1/2 Days Are the Longest Days…

I don’t know about you, but sometimes, I struggle with planning my November lessons. I mean, between Veterans day, Thanksgiving break, a Superintendent’s day and, Parent/Teacher conference days, I think we’re in session for 15 whole days the entire month! And that’s if we don’t end up with any snow days, 2 hour delays or early dismissals…

I think the half days are the hardest to plan around. We seem to have quite a few kids who don’t come to school on half days and the kids who are here tend to be a little off the wall with the completely different schedule on those days. It’s a delicate balance finding lessons that will be fun, engaging, and educational but not so important to the curriculum that kids who aren’t in school come back behind everyone else and needing to be caught up.

In the past, I’ve done basic review type activities but tried to make them as fun and game like as possible but this year, while scrolling through Instagram (my PD activity of choice), I spotted The. Most. Amazing. Idea. Ever. It was posted by librarian Chrystal Burkes (Instagram handle chryschool) and you should totally stop reading and just go check out her feed-it’s chock full of good ideas-and come back when you’re done.

Back? Good. Just in case you couldn’t find the idea I borrowed from her (and I can totally see you missing it in the sea of amazing stuff she posts), I’ll share what I did based on the post she shared back on November 13th. It caught my eye because she mentioned using the book Balloons Over Broadway in the lesson. I bought this book at our spring Scholastic Book Fair last year and while I was just in love with the illustrations, it didn’t seem to be getting much circulation time with the kiddos. So, I was eager to see what this creative and inspiring librarian had found to do with it-and I was not disappointed! Per her Instagram caption, “We read the book #balloonsoverbroadway and then went on a @macy’s #thanksgivingdayparade #virtualfieldtrip using #ipads and #youtube 360!” So fun, right?!?! In the comments she gave the link for the video but I found it easier to just search on YouTube for “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade 2017 360”. And really, that’s the whole lesson right there in her caption. Read the book, hook them up with the iPads, watch joy and magic happen. It does require a wee bit of prep though so I’ll walk you through what I did to make the lesson go as smooth as possible:

  1. Several days before the lesson: Check that all the iPads you’ll be using have the YouTube app. The 360 videos only work on the YouTube app so you can’t use the web version for this activity, you’ll have to have the app installed. Some of my iPads had the app but some of them had “lost” it somehow so I needed to put in a help desk ticket with our IT department to get them all hooked up with the app.
  2. Morning of the lesson: I went through all the iPads I’d be using and opened the YouTube app, searched for the video, opened it, put the video in full screen mode and then paused it. I then closed the cover and put it back on a book cart until we needed it for the lesson. That way, when it was time, I could just pick up an iPad, hit play and the kiddos could just be handed an iPad that was ready to roll.
  3. Lesson itself: I read the book, we discussed parades and parade balloons, then I told them we were going on a field trip to NYC to see the parade ourselves, without having to leave the library! When my clerk wheeled the cart of iPads into the story area I explained that the iPads were their tickets to NYC. Then, I showed them how the video worked with the iPads and finally, we talked about being a safe tourist (ie how to walk with the iPads, looking out for other tourists, making sure we didn’t stop or sit down in front of people, etc).

In the end, I only was able to do the lesson with my classes the day before we went on break. However, I will absolutely be doing this one with all my classes leading up to the Thanksgiving break next year! My students LOVED this lesson and activity. Throughout the course of the day I received: spontaneous applause, cheers, hugs and, one little guy even yelled, “this is the greatest thing I’ve ever done!”. It definitely made that last hectic day before break sail right by-something for which I can be truly thankful!


Thankfulness Feathers

Just a quick one today! My clerk found a cute idea for our November bulletin board (have I mentioned how much I LOVE having a full time clerk again this year?!?!):

She sketched the turkey out by hand, can you believe it? Since I color coded my grade levels in my planner and on my schedule she used those same colors for the feathers.

For my K-2nd classes, I read them a story on gratitude (Lucy Cate’s Gratitude Attitude if you wanted to check it out. I thought it was okay. The font and layout made it difficult to read and some of the message got lost for my youngest students with the language and rhyming choices but after a class discussion they got the idea so I’d say, overall, it did its job. Gratitude picture books are surprisingly hard to come by) and then, we moved to the tables to complete our gratitude feathers (Kindergarten on red, first on orange and second on yellow). My clerk put the other feathers in an envelope on the circulation desk with a little sign she made. When the older kids come down to check out books, she asks if they’d done a feather yet and would like to add to our board.

As kids finish their feathers, she adds them to our turkey and he just keeps growing and growing! I love that he’ll be up and bursting with feathers for parent teacher conferences. Of course, my amazing clerk already has her December bulletin board planned and ready to go so he’ll be coming down as soon as we get back from Thanksgiving break. Can’t wait to show you what she’s planned for the next one!

Halloween Campfire Time

Halloween wasn’t my favorite holiday as a kid but as a school librarian I kind of love it! One of the reasons it’s crept to the top of my holiday list now that I work in a school? Three words: Halloween Costume Parade. I mean, that’s just the best and cutest thing that happens all year! The other reason I love it as a teacher-I get to tell all my stories by our Halloween campfire!

Every year, I go down to the the library’s basement storage unit and I come back up with the makings for a little campfire:

  • three real wood logs I stole from our woodshed several years ago
  • three battery operated flickering flame candles
  • several sheets of orange, yellow and red tissue paper
  • An old tray to assemble everything on (Tray is optional. You could leave your fire out all day but I don’t want it to get messed with in between classes so I pick it up and carry it out before we start book exchange time.)

