DIY Felt Christmas Tree

Happy December, friends!
The Christmas season is upon us - filled with the chaotic wonderfulness of baking, get-togethers, and decorations! Do you have your tree set up yet? We do - and my little man is OBSESSED with it! He even says "twee" :) 
I've been impressed with how gentle he's been with the tree - we had the baby gate, ready to protect the tree, but we haven't needed to pull it out.
I did fill the bottom of the tree with fabric (read: unbreakable) ornaments, just in case.
I wanted my son to have a special tree of his own - one that he could touch and play with, without constant supervision.
Enter: the felt Christmas tree idea!
You've probably seen it on Etsy or in stores - but they can be pretty pricey, ranging from $20-$50. Being on a budget (at Christmastime who isn't?) I knew there had to be a cheaper way - so I decided to make one myself!
I gathered my supplies from the craft store:
Because I already have the cookie cutters, scissors, and sharpie, I only had to buy the felt - which cost me exactly $4.33! Definitely better than the $30 price tag I saw on Etsy.

Once my supplies were bought I got to work!
1. Use the cookie cutters to trace various Christmas shapes on the different pieces of felt. I made 20 shapes.

2. Cut out the felt shapes - these are your "ornaments"
 
3. Cut a tree out of your large piece of green felt. I attached it to the wall with command strips - that way I know it'll stay up all season and will come down without a mess.
4. The felt sticks to felt, so the ornaments stick to the tree without any tape or velcro. You can rearrange the ornaments again and again!
That's it!Easy-peasy, right?So far it's been a big hit!

We even had a playdate and it survived being decorated by three toddlers at once:
I have a feeling that this will be a Christmas tradition we play with year after year! And for less then $5 it can't be beat :)

What are some of your favorite Christmas crafty creations?

Holiday Gift Ideas for Teachers/Day Care Workers/Baby-sitters

Happy December, friends!
The holiday season is upon us - and while Christmas brings with it so many wonderful things (family time, delicious treats, heart-warming Hallmark movies, etc.), it can also be a busy and stressful time as you try to juggle everything that this season entails.

One thing that, though wonderful, can also prove to be time-consuming and stressful is gift-buying. The malls are crowded and the thought of standing in endless lines with a whiny toddler in tow would make even the bravest mom dread this time of year. Sure you can shop online - but if you're just browsing, then Amazon's suggestions of the 13,542 of the world's must-have gift ideas can be overwhelming to say the least.

And what do you do for those on your list who you don't know very well? There are those who you want to show your appreciation for - teachers, day care workers, and/or baby-sitters - but you don't necessarily know their favorite things or their must-have gifts.

Well, fear not, my fellow busy mamas - I have scoured the Internet and found 5 fun, easy, and inexpensive holiday gift ideas that anyone would love to receive:
A Hand-written Note
Never underestimate the power of a hand-written note or thank-you card. More than any monetary gift, teachers love to be appreciated for their hard work and their investment in your children. Write a note expressing your thanks - and have your kids include a note or drawing too! It will mean the world to the teacher.

Thanks a Latte
Who doesn't love coffee? Most of us run on coffee during the busy holiday season, so gift cards to your favorite coffee shop are always a big hit! Plus with a punny tag like "thanks a latte" you can't go wrong!

Hand soap/Lotion
Teachers love hand soaps for the classrooms or home, so this is a gift they won’t turn away. Plus you can find all sorts of fun and festive scents this time of year - and usually on sale! Pair with with a cute ribbon and a cute note to make this a truly festive gift. Be sure to visit MichellePaige for a free printable.

Red Box Movie, Popcorn & Drink

These days, going to the movie is no cheap affair, and most of us would rather watch in the comfort of our own home (and elastic waisted pajama pants) anyways. Red Box movies are the cheapest way to rent a movie, coming in at just $1! You can purchase codes on the Red Box website and pair with a small bottle of soda and a popcorn bag. Your teacher will love the creativity, and movie rentals are never a waste! Visit Over the Big Moon for a free printable
Succulent in a Mason Jar
Mason jars are all the crafting rage right now - why now capitalize on the craze with this cute gift that even someone with the brownest thumb can't kill? Succulents are cute and cheery any time of year - and I love the pun "thanks for helping me grow"...perfect for a hard-working teacher or day care worker! Read the full step-by-step tutorial on Live Randomly Simple

I hope you've found some gift inspiration from this post - if you have any other ideas or gifts you've given to teachers/day care workers/baby-sitters in the past that were a big hit, please leave a comment below! 

Christmas Carols...Grammar-Style!

I love love LOVE Christmas and all of the festivities that come with this special season. In the classroom I love weaving fun and festive activities into our curriculum - but not at the expense of important instructional time. I am a big fan of activities that support what we're learning in the classroom, but also sprinkle a little Christmas magic throughout our day.

