Back to School

All across the country, kids are folding themselves into new outfits, packing new backpacks, and crossing their fingers that they’ll find a friend or two in their new classroom. Parents are checking bus schedules and teachers are planning their first few months of lessons. It’s the start of another year of school!

It’s an incredibly exciting time, filled with expectation, nervousness, and excitement. Classrooms are amazing places where learning and growing coexist and topics like science, history, and reading make impacts on growing brains that will last a lifetime.

Check out this Back-to-School Classroom Guide for tips on making a classroom an inviting place full of potential! (These tips work great for libraries and homeschools, too!)

stick figures holding hands

Five Fun Back-to-school Activities for Your Classroom

The old saying goes, “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression,” and in some ways the first week of school can set the tone for the rest of the year.

Some teachers like to start off the school year by making sure their kids know what to expect in terms of discipline and academics. Others want to make sure the students see them as a resource, not just for learning but for personal problems as well. Others use these first few days to get to know their students’ academic interests and abilities.

Whatever your needs, try these back-to-school activities for your classroom to get the year off to the right start! 

Marshmallow Challenge
Supplies for each group

  • 20 pieces of spaghetti
  • 1 yard of tape
  • 1 yard of strong
  • 1 marshmallow
  • scissors

The marshmallow challenge is a fun way to get kids collaborating and introduce them to a creative use of STEM learning. Assign children into groups of two or three and hand each group a set of supplies. They get 18 minutes to build the tallest structure possible that can hold the marshmallow on top.

It’s a tough challenge! Remind your students that success always requires lots of mistakes, so if at first they don’t succeed, they know what to do! Don’t forget to measure and take pictures of the results.

Check out the original Marshmallow Challenge here!

Save Fred!
Supplies for each group

  • 1 gummy worm
  • 1 gummy ring
  • 1 plastic cup
  • 4 paper clips
  • scissors

Poor Fred the worm is stuck on top of his over-turned boat, while his life preserver is under the boat! How can you save Fred without touching him, the boat, or the life preserver with your hands? All you can use is four paper clips. This activity will get brains working and students talking to each other! You can learn more about the activity and see pictures here.

Create the Tallest Cup Tower
Supplies for each group

  • Plenty of plastic cups!

Cup stacking is an old activity that has gained new popularity! There are even cup stacking competitions that measure how fast people can stack and unstack plastic cups. Try presenting your students with the challenge of creating the tallest structures. All it takes is a set of plastic cups! Have them work in groups so they can collaborate with each other and learn more about their new classmates. And remember—the crashing cups are part of the learning process!

A-MAZE-ing!
Supplies

  • Masking tape or pieces of paper laid out in a 4-by-4 grid

Have your students help each other through a maze! Mark a 4-by-4 grid on the floor with masking tape or tape sheets of paper to the floor in a grid pattern. Tell your students where the starting block is. Have them take turns trying to get through the maze—every time they step on a wrong block, blow a whistle. Their turn is over and the next person tries to remember all the correct steps while not repeating the mistakes of past players. Have the group try and help each other remember where to go!

Toilet Paper Game
Supplies

  • A roll of toilet paper

Introduce a roll of toilet paper into any classroom and you’ll immediately get some laughs. Have each child pull off several squares of toilet paper (just tell them to take as much as they need without telling them what they’ll need it for). During circle time, each child tells as many things about themselves as they have squares of toilet paper. If you have three squares, you tell the group three things about yourself. You can limit the sharing by categories (foods you like to eat, places you want to visit, favorite books/movies/video games) or leave it open ended and see what the kids come up with!

An extra activity for parents!

At open house or orientation, create QR codes for parents to scan that lead them to the forms they need, contact information, or places online where they can find more information. Post these QR codes around the room so parents can learn more about their kids’ classroom experience!

Eleven Morning Meeting Ideas for Happy Classrooms!

Morning meetings are terrific opportunities to connect with your students, have them connect with each other, and set the tone for a day of enthusiastic learning! That’s a lot of benefits packed into 15-30 minutes a day!

Morning meeting programs are flexible according to the classroom. If you have a lot of wigglers in your class, you might hold a 5- to 7-minute meeting, not long enough for kids to get distracted. If your kids enjoy a lively discussion and have the capacity to focus for an extended period of time, your meeting might run much longer. Maybe you’ll incorporate academics in your meeting, or simply stick to reflection and sharing. It’s up to you!

