Grad School Chronicles: Week 20

Week 20 of graduate school was *almost* as bittersweet as week 19.  At week 19, I said goodbye to my "surrogate littles".  The good news is, I will see each of them next year as they walk down the halls as first graders!  {Sweet!} I love the "working with children" part of grad school (most likely because working with children is my job in real life), but the full time coursework part of it all is not my cup of tea.  With that being said, back to full time coursework I go.  {Bitter!}  To prepare for the next 6 1/2 weeks of life, I cried excessively prepared three-ring binders to keep me organized.

I think this might be the Hello Pool Noodle font....LOOOOOVE IT!

Inside, there are dividers for each class, with sub-dividers for each week of class.  I designated each of my four courses a color, green, pink, and orange.  For the most part, I take notes for each class on my laptop.  However, if I take handwritten notes, I make sure to use the corresponding color ink for that class.  Same goes for anything documented on my assignment sheets and calendar.    The color code system helps sort the workload in my head with a quick glance.  This is actually a very similar system used for my small groups in my classroom!  (Ahhh, the teacher in me is rarely switched to the off position.)  As a matter of fact, I even color code my text book spines with sticky notes!  It's an illness.

Anyway, each binder contains notebook paper and a Velcro closing binder pocket.  (Side note: I also use the Velcro closing binder pockets throughout my curriculum binders to hold small group stuff and game pieces.  They help me keep me super organized!  Check them out by clicking here).

My thoughts for the week...
I have mixed feelings about this condensed, cohort-based program.  So much so that I think I might be developing an ulcer.  Cramming 15-17 weeks of material into a 6 1/2 week time frame is an insane workload.  I know, I know...I brought this on all by myself.  I do not regret my decision to head back to school.  However, when I begin the process of narrowing down a doctoral program, I will make certain to seek a part time, non-cohort program!  Lessons are learned through trial and error, right?  :)

Cricut Creations for the Classroom: Writing Area Banner

A few days ago, I wrote about my latest Target Dollar Spot finds.  One of the items I was most excited about was a pencil banner.  The banner is made of thin wood, and each little banner flag has been painted to look like a pencil.  I ended up buying two packs of banners because I knew write right away that I wanted to make a little somethin'-somethin' for my classroom...a sign for my writing area!

June 2016 Target Dollar Spot finds for the classroom!

I received a Cricut for Mother's Day and haven't even had a chance to take it out of the box until today!  I sat myself down at my desk and decided to watch a few youtube tutorials regarding how to use a Cricut, as I have no experience with these machines whatsoever.  Three hours later, I emerged from the abyss I call an office with this...


I created the most adorable writing center banner EVER made.  {Tooting my own horn over here!}  My paranoid nature led me to first create the lettering with cardstock to ensure a great fit.  Paper is much less expensive of a screw up compared to the 12"x12" vinyl sheets.  I placed each paper letter on a pencil and decided it was perfect.  (See my temporary paper pieces in the image below.)  From there, I moved on to cutting my very first sheet of vinyl!  I used glossy, black, permanent vinyl for this project.

Paper letters first to ensure a great fit!

The trickiest part of this entire project was A) learning how to use the Cricut Design Space site to create the letters and B) finding the best approach to getting each letter from the backing to the banner pieces.  For the record, youtube taught me that clear Contact paper is the best way to tackle the job of application/transfer.  Because I am an early childhood teacher and think clear Contact is one of the best things ever invented ways to adhere labels to classroom shelves, I had a brand new roll in my closet.  :)

Here's a close up of the letter "w".

Now all I need to get back into my own classroom (once grad school is over) so I can hang this baby on the wall!

Do you have a Cricut and use it for classroom projects?  If so, I would love to hear about the items you have made.  My mind is full of ideas.  If I have hard flooring in my next classroom, I want to make numbered circles on the floor for lining up.  No more contact paper on the floor like I have done for so many years.  I feel as though my world changed forever (and for the better) when the Cricut entered my life.

7/10/18 UPDATE: If you like this classroom decor, you might also like my FREE printable writing area idea poster!  Check it out here on the blog or download it for free in my TPT store.

Target Dollar Spot Pocket Charts, Colorful Bins, & Fun Stuff (Summer 2016)

Hello, my name is Heather, and I am addicted to buying tons and tons and tons of school related stuff.  It is true.  Consider yourself warned.

I missed the boat a couple of years ago when Target had mini pocket charts in their Dollar Spot.  Guess what?  They're back, AND they have aqua and lime green...two of the three main colors I use as a classroom color scheme!  I plan on using these to post my "write the room" cards.

Here are the pocket charts out of the package with a ruler for a size guide.
I picked these up yesterday at the Target off 164th in Vancouver, WA.   I am not ashamed to say...I wiped them out of lime and aqua charts.  However, there is a silver lining to my hoggish behavior.  The two other Targets in town were switching over their Dollar Spot area as of yesterday morning.  I know because I hit all three stores in search of more of the awesome colored bins shown below, which happen to match my small group colors perfectly!

