April 28, 2015

Healthy Eating & Planting!

Good morning, friends! It's a beautiful sunny day here in Buffalo, NY and I think we are finally out of the woods here with snow (isn't that sad?!) It's about time. This is the time of year when everybody's mental health soars and you realize that people actually live in the house next door to you! In my classroom, April is the month when we focus on planting and healthy eating! Planting is one of the themes that my grade level does every year together. We get a nice little kit shipped to us filled with soil and seeds and all the fixings for a planting unit.

Last year I started incorporating healthy eating into my planting unit because I realized how many of my kids had little or no exposure to fruits and vegetables. When I asked my class what their favorite fruit was one of them said "punch"....YIKES!!!! I thought what better unit to incorporate healthy eating and nutrition than during our planting unit? Let's learn about what a healthy food is AND where it comes from! I am so envious of some of the really progressive districts in the country who have nutrition as part of their regular curriculum (and I don't mean teaching the food pyramid like when we were kids...) Next year I want to invite some local farmers to our classroom for a "farm to table" presentation to teach the kids where food comes from.

This unit takes me about four weeks to complete- approximately two weeks of planting and two weeks of healthy eating. We start with planting (so we can get those seeds in the soil and watch them grow!) and then we slowly start incorporating fruits and vegetables into our discussions. Some of my little friends are even brave enough to taste some new foods!

To introduce plants we read lots of children's books about seeds and planting. Fantastic Fun and Learning has an awesome roundup of book titles that are great for your planting unit.

One of the best resources for teaching planting to this age group is the videos from Brain Pop Jr. Moby and friends explain plants, the plant life cycle and plant adaptations in a very age appropriate way. I just love that Moby!

We plant lima bean seeds in plastic bags and spray them with water and peroxide (to stop them from getting moldy.) After a few days the roots start to grow in the bags and the seed begins to sprout! 

We plant grass seed in planting cups and make hypotheses about what plants need to grow. We keep the grass in different parts of our classroom.
  • In direct sunlight with water
  • In direct sunlight without water
  • In a dark closet with water
  • In a dark closet without water

When we kick off the healthy eating portion of our unit, we start by brainstorming the names of all of the fruits and vegetables that we know. It's fun to hear that the kids have learned some new fruits and vegetables just by reading books about gardening and seeds lately!

Then we get tasting! This is my favorite part of the whole unit. Depending on your classroom allergy situation, you can bring in a variety of fruits and vegetables- some to touch and some to taste. I was so proud of my little friends for being brave and trying so many new foods! Some were a little harder to convince but some of them were willing to try everything. 

After we've become somewhat pros on planting, we learn about Tops and Bottoms using this great story: Tops & Bottoms by Janet Stevens. If you don't already have it, it's a MUST for your classroom library! You can also show this video of Tops and Bottoms being read-aloud

Here is our tops and bottoms sorting chart!

Here are the resources I use to teach planting and healthy eating!

April 27, 2015

Sinful Cinnamon Rolls

There are some foods that I have totally been blaming on the baby during my pregnancy. Cinnamon rolls and baked goods are one of them, even though I am pretty sure the non-pregnant me also loves cinnamon rolls. I just don't remember her very well at this stage in the game. Specifically, I have been all about a cinnamon roll that the bakery in our town sells. Here's the catch- they only sell them on Saturdays, and lately they sell out before I even get there. A few months ago I took matters into my own hands and made cinnamon rolls one morning when my mom-somnia had struck and I was up at 5:30am on a Sunday. I made these cinnamon rolls and pretty much decided I never needed to go to a bakery to satisfy my craving again. The only problem is then I had 12 amazing cinnamon rolls in the house and only two people to eat them. Such a predicament.

