a re-do- haha. I think she's right! I mentioned this favor to my mom in the summer because my mom and I love to can together, and she immediately jumped on board. I seriously don't know what I would do without my mom, she is such a selfless person. My parents have an apple orchard and so my mom totally took over the favors. In a matter of 4 weeks, she had picked, peeled, canned and decorated over 300 jars of organic, homegrown apple pie jam. The apple pie jam went along perfectly with our wedding theme, because we had a winter wedding and all of the preparations took place in the fall. The bridal shower that my best friends had for me was fall/apple themed- and we had an apple crisp dessert bar at our reception.


Easy Guacamole

Guacamole has always been a favorite party snack for me, and my go-to when I can't think of anything better to bring to a party. Now that summer is around the corner, I've been getting away from the hot and cheesy comfort dips and opting for fresh and healthy appetizers when entertaining. For years I have been meaning to measure and figure out exactly what my guacamole recipe is. Most of the time I'm guessing, throwing in things that I have in the fridge already. Last weekend I finally wrote down exactly what I did when I made a good batch! Our Farmer's Market opened last Saturday so the chips & salsa are from a local guy. They are to dieeee for.
Easy Guacamole
-3 ripe avocados
-1 medium, ripe tomato, diced


Let's Hear It For the Moms!

Happy Mother's Day to all of the wonderful moms in our world! Being a teacher is a lot like being a mom. Although I don't have my own children yet, I got a taste of that proud mother feeling on Friday when we hosted a Mother's Day Tea. I was so proud of my kiddos for all of their hard work and how well behaved and polite they were to our classroom guests. Here are some of the snapshots from our week of MOM!


Wordless Wednesday: Saving Anchor Charts

I haven't done a linky party in a long time, but I saw this one on Instagram and found it would be a perfect place to ask a question to other teachers. Many teachers that I have worked with in the past laminate and save anchor charts, poems and other visuals that they handwrite or create on chart paper.  I do anchor charts and write out poems for every theme and unit, and now I am struggling with what charts to save and what charts to laminate and keep to reuse next year? I will definitely not save ones that are specific with my students' names and ownership on them.

What anchor charts/visuals do you save and which ones do you make new each year?


Dealing with Class Behaviors

I didn't know if I would be able to blog about this topic when I was in the middle of dealing with it but now I think it's safe to say we are out of our funk. We have completed a 180 from where we were in January and February. It's easy to think it's always sunshine and rainbows in kindergarten and first grade, but the reality is, we have some really great days and some realllllyyy tough days.

The months of January and February were tough because we were battling cabin fever. We had a snow day (or 2) almost every week. We had February vacation. We had Valentine's Day, the 100th day and many other very "excitable" events in our classroom. I know this sounds like fun. What's wrong with a bunch of snow days and a vacation?! But from the teacher's shoes, snow days, vacations and holidays can sometimes be our worst nightmare. I paid for every single snow day we had. Disruptions in routines are the downfall of my classroom and all of these fun filled and unexpected events caused our class to unravel in the days we were together. Some days it felt like it was September again. My kids were forgetting our simple classroom rules like raising hands, saying please and thank you and walking in the hallway. They were forgetting how to be nice to each other. They were irritable. They were fighting with each other. They were driving each other bonkers!

So what is a teacher to do when her class is unraveling? Well, I'm not entirely sure if there is one answer for this. But here is what I had to do.

I took away everything fun. I KNOW. It seems heartless but all of my other behavior systems had failed me and I needed the shock factor to really get them to understand that I was serious and that we could not go on like we had been.

At the end of what I can only describe as our worst day all year, I took all of our toys out of the classroom as my kids sat and watched. I put garbage bags on all of our computers. I took away our "Scrap Monster" which is really just our recycling bin but the kids have free reign over it to make crafts. I needed them to understand that school is FUN and the things we do and have we are LUCKY to have and we don't just get them because we are supposed to. We get them because we deserve and earn them! It was a sad day and I felt that inner conflict that all teachers are familiar with. Was I being too harsh? Was this going to work? Would they even care?

The lone chair sat where we once had our kitchen, our toy shelf with blocks, Legos, Knex, figurines, etc. Such a sad day!

I sat down with my principal after school and asked her for her support. My kids really respect and love her so I knew if she helped me it would help them. We came up with a plan. She kept all of the toys in her office where we could easily see them every time we walked by. I took photos of the toys and made puzzles out of them. On Monday I told the kids that we had to earn each toy back ONE puzzle piece at a time. The only way to earn a piece was by following the rules, trying our best and BEING NICE TO EACH OTHER!! We talked a lot about different scenarios and how we should behave, how we should treat each other. The kids learned that going on the computer during math or reading isn't just "part of school", it is STILL a privilege. They didn't like doing paper and pencil work during that time!

It took a LOT of management, praise and encouragement but the kids did it. One toy, one day at a time. They worked together to get each thing back. Every time we earned something back, the child who earned the last piece to the puzzle got to go to the principal's office and get the toy. We cheered each time something came back. It took the full week to earn everything back.  I was really, really proud of them and noticed a huge change in behavior. Slowly but surely I had gotten my class back!

Now here's the thing...

More often than not, I blame myself for bad weeks and bad days at school, wondering what I could do differently or how I can improve our class. Although I needed to do something drastic for the kids to make a change, I also used this rock bottom as a way to reflect on the things I was doing each day. I reflected on my groups of students. Was this a bad combination of kids that led to behavior problems? I reflected on my timing. Was I leaving enough time for us to line up for music class quietly or did the kids feel rushed and chaotic? I reflected on my planning. Was I planning lessons that were keeping them interested and engaged? Despite my students needing strict routines, there is something to be said about a change of scenery helping everyone get out of a funk. I decided to rearrange our classroom, reorganize the way we did centers and find some new things for them to work for. 

It was a tough winter, but this was back in February and the past two or three weeks have been full of good behavior and I couldn't be prouder of my kiddos for working through it! In many ways it was the spring cleaning that we desperately needed! 


Curried Vegetable Lo Mein

Vegetable lo mein was always my choice when my family ordered Chinese food, and I still slow down when I walk past the vegetable lo mein on the Chinese hot bar in Wegmans (there's something about food bars that gross me out though...) Tonight I made this because I was craving Chinese but takeout wasn't in the cards because of my fast. I used whole wheat lo mein noodles, added some extra veggies and omitted the brown sugar from the original recipe. This was one of my favorite homemade Chinese recipes I've ever made! It was unbelievably easy too!
Curried Vegetable Lo Mein
Recipe adapted from My Recipes
4 cups cooked lo mein noodles (I used Roland brand organic whole wheat lo mein noodles)
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp fresh ginger (pealed and finely chopped)
3 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp curry powder
1 cup of vegetable broth
1 cup thinly chopped carrots (or matchstick carrots)
1 cup red peppers (thinly sliced)
1 cup snap peas
1 cup bean sprouts
2 tbsps low sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup of scallions
Cook noodles according to package. Immediately toss hot noodles in sesame oil to coat.
Heat olive oil in large skillet on medium-high heat. Add garlic and ginger and sauté for 30 seconds. Add curry powder and coat garlic and ginger with it, sauté for 30 seconds. Add vegetable broth and let it simmer. Add carrots, peppers and snap peas. Cover and cook for 5 minutes until vegetables are cooked but still firm. Add bean sprouts and scallions and cook uncovered for 1 minute. Add the noodles and soy sauce. Combine and cook for 2 minutes or until thoroughly heated.  Enjoy!