Friday, May 30, 2014

Friday Freebies!

Yay for Friday! This is kind of a big one for me (more about that on Monday), so i'm going to go ahead and celebrate the end of the year with all of you, even though it's not really the end of my year.

This pack was too cute not to share, and I'm amazed that it's free! This is an End of the Year Label Pack from the Inspired Owl's Corner. It has treat bag labels for two different kinds of bags, printable bookmarks, Hershey bar labels, and note cards so that you can write each of your students a farewell note.  Really, everything that you need to put together a cute little good-bye gift!

Thursday, May 29, 2014


Our preschool graduation ceremony is tomorrow, and I think we are finally ready (well, except for the decorating part, but that will happen in the morning).  I'm a little worried that this one will be emotional for me, I've had most of these kiddos since they were two years old, and I've known almost all of them since they were infants.  This group of parents is pretty special to me too, they believed in me and encouraged me throughout the process of opening my own school.

I wanted to make sure that the entire graduation was really special, so I created a few products to make things a little easier for me so that I would be organized enough to help my students prepare, and then enjoy the celebration with them.  Of course, I had to share all of these things with you in a big Graduation bundle!

My favorite thing is the End of the Year Memory Book.  My students were finally at a level where they were able to complete this kind of project, and it gave them some great practice for the kind of work that will be expected of them when they go to kindergarten.  Their answers were sweet, and funny, and I'm sure that these will be family keepsakes for many years to come.

In addition to a special keepsake, there are certain things that every graduation ceremony requires - invitations, diplomas, awards, and decorations! Having all of these designed and ready to print has made my life so much easier! There are some projects that we are going to work on as a class this week to add to our decorations - one thing that my kiddos will be doing is decorating a giant paper version of their favorite kind of cookie (because they're smart cookies!).  I'm also putting up a lot of their artwork, that I've been holding onto, along with some of our class books.

Finally, I want to make sure that my kiddos are prepared for the ceremony, and that they understand what it means to graduate. We've talked about it a little, and I took some super cute photos of them in my old cap and gown so that they could really feel like graduates, but all week I'll have them doing activities that will leave the door open for conversations about graduation.  We'll have Graduation Vocabulary Cards, Dice Games, Patterning with Graduation shapes, and Letter Matching with Caps and Gowns.  I'm also going to put these out for families to do with the kiddos during the reception after our ceremony. It'll give them all something to do, and let the kiddos show of their skills!

Hopefully all of these things will help you as much as they have helped me! Enjoy the end of the year with your little ones and don't stress over the details!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Finding Balance

I really needed this long weekend. I mean I REALLY needed it.  This weekend I was able to take the time to find myself again.  Though I didn't go on a trip or do anything exceptionally spectacular, I did get to do some of my favorite things.  I wandered the fabric store, spent tons of time with my family, read a book, ate lots of ice cream, laid out in the sun, roasted marshmallows with my favorite people, and slept in! It has been far too long since I've made time for these things that mean so much to me.

Over the last six months I have completely given myself up to my jobs - both of them.  Giving so much of myself to work was necessary, don't get me wrong, I really needed to be 100% focused on work, but lately I've been really disappointed in the person that I had become over those six months.  I really missed the fun, sweet, caring person that I was having a hard time finding.  I'm so glad that I had the opportunity to rejuvenate, and really enjoy the weekend.  It definitely made me confident in the decision that I've made for my work from here on out (more details on this next week!) and I've cleared my evenings for this week so that I am able to enjoy some down time during this week that is bound to be slightly chaotic.

I found this quote and I'm making it my mantra for the summer! Hopefully it will inspire you to take some time to enjoy life!

Here are two photos from my weekend that really make me smile! I've been really getting into Instagram lately, for more fun pics you can follow me, my username is erinnholleran.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Friday Freebies

Yay for Friday! This is a big yay because it's a three day weekend! If your students are anything like mine, the weather and promise of summer are making them a little antsy (again, yay for a three day weekend).  Many of my teacher friends get through this chaos by reminding themselves that there are only a couple of weeks left until summer break, they can make it through a couple more weeks.  That doesn't work for me, I work at a year round child care center, I have my kiddos all summer long.

