Why Picture Books In The Classroom?

Between Mary and I writing blog posts over the last few years, I think we’ve put together somewhere around 100 book lists. What can we say?! We are both book lovers! You can see Mary’s book round-up here. And I’ll be working on one in the coming months! 

But maybe we need to step back and focus on the why. Why books in the classroom? Why have Mary and I written endless lists and posts about reading and books? Here are a few reasons.

TO BUILD RELATIONSHIPS

With the books, the characters in the books, and with reading. To see more on this idea, read Looking Into The Bond We Make With Literature.

TO SET THE FOUNDATION FOR LIFELONG READERS.

Especially in those early years, having the example of being read books can help curate a love for reading in children. 

TO LEARN HOW TO VISUALIZE

Reading books with pictures leads to reading chapter books and seeing the pictures in your mind. 

TO TAKE A BREAK

What better way to switch up the mood of the classroom than to pull out a picture book and get lost in a new world for a time? 

TO LEARN A LESSON 

Sometimes a good solution to learn a needed lesson is to let a beloved book character do the teaching. 

Here’s what Mary has to say on the subject: 

“[Picture books] make for outstanding anchor texts for students to learn small, targeted skills, both for writing and for social/emotional learning. Everyone should check out Jill Heise’s #classroombookaday for more on daily picture books! And regular fifth grade books for grade level texts to build up and transfer reading skills.”

What is your reason for reading picture books in your classroom? 

Putting The Remote In My Child’s Hands: More Thoughts On Self-Reg

It was 4 pm and the TV in our basement was blaring. Almost in a daze as I made dinner, I tried to calculate how many hours of screen time my daughter had for that day. 

“The entire movie of Frozen, plus four episodes of Mickey Mouse Club House. Or was it five episodes? Maybe this was episode six for the day…?” Regardless, I don’t know if the TV had ever actually been shut off, and for that, I was ashamed. I always thought I would be better at regulating screen time with my kids, but right then, I needed to make dinner, and keeping the TV on was the only way it was going to happen. 

Now repeat this same situation for a week. Something needed to change, and soon. 

I threw around the idea of TV time tokens with chores and such, but it felt like so much work that I wouldn’t actually follow through with it, and to get my husband on board seemed impossible. Simply saying “one episode and one movie a day” as we had in the past didn’t feel like it would work either, because here we were at this point, needing a new solution. 

One day, I finally found our core problem. Who was addicted to the constant noise of the television? It wasn’t my daughter, even though she was the one watching it. It finally clicked in my brain that it was me who was addicted to screen time, not her. I was the one not wanting to take time to manage it and tell her no. It was easier for me to just tell her yes to Mickey Mouse and not deal with the fight of saying no, or the boredom that would follow if I didn’t allow it. She kept asking for shows because I kept letting her watch them. I needed to change. 

Again, more and more brainstorming on the best way to manage the screens in our household ran through my mind before I found a solution. It needed to be easy and convenient because if it was too much work for myself, I knew I would cave. 

It was about another week later when the solution hit me. 

Let her manage her TV time by herself. Bam. It was that easy. With the proper settings in place, why couldn’t she? Why did I need one more thing to worry about as a mom? 

Here’s what I did. (Please keep in mind, none of this is sponsored, it’s just what I chose to do/use). 

We have an Amazon smart TV, which comes with a kid’s FreeTime app. On this app, I am able to set which TV apps my daughter has access to and how much screentime she is allowed. We gave her access to Disney+, PBS, and Netflix kids account. Considering that we were at 5+ hours of TV time a day, we set the time limit for 3 hours a day to see where that would get us. 

Then came the time to teach her how to use the TV on her own. I spent time showing her the power button and how to use the navigation to move around to which app she wanted. I taught her how to specifically get into the FreeTime app and then navigate from there. And I explained how she only had so much time to watch her shows. Once the time was up, that’s all she had for the day, and would have to find something else to do.

One week of this in place and we never even hit the 3-hour time limit. I moved it down to 2 hours and occasionally she would hit her time limit. If she ever did, she would be sad for a minute, turn off the TV, and then find another way to occupy her time. We are now at a 1-hour 25-minute time limit for a day and it seems to be just the right amount of screentime for us. 

In a matter of weeks, we went from 5+ hours of my daughter in front of the TV, to 1 hour, 25 minutes. If that. And the biggest contributing factor was that it wasn’t me micromanaging it, it was me placing the responsibility of the TV in her hands, with a little help to stay in the correct apps and managing the time. 

