Saturday, January 26, 2019

Grow Writing Love by Writing Letters... and a Funny!

Here's a quick post to tell you about a resource that is particularly useful now. We all have our official writing units to teach, dictated by Common Core or State Standards– opinion, information and narrative writing. I get the importance of those, but that certainly is not the only kind of writing kids enjoy learning about, so we take little bends in the road to incorporate other kinds of writing. One of those is letter writing. I put together a resource to help you expand letter writing into a mini-unit.

With Valentines coming up it's a great time to write to parents, grandparents, far away friends and friends at school. The pack comes with some anchor charts, stationery, and teaching ideas. Freshen up your writing center with these new materials and penny stamps and see the kids write with new vigor to a specific audience. For only two bucks, you'll get more than your money's worth. 

I'm hoping to launch my own letter writing unit next week, pulling out the classroom mailbox which will stay up for the rest of the year. In addition to leaving materials in my writing center after the mini-unit is done in probably just a week, I'm going to begin Friendly Friday Letter Writing. Friendly Friday letter writing means everyone will pull a name out of a hat, or a popsicle stick out of the name jar, and then "secretly" write to that person... well, as secretly as five year olds can do anything. snort. Then we will do quick delivery of our letters, and let instant fun and warm feelings ensue. 

This little postcard stationery works great for a Friendly Friday quick write! It's part of the pack. 

Friendly Friday letter writing is one of our Hygge Hour activities... pronounced, Hoo-guh, by the way. Don't know about Hygge? Then you should click here to check it out! 

To get to the Let's Write to Someone pack click on either of the pictures above. While you're at my store, check out all the FREEBIES. I have more resources for free than resources for sale. snort. One of my list paper freebies has been downloaded more than 3,800 times! It always cracks me up... and warms my heart... to see my resources downloaded many thousand times over. Love. Also love it when people leave product comments, which they don't do near often enough! hint.

You can see a post with more ways to use the Let's Write to Someone pack by clicking HERE. 

Hope your kiddos enjoy letter writing as much as I know my kidpeople will. Click on the photos above to find the pack. 

And now for a quick grin!

Just today, as I opened my mouth to answer the same question for the fourth time, a pipsqueak piped up, and with a roll of her eyes interjected, "Do not say that to Mrs. Wright AGAIN! She is going to get frus-ter-a-ted!"

It cracked. me. up. Who says five year olds can't get another's perspective, feel empathy, or find themselves just a little bit frus-ter-a-ted with their spacey peers, too! 

Want to catch some more Funny Kid Stories? Click on the Funny Kid Friday tab at the top of the page under my heading. Everybody needs a little funny kid story now and then. It's what keeps teachers going!

Thanks for stopping by! See you next time!

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Storyline Online and a FREEBIE

Storyline Online is one of the best sites for viewing children's book read alouds. Let me share some details you might not know yet, and I'll throw in a helpful Freebie you'll use again and again.

If you've looked on YouTube for kids books being read aloud you've found thousands of them. Any given children's book title usually has several different uploaded read aloud videos to choose from and there is a wide range in quality. I found Storyline Online this very way, while looking through all the YouTube videos for read alouds.

Storyline Online is made possible by the Screen Actors Guild Foundation, SAG-AFTRA. It is absolutely free to use. As I write this they have over fifty children's picture book read aloud videos available. Here's a sample.

Each video starts with the actor, or actors, holding the book and giving a book introduction before beginning to read.

The camera zooms in on the illustrations, where often little parts of the pictures become animated. Throughout the story you go back and forth between seeing the illustrations and the actor reading the book, so kids never forget they are being read to. 

Fully animated video movies of children's books are great, to be sure, but it is easy to forget those cartoons come from books. I think when kids watch books being read by live people there is added value and emphasis on reading.

Because I had always viewed the Storyline Online videos directly on YouTube, I didn't realize that there are activity guides written for each story, which you can only get on the Storyline Online site.


The activity guides, written for teachers mostly, but some with activity guides specifically for parents, are chockfull of ideas– some suggest before, during and after the story discussion points, themes, writing ideas, art, movement, even cooking activities... all sorts of things to choose from. You can find them by going directly to under the All Books tab.

You can watch the Storyline Online read aloud videos on YouTube, but when watching on YouTube it is pretty easy to get to other videos and ads, some of which you wouldn't want your kids to view. You can also watch Storyline Online videos directly on, with options of watching via YouTube or SchoolTube, with SchoolTube being the safer option.

Either way you choose to watch on the Storyline Online site, when you get to the end of the video, other Storyline Online videos will pop up. That isn't a bad thing, unless you want kids to only watch one particular story, or you want other kids to use the same device and watch that one particular story.  So to keep kids on the correct story I created QR codes for the stories through Safe YouTube.

