Monday, February 24, 2014

Taking Care of Their Hearts (AKA Mid-Year Social Skills)

Hey, friends. I was all set to do a completely different blog post today, one about the math work we are doing right now, including a freebie and announcing the upcoming TpT sale.  And I'll get to that post soon, but today, something else, something arguably more important, has stopped me in my tracks.

The tagline of my blog and TpT store is "Taking care of little minds and hearts".  Yes, the academics are important. But equally important is the fact that my babies are six and seven, and sometimes being six and seven is hard. And being adults long past six or seven, sometimes we have to consciously remind ourselves of this.

Today we were waiting for buses and there were only a few kids left in my classroom, happily chatting and playing Silent Owl (silent ball with a stuffed owl). I was walking around the classroom, changing the date and class schedule on the whiteboard to get ready for tomorrow, and tidying up around the room.  And there on the floor near our coat closet, I found this:
Cute, huh?  I'm not sure exactly what is going on in this picture, maybe a birthday party with a balloon and cake?  At a swimming pool?  Outside in the sun?  Regardless, it's cute.  Smiling people, clearly a picture about something that made the child artist happy. And then I turned it over to look for a name.  And I saw this:

I literally felt my heart sink.  The rest of the kids were called to their buses and the room was empty and I was standing there holding a picture that someone felt the need to write that on.  I have no idea whose it is. The spelling doesn't give it away because I have a very high class this year and many of them would have no trouble writing this well.

So now I am trying to decide what to do.  My class this year has needed a lot of work on social skills, taking turns, working together, thinking of others.  If you remember, in one of my recent posts, some of them truly thought that doing their homework was considered an act of kindness.  The thing is, not one of them is a mean kid.  Sometimes you have really difficult and negative kids or kids who have poor attitudes or are mean to others.  My kids are not like that.  Each one of them is truly very sweet, but I have a lot of kids who struggle with impulse control and think of themselves before others.  Some of this is just the egocentricity of their age, and some of it I think it just the mix of personalities and the fact that a group of my boys are neighbors and it's a lot of togetherness. They are all really neat kids, some just happen to need more work on social skills.  And so tomorrow, we will take the time to address this in an impromptu class meeting.  I don't even plan to show them the picture, just bring it up as a hypothetical and act out some solutions.  We do this pretty regularly, and I have seen some improvements.

Which brings me to some of the other things that have helped my class to take care of each others' hearts this and every year:

1. The Social Skills Picture Book:
I. Love. This. Book.  Yes, it is technically a book for students with autism.  But it's also just a book that clearly names and defines basic social skills.  I was introduced to it by a longtime first grade teacher who used it in her class for years, and I have used it with my class every September for the past few years.  It's not a book you read to the kids.  But it introduces some basic social skills that are important to every class, such as taking turns when talking, how to listen, "don't be a space invader" (personal space), etc.  It gives very clear names to these behaviors and includes realistic pictures of the behaviors.  I usually introduce one social skill during most morning meetings and act out examples as well as nonexamples. (The kids find nonexamples hilarious, but they are actually a comfortable way to show kids - "Hey!  You know how you've been shoving to get in line first?  Not cool. Try this instead.")  Plus it gives our class common language for expectations and redirection.

2. Monthly class meetings:

We start each month with a class meeting.  We begin by sitting in a circle and doing affirmations.  I start by turning my body to the student to my left and I say, "Good afternoon, Milo.  I like you because when things are hard, you keep trying." Then Milo says thank you and tells me why he likes me.  Then he turns to the person on the other side of him and starts a new affirmation.  We go the whole way around the circle.  It actually only takes a few minutes because my students know they have to listen to other people's affirmations and give them respectful quiet while they are talking (this is your basic Responsive Classroom stuff).  Affirmations have to be about "inside" things, not about what they are wearing, or how fun their birthday party was.

The next thing we do at class meetings is a shared writing chart of four Gator Greats for the month that just passed (our school mascot is a Gator) and then three Gator Goals for the new month. The kids are the ones who come up with things they feel proud about (greats) and the things they know we need to work on (goals).  Sometimes they are academic (we had just started How-to writing, so they thought a good goal would be to learn all about it and get good at it!), and sometimes they are behavioral (clearly, lol).  But they are always student-generated, which I think makes them feel more genuine to the kids and makes them more committed to working on them.  We post these in the room until the next month's class meeting.

