We recently got to celebrate our daughter’s birthday with some of her little friends. I absolutely love planning her birthday parties which have so far (lucky me!) all been based on classic children’s books. It’s like getting to do a whole author study or mega book report in one afternoon – with cake!! I know that I’m on borrowed time with this before she picks a theme unrelated to children’s literature, but my fingers are crossed that I can hold on a little longer – I have great ideas for both Pigeon and Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse parties that I’m dying to use…
This year she chose Curious George (or Crazy George as she calls him) for her birthday theme. I found lots of fun ideas on Pinterest, and came up with some of my own as well. For food, I served Curious George fruit snacks, Gerber Banana Cookies, cutout cookies in the shape of puzzle pieces (since Curious George eats a puzzle piece in one book),
Rice Krispie treats in the shape of monkeys (I used a monkey cookie cutter and both regular and Cocoa Krispies for the heads along with chocolate chips and Twizzlers Pull and Peel for the faces),
Rice Krispie Monkeys
and yellow hat cakes (Twinkies cut in half and stuck in cake dessert shells).
Yellow Hat Cakes
To decorate the tables, I used banana Runts and puzzle pieces in apothecary jars along with various Curious George toys I found at Barnes and Noble and on Amazon.
Curious George Centerpieces
Each child had a newspaper boat (since Curious George makes boats out of newspapers in another book) with his or her name on it to mark his or her spot at the table.
Curious George Party Tables
The kids also had supplies to make monkeys out of construction paper and got to play yellow hat ring toss (made out of yellow cones and strips of black electrical tape).
Yellow Hat Ring Toss
At the end we handed out Barrels of Monkeys for favors. I thought it was a fun birthday theme – lots of possibilities! I hope the kids enjoyed attending the party as much as I enjoyed putting together all of the Curious George themed stuff for the party!
Coming up on September 26th is Johnny Appleseed Day. It was so thoughtful of John Chapman to have his birthday in September – the perfect month for celebrating all things apple! In case you don’t know, back in the 1700s and 1800s, Johnny Appleseed went around what is now the midwest planting apple trees.
His story is a great way to talk about being a good citizen by doing nice things for the community and by caring for the earth. It’s fun to role play his lifestyle with kids too – carrying everything he needed with him and wearing a pot on his head so that his cooking equipment could double as head gear (or at least so the story goes!).
Johnny Appleseed Bag
You can have kids make simple bags for carrying seeds by folding a big piece of construction paper in half and gluing the edges. Then tie yarn through holes in the top and decorate with an apple. Voila! Your very own Johnny Appleseed bag.
Johnny Appleseed Hat
Then make a pot hat to go with it. Use gray construction paper for the pot and black for the handle. Then staple or glue black strips on the back to make a headband. Have kids put on their hats, gather up their seed bags, and go on a journey around the playground or yard pretending to spread appleseeds. Then have them write or draw about what it would have been like to have lived like Johnny Appleseed way back when. You could even use this as a springboard for a service learning project to plant trees or do kind things for other community members. Happy Johnny Appleseed Day!
Bees are all the buzz around here right now! That’s because bees are the theme in our classroom. We love having bees as our focus not just for this month but for the whole year.
There are so many cute but simple bee crafts for starting the school year like this bee made from a toilet paper roll with wax paper wings
Toilet Paper Roll Bee
and this beehive with little yellow and black pipe cleaner bees.
Bees offer such good learning opportunities for science too. We discuss their life cycle, act out how they communicate with the “waggle dance,” role play how they collect pollen from flowers, taste honey, and observe honeycombs.
The best part of starting the year with bees though is that the topic sets a great foundation for a strong classroom community throughout the year. We discuss how bees must work together and how we will work together too. Bees are busy and hardworking just like we want the kids to be in our classroom. Because of this, studying bees at the beginning of the year goes hand in hand with learning classroom routines and rules and learning to get along with new classmates. This year we are also trying a new “Buzzing with Compliments” hive. This is a combination of several different ideas from Pinterest. We have rules (such as “Bee Kind”) that are color coded. When children are given compliments for following one of the rules, they get a hexagon in the color of the rule to add to the hive. It will be fun to watch the hive fill up throughout the year.
I’m excited to start the school year with our little hive full of worker bees!
So I know I said May was my final Author of the Month for the year, but I now present to you an Author of the Month Bonus Edition: Mo Willems! His books are wonderful at any time of the year. They are so fun, funny, and engaging that I especially like to tack them on either at the very end or the very beginning of the school year when kids are too keyed up to pay attention to much else. They are also perfect for summer reading, of course!
