Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Gift to Teachers

With the end of the year coming to a close and our to-do lists getting longer by the minute, my librarian and I thought it would be nice to offer a little surprise to our teachers.  We put a sign-up sheet in the lounge for teachers to drop off their students for a 45 minute block of time during the second to last week of school.

While child-less teachers could spend it catching up on anything they needed to do for the end of the year, grabbing a coffee nearby, taking a deep breath, or however else they wanted to - while we entertained their kiddos.  We started with a story time for about 20 minutes, then students moved through different centers with games, activities, and an appreciation gift for all the teachers that have worked with them throughout the year.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Wilma Jean Worry Machine

With the end of the school year looming, many students are developing worries about the future.  Their support system at school will be on vacation until August, their daily routine during the week will get mixed up, they won't see their classmates every day, they might go on vacation to new places, etc.  I thought this would be a perfect time to read Wilma Jean Worry Machine by Julia Cook to our first graders.  This book illustrates how a young girl catastrophizes her day, only to find that nothing goes wrong and everything goes right.  We learn again and again that things work out for her, but she still continues to worry about the unknown.  We all model her "pickle face" that she makes when she worries, and I enjoyed one students comment of how much I must be worried because I have a lot of wrinkles like Wilma Jean...

In the middle of the story I pause and ask students to write down one worry they might be having on a post-it.  It could be a worry they have today, a worry about the future, a worry about second grade, any worry works!  After they wrote down their worry, I had them place it on the chart (just as Wilma does in the story) to describe it as a worry they can control or a worry they cannot control.  Worries we can control are flexible, like playdough.  There are things we can do to make them better or prevent them.  Worries we cannot control are more like rocks.  No matter what we do, they can't be changed - like the weather, for example.

Most students start by putting their worries at the bottom of the chart, stating that they cannot control them.  However, as we start discussing what we can control about each worry with suggestions from our classmates, the post-its start moving to the top of the chart just like Wilma's do in the story. 

For example, what if we don't like the lunch that is served in the cafeteria?  Well, we can take home a lunch menu to know what lunch will be ahead of time.  We also can pack a lunch from home if it's something we don't like to eat.  By focusing on the little things that we have control over, the worry begins to shrink and not matter so much.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Learning to Relax with GoNoodle

I've been using GoNoodle each week with our kindergarteners to give them brain breaks (see post here).  They have become obsessed with helping their creatures grow by all of their minutes of dancing...and I'll admit...I have too!  This week I wanted to try some of the calmer videos that focus on breathing and relaxing.  I've been reading a lot about mindfulness, preparing ourselves to attend to what's going on in the moment, and figured I'd give it a try with my little friends.

I used Safe and Calm (3:43) on GoNoodle to get our bodies in a relaxed state ready to learn.  It has clouds that slowly drift across the screen as a calming voice directs you to lay down, close your eyes, belly breathe, and relax different parts of your body.  It was a neat experience to see a room of kindergarteners so relaxed and thanking their hands for all they do (which made myself and their teacher chuckle when some students actually told their hands "thank you").

Afterwards we moved to sit in a circle all facing the same direction.  I guided them through a free awareness activity I found online at Yoga Calm where we drew on each others backs:
  • Place your hands on the back of the person in front of you
  • Begin by making rain on the person's back - gently tapping with your fingertips
  • Now, make it rain all the way down their back - fingers sliding gently up and down their back
  • Then, there is very light thunder - gently tap on their back
  • Then, lightning - draw some long lightning strikes
  • Now, draw big puffy rain clouds
  • Brush those clouds away - gently sweeping your hands across their back
  • Now, the sun comes out - draw a big sun with a happy face and sunglasses
  • Then, place your palms on their back, close your eyes, and feel the warm hands.  Imagine yourself on the beach with the sun warming you
  • When the sun comes out the flowers begin to grow and a rainbow forms - draw these for your friend
  • Now, draw either a gift or a secret message on their back.  See if they can guess what you wrote 
I thanked them all for being so respectful to each other during each of the activities and rewarded them with some free GoNoodle stickers I received in the mail.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

How do YOU Decide it it's Bullying or Teasing

I really enjoyed this blog post by blogger Hilary on Pulling Curls!  I think we all have to be careful with which word to use with our children, in addition to determining if it's something harmful or just something they don't like.  What do you think???

How do YOU Decide if it's Bullying or Teasing!

"I had gum put in my hair.  I had glasses and REALLY frizzy hair, a giant retainer and then braces.  Life wasn't pretty back then.  I wouldn't say it's especially pretty now... but I hope you get the picture. :)

I seriously need a picture of me when I was about 12.... I'm going to work on that.

