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As some of you know, I recently lost my father in law after a long battle with cancer. His last week or so was spent in a beautiful hospice facility and we are so grateful for the care he received and the kindness and support of family and friends we were shown during that time.  Now that it's been a couple of weeks, I've had some time to process the whole thing and I've had some thoughts about ways that I could support a friend should they find themselves in this position.

I need to be clear that I never once felt abandoned by my friends or extended family. I was not sitting in the hospital or hospice wishing that someone would do the things I'm writing about, they are just things I wanted to make note of in order to make this process a bit easier on someone else going through it, because the truth is when you are in the middle of a crisis like this and someone asks "What can I do?" you often have no idea what to say. Looking back I actually did need things done, I needed a few things from the store, I could have used help with errands and household chores but when someone asked me if I needed anything, all I could think was that I wanted a miracle. I wanted dad to wake up. I wanted him to share a meal with us again. Have a laugh. See his blue eyes smile when he saw me walk into the room. That's what I wanted. My mind was so clouded with grief and sadness that I wasn't thinking of groceries, paying bills, or laundry. So I've gathered some ideas here to keep in mind if you have a friend spending long hours at the bedside of a sick loved one. If you have more ideas, please share them in the comments!







Texts or calls from friends and extended family helped so much. Just knowing that others were praying for us and sending us good vibes made us feel cared about and loved. Don't be upset if texts or calls are not returned. Often, things were super quiet and calm in hospice and I didn't want to shatter that peace. I was often physically and emotionally drained and couldn't imagine carrying on a conversation, but sometimes I really did want to talk and just get it out. Just know that even a quick message or text saying "thinking of you" could be the boost a friend needs to make it a little while longer. As for actual visits, just ask. There were times I would have loved a friend to visit, other times not so much. One thing for sure, I would recommend not just showing up. Things can vary from hour to hour. At times my father in law was sleeping so peacefully and at other times he was actually moaning in pain. Sometimes visitors were a welcome distraction, other times well-meaning visitors felt like an intrusion. Our sleeping patterns were all thrown off too, so we sometimes would doze off in the middle of the afternoon or right around dinnertime. It's a weird, emotional time for everyone. Just ask and don't take anything personally if a friend would rather not have a visitor.








We were lucky that the hospice center was near some fabulous restaurants, both quick and full service. We could quite literally run across the street and get a meal to bring back. There were a few times when the nurses would urge us to actually leave and go sit down to a nice meal. It was hard to do that, but we did a couple of times. When you are spending so much time at a hospice, meals become a real source of comfort and normalcy. We would bring back meals to eat with my mother in law and the three of us would sit at the table together in dad's room and have dinner together. Sometimes we would eat in the family room of the hospice, but the simple act of sitting at a table and sharing a meal as we have done so many times in the past definitely felt comforting but it also got to be quite expensive. Eating out or grabbing a quick bite three times a day plus coffee runs adds up. Find out where the hospice is and use a delivery service like Postmates, Uber Eats, or Delivery Dudes to send over a meal. Just text your friend and say "I'm sending dinner, would you guys rather have burgers, pizza, or Italian?" Then make an executive decision. Order some dishes that most people would probably enjoy and send it to them. Most of the time, your friends are not going to enjoy a meal with their usual love of food but they will be so grateful for your thoughtfulness that they will be happy with whatever you send. You could always be more specific and say "I'm sending dinner from Carrabbas, how does chicken parm sound? Would you rather have some spaghetti and meatballs? maybe a salad?" If you know several friends want to help, check out Meal Train.  Friends and family can sign up for particular days so you know your friend will have meals on a regular basis.

Looking back, I can think of a few things that would have provided a sense of comfort had they shown up in a gift bag or special delivery. 

• Fuzzy Socks - We would often slip off our shoes and try to get comfy on the couch or recliner. Standing up quickly to check on dad or making a quick trip to the bathroom or nurses station would have been a lot faster and more comfortable if I was wearing a nice pair of socks, maybe even the kind with little rubber strips on the bottom. Every night when we left, I would say "tomorrow I'm bringing socks" and of course, every day I forgot. If a friend showed up with a pair of comfy fuzzy socks, I probably would have cried. Well, I was kind of always crying, but still...

