Elf in the Classroom

Thursday, December 24, 2015 1 comment

Elf on the Shelf is by far one of the best things to come along in a while (well in teacher land anyway). This little sucker works like a charm! When you're hours away from your beloved break and your kids are glued to the ceiling, just utter the words "Elf" and the Christmas magic truly happens. 

So let's start at the beginning of all the madness.
One day my kids were begging me to read the Elf on the Shelf book, they were convinced if you read it an Elf will come. So I said I'd read it but can't promise anything will happen. Well Santa decided to send us this package while we were away at lunch! And guess what? It was even cold (teacher tip: put the package in your freezer until you're ready for it, the kids will think it is straight from the North Pole!). We ripped open the package and found a letter from Santa and our beautiful little Elf! Of course after reading our letter from the Big Man we had to find a name for our new little stalker...I mean Elf. This was probably the best part. Listening to the hilarious names they come up with is seriously the best.

After naming him I carefully set him on our shelf, making sure not to touch him of course (I used gloves!). Naturally we had some non-believers, but Frosty took care of that quickly. Because of the way I situated him on the shelf he fell about half way through the afternoon and his legs swung down over the shelf. Almost scared the you know what out of me and every kid screamed! HE MOVED! He must be real!! 

Over the next few weeks Frosty took time making messes in our classroom and reporting back to Santa. 

One day our Elf brought us stickers! (aka labels) These labels had a picture of our Elf and said "Caught Being a Leader". I passed these out throughout the day and HOLY COW my class was awesome! It was so fun watching them watch the Elf to make sure he was catching them being a leader.

One day our Elf even brought us Brag Tags! You can download these brag tags from my Elf on the Shelf Bundle on Teachers Pay Teachers. Click HERE to go to my store. When you download the bundle you'll find a ton of resources to use with your elf including letters from your Elf (boy & girl versions), a sick letter in case he get's touched, an Elf journal for students to complete as they watch their Elf, and an Elf Shenanigans planner for the teacher!

Finally, on Frosty's last day he left us the sweetest letter! You can download that in my Elf Bundle too. Santa said he'd lift his magic for just a few minutes so we could all hug Frosty and say goodbye. My kids quickly moved themselves into a circle and took turns passing him around. I might have even seen a tear or two, it was pretty sweet!

Even though Christmas is over and you're all probably in your jammies reading this be sure to pin some of the pictures for next year! If you've done an Elf in the classroom share your best Elf stories in the comments! 

Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays from my 2nd grade team! I hope you have a wonderful break. See you in 2016!

Erin Condren Wedding Planner

Sunday, November 15, 2015 19 comments

Alright ladies, we all LOVE our Erin Condren Teacher Planners, now let me introduce you to the Teacher Planner's adorable cousin, the Wedding Planner. If you're already married you're going to be considering renewing your vows, just so you can use this planner. If you're engaged, go buys yours now! If you're not engaged, just buy one and hide it under your mattress so you have it when the time is right...just don't let anyone find it in the meantime, they might think you're a little crazy. 

In this post I'm going to walk you through the EC Wedding Planner and all of it's amazing-ness.


The beginning of the planner starts with your monthly calendar views. These are nice, but I don't use them too much. I have big wedding dates labeled, but I mostly use my iPhone calendar (because it's shared with my fiancé, so he knows when we have appointments). After each month you also have a page for "notes".

Next is one of the best parts of the entire planner. These pages show you what you should be doing at each point up until the wedding. This really kept me on track, otherwise I would have been completely lost. 

*Note: When you order you chose a 1 year or 2 year engagement. That way your timeline fits your specific needs. 

After this section there are specific pages to meet all of your wedding planning needs. These pages offer suggestions, room for notes, lists, and just about anything else. You will get specific pages for:
  • Bridesmaids
  • Groomsmen
  • Guest List
  • Budget Check List
  • Shot List for Photographer 
  • Music
  • Drinks
  • Tastings
  • Flowers
  • Cake Tastings
  • Vendor Contact List

Above you'll see the budget layout. I really like this resource, it helped me remember all of the things that actually have to be paid for. There's so much when planning a wedding, this was really helpful for keeping it all straight.