Anyway, I learned how to know that I was good and OK.  I didn't need my mom to fight my battles.  I didn't need to care what everyone thought.  Here's a newsflash, people still tease me now.  Most of the time I know if I dish it, I need to take it -- but sometimes my dander gets up.  Which, of course, is a shame since I am allergic to dander.

But, I digress.

I see posts on Facebook about people's kids being bullied by being called names or not being played with at recess.

And I just don't think that's bullying.  When I think bullying, I think the kid in A Christmas Story that comes and pounds that kid like crazy until he's bleeding.

Of course, that's an extreme.

I would say that my mother dander hasn't particularly gone up for my kids.  Sure, they get called names and feel like no one is playing with them.  Sure, I get called names and I sometimes feel like no one is playing with me.  Because I live with imperfect humans who are trying to be funny and survive in their own way.  I have learned to become a duck, and let the water slide right off.

Are we raising kids without their duck skin?  Are we raising kids who allow each bit of water to enter their skin and weaken them a bit?

For me, when my kids have complaints of "bullying" (and they too have found this to be a "key" word and sometimes use it).  I come back with these:

1.  How was your day? -- sometimes your day is just rotten, so whatever anyone does you feel like you're being bullied by life and that person just put a face to the bully.  It's understandable.  I sing them Let It Go -- often in my amazing opera voice. :)

2.  I ask them if that is someone they value?  I mean, if someone I could care less about says something mean to me -- I don't really care.  They need to decide whose opinions they value.  You can't value everyone's, because we're all so different.  I am learning this as I get more comments on my blog.  Someone called me ignorant about healthcare last week.  It got my dander up.  {let it go}

3.  I ask them if what they said is true?  Like, if they smell -- have they not taken a shower?  Positive peer pressure rocks!  That's not bullying, that's GETTING MY KIDS TO SHOWER.  Thank you!

4.  I give them a hug.  Sometimes you just need a hug and that makes it fine.  Sometimes I just need a hug.  I know how that feels.

5.  I evaluate it.  I'm not saying that there isn't bullying.  But I find bullying to be consistent, VERY mean spirited, often physically harmful or at least emotionally quite harmful.  And then it might be time to act.  Every situation there is different, I am sure your mom-sense {similar to spider sense} will react in a way that you KNOW something is wrong.  A lot of the time I only have one side of the story and I will query his teacher to find out the other side of the story.  She often knows the truth and already has a handle on the situation.

Anyway, those are my thoughts?  What do you think?  Do you think bullying has become a "code" word for anything your kid doesn't like?  Turns out I bully my kids into cleaning their room every day.  That's just how I am.  Deal with it kiddos!"

Original link to article:

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


For our last lesson of the year, I reviewed the 3 different ways we respond to conflict.  With our older students I go into the brain stem and our reptilian brain's fight/flight/freeze, but in the lower grades I found a great alternative that is much more developmentally appropriate from The School Counselor's Chronicle.  I started by showing them this hilarious video on conflict, compliments of Sesame Street and Robin Williams:

Then I introduce the 3 ways we respond to conflict as human beings: like a mouse, like a monster, or like me.  We wrote down examples of how each would respond to a conflict in our flip book.  For example, a mouse might ignore, stay quiet, etc.  A monster might yell, push back, etc.  Me might be assertive, use I Message, etc.  We created flipbooks to help learn about each of our possible reactions and discuss which works the best.

After we had a clear understanding of each of the 3 types of responses, we acted them out.  I printed out large masks of a mouse and a monster for students to wear to show the different ways we might respond. 

Some of the role plays included:
  • My friend won't play with me.
  • He poked me.
  • She called me names.
  • He cut in line.
  • Ms. Sepp didn't pick me to act out scenarios. :)

Monday, May 12, 2014

Examining our Prejudices

I found a great activity on Learning to Give to help our fourth graders understand prejudice and discrimination.  Many of us have misconceptions about the worlds demographics in regards to population, health, wealth, and resources.  I started by giving students an activity called "If the World Were 100 People."  I had students imagine that our ever-growing population of 7.1 billion people would be represented by only 100 people (roughly each 1 person would represent 70,000,000 million people - as figured out by one of our students).  The handout had numbers listed up top that were to be placed next to different groupings of people. I gave them about 5-7 minutes to work on this before we went over the true results.  The true answers shocked them.  We discussed what surprised us most about the truth.  I reinforced that if our perceptions about the world are not accurate, then how accurate are our perceptions of our own country? state? community? school? and other individuals?