I try to make sure that the summer is packed full of fun stuff and special opportunities, every kid should be able to enjoy summer, and I always went to daycare as a kid too, so I know what it's like.  Today's freebie is designed for classrooms that will be done with school soon, but I can definitely make it appropriate for my class too.

This is an End of the Year Agreement from Will Grade for Coffee (love the store name!).  It reminds students that there are still appropriate behaviors and expectations, even as you get closer to the end of the school year (or in my case, throughout the summer).  It includes a cute little poster and a page for all of the students to sign, acknowledging that they understand and agree with these expectations.  I think that being able to point to a student's signature and say "look, you agreed that you would..." would do wonders with my class, especially when it comes to pointing out that I know they know my expectations.  You can download this freebie here.

Enjoy your long weekend, hopefully this freebie will help you reign in the chaos for however long you have left!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

My Summer Bucket List

Since the unofficial start of summer is this weekend, I figured it was time to sit down and share my absolute must-do's for the summer, along with a few things that I want to try for the first time.  

1. Spend the day at the lake. We live about an hour from Lake Erie, so this goes on my list every year. I would love to be there more often, I'm a total beach girl!

2. Fairs and festivals. I grew up in 4H, and my husband and I are 4H advisors, so if there's a fair you can usually find us there. I love the atmosphere, and getting to see all of my old friends, and of course, the food!

3. Read! I just pinned a great summer reading list that I can't wait to work my way through. I've already read some of these, but there are a few I haven't heard of, you can check it out here. Two books that are definitely on my list are Wild by Cheryl Strayed and Top Secret Twenty-one by Janet Evanovich.

4. Camping. This is another thing that I would love to do more often! One of our favorite places to camp is near Ohio's Amish Country, which also happens to be close to my brother in-law's home, so we usually get out there at least once. Thank goodness because I need my fill of Amish cheese!

5. Learn to french braid my own hair. I have to get it long enough first, but I've never been able to do it, and who doesn't want Katniss Everdeen hair?!

I'm sure there are more things that I would love to do, but I have a huge to-do list and I'm working all summer, so just a few fun things will have to do.  Whether you're working or not, there is just something about summer that feels carefree, I can't wait!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

End of the year skills post #2

Yesterday I introduced you to one of my favorite products for helping my kiddos jump into reading - something that they are very excited about right now! Today I want to share one of my newest products, that my students are loving.

These are my CVC Word Family Ring Books. They are very similar to the paint chips, but each word family is on it's own ring, helping to manage the chaos of all those letter cards.  These are also color coded, to help make sure that the correct beginning letters stay with the intended word family.  I do this to make sure that students can be successful - they are reading words that they have heard before, not nonsense words that don't make any sense.

Because all of the pieces of this product are on rings, these are great for students to practice with individually. They can easily flip to the next letter all on their own, and all of the letters will always stay in order, so they can easily read the words that you want them to practice.  These are a great option for your students who finish their other work quickly and need something that they can do quietly at their desk.

The ring books and the CVC Paint Chips are both included in my CVC Word Family Bundle, which is a great deal, and perfect for any teacher who is looking for fun new ways to help students practice the basics. Both of these products have worked wonders in my classroom. Students want to use them, meaning even those who would not typically choose reading work are actively working on their reading skills, yay!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

End of the year skills

The end of the school year in my classroom often means that many of my students are ready for activities that challenge them and introduce higher level skills.  This is my favorite time of the year because they finally begin to understand why we have been doing all of this letter work for the last two or three years, the idea that letter sounds can blend together and create words, words that they can read all by themselves, is incredible to them. I love to see the sense of pride on their faces when they are able to read simple words after blending all of the individual sounds, so I try to give them tons of opportunities that I know will allow them to be successful. 

We've been working on CVC words. most of my students who are able to do these are not confident enough to complete these activities on their own, so I've been doing tons of one-on-one instruction.  I've been switching back and forth between two great products, both of which I developed to make sure that working on these skills is fun for my students. I want them to enjoy reading, and be confident in their abilities. 

The first is my CVC Word Family Paint Chips.  These are so fun, and they totally speak to the way that my mind is organized, I mean, they're color-coded for goodness sakes. 