Click to download Safe YouTube QR Code cards for Storyline Online videos

Safe YouTube is better than safe mode on YouTube, and it takes away all those many buttons and videos that cause distractions and allow kids to click and end up anywhere on YouTube. No online connection is completely safe and kids seem to find a way to other things no matter what, so always keep an eye on what they are watching.

I created one for each story on Storyline Online, currently fifty three in total. You can print out the QR Code cards in color, or they come out crisp and clean if you choose to print in black and white. Laminate, cut apart, and you'll have a set of cards for kids to use on any device with a QR Code reader. It will take them to that story and no other. These work great in classrooms as centers, Daily 5 and Readers Workshop stations, and independent reading choices. If you're a parent you'll find them useful at home or on the road with devices.

To get this Freebie just click on the picture of QR code cards above. There are six pages in all. I will update as I see new stories appear on Storyline Online. Be sure to Pin this post so you can get to updated pages.

I suggest you cruise by to see the full list of read aloud titles. I found many good books there, books I hadn't heard of before. I like to have actual copies of the books the kids are going to listen to, and I like to read the book to my students first, so I can make the most out of that read aloud– focusing on vocabulary, story problem, characters, etc.  But if I'm low on cash, Storyline Online is a way to let my kidpeople hear quality books at no cost to me. Many of my favorite Flashlight Press books are there, too, and if you are a regular reader you know how I love Flashlight Press. (News Flash– I'll be giving away another Flashlight Book soon!!) Storyline Online has won lots of awards and that is for very good reason. Good book selections, VERY well read!

Hope you found this post about Storyline Online and the activity guides helpful. And I hope you'll download the QR Code cards and find them useful with your kids. I am not being paid or getting any perk for telling you about Storyline Online. I just wanted to share a great resource.

See you next time!

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Carla's Sandwich– Appreciating Differences and Trying New Things

My class had a lot of fun and learning with Carla's Sandwich by Debbie Herman, illustrated by Sheila Bailey. Published in 2004, it is not a new book, but it was new to me when I spotted it on the website of my favorite publisher, Flashlight Press. How could I have missed it before? With quirky illustrations, and a storyline and dialogue that rings true to kids' ears, this book was a fast favorite for the kidpeople and me, too. Let me share what we did with it.

The sandwiches Carla brings to school are different, unique and creative... at least that's how she sees it. Her classmates deem them disgusting, gross, and sick, and after a while even spunky Carla is brought low by their lack of understanding and respect for her sandwich ideas. That is, until hunger steps in.

Before ever reading the book I asked kids what their favorite sandwiches were, listing them on the board. Ham came up most in the list of five favorites, to my surprise. Then I asked each child if they would eat all the sandwiches on our class list... Nope. Would then even try them? Nope. Even if it was a classmate's favorite, they weren't going to touch it.

And then as we often do, we checked out certain parts of the book, enjoying what we found at first glance. Well, look at that– the cover has a piece of bread with a girl... Carla, probably...  inside it. That's an interesting illustration idea. And look at those endpapers... we always check out the end papers.

And yes, the back flap has "About the Authors" information. All the best books include that.

We dug in and after reading the first half of the book, at which point all of poor Carla's sandwiches have been rejected by her classmates, I stopped and asked the class what they thought so far. They very much agreed that they wouldn't want to eat Carla's sandwiches because they were "really yucky." However, my kidpeople thought that the kids in the book were mean to Carla and "she should be able to eat any sandwich she wants," even if my kiddos themselves wouldn't eat it if she brought it to our school.

After reading the whole book my class thought it was good that the classmates in the story tried a new sandwich and were glad Carla felt better, but they were still pretty dubious about eating sandwiches like Carla's. I brought most around to the idea that at least trying new things was a good idea, even if you worried that you wouldn't like it.

We especially enjoyed discussing descriptor words like different, unique, creative, gross and disgusting. And wasn't it interesting that "sick" means ill, but a sandwich could be "sick" too. I love helping kids understand the nuances of words. And we didn't even touch on sick meaning awesome in slang... ai-yi-yi.

We also came up with other things to say when we didn't like something, words that wouldn't hurt somebody's feelings. You don't have to agree with people, but you can't be mean.

The next day I set up a sandwich bar for kids to make a sandwich for snack. I wanted them to try it, ultimately, so the ingredients were overall acceptable to kids, but the combination was still a challenge to most. You'll see in the picture below bread and peanut butter, cheerios, chocolate chips, banana slices and yogurt.

