Friday, January 24, 2014

Arctic Art Project and Other Homeschool Happenings

I need to preface this post with letting you know that I am NOT artistic in any way, shape , or form.  Visual and spatial skills do not come naturally to me.  However, they do for my first grade son.  In fact, everything he does is done through an artistic lens.  So, when I saw this polar bear painting idea over at that artist woman's blog, I knew we had to complete it as part of our arctic animals unit.  We just finished reading and learning about polar bears, the temps are below zero here in PA, and our yard looks like the tundra.  The timing for this project was perfect!

We followed the directions on that artist woman's blog, which includes explicit directions,photos, and free polar bear templates.  Here, my son is adding sea salt to his painted sky to add a snowy effect.

The entire project took about an hour and a half, spread out over two days.  Just a tip:  let the painting dry for a day or so before you add the painted polar bear.  We used glossy finger paint paper and tempra paints which worked beautifully.

 While we worked, we talked about what color the sky and moon are in the arctic, did they have harvest moons, if polar bears travel alone, and what they eat in this desolate terrain. 

The end product was pretty stunning.  My boys added glitter along with the sea salt for a snowy sparkle.

This is the first grader's painting:

And the second grader's painting:

Another highlight of the week was watching my first grader get so excited with the daily journal prompts that he does each morning. We are getting ready for next week where he will be writing about National Chocolate Cake Day (Monday, 1/27), an he will be writing a friendly letter to his grandparents who are spending the winter in Florida (and we are  so very just a little jealous!).  Click the picture below to download these two journal prompts for free!

The weekend is here- WOOT!  I'll be working on lesson plans for this week and drinking tons of peppermint tea to stay warm while I cruise Facebook to download freebies in this little event that I am part of:
Photo: Getting soooooo excited------it all starts in a few hours!!!!

Just click the picture above to visit myy Facebook page and to download my Cynthia Rylant FREEBIE!


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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Home at Last: My First Week of Homeschooling

After a year of weighing options, praying, researching, talking with friends, and trying public school for the first half of the year, I brought my son home for school.  For the remainder of this school year, I will homeschool him.  This is all new territory for me.  And for my first grade son.  And for our family as a whole.  But, we had a productive first week, I awoke each day so excited to work with him, and I feel like I have a brand new child. 

These are the lesson plans I used this week.  I created a very, very simple template to list the activities, the objective/goal, and the larger block is for me to record my notes and observations.  Even though I am working with one child and have the entire day, I still struggle with trying to get it all done.  That was not something that I  anticipated!  However, we have flexibility, so we can work on something in the evening or over the weekend.  For instance, tomorrow we will start an art project and my son will draft his "spider story" (a narrative about a spider using spider facts from informative reading).

Just like many of you, I integrate as much as possible, not only to save time, but to provide authentic tasks that promote application of skills and strategies.  This week I integrated science and reading, as he was reading an informative article on polar bears.

You've heard of "write the room"... this is "write the kitchen"!  He was working on a list of his favorite breakfast food and drinks for his morning journal prompt that I use as a "warm -up".  In the photo, he is using my grocery list to spell a word correctly on his list!  This is part of my January Journal Prompts.

When working on a journal prompt, I noticed that he did not know the -ou vowel team.  He can read a word with this vowel combination, but he can't encode.  So, we did a little word work where he made words with -ou and then recorded them on his "pinchy sounds" flap book.  The "pinchy sounds" make an OU-ch! sound.  I had him make some words with an initial -dr blend (which is hard for him to say) and we added the -ed ending (he was working on this at school before he left). We were working on the floor, but my three dachshunds wanted to play with the pocket chart!

Next, we moved onto an integrated study of polar bears and the arctic and reading informational texts.  I'm using this article in a Guided Reading format.  He wanted to highlight the important facts after reading and discussing.  This was perfect because it made writing notes in the polar bear flap book much easier.  This is from my All About Polar Bears packet.

Before reading, he did a vocabulary match-up which allowed me to assess which words he could pronounce and which words he knew the definition of.

As a child with Selective Mutism, he has never been able to talk out loud in a classroom before.  He has never been able to talk about his learning as it is happening.  And believe me, has a lot to say, if this past week was any indication!

We had a great week, but he did tell me that I worked him hard!  Here is a candid picture I just happened to capture.  I think he needs to kiss his brain!

This was a peek into my week.  You can look for more literacy resources targeted for first and second grades coming this winter and spring!

Enjoy the weekend! 

 hip homeschool hop

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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Bipolar Disorder Hits Home: How My Husband's Diagnosis Affected Me as a Teacher

 As many of you know, I not only feel compelled to promote literacy to children and families, but also to bring awareness to childhood and adult mental health issues.  Today I welcome my guest blogger, Karen, who has a very personal story to share with you about her husband's Bipolar diagnosis.

