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Getting to the Core

  Why buy a unit?

     Have you ever bought a book of lessons because it contained a few items you wanted, but had many other items that you didn’t want or never used?  My units incorporate multiple subjects and are available for purchase “a la carte” allowing teachers to buy only what they need, at an affordable price.  From our home page, click on a season, and the units can be found under each month.  Click on the link:  Home Page There are currently 43 themes!

  Painting_kidEach unit…

  •  -reinforces report card standards.
  •  -empowers students and frees up the teacher.
  •  -can be integrated with our matching Booklets
  •    and Art & Activity Books.

  •      Click on the link to see how I do  this with my Apple Theme. APPLES

     There are plenty of lessons for you to choose something that fits your students' level. The beauty of the variety is that you have easier skill sheets for those who are struggling and more difficult ones for children who have mastered a concept.

  Unit Skill Sheets…

  • become independent center activities;
  • involve core skills (cutting, gluing, writing, coloring,  sequencing, sorting, identifying, matching, tracing etc, );
  • cover basic subjects (math, writing, reading, language arts);
  • are themed so things are organized and cohesive throughout your day and fit seasonally as well;
  • use the same format for each theme, so that children get used to doing them, and can easily recognize what they are supposed to do even though they may not be able to read the directions;
  • involve the whole child.

  Unit Skill Sheets are great if you need somethingdrawing_kid

  • for “Table Top or to make into a booklet for morning lessons;
  • for review before an assessment;
  • to use as assessments;
  • to give to parents when they want to work with a struggling child at home;
  • when a child is going on a trip and a parent requests a packet of take-along materials;
  • for children who finish early;
  • for substitutes to plug in;
  • to include in portfolios.

     However you use them, I know that my Y5’s have excelled with this program.  I truly believe that one reason is that units empower students to work independently and build their self-esteem to such a level that they realize they CAN do the lesson before they even start!

     They are ready for workbooks in the next grade because they have practiced with a skill sheet booklet every day for "Table Top Time".  For example, by March they are doing a 15 -18 page booklet that takes them about 10 minutes, and they ENJOY it! They are also doing 6-8 centers independently and transitioning with no problem.

     My life is made easier because I’m not constantly planning the next day’s centers and I can incorporate art with confidence because I know that it is standards based, and best of all my students are learning and having FUN at the same time.

     Click on the links to read more about the program or go directly to free CENTERS or free TABLE TOP

     Read the article, "How to Get Students to Follow Directions" and see how to further empower your students through my "following direction icons" They really work!  Your life will be so much easier, AND your discipline problems fewer!


Getting Kids To Clean Up!

     "If I've told my kids once, I've told them a hundred times, to clean up their rooms." STOP! There's your first mistake. Tell them once, let them know you will only tell them once, and then if they don't clean up, let them know there WILL be a consequence, one that you have decided on before hand, and one that's fair. Then you MUST be consistent and follow through. If you don't, you are reinforcing their negative behavior and telling them that they don't have to pick up, that nothing will happen if they don't, or that you may even do it for them! You are training them to NOT listen to you, or to do the exact opposite of what you really want them to do.

    child_playing This is not going to happen in my classroom. In some cases, I have to break those bad habits to the shock and dismay of my students. Picture this: My students are absolutely thrilled when Mrs. Henderson shows them the mini Toys R Us™ she has tucked away neatly in various colored tubs. They anxiously await the time when they can FINALLY play with all these wonderful treasures. They can hardly contain their excitement. They agree that the rules are very simple.


  1. You can only play with ONE tub at a time. (No problem.)
  2. When you’re done with that tub simply put the stuff back into the tub, put it back where you got it from, then you may choose another one. (A no brainer!)
  3. When the timer rings simply STOP playing and help pick up the tub of toys that you were playing with. (That’s easy.)
  4. When the 2nd timer rings everything should be picked up and children should be ready to go on to some other fun activity. (Yup! I got it.)
  5. If you are done picking up your things please help a friend.

Consequences: Children repeat them twice!

  1. Any tubby that is not picked up will not be able to be taken out the next time.
  2. If there are more than 3 tubbies out after the timer rings everyone will lose 5 minutes of Free Play Time.