You cut out each word family paint chip, making sure to cut out the white square in the first section of each chip. Then you cut out each letter strip. The letter strips are the same color as the word family paint chip that they work with, this way, you can put out all of the short a word families and your students will easily be able to tell which letter strips go with which word family strip. Each letter strip also has the corresponding word family labeled on the bottom of the strip, this is purely for teacher sanity, if you drop the entire stack on the floor, you will still be able to get the right letter strips matched up with the right word family strip. 

To use them with your students, place the letter strip behind the paint chip, with one letter showing through the square cut-out. After students sound out and read one word, they can slide the letter strip to reveal a new letter, and a new word. 

You can see more images and details here. I'll introduce the second product tomorrow, be sure to check back for more CVC word fun!

Monday, May 19, 2014

In my bag

Have you ever seen those blog posts or magazine articles where women show you what's in their purse? I was digging through my school bag yesterday, looking for something - I can't even remember what I was looking for - and I started laughing. There is so much stuff in my bag! So I thought I'd do my own take on it, here's what's in my school bag.

I'll start with the things that are actually supposed to be in my bag:

My laptop - I take my laptop to school with me everyday. We don't get a ton of planning time, and we only have one computer at school, so I try to work on my own whenever possible, that way it is really easy to take computer work home with me.

My school planner: I don't usually take this back and forth, but this weekend I had a ton of stuff to work on, it was easier just to bring it with me instead of making a separate list.

My own calendar: My calendar is a little bigger than your average planner. I keep all of my dates for school, all of my info for my blog and Teachers Pay Teachers store, personal appointments, and info for other projects in here. Basically, it's my life. Maybe I'll have to do a post on how it's organized sometime.

My laptop charging cord

Notes from our last staff meeting

A postcard that I was supposed to send weeks ago...

OK, now here are the random items that I found in my bag:

A package of needles for my sewing machine: There really is a reason that these were in my school bag. I took my sewing machine to school to work on a project with my kids and these have been in my bag ever since (and when I say ever since, I mean since February...).

A play knife from a tea party set: something that would only end up in a Preschool Teacher's school bag.

A really cute, yet completely empty pouch: In the summer I use this particular bag when we go camping, it's waterproof, so it's perfect. This drawstring pouch has been in my bag since labor day weekend, I guess because it doesn't take up much space and I'm just to lazy to put it away.

I have a couple of different bags that I use for school. The last one was bugging me because it looked so grimy, I switched to this one because it was a rainy spring and it helps keep my stuff protected.  I really should've pulled the junk out of my other school bag to show you, I know there are some jingle bell bracelets from my zumba class in there...

I'd love to know what's in your bag! Write a post and leave the link in the comments!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Friday Freebies

Happy Friday! I've got a great freebie for you here. This is a diploma (but it could also be used as an end of the year certificate), designed to go with the rest of my End of the Year Graduation Bundle.  The bundle is full of great things - invitations for your event, language and math games that you can use with your students before the event, or put out during a graduation reception, and awards for each student in your class. This diploma matches the color scheme of all of the products in the bundle. It can be used for any grade level, so enjoy! Download the Diploma here.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Preparing for Preschool Graduation

It's that time of the year, we have less than three weeks until our preschool graduation ceremony.  I've been trying to get some special projects done, and we're getting close. One thing that I'm really excited about this year are the memory books that my students have been working on.  Not only are these going to be amazing keepsakes, but they are also helping to prepare them for the kind of work that they will do once they get to kindergarten.

Right now my kiddos are answering the questions with drawings and words to the best of their abilities. When they finish I will add portfolio pages that I've been keeping for them all year. I'm going to bind them all into spiral bound books and present them at graduation.