Toward the end of the planner you have the folder insert. This is SO incredibly helpful for organizing receipts, contracts, notes, and anything else. 

Seriously guys, I love this thing. It goes everywhere with me. I'm pretty sure my fiancĂ© thinks I've lost my mind, but at least I'm organized! This EC Wedding Planner is such a helpful tool and it'll be a fun keepsake to look back on in 20 or 30 years. 

What do you use to keep your sanity while planning for your wedding?

Time for Turkeys

Saturday, November 14, 2015 2 comments
I love fall. I love seasonal things. I love turkeys!

This week in 2nd grade we really stepped up the turkey loving. First, I introduced a new math game to my students.

Students are playing this game during Math Workshop and Academic Lab (aka our interventions time).

You can download Turkey Time for your classroom here.

And then...my favorite homework assignment of the year. Each year we read the story Turkey Trouble to our students. 

Then each student gets a turkey to take home to disguise. We send this project home so students can get really creative with their supplies and disguises. Once the turkeys are back at school students write a description of their turkey and we try to match the turkeys with the descriptions. 

And now...here are some of our creations! 

What are some of your favorite November projects?

Alternative Classroom Seating - Part 2

Tuesday, November 3, 2015 14 comments
Welcome! Or Welcome Back! Thanks for checking out Part 2 of my two part series on Alternative Classroom Seating.

UPDATE: This post has received so much amazing feedback so I've reached out to Dawn & Carla to answer some of your questions. Please note, the pictures below are from Dawn & Carla's classrooms, these are not pictures from my classroom.

Alternative Classroom Seating is something that's been bouncing around the internet for some time now and I found that I was really interested in trying it out in my classroom. Before I dove in I decided to talk to teachers who actually use it in their classroom. AND THEN, I thought, "Wouldn't this make a cool blog post?!" So here we are. I'm writing and you're reading.

If you'd like to see the first five questions I asked, click here to read part one.

If you missed part one, let me introduce you to my new teacher BFFs - Dawn and Carla. They are both elementary teachers who found ways to switch up their seating options in their classrooms.

6. How do the parents respond to Alternative Seating? Do you do anything special to explain it to them?

Dawn: "Parents donated last spring. This year I talked about them at the open house and explained the need for exercise. And how it would be uncomfortable to sit in a hard chair all day. Parents love it! Kids love it."

Carla: "During the Meet and Greet I got to explain the seating options to parents. I also sent them my open house video prior to the start of the school year. 

Part of the video explained the seating options to them. I also tweeted some articles on the benefits of flexible seating. Overall I think parents have really embraced this concept. They love the idea of their kids taking ownership of their seating an being more comfortable during the day. I have even had a parent or two offer to donate money for more seating options should I decide to add them to my room!"

UPDATE: Carla says, "For the open house video I used an app on my iPad called Lapse It. Then I used an iPad mount to hold it still above my desk as I drew on the dry erase board. I did draw slowly and played with the settings to create small videos of each board. Then I merged the videos together and added music to create the final product! I had so much positive feedback, but I won't lie, this took a good 5-6 hours to finally figure it out and get it right"

7. Where do the students keep all of their...stuff?!

Dawn: "They each currently have their desk as a homebase. Minimal things are inside. The desk fairy visits regularly to give notes. I was hoping to only have half regular desks... But I have been working on classroom manage to with some of the kids... Also we have 1:2 Chromebooks. So right now they are choosing a spot when it is Chromebook time or reading quietly. It helps a lot with the kids that aren't on Chromebooks to stay focused."

Carla: "I am fortunate to have some nice cubbies in my room. Students keep their journals and binders in these and after I give directions for an activity I will call groups over to get their supplies. I also have several baskets around the room. Their word study folders are kept near the word work choices etc. I have supply tubs at each table. Students simply use the supplies that are at the table where they are sitting. We all share, no one has "special crayons" or scissors etc. Another teacher at my school has students use book bins as their "cubbies" to hold their supplies. The students simply take the bins with them to wherever they are sitting."

