Friday, July 18, 2014

Would You Like to Party With Me?

Today's post is all about YOU!  Whether you are a teacher, a parent, or both, I understand completely how busy you are.  In fact, you are probably so busy, that you take little time for yourself whether that be sitting down for a few minutes to read, rest, or to indulge in a little pampering that you so deserve.

When I was working full time and had an only child, I had the money and some time to visit the nail salon for a mani, pedi, or both. However, it was still difficult to arrange for childcare, and I never felt comfortable spending that much money on my nails.  Most of my "extra" money was spent on my family and for my classroom.  Plus, I never quite got used to the harsh chemical smell of the nail salon.

Now, many years later, I am a mother to two young boys and the oldest of the three is in college. I have become a stay-at-home-mom, homeschool mom, teacher-author, and literacy tutor.  I thought the days of having my nails professionally done was over, and I was ok with that.  After all, I now have less money and less time.  

Then, I discovered Jamberry Nails.  As I requested a sample, I was doubtful that these vinyl nail wraps would be affordable, durable, and easy to apply.  I tried the samples and became hooked!  I immediately ordered a set of nails wraps for $15- which- is enough for about (2) manicures and (1) pedicure or (3) manicures.  That is $5 per mani.  Yes, I could afford this!  I watched the application video on the official site and was beyond pleased at the results.

Then I hosted a Jamberry Nails Facebook party where I was able to earn free products, meet new friends, and have FUN, all in the comfort of my own home while my consultant did all the work!

In fact, I was so pleased with this product that I became a-  wait for this-

To say I am excited about this new adventure is an understatement!  Jamberry Nails were created by women for women, just like you and me!  I have never been in direct sales and have only hosted one party many years ago for Pampered Chef.

To celebrate my new adventure, I am hosting a Launch Party on Facebook next week, and I would love for you to join in on the fun, games, giveaways, and prizes!  There is no pressure to purchase; you can come and go as you please without leaving your house!  If you are at all curious, have questions, are interested in hosting your own Facebook party (where I do all the work for you and you can earn free products), I warmly and enthusiastically invite you to my party.

Please send me an email at with a link to your personal Facebook page.  I will then request to be your friend, and can send you your official invitation with a link to the party page!  Please title your email I Want to Party.  

If you would like to browse through my Jamberry store to learn more, watch an application video, or to place an order (special deal:  Buy (3) get one FREE!) click  here.

I so look forward to hearing from you, and can't wait to party with all of you!

Have a great weekend!

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Three Ways to Sustain Learning Over the Summer

We have all heard of the "summer slide", and you know I'm not talking about water slides! What is the best advice to ensure that your child will not lose the skills and progress they made during the school year?  How can parents keep their children mentally active over the summer?

I have been an educator for 25 years and a parent for 21 years. My two youngest boys are ages seven and eight.  As you might expect, all three boys are completely different in personalities, strengths, and learning styles.

But one thing remains constant: children are children and as my dear friend says, "Children are wired to learn!"  The key is to discover your child's learning style and interests, and run with it.

Top Three Ways to Engage Kids in Summer Learning

1.  Let them play-  All children, no matter their age, learn through play, whether it is solitary play or collaborative play. This is my #1 advice to parents:  provide unstructured free time for children to explore, discover new learning on their own, take risks, experiment, and yes, make mistakes.  Just yesterday my boys took their battery-powered monster trucks outside to play.  They worked together on building a dirt pile that the trucks could climb without falling over. They did not ask for my help, I did not interrupt, and they learned a whole lot about science and forces of motion.  Kids are born curious!  Watch this short video that offers advice in a more eloquent fashion: 

2.  Child-Led Interests- Ask your child what they would like to learn this summer.  My youngest wanted to grow pumpkins in the garden because he was curious about how they grow.  So, we are having fun and learning much about the life cycle of a pumpkin! My middle son is immersed in Greek mythology and is enjoying reading, drawing, and writing his own myths.  Are you going on a summer vacation?  Study your vacation destination by researching on the Internet, looking at the Atlas, and reading books about your destination. Calculate the miles, the cost of fuel, food, hotel, campground, etc.  Encourage students to keep a journal where they can write, glue pictures and postcards, and draw their experiences before, during, and after the trip. To answer those burning questions that kids have, allow them to visit the fabulous site, Wonderopolis.

