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I have taken a HUGE step in my social media adventures. Something I never thought I would do. I've jumped into video creation with both feet! I have always been someone who avoids the camera like my life depends on it. I have never liked seeing myself in pictures and I definitely do not enjoy hearing the sound of my own voice or watching myself on video. BUT I'm doing it anyway. I'm finding that the more videos I create, the more self-accepting I'm becoming. Now, I really don't know what I'm doing. I'm filming on my phone. The lighting usually isn't great. Wow, that's really making you want to watch, huh?

Whether you're a first year teacher or a veteran, those first few minutes of a new school year can be a whirlwind! I wrote a post a while back with some other ideas for those first few minutes, including things like Play-Doh and puzzles, which you can read here

I know that sometimes your best laid plans of exciting hands-on fun can sometimes go off the rails real fast. One or two kids having a really hard time separating from their grown-ups, last minute new students, weird weather, talkative parents, late busses - they can all throw your fairy tale first day for a loop. I've been teaching for 28 years and there have been very few of those fairy tale experiences. That doesn't mean I've stopped trying though! But what I've learned to do is have a back up plan. Good old fashioned paper-pencil-crayon tasks that the kids can handle all by themselves or with the collaboration of their new friends. So for this, I created Welcome Back Packs for second and third grade, and now that I'm teaching first grade, I had to create one that I can use. I'm still deciding how I feel about teaching first, but after three years, I feel a lot more comfortable creating materials for my little firsties. Not gonna lie, I like being able to say "firsties".  I never really found a cute nickname for my second graders. (Gotta take those small victories wherever you find them. lol)  Link to Second Grade, Link to Third Grade.

So these packs are designed for the average kid to be able to handle without a lot of instruction or assistance from the teacher. That way when you are talking to parents and dealing with upset kids, collecting supplies, the rest of the class isn't just sitting and becoming restless or wandering the room. Each student will find a pack on their desk and a note on the board welcomes them and lets them know they can work on any page while we're getting settled.  The second and third grade packs have a lot of activities designed around the words two and three, to amp up the excitement of a new grade. 

Now for first grade, it's a whole different ballgame. Incoming first graders are basically Kindergarteners and it's WILD how different they all are. So for first grade I made differentiated versions of some of the pages. So, for example I wouldn't print out both of these pages, I'd choose the one that seems like the best fit for my incoming students. We're able to see some data on our kids before the first day. If that's not the case for you, I'd say go with the "easier" version and maybe make a few copies of the harder version and have them handy to give to kids who show the need for a challenge. Link to First Grade.

Same with these age pages. I consulted friends in Kindergarten and my first grade friends and got very mixed answers. If you think your kids can handle the forms of numbers mixed up choose that page, if not, then the page with the numbers in order may be better. 

You know, back to that "fairy tale" hands on  magical moment of collaboration and hands-on engagement from the first moment of the first day - some kids find that overwhelming. Lots of kids find comfort in the familiar task of sitting down and coloring, practicing their name, finding success in easy math tasks. This doesn't mean that I won't move those kids into the more collaborative tasks, but we're talking about the first moment that these little kids walk into a new environment with new people for the first time. It can be scary! Having something they know how to do gives them comfort in purpose. 

I always have some instrumental music on in the background when the kids enter the room for the first day. Usually they start working quietly and then they start chatting with new friends and a nice little happy hum starts to take over the classroom. This gives me some time to individually welcome each child, help them put their supplies away, handle tasks like attendance and urgent messages. We have to tag each kid according to their dismissal and figure out lunches and all that fun stuff. And these simple little packs help me do all that. Seems too good to be true, but it totally is my first day lifeline. Once everything gets settled, we usually gather on the carpet for a book and a fun introduction and the first day goes on as planned. I can walk through what a first day looks like in my room if anyone would like to hear about that.  So then what happens to the packet? Well, we put them in our cubbies or seat sacks and it becomes my lifeline for the next few days. Any time a situation arises that needs my attention, or we have a weird few minutes, a potty accident, or a special gets cancelled, or a lesson goes downhill fast, we can pull out our Welcome Back Pack and work a bit with our friends. 

What do I do with it after it's finished?  I flip through it with a student when they tell me they're done. It gives me that very first snapshot of a few things: effort, handwriting, following directions, basic math, coloring, and neatness. If everything seems on level with no glaring concerns, I let the kids choose a sticker for it and they take it home. I do not grade every single page or even make a mark on the paper. Now, if I see something concerning I will keep the pack, write some notes on stickies when I have a moment and then take a picture of the pages before removing the stickie notes and letting that child also choose a sticker and take home their work. Notes are very minimal, such as "handwriting - fine motor?". Just a way for me to make a note to keep an eye on any potential challenges. I don't put all my faith in this packet, it's just a very superficial first glimpse. 

However you start your first day, I hope it's amazing and only gets better from there!

I've found myself become rather passionate about two things - handwriting and spelling. Two things that are so insanely important, but seem to get pushed to the side way too often. I'll talk more about spelling soon, but you can see what I use for that in this post. As I mentioned in this post, I couldn't find what I was looking for in terms of handwriting practice, so I created a pack to use with my kids. Today I'd like to share a bit about what else you can do to help your students become more legible writers. 

The number one area to tackle is fine motor strength. If your students don't have the dexterity to properly grip the pencil, it's an uphill battle. It's hard to find time for this practice in the classroom, but it will probably help more than trying to force more pencil and paper tasks that are illegible. Consider involving parents in home practice. Anything that gets their little hands moving in purposeful tasks is helpful. Suggested exercises include using Play Do or clay, snapping legos together, stringing beads, using tweezers to move small objects from one dish to another, and squeezing stress balls, cotton balls, or pom poms. Everyday activities like cutting and coloring will also help build their hand strength. 

