Best Classroom Gifts

The day before Thanksgiving break, I asked one of my sweet firsties what month it would be when we returned to school. With oodles of confidence, she said "Christmas!" That's exactly how I feel about December- it's one gigantic Christmas Eve full of anticipation. 

I wanted to share my favorite gifts for firsties. During the winter months, we are typically inside all day. Rather than buy each child a gift for a dollar or two, I like to give class gifts to share. I still spend the same amount of money, but I know what I purchased won't be forgotten on the bus or tossed in the trash at home after my firsties go to bed. We use our shared class gifts during our daily indoor recess centers. 

Here are some of my favorite ideas for classroom gifts. 

1. New books for the classroom library
I got these sets from Scholastic, but I also try to buy books about topics my kids like...Minecraft, puppies, Shopkins, science, etc.

2. Finger flashlights

I got this set from Amazon after being inspired by Diane Romo of One Giggle and her Flashlight Friday post!

3. Smelly markers, pencils, and erasers
The rule is that if it smells, kids love it. Even if it smells bad!

4. Classic board games
It's so much fun to sit down with a group of kiddos and play a board game together!

5. Coloring books and crayons
My favorite place for coloring books is Dollar Tree. They always have a great selection!

6. How to draw books
These are always a classroom favorite! Craft stores are a great place to pick up art books. 

Other ideas:
Building blocks
Bead Sets
Scrapbook scissors
Watercolor paints
Matchbox cars

It's fun to wrap each gift separately and open one each day for a week or more. This a great way to connect different winter holidays! Plus, kiddos get to enjoy the gifts for months (or even years) to come!


Sweeter Than Pie Thanksgiving Gift Tags

November comes with a to-do list that stretches for miles and very few school days to get everything accomplished. Months like this make me realize how blessed I am to be busy! When things get extra crazy, I am thankful for the support of other teachers! I love hearing your encouragement, laughing at the funny notes you post, using the resources you created, and trying the ideas you share! I am so thankful for you teacher friends!!

Teachers truly are sweeter than I created these little tags as a thank you! They are perfect for gifts tags, place cards for dinner, or notes for your kiddos!

Click the image to download your tags!


Tips for Parent Teacher Conferences

For such a short month, November always comes with a giant list of things to do! One of the biggest jobs is parent teacher conferences! 

My secret to Crazy Free Conferences all starts with a simple pre-conference form! This FREE little survey takes all of the stress out of conferences for me! It includes a side for parents and a side for kids!

The questions for parents help me understand what parents are thinking.  I can get detailed assessment data and work samples ready if parents have specific concerns about progress.  I can ask one of our specialists sit on our conference if needed.  It's also nice to have suggestions or materials ready to share with families to help meet their child's needs at home. 

The survey for kids is deliberately designed to be positive. It's a great conversation starter, and it helps us focus on the strengths and interests of each child. I love reading what my first graders are thinking and feeling! 

Before conferences, each kiddo makes a conference folder. I just fold a big piece of construction paper in half, and we attach a sweet parent note on the front.

The kids write notes and draw pictures for their parent(s) or guardian. I fill the folder with all of the papers I may need for that child's conference, including work samples for the family to keep. 

I always start my conferences by giving the parents the love notes from their children.

At the end of the conferences, I give parents some work samples and art projects to keep inside their folder. I also give parents a chance to write back to their children and leave a note in their desks. 

I just keep a variety of scrap paper and markers on a table outside my classroom door. I also put out candy for parents--who doesn't love a little treat?!

You can get parent notes for each month of the year so they will always fit your conference schedule. They are also perfect for a monthly writing activity or for a free holiday gift. 

With a little preparation, you can involve children and parents in the conference planning process! For me, this has been the secret to Crazy Free Conferences! 


We love number seriously, we do!!

Last year my class fell head over heels in love with.....

number bonds!

No, your vision is not failing-- you read that correctly. The loved all things number bonds! If they had a chance to doodle, they made number bonds. If they needed to show what strategy they used, they drew number bonds. If there were 3 circles anywhere, they were making them into a number bond.
I never in a million years could have anticipated how much they would love them! I have been using "Part-Part-Whole" boxes since I started teaching, but there is something my firsties love about number bonds. It makes the mathematical relationship of parts and a whole easy for them to understand so it makes the numbers easy to use! It allows them to feel like math masters, because they know so many ways to use those numbers! Here some doodles that popped up already this year...

