June 30, 2015

9 Supply List Must Haves

Every school has a different policy when it comes to school supply lists. Some schools require that every grade level has the same list. In my school we are allowed to have our own lists and decide what we want on it. Here are a few of the untraditional things that I have on my supply list and a few tips that make the school year more enjoyable and organized for everyone!

*Disclaimer: I understand that many teachers simply cannot ask parents for many of these things for financial reasons. This is simply what works for my class!


Now that technology has such a presence in school, I believe that headphones are a must for a supply list. Many headphones contain fabric and foam which can be breeding ground for lice and other germs. GROSS. If kids shouldn't share hats, they definitely shouldn't share headphones. How cute are these animal headphones from Caliphone? A few of my students had these last year and they are only $13.99 from Amazon!

Storage tip: I have my students store their headphones in a gallon size Zip-loc bag in their cubby.

Beach Towel

I learned this one from the very first kindergarten team that I worked on (back when kids still had rest time!) Instead of those plastic rest mats I ask for a beach towel from each child. We use them for quiet reading time, outdoor picnics and special events like Polar Express Day and movie days. They are easy to send home to be machine washed. 

1 Inch 3-Ring Binder with Window

I use this binder as a reading binder for my students. I keep all of their reading assessments, sight word progress monitoring, reading passages, tests and quizzes, etc. It is nice to have all of this in one place so my aides can grab the binder and pull a student aside to work with him or her. At the end of the year I have a binder full of documentation of their reading progress to be sent home and during the year I can bring this binder with me to parent meetings and CSE meetings. 
TWO Supply Boxes

Supply boxes are on most elementary supply lists but I ask for TWO. I use one for their normal supplies and one as a math tool box. We use the Expressions Math program and it has millions of manipulatives. This extra tool box makes it easy for students to keep track of manipulatives and for me to organize our math lessons.

Old Socks

A trick I learned from my sister-in-law who has been teaching kindergarten for 15 years! Old socks are the perfect dry-erase eraser. They work better than a lot of real erasers, they are easier to store and they are free. Plus, you don't feel guilty throwing them out at the end of the year when they get gross.

Old T-Shirt

We use this as an art smock and for arts and crafts inside the classroom. It also comes in handy during science projects that are hands-on and dirty!
FOUR Boxes of Crayola Crayons

Crayons are probably the most common supply on elementary supply lists, but I ask parents to send in FOUR boxes of crayons. I know, it sounds kind of greedy. Our school year is broken into four 10-week chunks. Every 10 weeks I have my students clean out their supply boxes and open a new box of crayons. They LOVE opening a new box of crayons. Can you blame them?! Coloring with dull crayons isn't enjoyable for anybody, let alone a six year old who is trying to learn to color in the lines. Crayons are so cheap in the summer that it's not as greedy as it sounds!


Trust me, this is worth being specific about on your supply list! Even if you still get unsharpened ones (it happens every year), you will be glad that the majority of your pencils are already sharpened. We have enough to do in September!

Old Sneakers

I take my students outside all year round- rain or shine! I don't require that parents send in extra sneakers but I do recommend it if they don't want new school shoes muddy by October! 

June 28, 2015

4 Ways to Rock Out a Self-Contained Schedule

Welcome to WEEK ONE of our Special Education Summer Blog Hop! This blog hop is hosted by the wonderful Kyle over at Kinder SPED Adventures. Join us for the next 5 weeks as we prepare you for a new school year in the special ed world!

Scheduling is my LEAST favorite part of teaching. It is so hard to fit everything in to a school day but it is nearly impossible to fit everything in to a special education day!

Here are four ways to rock out the schedule in your self-contained class:

1. Get Involved in the Master Schedule

Before you can make a master schedule for your classroom you have to get your master schedule from your school. In my school, we usually get this at the end of the school year so I have all summer to digest it and mess around with some different ideas for how to plan my days. My principal is awesome and lets me have all of my specials in the afternoon so I can teach in the morning when the kids are fresh! If you’ve never worked with your administrator on the master schedule, it is worth checking in and asking if he or she is willing to get your input on what would work best for your special learners. It never hurts to try!

Some things to consider:

-What time of day do I want to get the most teaching in?

-When can I make the most of my planning time?

-Are there teachers that I want to have common planning time with? This is especially helpful if you integrate your students sometimes. I like having a general education teacher with a similar master schedule to mine because sometimes I have students who are being slowly integrated into general ed.

