Friday, November 27, 2015

Unwrapping a Book a Day in December - with FREE Graphic Organizers

Today I want to share with you one of my favorite holiday traditions that I used in the classroom: 
Each school day in December my students would 
unwrap a Christmas book
for me to read to them.
This has been extremely motivating in the classroom. I tell the students in the morning that I am "on the lookout" for the special student who will unwrap the book of the day. You should see how quickly they sit up straight, zip their lips, and fold their hands :) 

They know that these books have been specially picked and wrapped by me, so they listen with rapt attention. I originally got this idea from a mom at my old church who did this with her kids. I love the idea of seeing books as gifts and unwrapping once each day until Christmas, so I decided to try it with my students.

Whatever it takes to foster a love of reading...
Most of the books I used came from my personal classroom library - but I also borrowed a couple and then checked out a few more from the public library to get enough books to unwrap one each day.

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!

Packet includes:
Story Elements
Charting the Details: Beginning, Middle, End
Text Connections
Character Profile
Chapter Summary
Cause and Effect

Here are some samples from the classroom:

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.

And I'm always on the lookout for new Christmas read-alouds. Here are some of my favorites:

Do you have a favorite to add? Leave a comment below!

Monday, November 16, 2015

How to Talk to Your Kids About Paris

In the wake of the Paris tragedies of this past weekend, we are left with feelings of fear, uncertainty, and loss - and so are our kids.

When disaster strikes, our initial reaction is often to shield our children from what happened. We naturally jump into protection-mode, wanting to safeguard our kids from the evils in the world. But, the truth is, our children are going to hear about the terrorist attacks in Paris - and we need to be ready to talk with them when they come to us.

The first thing to do is to figure out what your child knows about the attacks - let them lead the discussion. Build on what they know and then explain what happened in Paris, on an age-appropriate level. You don't need to give them all of the details - just enough so that they feel informed and a dialogue has begun.

Remember to stay calm. It’s important to try and stay calm as you talk through the events. Children pick up their cues from their parents so if you act anxious they will be anxious. Trust your instincts too. Kids vary in levels of anxiety, and vulnerability. You know your kid and what they can handle better than anyone.

Finally, you need to reassure them that they are safe. Psychologists suggest that being able to answer all their questions is not as key as just being around to help them process the news and help them to feel safe and loved. Don't dismiss their questions or their fear - these emotions are real to them and they need to know that you're there to support them during this difficult time. 

If kids really are still afraid after your reassurances, Paul Coleman, author of Finding Peace When Your Heart Is in Pieces, has a handy acronym of things to do:  SAFE
S: Search for hidden questions or fears. Ask what else is on their mind about what happened, what their friends say about it and what their biggest worry is right now. “The goal is to not assume your child is okay because it would make you—the parent—more at ease to believe that is so,” he says. “Some children may not speak up about their fears or may be unable to articulate them without a parent’s willingness to ask questions.”
A: Act. Keep routines going—homework, bedtime rituals and so on— because they’re reassuring and distracting. “It is a good time to have them do kind things for others,” says Coleman. Little things like helping an elderly neighbor, or opening a door for a stranger “reminds them that there are kindnesses in this world.” This reduces the sense of helplessness.
F: Feel feelings. “Let them know their feelings make sense,” says Coleman. “Saying ‘There is nothing to worry about,’ teaches them that you may not be the person to speak to about their fears.” Let them talk it out and show that you understand.
E: Ease Minds. After you’re sure they’ve talked through their fears, you can assure them of their safety. “Reassure them that there are good people trying to help others and prevent future attacks,” says Coleman.
The number one thing most experts agree on is that your child needs is your time. The best thing you can do as a parent is be available...Just spending time with him and reassuring him that an event like this is unusual can make a huge difference.
As Christians, we can reassure our children with the hope that only a knowledge of Jesus Christ can bring. Pray with your children. Pray for the victims of this terrible tragedy. Pray for the attackers, that God would bring them to justice. Pray for those who are living in fear. Here are some Bible verses to repeat to our kids (and ourselves!) when the difficult events of a sinful world seem overwhelming:
Psalm 62:5 Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.
Isaiah 40:31 Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
Lamentations 3:21-23 Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
Hebrews 6:19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.
Do you have any tips to add when talking with your kids or students about this heart-wrenching tragedy?