3.  Reading and Academics-  I don't recommend forcing kids to read over the summer, but rather to encourage authentic reading and content exploration. Personally, I'm not a fan of bogging down kids with keeping a reader's log. Nor, am I a huge fan of offering extrinsic rewards for reading.  If this works to motivate your child to read, then go with it.  I keep a log for my kids, but usually they want to take ownership of it and being boys, they like to post the log on the fridge to compete to see who is reading the most books.  I scatter books of interest here, there, and everywhere throughout the house. This will pique their interest, and I allow them the freedom to choose what and when they will read.  I read aloud to them at dinner, at breakfast, or whenever we need quiet time. They have chosen to be part of the summer reading program at our local library (motivated by the prizes), but I did not force the issue.  My youngest wants to learn more about geometry, and the eight year old wants to learn multiplication.  Run with whatever their interests are!  Encourage and praise them for any reading they do whether it is learning how to make a paper airplane, reading a recipe, or staying up past bedtime to read with a flashlight.

Ban the worksheets and workbooks, let kids be kids, encourage play time, learning, and watch what happens!

For many more summer activities to keep kids engaged and learning over the summer check out this amazing new blog I recently discovered that is a treasure trove of crafts, games, and outdoor summer activities for kids of all ages! Just click the picture below to visit!
Personal Creations

Have more ideas?  Please share in the comments section!

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Monday, June 30, 2014

Summer and the Child With Selective Mutism: 10 Tips for Parents~ Part 2

Last time, I shared with you five tips for helping the child with Selective Mutism make the most of summer vacation.  Here is the introduction to that post; you can find the complete blog post by clicking here.

For the child with Selective Mutism, summer can have both positive and negative implications.  For some children, making the transition from the structure and familiarity of the school setting can be upsetting and cause even more anxiety. This is especially so if the child will attend a daycare or summer camp setting while mom and dad work.  For others, like my son, he was relieved that he could stay home and not have to face his fear of school and talking on a daily basis.  In either case, summer is an opportune time to work on pragmatic communication skills, to assist the child with stress-relief techniques, and to work on social and school phobia issues.

While I am no expert in Selective Mutism, I do have a seven year old son that was diagnosed with S.M. at the age of three.  I have researched this topic extensively and partnered with my child's psychologist, therapist, counselor, and teachers over the last 4.5 years. Although children with S.M. can be described as being on a spectrum, I have a few general tips to share that you may find helpful as we enter the summer vacation season here in the U.S.

Tips for Making the Most of Summer

6.  Vacation plans that involve traveling away from home can be stressful for the S.M. child.  Notice the sober expression on the little one's face in the above picture?  Before our first trip to the lake, I prepared my little one with exciting anticipation of all the fun things we would do- together with his father and me, with his brother, cousins, and grandparents.  I was sure to let him know the sleeping arrangements, we looked on the map, and read about our destination.  I made no mention of an expectation for him to talk and did not force him to do any activity (like the water slide at the water park) that he was uncomfortable with trying.  As the week wore on, he began to relax, experiment with new things at his own pace, and feel more comfortable.

7.  Summer camps are usually wildly popular with most kids, but not so for many with S.M.  For years, I have been trying to get my now 7 year old to try a day camp program with his older brother, to attend an art or music camp, or basketball camp. These are all activities that he is interested in, but is reluctant to try because he knows he will have to talk and will be away from his comfort zone for hours at a time.  So this year, he asked if he could take swimming lessons where I can watch from the sidelines, there will be a small amount of other children, and it only lasts for 50 minutes.  It's progress, and baby steps is the key to success!

8. Other summer activities like Bible School, seeing old school friends at the local pool, at the park, etc. can cause anxiety.