As teachers we all know we have an impact on the lives of children, but I’m not sure we realize just how much we can change the futures of our students.  I was a new teacher when a personal experience changed the way I will view my profession forever.  It as through my husband’s diagnosis when he was 34-years-old that I came to see just what an important role we play.

In March 2012, my husband was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.  The psychiatrist also suspected ADD, which was later removed and replaced with a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder.  This diagnosis came after the two of us being married for more than 10 years, never knowing that the ups and downs we experienced in our marriage directly correlated to the troubles he was experiencing.  At first, it was terrifying to realize my husband had a mental illness, but once we started learning and he started stabilizing, it just became part of our lives.  THIS is what the marriage vows mean when they say “through sickness and in health.”

How did this open my eyes as a teacher?  Well, we started putting two and two together, and the doctor agreed that my husband has probably been experiencing symptoms from the time he was about nine-years-old.  He has for sure been exhibiting bipolar behavior since he was an adolescent.  Teachers, parents, and other adults in his life didn’t listen- not because they didn’t care, I’m sure, but because they weren’t aware.

My husband’s grandmother saw the signs when he was a child, but she didn’t realize the pain he was experiencing.  The women on my husband’s side of the family used to meet for Bible study once each week, and I got to learn a lot about my husband’s childhood during these sessions.  I remember one time Grandma told me that Daniel was “the sweetest and most loving boy ever, right up until he was nine or ten.”  She said he changed suddenly, like a light switch had been flipped.  He became withdrawn and uninterested.  Grandma never did find out that her stories led to the psychiatrist putting together the puzzle that led to Daniel’s diagnosis.

When we were first going to the doctor, though, my husband was terrified.  He wasn’t afraid that he was going to find out something was wrong with him.  He was afraid he was going to be told yet again to “suck it up” and to take responsibility.  Daniel told me stories of attempting to explain to teachers what was in his mind.  He told them he thought he was different from other kids.  He thought maybe he felt more or got angry for longer.  They told him to learn to handle his emotions. 

Daniel’s parents were the worst.  They egged him on, told him he was making excuses, and were less than supportive.  They are the same today, two years later.  They don’t believe in mental illness, and I think this has been the biggest blow to my husband’s esteem and self-image.

When we came out of the doctor’s office with a diagnosis of mental illness and a prescription for medication, my husband had tears in his eyes.  “Someone finally believed me.”  I could see the 10-year-old inside of him who had been calling out for help all those years.  It took almost a quarter of a century for my husband to be heard.  It was a stroke of luck that led to an extremely frank discussion and a call to a doctor, but Daniel had finally gotten the treatment he deserved.

As teachers, we are not trained mental health professionals, but we ARE trained to listen to our students.  We need to be sure our eyes and ears are open and to be sure to have open dialogue with the parents of our students.  We need to be their voices at a time when they can’t speak for themselves. 

If you would like to read more about the experience of Daniel’s diagnosis, please see the blog post What Bipolar Looked Like in Our Family, written in April 2012.  Although this is written from the adult perspective, I hope it will give you some insight on how bipolar touches families.  Thank you for taking the time to learn about bipolar disorder.  Together we can make a difference!

Karen is a 6th grade teacher in the Phoenix, Arizona area.  She has been married to Daniel for almost fourteen years and has two children, ages thirteen and eleven.  She returned to school to get her teaching degree when her youngest daughter started Kindergarten.  She is now in her third year of teaching and says that her favorite part of the job is learning something new every day. 

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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Adventures In Literacy Land: Making Reading Magical!

It's here.  It's here.  It's finally here!  It's been over two months in the making, but today we announce the launch of our new literacy blog…

Twenty bloggers with a specific interest in literacy (reading specialists, reading coaches, literature teachers, etc.) have joined together in this effort.  I'm so excited to reveal the authors!
This group represents more than 250 years of teaching experience in the field of literacy.  We plan to share information on the best practices in literacy, keep you abreast of current trends, and provide you with excellent teaching resources.

Stop by Adventures in Literacy Land each day this week to meet the authors of this blog and read their introductory posts.  Be sure to enter the Bog Launch Giveaway for a chance to win one of four $25 Teachers Pay Teachers gift certificates.

EVERYONE who enters will win an exclusive prize pack.  Please join us on this new journey! 

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Friday, January 3, 2014

January Journal Prompts and More

Recently, I asked followers on my Facebook page what they thought of kids having to complete school work during extended vacations such as Christmas/winter break.  The responses were varied, although the majority thought that their own children or students should be completing daily readingSome commented that they preferred learning that occurs naturally such as from just plain old curiosity, field trips, playing a new game, or exploring outside.