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Tips for Combatting Mom-Guilt

For new moms, it's far too easy to be overwhelmed with feelings of fear, inadequacy, and guilt - social media and the Internet tells us what our homes should look like, how our kids should behave in public, the healthy dinners we should serve to our kids daily, the Pinterest-worthy craft projects we should tackle during nap time, etc. But we are not called to be perfect mothers - we are called to parent the best that we can with grace, forgiveness, and unconditional love.
Here's an article by Melanie Pinola from with some practical tips for combatting mom guilt:
The moment your new baby comes into your arms, a whole new set of emotions rushes in—pride, joy, wonderment, fear, and, yes, guilt. Because everything you do or don't do as a guardian of this child is all your fault forevermore.
That's what it feels like anyway, sometimes, as a parent. Who hasn't brushed off his or her kids ("Not now, son, I'm busy") only to later regret that choice (even if at the moment you were working on finding world peace or writing an article on overcoming said guilt)? It's most often called "mommy guilt" because we moms tend to berate ourselves—and be judged by others—for our child rearing, but fathers experience this guilt as well. It comes with the territory of being a parent.

The Many Ways We Can Feel Guilty as Parents

How to Get Rid of 'Mommy Guilt' (or Daddy Guilt) Once and For All
There are nearly infinite reasons for us to feel guilty. But just to give you an idea, here's a short list:
  • Mom's milk might not be enough to breastfeed the child or mom decides not to breastfeed when everyone else is saying it's best for the baby.
  • You forgot, again, that it's pajama day at school (or, in my case, you sent your kid to school in her pajamas on the wrong day).
  • Your kid is allergic to dogs and you have three of them.
  • You took your kid out to the playground but it's burning hot and you forgot the hat or sunscreen.
  • You took your kid out to the playground but it's freezing and you forgot the hat and gloves.
  • You can't find the overdue library books.
  • You missed a recital or a soccer game because of work or maybe other plans.
  • Your child isn't getting along with many of the other kids at school and you wonder if he or she inherited your poor social skills.
  • You're raising an only child and feel guilty for his or her lack of a sibling (especially for the future when you're an aging parent and the burden of taking care of you is on his or her shoulders alone).
  • You're raising multiple children and can't give each of them the same attention all the time. 
  • Your kid has picked up some terrible language or habits, likely from watching you. (You know they're always watching you.)
  • Your child asks to play with you but you say you can't even though maybe you do have the time. (You just want 10 more minutes in the bath alone! Or you actually do want to work. Or you're tired of playing Skylanders.)
  • You can't give everything to your children that your parents gave you.
  • Your kids subsist on a diet of McNuggets and chocolate milk. Some weeknights, so do you.
  • You lose your patience and snap or yell at your kids—the biggest guilt inducer for parents, according to one survey (bigger than working, spanking, or missing a school event).
Originally this short list had about twice as many bullets, but you get the point. Pretty much anything that affects your kids is something you could feel guilty about, warranted or not.

Why We Feel Guilty

Some of these are the result of our own decisions or presence of mind, but it's obvious that others are either beyond our control or no big deal in the large scheme of things. (Pajama day will come again.) But many of us hold ourselves to higher standards when it comes to parenting than perhaps any other endeavor. Here are my theories.
First, everyone has an opinion on child rearing because we've all seen it in action for much of our lives. We've had a long time to consider what our parents did right or wrong when raising us, and so we have this idea of what we would and should do as parents—what being a "perfect" parent is like. Shuttling kids to and from activities with a smile, never raising your voice, preparing healthy meals your kids gobble up, never forgetting a PTA meeting (and actually going to them), and so on. It's demanding, and it's pretty much impossible to never fall short from the ideal or never feel guilty when we're often torn in so many directions. 
For many of us, parenthood is also a huge part of our identities, and anything that goes right or wrong can feel like a reflection of our efforts or abilities. Kid got straight A's in school? Good job, Mom and Dad! Didn't make the honor roll? Why didn't you push them harder? Unlike many other pursuits, there are very high stakes when raising a child—a human being you could possibly scar for life (and who might blame you forever for it).
Other people don't help either, from your kid reminding you of that time you gave him the most crooked haircut ever to the people in the restaurant or the airplane giving you dirty looks if your kid is crying or glued to the iPad. Don't even get me started on other parents on the playground or in parenting forums. 