Picture Courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.Net

I would suggest never forcing, coaxing, or dangling a carrot with rewards or bribes for the child to attend, to talk, or to become actively involved.  Just getting the child to a new destination where there will be many children will be success.  If the child appears anxious, try deep breathing exercises, go for a walk, distract the child with conversation, or ask them what they would like to do later that day.

9.  Encourage children to play- to have lots of free and unstructured time for them to play, explore, learn social skills and cues, and to practice these in a nonthreatening environment where they feel comfortable. This may be at home, at the park, or at a relative's house.  Limit the time the child is engaged in solitary play (like video games) and instead carve out time for board games, creative play (Legos, Barbies, reading, etc.), backyard play with parents, siblings, friends, and relatives.

10.  Prepare for the end of summer and the return to school, especially if your child is attending a public or a private school.  It is here that most children with S.M. feel the most anxiety.  You can read a post I wrote last year about the "Back to School Blues" and how to help the child with Selective Mutism prepare for a new school year here.

Picture Courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.Net

With much love, patience, encouragement, and faith, your child will be able to make the most of the summer and will bloom in his own time.

Do you have more tips to share what has worked for your child?  Please share in comments section!

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Monday, June 23, 2014

Teach Like a Pirate Summer Book Study: I Like to Move It!

Ahoy, Mates! 

Welcome to the book study for the wildly popular Teach Like A Pirate: Increase Student engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator by Dave Burgess.

Come aboard as I give a brief overview of Part 2:  Crafting Engaging Lessons, specifically the "I Like to Move it, Move It" section.

This chapter opens with the above quote (the two little pirates-in-training are mine!) that reminds us that movement isn't just fun for kids, but that it is also necessary for optimal brain functioning.

Dave Burgess, the author, presents three presentational "hooks" in this section.  The hooks are methods to engage students right from the time they enter your room, as well as ideas for maintaining. student interest and involvement.

The three hooks explained in this section are:  The Kinesthetic Hook, the People Prop Hook, and The Safari Hook.  For each hook, there are questions for you, the teacher, to ask yourself when planning engaging lessons.  

Examples of the Questions:
  • How can I incorporate movement into this lesson?
  • How can I guarantee that every student is up and out of their desk at least once during this lesson?
  • Can we create a human graph, chart, map, or equation?
  • How can I get my class outside my four walls for this lesson?

Throughout this chapter, Mr. Burgess provides concrete, specific examples that he has used as well as the how and why they worked to motivate students.

My favorite part of the chapter is what is called "The Fun Factor". This means that sometimes it is just fine and beneficial to include activities that are just plain, old fun and that perhaps cannot be aligned to a specific standard.  In the era of the Common Core and educational standards, this is, in my opinion, perhaps the most important "hook".  Coming together as a class to participate in a fun activity builds classroom rapport, student buy-in, and builds a positive learning community.  You cannot teach students unless you first reach them!

If you would like to read more (and there is a lot more in this chapter), I strongly recommend that you borrow or purchase the book!  To order the book on Amazon click the picture below.

Product Details

As I was reflecting on my own use of kinesthetic activities, I jotted down a few that I have had success with both at the elementary and secondary levels:

More Ideas~ Primary
  • Dr. Jean Feldman- Click here to visit her Song Store for educational and silly songs with movements and gestures that kids love!
  • Read and write the room activities
  • Scoot games
  • GoNoodle-  Free Brain Breaks!
  • Brain Breaks
  • Dr. Erica Warren's Pinterest Page- over 80 ideas!
  • Brain Breaks article from Scholastic

More Ideas~ For Big Kids and Secondary
  • Chalk Talk~ My middle school students loved this silent activity that is so versatile!  Click here for an explanation and ideas for implementing.
  • Jigsaw-  See here for an explanation and ideas for this collaborative technique.
  • Gallery Walk- This is one of my favorites!  I have used it with middle and high schoolers as well as third graders.  See here for more information.
  • Charades- Use for vocabulary review/assessment, for interpretation of literature, for Book Talks.
  • Read-Around-  I used this to have students sample books before forming Literature Circles.  Very simply, I placed 4-5 books in the center of each table (different books at each table).  Students had five minutes or so to preview the books.  When the timer goes off, the group moves to another table.