Do you need some morning meeting ideas to jumpstart your own schedule? Maybe you’re looking for ideas to refresh the morning meeting you’ve been holding for years. Here are some tips on making your morning meetings an enthusiastic start to the day!

  • Most morning meetings start with a greeting.
    This isn’t just the teacher’s chance to greet students—students should take this opportunity to greet each other. You can have children go around the circle and greet each person sitting next to them, or devise fun games so that each child greets different people each day.

Greeting time is a great chance to wake up your kids’ imaginations, too. Instead of a standard, “Hello, how are you this morning,” type of greeting, set up a fun template for kids to follow. Hand around an object, such as a roll of masking tape, and have each child make up a funny identity for the object. For example, “Hello, my name is Karen and this is my spaceship.” See if everyone can come up with their own idea!

  • After the greeting, many teachers allow time for sharing.
    You might have to limit sharing to three or four students a day to give everyone time to respond to the shares. This can be great on a Monday morning, when the weekend is still fresh in everyone’s mind. It’s also a good idea to keep the “show” out of this “show and tell.” Kids can share by describing events instead of bringing in objects to show. You can even have themed sharing days.

    • Share about a dinner you would like to serve to three animals guests
    • Share the story of how you got your name or nickname
    • Share a description of an imaginary land that you’d like to visit on vacation
  • Some morning meetings are long enough to do an activity.
    Make sure the activity you choose is one that the whole class can work on together to promote collaboration skills.

  •  A morning message is an important part of a morning meeting.
    This is when the class learns the plan for the day, including any special events or visitors. Write the morning message on a smartboard or large easel paper and incorporate interactive elements into it, such as grammatical errors that the kids need to fix, scrambled words, or half-finished illustrations they can finish.There are lots of ways to make morning meetings varied and interesting. You can introduce an advice box for students to anonymously submit questions or problems that are happening at home or at school. Then open the floor to other students who might have ideas on how to solve the problem. If you want to use the time for academics, here are some ideas:

    • Have the children try to solve a challenging daily math problem
    • Have children prepare and give book talks
    • Introduce a fun vocabulary word of the day. “Defenestrate” means to throw someone out the window!

Morning meeting time is a great chance to practice the rules, respect, and enthusiasm that should be a part of every classroom. And don’t forget to have fun!

Four Ideas for Bulletin Board Learning

In many schools, you’ll find a plethora of colorful bulletin boards meant to inspire learning. Whether they’re themed for an upcoming holiday, meant to introduce students to a new academic concept, or are simply reflective of the character of the classroom, bulletin boards can be a way to connect with kids on a smart, entertaining level.

Bulletin boards also serve an important purpose by reaching out to kids who are in the most danger of being overlooked. You know the ones—they’re quiet, shy, well behaved, not any trouble, and they can easily ride the tide of classroom relationships without ever finding themselves beached at the teacher’s desk. Bulletin boards reach out to kids who might be introverted and in need of a little stimulation. Perhaps they’ll spot something on the board that is especially meaningful and realize that their teacher is a kindred soul they can trust.

Teachers might start the year full of bulletin board ideas, but as the months go on, we could all use a little creative help. Here are some bulletin ideas that are sure to make your classroom shine!

The Happy Wall

This bulletin board requires participation of students. Have every child write (or draw, for a younger class) several things that make them happy. They can use whatever colors, fonts, frames, and other decorations they like. Mount every word on a black background for a colorful wall of happy thoughts!

Great Mistakes in Science and Engineering

We celebrate lots of successful discoveries and experiments, but what about the oops moments? Those are just as important as the hurray moments! Help your kids discover that science and technology move forward whenever we make mistakes by posting a board of scientists and their downfalls that have resulted in great new inventions and knowledge. For example, if Alexander Fleming had been more careful with the cleanliness of his lab bench, penicillin might never have been found. And if Spencer Silver had succeeded in making a stronger glue instead of a weaker glue, we wouldn’t have Post-it notes! Speaking of Post-it notes…

Post-it Note Meet-up

Using three Post-it notes for each child, have them write down the answers to these questions:

  • What do you see yourself doing in ten years?
  • Who do you know, other than a teacher, who has gone to college?
  • What do you like to do when you’re not in school?

