Tag Archives: back to school

Back to School with “The Kissing Hand”

I have always loved the book The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn.  It is the story of a little raccoon and his mom on the night before school starts (well, technically the day before school starts since they are nocturnal of course).  The little raccoon is a bit nervous to go to school, so his mommy gives him a kiss on his hand and tells him to touch his hand to his cheek whenever he feels scared or lonely so that he can get a kiss from her whenever he needs one.  Spoiler alert- the sweetest part of the story is when he heads off to school and then runs back suddenly to give his mommy a kiss on her hand from him.  I can’t even type this without getting teary!  Such a sweet, touching story.

Our daughter recently started school.  In my perfect world I had always planned that I would read this story to her the night before school started and it would be beautiful and touching and special.  But then suddenly it was a week before school started and I wasn’t so sure if I should read it to her after all.  She was nervous about school.  I was nervous about her going to school.  Perhaps this tearjerker of a book would just be too much for us both.  Perhaps it would remind her to feel lonely rather than give her confidence to get through the day.  Perhaps I should start considering home schooling…

In the end, I did send her to school and I did read her the book but in the most low key way possible while she was watching a show and eating a snack before bed   Not exactly the perfect Kodak moment I had envisioned for years.  I wasn’t sure she was even paying attention to the story until I noticed that her little fist was clenched tight with a death grip around the kiss I had given her hand during the story.  She kissed my hand as well and we both kept our kisses safe until bedtime.

Fistfuls of Kisses

The next morning we gave each other fresh fistfuls of kisses and off she went to for the first day of school.  She thrived and I survived.  Each subsequent day she got out of the car a bit more confidently than the day before until she was bouncing out of the car like she owned the place.   On about the 5th day though she ran back to the car; and I thought, “Uh-oh.  Here we go,” and braced myself for a meltdown   Instead though she opened my car door, grabbed my hand, and gave it a big kiss before skipping off with a smile to get in line with her class.  What more could a mommy want?  I know it will always be one of my most special memories.

So if you ever wonder if “The Kissing Hand” is s good back to school book or not, the answer is yes, a thousand times yes.  Thank you, Audrey Penn, for this book that helps kids so much and helps mommies even more!




Mourning August

Almost two years ago to the day I wrote a blog post singing the praises of August, a newly discovered month for me.  I talked about how in my past life as an elementary teacher August was so stressful and hectic with the start of school but that in the world of preschool where school doesn’t start until after Labor Day, August seemed like a whole new undiscovered month of free time. And now as soon as I had found and grown to love the lost month of August deeply, it’s gone again, just like that.  My family is leaving the world of preschool and reentering the world of elementary school this month.  As excited as I am for all of the adventures that await us, I am also very sad to lose this wonderful bonus summer month.  Before I had written about August being the month of nothing, as in there was nothing pressing to do or get done except for enjoying the last bits of summer.  Now it’s suddenly back to feeling like limbo between the sunny summer relaxation of July and fall apple picking activities of September.  So I guess August is still the month of nothing, but just because it’s kind of in no man’s land.  It’s the start of school without all the warm fuzzy feelings about going back to school that naturally come with the month of September.  Poor August.  And poor me!  Even though my love affair with August was fleeting, I’ll miss it terribly.    R.I.P. August.  I barely knew you!

The Joy of a New Planner

I know I have shared about my love of school supplies in the past.  This year was the first year our daughter had a substantial school supply list, and I was so excited to share my love of school supply shopping with her (and to be honest simultaneously get my school supply fix for myself).  And then we got the school supply kit order form from the school.  Apparently now teachers now get to select supplies they want in a kit and parents can order it.  It’s faster, more convenient, easier, less expensive, better for the teachers because they are guaranteed to get exactly the specific supplies they need… and utterly depressing for school supply lovers like me.  There was one item, some dot stickers, not included in the kit.  Believe me – I made an event out of buying those dot stickers.  There was a special outing and a photo op and everything.  But it just wasn’t the same.

So I came home and drowned my sorrows in my shiny new planner I had gotten a few weeks earlier.  Of course I know that phones have calendars on them now.  However, I just use my phone’s calendar as a backup to my written planner.  I have always done this – ever since high school when one of the school supplies I was always excited to get was my brand new assignment notebook for the year.  For several years, calendar books and planners were hard to find or quite boring when I was able to find one I assume because of the calendars on the phones.  Just about five years ago, I was afraid they were going to stop making calendar books and planners entirely because they were so hard to find.  I finally found a student planner reminiscent of my old high school assignment notebooks at Vera Bradley a few years ago.  I really liked it even though it was meant for high school or college kids.  And I must not be alone in my love affair with planners and calendar books because then suddenly they have apparently become cool again.  There started to be more and more cute options.  This year when I went to Paper Source to find a calendar book, there were so many choices!  (I, of course, went with the pink and sparkly option.)