Each December I take a week and replace our regularly-scheduled language arts lessons with something fun and festive:

Christmas Carols...Grammar-style!
Christmas Carols are widely-known, easily relatable, and bring Christmas cheer to any classroom. Pair them with some grammar practice and a creative writing outlet - sounds like a win-win to me!

To start off the unit I play three well-known Christmas Carols to jog my students' memories (as if they haven't been playing on the radio non-stop)
Jingle Bells
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Then we spend a few minutes reviewing the basics parts of speech. I don't know about you, but I find that no matter how many times we go over what a verb is, the kids always need a refresher.
We refer back to our Grammar Interactive Notebooks and make sure to keep them on hand for easy reference all week long:
You can check out more about these print-and-go foldable interactive notebook foldables here:
Then, once the parts of speech are fresh in our minds we crank up the tunes! We focus on one Christmas Carol per day - I hand out the activity sheet and let the kiddos go to town, color-coding their pages by the correct parts of speech. Each Christmas Carol has three different versions, so you can differentiate baed on the different ability levels you have in your classroom:
The difference between the three versions is in the directions and the different parts of speech that the students are required to underline. This allows the teacher to give different instructions to different students based on grade level, ability, and academic expectations. Level “A” asks students to identify nouns and verbs. Level “B” asks students to identify nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. Level “C” asks students to identify nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, prepositions, and articles.

You could also progressively increase the challenge level for your entire class - give them all Level "A" on the first day, Level "B" on the second, and Level "C" on the third day.

Also included in the packet are differentiated creative writing prompts that ask the students to write a story in response to a prompt and underline the different parts of speech that they used:
Our your students' grammar knowledge to the test with this FUN and FESTIVE resource - they'll be cheering for language arts each day!
This resource is student-tested and teacher-approved!
Here's what other teachers are saying about it:
"Just what I needed for the week before Winter Break! Thank you." -Mary O.
"This was a really fun for my 4th graders- they enjoyed it for grammar homework instead of boring workbook pages." -Anonymous
"Such a great idea! My students enjoyed this. We can always use practice on parts of speech so this is perfect!" -Education Lahne

Check out the FREE SAMPLER packet for 2 differentiated activities for the Christmas Carol "Jingle Bells"

Ready to purchase?
Click the picture below to visit my TPT store and check out this resource:

Merry (almost!) Christmas everyone!

Unwrapping a Book a Day in December: Tips, Book Recommendations, and FREE Printables

Today I want to share with you one of my favorite holiday traditions that I used in the classroom and now plan to continue with my personal kiddos: I wrapped up 25 Christmas picture books and each day in December we unwrap a book to read. This was such a fun part of our day - it helped to foster a love of reading and stressed the idea that books are gifts to be treasured.

Most of the books I used came from my personal library - but I also recognize that not everyone is a children's book hoarder like I am :) To gather 25 books, you can borrow from friends, check some out from the library, scour second hand stores, garage sales, or used book stores for great deals on Christmas picture books.

Note: these are not books for the kids to keep - we just read them and they stay in our classroom to be enjoyed throughout the month of December.

To use with my own kids, I will not be buying 25 new books each year - we will wrap and read the same ones (with a few books swapped out as new books are published) each year. Tip: Each January I use my leftover Christmas wrapping paper to wrap the books. I put them away with my Christmas decorations so that next Christmas, the books are wrapped and ready to go!

Here are some of my favorite Christmas picture books I wrap each year:

The Tale of the Three Trees: Told simply, in language even the youngest family members will understand, the story beings with three young trees who dream - as children do - of doing big deeds
When the woodcutters come, the trees each find that the reality of their existence doesn't match their dreams… and yet they soon realize they were meant for so much more. This touching story contains a simple lesson about God's Plan for every life, told in a way that will touch hearts.
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey: Jonathan Toomey is the best woodcarver in the valley, but he is always alone and never smiles. No one knows about the mementos of his lost wife and child that he keeps in an unopened drawer. But one early winter’s day, a widow and her young son approach him with a gentle request that leads to a joyful miracle. The moving, lyrical tale, gloriously illustrated by P.J. Lynch, has been widely hailed as a true Christmas classic. 

The Night Before Christmas: In this famous poem, Saint Nicholas visits a sleeping household on Christmas Eve. This classic poem The Night Before Christmas is undeniably the most widely recognized Christmas ditty of all time. Moore's words evoke images of warm, fuzzy Christmases, long before the invention of TV and microwave turkey. 

Olive the Other Reindeer: Olive is merrily preparing for Christmas when suddenly she realizes "Olive... the other Reindeer... I thought I was a dog. Hmmm, I must be a Reindeer!" So she quickly hops aboard the polar express and heads to the North Pole. And while Santa and the other reindeer are a bit surprised that a dog wants to join the their team, in the end Olive and her unusual reindeer skills are just what Santa and his veteran reindeer team need.