Before we ever formally start addition or subtraction, we learn all about composing and decomposing numbers. I use those terms because I think it's important for my firsties to understand key math vocabulary. I say "decomposing" in a robot voice and pretend I'm a robot pulling something into two pieces. They remember the term right away (but be prepared to have that voice echoed back to you all year!)

From the beginning of the year, we use a lot of manipulatives, including unifix cubes, counters, counting bears, crayons, magnets, and seasonal items. This really helps little ones visualize what it means to compose or decompose a number...and of course, it's fun!

When we started learning about number bonds, I told my class we were getting a class pet. I set up a dog bed and treat jar in the morning before school started, and we waited until math to introduce our pet: Whole the Decomposing Doggie! They were so excited to give him treats, and visit him at centers every day. He sleeps in a dog bed by the window during the day. When we start centers, the kids get him out, and stick him on the filing cabinet (with magnets) and give him plenty of treats for the day. I simply stuck the recording sheet in a dry erase sleeve so we can just keep using the same one again and again.
FREE Decomposing Doggie Number Bond Pet

You can download Whole the Decomposing Doggie for FREE! I have seen some awesome pictures of him in other classrooms! Thanks to Amy N of Fun in Room 3 and Mrs. Hoyne for sharing their pictures on Instagram! Every kid in Amy's class got their own Decomposing Doggie to take home. My class would be sooo jealous!

I explicilty teach how to decompose all of the numbers from 2 to 10 using projectable lessons. We also use these lessons to practice problem solving and learning how to explain our thinking to a partner. (Click here to learn more about projectable and interactive lessons.) These are a few of the slides from our Decomposing 5 lesson...

You can download the entire Decomposing 2 Interactive Lesson and printables for FREE here

Math doesn't have to be fancy, but it should be fun! When we work in a small group, we typically use a work mat with counters, counting bears, or unifix cubes, but I encourage my kiddos to use crayons at their desks as manipulatives. Sometimes they like to use glue sticks or markers, but it's been helpful for them to practice problem solving with materials that are always available. Common core standards emphasize learning how to solve problems in a real world way so I want them to be able to find their own manipulatives. Very few families have counting bears and unifix cubes at home.

We have also been practicing our number bonds as part of our calendar routine. I just hung a seasonal work mat on the board and we use magnets to compose and decompose numbers each day. It's a really quick way to review a learned number or preview the upcoming numbers. Next month, I will replace the apple with a pumpkin work mat and use white magnets for seeds.

The apple work mat is also fun for hands-on practice. I found gummy worms and rubber worms at Dollar Tree. You can compose or decompose numbers with these creepy crawlers! We are learning about apples and pests in science so this is a great link to help tie everything together.

I have been saving our pumpkin work mats, but they will be making an appearance soon! On my trip to Dollar Tree, I also picked up some little candy pumpkins and some dried pumpkin seeds. Any seasonal accents would be great to as manipulatives! You can grab all of these work mats and printables as one complete set here.

We have been spending a lot of time working on number bonds, but I know it's a very worthwhile investment. We will be ready for the challenges of addition and subtraction, because we already understand the relationships between numbers. I am sure I will be seeing many more number bonds this year as my firsties problem solve....and doodle!


Meet My New Best Friend at Dismissal!

Is dimissal in your classroom a time for quiet reflection upon a wonderful day? Are your learners quietly discussing all of the new knowledge filling their brains? Do you feel calm and happy? If so, I'm terribly sorry, but this post is not for you...

This post is for the teacher who is writing notes, checking folders, following through on behavior plans, asking who dropped their mail on the floor (and asking again), tying shoes, holding up forgotten lunchboxes, and checking for a lost sparkly blue pencil, and listening for bus numbers....

After 8 years of frustration and many failed attempts, I think I may have finally found a solution to help ease the stress of dismissal. Meet my new best friend at dismissal-- Bus Buddy! He has been working wonders in my classroom, and you can bring him into your room too!

