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What Are You Doing for Earth Day?

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a Top 10 post, but with Earth Day coming on April 22nd, I thought it was time to get back into the tradition.  So, here are 10 ways you can celebrate Earth Day with your students:

1.)  Watch Magic School Bus – So many of the Magic School Bus movies focus on taking care of the earth, but there are two in particular that I love for Earth Day.  One is the Holiday Special and the other is In The Rainforest.  My son has them both on one DVD, which I will be borrowing for my students on Earth Day!  They give you a great, kid friendly way to look at Earth Day themes – including recycling and protecting the rainforest.

2.)  Take a Trip to the Trash – Our society today has a habit of “hiding” the trash, and so kids don’t generally know what happens after they put the trash into the can.  Take a field trip to a landfill or a recycling center so kids can learn first hand where the trash goes.  Seeing all of the trash together can be a good realization for kids who only see their one little bag as not a big deal.

3.) Get involved in a local Earth Day project – Most communities host activities on, or around Earth Day to “beautify” the earth.  Get your class involved in picking up trash or planting trees so that they can get their hands into Earth Day.

4.)  Connect with other schools online  – Get yoGetting Rid of Plastic Bags Collaborative Projectur class involved in an online project where they can work with other schools around the globe to recognize that protecting the Earth is everyone’s responsibility.   Global Teaching Connect is hosting a Getting Rid of Bags collaborative project that you might want to check out.


5.)  Read the Great Kapok Tree If you’ve never read this book – it’s great for talking about the interdependent web of life in the rainforest, and why it is so important to not cut down trees in the rainforest.  Mandy Neal of Cooperative Learning has a great freebie to go with this book, that you can read about HERE.

6.)  Make do this,not that posters – Talk about the things we should do Earth Day Posters for Kidsand the things we shouldn’t do, then let your students create Do This, Not That posters where your students promote good habits for taking care of the earth.  Have students hang their posters in the hallway to share what they have learned with others.

7.)  Persuade others to act green – Earth day is a great time to work on persuasive writing.  Choose a topic – carpooling, bringing cloth grocery bags, taking public transportation, recycling, even something as using reusable napkins could be a great topic for a persuasive writing piece.

8.)  Look at Living Locally – If you haven’t read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver – it’s completely worth the read (adult read, not a kid’s book!).  In this book, she talks about living locally – eating food and buying products from within a 50 – 100 mile radius of where you live.  This concept has not been explored fully with kids, but it’s a great seed to plant, as a way to reduce oil expenditure (trucks burn a lot of gas when they move those oranges from California to New York).  A trip to a local farmer’s market would be a great addition to this type of topic.

9.)  Watch Captain PlanetDo you remember Captain Planet?  It was a great cartoon series where superheros saved the earth.  Pull out this great series to get your kids involved in Earth Day.  I can’t find them on DVD – but Amazon has VHS and you can find them on YouTube.

10.)  Go Paperless – During Earth Day, it’s a great time to Ecology Paperless E Quizmodel paperless activities – such as using your blog to submit homework, creating digital presentations instead of making posters, sending E-mails over letters, and doing E-Quizzes instead of written tests.  Grab an E-Quiz for Ecology from my TPT store.


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Sidewalk Chalk Learning

Last week, our top 10 was on activities to spice up recess. One of the fun things to do at recess, was use sidewalk chalk.  However, sidewalk chalk can be used in lots of educational ways too!  Here are 10 ways to use sidewalk chalk to get your kids out in the sunshine, but still learning, often in kinesthetic ways!

hopscotch words

1. Sight Word Jump – Before taking your students outside, write some of your sight words (spelling words or vocabulary words would work just as well for older students) on a large cement area.  Once you are outside, have students jump on the words and read them as they hop.  You can also call out a word and see who can find it.  (For older students you might call out a definition and let them find the word that matches.)


2. Fast Fact Hop – Before taking your students outside, write the answers to some of your basic math facts (any operation that you are hopscotchmathworking on will work) on a large cement area.  Once you are outside, call out fast fact problems.  Have students hop to the correct answer.  (If you require them to hop rather than run, you will have less collisions!)