People often use labels or categories to describe others.  These labels might be based on clothing, looks, the way someone talks, the groups they belong to etc.  Categorizing things or people is a natural behavior, however, people often make assumptions about groups of people they don't even know.  I asked students to come up with some categories that we use to group people.  Their answers included: nerds, blacks, whites, homeless, jocks, popular kids, gays, etc.  I then challenged them to describe what a "nerd" was - how would you know someone is a nerd?  They listed out some characteristics and I then further probed by asking if our assumptions we have about this group apply to everyone in the group?  Do most people hold the same assumptions about a group?  Why or why not?  Do assumptions tell us anything definite about a categorized individual?  How do our assumptions affect our behavior toward others?  When we make assumptions about a group of people or a person - these are called stereotypes.  Stereotypes are often unfair and hurtful.  When assumptions and stereotypes influence our attitudes, we may find that it's hard to make a fair judgment about them.  This is called a bias.  We reviewed the list of important vocabulary which raised a rich discussion.

Finally I used the activity "Stand and Deliver".  In this activity I read statements aloud that would describe something we could categorize others by: diversity, experience, etc.  If the statement was true about you, you were to stand.  If the statement was not true about you, you were to stay seated.  This activity was done silently and after each statement was read and responded to, I had students look around the room and make observations.  Statements varied from male/female, to citizenship, to birth order, to family composition, to teasing/discrimination.  We debriefed by discussing the feelings that came up for us during the activity.  What was the hardest part?  What did you learn about yourself?  What did you learn about others?  What surprised you?  What did this show you about discrimination?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Teamwork: Cup Stack Take 2

Last year the cup stack was one of my FAVORITE team building activities (see post here).  So, naturally, I wanted to give it another shot!  The Cup Stack is a fun, yet challenging activity that promotes team work.  The supplies are basic: cups, string, rubber bands.  I go ahead and tie the string to the rubber bands so it is ready to go.  I make a few for groups of 4 and a few for groups of 5, this way no matter what the numbers are in the classroom I can make it work.

I start by asking students what teamwork is.  What does it look like? sound like? feel like?  We brainstorm a list of ideas that I hang in the classroom for students to refer to.  Each class comes up with a variety of ideas, but they all center around the same theme.

Then I introduce their challenge.  I start off my admitting that this will be a frustrating activity.  We discuss ways to handle our stress and feelings that arise when others make a mistake or don't do what we want them to do.  I model that they will each be given 6 cups and a rubberband with strings attached to it.  Their job is to stack the cups into a design by only holding onto their individual string.

I demonstrate that when everyone pulls on their string the rubberband opens wider, and vice versa.  I also show them the challenges of picking up a cup that has tipped on its side or fallen on the floor.  No matter what happens, they must follow the one rule: YOU CAN ONLY TOUCH YOUR STRING.  No touching the rubber band, no touching the cup, and no touching other group member's strings.  I reinforce how communication is so important in order to reach the goal.  Then I set them off.  Here are some videos and pics.

After about 10-15 minutes, we pause and reflect on our experiences.  I ask them to rate their group on how well they worked together using the ideas we wrote at the beginning of the lesson.  I ask them what went well for their group.  I also ask them what didn't go well for their group.  We talk about different strategies and ways we an handle ourselves when things don't go the way we want them to.  Throughout the activity I walk around and facilitate positive communication, so I usually have a few examples to help springboard the discussion. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Teamwork: The Crayon Box That Talked

This week in kindergarten we read The Crayon Box That Talked written by Shane Derolf.  In the story the crayons are having a difficult time getting along and they say some pretty unkind things to each other.  A young girl buys the unhappy box and takes them home with her, eventually showing them that when they work together and get along they create some pretty amazing things.  This book was a great springboard for our activities on teamwork. 

The first activity we did was the hula hoop pass.  I asked students to stand in a circle holding hands.  The goal of the activity was to get the hula hoop all the way around the circle without letting go of each others hands.  After we accomplished this the first time, I asked students what helped them to be successful.  We talked about which strategies helped them get through the hoop faster.  Then I posed a second challenge for them.  We were going to do it again, but this time we were going to pass the hoop in the opposite direction and try to beat our first time.

The second activity we did was a collaborative drawing.  I told students that each group would only get one large piece of paper to create a picture.  Everyone had to participate and have input on the drawing.  I explained what cooperation and collaboration meant, and many students decided they would make a plan before they started drawing.

Now this did not happen without some conflict and compromising!  I circulated around the room to facilitate conflict resolution and touch base with their feelings when I noticed frustrated body language.  Most groups were able to come up with an idea that everyone agreed on and had their own part.  There was one unique group that came up with a plan, but only one student at a time would add their part.  This group watched one person begin, then passed the paper along through them, each adding a new piece.  Here were some of their final products: