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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. 
Whether you're heading into your first year as a teacher, or your 20th, First Day Jitters are real! This will be year 24 for me and although I'm not nervous, per se, I do still get a slight case of the jitters. So what's the cure? Being planned and prepared. In fact, be OVER planned and OVER prepared!

Remember this is a whole new crop of kids who you really don't know too much about. They may be way faster than last year's lovies or maybe they are super slow pokes. You may have to spend some time with a little one not quite ready to say good bye to blankies and cartoons at 8:00 AM (It's hard, y'all!)

So I have a few ideas and essentials that will help you be ready for anything after that first bell rings. This is lots of years of experience talking - if there's one thing I know, it's that the first few days set the tone for the year. You want your new students to feel happy, excited, safe, and secure. This is accomplished by welcoming them with an activity they can start independently right away. Imagine being in your student's shoes. Maybe you're shy, maybe you don't recognize anyone, maybe you're just scared of the "newness" of everything. You walk in, find your seat, and...then what? Wait for everyone else to come in? Let your mind race as your anxiety builds? Start to get a little more upset when you realize your best friend isn't in your class for the first time since Kindergarten? Help ease all of those fears with a simple activity. I've got a few ideas that I've used over the years.

Play-doh! Put a little party favor style tub of Play-Doh on each student's desk before they arrive. This idea has been around for a long time and some teachers who have WAY more time than I do actually make the play doh themselves. I hear that it doesn't take much time, but for me it's worth the $10 to buy it. I found a bag of 15 party favor sized tubs at Amazon here, but I've also had luck finding generic brand Play-Doh at Dollar Tree. (works just as well). Put a note on the board that directs the kids to make something that is important to them or what they did over the summer. You'll have lots of busy hands, relaxed minds, and cute kid chatter as they start creating. Sometimes I put little baskets of tools out on the tables - plastic forks, knives, cookie cutters, etc. This will also give you the first glimpse of their sharing skills.
 I actually like to save this activity for later in the day, like after lunch. It's a great way to break up the day. After we create, we do what I like to call a "half and half walk and talk".  I totally made that up. Catchy though, right?  Basically, it means that half of us get up and walk around the room while the other half stays seated. Then the "walkers" casually stop and the "talkers" tell about their creation. Then we switch. We do this a lot during the year, so we take the time to really set the standard for acceptable noise level, appropriate questions, eye contact, and having an actual conversation.

Handprint Puzzles. I wouldn't suggest starting the day with this one, but definitely make time for it on the first day. I buy blank puzzle templates (you can get them here on Amazon in pack of 24 for $12.99). Be sure to tell the kids NOT to break the puzzle apart until they are done tracing their hand and coloring it. 

I always have a kid or two try to color each puzzle piece a different color, which kind of defeats the purpose of it being a puzzle - so I have an example to show them the difference. After they color the puzzle, then we break it apart, and seal it up in an envelope (I like these self sealing ones). 
Don't forget to add the little poem. You can snag that here from Dropbox. It's the best part! Day one homework is always to put together your puzzle and talk about your first day. Awww...

Welcome Back Pack. This little pack has been a lifesaver for me. I typically put a pack on the students' desks with a fresh pack of crayons and a fun pencil. 
This goes back to my philosophy of giving the kids something they can do right away to take the focus off of their nerves or uncertainty. All of the tasks are things that can be completed independently but can also certainly be done with friends. I don't expect them to come in, sit down and quietly do a packet of worksheets. It's just something for them to focus on and chat about with their new friends. Some kids are naturally great conversationalists (for SURE) but some are not. Those are the kids I worry about. The great part about this pack is that they can keep it in their folder and I can have them pull it out and work on it when I need a few minutes of teacher-time during the first couple of days. You know, when you realize you never sent your attendance, or a new second grade friend shows up at your door in the middle of the day, or you really, really, really have the urge to do a one-on-one with a new little friend to see what's up.  The activities in the pack are not-so-much All About Me so that they don't overlap with the other things like that that we all usually do.  It's a great way to practice acceptable behaviors when moving around the room to work in other areas, like laying on the rug, using the stools, or enjoying other alternative seating options. I've got separate packs for second and third grade and you can find them on tpt here and here.
Icebreaker Game Ok, this one is probably my favorite, especially since it got a fun make-over last year. It's a super easy to prep board game that will help your kids get to know each other. It was meant to be a one time game for the first day, but my kids asked me over and over if they could play the "fish game" so I couldn't pack it up for a couple of weeks. It's also a really great way to set the ground rules for acceptable behavior when choosing parters, personal space, taking turns, cleaning up, etc. You can find it here on tpt.