3. Coordinate Grid Kids – Before taking your students outsidecoordinate grid, create a coordinate grid on a large cement area.  Once you are outside, call out a student’s name and a point on the coordinate grid.  Let that student find their spot and become the “point”.  Once all of the students are points, challenge them to find the fastest route to get from their point to a neighbor’s point.


4. Really, Really Big Graphic Organizers – What a better venndiagramway to introduce simple graphic organizers, than outside on a large scale.  My favorite graphic organizer to do with sidewalk chalk is a Venn Diagram.  Before going outside, draw a large Venn Diagram on a large cement area.  Once you are outside, give the two categories.  If you are wearing white come in this circle.  If you are wearing red, come in this circle.  If you are wearing both, you get to stand where the two circles come together.


5. Visualizing the Story– Give the students a chance to draw with the sidewalk chalk!  Gather them outside for story time – preferably under a shady tree – but do not show them the pictures.  Instead, have students draw a picture of what happened in the story and practice their visualization strategy.


6. Jump the Number Line – Before you take your numberlinestudents outside, draw a number line in a large cement area.  When you go outside, call out a number on the number line and have one of your students stand on it.  Then have that student hop to the end of the number line – talking about which direction numbers move.  You can also use this type of number line to work on addition or subtraction!


7. Verb Ring – Before taking your class outside, write a list of vverbcircleerbs in a large circle on the ground in a large cement area.  Be sure to write one verb for each of your students.  When you go outside, have students walk around the circle until you say stop (you could also play music – musical chairs style).  When they stop, they must read the verb and then be the verb.  ie. If they stop on the word run, they must run in place; if they stop on the word sit, they must sit down.

8. Human Body Labels – Kids love to trace one another with sidewalk chalk, but have you ever labeled those chalk bodies?  Have students work in pairs.  One student lays down and another student traces their outside of their body, then they switch.  Then, have students work together to label as many parts of the body as they can, with extra points for internal organs (heart, lungs, veins, kidneys etc.)  This would be a great health lesson!


9. Sentence Strings – Have students work in groups of 4-6.  Give each membsentencestringer of the group a different color chalk.  Students should create sentences WITHOUT talking to one another.  The first student will write the first word, and each other student will add a word to the sentence in a different color until the sentence is complete.


10. Graph your students – No matter the topic, no matter the type of graph, kids love to “be the graph”.  Before going outside, draw the axis for your graph on a large cement area.  Once you are outside, give the students the criteria and use them as the points, bars, or pictures on your graph.  For more advanced students, see if the students can put themselves into a graph in a small group without your guidance.

Check back each Sunday or Monday for more Top 10 Lists.signature_thumb1_thumb_thumb_thumb_t[2]

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Top 10 Recess Activities

In my area the weather is starting to warm up, encouraging students to want to play outside.  At my school, we do not have playground equipment, so coming up with activities for recess is super important.  If I don’t have anything planned for my students, recess becomes an endless round of soccer balls and tag.  While those are good games, and allowed during recess, it is always nice to have something else in mind.  Here are my Top 10 activities for your students to do during recess. (If you are stuck inside due to cold weather or rain, I previously wrote a post about 10 ideas for indoor recess.)

1. Playground Games – I am always amazed at how many kids don’t know how to play basic playground games like Red Light, Green Light and What Time is it Mr. Fox.  I love to take time during recess to play these games with my kids.  Generally if I take Monday of each week and teach a new game, the kids will independently start a game for most of the rest of the week.  (If you need some ideas on which games to play, try Guy Bailey’s book, it has tons of suggestions!)


2. Jump Rope – One person jump ropes, double dutch ropes, chinese jump ropes, there are so many ways to use jump ropes with kids.  My students have always loved to learn the skipping songs to go along with them – and on a side note, these types of songs can help build phonemic awareness and fluency in reading.


3. Jacks & Marbles – These are another of those games that kids aren’t exposed to very much in these days of PlayStations, but they are both great ways for kids to work on coordination, fine motor skills and turn taking.