• Essential Oils - I'm not a huge believer that essential oils actually heal an illness, but I do enjoy their scent. If you've spent time in a hospital or hospice, there is a very distinct smell that permeates the air. It's not altogether appropriate to take out a can of room spray or perfume, but a dab of an essential oil on a pillow or even my wrist would have brought a sense of home and calm. I love the Now brand that you can get at Whole Foods. Amazon has them too, Jasmine is my favorite because it smells more like gardenia. Lavender, peppermint, and vanilla are also good choices. I actually have lavender in a roller-ball that I use for migraines, which would have been nice to throw in my purse.

• Eye Mask - a satin eye mask to keep out the light is a great idea. Trying to rest in a room with florescent lighting is not easy. An eye mask would have really helped. A cooling eye mask like this one would really be great to help soothe eyes that are swollen from crying. Throw some Visine in there for good measure.

• Cozy Blanket or Wrap - The hospice would give us as many blankets at we needed, but they were heavy and scratchy. I remember wrapping one around my mother in laws shoulders wishing it was softer, but of course I never remembered to grab a better one from home. A wrap like this would be a great choice because you can leave it wrapped around you when walking through other parts of the hospice.

• Hygiene Essentials - There were days we would be at the hospice from 7AM to midnight. I'm not ashamed to say that I would often just plop down in bed without showering. In the morning, we just wanted to get back there, so I didn't want to take time to shower or do my hair. Long days in the hospice mean you may want to remove your make up at some point or just freshen up. Some helpful product ideas: dry shampoo, deodorant, small hairspray, make up remover wipes, hand lotion, lip balm, travel size toothpaste, toothbrush, gum, mints, waterproof mascara, clear nail polish, emery board, tweezers. Something a little luxe, like a hydrating facial spray would have been nice too. 

• Electronic Devices - If you know the kind of phone your friend has, consider a portable charger or earbuds. I have both of those things, but sometimes I would forget to bring them with me or leave them in a different bag. Sometimes my husband or mother in law would need them. I would have loved to have an extra set to keep in the car or leave at the hospice so I always had a spare. 

• Snacks - Seems like a no-brainer, but a nice mix of salty and sweet treats would be welcomed by most people. Individually wrapped crackers or cookies or small bags of chips might be best. Fruit, nuts, chocolates...the usual yummies would be lovely to have in the room. Even if your friend is not a "snacker" it's nice to have something to offer other visitors. One day my sister brought 2 dozen donuts, a huge box of munchkins, some croissants, and coffee cake from the bakery where she works. We left most of it in the kitchen and wrote "Enjoy! Love, The Boehm Family" and they were enjoyed by just about everyone including nurses, cleaning staff, and other families. They were completely gone by the next morning. I loved the feeling that we were able to give other people a little treat in the midst of their sadness or their long work day (or night!). 


Navigating through our hospital to hospice journey and all that that entails left little time for our real life. I was so blessed by my friend who teaches in the adjoining classroom. She told me no to worry about sub plans or my classroom. She offered to help my sub and make copies, etc. Not having to worry about my class was such a relief. I had a couple of other friends at school offer to help too. If you can step in and take that worry off of a friend's plate, you'll be helping them more than you can imagine.

If you feel close enough to your friend, offer to do some laundry for them. We were desperate for clean socks and undies and staying home to do laundry felt like such a waste of time. We would try to throw in a load of necessities when we got home late at night and hope to stay awake long enough to dry them. Laundry can be a little "intimate" if you don't know the person well, so maybe offer to take a load of essentials to a laundry service. Most cleaners and laundromats offer regular laundry service. Tell your friend to leave a laundry bag on their porch or in their garage and you can pick it up, drop it off at the cleaners and return fresh clean laundry. 

Help with the house chores. Your friend may feel strange having you clean their house. If that's the case, tell them you're sending over a cleaning service. I would have loved this more than I can say. Many times people like to receive visitors at their home after a loved one passes and the thought of trying to get it cleaned up after weeks of neglect while you are grieving and planning a funeral is beyond overwhelming. 

Offer to do the running around. The whole time we were at hospice, my mother in law's favorite watch needed a battery and she had some things in the dry cleaner that she was worried about. It would have been a huge relief to her if someone offered to take care of those things. You might think, who the heck would be worried about those things during that time? Trust me, I thought the same. But the mind works in mysterious ways. I think it reaches our for normalcy in times of crisis. Maybe focusing on those un-done tasks is a way to keep yourself from being completely swallowed in grief.