What We Can Do About This Perpetual Guilt

The truth is some guilt can be productive and it's a valid emotion we can learn from. Instead of eradicating all guilt, the real goal is to separate the unproductive and unearned feelings of guilt from the kind that helps us improve. As Forbes says:
Frankly, you can't win [the battle between parenting perfection and your individual adulthood]. But maybe you can raise children who are better equipped than you are to cope with a culture that promotes unattainable and contradictory ideals while simultaneously depending upon an economic marketplace of information and goods that promise to temporarily assuage media-induced feelings of inadequacy.
To do so, you'll need to consider your past performance and iterate accordingly. That's how we model critical thinking and self-reflection for our children. Admit your own fallibility and be willing to adapt and change.
Here are five steps to try:
1. Decide if what you've done is something you really should regret. Not volunteering for the school fair even though your kids' friends' parents all do? Not worth feeling guilty about. On the other hand, forgetting to take your kid to the fair after promising to do so produces worthy guilt. (You'll remember to put it on your calendar next time.) Other things that shouldn't warrant a guilt trip include those that are essential for your well-being, such as going to the gym and leaving your kid in the daycare or enjoying a night out with your spouse. We're primed to put our kids first, but that also means making sure we have our needs taken care of as well (the airplane emergency oxygen mask rule of putting your mask on first comes to mind).
Also, separate the things you can control (your child brushing her teeth every day and avoiding junk food) with those you can't (cavities) to put things into perspective. If self-criticism is a problem for you, ask yourself: If a friend came to you with a similar regret, would you think the guilt is justified?
2. Resolve to let some things go. Sometimes my daughter goes to school in the most mismatched outfits, her hair disheveled because we were rushing out the door. Her room and (who am I kidding?) our house often looks like someone took everything out of the drawers and threw them on the floor. While I'd prefer to have her go to school in perfectly coordinated, non-ink-stained clothes and neatly braided hair, and our home ready for guests at any moment, I have to choose my battles. Just remember as Debra Renner, co-author of Mommy Guilt, writes on Parentopia:
Parenting is not about perfection. Learning to be a more effective parent isn't the same thing as learning to be a skilled glass blower. Glass doesn't have an ability to talk back, challenge, or call you "the meanest parent in the world." We're not parenting inanimate objects and we're human too.
Mommy Guilt authors have written seven principles of the mommy guilt-free philosophy, but this might be the most important one: You must be willing to let some things go and prioritize what matters most:
The safety guidepost: You, as a parent, are responsible for providing a safe environment in which your child can grow and learn. The first trick to helping you prioritize is to ask yourself this question, "In what way would my child be harmed if I didn't do this task right now?" If the answer is, "not much to not at all," you've just found an item that can easily be dropped down the priority totem pole. 
Housework is an ideal example. In our survey for this book, 59 percent of participants reported feelings of guilt over not keeping up with the housework. So please, hear this: It is perfectly fine for your house to look as though children live in it—even when guests drop by! You can have toys on the floor, snacks out on the table, and shoes piled up near the door. 
Put another way: "You do too much as it is. You're not Superman, you know."
3. Remember that the grass is always greener on the other side. Working parents might feel guilty about not spending enough time with their kids; stay-at-home parents could feel guilty for not bringing home a paycheck or if their homes aren't spotless. There's no winning this game of comparisons (and parenting isn't a competitive sport), so remind yourself that you're making the best decisions you can for your family. (Also, Pinterest lies. Not all parents bake the most delightful treats, craft with their children, turn kids' rooms into treehouses, and keep impeccable homes. Normal is laundry everywhere and bath toys still in the tub after the water has drained.) 
4. Pause before you react. Some of the worst guilt-inducing moments happen because of our knee-jerk reactions. (Usually after a long day when we've just about had it UP TO HERE with everything.) Try to make it a habit to pause before responding to children—whether your kid is being "good" or "bad"—and you can become a more mindful, calmer, and less stressed parent. 
5. Find practical solutions to the big things that make you feel guilty. Finally, if you feel guilty because of work-life balance, try solutions like asking for flex time or combining business travel with vacation. If you feel like you're not getting in enough quality time, try setting aside an hour or so when you focus completely on your children, playing whatever games they choose. Also, find a sounding board—friends or other parents in the same boat—to help overcome the other pangs of guilt you're having trouble finding solutions for.
Finally, remember that feeling guilty is a sign that you truly care and want to do what's best for your kids. As Anil Dash says on the Motherboard Podcast, there are no bad choices:
There aren't any bad choices here. The only bad choice is for you to be a miserable parent, to not be present, to not be investing time as much as you can in your kid, or to not meet those basic needs—the biological-level needs.
Article written by Melanie Pinola and originally published on lifehacker 