His books include the Knuffle Bunny series, the Pigeon series, and the Elephant and Piggie series as well as other fabulous stand alone books. They are all hilarious and so much fun to read out loud. Kids love to chime in as the books are being read. They are so relatable for people of all ages – you can’t help but chuckle as you read them. And I dare you to read the Knuffle Bunny books – especially the last one – without getting a bit choked up. Because of this, I don’t really use a lot of extra activities to accompany them – they are just a joy to read and stand on their own – another reason they work well for the end or beginning of the school year or for summer.
Learning about Mo Willems himself is great for kids (and grown ups) too. Be sure to look for his DVD on which he gives step by step instructions about how to draw Pigeon. Take time to Google him too. There are some great interviews with him out there – my favorite was when he drew cartoons with Al Roker – he has a great philosophy about how children learn and become excited about reading and learning through drawing and expressing themselves creatively. Such a refreshing perspective in this time of standardized tests and coloring in bubbles! My husband is even a huge Mo Willems fan and even follows him on Twitter – he is hilarious and has wonderful things to share for adults and kids alike.
So if you are looking for some funny summer reading, regardless of your age, please check out the work of Mo Willems. I know it will be a highlight of your summer!
The last day of school is quickly approaching! As exciting as it is, the last day of school can be tough to plan for as a teacher in my opinion. The day always seems to crawl by… Kids are wired, teachers are tired, all of the books and school supplies have been packed away or sent home for the summer… There is literally nothing to do all day! My mom always says that she thinks no one should know ahead of time when the last day of school is going to be in order to avoid the unbearableness of the last day of school. Instead, the principal should just come on the speaker at the end of the day and tell people not to come back anymore for the year!
However, since this isn’t exactly practical, I like to spend the last day of school making summer activity bags. Each kid gets a bag to decorate. I collect a bunch of things kids can use for summer fun and learning (summer reading logs, little notebooks for writing or drawing, plastic magnifying glasses, crayons, pencils) and add them to the bags throughout the day. We also make things for the bags throughout the day (design bookmarks; color blank puzzles; decorate sun visors; and my personal favorite – make bug catchers by punching holes in plastic food storage containers, decorate them with bug stickers, and attach pipe cleaners for handles.)
Summer Activity Bags
These summer activity bags are a great way to kill time on the last day of school, and they provide some opportunities for summer fun and learning for the months ahead. Happy summer!
It’s hard to believe it’s time for the May Author of the Month – the last of the school year! Mem Fox is my pick for May. Some of her books are geared toward younger kids or babies (and they are wonderful too!) but that’s ok since May is such a busy month and may require a shorter than usual author study. Her books are so perfect for May because they work well with both Mother’s Day and end of the school year activities. A word of warning though – some of her books are tearjerkers so practice reading them ahead of time!
For Mother’s Day I like Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild and Koala Lou (see my post about the Olympics for more information on Koala Lou) – 2 sweet and funny looks at mother/child relationships. Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild also works well to remind kids about using self control and following classroom rules just when they think they can’t possibly sit still for another minute of school before summer vacation begins.
For more end of the school year activities I like Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge. It’s all about memories. Have kids make memory books or write top ten lists about the school year after reading the book.
So there you have it, a whole school year of Author of the Month activities. I must say, I always felt that doing Author of the Month was one of the most valuable experiences of the school year. I hope you are able to integrate author studies into your classroom or your home activities in some way. It’s a great way to inspire new readers to become enthusiastic lifelong readers!
April’s Author of the Month is one of my favorites! I first fell in love with Leo Lionni’s books from my mom’s book collection. (As you can see in the picture, some of the books have been much loved over the years!) I grew to love his books even more when I did a research project about him for a children’s literature class in college. The possibilities with his books are endless and span all subject areas, and they all have nice morals – often about being true to yourself – to get kids thinking.
Leo Lionni Books
Little Blue and Little Yellow – I like to use this simple story about two friends to introduce Lionni’s technique of using torn paper to make collages for his illustrations. After reading the story, let kids make their own pictures using torn paper – no scissors allowed! The kids may be frustrated with the tearing at first, but they always get more and more comfortable and creative as they continue to work on the project.
Frederick and A Busy Year – These darling mice books are perfect for talking about the change in seasons.
Inch by Inch – I like to practice measuring in math when we read this story about an inchworm.
Fish is Fish – This story about a fish who dreams of being other animals is great for reviewing characteristics of different animal types in science.