Update: Carla says, "The particular cubby unit that I have for storing student supplies was actually made by the husband of a teacher who worked at our school many years ago (she was lucky to have a handy hubby!!) Before I inherited the cubby I was using stacked milk crates zip tied together. They have some images on Pinterest similar to this. I have also seen square cubby units similar to this at Target and Walmart.

Update: This rug was purchased from RTR Kid Rugs. Carla says, "for those of you who might be buying your own rug (as I had previously done) I recommend getting a large from Home Depot or Lowes ~$80 and buying SitSpots to create spaces for individual students."

8. Do you still have a meeting place (carpet) for mini-lessons?

Dawn: "We meet at the two carpets in front of short throw projectors. Sometimes it is all 25 and sometimes it is a small group and sometimes half, depending on what I am teaching. I try to differentiate as much as possible. In addition one of my kids specials is taught in my room and the teacher prefers for everyone to have a homebase. Also, we split kids up for tier 2 reading and math interventions so I have two other groups of first graders that I teach."

Carla: "Yes, I do have a large carpet in the front of my room. This is a meeting place for mini-lessons and read alouds. I also have a smaller carpet in the back of my room/ library area."


9. What do other teachers in your building think of your set up?

Dawn: "The other first grade teachers have traditional seating. One of the second grade teachers received my extra balls and another would like some. Our title teacher wrote a grant for some awesome wiggle stools."

Carla: "The administration has been very supportive with this endeavor. Other teachers comment on how "fun" or "neat" the idea seems, however they fear it won't work for them. Several teachers in my building are trying flexible seating this year and we hope to recruit more!"

10. What is your best advice for teachers who want to try Alternative Seating?

Dawn: "Just try it and see what works for you. You can start small by lowering a table to floor height (free). Checkout Kayla Delzer and Kindergartensmorgesboard!!!"

Carla: "Go for it! I was so on the fence about starting flexible seating over the summer. I was thinking, "Can my kids handle it?" "Won't there be tons of fighting?" "All the students will just sit by their friends and talk...this isn't going to work" But then I realized that I always prefer to choose where I sit during meetings, or professional development. I hate walking in and being told where to work. I read some articles and just decided to go for it! I told myself that I could always go back to regular seating if it didn't work. I really love it and the kids love it too! I actually notice how they tend to group themselves. It has been a big it in my classroom!"

So...What do you think? I'm convinced! I'm going to slowly start working flexible seating into my classroom this year. If you're already doing it, let's hear what works for you! If you're thinking about starting, what will be your first step?

Alternative Classroom Seating

Saturday, October 31, 2015 22 comments

UPDATE: This post has received so much amazing feedback so I've reached out to Dawn & Carla to answer some of your questions. Please note, the pictures below are from Dawn & Carla's classrooms, these are not pictures from my classroom.

Lately I keep seeing blogs, instagram posts and tweets about teachers who are using alternative seating in their elementary classrooms. Naturally, I wanted to try it out. But, for the first time in a while I thought to myself, "Hey Melanie! Maybe you should research this before you go full steam ahead." So what better way to research alternative classroom seating than to talk to teachers who actually DO this in their classroom?

First, let's take a minute to meet the teachers who shared all of their best ideas with me! 

Meet Dawn - She is a first grade teacher who has also spent time working as a reading specialist, a title teacher, a 2nd and 4th grade teacher. Dawn is a tech lover and dreams of attending the Ron Clark Academy (don't we all?!). When Dawn is not teaching she is focused on being the best dog mom and tennis player.

Meet Carla - "My name is Carla Ryan and this is my 6th year teaching 2nd grade. I teach in Virginia Beach, Virginia at the same Elementary School I went to when I was a kid! This year we were selected to be a digital anchor school, so every child is 1:1 with technology. We have laptops in my room this year which has been a fun learning experience."
You can follow Carla on Twitter @MrsRyans2ndgr.