Stick all answers to a bulletin board so students can try and guess who answered what!

Great First Lines from Books

“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb and he almost deserved it.” S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn TreaderMake a bulletin board filled with great first lines of children’s literature! Try to choose lines from books your students might want to read, and be sure to have those books on hand in your classroom or at the school library, because it’s hard to read just one line!

Math + Bulletin Board = Extra Practice (Fun!)

Invite your kids to keep math in the front of their minds by posting a new problem on your math bulletin board each week. Students can write what they think is the answer on Post-it notes and stick them up there. At the end of the week, you can figure the problem out together!

5 Tips For Classroom Management That Work

One thing on the minds of every teacher is classroom management. You can’t teach a classroom full of unruly kids who aren’t listening to your words! How do you handle disruptive behavior in your elementary and middle school classrooms?

Here are some tips for classroom management that will help establish a pattern of respect and listening with your students without losing your temper, getting discouraged, or embarrassing anyone.

  • Hallway conferences.
    When someone is acting out in the classroom, ask them to join you in the hallway for a talk. That’s when you can take a minute or two to find out if there’s something going on you should know about (difficulty at home, illness, social anxiety) and ask the student to focus on the work at hand. An important part of hallway chats comes when you reenter the classroom—be sure to say out loud, “Thank you, child’s name!” as they walk back to their seat. This lets the rest of the class know that a respectful exchange just occurred and no one is in trouble.
  • Establish a ritual unique to that classroom.
    This is a great way for kids to get to know each other and you and to feel like a team instead of a random group of people! Some ideas include:

    • Do Monday morning shares about everyone’s weekend.
    • Create a hand signal that means “like” for kids to use when they’re listening to another member of the class share their writing or anything else as a quiet way to show appreciation.
    • Start every day with each student sharing a metaphor that offers clues on how they feel. For example, “Today I’m a pink elephant balancing on a silver beach ball.” Encourage goofiness!
  • Like your students and expect the best from them.
    Even if a student is displaying behavior that you don’t like, you can still like the person. Make it clear that everyone in the classroom is someone you want to hang out with and that you assume their behavior and effort will be the best they can possibly do. Expectations can go a long way.
  • Call out positive behavior.
    You don’t need to gush with praise, but letting your kids know that you notice when they are meeting expectations can be powerful. It can be as simple as saying, “I notice that everyone here is quiet so they can hear the next debate question.” By recognizing the good behavior, you instill in your kids a desire to do more of it. Also, those students for whom sitting quietly and waiting for instructions is hard will have even more incentive to work at it—peer pressure can be a good thing!
  • Don’t embarrass kids who are behaving badly.
    In fact, don’t embarrass anyone in your classroom, ever. Kids in late elementary and middle school are highly sensitive to being different from everyone else. They worry about the way they dress, learn, act, and a multitude of other things. If unacceptable behavior is met with embarrassment, the behavior is likely to get worse because the kid will feel a keen lack of support.

Download a FREE Back-to-School Classroom Guide!

Breathe Deeply: Relaxation Techniques for the Classroom

School days are busy days—there’s lots to fit into those 7 to 8 hours you have with your students! Don’t forget to remind your kids to take time to breathe.

It’s easy to forget about the restorative benefits of deep breathing and other relaxation techniques, but when used at the right time in the right way, these practices can go a long way to creating a healthy, balanced atmosphere where there’s room for learning, patience, kindness, and individual growth. And it’s not just your students who need to remember to breathe!

Think about your own day. Do you rush through every task, your mind several steps ahead looking forward to the next things? The next lesson, the next errand, the next meeting? It’s exhausting, isn’t it? We know that taking breaks from work and family to exercise, meditate, sit for a little while in nature, and enjoy a cup of tea are crucial to remaining healthy and happy. The better we take care of our brains, the better we can meet our obligations with a good attitude and capability. It’s no different for kids!

A five-minute break for relaxation, meditation, or yoga can do wonders for a classroom of kids, whether they’re in kindergarten learning about letter sounds or in high school learning how to dissect a cow’s eyeball. Here are some tips for your classroom!