My Planner

And there are so many stickers and accessories to go with the planners now!  I’ve heard that there are entire Etsy stores that sell nothing but stickers for calendars.  I have yet to check out these sites, but I am intrigued by the possibilities.  I had a lovely time filling in important dates, holiday traditions, reminders, and notes in my beautiful new planner.  In fact my new planner is so complete that I was able to transfer several ongoing lists of projects I want to do into it.  So instead of 3 notebooks plus my calendar book, I now have just one planner full of everything.  I don’t know why I find this to be so satisfying, but I do.  Perhaps it’s because it combines holidays and organizing – 2 of my favorite things.  So even if my new planner was my only opportunity to play with shiny new school supplies this year, at least I enjoyed it completely!  In a world where school supplies now come in convenient yet depressing kits, I hope that the fancy planner trend is one that lasts for years to come.

Kindergarten: You Had Me at “Seasonal Crafts”

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a blog post, and I’ve been meaning to write this one for quite awhile because it is very near and dear to my heart.  However, it’s been a very busy time at our house and this is the first chance I’ve had to actually sit down and do it.  One of the things that has kept us so busy is preparation for kindergarten.  Yes, it’s spring not fall – but we’ve had a few orientation events looking ahead to when our little one heads to school.  I expected these events to be very bittersweet.  On one hand, as a teacher I love school.  On the other hand, as a mommy I hate to send our little one out into the world.  I know that kindergarten these days is often not allowed to be what it used to be, or frankly what it should be.  Even in kindergarten, the focus is more and more on worksheets and academic skills instead of learning how to learn and love school.

However, after attending the preliminary orientation meetings, I must say that the sweet has totally overtaken the bitter.  The staff at the school addressed every one of my concerns with what are, in my opinion, the “right” answers.  The teachers explained that they would start the year working on routines and getting along with others and how to be good citizens, and I began to smile.

The teachers said the children would be doing a lot of coloring and explained the importance of coloring for writing development and building hand and finger strength, and I began to grin.  (I was also reminded of one of the saddest stories I’ve ever heard.  A few years ago, one of my friends told me about how her daughters’ first grade class had earned a party.  They could choose any activity they wanted as a special reward… watch a movie, play a game, have a treat, anything.  With all those choices, the class voted to… wait for it… color.  The six and seven year old children in the class felt that they didn’t get any time to color and thought it would be the most special activity they could imagine.  Heartbreaking.)

The teachers explained that they would have discovery time each day for science experiments and social studies activities, and I found myself drawing little hearts and smiley faces all over the presentation handouts.

And then – be still my heart – the teachers said that they would do many seasonal crafts, and I almost started crying happy tears.  It was all I could do not to jump to my feet and cheer.  Clearly, as the title of this blog indicates, I do love seasonal crafts.  However, it wasn’t just my love of all things seasonal that made me so happy to hear this.  I was under the impression that seasonal crafts were no longer allowed in any elementary school anywhere.  Think back to your days in elementary school – I’m willing to bet that several of your happiest memorable activities revolve around various holiday projects and parties.  At least mine do.  Of course being able to make a hand turkey or a bouquet of spring flowers out of tissue paper won’t ever be tested on a standardized test, but I believe the benefits of doing seasonal crafts are much more far reaching than any skill and drill worksheet could ever be.  They help children follow multiple step directions.  They help develop hand-eye coordination.  They help children learn to take pride in the way their work looks and always do their best.  They help children express their creativity by putting individual touches on each project.  And most important of all, they are fun.  They make children happy, and they help them realize that school is a fun place to be.  No real learning can take place until children feel happy to be at school.

Thanks to the wonderful fist experiences at our daughter’s new school, we can tell she already does feel happy about it.  A few days after our first orientation visit, she wrote a book about how to get ready for kindergarten.  She drew smiling children riding on the school bus, and she drew rooms in a school full of more smiling children and bustling activity – just the way school should be.

Happy School

I’m so grateful to know that schools like this one still exist.

Apple Bags

It’s been a busy month – can’t believe it’s almost over already!  So I’m just now getting around to sharing an idea I had intended to share much earlier in September, the month of all things apple.  But perhaps it’s appropriate that I’m finally sharing it today, on Johnny Appleseed’s birthday of all days!