So I asked my 10 most burning questions to 2 fabulous teachers. Take a look at part 1 of a 2 part series. 

1. What seating options do you have available for your students?

Dawn: "I currently have 13 yoga balls. In addition, I have two little IKEA tables with 4 small kids yoga balls and 2 IKEA stools. I have a tall bar table, with 2 bar stools (donated from Krogers of all places because I loved the color) and room for another student to stand. I also lowered one desk to the floor and they can sit on a pillow or feet stretched out. 3 short stools. 3 poufs and two pillows that students can move around to a comfy spot. My meeting area is two big rugs. I also have a small ottoman (wasn't using at my house). Kids also love to lay stretched out on the floor with clipboards."

Carla: "In my classroom I offer students a choice between floor pillows, stools, crate seats, and regular desk chairs. Students are also free to work on the floor if the activity permits. I have clipboards available for students to use if they choose to work on one of the rugs in my room. In the beginning of the year I also had several individual desks for students who prefer to work by themselves. I found that this year my students prefer to work in groups so I got rid of the desks. However another teacher in my school who is doing flexible seating says that her individual desks are one of the more popular choices! See what works for your class, each grouping of students is different."

2. How did you get your hands on all of these unique items?

Dawn: "I started last year with trying yoga balls! I bought 1 yoga ball and let kids try it and wrote a letter to families last year with research as to why kids need to exercise, move, how it helps them concentrate, and included the fact that we only have 1 recess a day after lunch. I had 35 yoga balls donated within a week! A few families sent in money for me to get them. All sizes and colors. I found that 5 Below was the cheapest and cutest at $5 each. I got rid of half of my school chairs.
The school year was coming to and end and I realized that just switching to yoga balls met some of our needs but wasn't the right choice for everyone. I kept 13 balls (I have 26 kids this year) and sent on the rest to second grade so my kids could still use them.

I wrote a grant for $100:

  • 3 short stools $5 each
  • Bar table from ikea $25
  • Pillows from target on sale total $20
  • 2 rugs from ikea $20 each
Target gives out $25 gift cards to teachers frequently. I have no problem asking companies if they will donate to me. The worse they can say is no. And of course my paycheck. I had a couple things at my house I wasn't using. It's important to note I got rid of some random tables, two big file cabinets that were not used, a giant reading table. And I did not have an official teacher desk. I use a table that my computer sets on. One goal I had was to create more space."

UPDATE: Many of you have been asking how Dawn was able to get gift cards from Target. She says... 

"As far as the Target gift card, Target has a donation request form at their Customer Service Counter. It was a quick and painless form. They accepted it on the spot. Lot's of places love to donate to teachers, you just have to ask. I'm not afraid to get a 'no!' I ask for donations for everything (local florist for Open House flowers, free movie tickets to pass out to students as rewards, seeds and soil for the spring science lesson, etc.)

I also have written a few grants for various supplies and received them all. I am waiting for 10 ErgoErgo chairs to be delivered from the latest grant. 

Parents are more than willing to help too. The district I am in is high free or reduced but I wrote a letter about the benefits of alternative seating and I had so many yoga balls donated in a week. I gave 30 to another teacher in my school. I let the family send in $5 or bring in balls from Five Below, whatever was easiest for them. I was also able to purchase a couple of Wiggle Cushions from Amazon with the money. I had the custodian lower the legs on a table and the Wiggle Cushions are on the floor."

UPDATE: These stools can be found at Five Below.

Carla: "The seating I have accumulated over the past few years. I already had some stools (from cvs, and ikea) that I used at my guided reading table and computer table. The crate seats I made to keep in my classroom library. This year the only purchase I made was 4 pillows from Five Below. Those I used at a lower table in my room. I plan to set up a gofundme or donorschoose project to purchase some yoga balls later this year. I would say that thrift stores, and donations from teacher and parents of old chairs/seats would be the easiest place to start."

Learn about how to fund a successful DonorsChoose project here.