All of my students are at different developmental levels with their writing, it's something that we've been working on all year. I feel pretty confident that they all have a basic foundation, and the skills they are exhibiting now will easily translate to proper letter formation and writing structure once they get to kindergarten. I love that these books will be a snapshot of their skills right now - and some of their answers are hilarious, for example:

One important thing that happened this year is
- "I saw a thunderstorm, that was important"
- "I painted a picture of my family"

My favorite thing to do at school is
- "Raking leaves" (on the playground)
- "jumping on the trampoline" (we don't have a trampoline at school...)
- "Build a box so I can be alone"

Oh the things they say - we aren't finished with our books yet, so I'm sure there will be more answers to share with you. If you want to see more of this memory book you can find details and a free preview here

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Fighting burnout

Ugh. We all feel it, it's spring, it's been a LONG winter, and now that it's finally nice outside we don't have time to enjoy it.  We're too busy completing end of the year assessments, cleaning up classroom, and getting ready for end of the year celebrations.  Whether you teach year-round, like me, or get the summer off, its still hard to fight the tell-tale signs of teacher burnout.  I've been collecting tips to keep me motivated and inspired, and I knew that if I needed them, others probably did too, so here are some great sites to check out if you're feeling it too.

Tips for avoiding teacher burnout from Tina's Teaching Treasures.

25 tricks to stop teacher burnout from informED

Teacher burnout infographic from Sprinkle Teaching Magic (LOVE LOVE LOVE this!)

TED talk on teacher burnout from Learnist

Here are a few of my own personal tips:
1. Take a break.  This isn't always possible during the week, but I have a standing date night with my best friends every Tuesday. It gives me something else to look forward to (although it would probably be a better break if we all weren't teachers because we spend the entire time talking about school #teacherproblems). I also try to carve out time for some fun during the weekend, quilting, reading, shopping, anything that I get to do just because I want to. 

2. Take some time for fun (it can be educational too, as long as it's fun).  When I'm feeling really down, I like to plan a special activity for my class. Whether we're baking cookies, blowing bubbles, or taking a special walking trip, when they are looking forward to something special they behave like angels, and it makes it so much easier for me to enjoy how young they are, and why I love this job in the first place. 

3. Find something to look forward to. It could be a special event, a weekly special, or a day off. My personal favorites are our trips to the library every two weeks. It takes the whole morning, so the rest of the day goes really quickly, and the kids love it.  Having something to look forward to can keep you going on those really rough days. 

4. Start a ritual.  I go to Starbucks twice a week on my way to school, on Monday morning, to help me start the week out right, and on Friday morning to celebrate the end of the week. It's the little things that get me through, and while it may be silly, it really does help!

I'd love to add your ideas to my list, leave your tips in the comments!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Creative story helpers

I am so excited about a project that I just finished, I had to share it with you right away! I got the idea for these story starters on Pinterest (where else?).  I have a really hard time getting my students to come up with creative stories when I want them too, on random days they are full of them (like my kiddo who SWORE that he was going to Disney World for Mother's day - that definitely didn't happen).  I think that there are just too many options, it gets a little overwhelming for them.

I wanted to help them narrow down all of the crazy possibilities in their heads so that they could put together a coherent short (in our case really really short, but it's a start) story.  So I created a set of Story Starters. I made four different color ribbons, the blue ribbons are characters - everything from lions, to farmers, to astronauts, the green ribbons are settings - the backyard, the movie theater, the jungle, etc., the purple ribbons are conflicts, or the type of situation that their character might find themselves in, and the orange ribbons are just random objects - socks, crayons, etc. to give the story a little sillyness and really encourage their imaginations.

We tried these out during circle time today. I had them choose one ribbon from each color group and we worked together to come up with a story.

The story for this group went something like this:
"There was an astronaut stuck in the desert. He was so angry because the sun was so hot that it melted his computer."

This one was slightly more inventive:
"A farmer was swimming in the swimming pool. He got scared because he started to sink, but then he used a crayon to draw a ladder so he could get out of the pool."

Not bad for their first time, and these might be the first group stories that they've come up with this year that didn't include a Marvel Super Hero or a Ninja Turtle, so that's a plus!

These could be used in so many different ways, and they really are appropriate for a large range of ages. How could you use them in your classroom?

Friday, May 9, 2014

Teacher Appreciation Gift Tags

Happy Friday! I hope you've had a great Teacher Appreciation week! I know that teachers don't always get the recognition they deserve, so sometimes we have to take care of each other. Here is a great gift tag freebie that you can use to recognize some of your favorite teachers.

