Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Outdoor Classroom

 I love trees.  I always have.  When I was a little girl, there was this one June Apple tree that I climbed constantly.  It was the place I always headed after school.  My best friend had her limb and I had mine. We sat in that tree and solved life's problems as we knew them.  (Actually, we probably argued over which of the Dukes of Hazzard was cutest, but that is beside the point.) My dad even added a monkey bar between those two limbs so I could just flip right down to the ground instead of jumping like a wild chimpanzee.
     My point is, kids love being outside and there is just something fascinating about trees. And I believe today's society is way too geared toward organized sports and indoor gaming, when there is a whole outdoor world to be explored.
     Several years ago, I took the best workshop ever. It was called UTOTES (Using the Outdoors to Teach Experiential Science).  I looked FORWARD to those days after school...and believe me when I say I generally do not get all excited over workshops.  But something registered with me during the course of that particular one which stuck with me....I remember thinking this is the way we need to be teaching kids science, NOT out of textbooks. And then, during a walk around our school's amazing campus, which also has a butterfly garden and bluebird houses, I discovered this place. In the woods. (I did not even realize the woods were school property.) An untapped goldmine. The OUTDOOR classroom.
 I had taught here for years, and I had NO idea it was even there.  I began calling it Terabithia. (Of course my first graders had no idea what that meant, but it soon became our "secret classroom".) It looked pretty rough back then.  But there was a neat little "stage" where we began doing Reader's Theatre, sometimes for other classes, but usually just for our own fun. And we did a lot of nature exploring. Eventually, it got so overgrown we couldn't use it.  Last year, an Eagle Scout rebuilt all the benches, because trees had fallen on them and crushed them.  When I took my class out for the first time this year, the weeds had once again overtaken the outdoor wonderland.  (Not to mention the fact that we all got eaten alive by mosquitoes.) And then a very nice thing happened.  Last weekend, a former student (whose brother happens to be in my class this year) took on the project of clearing the path and the classroom once again, and when we went out today to do science, we were sooooo excited to see the improvement!
     I have a confession. I was supposed to do testing today, but I forgot my iPad on the charger at home.  I pretended to be upset by this.  But since I did remember my hiking shoes, we just made the best of a terrible situation;)
 The kids took field guides and observed the life that one tree can support.  We talked about how trees help us breathe and the resources that they provide.

 And I read this book to the class.  I discovered this one last spring and had to have it. Because it talks about how a tree became a special part of a family, the center of activity, and even after a storm blew it down (my favorite quote from the book) "protected all of us to the very end, and friends like this are hard to find."
 At the end of a stressful week, I find refuge in the woods as often as possible. I love the air, the smell of the leaves, and the quiet. If I can leave behind fluorescent lights of a classroom and head to the woods with "my kids" as I call them, I will do it every chance I get.  But don't tell everybody...I don't want to have to share my Terabithia:)

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Night Before First Grade

The Night Before First Grade. I'm sure that phrase has a different meaning for teachers and kids. For kids, the book bags are packed and the clothes picked out, and it is hard to go to sleep because of all the anticipation of seeing friends from kindergarten and wondering what the new teacher will be like, and there is almost the same kind of excitement as the night before Christmas. almost
     Well, this is my 20th year of teaching, and I am still a nervous wreck the night before that first day! I worry that I do not have everyone's transportation information and I will send a child home the wrong way. I worry that I will lose someone. Literally. That I will leave someone behind on the playground or in the cafeteria. Or that one will have an asthma attack or one will cry all day for their mama, or I will plan too much or I will plan too little. So I overplan. And I double check. Obsessively. And I pack my lunch 24 hours in advance. (It's the only night of the year that I actually think ahead about what I am going to eat for lunch the next day....usually I just grab a pack of  Jalapeno Cheetos and a Coke...and plan to do better tomorrow:)
     So when I found this book last year, I decided this was so me!  I read it to my class and they loved it. It is about a teacher who is scared to go to school on the first day. 
 And I found an adorable unit on TpT by Babbling Abby, with some perfect first week of school activities for first grade, some of which go right along with this book. I am so addicted to that site.  I had planned to actually publish some ideas to sell, but I can't stop downloading the good stuff I find there. I'm seriously going to go broke. Oh. Wait. (if you are reading this and you are a teacher in NC, I shall say no more)

 We all made Jitter Juice. Yep. Jitter Juice. It took those first day jitters right away, and they have been gone ever since. We read a poem, wrote a recipe, mixed an interesting drink... first grade style (rainbow Sherbet, Sprite, and Kool-Aid) and graphed our preferences.