Please join us this week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for a Twitter chat about more Presentation Hooks (Part 2 of Teach Like a Pirate).  Just search for #tlap2014sbs on Twitter.  Make sure you follow me on Facebook so you know the exact time.  

Click here to see Friday night's discussion; we were so fortunate to have Pirate author Dave Burgess join in on our conversation!

Click here to see Tara and Sebrina's posts about the beginning of Part 2.

I hope you enjoyed our little voyage today! If you have a blog post to share about this little treasure of a book, especially kinesthetic learning, link up below!

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Friday, June 20, 2014

Weethink Activity Cards: Product Review for Math and Literacy

As a homeschool mom, reading specialist, and literacy tutor, I am always looking for new manipulatives to use with my students. That is why I was very excited and intrigued to try out the Weethink Activity Card System!

In return for my honest product review, the folks from Weethink sent me my very own activity pack to experiment with here at home with my children (ages 7 and 8).  Here is what I received:

This Pack Included:
  • (32) cards (a little larger than the size of Uno cards) that are laminated, sturdy, and just right for little hands.  Each card has a lowercase letter on the top, left and a number on the bottom (0-9).
  • Cards with mathematical signs for addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, greaert than, and less than).
  • Blank cards that you can write on with the small dry erase marker that is included.  Write on and wipe off!

  • A set of directions and an explanation of the (5) activities you can do with the cards on the back of the box.

What Did I Like About this Product?
  • Sturdy cards that are durable and can be manipulated easily  by children of ages 3 and above.  
  • Versatility:  Use the cards for phonemic awareness, the alphabetic principle for the preschool crowd, phonics, spelling, and math facts.  To use the cards for math, simply flip the card upside down so the number is in the upper, left corner.
  • The back of the cards is blank which allows for drawing, practice writing letters, spelling words, or even writing a sentence.  The pack includes a small, black dry erase marker, but you can use any of your choice that you have.

For this activity, I was working with a kindergarten student and initial letter sounds. He told me that letter "a" makes the /a/ sound, drew an apple on the back, and I wrote the word.

  • I like that I can use these as an alternative to magnetic letters for variety and that they are very interactive plus they resemble game cards which makes them appealing to emergent and primary learners.

How Would I use the Cards For Instruction?
  • For making words and for word families.  In the above photo, we were working on the "eat" word family. My child made words by replacing the first letter "b" with each of the letters below to make feat, heat, meat, etc.
  • For preschool and kindergarten students to use to arrange cards in alphabetic order, to spell their name, to sort cards according to letters they know and don't know, or to work on saying a sound for each letter.

  • To work on more sophisticated skills like initial blends.  I said the word "trip" and my student had to write the initial blend on the two of the blank cards and place the cards in order.

  • To work on word endings (this was a spelling word).  For spelling practice, you could give the student the letter cards and have them make the word.

  • At my house, we will be using these to practice basic addition and subtraction facts this summer.

We had fun exploring and experimenting with the cards, and I would definitely recommend them for literacy and math instruction.  They make a perfect manipulative for small groups, 1:1 tutoring, and for use at home.  The cost is a mere $10.95!  Click the picture below to visit the Weethink website.  You can view more ideas for using the cards (such as for patterning) and even watch a video of the cards being used in action.  As well, you can order the cards directly from the site.

Check out the site today and let me know what you think and how you would use the cards!

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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Summer and the Child With Selective Mutism: 10 Tips for Parents

For the child with Selective Mutism, summer can have both positive and negative implications.  For some children, making the transition from the structure and familiarity of the school setting can be upsetting and cause even more anxiety. This is especially so if the child will attend a daycare or summer camp setting while mom and dad work.  For others, like my son, he was relieved that he could stay home and not have to face his fear of school and talking on a daily basis.  In either case, summer is an opportune time to work on pragmatic communication skills, to assist the child with stress-relief techniques, and to work on social and school phobia issues.