3. Class Dojo

We started using Class Dojo in January and it is AMAZING.  It's a classroom management tool that allows you to give or remove points for specific behaviors.  The picture above is of a demo class, not my real class, because I didn't want to publicize how many points my kids really have.  It is free and SUPER EASY.  You just sign up at their website, plug in your kids' names (I just use first names), and it gives each student a silly monster avatar. I keep it up on the SMARTboard for parts of the day, and you can also download the app for your phone or iPad so you can take it with you and your kids have the same behavior expectations everywhere you go (even just walking down the hall!).

You can use the pre-made positive and negative behaviors, or you can make your own to use.  Here are mine.  Positive:

.. and Negative:

It keeps a running total, and the kids can visually see what they are gaining and losing points for.  It has really helped my kids to self-monitor their behavior, which has majorly turned some behaviors around. Also, if you are interested, you can give the parents codes to log in and they can see their kids' points (and only theirs) at any time, including what the behaviors were that they gained or lost for. This can be great at report card and conference time - behaviors are all recorded without me keeping notes and parents can't say they didn't know. This has been a HUGE help to me this year, and I find myself redirecting kids much less since they know that their own choices matter.  When kids earn 10 points, I let them pick a prize from the prize bin (you could also use simple prizes like iPad time) .  At the end of the day, you can see a whole class pie chart like this:
This has really made my class want to work together to get that 100% positive, where nothing else worked quite so well to bring them together.  We had our first 100% on the hundredth day, which we HAD to celebrate with a pajama day later that week.
4. Reading and Writing Buddies who take care of each others' hearts.
I include this in my partner work minilessons.  When we learn how to be good reading buddies, we learn that our buddies will make mistakes.  We don't laugh, we don't make fun, we don't jump in and solve words for them.  We act like coaches and talk to your buddy's heart.  (Your soccer coach wouldn't run out and score the goal for you, he'd remind you to use your strategies).  Same thing with writing buddies - we do need to tell each other when things need to be fixed.  But we do it with both your buddy's work and heart in mind.  We chart examples of how to tell your buddy to make revisions ("I think you need a period here" instead of "You forgot a period!").  We practice.  And practice.  And practice.  

I really do think that with first graders, and many kids, they don't mean to do things that hurt others, they are just so darn impulsive.  So I try hard to keep things positive while giving my kids the skills to solve problems verbally with each other and an open enough classroom that we can talk about problems we are having and solve them together.  My kids know that it is a big deal to me when they are Problem Solvers.  A big part of this is having the tools to fix hurting hearts because little hearts get hurt easily.  I constantly use language about the heart.  I tell the kids they make my heart smile or make my heart shine.  I tell them how important it is to take care of each others' hearts. And we'll talk about that tomorrow and how we can save someone's heart who is scared to show a beautiful picture because someone might make fun of it.
Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Happy 100 Day.... Finally!

I was starting to wonder if we'd ever make it to 100 days this year with all of the snow we've had!  Our 100th day was supposed to be Feb. 12 but snow days have pushed it back so that we finally reached it 6 days later!  And this morning, we woke up to a few more inches of snow overnight that had iced over because, although my little town is pretty good about plowing, our whole state is in a salt shortage!  So we did end up with a 90 minute delay, but that's ok... we made it!
It is super cool to bundle those 100 straws, isn't it?  Firsties LOVE that!
In my school, our half day kindergartens really do up 100 Day.  All the parents come in and they have this huge party in the cafeteria with banners and balloons and cupcakes.. it's a Big. Thing. And when I say Big Thing, I mean the kind of wonderful thing that we so rarely get to stop and do; the kind of thing those kids will remember forever.  They LOVE it.

And then they come to first grade and they expect another big party. We don't quite roll like that, but we do find ways to make the day extra special!

First... I ordered this amazing 100 Day shirt (with super sparkly silver tally marks!) from tea and coffee on TpT, whose store is just full of adorable hard goods. They carry adult sizes only in the store but were SUPER accomodating when I asked about having a kiddie size made for my own sweet lil first grader. I don't teach in the district where we live, so we're not in the same school, but we ended up having the same 100th day!
LOVING our 100 day shirts!  Got so many compliments!