And truthfully, it was a fun first day. My nerves finally calmed down and everyone got home the way they were supposed to (for the most part, but that's another was all good, really).
This little group is full of sweetie-pies. I always forget they are more like kinders at the beginning though.  And I ask them to do a simple activity and they say things like "I don't want to write." or "I don't know what you're talking about." or "When do we go home?" And I just keep saying, "Just wait until next week...we haven't even gotten cranked up yet." That's what I love about first grade though. I see an astounding difference at the end from the beginning.  These babies grow so much in maturity and independence in just one year. So I am trying to appreciate them exactly as they are, and nurture them and watch them grow.
We are starting with a camping theme (this one by Cara Carroll...I have blogged about it before) and so yesterday we did a little "fishing". We wrote a fishing tale then sorted some goldfish for math, added groups together to find how many "in all".

 Today we brainstormed words that describe S'mores. We did a sequencing activity and wrote steps for making S'mores. Of course that discussion also led to fire safety tips, which led to a little girl informing everyone she had learned to be a fire breather. I really hope she was fibbing. I made everyone promise they would not try that. Ever.
We also are learning about animals and habitats we might encounter while camping. Today we talked about skunks, did a skunk "crafitivity" and wrote about things that stink. If you ever want to get a six year old talking, just start asking about stinky stuff. They get on a roll.
     Tomorrow we are hiking. I hope everyone remembers their tennis shoes. And that we don't encounter any skunks on the trail. Or fire breathers.
     Happy Labor Day weekend everyone!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Concerts, Pirates, and Summer

I have blogged about this activity before.  I wasn't going to do it again this year, because it does require the waste of Band-Aids, which are a commodity by the end of the year, ya know. But when the apostrophes kept ending up in the wrong places and I started to say "Remember when we operated on the contractions...." and I realized that was last year's class, we did some quick surgical procedures. We divided up as surgeons and assistants, got our scalpels (scissors) ready, surgically removed the os from the nots, reattached the words, and stuck Bandaids on in place of the removed letters.


Now the Cool Cats can go to second grade remembering where to put the apostrophes:).

First Grade Dance Party

 Speaking of Cool Cats, the king of all Cool Cats, "Dan, Dan, the Guitar Man"(otherwise known as Daniel Justin Smith) made a return visit for the entire first grade and brought his kick drum and guitar for an outdoor concert. He shares his love of music with kids around the state, and we were lucky enough to have a surprise concert brought to our back door during one of the last days before summer break. And it happened on one of the days we (I mean the kids:) REALLY needed a break! The firsties danced their little hearts out and ran around a little and picked up a few sticks, had a great time.

The ending days were fun and full of celebrations.

 We had a water party for selling pizza dough. We had a water party for AR rewards. We had a game day, a movie day, a clean up day, and a pirate day. And through it all, we did learn a little too.  But let's face it. By day 150, 175 the kids are finished and it is all about the friendships and the anticipation of summer.


Pirate day was full of ocean activities, as well as some interesting facts about BlackbeardWe even learned a little about Ocracoke, one of my very favorite places in our state. (For those of you traveling there this summer, there is a pretty awesome little pirate museum there in town.) 
 Love the costumes!!

One last hurrah for our favorite character this year, Pete the Cat. One of our students drew this giant poster for Kaleidoscope, and made a design for T-shirts, which were given out on awards day.

(video below of our talent show performance of "Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes")

 The class wrote these letters of advice to the current kinders and read them to partners. I thought they were quite precious:)

 Goodbye to this year's sweeties. I hope summer is full of warm memories and happy times. After 180 days, I feel like they are all part mine, and I miss them already.  Stay safe...

The energy was almost visible as they headed out the door:)....


Monday, March 4, 2013

Do you like Green Eggs and Ham?

For Seuss Day, our cafeteria staff provides a breakfast guessed eggs and ham. And yes, Sam, most really do seem to like it.
The Seuss hair was great added yet a little more character to the already overflowing personalities in our room:)

For snack, we had Beezlenut Splash and Green Egg pretzels.....

And students made up their own rhyming versions of "There's a Wocket in my Pocket"...such as this cofa on the sofa!
We interviewed each other to find out which Seuss books were the favorites.

and we also graphed the findings.
And to back up a couple of weeks to Valentine's Day, let me just tell you that these kids have this special day all figured out.  Everybody gets cards, everybody gets candy, and everybody has a good time. And I feel happy indeed to know that when I go to work, despite anything else, I do feel LOVED by this little bunch of sweethearts. I appreciate all the sweet cards, flowers, candy, hugs and "I love you's"! It was truly a fun day, full of caring. They all made boxes to hold their valentines...all original, just like them.

(His shirt says "Most Eligible Bachelor" it:)

I feel lucky to face these sweet smiles every day, along with sincere hugs and raw enthusiasm, not just for learning but for just about everything...We got new desks in our classroom and one would have thought we had all won new cars! Every holiday is a reason to celebrate, every loose tooth, every AR goal, or sight word list many things to be happy about every day. It's a nosiy place, but it's a happy place and I am glad to be a part of it.