4. Sidewalk ChalkWhether they are playing hopscotch or drawing picture, using that great Dollar Store sidewalk chalk helps students work on those gross motor skills while having fun and getting some sunshine.  Feel the need to make it more academic?  Have the kids practice writing their spelling words, or write words on the ground ahead of time and let the kids jump on the words as you call them out.  (I could do a whole Top 10 post on how to use sidewalk chalk to have fun with academics!)

5. Bubbles– When I introduced my solids, liquids and gasses unit, we took some time to make and play with bubbles, and wow were my kids excited.  So excited, we took bubbles to recess every day for the next week!  Blowing bubbles is harder than it looks for young kids, and can be a learning experience in it’s own, or you can blow bubbles while they chase them.  Older students can have contests to see who can blow the biggest bubble or who can keep their bubble around longest.

6. Clapping Games – Ms. Mary Mack is the biggest hit in my room, with girls and boys alike!  There are tons of “clapping games” that kids can play on the playground, and while they are playing, they are building rhythm and steady beat, which helps with that reading fluency!

7.  ScarvesI am always amazed at how little it takes to keep kids content.  You can get a ton of these scarves for super cheap (or make them with scrap fabric) and the kids love to simply run and use them as kites or other imaginary items.  They are also a great alternative to dodge ball as no one is going to get hurt having a scarf thrown at them – and it takes much more skill to hit someone with a scarf than a ball!

8. Hula-hoops – Hull-a-hoops have so many other ways they can be used.  In addition to standard use, kids can use them as jump ropes, line them up on the ground and hop through them, make an obstacle course and more!

9. Charades – I never loved playing charades inside because it is so space limiting.  However, outside it can be much more fun.  I line half of my kids up on the benches, and let the others act out the same word, each giving their own variation.  Once someone guesses, we switch – it gets loud, and hilarious!  (I’ve got to remember to video tape for my parents.)

10. Hacky Sack – When I was in high school, hacky sack was the big game.  If you don’t have a hacky sack, a bean bag will work, and the general premise is to keep the sack off the ground, without using your hands.  Sounds easy, looks hard, and works on lots of motor skills!




P.S. I write a Top 10 post every week. Here are some past Top 10 posts: Top 10 Board Games for Math, Top 10 Toys I Steal From My Kids, Top 10 Educational Toys, Top 10 Educational Movies, and Top 10 Ways to Teach Critical Thinking. Check back each Sunday or Monday for more Top 10 Lists.

10 Ways to Teach Critical Thinking

We often think of thinking as something kids do, but not necessarily something we teach.  However, in my experience I have found that kids who “think” without us teaching them how are being taught to “think” at home or elsewhere.  Critical thinking skills are so important that I firmly believe that we should include critical thinking skills in our curriculum.  Here are 10 easy ways to teach critical thinking.

1. Model Thinking – A lot of times I think teachers (myself included) forget that students can’t read what goes on inside of our mind.  We show students how we do something, without telling them why we’re doing it, because we know in our minds why we’re doing it, so we forget in their minds they don’t know why.  Instead, when we show students how to work through a math problem or how to sound out a hard word, we need be saying things like “I know that 2 + 12 = 14, but I also know that 14 has a ten’s place, so I can’t put the whole number in the one’s place.” or “I know that a and e are both vowels, so when they are next to each other, I can only hear the first one, but it will have to be a long vowel because there are two vowels.”

2. Make them Explain their Thinking – I have a poster in my classroom that says “If You Don’t Know Why, You Don’t Know the Answer.”  (Click on it to download it FREE from Google Docs.)  I started telling my students this when I taught 3rd grade and we were preparing for that lovely whystandardized test.  We would go over the test prep materials, and I would ask them “What is the answer to number 12?”  They would answer “C” and I would ask them “Why?”  They could rarely answer, so we decided as a class that if you couldn’t answer Why, it meant you had just guessed, and that wasn’t acceptable.  From that point on, I have always asked my students to justify their thinking.

3. Let them Tell their Friends the Answer – We often thing that students who tell the answer are “cheating”.  In my class, we differentiate between “telling” and “explaining”.  If they can explain to their friend why that is the answer, and it’s group work time (not a test), then they are allowed to give each other the answers.  Not only does this get the “teller” to think harder about what they did, but it also gives the receiving student another modeled thinking!  (It’s also a great way to get ELL’s to use all that vocabulary you’re pushing into them!)