When my kiddies came in with the delay, it was already 10:15, almost snack time! Their first job was to write 100 words. Most of them jumped right in. For those who seemed to find the task a little more daunting, there was the dangling carrot... it was their ticket to our special 100 Day snack!  This great activity came from the amazing freebie My Favorite 100 Day Activities by Carrie's Creations on TpT.  It's just one of many awesome 100 Day activities in her free pack!

Love how they started with "owls" - we are the Wise Owls - and then pill bugs and bess beetles that we are studying in science!
Awesome words!  Not just word wall words, lots of our word study words and other great ideas!
This year, I have no food allergies.  NONE.  I shouldn't say that too loudly, or I know I'll get a new kiddie with a bunch... which isn't all that unlikely since I had one student move over Christmas break and another one moving this Thursday.  I'm sure I'm up for the next new firstie!  Anyway, with my current lack of allergies, we lived it up with a 100 Day trail mix!

My kiddies got to pick 10 each of Cheerios, Kix, popcorn, Scrabble Cheeze Its, chocolate chips, Swedish fish, goldfish crackers, white chocolate chips, candy hearts, and pretzel sticks.  Yummy!
After snack, I did something I feel like I rarely get to do but wish I could do more often: I gave the kids control over what they wanted to do. They got a 100 Day Choice Board that listed all of their choices, put it on a clipboard, and off they went to activities set up all around the room.  They just had to color in each box as they finished an activity. I didn't tell them where to go or for how long.  Our school doesn't really utilize centers in first grade, so I never really know how this will go, but it was awesome!
I made the choice board super quickly in Power Point last night.  I was going to add in the activities and print it this morning, but with the delay, I didn't have time to do that once I set up the activities, so I just handwrote them. And the kids totally balked at my unprofessionalism and refused to do it.  Hehe, just kidding.  My kiddies were over the moon with the choice board! Since we had already done "I can write 100 words" and had our "100 yummy things snack", they got to color in two boxes right away.  Click here for a blank copy.

So here were some of their choice board choices:
Estimating how many things were in each bucket

What's Missing?  LOVE this game - Jennifer White from First Grade Blue Skies did a wonderful recent blog post on Exploring Numbers to 120, which included this fantastic freebie.  The kids play in pairs and one covers up 10 spots on the 120 board and then the other has to "guess" what numbers they are by looking at the board and noticing their positions.  They record the numbers on the recording sheet included, then take off the markers to check.  She used adorable little erasers from Target, which I actually tried to buy yesterday but they didn't have any.  I used counter bears instead!
Coloring 100th Day bookmarks was a popular choice.  I laminated them during lunchtime.
The bookmarks were also from Carrie's Creations My Favorite 100 Day Activities
Working on some 100 piece puzzles = instant teamwork!
Making Words out of "hundred days" is a freebie from Primary Reading Party
I love this Making Words activity because her freebie includes a couple of different options for the cutouts ("hundred", "hundred days", or "one hundred") and she includes separate spaces for 2, 3, 4, and 5+ letter words.  Love her layout!  It was great for my kids.

Also from Carrie's 100 Day pack!
"When I am 100 years old, I will... find a gigantic house and make new clothes and make BIG meals and meatballs with sauce."  So darn cute!  She told me, "When I'm 100 I'll be a grownup!"  Wonder how old she thinks I am...? :)

Next we shared the 100 Day Collections that they had brought in for homework and then sorted them with the help of this cute sorting mat, again from Carrie's pack (Can you tell I loved it?  Go download it now!)

Of course, some collections just didn't fit as neatly onto one little sheet.  No worries!  If a student's collection didn't fit, I just had them cut up the boxes, spread them out, and sort!

We finished our day with Cait Jacob from Sliding into First's 100 Day Chart mystery picture activity. It includes color coded number cards to hide around the room, then the kiddies take a 100 chart and color the numbers in as they find them to reveal a secret 100 Day message!  They LOVED it!

I used to have a HUGE, comfy chair here.  Then the state said no more upholstered furniture.
Now I have a very sad, ripped little chair.  Boo.  But it does the job until I find something better!
Finally, I am very happy to report after my earlier post about our 100 Acts of Kindness project, that the kids did a beautiful job completing over 100 acts of kindness before Feb. 14, as challenged!  Here is our bulletin board:
So pretty!  I hope you have... or had... a wonderful 100th day!

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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Come on, SPRING!