While I was at Target #3, I spotted these adorable wooden pencil banners.  I want to use my Cricut to create vinyl letters that spell W-R-I-T-I-N-G (one letter per pencil) for my classroom writing area!  I will be sure to post a picture once I actually figure out how to use my Cricut.  It was a Mother's Day gift that has not been out of the box yet.

The clipboard pictured with the pencil banners is going to be my new "This belongs to..." spot in the classroom.  Of course, this is the spot where work without names will go to be claimed.

Unfortunately, I was only able to find two of these heavy duty dry erase pockets.  I loooooooove these for center work.  I think they hold up better than plastic page protectors, and I cannot wait to get my hands on more of them.  I would really love to have a double classroom set of these babies!

That's it for my Dollar Spot haul.  I hope they add more school-related goodies as back to school season approaches!

Student Portfolio Binder Spines {FREE}

Last year, I introduced  my Student Portfolio packets.  One is editable and the other is "print and go" style.  As I prepped my last round of portfolios, I realize I was having to reinvent the wheel every school year when it came to creating a binder spine for each student's portfolio binder.  {Boo...hiss!}  

As of this week, that is a thing of the past!  I whipped up an editable PowerPoint file and added it into both versions of my Student Portfolio.  If you already own one (or both) versions, you can access the new file for free through your Teachers Pay Teachers "my purchases" tab or via this link.  To make the font look the way it should, download KG Miss Kindergarten and install it on your computer.  Of course, you can use ANY font you wish.

Click here to download the FREE binder spines shown in the image above.

If you are preparing for next school year and your school or program follows TS Gold early learning standards, be sure to check out my Student Portfolios.  As an early childhood educator, they really do an excellent job of helping me A) document growth throughout the year, B) keep each student's documentation organized, and B) *WOW* families at the end of the school year with an amazing keepsake gift!

Click here to preview the Editable Student Portfolio packet.

Click here to preview the "print and go" style Student Portfolio packet.

HIT IT! Sight Word Preprimer Bean Bag Toss Game

Have you ever had one of those moments?  You know the one, right?  When you realize the laminator is broken!!!!  I am *pretty sure* this was the look on my face yesterday when I realized I had used the last remaining laminator pouches on a project earlier in the day.

It was just about then that light began to shine from above and angels began to sing.  The doorbell rang.  It was the UPS guy with my Amazon order, and it contained two more boxes of pouches.  Hallelujah!  At that moment, all was right in the world.

I was inspired by a Pinterest claimed to be connected to a free game, but I could not find the game at all.  So, like any neurotic person teacher would do, I sat down at the old computer and began creating a version of my own game.  I call it Hit It!.  It contains all 40 preprimer Dolch words.  I love that I used nothing but black ink when it came time to print.  I have an abundance of Astrobright card stock that I used to give each circle a pop of color.  Of course, I laminated each sheet of paper prior to cutting out the circles.  I stick to a general rule of thumb when it comes to laminating stuff for my classroom.  Anything little hands touch repeatedly year after year deserves lamination!  :)

 The game is rather simple.  Use the circles that contain the sight words your kiddos are focusing on at the moment.  Place a tape line on the floor to mark the "throw line".  (They do not pass that line when they toss the bean bag...great visual for them!)  Each child tosses the bean bag and hopefully it lands on a circle/word.  (If not, you can let them choose the word closest to wherever the bean bag lands.)  They spell AND read the word.  That circle goes into a tub or basket.  Now, it is the next person's turn to play.  I have found similar games to be useful as an individual activity or with a partner.  Any more than two kiddos creates WAY too much chaos for my liking.

Oh, and I used my Fiskars circle cutter set on 4" to cut around each circle.  This is such a handy teacher tool, friends!  It cuts circles up to 8".  I use it a lot to create all kinds of fun stuff for my classroom.  Anyway, set the dial to whatever size you need.  Do your best to center the gadget on your item.  Push down on the plunger in the middle of the cutter and turn the bottom part all the way around until you have come full circle.  (Click here to watch a how-to video.)

Close up shot to show you how I lined up the cutting blade just outside the black line of the circle.

Notice the Scotch tape on each corner of the paper?  It kept the paper from scooting as I cut.

It cuts through laminated card stock quite well.  It also comes with extra blades just in case you have a blow out.  It's pretty fabulous.  I love making engaging games for my students.  This center activity is SURE to be a huge hit next school year!

*BOOMING* A-Z Coconut Tree Alphabet Match File Folder Game

I've listed a new file folder game to kick off the end of the school year!  I made this engaging and fun game months ago, and I finally had time to post it on Teachers Pay Teachers for all of my teaching buddies this morning! Grab it while it is 50% off through 5/19/16 at 4PM (PST) (new product discount).  It ties in perfectly with Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, which happens to be a great book to introduce at the beginning of the school year (or any old time)!