2. Specials: Back to back or break them up?

Typically I have two specials per day. Last year I had one special in the morning and one special in the afternoon. I thought this would be ideal because I thought it would break up the day nicely. I thought wrong. I could never get any good teaching in! As soon as we’d get into something it would be time to line up for specials again. This year I had both specials in the afternoon and it was much better. Now I have my students with me all morning and I can get so much accomplished. If we get squirrelly or stir crazy I can do a brain break or switch up the activities. It is better to have a big chunk of time and have the freedom to break it up if you need to.

3. Make a List and Be Realistic

When I started my program, I had all of these amazing ideas and dreams of what I would do with my class. Pinterest and teaching blogs are NO HELP when it comes to this! So many cute ideas and so little time. Daily 5, writing, poetry, music, social skills, cooking, crafts, calendar, morning meeting, sensory, brain breaks, recess, volunteering, rest time, DEAR time, progress monitoring, interventions....the list goes on and on. Oh AND all of the regular instruction that goes along with my scripted programs. WHAT!? Even if we went to school 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, we still wouldn’t be able to get all of those things done. 

To plan your daily schedules, make a list of all of the things that you want to do with your class and then prioritize them. Obviously, the things you “have to do” should be at the top of the list (sigh). Write down approximately how much time you will need to do each thing and how many days a week or how often you need to do it.

For example:
Morning meeting- 5 days a week for 20 minutes
Cooking- 1 day a month for 60 minutes
Daily 5- 5 days a week for 90 minutes
Writing Workshop- 2 days a week for 60 minutes

It’s amazing how quickly you realize that you can’t do it all when you actually look at how much time “it all” will take. I found that when I was more realistic about our schedule I actually had more time for the fun stuff because I was not trying to bite off more than I could chew. As you can see I have a “theme related” block on Fridays which I am always changing up. I save that time for crafts, cooking and special activities (all those Pinterest boards!)

4. Designate a Therapy Time

“I want to do this activity but Joey is at speech!”
“I was going to start our story but Michael has OT!”

Can I get a biiiiig special ed AMEN?

The last nightmare in scheduling is scheduling therapy and pullouts. In my district our speech therapists are part of our faculty but our other therapists (OT, PT, etc.) work for agencies and travel to different schools in different districts. Some of my students have so many pullouts that I feel like they are never in class. Having a designated therapy time has been a saving grace to my classroom. The 30 minutes after lunch is our therapy time and rest time in our classroom. 

Now I know you're thinking REST TIME? Who has time to rest?! My kids don’t actually nap at this time. They read books, do puzzles, go on the computer, do flashcards. Depending on the class and the time of year this becomes recess, playtime, story time, etc. If you teach older grades, this could be considered quiet reading time, sensory time, intervention time, etc. You certainly won’t get all of the therapies for every child out of the way during that 30 minutes, but you can at least guarantee that a lot of therapies will take place. Some days ALL of my kids get pulled out and I get 30 minutes of bonus planning time! Parents also like to know that when the majority of pullouts are taking place their children aren’t missing math or reading instruction.

But I don’t have 30 minutes to spare!?!

Some people will feel that they can’t find even 30 minutes a day for a “therapy block” and I totally understand that. If you can’t justify a therapy time, choose an activity that you don’t mind having a lot of kids missing for (read aloud, calendar, journals) and try to schedule it at the same time every day.

Happy scheduling! 

Laughing and Little Learners

Come back next week to see how I set up my classroom!

June 11, 2015

8 Visuals That Foster Independence (and Promote Peace)

This time of year it's easy for teachers to have their spring goggles on. Although we are burned out and SO ready for summer, we also are suffering from what I call classroom amnesia. You know, those rosy colored goggles where your students are practically first graders and no longer kindergartners. They have grown leaps and bounds and you can't remember a time when they didn't walk quietly in the hallway and point to words as they read. Ahh how quickly we forget. I personally tend to block out September and October (post-traumatic stress disorder) but as much as we block it out, it always comes back and we find ourselves at the end of the first week of school saying "Surely this class is the chattiest/lowest/worst group I've ever had." But truthfully we just forget how hard those first few weeks really are. I teach kindergarten and I teach special education, so when my babies come to me in September they really are just that: babies. I feel like sometimes teaching kindergarten is synonymous with herding sheep. 

Here are a few things that you can do this summer to kickstart independence and promote peace in your classroom, whether you herd sheep teach kindergarten or not.