4. Play Games – Strategy games are wonderful for building thinking skills.  Games like Chess, Monopoly and Risk are obvious choices, but games like Battleship and Scrabble have a lot of strategy to them too, and they can reinforce math and literacy concepts.  (Check out my Friday Game Nights for ways to use games in your classroom.)


5. Puzzle Power– I have 2 different puzzle centers in my puzzle rotation, and I’m contemplating how I can add a third!  My students do 100_6101math puzzles and reading puzzles.  In addition to supporting the math and literacy standards we are working  on, students are using critical thinking skills to put the puzzle together – and they think they’re just having fun!


6. Critical Thinking Corner – I know many teachers use a Busy Box for early finishers.  Another take on this is to have Critical Thinking Corner, which is just a table in a corner with critical thinking puzzles and games that they can visit when they have successfully completed their assigned work.  I stock mine with mazes, Rubik’s Cubes, Tactile Brain Teaser Puzzles and 9 Pieces Square Puzzles.



7. Encourage Visual Thinking – Most kids love to draw, and often it is easier for them to describe their thinking with pictures, rather 100_6369than words.  This technique is used for primary students and English Language Learners a lot, but could be a real benefit to all students.  When you are working on vocabulary words or problem solving, encourage students to make that picture on paper that they see in their mind.


8. It’s Okay to Have the Wrong Answer – Scientists know that it takes a lot of wrong answers to get the right answer.  Kids often get discouraged after one wrong answer, so rather than saying “You got it wrong.”, try saying “Not the right answer, but good thinking.  Let’s think about it another way.” 

9. Count the Possibilities– How many representations are there for the number 6?  (six, 6, XXXXXX, sieze, ——) Encourage students to look at all the ways they can represent numbers, words, etc.  Each new way to see something is a new way to think about it.

10. Find the Connections – When you connect what you are learning to something you already know, you remember it better, but you also find a new way to think about both things that are connected.  Connections are also a form of analogy, which is a key type of critical thinking.  So, encourage students to find something that is similar to key vocabulary, key math facts, events from a story etc.



P.S. I write a Top 10 post every week. Here are some past Top 10 posts: Top 10 Board Games for MathTop 10 Toys I Steal From My Kids, Top 10 Educational Toys, Top 10 Educational Movies, and Top 10 Indoor Recess Ideas. Check back each Sunday or Monday for more Top 10 Lists.

10 Free Writing Prompts

After having so much fun with last week’s You Know You’re a Teacherwriting prompt linky party When Linky Party, I was super excited to see that Diary of a Not-So Wimpy Teacher and Classroom Magic were teaming up to have a Picture Writing Prompt Linky party.  It was perfect timing too, because I was just getting ready to make some writing prompts with the awesome clipart my husband makes.  Apparently, I got over-excited, because I made 10!!!  So, instead of a Top 10 for this week, I’m giving you all 10 prompts for FREE.  Feel free to print off the pictures themselves (by right clicking and saving image) or even easier, click on each picture and you will get a free sheet from Google Docs with the writing prompt and a space for your students to write.  Enjoy!!






























10 FREE Items for your Treasure Box

Are you going broke trying to fill your treasure box?  Here are 10 ideas of FREE items to put in your treasure box that are sure to please your students, while helping your wallet.

1. No Homework Passes – What kid doesn’t want to get out of homework?  These are easy enough to type up and print out, or write on an index card.  The kids won’t care what they look like, as long as they get out of their homework!

2. Lunch with the Teacher Certificate – Even older kids like one on one time with their teacher, as long as they aren’t in trouble.  Give them a printed or written certificate that allows them to sit and have a private lunch conversation with you.

3. Printable Coloring Sheets – coloringsheetRather than buy coloring books, use a website like this one, print a bunch of coloring sheets.  You can either staple a few together, or give students an individual sheet, but either way, students get a chance to color, and most kids love that!