Sinful Cinnamon Rolls

  • 2 1/4 teaspoons of active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1/2 cup scalded milk
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of ground cinnamon

  • 4 tablespoons softened butter
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4-5 tablespoons hot water


  1. Dissolve the yeast in warm water and set aside.
  2. Scald the milk in a saucepan.
  3. In a large bowl, mix sugar, melted butter, salt, egg and milk. Add 2 cups of flour and mix until the mixture is smooth. Add in the dissolved yeast. Mix in the rest of the flour and knead the dough for 5 minutes.
  4. Cover and let the ball of kneaded dough rise in a well-greased mixing bowl. The ball of dough should double in size (takes approximately 1-2 hours). 
  5. Mix the cinnamon and sugar together and set aside.
  6. When the dough is done rising, punch down the dough and roll it into a 15 x 9-inch rectangle on a floured piece of parchment paper.
  7. Spread melted butter all over the dough and sprinkle the cinnamon sugar all over the butter. Spread the mixture all around so all of the dough is covered.
  8. Beginning on the long edge, carefully roll up the dough and pinch together at the seam to seal the roll. Cut in 1 inch pieces (approximately 12-15 slices).
  9. Coat the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar. Place the slices in the pan (approximately 3-4 per row). Let the rolls rise for another 45 minutes. They will look "squished together" after rising. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.
  10. Make your icing by mixing butter, powdered sugar and vanilla together in a standing mixer. Add hot water 1 tablespoon at a time. Add more or less water depending on how thick you like your icing. After rolls are slightly cooled, pour icing over them. 
For best results, enjoy while they are still warm or microwave for 30 seconds for a gooey, melt-in-your-mouth cinnamon roll.

Original recipe from Paula Deen

April 25, 2015

Behavior Chit Chat (Class Dojo & Behavior Interventions)

Raise your hand if Class Dojo has changed your life! Class Dojo is by far one of my favorite tools to ever grace the teaching world.

First of all, I have to say one of my favorite parts about Class Dojo is the iPhone app because my aides can have it on their phone and log in. We are all able to provide positive and negative reinforcement to our students. My aides go to specials and lunch with my students so even when I am not with my class, my aides are able to provide the direct reinforcement. They can be consistent with or without me in the room and consistency goes a looong way with my kiddos!

In the past I have used a variety of classroom management techniques and nothing has ever been as motivating to my kids as Class Dojo. Class Dojo is ideal in a special education classroom because it incorporates the green and red reinforcement system which is a research based behavior intervention THAT WORKS!

Before diving in to my behavior management system, one thing I'll say is that this is what works for me. Later in this post you'll read about the million ways I have had to tweak my system to make it work for everyone. You have to know your kids and don't be afraid to try a few things to figure out what works. I am a weirdo and I actually love behavior. I think behavior makes the world go 'round and it's one of the reasons I love being a special education teacher. I find so much happiness in figuring out the psychological reasons behind why a child acts a certain way and then helping him overcome it. I always keep in mind the ABCs of Behavior:

  • Antecedent- why is it happening?
  • Behavior- what happened?
  • Consequence- how did you respond to it?
EVERY behavior has an antecedent or a cause. Although it may not feel this way sometimes, no behavior ever just comes out of thin air. Children learn how to behave based on how you react to it. It is my own personal philosophy that my job is to help them learn how to control it themselves, not control it for them. 

So here's how it looks in Room 13...

In September I begin with my behavior punch cards to show my students the difference between green choices and red choices. I do this because it is more concrete and in their face and my babies are babies when they come to me so they need that in-your-face approach to learn the difference between a good choice and a bad choice. In the beginning I will give a green for ANYTHING. You picked up your pencil? You get a green! You had your eyes on me? You get a green! You came to school? You get a green! It's like Oprah Winfrey up in here.

(Hehe this was my first time making my own meme! I'm so cool.)

Once the kids start understanding the difference between a green choice and a red choice (usually after a few weeks) I take away the behavior cards and switch over to Class Dojo. I let the kids choose their own monster and off we go!

Incorporating a Traditional Color Chart 

One of the things that took me a little time to figure out was incorporating my traditional color behavior chart. I didn't want to do away with it because I use that to communicate with parents and sometimes I like being dramatic and saying "Move all the way to pink!" or "MOVE STRAIGHT TO RED." There is just something so effective about a traditional color chart. Also, this is most likely the system that my students will use with other teachers in the future so I want them to be used to it. At the end of the day I put a colored star in my students' folders so their parents know what type of day we had. I also can't assume

April 8, 2015

Dramatic Play: Making A "Real" Classroom Grocery Store, for Free!