Another great way to help is to get some food in the house. There we times we just needed coffee, or cream, cereal - some staples to keep us going. Going to the store to pick up those things felt monumental. Offer to pick up groceries or use a delivery service like InstaCart to send basic groceries to their house. Just be sure to schedule the delivery for when you know they'll be home.

We all know it's not what you say, it's how you say it. I alluded to this earlier, but be direct and specific when offering your help. Instead of saying "I'm here if you need anything", say "Can I send my landscaper over this week?" or "When's a good time to have groceries delivered?".  If someone asked me "When can we send a cleaning service to handle some chores for you?" I would have definitely picked a day! But there's no way I would have answered "How can I help?" with "Hey, can you clean my house?". When you are direct and specific, the person you are helping knows that you are comfortable with the offer. If you offer to do laundry or have it done, your friend will know that you are ok with the time that would take and the financial commitment you are offering.


Just one friend making a kind gesture like this can make all the difference for a friend who is going through one of the hardest things you can imagine. Putting these ideas out there and possibly making this time a little easier for someone makes me feel like maybe a tiny little drop of goodness can come from our great loss.

Until next time, my friends, be kind to each other. 










A few days ago I bared my bloggy soul and explained a bit about why this little corner of the internet has been sorely neglected. Thank you SO much to everyone who reached out with kindness and understanding. It felt great to be back in touch. One sweet reader told me that SunnyDays was the first teacher blog she ever read and she was glad to see me back. That was touching. And it inspired me to continue on with my ideas for the future of this blog.

So what lies ahead? I've toyed with the idea of removing the "Second Grade" part of the title and just making it The SunnyDays Blog. That would kind of remove the expectation that every post would be teaching related. My problem with that is most posts would surely be teaching related. And if I'm not going to write about teaching what will I write about? This is the struggle. I don't want to lose my identity as a teacher blogger, but I want to write about things other than just teaching.

I certainly don't fit the mold of a "lifestyle blogger" or social media influencer. I'm not an outfit of the day girl, I have selfie-phobia, I don't have my own children to dress in coordinating outfits with ruffly butts and big ol' bows, which I think is too stinkin' cute, btw. My house is cozy, but very lived in. However, I do have a Rae Dunn mug that someone gifted me which makes me feel super trendy!

So if I'm not those things, what am I? I don't think there's a title for what I want to be, other than just myself. I just want to be a teacher who sometimes shares craft projects, book reviews, gift ideas, life advice, funny stories, my Teachers Pay Teachers products, and other teaching tips.

When I'm blogging regularly, I'm often asked to review products and share my thoughts with my readers. In the past, I would turn down many of these offers because they didn't fit my blog. But often that meant I was turning down the chance to try out a cool product, give one away, or at the very least offer a decent coupon code.  You'll notice that I don't have ads on my blog and I never have. Again, I just didn't feel it was right for my blog even though they never bothered me on other blogs.

So really, I just want to break free of the self-imposed restrictions surrounding my blog content. I want to be an unofficial lifestyle blogger and unsolicited advice giver. I want to share my love-language of gift giving. I want to bring you along on my quest to find the perfect sweet tea and French macaron. I want to tell funny stories about my class and write about things that make me feel all the feels.

I also want to represent products that I believe in, from educational games and teacher tools to comfy shoes and jewelry. I just want to be me and chat with you, like I would with a friend. I'd love to know what else you'd like to read about. I've got a lot of life experience. I've faced loss and learned how to move forward. I have 25 years of teaching experience across different grade levels and special programs. I've been married to the love of my life for almost 20 years. I'm a sister, a friend, an aunt, a daughter without parents. I'm a class pet advocate -  I'm crazy in love with a guinea pig, which was a totally unsuspected twist of fate. I have a little hamster too. And hermit crabs are moving in soon. (I can't help it! #smallanimalsareunderrated) I'm a crafter. I even used to have an ETSY shop. I do a lot of online shopping to find cute-ish clothes to fit my short and curvy plus size self. The point is, I'm more than just teaching ideas and I'd love to share all of me with you here through this blog and social media.

Tomorrow will be my first foray into this new territory as I share something that is very personal to me - how to help a friend who has a loved one in hospice care. It's a topic that is very personal to me, but I didn't necessarily feel it belonged on my teaching blog.  You can see that this is like nothing I've written about before but it's something that unfortunately many of us will face at some point.