  • Deep breathing.
    This is an easy one that might seem obvious, but when kids are over-busy or stressed, the breath is the first sign that they’re having a meltdown. Simple ask your kids to breath in deeply, hold, hold, hold, breathe out slowly. Counting your breaths is another way to slow down your breathing. “In two, three, four… Out two, three, four…”
  • You don’t need any special equipment or clothes to do this sport! Here are a few good yoga poses that kids can do to refocus and relax.
    • Mountain pose. Simply stand evenly on your feet with your back straight and your head held high. Don’t ask little kids to hold this for too long—they might get antsy!
    • Downward facing dog. Stand with your feet on the floor and place your hands on the floor away from your feet, so your body makes two sides of a triangle. See if you can get your legs straight!
    • Pose of the child. Kneel and try to place your forehead on the floor in front of you, keeping your back rounded and your spine long.
    • Tree pose. Stand on one leg and press your other foot against your knee. Balance with your palms held together in front of your chest or raised above your head.
  • Tensing toes.Have students lie on the floor or sit in a chair. Ask them to curl they toes toward their heads as tightly as they can, hold it for a count of five, and then release. Do this a few times and encourage them to recognize the feeling of tension and how different it is from the feeling of relaxation.
  • Meditate with a mantra.A mantra is a word or phrase that you say over and over again while breathing deeply. This focuses your mind and rests your body. Here are a few mantras kids might like to try. They can also simply make a noise, such as “Hummmmmmm.”
    • “All will be well.”
    • “I am thankful.”
    • “Let it go.”
  • Mini massages.Have your students spend a few minutes massaging their own hands and each individual finger. If it’s allowed, they can take off their shoes and give themselves a foot rub as well. Show them how to massages using long, smooth strokes that will ease any tense muscles.

How to Help Anxious Kids

During the course of a school year, teachers and librarians are likely to be with their students during some of the toughest moments. Whether a kid is socially anxious, overwhelmingly nervous about school work, working to manage emotions such as anger, or just needs the occasional calm-down, it’s the adults in the room who need to know how to help.

While there are students who have issues that would benefit from professional attention, many kids will appreciate simple calming techniques that are easy to teach and practice in the classroom. Let’s face it, we could all use more meditation, more breathing, more stretching, and more awareness in our lives!

By working alongside your students in a group effort to be calmer in the face of conflict, uncertainty, and a lack of confidence, you not only teach them excellent tools for engaging with the world, you also teach them that it’s a lifelong learning process, that you are still working with the same tools on the same issues. This is wonderful for them to see! You’ll help them avoid feelings of failure and defeat when they don’t “achieve” a calm frame of mind right away. They’ll use the skills they practice in your classroom or library to be healthier and happier far into the future.

Here are some terrific methods for getting kids to feel less anxious about their work, their home, their friendships, and themselves.

  • Play the belly breathing game! Have your students lay on the floor, if possible, and put their hands on their bellies. Ask them to breath in through their noses—breath, breath, breathe, until their bellies start to round up. Then, they can hold it for four seconds, and slowly let it all out. Wait for four more seconds, and then breath it all in again! Controlling your breath is a great way to feel in control of your environment.
  • Go for a walk! If you can bring kids outside to walk, all the better, but even a walk around the school or around the classroom will help kids refocus and calm down. Movement gets endorphins going, brains love a change, and fresh air is always helpful.
  • Everyone close their eyes and listen. When we stop trying so hard to see everything, we often find ourselves more aware of what’s actually going on. Try a mediation in which everyone closes their eyes and listens for a full minute. Ask your students what they hear, what they smell, what vibrations they feel. Often, by better connecting with our environment, we better connect with ourselves.
  • Draw what you see. Some activities lend themselves well to calming ourselves down. Drawing is one of those. Choose something for the group to draw, hand out pencils, crayons, paper, pens—whatever kids want to use—and let them draw for 10 minutes or so. Emphasize the fact that the finished drawing isn’t the point of the exercise, it’s the process of drawing that counts.
  • And always, listening is a way for educators to connect with those students who might need a little bit more reassurance during the day. Make some time in the busyness to listen to the hopes, fears, and anxieties of the students who just need to share their worries.
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