4. List of Super Secret Websites – Kids love the internet, but they normally stick with one or two sites that they know.  Give them a list of “secret sites” which will be new to them.  Need some good suggestions for websites?  Use my ikeepbookmarks site, or check back on Wednesdays for our weekly website suggestion.

5. Promotional Pens – You know the pens (or notepads or keychains or frisbees) that you get free at workshops or festivals?  I’ve always used these to stock my treasure box.  The kids don’t care what’s written on it, and hey, they’re free!

crossword6. “Fun” Worksheets – Printable word searches, mazes, and puzzles work just the same as coloring sheets (but sometimes you can even make them educational!)  I copy some of these right from our math and reading schema and others I print from online from websites like this one.

7. Pass for a FREE Center – My kids LOVE a chance to slack when they’re supposed to be working, so I make little certificates that get them one free center rotation, where they can sit, color, relax, (anything but disturb others) while they are supposed to be working.

8.  Printable Calendars – Using Microsoft Publisher, you can easily print blank calendars and staple them together to make a year’s calendar where students can write down each other’s birthdays and “important events”.

9.  How to Directions for Making Paper paperplanesAirplanes – My kids adore folding up paper airplanes.  I found  that gives them directions on how to make tons of different planes, and they love to pull these directions from the treasure box.

10.  A Picture with the Class Pet – We don’t have a real class pet.  But I have a Blue Fish stuffed animal, and the kids love to have their picture taken with them.  I then post their picture on the class blog and send it to their parents.  In the age of digital photography, this is a completely FREE endeavor!





P.S. I write a Top 10 post every week. Here are some past Top 10 posts: Top 10 Board Games for MathTop 10 Toys I Steal From My Kids, Top 10 Educational Toys, Top 10 Educational Movies, and Top 10 Indoor Recess Ideas. Check back each Sunday or Monday for more Top 10 Lists.

Lots of Literacy Games!!!

If you’ve seen my Friday Game Night Posts, you know how much of a game-aholic I am! So for the next few weeks, I’m going to highlight just some of the games I love in my Top 10 posts. Last week, we looked at games to use in math.  This week, we’re going to look at the Top 10 Board Games to use in Grammar and Writing Lessons and Literacy Centers. Often, I will introduce a game in Small Group Writing or Guided Reading, as a way to get students interested in a topic, and then put the same game into Literacy Centers to reinforce the topic in a more independent setting.


10. Upwords – I love using Upwords when I am teaching word families or talking about vowel substitutions.  It’s such an easy way to show how changing one letter can change the whole word.

9. Chutes and LaddersThe game board on Chutes & Ladders is an inspiration to me!  There are so many cute “picture” stories on it.  I love to pull it out in guided reading when we are talking about inferences or guided writing when we are talking about describing and creating a picture with words.

8. BoggleBoggle is the ultimate word game!  I love seeing kids look at all those random letters and then see the words just start coming.  It’s a great, easy center.  As an extension, I like to have kids take the words they found and make a story out of them.

7. Very Silly Sentences – Whenever I’m ready to start talking about parts of speech, Very Silly Sentences is the go-to game.  The color coded cards are such an easy way to talk about where each part of speech goes in a sentence and why each sentence needs all these parts of speech.

6. Taboo – Do you get sick of hearing those same tired words in your student’s writing?  In order to show kids that they can say something, without saying those words, I love to pull out the game Taboo.  It gets students in the frame of mind, to say “Hey, I can say that in lots of different ways!”  After playing, we will make a list of words that are “Taboo” in our writing!

5.  Scategories Jr. – Whether you are teaching or reviewing beginning consonant sounds, Scategories Jr. is a great way to have fun doing it.  It’s easy to modify this game and play it with your whole class, or just that one group that needs a little more time!  Then, send it to centers for a good regular reinforcement.

4. Pictionary – I know it sounds counter-intuitive to put a game with no words into a Guided Writing lesson, but Pictionary is a great way to get kids thinking about what needs to go into a story.  If it’s in the picture that’s needed to describe the topic, then when we write, it should be in the words too!

3.  Apples to Apples – Students have the hardest time explaining their answers in reading and writing!  Apples to Apples gives them the chance to justify their answers, by explaining how it could be that volcanoes would fit into the category of “juicy things”.  Good for categories and persuasive writing.