I'd love to really connect though comments here or on Instagram or Facebook. Shortcuts to find me are to the right, just above the four pictures that fall into the teeny tiny category of "photos that don't make me cringe". Let me know what you think about all of this. I'm open to ideas and suggestions and I'm so motivated to get back to blogging!



If you have been a loyal SunnyDays reader since I started this little blog back in 2011, thank you...and I'm sorry. Thank you for for your kind comments and encouragement over the years and I'm so sorry for the serious lack of posts and half-hearted "comebacks" over the last year. 

If you're new here, WELCOME! Feel free to stick around. So happy to have you.

Whether you are an old friend or a new one, I want to let you know what's been going on and what I hope for the future.

There are several reasons why I lost my blogging mojo. First of all, I think it's kind of inevitable to run out of ideas when you are blogging as a classroom teacher because many of us tend to revisit favorite ideas year after year. Yes, we may build on it, improve it, vary it in some way, but the general ideas are sometimes the same. After seven years of sharing a Pumpkin Investigation, it's hard to get up the gumption to write about it again. Of course most teachers do come up with new ideas and add fresh activities to our school year because standards and expectations are always changing. I just started to feel a little stagnant, as far as blogging goes. I hope this is coming across the way I mean it. I love teaching. I just don't love trying to make the same ideas sound fresh and new year after year.

Social media is another reason my actual blogging has been slacking. It's infinitely easier to snap a quick picture, dress it up, and voice text a comment for Instagram, as compared to taking and editing several pictures, linking and crediting sources, double checking media releases, and then writing something at least several paragraphs long to explain a project or activity. And I wonder if that also goes for blog readers? Are you still out there? Would you rather scroll through Instagram for a quick snapshot or do you still have the time and inclination to settle in and read a long blog post?

I've also been weary about turning my blog into a non-stop advertisement for my TpT products, but I really do use what I create in my classroom, so it almost becomes inevitable. And to me that feels a little disingenuous. However, TpT is something that I've poured my heart and soul into over the past 7 years. It's the business that has allowed me to help my family members who desperately needed us. It quite literally put a roof over our head when ours caved in. It keeps our 10 year old cars on the road safely and it's a large part of why I can still be a classroom teacher and haven't had to follow other better paying career opportunities. I honestly like to read other blogs that share how they use TpT products, so maybe that's not an issue. What do you think? I tend to way over-think these types of things, so maybe it's not as big an issue as I think.

Another reason is more serious and more personal. My father-in-law has been battling cancer since 2010. We had lots of ups and downs but for the most part, he faced his treatments with such bravery and courage. My husband and I live about ten minutes away from my in-laws and we are extremely close. Instead of calling a go-to couple to go out for dinner or spend the day together, we'd usually call them. We spent a lot of quality time together and a lot of time just doing mundane things together, like grocery shopping and helping them around the house.  Over the past year, his treatments started to help less and less and his pain started to increase. We spent so much time grabbing on to the times when he felt well enough to get out and enjoy life and then just being there when he didn't. We spent the last few weeks watching him rapidly decline and trying desperately to help. We stayed by his side and helped support my mother in law through his last weeks in hospice care. And we're now learning to navigate this new life without him. He wasn't "just" my father in law, he stepped into my life just as I lost my own father twenty-five years ago and we bonded instantly. All of our hearts are shattered, but we're trudging along as a family. Instead of letting grief swallow me, I'm making an effort to get back to the things that I once had such a passion for, including this blog and TpT.

So, where do we go from here? I have some ideas and a new direction for this blog that has been rolling around in my brain for quite a while.  I'll post that tomorrow because this is already a lot to digest.

Thanks for reading, thanks for following, thanks for being a friend.


Long time, no blog! Ok, let's just dive in, shall we?

I've been teaching an after school craft club this year and we've done some really fun things that I want to share with you. Whether you're planning end of the year parties, indoor recess, fun rewards for reaching behavior goals or testing relief, these crafts might be just what you're looking for.

