Tag Archives: back to school

August: The Month of Nothing

First of all, this is an ode to the month of August, not an episode of Seinfeld.

Today my friends in the school district where I used to attend as a student and later teach elementary kids went back to school.  I wish them all the luck in the world while simultaneously offering them my deepest condolences that they are missing out on the wonderful new discovery that has come with my current job: I have discovered… THE MONTH OF AUGUST!

When I was a kid I absolutely hated the month of August.  Back then we started school usually around August 20th or so.  As a result, I just saw August as this long, hot, sticky, miserable period of time in limbo waiting for school to start.  There was nothing to do except organize and reorganize my brand new stash of back to school clothes and school supplies. There was also the pastime of calling the drugstore every few hours to see if the much anticipated back to school issue of Seventeen had hit the newsstand yet and then the adventure of walking to the drugstore to get one (being allowed to walk to the drugstore was the ultimate rite of passage in my neighborhood – in some ways it was a bigger deal than getting a driver’s license).  And then when I finally did get my hands on a copy, I would look through it a million times, dog ear the pages, and have my mom help me scour the city for more back to school must haves that Seventeen told me I needed.  And then back to the organizing and reorganizing of the new clothes and supplies with the ones I already had.  In other words, August was always a time for being antsy and spinning my wheels.

More recently as a teacher, I saw August as a time of frantic stress filled with trying to get my room at school ready before the two so called “teacher work days” at the start of the school year which were full of meetings but completely devoid of time for any actual “teacher work.”  Unless you are a teacher, you have no idea how you can actually feel your blood pressure rise as you watch the clock hands race forward in time as you think about all the name tags you need to put on desks while you are required to do some sort of “fun” activity to build camaraderie with people you already like in the first place and who are every bit as cranky and stressed as you are while you all painfully endure the forced fun together.  Phew.  I feel like I need to catch my breath just remembering all this….

These days though, my job at a preschool that starts the day after Labor Day has enabled me to embrace August for what I’ve recently discovered it should have been all along: The Month of Nothing.  As a remnant of my past life, I am still in the habit of rushing to get my doctors’ appointments and everything else that HAS to get done before school starts out of the way at the end of July and early August leaving the rest of August totally open for… NOTHING!!!  I have actual empty spaces on my calendar – something that doesn’t happen during any other month of the year.  It’s glorious – like gaining a whole month I never knew existed.  I’ve heard that many places in Europe totally shut down during the month of August, and I’m thinking they are on to something!  August – where have you been all my life?!?

Buzzy Bees!

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

Toilet Paper Roll Bee

and this beehive with little yellow and black pipe cleaner bees.

Beehive Craft

Beehive Craft

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!

Summer’s Last Hurrah – Shop ‘Til you Drop!

One of my favorite days every year is the day my mom and I go on a back to school shopping trip.  Our day always follows the same schedule: We start with lunch at Applebee’s.  Then we head off to the mall.  We usually get a couple of fun outfits or accessories for fall.  Rarely do we have an all out fill-up-the-trunk-of-the-car-entirely shopping spree (although it has happened), but it’s the quality of the time together rather than the quantity of the purchases that makes the day so special.  After that we stop for a cookie at Mrs. Field’s in the mall.  It’s always such a happy, wonderful day together.  It may be simple, but it puts a nice cap on summer and always helps me feel energized for the new school year ahead.  (Energized that is is after getting some post shop ’til you drop rest, of course.)

Back to School Party

A bunch of kids around here went back to school today, so this idea might be a little late, but I thought I’d share anyway.  This is the perfect time of year for a back to school party!

When I started kindergarten, my mom had several of the neighborhood kids who would also be starting school with me over for a little party a few days before school started.  I still remember how much fun the party was and how it made the start of school even more exciting!  It’s a great way to help kids get acquainted or reacquainted with their classmates before school starts and maybe alleviate some of the pre first day of school jitters.  I think it would be fun for any age – not just kindergarteners.  It would even give older kids a chance to compare schedules and find out about the really important things – who has lunch at the same time as you do and who has a locker close to yours!

There are lots of neat possibilities for party decorations with a school theme.  My mom used these darling crayon glasses way back when.