Size Matters! Pencil size, of course. I interviewed an occupational therapist for advice and she recommends that pencils be kept on the short size, about 6 inches, about and inch and a half shorter than most standard pencils. I found this to be recommended in several other articles regarding children learning how to write. Some suggest even shorter, just enough room for the child to execute the perfect "tripod grasp".

The graphic above, credited to Flinto, clearly shows the natural progression most children take on their way to the tripod grasp. After some experience holding writing devices from crayons to fatty pencils to regular pencils, they will hopefully be able to use their index, thumb and middle finger to hold the pencil in a tripod grip a few centimeters above the sharpened edge of the pencil. I know some people can write beautifully holding their pencil in all kinds of funky ways. I've seen it myself. This is just what is recommended and may be helpful to those struggling. 

I'm sharing some helpful items that were recommended by the occupational therapist I spoke to as well as tried and true products I've used in my own classroom. Especially notice the pencil grip. The wormlike foam tube we all know and love is not going to help if students are struggling with pencil grasp, although it may help students who just like the cushy feeling. 

Teacher's Favorite Pencils! The amazing Ticonderoga.  They've earned that reputation for a reason. They sharpen beautifully, they don't have plastic designs that clog up the sharpener, and you'll never get one of those weird ones that never seem to sharpen or have broken led inside. 

Good Erasers. Nothing beats the frustration of a kid ripping through their paper with a crappy eraser. No cutesy character shaped erasers. Did you know there are five main types of erasers? One of the lesser known, but amazing ones is a foam eraser. It's so highly rated for clean erasures of pencil from paper with limited damage to the paper. You can see them here. They are a bit pricey, so if you get any discretionary funds or parent donations, they are well worth it. 

Pencil Grips. Forget the foam tubes that slip over the end of the pencil, unless it's just for comfort. If you have kids who are really struggling, try grips like the ones below. This was something else my occupational therapist friend recommended.  Link to the Claw Grip HERE and the JuneLsy Silicone Grip HERE

If asking a kid to put pencil to paper sometimes backfires, try to practice in other ways. Fill a ziplock bag with some slime and have kids hold a pencil eraser-side down to practice writing letters. Try writing with their fingers on steamy shower doors (that's a home practice obviously), have them dip their fingers in water and write on chalkboards or sidewalks, try sidewalk chalk, use crayons, markers, whatever it takes to get them interested before the paper practice or even in between paper practice sessions. 

When you are ready for that paper practice, I welcome you to try my handwriting practice pack on TpT, which you can read all about in my last blog post HERE or find directly on TpT HERE.

Fitting in handwriting practice is becoming more and more difficult due to the forty bajillion other things that we have to fit in each day, but it is really important. Yes, the world is going digital, but does that mean we are going to just ignore handwriting and raise a generation of kids who can't write legibly? I sure hope not.

I've been searching for something to integrate into my routine to help strengthen handwriting, but couldn't find quite what I was looking for. So I made my own! The practice pack I've created has 180 pages of practice that all follow the same format: a short seasonal or content based rhyme to trace, then copy, then label and color. Coloring is optional, of course, but it might be motivating for some kids and make the practice seem like less of a chore.

I used a special licensed font to create this pack, so all of the letters should match the Zaner-Bloser style of manuscript handwriting.  After several requests, I've also created two additional versions: Modern Manuscript (similar to D'Nealian) and now Cursive!

Here's a page from the first few days of school. You can see how the rhyming words are right at the end of each line, making it really easy for the kids to read and find the rhymes.

Now here's a page from further in the year. You can see that because we're now using longer sentences, the rhyming words don't appear right at the end of the line. This is a great opportunity to remind the kids to read through to the punctuation, not to stop at the end of the line. To reinforce this concept, consider having them use highlighters to identify the rhymes. I'm planning on modeling this with the kids for a bit until they pick it up on their own.

I specifically made these practice pages rhyme because I found that my kids really seemed to be having some difficulty with the concept over the past couple of years. Now this can be another way to work on that skill. You can also work in some mini-lessons on word families and spelling - see how wear and hair are the rhymes here but are not spelled with the same pattern? Little opportunities for a word work discussion are present throughout the pack.

I included a cover page for each month just in case you want to print out a little pack for each student for the month instead of keeping track of and passing out individual pages each day.
Get all 180 days of practice and cover pages for each month for just 12.50. 
(it's actually on sale for $9.99 right now through July 31, 2022)
Click HERE to see it on TpT.
This year Im going to start off by using these handwriting activities for my whole class for a few minutes each day. I'm not sure what my schedule looks like yet, I'm thinking maybe when we come back in from lunch or those awkward few minutes that you always have somewhere in your schedule. As the year goes on, I may just move to having the kids who really need the practice work on the pages, or even just send them home with a few. It all depends on the needs of the kids. How do you think you might incorporate some handwriting practice this year?

I'll be sharing some more ways that I use this for more than just handwriting really soon. 

Happy Handwriting!

Hello Friends! I originally wrote this post in 2016. I decided to share it again now because it may be helpful for many of us who are entering uncertain times for the 2020 school year. Self selected homework could be a great way to get to know your new class, especially if you are starting the year online, as I am. Students can share their projects with the class through Zoom or Teams. Just wanted to make that quick note in case any of the points I wrote about in 2016 seem a bit off kilter considering the current times. The original article is below in its entirety:

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. 
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!

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