2.  Rory’s Story Cubes – The easies brainstorming activity ever!  Rory’s Story Cubes stop the “I don’t know what to write about” complaints real quick.  Let your kids roll the dice and use the picture to get writing!


1.  You Gotta Be Kidding – I have the adult version of this too – Would You Rather – which I use with older kids.  You Gotta be Kidding is a great way to start talking about persuasive writing.  Kids get to persuade their friends why they should also believe that “it’d be better to eat worms than bettles” and other truly gross things!




P.S. I write a Top 10 post every week. Here are some past Top 10 posts: Top 10 Board Games for MathTop 10 Toys I Steal From My Kids, Top 10 Educational Toys, Top 10 Educational Movies, and Top 10 Indoor Recess Ideas. Check back each Sunday or Monday for more Top 10 Lists.

Games to Play in Math

If you’ve seen my Friday Game Night Posts, you know how much of a game-aholic I am!  So for the next few weeks, I’m going to highlight just some of the games I love in my Top 10 posts.  This week, we’re going to look at the Top 10 Board Games to use in Guided Math and Math Centers.  Often, I will introduce a game in  Guided Math as a way to get students interested in a topic, and then put the same game into Math Centers to reinforce the topic in a more independent setting.


10. Sum SwampSum Swamp is one of my favorite games to play when I am teaching and reinforcing addition and subtraction.  It’s a fun game that works on those basic addition and subtraction facts.  I’ve used it with grades 1-3 with good success.  I especially liked using it at the beginning of the year when I taught 3rd grade, because it gave me a fun way to assess the basic skills of my students before I truly began teaching the big third grade concept of multiplication.

9. Yahtzee–  Yahtzee can be used in so many ways to work on math skills!  I especially like using it to connect the concept of skip counting with the concept of multiplication (How many 3’s can you roll? – How much is that worth?).  For more ideas on how to use Yahtzee with math concepts – check out last week’s Friday Game Night Post.



8. Trouble – Are you teaching probability?  Have you ever played Trouble and sat and sat waiting to pop a 6 while everyone around you got 3 or 4 of them?  What a great real life lesson in probability!  You can also work on counting and number recognition for younger students using this game.

7. Guess Who – Critical thinking is such a vital skill in math!  When problem solving, students need to eliminate the unnecessary and use the clues.  Guess Who works on just that skill.  I have learned that this is a great game to work on in a small Guided Math group, doing a full think aloud modeling.  “I know that her person doesn’t have red hair, so I’m going to put down all of the people who have red hair.  I know that her person is wearing glasses, so anyone who is NOT wearing glasses can be put down.”  This process of elimination is not a skill that all students understand without modeling, and this game allows an easy, fun way to teach that important thinking skill.


6. Battleship – Are you teaching grids and coordinate points?  How about playing Battleship to teach students how to practice finding those coordinate points?  In addition to working on coordinate points, you can also work on strategy, the process of elimination and problem solving – all good critical thinking skills.  A lot of times, I have students work in groups of four – 2 on 2 once this game goes into the independent center stage. 

5. Monopoly – Whether you are using Monopoly or Monopoly Jr., this is a great game for talking about counting money and making change.  It is also a good game for discussing banks, problem solving and strategy.  (In fact all strategy games are good for building critical thinking skills!)


4. Perfection – Here’s a fun way to spice up your geometry unit!  Not only can you look at the types of shapes, number of sides, number of angles, and group the shapes by similar characteristics, you can also work on memory skills by simply allowing students to use the game as intended.  Perfection is also a great way to work on charting data – have kids try the game over and over, using the standard 60 minute timer, and then count the number of pieces they get into the slots each try.  Do they see a pattern?

3. Chutes and Ladders – This was my first Friday Game Night featured game, I love it so much!  Here’s a link to 4 different ideas on how to use Chutes and Ladders to work on those math skills.  All I can say is any game with a built in 100’s chart is a winner in my book!


2. Hi Ho Cherry O! –  I know many preschool and kindergarten teachers who use Hi Ho Cherry O to work on counting and number recognition, but it’s also a great introduction to addition and subtraction.  ( I had 3 cherries in my bucket, and I’m adding 2 more, how many do I have now?  I had 5 cherries in my bucket, but the bird at one, how many do I have now?)