     Why then, EVERY year, on the very first day of school, do I have a zillion tubbies out? Mr. Nobody has taken them out, no body has put them away, no body has stopped playing when the timer has rung, so that when timer #2 goes off we have a huge mess. I get the children’s attention and they repeat the consequences for me. Some of them don’t even look too sad. I think they truly don’t think I’ll follow through with the

     I set a third timer and let them know that because they are now having to clean up, they have wasted 5 minutes that I had planned for a really fun game that they won’t get to play. I had planned the really fun game for them. Whose fault is it that they don’t get the really fun game? “Yes. Theirs.” What have they learned from this? Yes. To clean up when the timer rings and to not take out more than one tubby. Thank you. I know you’ll remember that next time.

     The next day, when it is Free Play Time, I say: “Oh I have some really fun new tubbies for you. I’m so excited. You’re just going to love these! ” Then I pause as I remember. “Oh dear, I forgot we don’t get toy tubbies today.” “Who can tell me why we don’t get toy tubbies today?” Someone will remember.

     I set the timer for 15 minutes. I tell them they can look at books or lay on mats. It’s a very long 15 minutes. Do you think that the next day when we have toy tubbies and the timer rings they are stopping and picking things up? Yes. And the ones who aren’t, are actually scolded by children who are, and reminded of the consequences! They are also more careful about taking one tub out. The children are more vigilant with each other too. It’s quite amazing.

      They aren’t perfect; and some of them need to be singled out for their own personal re-learning, but for the most part this initial lesson and then being consistent for the entire year works wonders.

      Try it at home. Set the oven timer. Give each of your children their own laundry hamper. Any toys that aren’t picked up go in mommy’s hamper. One of the reasons that I put things in tubs is that it’s easy for children to pick up, dump out, and put away. Everything stays neat and organized and it’s a breeze to sort if things get messy.

     I give my students 20 to 25 minutes to play and 5 to 10 minutes to clean up depending on the day and the tubbies that I’m allowing them to have out.

    During report card or conference weeks, I’ll often do assessments when children are doing free play. It’s a great time to observe children too, but it’s also a wonderful time to just sit on the floor and play with them.

      I have two clean up songs: I’ve done them so long I don’t know where I got them from so I don’t know who to give credit to.

Clean up! Clean up! Everybody every where.

Clean up! Clean up! Everybody do their share.

     To the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

Pick up, pick up, pick up toys.

All my little girls and boys,

Look around and you will see,

Stuff here and there that shouldn’t be. (Point at the stuff that you spy still not picked up.)

Pick up, pick up, pick up toys.

All my good  girls and boys! (Point to the ones picking up)


Click on the link  for a great poem about play being an important part of learning.

Click on the link for pictures of how I organize my toys in the tubs.


Are you tired of hearing, “What are we supposed to do?” and repeating directions?

     Whether you’re a beginning teacher or a seasoned veteran you’ll want to check this out. Hopefully it will help make your life easier and your students more independent.