Today I'll start with DIY Bouncy Balls. These were a hit with the craft club kids and a much better experience for me than slime or floam (HUGE messes and high on the craft fail spectrum) My students saw the ingredients in our classroom and they begged to make them too. They were relatively easy to make and the ingredients go a long way, so I promised them we'd make them on Friday if I got a great report from a sub that would be covering my class the next day. Well, lo and behold, I came back to work and saw this. It was a go for bouncy balls!


My craft club consists of 20 kids from grades K-3. My own class is 18 second graders. In craft club I have another teacher to assist me, but I was able to handle it on my own with my class. If you teach real little littles, I'd suggest enlisting some volunteers to help or just doing it with one small group at a time. I highly recommend doing at least one on your own before jumping in with your kids.

You'll need Borax, corn starch, white glue, food coloring, and warm water. To warm the water in my classroom, I use an electric kettle. You could also bring some hot water from home in a thermos. It doesn't need to be hot, just warm enough to help the Borax dissolve. You'll also need some Dixie cups, popsicle sticks or spoons, and larger Solo cups or small bowls. I also got some small plastic cups with lids for the kids to take home their bouncy balls. A zippered bag works too.


This gets a little messy, so I covered the tables with dollar store plastic tablecloths that I could just roll up and throw out when we were done. Depending on how much you want to involve actual academics, you can have the kids use the measuring cups and spoons. I was in a hurry in craft club, so I did the measuring. In class, with my own students who I know better and are a bit older, I had them do the measuring. The amounts don't have to be exactly perfect, so they can for sure help out.


I got the idea for this from The 36th Avenue blog. I pretty much followed her directions with some little tweaks and notes from my personal experience that work better in a classroom setting, including doubling the recipe to make larger balls. So allow me to over-explain...  Each child will need 4 tablespoons of white glue in a Dixie cup. I started out using a measuring spoon for this but by the end I was eyeballing it based on the pattern on the cup. Add 2 tablespoons of corn starch to the glue along with a few drops of food coloring and have students stir stir stir with a large popsicle stick or a spoon until it's mixed well. In another larger cup mix a cup of warm water with 2 tablespoons of Borax until it's dissolved. It won't be soapy, just cloudy. After the glue and cornstarch cup is all mixed up, have kids scrape the mixture into the cup of water and Borax. DO NOT MIX! Just have them plop the mixture into the cup and count to at least 15. Then reach into the cup and pull out the glue blob which should now be a semi-solid. It will be sticky! Have the kids roll the mixture into a ball using their hands. Make sure they give it one good squeeze to get all the looser glue to squish out. When it gets too sticky to roll, dip in the Borax solution just for a second or two and miraculously, it gets less sticky and starts to really firm up. At this point it will become a lot easier for the kids to peel the extra bits off their hands as well. That's pretty much it! Just keep rolling and dip if needed and soon a bouncy ball will be yours! It will bounce somewhat, but not like a Superball or anything. It's actually more like a stress ball consistency. As long as they keep the ball in a container or baggie when not in use, it should stay soft and squishy for a while. Reading these directions will probably take longer than actually making it.  I had gloves for all the kids, but the mixture would seriously stick to the gloves and be more trouble than they were worth. After you start rolling, squeeze out the extra, then dip it back in the Borax for a second, the sticky factor reduces by 90%. You can try the gloves, but I found them to be unnecessary.

Have a ton of fun, my friends and keep an eye out soon for another great all-ages craft: salt painting!
Hey teacher friends!

I'm so happy to be partnered once again with Scholastic to share a resource I've actually been using for years. It's their on-demand resource site called Scholastic Printables. It's a lot like someone took the best parts of your favorite teaching resource books and magazines, digitized them, categorized and stored them for you. And now all you have to do is search and print!

A few years ago I went on a massive purge and got rid of years and years of old resource books that were just taking up space and collecting dust. It felt so great at the time to get all that cabinet space back but soon I realized that I did miss having all those resources to browse when I was stuck in a rut. Thats where Scholastic Printables comes in for me. I can easily browse through lessons by content, theme, or skill. It's been especially helpful for me when I'm looking for something to help me quickly differentiate.


Along with printable activities, you'll find a wealth of ideas and helpful tips.