1. Blockus – This is my all time favorite game to play with kids!  Blockus is another one of those great strategy and critical thinking games. However, it’s also a great game to play when you are teaching area and perimeter. A key to this game, where you fit tetris-like pieces together to block your opponents from being able to place their pieces, is finding the right size piece. It’s a great time to compare the area and perimeter of the pieces and determine which pieces have the same area and/or the same perimeter.

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P.S. I write a Top 10 post every week. Here are some past Top 10 posts: Top 10 Toys I Steal From My Kids, Top 10 Educational Toys, Top 10 Educational Movies, and Top 10 Indoor Recess Ideas. Check back each Sunday or Monday for more Top 10 Lists.

Toys I Steal From My Kids

As a teacher who is also a mom of small kids (aged 7, 4, and 10 months), I have a bad habit of “borrowing” toys from my personal children and bringing them into my classroom.  I play a game with my kids, or I watch them play with a toy, and I think, hey that would help little Johnny with ….    Unfortunately, a lot of these toys end up staying in my classroom, and then I have to buy my person kids a replacement!  If you are a fan of my Facebook Page, you have seen my posts about certain toys that I borrow/steal from my personal children.  I realized 2 things by posting this – #1 – I do this more than I realize!  #2 – Not everyone has small children at home to steal from, and might appreciate a list of toys to invest in (or to ask parents to buy you next Christmas instead of coffee mugs and teddy bears! Smile ).  So this week’s Top 10 list is the Top 10 toys I steal from my own kids.


10. Movies – Okay, maybe movies aren’t toys.  But, last week, as I was writing the Top 10 Educational Movies post, I realized that the majority of my suggestions were first used with my personal children and then taken into my classroom – so it definitely counts!  I have brought Magic School Bus, Leapfrog Videos, Little Einsteins and Sid the Science Kid from my kids’ personal collections to use in my classroom!


9. Children’s Encyclopedias – My oldest son is a science nut!  So in my house we have: a children’s science encyclopedia, a children’s dinosaur encyclopedia, a children’s space encyclopedia and a children’s animal encyclopedia.  I think I have borrowed each one at least once!


8. Map Puzzle – One of my favorite way to teach geography is for kids to put together puzzles of a map.  There’s no better way for kids to understand that Texas and Alaska are close to the same size, or that California and Maine are very far from each other.  Lucky for me, my kids have multiple map puzzles, including this great one that gives you the capitols of each state!


7. Board Games – I think I have borrowed every one of my kids’ board games at least once – and that’s saying a lot, because they have a lot of board games!  The board games that I borrowed so often I felt the need to buy one for my classroom are:  Very Silly Sentences, Monopoly Junior, Scrabble Junior, Taboo Junior and Chutes and Ladders.


6. Sleeping bag Chair – I’ve actually borrowed numerous chairs and rugs from my kids, as they have outgrown, stopped using, or changed preference on various comfy items.  However, borrowing this sleeping bag chair from my kids made my middle son so upset, that I ended up bringing it home and buying another for my classroom (even though he didn’t sit in the chair before, and he doesn’t sit in the chair now!)

5. Kids’ Picture Dictionary – One of my students’ literacy centers each week is to create a picture dictionary.  Each week we add pictures coinciding with one or two of the letters.  When I began this project with my kids, I brought in my personal children’s Picture Dictionary.  The kids loved it so much, I kept it at school.  My sons haven’t noticed it’s missing….yet.  I hope to get a little bit longer with it, since we will be working on alphabetical order soon!


4. Reading Puzzles – My kids got this cool making words puzzle awhile back, but they weren’t using it much, so I took it to my classroom, and man does it get used.  The only problem is, my sons have noticed it’s missing, so I think I’m going to have to bring it home soon!

3. Math Flashcards – I bought these addition flash cards last year for my oldest son, and he actually handed them to me and told me I could take them to my class!  He really doesn’t need them anymore, but my students do!