They got to put on varying amounts, but they all put on at least a bit of each, I think.

Then came the bigger challenge. Hmmm... should I try it?

Every one of my kiddos ate at least two bites, and most ate it all, in very enthusiastic fashion.

After our snack we talked about how Carla was brave because she kept bringing "creative" sandwiches for lunch, even when kids wouldn't eat with her. Being different is okay and we can all be different and accept others who do things in different ways. Their way might actually be pretty good in the end, if we at least give it a try.

I give Carla's Sandwich two thumbs up. Teachers will find both important concepts and story elements to teach. And it sure lends itself to hand's-on experiences with new foods.

I reviewed this book for Flashlight Press, receiving a free copy, though I bought another so we'd have two in class. I have been impressed with many Flashlight Press books over the years. Those editors have a great eye for books that kids love, and teachers and parents value for a slew of reasons. Click to see their books.

Much to my delight, I found Carla's Sandwich, along with quite a few other Flashlight Press books on Storyline Online. This site, sponsored by the Screen Actors Guild Foundation, is terrific because each video features different actors reading a real book, which often are animated is some little way. There are over fifty stories to be found and all come with an activity guide.

Be sure to keep your eyes open for my next couple posts, because I am going to feature some tips about Storyline Online, including a freebie you'll want to have!

Well, hope you discovered a new book and got an idea or two. See you next time!

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Hygge in the Classroom

I am doing something SUPER fun! I gotta share it right now so you can start thinking about it, too. Have you heard of Hygge? (hoo-guh) It is a Danish word, which means a mood of warm cosiness, comfort, and sense of contentment. The Danes are known as the happiest people in the world and I think there is much we can gain by embracing a hygge philosophy and focus. Hygge is a trending topic with lots written about it now. In this post I'm going to tell you how I have a hygge classroom, and how I developed a special Hygge Hour. I also share what hygge is and even some research that backs up why hygge concepts belong in the classroom. Here we go!

I was instantly captivated by the idea of hygge when I first heard about it and decided I needed to read more. I made a little poster to summarize in a nutshell what I've learned and come to appreciate about hygge. It has been useful when sharing at school and with family and friends.

I decided that I wanted more hygge in my life and since my classroom is so central to my life, I thought I'd find ways to incorporate hygge into my time with the kidpeople. When I stopped to think about it I realized I already did have hygge in the daily environment of the classroom! It's in some of the small elements and even more so in the feeling I try to cultivate. Our lighting comes from lamps and softer, non-fluorescent overhead lighting. We have a couch, comfy cushions and floor seating. We spend lots of time sharing books with friends, sometimes in pretty laid back ways.

We have a twinkling fireplace, a favorite with everyone, kids and adults alike.

Even our class motto, "We are a Caring, Learning Commuity," which I developed many years ago, is hygge-esque. I used it in preschool, brought it to grade school, used it through the time we were a PBIS school (which I felt surely needed some balance) and now it really fits with our Responsive Classroom school. Click on pic for previous post.

I need to point out here, though, that hygge is actually more about feelings than things. Our class motto starts to get at the feeling piece of hygge in our classroom. I really want my kidpeople to feel connected, to understand that what they do affects everyone else. I want them to feel they have a place in the classroom, and they have a place in my heart. I build the connection piece into our daily routines– greeting kids one to one at the door, giving time for sharing first thing in the morning and connecting at the end of the day. We practice mindfulness right after lunch, which helps us slow down, listen, and discuss how we feel on the inside.

I have deliberate purpose for all the stuff and routines in the classroom, but how could I bring awareness and focus of these hygge elements to my kidpeople? That's when Hygge Hour was born! We may live in a regular hygge environment, but for one special hour we can be consciously happy and grateful for being part of a cozy, hygge community!

I was lucky enough to find a cartoon video for kids that explains hygge and what it means, and it was a great way to introduce hygge.  Click to watch.

The kidpeople were ALL about that video, even though I didn't say a word about having a hygge hour.  I just let the idea of hygge percolate for a while. Before I told them about our first hygge hour I asked the kids what they remembered about the word hygge and what were things they could do at home or we could do in our classroom for more hygge. They came up with several things, cookies being top on the list. snort. It didn't even occur to them that we could have hot chocolate or take our shoes off, so when I suggested it... Whoa! YES! 

This is how we do our hygge hour:

Lighting– I put a roaring fireplace video on the big screen. There are lots to choose from on YouTube. And each table gets a flickering LED candle. And of course, we already are a non-flourescent lit room.

Quiet background music– I put on a cozy instrumental background mix of snow songs or jazz. And some of the fireplace videos have nice music, too.