Here's a little freebie for you to download. We're going to cut these out, color them and use them for our April bulletin board.  Easy Peasy {Just right click to save or drag to your desktop.}


So, how do you win a year of this awesomeness at your fingertips? Just share this giveaway on your choice of social media then come back here and enter the rafflecopter to let me know how you shared. Earn an additional entry for leaving a comment about how you'd use Scholastic Printables in your classroom. Share on social media by pinning this post to Pinterest, or sharing this button to your Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook accounts. You must leave a link to my blog (SunnyDaysBlog.com). 
You can also visit MY social media accounts using the buttons on the right sidebar and just share the image I'm posting about the giveaway on my accounts. 


Scholastic Printables give you instant, unlimited access to thousands of skills sheets, activities, lesson plans and more. These classroom resources are created by teachers and vetted by your trusted friends at Scholastic. Save time and money, and browse with confidence. To start your free trial, please click here.

Visit the Scholastic Printables official website.
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I have been a big fan of Scholastic News for many years, so when I was asked to partner with them to share some teacher tips, some big savings, and a great contest, well I jumped at the chance. Teaching a self-contained gifted second grade class, I usually subscribe to the third grade edition. For the purposes of this post, I was sent a set of second grade magazines and I have to say, the extra materials and online resources for this edition has changed my mind.  The second grade version seems to be a much better fit for my students. Even though they're all reading on or above grade level, the engaging format and rigorous text kept them completely interested in the content. In fact, Scholastic magazines are available in 30 different titles from pk-12th grade, so there is bound to be a version that is the perfect fit for your classroom.

Are you already a fan of Scholasitc News? Well then, how does $200 to spend at the Scholastic Teacher Store sound? All you have to do is show us how you use Scholastic News in your classroom. Share it out on social media with #SmartTeachingTips and you can win! As soon as I opened my pack of November magazines, I knew right away what my Teaching Tip would be. Packed in with my student editions was this amazing Big Issue! This is not something I was getting with the third grade edition. It doesn't come with every second grade edition, but it does come a few times a year.


We've already studied text features this year, but I find that if I don't constantly review them or refer to them, the kids tend to forget them a bit. So I quickly wrote some text features on sticky notes and had the kids work together to find them in the Big Issue.


You can always count on Scholastic News to showcase text features in a way that's totally relevant and easily identifiable for the kids. Having the big issue for this was fantastic, but it's totally doable with the normal size edition too.  

Another great feature of Scholastic News is the wealth of printable and online resources that are available for each issue. This week there was a fantastic chart that took text features to the next level. The kids had to locate information from the article and then tell if they found that information solely from the pictures, the text, or from both. I loved this chart so much that I re-created a version of it for my observation lesson a couple of weeks ago, which went over really well! I let the kids work on it in groups, then we reviewed it together using the interactive page from the teacher materials online.



Then we went on to do the questions on the back of the magazine. I loved the thoroughness of this diagram and the fact that all of the questions were directly from the diagram.


And lastly, we used the skills practice game and my kids LOVED it. 
For each text dependent question about beavers that they answered correctly, their dam grew a little bit until it reached the top of the screen. We played the two rounds that were available and they were super bummed when there wasn't a third round!


You can see how much we were able to do from this one issue of Scholastic News! I use it whole class on Fridays and they look so forward to it each week. I could easily break up the activities and use one each day with the whole class or even in my small groups. If you've been thinking about trying Scholastic News, now is a great time. You can save 40% on a classroom subscription when you follow this link or call 1-800-SCHOLASTIC then use code 2905.

I've got one more piece of news to pass along. Scholastic also has a print on demand site with over 20,000 engaging lesson plans and activities. I've also been a subscriber to this site for a few years myself. I pull materials from so many different sites when I'm planning (or many times on the fly!) and Scholastic Printables is always great for skills based, perfectly leveled, professional content. You can dive in and try it free for 30 days by following this link.

So, the three big takeaways from this post:
1. Share your best #SmartTeachingTip using Scholastic News and share it on your social media accounts. You just might win $200 to spend in the Scholastic Teacher Store!
2. Save 40% on a new subscription to Scholastic News using the code 2905.
3. Check out Scholastic Printables free for 30 days!

I can't wait to see your Smart Teaching Tips!

~in partnership with Scholastic Magazines






I've made a really exciting change this year to my homework routine and I've been waiting to see how it played out in real life before sharing it with you all here on the blog. It's been about five weeks now and things are going pretty darn great, so here we go!