It's still snowing here in New Jersey.  I like snow.  The occasional snow day is glorious.  But snow days that  are so heavy and icy and wet that the kids can't play outside and that cancel spring break days to make up school means enough already!  KnowwhatImean?  I'm excited that we got to have our valentine party on Valentine's Day (albeit with a snow delay), and I don't really mind that our days off for Presidents' Day have been cancelled because we need to get back into some routine, and eventually we will reach the 100th day of school (which will be, as of now, the 18th - was supposed to be the 12th!).

But in the meantime, one thing that has made me really happy is working on SPRING writing paper.  I've been able to wrap myself in clipart of sun, flowers, bunnies, and all things happy and springy! My seasonal papers are my best sellers, and I actually had another teacher ask if spring would be coming out soon (which was a crazy feeling - whoa!  Someone is looking forward to my next product! :D  Happy dance!), so here it is... Now we just need some sun to go with it! 
Here are some sample pages - you can click on the TpT preview to see them all!

Happy spring.... almost!
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Saturday, February 8, 2014


I love my kiddies at school but am also always so happy to spend weekends with my own girls. 
Enjoy this weekend with your family and send your own kiddos some lunchtime love on Monday with this flash freebie.  There are 24 printed notes and 24 blank ones to write your own love notes!
Click on this link or the product cover below to download Lunchtime Love Notes - Puppies!

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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Oops. I Assumed.

You know what that means, guys.  Lol.  It's not good.

Last year, I downloaded this FANTASTIC "100 Acts of Kindness" freebie created by Jennifer Dougherty:

I can't say enough about how much I love it - how it ties the 100th day and Valentine's Day together.  It is so simple, too - a page of 5 hearts that each student fills out with acts of kindness that they have completed.  If you have 20 or more students, you end up with 100 Acts of Kindness!  And it's FREE!  And it makes an amazing bulletin board!!!
See?  So cute!  My class' acts of kindness last year.

So... you're thinking... this sounds ideal... what's your problem, Lindsey?  


I gave this project as a homework assignment the week before Valentine's Day.  I asked the kids to record their acts of kindness and decorate their hearts "to make them as beautiful as your kind acts".  I didn't ask them to do any other homework that week. (Bonus... no papers to mark all week!  And think of the trees you are saving!)

Sounds great, huh?  And it IS!!!  Except.  That I assumed.  BOTH TIMES I HAVE DONE IT.

Last year, I assumed that when I sent it home with directions, the kids would do 5 acts of kindness and write about them. That week.  Except that instead, when they came in, a bunch of them said things they had done "one time"... like... hmm, let me think of some nice things I have done, ever.  "I fed my baby sister with a bottle."  I thought your sister was four? "She is." Confused look. "But I did that when she was born!"

Hmm, that wasn't really the idea; the idea was to spread some kindness during the week of the homework assignment.    So I learned from last year, and this year, I added the specific direction that acts need to be done during this week and recorded.  Much better!

Except.  I assumed again.

I sent this project home on Tuesday after a snow day on Monday and then we had another snow day Wednesday, so in my happy, cheery heart, I was thinking, "Oh!  How great!  The kids have an extra full day to do kind acts and then make their hearts! And they even have a few more days to make them extra lovely!"

And then today, my first ones came in.

And some said:

"I did my homework."
"I wrote books on my book log."
"I listened."

And others said:
"I was nice."
"I was helpful."
"I behaved."

So this time I assumed the kids would know what I meant by kind acts (since we have been working on kindness all year).  

But they didn't.  

Which actually led to a very good class meeting today about the difference between an act of kindness and a  responsibility of a first grader.  We ended up defining acts of kindness together, as: Something you don't have to do.  You do it just to be nice.  We also talked about writing specific acts, such as how you were nice or what you did that was helpful.  And I emailed parents to explain the assignment better and I sent home new hearts to all of the kids so anyone who needed or wanted to rethink their acts of kindness could do so.  And I extended the assignment until Monday.

I have to admit that, at first, I was disappointed that the kids didn't know that homework is not really an act of kindness (or who knows, maybe they just really do it to make me happy lol).  But in the end, we all learned from this teachable moment, myself included. Don't assume.

Maybe I'll do this project right next year... :)

Some other "sweet" things I'm using this February:

SMARTboard glittery hearts attendance!
February Owl Calendar Cards & Headers
Lunchtime Love Notes (for my own kids!) - Sweet Tweets