I found these darling apple treat bags on Pinterest.  Just get red and green bags (or red or green and white striped or checkered or polka dotted or zigzagged, etc…. so many possibilities).  Fill them up with a treat (I used them for a back to school get together with some of our daughter’s classmates and filled them with a box of crayons).  Then fold over the tops, punch holes in the folded parts, and tie them closed with red and white bakers’ twine.  Cut out stems and leaves (or punch them out if you have punches that will work to make stems and leaves) and attach them to the tops of the bags with pop up dots.  That’s all – how do you like them apples?

Apple Bag Favors

Apple Bag Favors

“Teacher Stuff” Storage

Back last July, I promised to share the ingenious plan I had come up with for storing my massive amounts of “teacher stuff” in our art room – especially the bulletin board sets and borders.  So finally, over a year later, just in time for back to school time, it’s complete.  And let me just say, I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.

Hanging Bulletin Boards

Hanging Bulletin Boards

First of all, I thought to hang all my pocket charts and the bulletin board sets I use the most often from pants hangers in the closet in the bedroom we use as our art room.  It makes them so easy to find and keeps them from getting crumpled or creased or  ruined.  The only trick I learned the hard way is that when hanging heavier bulletin board sets, be sure to put them in bags with handles so that you can loop the handles around the hangers for added support.  Otherwise they may all end up on the floor over time!

Teacher Closet

Teacher Closet

Now for my favorite part – my hanging borders.  We installed Elfa Utility Tracks from the Container Store on the front wall of the closet and put several Elfa Utility Accessory Hooks on them.  Then I took Stainless Steel Wire Clothespins also from the Container Store (after a lot of searching, these were the only clips I could find that were both strong enough to hold the borders and also big enough to fit over the hooks) and clipped them to the ends of the borders.  I can’t even begin to tell you how much easier this makes finding the borders when I need them each month!

Border Hangers

Border Hangers

The bulletin boards and borders that didn’t fit in the closet and don’t get used as often ended up inside a beautiful window seat my dad built.  They are out of sight but still easily accessible.

Art Room Valance and Window Seat

Art Room Valance and Window Seat

And while we are on the subject of the window seat, did you happen to notice the darling pillows and scrap valence my mom made for our art room?  I found the idea for the scrap valence on Pinterest and absolutely love it in our art room.  I also made a matching scrap lamp (another Pinterest idea) and scrap picture frame hangers to go with it .

Art Room

Art Room

And as long as I’m showing off stuff in our art room, I’ll share my other latest creation: a crayon lamp.  The fillable lamp (and the crayons for that matter) are from Target.  It’s the perfect lamp for a room all about art!

Crayon Lamp

Crayon Lamp

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this tour of our art room and maybe gotten some ideas of your own!  And hopefully you aren’t too horrified by the huge amounts of “stuff” (aka valuable educational materials) teachers accumulate over the years.  (I won’t even mention all the boxes of “stuff” not in use this school year currently packed away in our garage storage area…)

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

Well, it’s the end of summer, which means I’ve been busy checking off all the great end of summer traditions.

Going to the State Fair.  Didn’t happen.  Too hot.  Too stormy.  Maybe next year.

Seeing the first school supplies in the store and feeling my heart start to race in a combination of excitement for a new school year and dread that summer is ending.  Check.

Shopping for fall clothes.  Almost check.  Seems like they arrive in the stores later and later.  Note to stores – the summer stuff on clearance still hasn’t sold.  Give up.  The stuff left is left because no one wants it.  It won’t ever sell.  We are tired of it.  Bring on the sweaters!

Neglecting to water the flowers I lovingly cared for all summer and secretly hoping they just go ahead and die already because I’m antsy to put out fall mums.  Check.

Waking up in a cold sweat after the first back to school stress dream of the season.  (If you aren’t a teacher, you may not be familiar with the phenomenon of these dreams that generally start like clockwork for teachers in late July.  They usually involve some sort of disaster like a missing class list or an undecorated bulletin board or realizing you have no lesson plans 5 minutes before the kids come rushing in on the first day of school.)  Check.  Although in all honesty this year, for the first time in my life, my back to school dream was a happy dream instead of a nightmare!  That may be due to the fact that I get to work with fabulous co-teachers this year as I embark on new adventures in new classrooms.  Or perhaps it’s due to the fact that I had a really wonderful summer.