I've never been a huge fan of homework and I've secretly wished I could just not deal with it at all for a long time now. So, when I started to read the recent research that homework was not as beneficial as we had assumed, my curiosity was piqued. Add to that, I work for a progressive principal who has made it clear that he would rather not see homework in its traditional form at our school. I was a little afraid to completely drop homework without having something to replace it with, so Self-Selected Homework was born. 

I calculated that assigning students homework took about 30 precious minutes of class time. Seriously, add up the time it takes to pass out papers or have students find the right page in a workbook, copy things down in an agenda, and pack up a backpack. Then add the time it takes for you to check agendas, even if it's only one or two students who have a hard time copying. Then add in the minutes it takes for you to collect, check, record, and pass back homework from the previous day. Don't forget the time it takes to plan, copy, and explain the homework assignment and model writing in the agenda. See, lots of precious minutes! We have a relatively short school day in south Florida - 6 hours. Really, when you take out specials, lunch, recess, and walking to and from different places, I have about 3 and a half teachable hours. Giving up 30 minutes of that so they could have something to do at home, seems kind of crazy, especially when you consider how different each child's homework experience can be. 

So what's the alternative? In a nutshell, my students are encouraged to study things that they are naturally interested in or pursue hobbies they might normally not have time for because of traditional homework. They are then asked to bring in something they've made to showcase what they've learned. I know that sounds super loosey-goosey, and to be honest, it really was in the beginning. But now I've started to refine things a bit and communicate the changes with my parents. I was even recently asked to share what I'm doing with my faculty. I feel really lucky that my vision is being embraced and I hope that continues as the year goes on and I refine things even more.

To start with, I would suggest clear communication with your parents from the very start. Our Open House {Meet the Teacher} night is about about 6 days of school into the year, so that was my first parent communication. At the time, I had intended to just go paperless for homework, using some of the online programs we have access to, such as Achieve 3000, TenMarks, iReady, Spelling City, etc. As it turns out, we didn't actually have access to all of those programs any more and for the ones we did I needed to have the students complete the initial testing in class, so I had to make some quick changes.

I started talking to the kids about things they could do at home and I mentioned showing the action or setting of a story in a diorama. I quickly realized they had no idea what I was talking about, but lucky for me Crafty Carol over at Cool School has this amazing video explaining exactly what one is and how to to make one. Then I had some kids bring one in the very next day! Here's where I made a big mistake that you can avoid. I still had not clearly communicated my new direction to my parents and I started getting emails about not understanding "the diorama project" and asking when homework was going to start. So I remedied that quickly with a simple email. You can snag a copy of it in Word here, so you can edit it to to fit your own needs. 



After that email, I felt like I was really committed to carrying out my new vision for "homework" and I was SO ok with that. You can see from the letter, there is a lot of choice involved. Students can still access online reading, math, and spelling programs, but they can also feel free to explore their natural curiosity. Have I had any kids choose to do NO homework project at all? Yes. And that's ok too. The research just isn't there to support the fact that doing homework will help them succeed in school, so I've totally let go of that notion.

Below is the slideshow I used when chatting with my faculty. You can download a pdf of it here. It may not make a lot of sense without me explaining it, but it might give you some ideas. I promise more blog posts really soon with specifics because I know this is a lot of info at once already!

A few disclaimers: I teach in a relatively moderate to high income SES school where we had the top test scores in the county. Add to that, I teach a self-contained gifted class. I have parents who hire tutors to help their children even when they don't really need it. I know this may be very different from your teaching situation. I never attempted this type of homework program when I taught in the exact opposite situation. BUT, I will say, when I did teach in the opposite situation, I still had parents who tried hard and wanted the best for their kids, however most of the time, homework that I assigned did not come back or came back done incorrectly because the parents were unable to help either because they were busy, faced a language barrier, or did not understand the material. Now if those parents could help their kids make a quick poster on something they know about, imagine the possibilities! Families could share their heritage, hobbies, crafts... it could be amazing!

I think a big part of the success I'm seeing is from how I help the kids present. I will share that in the next blog post along with some projects the kids have shared. There is a definite springboard effect in place and I think it's essential to capitalize on it. So stay tuned for that! In the meantime, check out my Instagram feed to see examples of my students' projects. I have used the hashtag #selfselectedhomework to make it a bit easier to find them. 

If you have any specific questions, feel free to leave a comment and I'll answer the best I can or I will include the answer in future blog post. 
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