2. Magic Tree House Books – I borrow lots of books from my kids, but since we own almost every Magic Tree House book, and there are so many that connect science and social studies topics, these seem to be the books I borrow the most.  I will be borrowing #3 – Mummies in the Morning soon when my class studies Ancient Egypt.

1. Leap Frog Letters – My absolute FAVORITE item that I have borrowed from my kids is the Leap Frog Talking Letters.  In the beginning of this year, I had 9 students who didn’t know all of their letters (walking into 1st grade).  We worked with this product and the Leap Frog Movies every day for the first 5 weeks, and now all but 2 of those students are reading!




P.S. I write a Top 10 post every week. Here are some past Top 10 posts: Top 10 Holiday Read Alouds, Top 10 Educational Toys, Top 10 Educational Movies, and Top 10 Indoor Recess Ideas. Check back each Sunday or Monday for more Top 10 Lists.

Best Educational Movies

I recently received an email from my supervisor about the use of movies and parties in the classroom.  [It wasn’t geared just to me, it was one of those whole faculty emails that tells you that one person did something wrong, but everyone has to hear about it, just in case someone else is misbehaving and hasn’t gotten caught.]  The email talked about how movies and parties had no place in the classroom, unless they had some sort of curricular basis.  At first, I was a little put off by this email, because I show movies and have parties regularly.  However, after a step back, I realized that 99% of the movies I show have a direct curricular link, so I probably agree with the email, but just never took the time to think about it, as I don’t really have the time to show anything not related to my curriculum, due to all the standards to be covered.  I’d love to hear your take on the movies/parties in the classroom, so please feel free to leave me a comment.  In the meantime, here is a list of my Top 10 (curricular) Movies to show in your classroom, without getting in trouble from administration.  Smile


10.  Magic School Bus – Almost every science topic you cover can be touched on within a Magic School Bus video.  If you have a topic that doesn’t fit, Ms. Frizzle’s idea of “Get Messy, Ask Questions, Make Mistakes” can fit into just about any lesson on Scientific Discovery!

9.  Leapfrog Videos – I love using the phonics videos from Leapfrog to teach letter sounds and word formation, but they also have math videos for math basics!

8.  Planet Earth – Not only does this movie touch on tons of Biology topics, including animal characteristics, habitats, and animal adaptations, but it is so beautifully put together it will captivate your students.  With so many more of our students watching the Simpsons and Hannah Montana – exposure to Animal Planet is a good thing all around!

7.  Book based Movies – There are so many good kids books that now have a movie to go with them!  I like to have students do a Venn Diagram comparison or a persuasive writing on which is better after they have read the book and watched the movie.

6.  Sid the Science Kid – Here’s another great movie for the scientific process and science observations and journaling.  They also cover tons of common science topics such as: elasticity, simple machines, and change in states of matter.

5.  Little Einsteins – These fabulous movies use world famous music and art to investigate the natural world, and cover various science and social studies topics.

4.  Team Umizoomi – The characters in this movie use math problem solving to make them into superheros!  Every episode I’ve seen covers shapes, measurement, counting and logcial thinking.

3.  Super Why – More superheros!  Only these superheros are in reading.  In each episode, the characters jump into a story and use reading super powers (reading, spelling, etc.) to solve a problem they are having.  Can you say text to self connection?

2.  School House Rock – So many people grew up on School House Rock every Saturday morning.  Now, you can use those videos on DVD with your class.  “I’m Just a Bill on Capitol Hill” is one of my favorites when I teach government.

1.  Fetch with Ruff Ruffman – Reality show meets curriculum!  This show has fetchepisodes for almost every science and social studies topic I’ve ever taught.  It features real life kids and a cartoon dog who sends them on reality show challenges. 

As a mom of young children – I use lots of these with my own children too!  In fact, watching TV with them has spawned most of these suggestions!  Hope you can use some of them in your classroom.



P.S. I write a Top 10 post every week. Here are some past Top 10 posts: Top 10 Holiday Read Alouds, Top 10 Educational Toys, Top 10 Items for Your Winter Holiday Work Packet, and Top 10 Indoor Recess Ideas. Check back each Sunday or Monday for more Top 10 Lists.

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