Which brings me to the last great end of summer tradition: the “What I Did On My Summer Vacation” story.  This summer I was able to do lots of stuff I haven’t gotten to do for years.  I went out to lunch with several friends.  I got to read several books.  I got to do lots of baking projects from Pinterest, mostly involving lemon and s’mores related recipes because those scream summer to me.  I got to see “Bad Moms,” my first actual movie in an actual theater since “The Lego Movie,” because much like Kristen Bell’s character in the movie, I don’t get out much.  (By the way, did anyone else find it ironic that Kristen Bell’s stay at home mom character in the movie most likely spends a good deal of her time watching “Frozen,” starring none other than… Kristen Bell over and over again?  Well I did.  But then perhaps I related a little TOO much to her character in “Bad Mom’s” and was reading too much into it!)  And best of all, I got to spend lots and lots of time with our precious daughter this summer.  Even though playing her version of “Cinderella” (in which the stepsisters give Cinderella chores and Cinderella says, “No, I’m taking a nap instead.”) got a bit tiring day after day after day, I know I’ll miss having all the free time available just for playing.  Goodbye summer 2016.  Here’s hoping this fall is as wonderful as this summer was!

September Card of the Month: Fall Note Card

This was my first week back to school – fun but hectic to say the least!  So this week’s blog post will be short and sweet.  September’s card of the month is a fall note card – perfect for notes to the teacher, thank you notes, notes in lunch boxes, teacher gifts, whatever you might need!  It’s super simple, which is also perfect for this super busy time of year.  Just get a piece of 8 1/2 inch by 5 1/2 inch cardstock and fold it in half.  Add an apple or leaf or other type of fall sticker (I found these cute stickers at Michael’s) to the bottom corner of the card.  That’s it!

Fall Note Cards

Fall Note Cards

September Poem of the Month: Ode to a School Supply

Now that back to school season is in full swing (or even wrapping up in some cases), it’s time for the first installment of my poems of the month to use with kiddos in the classroom.  (By the way – a little late, but if you want to start poems of the month in August I always had kids write acrostic poems using their names for August.  They are simple, quick, and a good way to help kids get acquainted with each other.)  September’s poem of the month is an “Ode to a School Supply.”  It’s a great way to get kids started writing poems because it’s just a fill in the blank format – very nonthreatening for kids who think they can’t write poetry.  Everyone can be successful with this type of poem, so it helps build confidence for future more complex poems.  It also helps kids write descriptively about an everyday object – a task that will help them learn to add details to all of their writing.  This is a finished sample from a third grader:

Ode to a Pencil

Pencil, oh pencil!

I love how you write.

You help me with drawing,

and writing,

and spelling.

Your lead is black and 

your eraser is pink.

Thank you for being my best school supply.

After writing their poems and editing them, I always had kids publish final copies of their poems and decorate them with school supply stickers before displaying them on my poem of the month bulletin board for September.

Monthly Themes for the Classroom

Doing seasonal activities in schools is frowned upon these days.  However it was always my experience that whenever I would change my bulletin boards at the beginning of each month, the kids would rush in the next morning and crowd around the new decorations in the room.  I never once pointed them out – the kids always found the monthly decorations on their own and got excited about them.  Even if it wasn’t purely academic, it made the students excited to come in the classroom, and in my unscientific, not researched based opinion, enthusiasm definitely boosts learning.

To make it easy on myself, I collected 2 complete sets of monthly decorations. (Since we looped and I had the same kids for 2 years, 1 set wasn’t enough.)  I got 1 big bulletin board set, packs of small accents, and 1 medium sized wall hanging for each month – mostly Carson Dellosa, but I supplemented with homemade stuff when I couldn’t find what I needed from the store.  I would put the various decorations up on a wall by themselves or add them in with the calendar or other year round bulletin boards.

August Suns

August Suns

November Turkeys

November Turkeys

I found that the following monthly themes worked well – although as I look at current teacher catalogs it’s harder and harder to find seasonal decorations anymore.  It’s worth it if you can find them though!

Year A:

August – Suns

September – Apples

October – Pumpkins

November – Turkeys

December – Snowmen

January – Snowflakes

February – Hearts

March – Shamrocks

April – Butterflies

May – Racecars (we are in Indiana, after all!)

December Snowmen

December Snowmen

Year B:

August – Sunflowers

September – School Supplies

October – Scarecrows

November – Fall Leaves

December – Mittens

January – Penguins

February – American Flags

March – Rainbows

April – Flowers

May – Bees

April Butterflies

April Butterflies