Crayon Glasses

Crayon Glasses

If you don’t have anything like these, you could always wrap paper around glasses and decorate them to look like crayons.  You could put all kinds of school supplies on the tables as decorations too – crayons, pencils, rulers, erasers, etc.  And be sure to use bright primary colored plates and napkins to go with the school theme.  You could even get some folders and notebooks and have kids decorate them for a fun party activity.

As we move into August, you have just enough time to plan a back to school party.  Whether your kids start school soon or have already started, a little get together would be lots of fun for them and their friends.

Bonus Author of the Month: Mo Willems

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!

Back to School Cards

Back to School time is always a flurry of activity that can be full of stress and excitement for both kids and teachers.  Sometimes after the initial rush is over, it can seem like a bit of a letdown.  So now is the perfect time to make some Back to School cards!

Back to School Card

Back to School Card

For one thing, you might actually have time to make them now that things have (hopefully!!) settled down somewhat.  Also, kids and teachers alike might need a much deserved pick me up right about now, and getting a back to school card might just do the trick.  (If things are still too hectic for you to have time to make cards right now, I’m so sorry – I’ve been there.  Perhaps someone should send you a pick me up card!)  You could send a Back to School card to a college kid – getting mail is always a highlight in college!  You could even tuck a gift card for Target, a bookstore, Starbucks, or a frozen yogurt shop inside the Back to School card for an extra treat.  You could also use Back to School cards as invitations to a back to school party for kids to get acquainted with friends in their new classroom.  Or just start planning ahead now for Back to School time next year.

Making Back to School cards does not have to be a big ordeal.  To make them, just gather some school themed papers and stamps (like these from Stampin’ Up a few years back).

Back to School Papers and Stamps

Back to School Papers and Stamps

I’m sure any craft store would have several different options for a Back to School theme!  Cut and paste and experiment with different designs until you find one you like.  Be creative and have fun!  A great way to relieve some of the Back to School time stress and make it a little more enjoyable for everyone.

August/September Author of the Month: Kevin Henkes

In my classroom, I always love to have an “Author of the Month.”  I choose a different children’s author each month, and we read books by that person and do activities that go along with the books.  The kids always LOVE the Author of the Month books.  They rush to check out the books for themselves in the library, and they always look forward to seeing who the next new author will be.  It really helps them to be excited about books for the whole school year.  (By the way – Author of the Month doesn’t have to be just a classroom thing!  You could always do this at home with your own kids, focusing on a single author for a month.  You could even start a book club for your kids and their friends and have monthly parties to celebrate different authors.)

I like to start the year with Kevin Henkes as the Author of the Month for August and or September (depending on when school starts).

Kevin Henkes Books

Kevin Henkes Books

If I had to pick one (and PLEASE don’t make me pick just one!) Kevin Henkes is probably my favorite children’s author.  His books are perfect to get the school year off on the right foot and create a good classroom community.

Kevin Henkes Bulletin Board

Kevin Henkes Bulletin Board

Here is a list of the books and activities I like to use:

  • A Weekend with Wendell – After reading the book about a naughty mouse, make a list of rules for the classroom.  Perfect for discussing why good behavior is so important!
  • Wemberly Worried – Read this book about a mouse who worries about everything at the end of the first day of school and discuss how children feel their first day went.
  • Chrysanthemum – After reading this book about a mouse who gets teased about her name, make a list of nice and mean words (or put ups and put downs) and discuss how only the nice words will be used in the classroom.  Then have kids interview each other in pairs and introduce their partners to the class using words from the nice list.
  • Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse – This book about a precocious mouse who has trouble using self control is perfect for reviewing the rules on the second day of school.  Review the classroom rules the kids wrote and discuss which ones Lilly broke.  Another fun activity with this book is to have kids survey what they want to be when they grow up (like Lilly discusses in the book) and then use cheese balls (like they eat in the book) and graph paper to make graphs of the survey results.
  • Chester’s Way – This book is about some very particular mice who like things just so.  I like to use it as a springboard for the children to share some of their favorite things with the class as a way to get to know each other.
  • Julius the Baby of the World – Another good book for getting to know each other.  It is about families, so after reading it kids can share about their families.
  • Owen – This story about a little mouse and his favorite blanket is a good introduction to a first homework assignment.  Kids can go home and write about their favorite toys.  Homework isn’t so bad when it’s all about toys, right?
  • Lilly’s Big Day – Lilly the mouse is back again and in a wedding in this book.  After reading it, kids can write about their own special days.  This makes a good initial writing prompt to help assess where kids are with their writing skills.
  • Sheila Rae, The Brave – This book about a mouse who overcomes her fears is a good introduction to having kids write goals about what they want to accomplish for the school year.
  • At the end of the month after kids have come to love all the different Kevin Henkes characters, have them invent their own mouse characters!  Give them patterns and have them trace them on “mousey” colors of paper.  Then have them add embellishments to their mice to create new and unique characters.  After that, have the kids write stories for their new mice.  My experience is that when kids have little “characters” to inspire their writing, the writing they produce is amazing!  These stories can be assembled together into a great class book that kids will like to look back on fondly as they move through the school year.
Make Your Own Kevin Henkes Mice