3. How do you introduce alternative seating to your students at the beginning of the year?

Dawn: "We talk a lot about expectations, and how learning looks and sounds. We talk about how our learning space makes us learn better. I model, model, model. They know if they do not make responsible choices."

Carla: "During teacher meet and greet prior to school starting, students were able to come into the classroom and see the different seating options. This allowed me to explain the concept to parents and prepare the students. On the first day I had name tags out at each seat. I explained to students that this was their seat for the day. After morning meeting, one of the first things I did was to model sitting at each of the different seats. I had students model how to sit on the pillows, and stools. We talked about not leaning back while sitting on the stools, or lying down on the pillows etc. Each day for the first week I put the students at different tables. This way in the first week they got multiple opportunities to sit at each table. I also stressed that they would get plenty of chances to sit in the different areas throughout the year. They were to think about where they learned best. Starting the second week I would let students sit anywhere during morning work. Then each time we moved from the rug to the desks I would call rows on my rug and say "Blue row you may choose a spot where you learn best....Red row you may choose a spot..etc" Now students don't even need me to say this they just choose an empty spot and get to work."

4. Do you have clear rules/expectations for picking a work spot? If so, what are they?

Dawn: "I told them that not all seating is the best for everyone. I told them I thought I would like the big stools best but didn't like that my feet didn't touch the ground. Our yoga ball rules are: little wiggles only, keep sharp objects away, two feet on the floor. If they choose to sit around the room, they must be in their own personal space (unless it is a partner activity)."

Carla: "In the beginning of the year I stressed that if there was fighting over the seats, then the seats would go away. Students saw how many opportunities they had to sit in the different areas so this has not been an issue for me. I also stressed to students that they should choose a spot where THEY learn best. I have had to say that some students are no longer to sit at the same table. Some students just cannot resist sitting by a friend that they constantly get in trouble with even after reminders. In the very beginning I told students they could not sit at the same table more than once during a day (we move from the tables to the rug several times during the day). However now I find that I no longer need to enforce that rule as the students just choose empty spots without issue. Also keep in mind that not every student will always be able to handle making these choices. Going into this I was fully prepared to assign some of my "behavior challenges" to specific seats. I occasionally remind students that making choices is a privilege, and will be taken away if they cannot handle it. Fortunately this has not been an issue this year, however had I used flexible seating in years past it might have been a different story. :)"

5. Do students ever "fight" over spots?

Dawn: "I have enough awesome comfy spots they seem happy."

Carla: "Only a few times have I had students fight over spots. I simply remind them that if they fight over the spots the entire seating choice (stools, crates, pillows, etc) will go away. Once or twice I have had to tell students who were arguing that both students needed to find a different seat. This really has been a non issue in my classroom. I think the key is allowing them to change seats frequently and to provide enough options so that there isn't "one table" with fun seating. I have 1 pillow table, 2 crate seat tables, 1 stool table, and 2 regular chair tables."

Be sure to check out part two of this series. In our next post Dawn and Carla will answer the following questions:

6. How do parents respond to it? Do you do anything to explain it to them?
7. Where do the kids keep all their stuff?
8. Do you still have a meeting place (carpet) for mini-lessons?
9. What do  other teachers in your building think of your set up?
10. What is your best advice to a teacher who wants to try alternative seating?

Do you use alternative seating in your classroom? I'd love to hear from you too!

UPDATE: Some other questions that came up were about end of year testing, class parties and transitions. 