This gift tag is from the Army Wife Teacher, and nail polish is a cheap little treat that screams "Pamper me!" Pick up a couple of bottles in fun summer colors and attach these cute tags for a easy little gift that will put a smile on any teacher's face.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Nature Art

I use natural materials in my classroom all the time - right now I have nature sorting in my math center, flower seeds and magnifying glasses in my science center, and twigs and tree circles in my block area.  My students help me collect these materials, sometimes we go on walks around the neighborhood and fill up a bag, and sometimes they bring fun stuff from their yards.

One of my favorite activities to do with wonderful bits of nature is to create a glue-free collage.  This project is so simple, but encourages so many different responses from the children.  The children are presented with the available materials and asked to create a picture in a framed space.  They don't actually glue their materials to any paper, so they are free to move and re-position the objects as they please.

I used mat boards to frame the space, but you could use large picture frames, or for smaller work, scrapbooking borders.  My students love to let their imaginations run wild with this activity, and they will revisit it throughout the day.  The beauty of the open-endedness is that they can create whatever they please in the given space, and we all know that preschoolers love their freedom!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

May Currently!

Yay! I finally made time to jump on the Currently Trend! It couldn't be better time, I love love love this month's theme, how festive are these flowers?! And now I'm done with the exclamation points, promise.  I'm linking up with Farley over at Oh Boy 4th Grade (She's the creative genius behind currently and all of the great monthly artwork).

Listening: I have really gotten into Dancing with the Stars this season, which is a little weird because I can't honestly tell you the last season that I watched. Maybe its because I really love Meryl and Candace (she will always be like my big sister), and maybe its because my husband hasn't been home on Monday nights to say "Are you really gonna watch this?" Tonight I'm loving that Abby Lee Miller is the guest judge, I LOVE DANCE MOMS!

Loving: When I got the mail tonight their were two packages waiting for me. One was an anniversary gift that I ordered for my husband (our third anniversary is next week), and one was something fun for me. Way too many of my friends have been having home show parties lately, but I love when the stuff I order comes in the mail, it feels like Christmas!

Thinking: At the beginning of the week I sit down with my planner and make my to do list for the week. I've been putting off writing down my to do list this week because I'm slightly overwhelmed by how long it's going to be. Maybe if I don't write it all down it won't seem so bad...

Wanting: I have so many different things in the works right now. I've been working non-stop (literally 70 hours a week) since February, and I want so badly for all of my projects to turn out successfully. I've always been an instant gratification kind of girl, so this winter and spring has been rough on me. I've watched all of my friends settle into their jobs and really figure out who they are, and lately it feels like I just can't quite get there. I'm so ready though, I've got big dreams and I want to see them come true RIGHT NOW. Agh!

Needing: I don't know what it is about this blog, but I love sharing with all of you.  Writing has always been an outlet for me, so I love that I get to write and people will actually read it, but I really do have other things to get done - hence the to do list.

Surprise: No more surprises please! It has been one big surprise after another for the last year of my life - surprise, your school is closing! Surprise, it takes six months to license a child care center! Surprise, here's 16 inches of snow! Surprise, you just broke your ipad! Enough already, unless of course you want to send me a good surprise, in that case i'll take it. 

Thanks for letting me share with you! Enjoy the rest of the first week of may!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Teacher Appreciation Sale!

In case you missed yesterday's awesome blog hop, it's Teacher Appreciation week! I'm celebrating by putting my store on sale (along with the vast majority of other TPT sellers) May 6th and 7th so that my favorite teachers can score some awesome deals!

I'll definitely be shopping during the sale, because I'm a teacher too, and we all love discounts! Here are are some of the awesome items that I can't wait to put in my shopping cart:

Plan and Go Teacher Lesson Planner in Heart of Gold. This AMAZING planner is by A Modern Teacher. I used her Happy Day Planner this year and I am absolutely in love with it.  The download is 100% editable - and there are tons of page formats to choose from so you can print the ones that work for you. I can't wait to get my hands on the gold version, I am in love with the foil polka dots!