Make Your Own Kevin Henkes Mice

Back(pack) to School!

It’s time to think about Back to School!  Already!  Around here, lots of schools start up again this week.  As a teacher and a student before that, shopping for school supplies has always been one of my most favorite yearly activities.  There is something magical about crisp new folders, pointy new crayons, and shiny new scissors.  My heart still skips a beat when I see the school supply displays appear in stores for the first time at the end of summer each year.

This year marks the start of a new adventure for me.  I am stepping away from my elementary school classroom to have more time with our daughter.  As thrilled as I am to be doing this, I admit that I have worried a bit though – would I go through school supply withdrawal when those back to school supply displays started popping up in stores?  Luckily, just in time, my church announced that it was going to start collecting school supplies and filling backpacks for kids who couldn’t afford to buy them on their own.

In my classroom, I always liked to build a “Successful Studying” bulletin board with the kids.

Successful Studying Bulletin Board

Successful Studying Bulletin Board

On the first or second day of school, we would brainstorm a list of supplies we would need to be successful in class, and the students would take turns putting pictures of those supplies up on the board.  I would keep the bulletin board up all year as a reminder to come to class prepared and keep their supplies organized.  However, so many kids just can’t get the supplies they need in order to be successful in school.  This fill a backpack program at my church was the perfect way to ensure that as many kids as possible could have the chance to start the school year out right the supplies they would need.

I was so excited to get the supply list from my church and go shopping with my husband and daughter.  As soon as those first few items hit the cart, the familiar thrill of shopping for school supplies returned!

The start of school supply shopping

The start of school supply shopping

Be warned – this is not an inexpensive activity.  By the time the cart was full with all the supplies from the list, the total came to about $85.  But it was money VERY well spent.  We were able to have a fun shopping trip together as a family (our one year old daughter even tried to help push the cart) and help a child have a a great start to the school year!

A few tips so that you could do this yourself:

  • It seems as though there are more and more churches and organizations doing school supply drives.  Look around to see if you can find one in your neighborhood!
  • If you can’t find an organization doing a school supply drive, many stores have displays with supply lists for neighborhood schools.  Pick up a list, buy a set of supplies, and drop them off at the school.  I have no doubt the school would be grateful!
  • Another option would be to just buy an additional set of supplies based on your own child’s supply list.  Take the supplies in and give them to the teacher a day or two before school starts.  Even if there is not a child in the class who would need the supplies, the teacher would be more than happy to have an extra set of supplies to give to use to replenish lost crayons and pencils throughout the year or give to a new student who might come in unexpectedly in the middle of the year.
  • As I said, this is an expensive undertaking.  Perhaps it would be fun to organize an outing with another family and go shopping together.  You could split the cost, and it would be a fun last hurrah playdate for the kids at the end of summer.
  • Another way to help pay for the supplies would be to have your own children raise some money with a lemonade stand or a similar activity.  Your kids will probably be even more excited to go buy the supplies knowing that they helped to earn the money for them.

I definitely plan to make this a new yearly family tradition.  What a great way to wrap up summer, look forward to fall, and help our little one get excited about giving and sharing all throughout the year.