Have you ever been to one of those awesome children's museums that has a REAL grocery store inside it, just for kids? When I was a kid I loved going to museums like that because I loved pretending I was grocery shopping. Any parent will tell you that you can spend a ton of money on toy food, play money and toy cash registers, but your kids would probably rather go into your cupboards and play with your cans of soup. There's a great children's museum

April 5, 2015

Momma's Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Happy Easter to you and your family! Today I'm sharing a recipe that has been in my family for many years...my Momma's carrot cake. She recently made carrot cake cupcakes for my baby shower and it reminded me how much I love them. I hope you and your family have a blessed day!

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Yields two 9" round pans or 24 cupcakes

Mix together the following ingredients in a bowl:
  • 2 1/2 cups of grated carrots
  • 1 1/2 cups of toasted walnuts, chopped coarsely

April 3, 2015

Safely Reaching Your Destination: A NYS Special Educator's Plea

I still remember the night I called my parents to tell them I was switching my major. It was in November of my sophomore year of college. I was so nervous that they would be disappointed that I wasn't going to pursue a business degree as I planned. I was afraid they would think that the reason I wanted to be a teacher was because I had failed calculus that semester. After all, those who can, do, and those who can't, teach. My mom answered the phone that night and I started to explain to her how I think I might want to be a teacher. She said, "Sarah, I already knew this. I have been waiting for this phone call for years." She said, "Don't you remember Miss Honey?"

Miss Honey was the name of the main character in Matilda by Roald Dahl. Miss Honey was the sweetest, most nurturing teacher who connected with Matilda in a way that no other adult or child ever had. My mom reminded me that I used to line up my dolls and my baby sisters (sorry Julia and Lily) and play Miss Honey with them. Just a few weeks ago, I was reading my students The Cat in the Hat. As I held up the front cover of the book, one of my students raised his hand and

March 28, 2015

Vanilla Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

Everybody who knows me well knows I am a vanilla girl through and through. I would choose a vanilla cupcake or a golden Oreo over a brownie any day. This is a good (and bad) thing when you work in an elementary school because guess who else loves the vanilla-vanilla combo? Kids. I can never say no to a classic vanilla birthday cupcake (unless it's one of "those" cupcakes- teachers, you know what I'm saying). Vanilla cupcakes are always my go-to when I am in the mood to bake, but

March 26, 2015

Shower the People You Love With Love

When you're in your late 20s, every spring and summer automatically becomes wedding season- am I right?! Since my husband is 5 years older than me, as soon as his friends were done getting married, all of my friends starting tying the knot. Therefore, every summer for the past 7 years have been wedding season for us and it doesn't look like it's letting up anytime soon. I personally don't mind all of the weddings, and one of my favorite parts (besides the open bar, new dresses and steaks) is getting creative, hosting showers and showering my girlfriends with gifts.

This winter we had our first Stock the Bar Party for one of my best friends who is getting married at the end of May. Have you been to or hosted a Stock the Bar party? It was a

March 17, 2015

Curried Carrot Soup with Ginger & Coconut Milk

I started my maternity leave last week which means I've entered full blown nesting mode. Although it's hard to nest when I only have about three good hours on my feet before I have to rest for the remainder of the day. Yesterday I started operation freezer meals. I am not so concerned with freezer dinners because my husband is actually our head chef when it comes to dinner. I am more concerned with having healthy lunches that are easy to prep and eat when I am home with the new baby. This soup is one of the best soups I have ever made! Sometimes I find a soup recipe that looks great but it requires a trip to the store for all sorts of complicated

February 26, 2015

Blog Hop FREEBIE Day!

It's finally my day for the special education blogger giveaway. Today I'm giving away my Call the COPS writing packet (normally $4.50) to everyone who has been following along with our giveaway this month! I am grateful for all of the special education teachers who participated because I have downloaded so many great resources. My Call the COPS freebie is my best selling product on Teachers Pay Teachers. 

This packet of materials is to be used to supplement your writing instruction. COPS stands for: Capitalization, Organization/Order, Punctuation and Spelling. It serves as an easy and understandable checklist for young writers who are learning to write and edit their writing. The theme of the packet is all police officers. The kids will LOVE the Get Out of Jail Free Cards and the Speeding Tickets! This is a great way to motivate your students to check their writing and encourage independence and accountability in their writing.