I'll leave you with one final thought:

How do you combat Mom-Guilt? 
If you have a strategy you've found helpful, please share it in the comments section below.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

14 Educational Stocking Stuffers {plus a GIVEAWAY!}

Growing up, Christmas was (and still is!) my favorite time of year! I love the hustle and bustle at the mall, Christmas music playing 24/7, and the cheesy-yet-feel-good-Christmas movies on the Hallmark Channel.
Every Christmas Eve my family would open up our stockings (a spin on the French Canadian tradition) and it was always so exciting to unwrap each little trinket, candy, toiletry, and keepsake.
When kids made their Christmas lists, they often focus on the big-ticket items that they're dreaming about - but what do we put in their stockings? Rather than struggling to find things at the last minute, get a jump-start on your Christmas planning with these 14 fun and educational stocking stuffer ideas: 
 educational stocking stuffer ideas

Personalized Letter from Santa

Gone are the days of trying to write in “Santa’s handwriting.” Educents has made it so easy to make your child feel special and loved by Santa! The personalized letter comes straight to your front door from the North Pole in a beautiful red envelope, and highlights your child’s exciting accomplishments this year. The letter also includes some fun Santa-approved activities for you and your kiddo to spend some sweet holiday time together, like a recipe for Mrs. Claus’ Famous Cookies, two snowflake craft templates, a packet of reindeer food (glitter!) and a sheet of festive stickers. This special letter will make for an imaginative and exciting addition to the very top of our Christmas stockings this year! 4_2_20 
This letter will make for an imaginative start to any Christmas morning, but there’s more pressure now to keep the fun going! Here are some other easy stocking stuffers to keep the magic going for your kiddos this year!