Baking Clip Art Set.  Seriously, how awesome are these doodles?! They are by Molly Tillyer who is super talented.  I'm sure that I could think of a million ways to use them in the classroom, but to be honest, I have entirely selfish reasons for wanting this set, I'm planning my sister's bridal shower and these would be perfect for the invitations.

Resale Clipart. I'm going to have to restrain myself in this particular store. There are three clipart sets on my wishlist, but every time that I visit Resale Clipart I fall in love with something new!

My wishlist is slightly heavy on the clipart this time around, but that's natural seeing as I plan on spending my summer creating products for the classroom.  There is one thing in my store that I highly recommend as a gift for your favorite teacher - whether you are looking for a teacher appreciation gift or an end of the year teacher gift.

This is my Classroom Recipe book. It is packed full of all the recipes that teachers are constantly searching for on pinterest - playdough, home made paint, sensory paint, diy bubbles, sensory sand, salt dough, flubber and slime, even model magic, just to name a few.  This is a great resource and a perfect last minute gift because you can print it from home.  Put the pages in sheet protectors and place them in a three-ring binder with a special note from you or your child, and you've got a great gift that teachers will actually be able to use year after year!

Enjoy Teacher Appreciation week and be sure to stop by the Teachers Pay Teachers Teacher Appreciation Sale!

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Best for the Best!

I am so excited to be participating in my first ever blog hop, and I have to say a huge thank you to Amy over at Teaching in Blue Jeans for organizing it! This blog hop is all about celebrating teachers, and I could not think of a more deserving group, let's face it, we all know that teachers work long, hard hours and don't get the recognition that they deserve. I'm happy to help change that!

Today I want to share one of my favorite products with you. This particular product shows just how far I've come in the last couple of years, and it shows the incredible difference that a really clean polished product can make when it comes to confidence and professionalism as a teacher.

This is my Question of the Day Notebook.  Whenever I tell people that I teach Preschool, they typically respond with some version of "I bet you have some great stories." This notebook has led to many, many hilarious stories from my kiddos, and while that's fun, it's not the reason that I started doing Question of the Day in my classroom.

Question of the day has always been one of my favorite activities for a number of different reasons. From a theoretical and developmental standpoint, I love that it gives children the opportunity to practice answering questions. They get to see the process modeled by their teachers and peers, they have to comprehend the question, and then formulate an answer. That's a lot for a preschooler to do! I also love that answering a different question every day gives them an opportunity to form their own opinion and grow as an individual.

As soon as I started posting the children's answers in my classroom, parents started coming into the room to read them. They loved to see what their children were saying, and talk to each other about the other children's comments. It really built a sense of community in the classroom.  The children also talked to each other about their answers, and began to understand that they can have different answers to the same question.

As much as I love incorporating Question of the Day into my daily lessons, I am not super proud of the way that I originally displayed the questions and answers.  I'm sharing the photos with you only so that you understand why I had to create this product. Just know that I am cringing as I upload these photos.

That's a lot of faded construction paper... I mean, I guess I had to start somewhere right? Besides how sad my documentation looks, as the year went on I found myself having a really difficult time coming up with questions - I found myself asking the children what their favorite vegetable was for goodness sake.

I found myself scrounging Pinterest for a year long list of questions, which of course I never found. So, I made one myself.  This product includes 255 questions (enough for 51 weeks), both seasonal and general, so that you will never run out of questions like I did.  It also includes two different note page designs, so that you have cute paper to write your student's responses on.

This product has allowed me to continue using one of my favorite activities in the classroom, while helping my classroom look just a little more polished and professional.  Each week I take the previous week's responses down off the wall and place them in a binder which looks much neater than my giant notebooks of ripped, faded construction paper. I'm not embarrassed to share these!

I hope that you will find it to be as useful as I have!

Now here's the important part of this post, you can win my Question of the Day Notebook! Just enter the Best for the Best giveaway!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

The next amazing product is from A Sunny Day in First Grade!
Continue on The Best for the Best Teacher Appreciation Blog Hop by clicking the link below.

Thank you to Amy from Teaching in Blue Jeans for hosting, and to Michelle (from 3AM Teacher) and Marcy (from Simply Sprout Educate) for the awesome graphics!