A Color of His Own – This book about a frustrated chameleon is another good one to use in science as it provides a wonderful example of animal adaptations and camouflage. I like to have kids cover a sheet with different colored tissue paper squares and then trace a chameleon over the top to illustrate camouflage after reading this book.
Alexander and the Wind Up Mouse and The Biggest House in the World – These stories about a mouse who wants to be a toy and a snail who wants a bigger shell provide opportunities to discuss and write about how important it is to be proud of who you are.
Swimmy – I love this story about a little fish who helps his friends work together even though he looks different from the rest of them. It is a great discussion starter for talking about teamwork and how everyone in a classroom community has unique talents and skills to share despite their differences.
March is not only one of my favorite parts of the year because of basketball but also because of a fantastic probability lesson I get to teach. Kids love it, and it illustrates the idea of probability very well.
First, get a NCAA bracket. Assign a color of Unifix cubes to each team. For example (sadly not this year though!) IU could be red and Butler could be blue.
Then give teams numbers of cubes based on their seeds. High seeds get lots of cubes, and low seeds get few cubes. So a number one seed would get 16 cubes and a number sixteen seed would get 1 cube. Make sense? Then for each match up, put the two teams’ cubes into a lunch bag.
Basketball Probability Cubes
Shake the bag up and reach into it without looking. The team of the color cube you pull out gets a point. Repeat this process until you can predict the winner of the whole tournament. Then have the children compare their results to the actual results as the real games progress.
I have done this with first through fifth graders with various adaptations. Do it as a whole class activity or assign games to small groups and have the groups report the results to the class. Or even do it at home with your own family. Depending on time available and attention span of the kids, pick 1, 3, or 5 cubes from the bags to determine the game winners. Usually the team that has the most cubes wins, but there will be upsets – leading to good discussions of probable but not certain and unlikely but not impossible. Do this all in one sitting or spread it out over several days.
Regardless of how you do it in your own classroom or home setting, kids of all ages love this. Be warned – they get very excited (and loud), but they will also be very engaged. And they will all understand probability in the end.
A new month means a new Author of the Month. My pick for March is Marcus Pfister. He is probably best know for his Rainbow Fish books, but all of his books are wonderful!
One activity I like to do with all of my Authors of the Month is have the kids write letters to them at the end of each month. (I usually just find the addresses to the publishing companies and send the letters there. Some authors have websites with email links as well.) Responses to the kids’ letters usually range from nothing to a form newsletter to ads promoting the author’s next new book. Hands down though the best response we ever received was from Marcus Pfister. The kids got a handwritten note with a pencil drawing of the Rainbow Fish on it. They were thrilled and it made me appreciate his books even more.
Here are some other activities for you to try with his books:
- Rainbow Fish Books – Talk about caring and sharing. Use the stories to spark interest in a springtime service learning project. It’s also fun to make rainbow fish. Just get paper plates and add fin and tail shapes. Then cover them with scraps of blue, purple, green, and sparkly silver paper. Enjoy!
- Hopper Books – Perfect for discussing the change of seasons from winter to spring. Also great for learning about animal adaptations for different environments.
- Penguin Pete Books – Great for wrapping up winter or introducing a study of animal habitats, which we often taught in the spring anyway. (By the way – Rainbow Fish books work well with ocean habitats and Hopper books work well with arctic or forest habitats.)
All of Marcus Pfister’s books make great inspirations for character sketches, and all have wonderful lessons about being yourself and getting along with others – important reminders for antsy kiddos in March as the school year enters the home stretch!
I’m over winter. Yes, it’s still February, and yes, the forecast is hinting at yet another winter storm for this weekend. But I have decided I’m officially moving on to spring! So it’s time to pose the all important annual question: Will March come in like a lion or a lamb?
This is a fun question to pose to kids. It helps them learn about both similes and weather. I like to make this lion/lamb puppet. It has a lion on one side and a lamb on the other so that kids can report on the weather regardless.
Just get a yellow circle and brown tissue paper and use these to make a lion face with a mane.
Then use a white circle and white tissue paper to make a lamb face. Glue the circles back to back on a popsicle stick to make the lion/lamb puppet.
Another fun activity to spark some creative writing is to ask children to make up their own animal similes about the weather at the beginning of March. For example, if it is rainy, March might come in like a fish. If it is snowy, March might come in like a polar bear. Kids can get really creative with this activity, especially if you have them illustrate the similes the write.
Here’s hoping for some lamb-like weather very soon!