Here's how I am using him in my classroom, but I am sure there are sooo many more ways to use him to fit your needs. 

First, I do think that it is important to teach dismissal procedures. I know it's the end of the day, and both kids and teachers are running on fumes, but it's important to establish a plan. Here are a couple charts like those used for Daily Five to teach your expectations. 

Every classroom looks a bit different at the end of the day, so you can work with your learners to establish routines. Maybe your class is silently reading or finishing undone work. Maybe you are working with a small group for extra practice or performing classroom duties- - that part is totally up to you!
In my classroom, 2 kiddos have the job of being the Bus Boss (or you could call it Bus Buddy if boss is too “bossy” for you).  The Bosses are from one of the last groups to be dismissed.  You can even give them little name tags to make their duty more official.

At the start of dismissal, they each retrieve a Bus Buddy sign. I printed my signs and put them in 4x6 frames from Michaels. The frames were only $2 and they have plastic inserts so there's no glass that will get broken if they fall.

The Bosses each put a sign on the desk of a kiddo who is following the dismissal routine. In my room, that means someone who is quietly working on undone work at their desk and listening to the dismissal announcements. If that kiddo stops following the dismissal routine (shouting, getting out of her seat, etc)  the Boss moves Bus Buddy sign to another desk.  If that kiddo continues working quietly until her van/bus/car is called, she gets a small reward left on her desk for the next day.  

Once she leaves, the Boss moves the sign to a new desk, and the activity continues. You can continue playing until all of the students have been dismissed. This makes it fair for everyone regardless of long they wait for their group to be dismissed. 
By giving the students more responsibility, you can pull a few kiddos for extra practice or perform classroom duties without any extra stress! I hope the Bus Buddy becomes one of your best friends in the classroom! If you find a different way to use the Bus Buddy in your classroom, I would love to hear all about it! 

I also have a freebie in my store to to teach bus safety if you need a fun group project! It's great for reviewing safety tips and practicing cooperation!


Black and White Polka Dot Classroom

Do all teachers love polka dots? 

If you said yes, you will love this black and white polka dot classroom with pops of primary colors! This room is also full of storage solutions and organization ideas that are easy to try!

If your closets look like this.... don't worry!
Mine look that way every. single. August.

I don't have a teacher desk so I keep all of my materials on the counter. It helps me find things quickly, and it freed up a lot of wasted floor space! 

I label everything! It helps to have labels with pictures so kids and substitutes can help put everything back!

Did you notice the shower caps on the top row of bins?! If a bin falls off, you don't have 300 markers rolling across the floor, and you can keep busy hands out of the bins!

I printed smaller labels for my closet bins to keep my math manipulatives, centers, and art supplies organized too!

Our reading board is updated weekly with new sight words and phonics skills! My sight words have little magnets on the back so I display them stove burner covers while they are being taught. 

Once we master them, we move them over to our magnetic word wall. My firsties can come up and remove words as needed during writing and then easily put them back. 

The word family posters are held with clothespins. When we are ready for a new family, these posters will move to a permanent display on our locker doors.

The polka dot alphabet posters  and smaller word wall cards tie everything together!

Rather than give each of my tables a number, I assign them each a vowel. I can call their table by long vowel sound or short vowel sound. 

I hang a vowel table sign above each table. One side shows the short vowel sound and the other side shows the long vowel sound.

Our classroom library is my favorite! 

I organize books by topic, author, genre and by reading level. The little shelf between the chairs holds books we have been reading together in the classroom or seasonal books.

I put library labels on the outside of every bins. All of the books inside the bins have matching stickers! This helps keep the library neat and organized!

Here's a peek at our math wall. We update our calendar and number of the day every morning. Our mathematical practices posters and number cards are always posted in our classroom too! 

We also keep our schedule cards posted on the board so everyone knows what to expect during the day.

Are you ready to add some polka dots to your classroom? I look forward to hearing how you updated or organized your classroom. If you have ideas or questions, please share them in the comments. 

If you want to save time, you can download most of my classroom resources now.


Back to Top