While I am no expert in Selective Mutism, I do have a seven year old son that was diagnosed with S.M. at the age of three.  I have researched this topic extensively and partnered with my child's psychologist, therapist, counselor, and teachers over the last 4.5 years. Although children with S.M. can be described as being on a spectrum, I have a few general tips to share that you may find helpful as we enter the summer vacation season here in the U.S.

10 Tips for Making the Most of Summer

1. After school has let out for the summer, allow your child some time to "decompress" from the long school year. This may include lots of free play, unstructured time where the child chooses activities that are of interest (playing with dolls, Legos, taking a bike ride, watching T.V., reading, crafts, drawing, for example). Many parents worry that their child must keep a busy schedule.  For the child with S.M. who is bombarded with anxiety issues, they really need a week or so of "down time".

2. If you have not already, introduce the child to stress relief and relaxation techniques.  See here for  a post I wrote for The Educator's Room about this very topic. Also, I wrote this post with tips for teachers that parents may find helpful as well.

3.  Depending on the progress your child is making, you may want to consider therapy by a professional that has training and experience with S.M.  This may be a speech therapist (although from my experience many are not even aware of this disorder), a counselor, therapist, or psychologist.  Our pediatrician referred us to the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, MD, where my son received treatment for a year.  When my son began preschool, we were blessed to have a school counselor who was trained and experienced with treating S.M.

4. Make use of everyday talking opportunities (pragmatic/practical speech) when you are running errands or visiting your friends.  For my son, it is easier for him to talk to strangers that he meets, say at the grocery store, than to talk to anyone that is associated with a school-like environment.  Why?  Because for him school is what the professionals call "contaminated" for him.  Anyone or any place that he associates with school reminds him of uncomfortable and anxious feelings plus the fear that he has felt at school since he began preschool at the age of three.  However, he has come a long,long way.  It used to be that he would not talk to the cashier, waitress, or the person in line behind us at the grocery store.  Because of repeated exposures and his comfort level, he now does so consistently.

5.  No matter how tempting it may be, I recommend and so do the professionals and the researchers that to force or bribe your child to talk is counterproductive.  Because of their intense fear and their inability to talk in certain situations, to coax, or force the child to talk only increases the anxiety.  I have written about this before, but treatment programs recommend using specific, targeted desensitization and stimulus fading.  From my experience, the less I pressured my son to talk, the more he was likely to make progress. For example, if we are going someplace that is new to him, I ask if he feels nervous.  If he does, I reassure him that he does not have to talk.  When we go to church (a school-like environment for him because Sunday School resembles the classroom in his eyes), I reassure him that he does not have to talk. I begin with having him chat with me in the car as we enter the parking lot. Then, I  work on having him whisper to me as we get out of the car. "Baby steps" is what works best.

For those of you that are parents, teachers, friends, or family members of a child with S.M., I leave you with a link to a fascinating video created by The Child Mind Institute.  This video consists of a panel of children who have overcome their S.M. and the doctors and therapists that worked with the children. Click the picture below to watch the video.  It is well worth your time and is an informative glimpse into the life of children who are struggling to be heard.

In my next post, I will present the last five tips that have worked for my son. You can read all my posts here on my blog about Selective Mutism by clicking

And because I love the collaborative nature of blogs, please feel free to share your tips and experiences!

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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Curious Kids: What Are Jellyfish?

 It's Throwback Thursday!  Here's a favorite post of mine from last year about all the fun we had learning about jellyfish.   Enjoy!

Although my first love is teaching literature, since beginning to sell my educational printables on Teachers Pay Teachers a year ago, I have found my niche in creating informational text/nonfiction literacy packets for elementary students.  W-A-Y back in high school, I found that I enjoyed writing research papers and had even considered majoring in journalism and P.R. to become a technical writer. Alas, my stint as a P.R. major lasted only a semester, as my love for English and teaching trumped my previous plans.