Hot chocolate–We use these tiny espresso cups that had been in deep storage in my kitchen forever. I mix chocolate and white milk together, which to my surprise, actually tastes better than straight up chocolate and it has less sugar. I heat it in a pyrex pitcher in the micro. When it is warm but not quite hot, I pour it into a thermos, which mixes it and keeps it warm until pouring time. Kids get to choose zero, one or two mini-marshmallows to put in.

Sweet treat– We've had donut holes, pretzel cookies, Keebler elf cookies, and cut outs. With one cookie and the micro size cup of hot chocolate they are not getting too much, but there has not been any complaint or spoken request for more. They seemed to "get" from the very beginning that this was a special time and the treat was only one small part of it.

Cozy elements– We get to take our shoes off and put on cozy socks! Something about this just took their fancy and they can hardly wait to put their shoes in their backpacks and grab snuggle socks from the bin.

The socks come with a story that might make you grin. It took Jonathan and I a full hour to find just the right socks at Dollar Tree. First, we collected little holiday socks, which took forever because I only wanted the ones with a non-Christmas snow motif. I had almost gathered enough when I spotted fuzzy socks in adult sizes. Hmmm... better. So we dumped the little themed socks and started scouring the aisles for enough pair of fuzzies, while managing to narrow the collection down to just two colors. And THEN, while looking for enough of those (I never realized how scattered around things are in dollar stores until that day), we found adult snuggly socks with non-slip dots on the bottom... Even better. Away we went again, this time staying with it until we found enough that were all the same color! Next year I might have kids just bring in their own pair, though these are holding up well through wear and laundry. I bought extra pairs and it's a good thing I did because all our visitors kick off their shoes and wear cozy socks, too... even our principal. snort. And yes, we do have visitors. Our principal, teachers, my adult daughter, and come the new year there is a long list of parents who want to duck out of work and come hang with us.

I also decided to incorporate a special activity as part of each hygge hour to focus us on the "being together" aspect of hygge. On our hygge activity list are winter song sing-alongs, back tales and echo stories, community building games, and some new cozy things for free choice, which comes in the second half of hygge hour. They love getting out book buddies, cushions and even blankets on hygge days. Not too many better ways to spend half an hour at school then snuggled with a book and friends in the Book Nook.

We have some special small world play with snow, characters, and even a fairy house.

If we get enough real snow this winter, I'll bring some in so they can don mittens and build small snowmen at our water table. In fact, all our hygge hour activities are good general learning activities made extra special when introduced as part of hygge hour.

Our hygge hour is the last hour of Friday afternoons but that is mostly because our specials schedule. The kiddos go off to special and I have half an hour to prep the room, the treats and activity. Hygge is not tied to any particular season, in fact it is an all year long mindset, but from the get-go I decided that we would do hygge hour every week until our spring break in March. Our hygge hour is full of cozy indoor activities to perk up cold, gray, winter days, but once spring comes we'll be outdoors more.

I have chuckled to myself to see how invested the kidpeople are in hygge. They take turns serving treats, setting out the flameless candles, and holding the sock basket. The clean up and putting cups in the sink has also been very cooperative, too. Parents report that the kiddos jump right into bed on Thursday nights because "Tomorrow is hygge!!!"

In our first couple of hygge hours, to signal it was time to eat, and without putting much thought to it,  I raised my cup and said, "Happy Hygge." Several weeks later at a Hygge Hour I simply said, "You may begin," which is what I say twice a day at our community-style snack times, and the kidpeople immediately protested... "Nooo, Mrs. Wright! You need to say Happy Hygge!" I didn't know the toast was so important... grin.

There is other evidence that hygge hour is important to the kiddos. As is tradition in our school, we have classroom "winter break" parties before we go off for our two weeks at home. We wear PJs that day school-wide. I was excited to tell the kids about what we were going to do for our party. It was all fine and dandy until they realized it was going to be during the hygge hour. I actually got moans and groans... "What about our hygge, Mrs. Wright??" Even though the party was going to be more special than a typical hygge hour, the only way I could bring them around on the party idea was to call it a "Hygge Party." We pretty much did the same things, only with a bigger cookie and a candy cane. snort.

To be perfectly honest, I look forward to hygge hour as much as the kids do. I have to be extra organized on Fridays, getting backpacks packed up early so my planning period can be given over to prepping for hygge. And it costs me a little out of pocket because there are the cookies and milk to buy as it is only occasionally that parents donate.