  • teacher_at_boardMy Y5’s have an attention span of negative 5 seconds. They bring new meaning to the phrase "ants in your pants!"
  • They also don’t listen well so following directions is difficult for them.
  • Even though I would explain and model what we would be doing for "Table Top" lessons on the white board, they were not retaining that information when they'd take their seats.
  • I was constantly answering “What are we supposed to do now?” I felt this was reinforcing negative behavior as well as a waste of my time. I could be working one-one with my Hispanic children, or helping with a center etc.
  • It was frustrating all the way around and we were not getting a whole lot done.
  • They couldn’t read the directions on their paper or on the board so what could I do that would turn the light bulb on?
  • Click on the link to see and print a set.
  • I also put the words under the picture.
  • I simply made a list of all the directions that I have my students do consistently and looked for clip art to match.
  • Because I always have Hispanic children who are not yet bilingual, I try to keep my one-word commands the same, instead of using a different synonym, so the icons really helped my ESL students.
  • Each morning my children do “Table Top” lessons at their desk.
  • These are skill sheets that I’ve designed that revolve around our report card standards. I call them skill or fun sheets, not work sheets. Who’d want to do work?
  • They are stapled in a packet at their desk.
  • The first day of school they only have one page.
  • We work up from there as days progress ‘til I have them doing entire mini “fun booklets”.Icons_on_board
  • This gets them ready for the workbooks they will have to do in kindergarten and 1st grade. Even learning how to turn a page, self check their work to make sure they have done all of the pages, learn that this is the cover page, ask themselves have they written their name at the top etc. are all skills  they don't have.
  • These mini booklets help them learn these things.
  • Another bonus is that if Parent/Teacher conferences are coming up and I need something to show families, I simply keep one or two mornings of work and I pretty much have all of my report card standards covered.
  • Most days they are doing 5-8 pages.
  • I put the individual sheets up on the white board and hold them there with magnet clips.
  • My students sit on the floor while I explain and model. We do the “fun” sheets together as a whole group.
  • I keep directions short 5-8 minutes.
  • Before I even explain what we will do with a particular page, I have them read the icon and tell me what we will do.
  • For some papers I have more than one icon under the paper.
  • This is great for understanding ordinal numbers. First we will write our name on the paper, second we will color, third we will cut, last we will glue.
  • I’ll put 1, 2, 3 by the icons and later 1st, 2nd, 3rd.
  • Children have a tendency to want to cut things out first which makes it hard to color little pieces later. So “seeing” this on the board, as well as “hearing” me tell them the reason this step is important for them to do it in this order, really helps.
  • Hearing and seeing is also hitting two types of learners.
  • Following a 3-step direction is one of our report card standards, and by using these icons I’m nailing that standard every day.
  • I also have all of my CENTERS displayed at the white board and successfully use the icons to do those directions as well.
  • My students start out the first week of school doing 1 to 2 centers. We work up to 6-8 centers.
  • They range from quickie 1 to 2-minute activities to more involved ones that take 10-15 minutes. They can do all of them independently.
  • The Pinch & Poke and Bingo Dot/Pattern sheets are part of my center activities. They are included in all of my Units.
  • Click on the link to see the explanation of a unit.
  • Now when my students go back to their desk, if they forget what they are supposed to do, they simply look at the board and see the icon.  It jogs their memory and they can get down to business.
  • It REALLY does work! I have so much more time to help students with other things!
  • My students are also able to READ those words so that when they do see written directions on their skill sheets they can actually figure them out!
  • The first week, before they are used to the system, they might still ask “What do I do?” Simply refer them to the board and say: “You tell me. What does the picture tell you that you should do?”
  • LaughI’ve also developed something called: LAF. I tell my students that I want you to  “LAF” before you can ask me “What do I do?” Click on the link to read about that and empower your students!
  • I really try to train my students to think for themselves.
  • I encourage them to ask questions, but I want them to know that I’m not always going to give them the answer, especially if I know it’s rolling around in their head somewhere.
  • It’s much more exciting and self-esteem building for them to find out on their own.
  • My skill sheets are also of the same format so that they are consistent.
  • Students who can’t read need that consistency so that they feel comfortable showing you that they know a skill or can practice a skill.
  • So that they are not getting something wrong simply because they aren’t following directions.
  • Click on the link for directions on how to make your icons and to read about the "Smartie Coins" that I use as an incentive to further good listening skills".
  • Click on the link for a copy of the note home to parents about Smartie Coins.
  • I cannot tell you enough how this icon program has freed me up to do other things and stopped the “What do I do now?” frustrating questions completely!
  • They have empowered my students to get down to business and work independently. Because of this, they feel really good about themselves.
  • The icons have actually been a great self-esteem builder, not only for that reason, but because by the end of October, they can read those words and are pretty proud of themselves.







A Must-Read

     Every child is different. Some will cry and cling to you like a barnacle on the bottom of a boat. Others will try valiantly to hold it together and manage a trembling lip. Still others like my daughter, will simply wave at the door, give you a Colgate smile and skip away into oblivion.  She didn’t even want me to walk in with her! I was the one crying! I think Kelli was ready for kindergarten because I had hauled her to the “everything’s” of both her older brothers: Open House, Class Parties, 1st days! She WANTED to go and couldn’t wait! She KNEW what to expect. She was EXCITED. Herein lies several big keys to get rid of separation anxiety before it can rear its ugly head.