To assemble my little campfire, I wrap each of the candles in a sheet or two of the tissue paper. Don’t wrap them too tightly or perfectly, you’ll be taking them in and out all day to flip the switch on the bottom (at least I do to help preserve the batteries). I usually just lay the tissue paper flat, put the candle in the middle and bring up the tissue paper around it leaving the top open. Once all three candles are smooshed together and held in place by the logs the tissue paper usually stands up on its own just fine. I cut the ends of the tissue paper to be wispy and more flame like and I also cut some random flame like pieces that I stick in between the candles. I put the candles in the center of the tray and then put the wood logs around them and voila! Traveling campfire. Bonus points if you pretend the tray is hot while carrying it to a safe, out of the way place like behind the circulation desk.

To make the whole campfire experience extra realistic, I use a background noise app on my phone (called Noisli) to play the sound of a crackling campfire. I wedge my phone into the fire, under the log closest to me so the kids can’t see it. The crackling sounds combined with the lifelike flickering of hte battery operated candles have convinced several kids over the years that our fire is real!

Pro Tip: Put your phone on Do Not Disturb or Airplane Mode before turning on the app and adding it to your campfire. That way, if you get a call or any notifications during your story, it won’t disrupt you and/or clue the kids in to the fact that there’s a phone in the fire. One year, I got a phone call from my doctor’s office reminding me about an upcoming appointment during a story time. Luckily, I always keep my phone on vibrate so I just casually used my foot to muffle the phones vibrating sounds. However, the crackling campfire sound not only suddenly died when the call came in, IT DIDN’T RESTART WHEN THE CALL ENDED-ugh! Several children noticed the sudden lack of sounds and I had to be all “guess I fire’s getting low, I’ll be sure to add some more wood before the next class comes in” about it.

As far as what we usually read around our Halloween campfire, I’m a big fan of the following options:

And that’s how we do read alouds during Halloween week! Bet you can understand why it’s one of my favorite times of the year in the library now.

My New Story Time BFFs…

In putting together the pictures for the last post I realized I hadn’t talked about a couple of quick, easy changes I made to the story area this year that I’m really loving!

I inherited this big, wooden rocking chair and whiteboard easel on wheels with the rest of the library. My first few years here, I would have the easel right next to the rocking chair at the head of our story rug. I don’t have any pictures of the two of them together but this picture from a Johnny Appleseed unit I did with Kindergarten one year gives you an idea of how large it was and how much room it took up next to my rocking chair.

I used the easel occasionally during class and stored our books for the day on the bottom but, it took up a lot of space for how much I actually used it. I disliked how much of the back shelves it blocked from view when I was standing at the circulation desk so eventually, I moved the easel out of the area and only pulled it in when I needed it. At that point, I used a car organizer (which was like an oversized fanny pack) to store our books for the day and hooked it to the back of the rocking chair. This worked fine but (scandalous confession alert) I never loved the rocking chair. I never sat fully back in it, instead of perching on the edge of the seat so I could feel like I was closer to the class on the rug. I worried about accidentally rocking onto kids fingers. Kids would sit in it or play with it during book exchange time and often, other kids walking behind the chair looking for books would get hit by the back fo the chair. It just wasn’t ideal for me and how I liked to do storytime on the rug.

So this year, as we were cleaning out other rooms in the library, I made the decision to pull the rocking chair from the library. Another teacher saw it labeled for storage and snatched it up for their room instead so it’s off living its best life in another room. And I’m living my best life here with our new and improved story rug, which now looks like this:

In the great room shuffle that happened with the offices located within the library this summer, I came across a wiggle stool someone was looking to get out of their room and snatched it right up! It moves me closer to my students on the rug, frees up physical and visual space in the area, no more worries about crunched fingers and, it’s just plain fun to use! The original wiggle stool was bright blue but I just had to turn it into a fun little toadstool! All it took was a weekend at home with some paint (spray and acrylic), some Modge Podge for sealing, a cheap round pillow, a yard of fabric, some needle and thread (and patience) and viola! A magical toadstool for magical story times!

I also bought one of those little supply carts you see all over Pinterest to go next to the stool. Mine is from Target but I’ve also seen them at Michael’s and Ikea. It took less than 30 minutes to put it together and fill up with the things I want on hand during stories. Speaking of, here’s what I keep on my cart:

Top Tier:

  • Two metal cups from Target Dollar Spot (same ones I bought and turned into mini garbage cans for the tables)
    • In the white cup I keep spare pens, pencils and, extra dry erase markers for the Happy/Sad board
    • In the black cup I keep our Tapple Sticks
    • I also use these extra strong magnets to keep the cups in place
  • Extra felt circles (one of each color) from our homemade sit spots, I use these as visuals for calling groups to line up, get books etc. They were also very handy the first few weeks of school when the kids were still getting the hang of which circle indicated their group/assigned seat.
  • Two magnetic cafe curtain rods, stacked on top of each other. I use these as a makeshift easel stand for the Happy/Sad board when we’re on the story rug.

Middle Tier: This is where I store the books I’ll be using/reading at the story rug that day.

Bottom Tier: Overflow (props, extra supplies, additional visuals etc).

Front of the Cart: I used some of the extra strong magnets to attach our Story Rug expectations matrix to the front of the cart. That way, I can pull it off and review it with the whole class when necessary or, after making eye contact with a student who needs a reminder, just point to certain expectations.

Side of the cart: On the side of the cart closest to the toadstool, I use a magnetic hook to hold my clipboard with my seating charts.

And there you have it! Two simple, fast updates to the story rug that are making things organized and fun (my favorite combination!) around here.