Educational Stocking Stuffer Ideas

1. FREE DIY Crystal Christmas Tree Experiment - An opportunity to spend more time together as a family is one of the best gifts you can give! These directions for a DIY salt-crystal Christmas tree can get the whole family involved and teach everyone something new! 
 2. DIY Push Light Planets - Create these amazing lights for your kiddo's bedroom. Each light is decorated to represent one of the planets. To encourage planet recognition, even paint the names of the planets onto each pushable light!
  Push Light Planets
3. Show Me the Kwan - Looking for a great, fun game for the whole family to play after all the presents have been opened? This clever and upbeat word game gets kids excited about vocabulary, word construction and more and is the perfect size for a stocking! 
4. Matching Games for Little Learners - These handmade wooden matching games from Mama May I are a very sweet stocking stuffer for little learners. Choose from Zoo, Trucks, Vegetables, Space and more!
  5. The Familia Craft Kit - This craft kit has all the tools for your kiddos to decoupage little wooden peg dolls to create their own story or to include in a new adventure! They come in a slim tube that’s easy to fit in a stocking! 
  6. DIY Domino Set - This homemade domino set is one you and your family can play for years to come. To make this set special for the holidays, use green and red puff paint! DIY Domino Set 
7. DIY Pop-Up Alphabet Sponges - This simple gift is a low-cost way to make baby's bath time fun and educational! Cut sponges into the shapes of alphabet letters and numbers. 
8. DigiPuppets - This adorable animal finger puppet acts as a touchscreen-sensitive stylus for phones and tablets. Use them on their own to keep kids engaged with digital learning tools, or head to the app store to download DigiPuppet’s educational games. digipuppets_zipusageforzulily2_5db6 
9. Just Add Milk Science & Art Kit - This kit is filled with fun science and art projects you can do along with some at home ingredients, and it’s just the size of a milk carton! If your child is lactose-intolerant, don’t worry, the experiments work with non-dairy milk as well
10. DIY Telling Time Clock Pillow - Crafty family members can take a few hours to create this comfortable accessory for kiddos learning to tell time!DIY Telling Time Clock pillow
11. Clever Catch Math Balls - These inflatable balls make math-learning fun with active games you can play with 2 or more people. Just keep it deflated, and this blow-up Clever Catch is ready for the stocking! Choose from: Numbers 0-25, Money, Multiplication, Addition, or Subtraction
12. DIY Hopscotch Mat - Here's a fun game you can make yourself, roll up into a Christmas stocking, and then play on Christmas Day and many, MANY days after that! 
13. DIY Bongo Rice Shakers - Use some household materials to make shakable, musical instruments for little ones to use while Christmas caroling on Christmas Day! DIY Stocking Stuffer Instrument 
Looking for more ways to make your Christmas stockings and holiday gifts extra special this year? Head to Educents' Give the Gift of Education page for more ideas, tips, steals and deals!
What's your favorite Christmas tradition or memory?
I'd love to hear about it! 
Leave a comment for your chance to WIN a FREE Christmas educational product of your choice from my Educents storefront. 

In your comment, leave your e-mail address and the product you'd like to win :)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

What's Cookin' Wednesday: Pecan Sweet Potato Casserole

Each Wednesday in November I will be posting a different 
well-loved recipe for you to try this holiday season.

Today's featured recipe is 
Pecan Sweet Potato Casserole

•3 cups sweet potatoes, cooked and mashed 
•¼ cup milk
•1/3 cup butter, melted 
•1 teaspoon vanilla 
•2 eggs. Beaten
•½ teaspoon salt

1 cup pecans, chopped
1 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons flour
1/3 cup butter, melted

1. Mix mashed sweet potatoes, milk, butter, vanilla, eggs and salt. Spoon into a 1 ½ -quart oiled casserole.
2. Combine topping ingredients and sprinkle over sweet potatoes. 
3. Bake at 375° for 25 minutes.

Serves 6

Doesn't this look delicious? I've added it to my to-make list for this Thanksgiving. I can't wait to indulge! :)

FUN & ENGAGING Veteran's Day Activities

Happy Veteran's Day everyone!

Here are some fun-filled activities to use with your kids and/or students when teaching them about this important holiday. 
Every year I read this INCREDIBLE book about a schoolteacher who makes a difference during World War 1. 
When American soldiers entered World War I, Moina Belle Michael, a schoolteacher from Georgia, knew she had to act. Some of the soldiers were her students and friends. Almost single-handedly, Moina worked to establish the red poppy as the symbol to honor and remember soldiers. And she devoted the rest of her life to making sure the symbol would last forever. Thanks to her hard work, that symbol remains strong today. Author Barbara Elizabeth Walsh and artist Layne Johnson worked with experts, primary documents, and Moina's great-nieces to better understand Moina's determination to honor the war veterans.

The illustrations are some of the most beautiful
I've ever seen in a book:
It's a perfect book to read for Veteran's Day

Plus I've created a FUN & ENGAGING packet to supplement your study of Veteran's Day:
It includes activities to use during and after your reading of the book - plus many other activities to use (with or without the book)
 You can snag this 25-page packet for only $3
The Poppy Lady Veteran's Day Packet

Then, inspired by my friend, Rose, from Rosie's Rambles, we made these cute little soldiers:
We did this whole-class activity to practice following directions, sequencing, and developing listening skills. 
After the kiddos "built" their soldiers, we took sponges and painted a camp pattern on their uniform.
Then we added little American flags and glued them onto Popsicle sticks that the soldiers could hold.

What are you going to do to teach your students about Veteran's Day?