Get Rid Of The Fear Of The Unknown:

  • classroom_2I’m not sure who said it, but I tend to agree that the fear of the unknown is the greatest fear. If you’re a woman and reading this, remember when you were pregnant? Do you  remember that one of your biggest fears was delivery? You didn’t know what to expect, because you hadn’t experienced it before. I think that’s one of the biggest reasons that “What To Expect When You’re Expecting” is such a popular book. We need to know, because it helps get rid of your fears. It’s your duty as a parent to get rid of the heebie- jeebies for your child. How do you do that? 
  • If there is an Open House you NEED to go. Schedule your vacation at a different time. There is nothing more important than going to the Open House. Speaking as a teacher, I spend a zillion hours getting everything ready for your child and making things extra special for them. They really miss out if you don’t attend. The biggest thing they will be missing is a chance to get rid of any fears they have. They especially need to meet the teacher and see their room. This may not be a “big deal” to you, but trust me; it’s a really big deal to a little kid. Making it a priority in your life also shows them that what is happening in their world is very important to you. This builds their self-esteem and helps them realize that school is important. 
  • Let them know even before Open House what goes on at school. I did this by taking my children to events that were held at school. You can also share positive experiences that you had as a child. “I just loved kindergarten. We had a class pet. I enjoyed painting at the easel and playing with Play-Dough and going on fieldtrips. I wonder if you’ll get to do those things too. We should ask your teacher when we see them.”


  • There are some wonderful First Day Of School/Separation Anxiety books on the market. Go to the library, and read several. I love: I Like School, The Good-Bye Book,  The Kissing Hand, First Day Jitters, Llama Llama Misses Mama,  The Night Before Kindergarten.

Make friends:

  • Children are no different than adults. Put yourself in their place. Do you like going to events where you don’t know anyone, where you have to fill out and slap on a “Hello my name is tag?” friendsDo a little research on your child’s behalf. See if the neighbor’s children, or kids up the street, or the children in his Sunday school class, are going to be in his class and then call up the parent and make a Play Date. If there is some sort of summer recreational activity going on in your area, it’s a great place to meet other children before school starts. Making a new friend before hand, so they can share the first day experience with, gives them something to look forward to. “Oh look Stevie! There’s Jason.” Is a great distraction tool.
  • After they’ve been in school awhile, ask who their new friends are and make after school or Saturday Play Dates with them.
  • Practice makes perfect so why not practice separating? Arrange Play Dates with friends..  Ask a grand parent to take your child for a few hours. Hire a sitter for an hour so that you can run errands instead of taking your child with you everywhere you go.
  •  Don’t tell your child “I’ll be right back.” To them that’s minutes. They don’t have a real concept of time. “I’ll be back when the hands on the clock look like this picture.” Then draw it for them and make sure you are not late. Or if they have a children’s play clock set the hands to that time.

Ask the right questions 

  • Don’t plant seeds of doubt by asking them leading questions like: “Are you worried about school?” “Are you worried about leaving mommy” You just opened a can of worms. Your child might not have had a care in the world and now you gave them something to think about, mull over and start to worry about. 
  • Instead, water a garden of excitement! “Wow! I bet you’re excited to start school and make new friends.” 
  • It’s good to ask them if they have any questions. You’d be surprised that some of their top questions involve practical things that they have fears about like: What if I have to go to the bathroom? What if I forget to get off the bus? What if nobody likes me?  You can then address these and dispel their fears.

 Generate Excitement:

  • kindergartenHow else do you get them excited? There’s nothing like a trip to the mall and an adventure in shopping to add excitement. Bring them along when you go looking for school supplies, a backpack and school clothes. Give them a say in choices. 
  • Let them help pack their backpack the night before school. Let them choose a special snack for their lunch box, and allow them to help you make their lunch. Show them the options of what they can wear to school. I limited this to 2 choices with NO mind changing in the morning. Then lay everything out for the next day.

Be Organized: 

  • Having everything ready will make for a great morning and ease tension and anxiety. Allow for extra time so things run smoothly. If you’re calm, your child will be calm. Don’t forget the camera.

 Click on the link to read the rest of the article.

     It's back-to-school and the biggest problem I face with my 4-year-olds is the fact that I always have at least one child who suffers from separation anxiety. Instead of this being a wonderul happy day for them, tears flow and you'd think we're at the doctor's office anticipating the dreaded shot!