Over this last year, I have written original informational texts for my own children and for my students, basically out of necessity.  With the CCSS emphasis on informational text, I needed appropriate texts and activities for my kids, but was on a very tight budget. Albert Einstein is famous for saying (and my mother for quoting) ~


"Necessity is the mother of all invention"


And, thus my "Curious Kids" series was born!  Look for this cute button created by Miss A's Kindergarten on my nonfiction packets.

This series features nonfiction literacy packets for elementary students with an original text that includes text features, Tier III vocabulary, integration of science or social studies content, before, during, and after reading activities, alignment to CCSS, and a writing component.  Each packet is a little different, depending on my kids' needs and interests.

My newest nonfiction packet is all about jellyfish!

  We are doing summer homeschool at my house, and my boys, ages 6 and 7, decided on a beach theme!  Because they are so intrigued and fearful of jellyfish, I chose these fascinating creatures as our first "unit" of study.  As most kids are, mine are naturally inquisitive.  I took some of their questions about jellyfish and used them to guide my creation of my nonfiction packet.

To start, we did things a little backwards.  I found this neat paper bowl jellyfish craft here. To create motivation and sneak in a little background knowledge, I decided to do the craft first.  Now, I did not make a big announcement that we were officially starting summer homeschool. I just said, "It's craft time, gathered the supplies, and headed outside (our favorite classroom!) to the picnic table. It's summer, after all, and as is my style, I want things to be fun, creative, and allow for hands-on, casual learning (the kind where the kids don't even know they are learning!).  We followed the simple directions for the paper bowl jellyfish by painting the bowls first.  We used Tempera paints to get started. The boys wanted to know what color to paint their bowl.  I responded with, "Any color!  Jellyfish come in many bright colors!"

 We let the bowls dry completely in the sun, and then added the tentacles.  We used crepe paper streamers and pipe cleaners, following the directions on the website cited above.

Notice my sweet Doxie pups in the background!

As we worked, the kids were using vocabulary like "tentacles" and "venom".  They asked questions that naturally sprang from our craft time, like:  "Can we die from a jellyfish sting?"; "Are jellyfish in lakes?"  ;"How many tentacles does a jellyfish have?"  I responded with, "We are going to get answers to all your fabulous questions tomorrow when we become jellyfish investigators!".  That was my springboard into the informational reading part.  By doing the craft first, I created an authentic, student-driven purpose for reading.  They really, really wanted answers to their questions.

The informational packet I created contains a printable book that is all about jellyfish!

The cover page is done in color, but the book pages are in black and white for kids to color after reading.

Together, the boys and I did a Shared Reading of the book.  It is quite rigorous for kindergarten and first grade readers, but was just perfect to read together!  As we read, we paused to think about what we had learned and whether they had gotten answers to the questions they had as they were working on their craft.  The book has (6) pages, so I spread out the reading over the course of three days.

Afterwards, we took a look at the jellyfish diagram and the boys then identified the parts on their paper bowl jellyfish.

 I created a sentence scramble activity for my kindergarten son. We worked together, as some of the words were a bit tricky.  I made (6) sentences with each one having a different animal on the card.  After he placed the sentence cards in order to make a sentence, then he wrote the sentences on the recording sheet. The sentences actually include key details from the reading, so as he worked, he was getting a little reinforcement to aid his comprehension.



This activity was a little too easy for my first grade son, but he enjoyed helping his little brother! I included stationery sheets in this literacy packet for the boys to write a description of their jellyfish craft, but you can use it for any writing activity.

There's a lot more that I crammed into this (23) page packet that makes it perfect to use in the classroom:  Can, Have, Are charts, writing prompts, a key details and main topic graphic organizer and more! And, it is aligned to Common Core State Standards for informational reading. We did not do all the activities, as I have to keep it light and fun in the summer time!

And, that my dear readers, is a little glimpse into how this teacher mom spends her days!  As time permits, we will be exploring other ocean animals, but for now, we are loving our jellyfish!

  Just click the picture below to check out the listing and the preview.

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