But what makes the hygge hour and hygge in our classroom in general SO important is actually the emotional aspect, the feelings that go along with of all that we do. To feel that we belong, that kids know each other and are connected to the teacher; that we are safe and cared for so we can be happy and content while we learn and grow. Simple things like reading by the fire, or telling our stories from our own lives, or playing games together is really more important than the material things that make our classroom hygge. Our hygge hour is just one more way I strive to meet the emotional needs of my students.

Just as pretty much everything in my classroom has data to back it up, so too, my focus on emotional connection with my students is based on ever growing evidence from educational research. Teachers who invest time and effort in developing relationships see more student progress in all areas. Kids who have an emotional connection with their teachers do better academically, showing higher grades and test scores. Teacher-student relationships are central to Responsive Classroom schools, too. My Early Childhood background taught me long ago that all this was true, but it is nice there is always new info coming out for all teachers and students. You can read more about the the importance of teacher-student relationships here.

Even going shoeless is research based! A decade long study on tens of thousands of school children in over 100 schools in 25 countries found students were more engaged and did better in the classroom when they ditched their shoes. In classrooms where students went with just socks, children got better grades, were better behaved, and they read more, especially boys. There was also less bullying. Those dollar store snuggly socks are golden! You can click here and here and here to read more about learning in socks.

I shared the idea of hygge hour with parents via email before returning from Thanksgiving break. They are very supportive of hygge. A few have supplied cookies, many hope to be visitors... it's so good when parents come to school! One family even bought me a hygge shirt- grin.

So what do you think? Do you already have some hygge in your classroom? What new things might you try now? A hygge environment and a hygge hour can be developed and maintained with next to no stuff at all, especially if the focus is on kids feeling cozy and content, and part of the tribe. It is about person to person relationships, not tiny cups, even if tiny cups are fun to have and use. I do encourage you to try it in whatever form you choose. You can have my poster up at the top of the post if it helps you think about and share hygge– click on it to download. Mull it over and decide what you hope to accomplish with your students and how hygge fits in.

I really encourage you to check out hygge for your own life, if not your classroom. After this post I have linked some books and videos. Hint- you can read or listen to quite a bit of the books for free in the sample sections of Amazon. You don't have to buy to learn more.

Here is one last little hygge image to use in ways of your choosing. I've used it as a mini-poster and as little thank you cards for folks who have stopped by or donated to the cause. Just click on it.

Please Pin this post to share and to refer to!

Thanks so much for stopping by. I would love to hear what you think in comments below!

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Yay for the Yeti! And a Funny Kid Story

Happy New Year! I welcome 2019 even as I know the next three months can be long ones as we slog through winter toward spring, especially if you are in a cold, snowy or gray place. My little Southeast corner of Michigan got surprisingly early snow in November, but then not much but rain and gray skies since. blah. So I have a couple of posts coming your way because they will introduce some new fun into your next few months. Today, let me tell you about our yeti!

The Yeti Card set includes all sorts of cards– letters, words, and numbers– for PreK, Kindergarten and First Grade teachers to teach all sorts of skills. Letters in upper and lowercase can be turned into matching or beginning sound games. And there are over 100 high frequency word cards, too. 

The number cards go from 0-120 to practice recognition, counting, number order, addition and subtraction... the list goes on. 

Our Yeti is super cute and my hubs, Jonathan, created him just for this set. You won't find him anywhere else. I even included some blank cards and a big blank of this cutie so you can use him in so many ways... I'm going to write Welcome Back! and use him as a sign at my door when we start back on Monday. My principal even wanted a big copy of him to do who knows what with. With the Big Foot movie out now, EVERYONE is into Yeties. 

Our Yeti Pack is just two bucks. You really can't go wrong. Just click on the Snow Day Yeti below to find them on TPT, along with lots of other stuff, much of it FREEBIES! Happy New Year to All!

Look at him... That's the spirit!  snort

And I think this long time coming post might need a funny kid story, eh? Even if it's not Friday.

There were two cute little kindergartners walking hand in hand out the door at the end of the day. As they went past me, I heard this little exchange:

Kiddo 1:  I live in Michigan.
Kiddo 2:  No, I live in Michigan.
Kiddo 1:  NO.  I live in Michigan.
Kiddo 2:  NO! I live in Michigan...

And we think we are teaching easy geography lessons when we pull down that mitten map. snort. 

It reminded me of another little guy I know, who, when his mom told him he lives in the United States, said, "NO, I live in Michigan!" It does make perfect sense that you can't be in two places at once, after all  :)   

See you next time for some Hygge! Don't know about Hygge? Then for sure you can't miss what's coming! Thanks for stopping by!

P.S. If you want to round out a Yeti unit, I found some great Yeties, games, and books, books, books,  which I blogged about in this post– Click on the image below to find it.

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