Click image to preview and purchase this game!
Thanks for your interest in my A-Z Coconuts Sort & Match File Folder Game. To play, students will match the game pieces to the game mat.

This download includes:
- 17 printable pages
- Color & b/w version of game mats & game pieces
- File folder tab labels (uppercase / lowercase)
- Directions for game assembly

Click image to preview and purchase this game!

Click image to preview and purchase this game!
{Tip 1} If game pieces are ending up everywhere but the file folder game mat, try placing the game on a large tray or cookie sheet, as well as placing game pieces in a small container. That usually does the trick for students unable to figure out space boundaries on their own.

{Tip 2} Have students match lowercase letters to uppercase game mats (or vice versa)!

{Tip 3} Need to create this game in a hurry? Instead of printing, laminating, trimming, and Velcro'ing the game pieces, use 1" plastic letter tiles OR magnetic alphabet letters on the file folder game mats instead!

Find more of my file folder games HERE.

Grad School Chronicles: Week 19

Week 19 brings an end to phase one (of three) practicum experiences in my graduate program.  I celebrated by wearing my Happy Last Day of School shirt!

Every teacher NEEDS one of these shirts!
It will be exciting to see this group of littles come back to school next year as first graders!  They are all so bright -- in many different ways -- I decided to give them an end of the school year gift that was sure to be a hit!
Plain Dollar Tree LED flashlights made up all fancy-like!
Mission accomplished!  I mean, what kid doesn't love a flashlight???  Thank goodness for Dollar Tree.  With the batteries are already loaded into the flashlight, I was able to snag a gift for each student for $1.00 each!  Cha-ching!  I had the 4" x 6"cellophane bags in my crafting closet leftover from my hair bow making and selling days.  (You can also buy them in the candy making/wedding section at Michael's or Hobby Lobby.)  I whipped up the label and printed two at a time on card stock.  Viola...fancy kid gifts are born.  They were a total hit on the last day of school!

If you would like the editable gift tag PowerPoint document for yourself, download it from my Drop Box account for free.  The main font I used throughout was KG Miss Kindergarten, also free for personal use.  In order to have the tag look like the one in the picture above, you will need to download and install the font.  Of course, you could always sign your name after printing the tags.  The border is from The Pond, the heart is from Pink Cat Studio, and the bulb is from Krista Wallden (Creative Clips).  Gotta give credit for the cute stuff!  Check out those sellers if you don't already own a bunch of their work.

Thoughts for the week...
I am sad to see the school year end.  With the closing of practicum experience phase one brings a new round of full time graduate coursework.  I will be back with my cohort Monday through Thursday...alllllll day long...for seven weeks.  It's not that some of my cohort members aren't super-delightful to be around, but I would much rather be in a classroom full of pre-k or kindergarten students.  I am pretty sure all of our teacher hearts feel that way.  

Grad School Chronicles: Week 18

Week 18 tells me the end is near.  The school year is winding down, and all of the chaos that I am typically in charge of as the classroom teacher has a new twist for me this school year.  I am merely an observer.  As odd as it sounds, it is much more stressful for me to sit back and observe!  (What is wrong with me?  That is a sick and twisted character trait!  Sigh.)  As much as I try to chip in and offer a helping hand, the reality of this classroom not being my own is strikingly clear.  It is too layered to decode it all in a blog I will leave it be.  Thank goodness for Trader Joe's and their endless supply of Picton Bay Sauvignon Blanc (my all time fave)!  Double thank goodness for my sweet husband who was brilliant enough to add an extra bottle (or two) to our shopping cart this week.  *CHEERS*

Thoughts for the week...
I miss having my own classroom.  It is challenging for me to sit back and participate on the side.  This practicum experience has been positive, but it is unlike me to be a backseat driver.  I like to think the state of disequilibrium I seem to be residing in at the moment is helping me grow as a professional.

Once this is all said and done, I am going to go back through each and every blog post and count how many times I have mentioned missing my own room.  The culture I create, the hands-on activities I implement to engage children, the way I go WAY out of my way to create activities and lessons that are specific to the needs of the students in my class...I miss it all.  I am not trying to rush through life, but I am very ready for graduation in December.  At that point, I will be able to move forward.

Grad School Chronicles: Week 17

Week 17 brought a HEAT WAVE!  Oh.  My.  Gawd!  It was so stinkin' hot in the classroom this week.  The school secretary pinky swore our A/C unit was working down at our end of the building, but I am convinced it is nonexistent.  I was a hot and sweaty mess by the time I got home each evening.

Thoughts for the week...
Things are heating up in the classroom, which brings on an entirely different set of challenges for young children.   Oy! It was an especially difficult week for those littles who are letting us know by their challenging behavior that the upcoming transition into first grade is difficult for them to process.  As a whole, man, they are grouchy on hot afternoons!  Note to self, invest in some oscillating fans if I end up teaching in this school.  :)