When I was gathering up ideas for this post, I found so many cute things that I wanted to share, but I feel like this is a pretty good start. I'll do my best to come back in a couple of days to share some other ideas. I'll be in my room most of next week getting it ready and then we officially report back on the 15th. Yikes!

If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I am a full-fledged subscription box junkie. Pretty often, this is what awaits me when I get home from work. It's kind of hard to hide from the hubby when they all decide to show up on the same day! I am in full on Treat Yo Self mode these days...
At my best count I currently subscribe to 9 different boxes. When I post a snippet on Instagram there's always some interest so I've been toying with the idea of blogging about them for a while but I have been a master procrastinator lately! However, my two newest boxes showed up this week and they are too awesome not to share so it kind of lit a fire under my lazy rump!

Let's start backwards and take a look at my newest box. It's called Peaches and Petals and I found it by cruising #subscriptionbox on Instagram. 

This is not a box specifically for teachers, but this one has classroom decor written alllll over it! Each box is curated with a theme, as many sub boxes are, and Peaches and Petals totally nailed the "Let's Get Together" theme for this box.
The first thing that caught my eye was the set of paper medallions. It's a kit of six multicolored decorations of different sizes. Snuggled under those in the box were two sets of chalkboard decor items...swoon! One was a pack of twelve chalkboard arrows with rub-on chalk art transfers and a 10 foot chalkboard pennant. The pennant set is very cool. Each flag is double sided - black on one side and varied dots and stripes on the other. It also included little chalkboard circles to use with the colored side. The package says that both have write on surfaces and the pennant even comes with cute black and white twine for hanging. Tell me that stuff right there is not totally teacher eye candy! But of course it would be fabulous to use as intended decor for a get-together at home (which appeals to me way more than ever these days).

On to the rest of the goodies! The showstopper item is definitely this set of party tasting spoons. The set of six spoons comes with a matching plate to sit on. I've eyed up these spoons so many times when I've been out shopping and never actually purchased them, so I was super thrilled to see them in the box. Very often, I will gift some items from my boxes to friends or family when I feel like a certain item fits them. I had an inkling about someone who would love these spoons, but I'm not sure I can let them go!

The rest of the items included a cute set of vintage inspired cocktail napkins, an adorable mini cutting board perfect to put out at the drink station with some lemons and limes, a game of charades, and these adorable and super trendy chevron party straws! I was excited when I thought it was a set of four straws, but there are 20 of them in the box! 

This totally is a party in a box. It's getting me in the mood to have friends over for a summer bbq! This box is ridiculously affordable considering how amazing it was - just $19.99! Right now you can still order this exact box with free shipping while supplies last.  You can purchase this box as a one time item or subscribe for 3, 6, or 12 months. The thing about any sub box is that you never know what's going to be inside and some months are definitely better than others, but to me it always works out to be worth it. If I don't love or use every item, I have two sisters, a niece, and a ton of friends who I can gift unwanted items to. There are also forums where people swap and sell box items, which I am definitely going to look into this summer.

You can learn more and purchase the box here if it looks good to you! Next month's theme is "Under the Boardwalk" and I can hardly wait!

Even though I teach gifted students I was finding that many of them lacked quick fact fluency for even one digit addition and subtraction problems. It's hard to teach problem solving, multi-step word problems, and critical thinking when the basic math foundation is weak. So back in November, I started creating games that I could use with my kids as part of our math block. I focused on games that I could put together quickly without a ton of cutting and organizing and without a bunch of little pieces I would need to keep track of. As the year has gone on, I've created a set for each month and I've been improving on the basic idea as I go along. I will most likely go back and add some things to the other sets over the summer because this final set that I finished this week is definitely my favorite! It's probably at least partl because of the summery flip floppy theme but also because these games are really appealing to my kids and covering exactly what I need them to focus on before they leave me and head to third grade! #sniffsniff

I still have to create a set of Back to School and October games and do some sprucing up of my existing sets before I bundle them, but yes a bundle is coming. In the meantime, you can check out this set HERE
and past months at the following links: November, December, January, February, March, April.

Hang in there friends, the light of the summer sun is almost at the end of the tunnel!

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