  • State Testing
    • Carla says, "For end of the year state testing in 2nd grade we do not have to take the VA SOL test. Instead we take quarterly citywide tests. For those tests (or any tests) I give in my room students simply choose a seat and put up 'offices' their dividers. Students are not allowed to sit on the rug and must remain seated and quiet until all 'offices' are down. To make these offices I purchased tri-fold display boards from the dollar store and cut them in half. So far the offices are going strong on their 4th year! This may be different in upper grades who do state wide testing, as I'm not sure what the regulations are but for me it hasn't been an issue."
  • Class Parties
    • Carla says, "For class parties we simply clear off the table boxes and party! Often parents will set up food on my back horseshoe table and again students can sit at any table for the party. I do have more seating options at tables than students in my room so each child does have a table spot at all times. This would be much more difficult if you relied on carpet spots in your total number of seats."
  • Transitions
    • Carla says, "For transitions I often play short music clips. Students clean up prior to the music ending. I will announce before I play music 'rug' or 'table'. Then the students know where to go when the music is over, again during this time they know if I say 'table' students must choose a table spots and cannot sit in the scoop rockers on the rug, for example. The only issue I have had is when we have push in specialists, ex. gifted or guidance. They would make a big deal about the kids having to work with groups or in partners before they choose their seats. This then caused students to rush to find seats with their friends. I spoke to the specialists and asked them to dismiss students from the rug first, and then give instructions so they were not rushing to create groups."
    • Dawn says, "In my grade we did switch for Social Studies, Science, etc. The other teachers had traditional seats so I always needed to talk about expectations when a new class came. I did a lot of modeling! I would catch my students using the seating appropriately and take pictures to show the other students."

Back to School: Student Notes

Sunday, August 2, 2015 11 comments
Making positive connections with students outside of the typical school day is one of the most important things a teacher can do. At the beginning of the year, I take the time to send two sets of notes to my kiddos.

The idea to send these first notes came from one of my teammates. This is something she's been doing for several years and I just had to join! These notes are for last year's kiddos who are now going into third grade. The transition from 2nd to 3rd is a bit more challenging and the expectations are much higher. Reminding students of the growth mindset lessons we did last school year helps them to remember it's okay to make mistakes and to keep on trying when things get tough. The book, Your Fantastic Elastic Brain lends itself well to this idea. This was one of my favorite class meeting lessons.

I also think it's great to remind the students that teachers get nervous on the first day too! This helps them understand they're not the only ones who are a little iffy on the first day back. And the best part, you get to see all of their sweet faces as they come visit you now from their new "big kid" classrooms.

I also ordered "Welcome Back" postcards for my new class from Vista Print. I took some time to hand write each note to my new kiddos and I mailed them off  before our "Sneak a Peek" night. I think it's really important to make  personal contact with each and every kiddo before the first day of school.

I have always been super impressed with Vista Print and again they blew me away. I order 100 postcards for $10.00! What I really liked about using Vista Print was that I could upload my own image for the front of my postcards.
Check out the front of my postcards. You can grab the image to use for your own postcards by clicking here

How to Get FREE Clothes from Stitch Fix

Friday, July 24, 2015 4 comments

If you've been following my blog over the past year then you know that I have been introduced to Stitch Fix and I am 100% addicted. But, if you know anything about Stitch Fix, then you know that the clothes aren't cheap. We aren't in Target anymore! As much as I love the clothes, $80 for a sundress can't always happen on my teacher salary.

Today I'm going to share a little trick with you & hopefully help you score some FREE clothes too!

Once you've created your Stitch Fix account the Referral Page should and will become your best friend. What's great about Stitch Fix is that they give customers a $25 each and every time you refer a friend. So far I have earned over $300 in clothing and this definitely helps to offset the cost of my fix each month.

Referral Page

Those referral links should be EVERYWHERE! Every time I get a fix, I always share on all of my social media and I just go on and on about how fabulous it is. Now, if you really want to boost your referrals check this out...

Every-Single-Thing you pin (that's clothing related) copy your referral code into the website link. What happens next is magical. Your pin will be repined and repined and next thing you know you have random strangers from all around the world paying for your clothes, $25 credits at a time. 

In order to copy your link you need to first pin the picture to one of your boards. Once you've done that, just click on that little pencil guy. From there you can change the website link (like I showed you above).

If you're already using Stitch Fix then you know that you can link your Pinterest board to your account to give your stylist a better idea of what you like. Everything on my Stitch Fix Inspiration Board now has a referral link to my Stitch Fix account. 

I sure hope these tips helped you out, I know how much I love my Stitch Fixes and I know that I couldn't do it without all of these referral credits. Best of luck getting started and let me know if I can help in any way! :)

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