1. Photos of Lunch Choices

Raise your hand if you've ever said "chicken nuggets with rice" 18 times before 9:00 a.m. Kids this age can't read a lunch menu, but they can look at a picture of a PBJ and decide it sounds good enough to eat that day. I hoard collect the spoons from frozen yogurt places and write my students' names on the spoons as a little spin on the classic popsicle stick sign up. I feel as though this is a good opportunity to tell you that despite having this visual system in place, I did have a student two years ago come in and ask me "What the fri* is for lunch today?" From the mouth of babes!

2. Command Center

This is the area of my classroom that has our daily schedule. The schedule on the red pocket chart is for the students to refer to. The schedule to the right is for the adults to refer to (aides, therapists, etc.) It can be time consuming to create, but I list every therapy that every student has and have it posted in the room so it is easy to find. As the school year goes on, I teach some kids how to read the therapy times and find out if they have therapy that day. Eventually they stop asking "Do I have speech today?"

3. Voice Levels

Our voice levels chart is pretty self-explanatory. When we are working I tell the students what level voice we should be on and adjust the clip accordingly. It replaces "shushing" the crowd 1,000 times. 

4. Traveling Visual Schedule

Although this takes a lot of prep work on the teacher's part, this system is great to encourage independence for students on the autism spectrum and students who thrive on structure. This is a paint stick from Home Depot with velcro on it. As the day progresses, students remove the activity as they complete it. The beauty of having it on the paint stick is that it can travel around the school with the student.

5. Labeled Supplies

Okay...so I am a *bit* anal when it comes to labeling bins. But this is seriously one of the most helpful systems I have in place. I teach my students where to find supplies that they need to borrow and how to put things away where they belong. It is also very helpful when you have other adults in the classroom with you. These are supplies that the students do NOT keep with them (see #8 for self-serve supplies). 

6. Divided Workspaces

Oy VEY. I can't stand to hear two students argue about being in each other's space! I use duct tape to divide tables and set boundaries for students. This is an example at our tech table. It also does away with fighting over who got to which iPod first. You are assigned to iPod station #2. End of story.

7. Line Order Head Shots

At the beginning of the year I take a photo of all of my students, print and laminate them on little cards. Each week I change the order for lining up and move their pictures around. This visual does away with fighting over who lines up where and also allows students to independently line up by looking to see who they are behind or in front of. It's also very helpful for substitutes and special area teachers. If you teach older grades, you could just have their names on the wall, but since some of my kiddos don't recognize their own name yet, I certainly can't expect them to recognize their friends' names too.

8. Self-Serve Supplies

Unlike my supply bins that were labeled for students to easily help themselves to, these bins are our community supply bins. When a student runs out of glue sticks, pencils, etc. he can help himself to a new one without disrupting the class.   

June 6, 2015

10 Minute Tofu Quinoa Skillet

Hey everyone! Popping in to say I am surviving motherhood and sharing a quick and delicious lunch that is a new favorite for this mama. I've quickly learned that if I am not prepared and flexible about meals then I won't eat healthy! It's so easy to grab whatever is easy when you have your hands full (and when you are sleep deprived and would rather be napping than cooking!!) I'm also learning that nursing mamas are ALWAYS hungry! I've been getting back into prepping food at the beginning of the week to make my life easier when the goin' gets tough (and the tough won't nap). This recipe is simple with only 4 ingredients. I used to be freaked out by tofu because I didn't like the texture when it wasn't extra firm tofu and I found it was hard to season to my liking. Then I discovered SoyBoy marinated tofu and it's become a staple in our house for a quick and delicious protein. I even eat it cold on salads! If you prepare grains at the beginning of the week you will always be 10 minutes away from a healthy meal. Enjoy!

Tofu Quinoa Skillet

-1 block (1/2 package) of SoyBoy marinated tofu (my two favorites are the caribbean and the tofu lin), sliced into small cubes
-1/2 cup quinoa
-2 cups of baby spinach
-1 tsp. Bragg's liquid aminos
-Optional: sliced almonds to garnish

Cube up the tofu and brown on both sides with olive oil. Add cooked quinoa and saute for 2-3 minutes. Add spinach and cook until spinach is soft. Add liquid aminos and stir. I add sliced almonds on top to give it even more texture and flavor. This makes one lunch serving but you can certainly double it if you are making it for others.

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