     Here are some tried and true tips that are sure-fire methods in keeping the awful Anxiety Monster away!

Prepare Your Parents:

  •  Have you ever heard the saying: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?” That is extremely applicable for separation anxiety and your parents. Yes, parents and not your students. I’m a firm believer in training parents as much as children. A child doesn’t come with an instruction manual and some parents are just better at easing into the job than others, just as some teachers get the hang of things right out of the gate.
  • If you give them a bulleted check list in your “Welcome to school” summer letter, chances are you might have a few less criers, or that the ones who do go into meltdown mode will at least have the equipment needed to settle down after mommy or daddy leave. Click on the link for a check list.  
  • You can also read my article “Separation Anxiety and What Every Parent Should Know To Prepare For the First Day Of School”  and give them the link to read it. 


Dispel The Fear Of The Unknown

  • Most schools have an Open House so that your students have a chance to meet you and see their room BEFORE the start of school. If your Open House is after school starts, see if you can get permission to have a “Meet You Teacher” night before the start of school. Have this the day before school starts. This will get rid of their biggest fear: “the fear of the unknown.”  
  • Give students something to look forward to in your summer letter. I tell mine that we will be studying dinosaurs. That is a hot topic for my little ones. I also let them know that after we finish a fun activity they will get to choose a little dinosaur to take home.  
  • At Open House I make sure that they get to see all the cool toys and our beautiful playground. These are also wonderful things that get them excited to want to come back and do. 
  • family I make sure to mention that they will make lots of new friends and encourage parents to introduce children while at Open House.  I often initiate introductions. “Hi Carter. Have you met Jason? He’s in our class too, and likes soccer just like you. “Then I walk away and hope parents do the rest… 
  • So that there is a comforting “school-home” connection, I include a coloring “about me” dinosaur in my students’ “Welcome Packet” that parents pick up at Open House.  Because they’ve had  some quality time with family filling this out when they share it with the class, it’s not only a great “ice breaker”, but a reminder that their family loves them and did this activity at home with them because school is important.  If someone didn’t come to Open House, or forgot to bring their dino, I let them know they can share their dinosaur on the next day of school.
  • You can also have that “school-home” connection by asking families to bring a family photo with them to Open Houseon a collage them on a wall. Then when you have meltdown moments you can take a child and show them the “We LOVE you!” wall. Have colorful paper hearts available for parents to write the words “We love you _______.” on, and then attach those next to the photo so they can see their name on the wall as well.

Prepare Yourself:bawling_kid

  • Hopefully parents will have read your note and be prepared. YOU be prepared that they have not, and that you will be dealing with two people in meltdown mode. The parent and the child. Be caring; this is a mom who is a bit tearful about leaving her child for the first time. She worries that she’ll be crying all day. She’s also embarrassed that things are out of control.  Use reassuring words that everything will be fine. That all of this is normal, that every child reacts differently, and that we will all have a great day. Keep your smile on your face, your voice calm and convincing. 
  • Now is the time to try and distract the child. I have a pin wheel and a bottle of bubbles. I ask the child which one they would like to blow on. The bubbles or the pin wheel. You do not ask a crying child yes or no questions. The answer will always be no.  It’s hard to blow and cry. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t so always have plan B.   
  • Just in case my parents didn’t send a token to school with their child, I have a basket of “lovies” that a child can choose from to “cling” to ‘til the “drama trauma” is over. There’s nothing like a soft plush animal to sooth feelings. I let them know before hand that the lovies have to go back in the basket when the timer rings because it is their nap time. This way I don’t have to have them go into meltdown mode all over again, trying to get them unclung from something else in order to have them be able to participate in activities and do some work. They can also have the option to keep the lovie on their lap or table top if they promise to do some work, if this option will get them to quiet down. I ask the crying child which one they’d like to hold.  
  • If they still are crying I simply take them by the hand and say. “I need a special helper today, and I pick you!”  Then I lead them away. I always make sure that mom has already said good-bye and given them a kiss and hug etc. then I take the rest of my children into the room so mom is out of sight and I can get things rolling.  
  • This works if I only have one or two children crying.  Amazingly, children do quiet down within 5 minutes of parents leaving.

Click on the link to read the rest of this article.


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