The Berenstain Bears and the Joy of Giving: a classic, but still a good one! Brother and Sister Bear can’t wait for Christmas and all the presents they’ll open. But during the Christmas Eve pageant, something special happens! The Bear cubs learn a very valuable lesson about the joy of giving to others.

Snowmen at Night: Have you ever built a snowman and discovered the next day that his grin has gotten a little crooked, or his tree-branch arms have moved? And you've wondered . . . what do snowmen do at night? This delightful wintertime tale reveals all! Caralyn Buehner's witty, imaginative verse offers many amusing details about the secret life of snowmen and where they go at night, while Mark Buehner's roly-poly snowmen are bursting with personality and charm.

Bear Stays Up for Christmas: Bear’s friends are determined to keep Bear awake for Christmas! So they wake Bear up and have him help them find a Christmas tree, bake cakes, hang up stockings, and sing Christmas songs. Bear stays up—by discovering that giving is one of the best Christmas presents of all!

Ok I could go on and on - but I'll stop myself there :) If you need further recommendations, please let me know!

And if you'd like to take this fun project to the next level, you can have your students fill out a graphic organizer as you read. This provides listening accountability, valuable reading comprehension practice, as well as some informal assessment for the teacher.

I have created a *FREE* packet of fun and festive graphic organizers that you can use for ANY holiday-themed book.

There are 7 graphic organizers for you to use again and again!
This resource includes:
Story Elements
Charting the Details: Beginning, Middle, End
Text Connections
Character Profile
Chapter Summary
K-W-L
Cause and Effect

These pages were wonderful resources for me to have on-hand in the classroom in December. At the beginning of the week, I would choose a couple and copy class sets. Then, if we had a spare 15 minutes before lunch or if a parent volunteer came in, I (or the parent) could read a book we unwrapped while the students filled in their graphic organizer.

If you download and use the graphic organizers, please leave feedback.

Click on the picture below to download your FREE graphic organizers:

Merry (almost!) Christmas, everyone!
I pray you enjoy sharing the love of reading with your students :)

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Thanksgiving Bible Unit for Elementary Students

Happy {almost!} Thanksgiving, readers!

Earlier this week I shared about my preschool friends and the Thanksgiving Bible unit we did - you can read all about it (and snag a freebie!) here: Preschool Bible Thanksgiving Unit
Today I want to share some biblically-based Thanksgiving ideas for those of you who teach (or have!) elementary students:
Here are some of my favorite Thanksgiving books for elementary students:
It's Not About You, Mrs. Turkey is a heart-warming story that shares both the historical and religious background of the holiday with young readers. The fun and colorful illustrations give children the opportunity to see clothing styles of the past as they learn the importance of courage, sharing, friendship and giving thanks. 
God Gave Us Thankful Hearts is such a cute story about the importance of having an attitude of gratitude. Lil Pup learns that God is the giver of all things - and that his heart can be thankful when he sets his mind on the best things in his life. Through this book kids learn that giving thanks warms hearts and brings joy.

The Berentstain Bears Give Thanks is a cute story in which the Berenstain cubs act out the first Thanksgiving complete with costumes, props, and a full Thanksgiving feast. The Berenstain Bears Give Thanks teaches how God provided for the pilgrims and reminds children of God’s many blessings.

In my classroom we spent some time the week of Thanksgiving learning about what it means to be thankful and the importance of developing an attitude of gratitude.

First we took notes using these interactive notebook foldables:
Students brainstormed in groups to define "thankfulness," think of ways they can express gratitude, and wrote reasons why they were thankful for Jesus, their families, our school, and their health. Then they dug into their Bibles to write verses that highlight the importance of thankfulness.

Next we discussed the idea that developing an ATTITUDE of GRATITUDE begins in your mind. Each student filled their "mind" with things they were thankful for. They then personalized the person to look like themselves. Here's one of my sweet student's sample:
Each person cut out their thankful characters and I hung them on a bulletin board outside my classroom. Passersby always comment on what a meaningful activity this is!

Then we met back together and did a Bible Case Study in Luke 17:12-19 - it's a short and poignant story of God healing 10 men struggling with leprosy. All are completely healed, yet only one comes back to Jesus to thank Him.

Then we separated back to our desks and did some personal reflection. We wrote thank-you letters to someone who we were thankful for. I encouraged each student to give (or mail) their letters to the special someone they wanted to thank.
Lastly, we divided into pairs and did a fun brainstorming activity - I set the timer and challenged the students to write something they were thankful for - one for each letter of the alphabet.
Our Bible class was extra-special the week before Thanksgiving - I hope I instilled the importance of developing an ATTITUDE of GRATITUDE in my students. You can snag all of these print-and-go resources in my Elementary Thanksgiving Bible Packet
You can pin this idea for later:

Happy Thanksgiving, friends!
Psalm 9:1 "I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; 
I will tell of all your wonderful deeds."