With my own two young sons, ages 7 and 8, I have a sneaky plan of attack.  You see, whenever I create a new product, they are my field testers and guinea pigs; they try out the product which gives me a good idea of whether my target age and ability level were accurate, they let me know their opinions (brutally honest, I may add!), and even give me suggestions for changing the wording or clip art.  I always approach them with a "can you please do me a favor and try this to see if other kids would like it" attitude.  I never force them to do an activity because they are usually eager to give me their "expert" feedback.  In turn, they are practicing their literacy skills without even knowing it!

My January Journal Prompts have just been listed in my store, and my boys had plenty of time to  check them out during their two week vacation!
Use for grades 1-3

My soon-to-be seven year old first grader decided to use one of the New Year's prompts.  He made a list of the fun and new things he had done in 2013, thought about his favorite (actually he had two) and wanted to add some color to make it his own (this kids loves to color and do anything artsy!).  Although I designed these prompts to be used for journals, in a writing center, or small group, they make a great bulletin board or hallway display!  All the prompt pages are done in black and white which saves you ink and allows your little writers to add their creative flair to their writing and thinking.

I took the cover page (shown below) and glued it to the front of a pocket folder.  There are two versions~ black and white or color.

You can place all of the prompts inside the folder or have students place in folder as they are completed.  Some teachers use the prompts as daily journal writing, as morning work, or in a writing center.  If you place the completed writings in the folder, students will have a keepsake portfolio for the month that I'm sure their parents will enjoy!

Speaking of the prompts, with each of my monthly journal prompts, I include a variety of topics and writing forms/formats.  I include several of the fun and unique special days for the month.  For January, that includes National Chocolate Cake Day, Popcorn Day, Martin Luther King Day, Spaghetti Day (which is tomorrow, 1/4/14), and more!

If you want to use the prompts for a more formal and structured writing piece such as in a Writer's Workshop, you can do that too!  For example, you can take this prompt from the packet~

Students are to write a story using the pictures as the prompt.  I include space for them to brainstorm their ideas and a writing page.

However, if you want to lead students through the entire writing process, use the above lined paper for drafting.  After revising and editing, have students write their final copy on one of the stationery pages that are done in color such as this one~

The beauty of this packet is that it is so versatile and flexible.  As a literacy interventionist, I can use it with individuals and small groups, and the classroom teacher can use it with an entire class!  Click here if you want to check out the listing.

I have one more January related creation to share with you.  At my house, we have a Bible verse of the month that we learn, discuss how to apply to our lives, and focus and meditate on throughout the month.  Since my youngest two are only fourteen months apart, they are often in competition with one another and, well, we need to focus on accepting and embracing God's peace and showing that to one another.  I chose a verse from Philippians for January.  I print it on card stock, trim around the edges, and place in an 8x10 picture frame that sits on the buffet in the dining room.  Here's a picture of what I'm talking about:

Click here to download a copy of the Bible verse from Drop Box.
       {Thank you to Ashley Hughes and Whimsy Workshop Teaching for the adorable clip art and to KG Fonts.}

I wish you a restful weekend!

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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

No New Year's Resolutions for Me! Here's What I will Be Up To...

Last year was a season of many changes for me personally and for my family.  It was last January that I officially went on a a leave of absence from my teaching position, we adopted two dogs, and moved to a new home in July. My two youngest children started public school for the first time in August.  Although the year found me struggling in many areas, I was also very blessed with a new home and community that we love and a smooth transition for the boys.  Last year was all about making a fresh start.  With each new year we are able to make a fresh start as well.  I do not make New Year's resolutions, but I do reflect and set goals for myself as a wife, parent, teacher, blogger, teacher-author.

With a brand new year upon me, one of my goals is to continue my literacy research by keeping up with my journal and professional book reading ( I am in the middle of Reading in the Wild, the follow-up book to The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller) and by taking two more online courses to keep my teaching certificate current.  Of course, I will share with you my learning along the way!

 My focus as a teacher-author will be to continue to create informative reading and literacy products as part of my Curious Kids Series for elementary teachers to use in small groups. I have been working on my newest packet about polar bears for months, and hope to have it finished in the next week or so.

As well, I will continue creating my monthly journal/writing center/workshop prompts.  In fact, my January set was just listed in my store yesterday and you can see that listing by clicking on the picture below.

As a writer, I will continue to contribute to The Educator's Room, an online magazine that promotes and empowers teachers as the experts and encourages educational reform.  One brand new adventure that will debut on Monday, January 6, is the launch of a collaborative literacy blog for elementary teachers!  A group of nineteen literacy teachers, specialists, and coaches will bring you fresh, innovative, research-based lesson ideas and teaching inspirations.  Click the picture below to take a sneak peek!

Thank you for another great year!  I so appreciate your support and encouragement, the professional networking, and the friendships I have made.  I am wishing you a blessed new year!

One last thing before I go, if you are looking for new ideas and blogs to follow, or want to share your blog, link up over at The Teacher's Chair.  Just click the button below.


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