Here are a few reasons why I think it worked so well. 

  1. Just knowing there was a time limit helped all of us remember not to just turn it on anytime we wanted. Everyone was more mindful about when to use the TV. Especially myself, when I knew that the TV running while I made dinner was my biggest saving grace, I needed to use it as a tool at this time, so I didn’t want her time limit running out before 5 pm. 
  2. We were lucky enough to have the ability to use the Amazon FreeTime app, which came with all of the settings we needed. Once she was in the app, she couldn’t get out without the parent password.
  3. We didn’t use her time limit on family movie nights. If it was a movie we turned on for all of us to enjoy together, that time was on us. 
  4. The fact that we trusted our daughter with the TV remote and gave her the responsibility of regulating it for herself made all the difference to her. She hesitated to complain about her screentime coming to an end because she was grateful we let her run the TV herself. 
  5. We also set time limits that she could not watch shows before 8 am or after 8 pm.
  6. At one point she figured out she could watch TV longer if she didn’t get into the FreeTime app. After a firm talk with her about why that wasn’t okay and that she needed to only use the FreeTime app, we haven’t had any problems since. 

We’ve been using this method for over two months now and it still seems to be working great. My favorite part is that once screentime is over, she silently resigns the remote to its designated spot on the shelf and quickly finds her way to the toy shelf to find a new way to occupy her time. There’s no screaming, no fighting, no trouble!

She has less TV time, I am not constantly trying to keep track of how long the screens are on or changing from show to show for her all day. The TV remote is in her hands, it’s her responsibility, and we all win! 

Just another great example of self-reg and why teaching children how to be independent can be helpful to everyone involved. 

Feature Friday: Isaac Stone

Welcome to Feature Friday! Today we are interviewing past scholarship winner, Isaac Stone. Isaac won our scholarship in 2018 when he created a prototype for an invisible cane. You can see more about his project here. 

I have been in contact with Isaac to get an update on where he is now. He is attending Washington University in St. Louis, MO. where he is double majoring in computer science and mechanical engineering and has kept busy with multiple projects and service opportunities throughout his time there. 

Related to his project, he has been teaching students with disabilities how to code via Skype and Zoom. He has been able to assist in writing and suggesting curriculum for this program, and also adjusts it to each student’s particular needs. 

Isaac writes, 

“I’ve been teaching a tenth grader on the spectrum for over a year now, and I have taught two other students with various obstacles and abilities in 7th and 8th grade respectively.  I work as a volunteer, and have greatly enjoyed watching as my students have learned not just how to program, but also valuable computer skills, such as how to make computers accessible to them, whether it be using an editor with high contrast and dyslexia fonts, or learning how to scroll over items for alt text and learning how to intuit what different icons and buttons do.”

Isaac has been working with CodeConnects which primarily serve underrepresented youth by providing one-on-one lessons. All of this was online before COVID, so he is excited to continue doing this. He found this group while doing research for his invisible cane, the project that won him our scholarship in 2018. 

Isaac also writes, 

“As AR technology becomes more prevalent it may become easier to write simple AR apps and test them without going through licensing processes to get access to the full backend of an iPhone, and I hope that will be the case since AR technology necessarily measures distance using vision recognition software.  I have certainly thought about how to expand this project. However time and energy constraints have held me back, partly because the technology necessary already exists but it’s not easily accessible yet, and partly because my other endeavors have very visible impacts on individuals.

Other notable achievements Isaac has been doing at college is being the aerodynamics team lead for his school’s design, build, fly team. Playing bridge with fellow students. Singing bass for a school acapella group. He was involved with a full-time internship with MITRE Corporation this summer, as well as another internship with a startup company called Apptronik the previous summer. He is also a regular member of washU composers club. 

Isaac is accomplishing great work in college and we are proud to have him as a past scholarship winner! 

High School Read Alouds: Books For Fun!

If you search book lists on our blog you’ll find multiple posts full of lists and lists of good read alouds, books for certain subjects, etc, etc. This blog is chucked full of book lists! What it’s missing is a list of read alouds for high school. I’m not talking books approved for English class to read and pick apart, but just a fun book to read to your students, no matter what subject you are teaching. Here’s my favorite list of chapter books you can read to your high school students. 

I Am Malala

What books do you like to read aloud to your high school students?

Parenting And Teaching Strong- Willed And Independent Kids

Strong-willed children. Independent children. You know them, raise them, teach them, and love them. But man, it can be so hard. So hard. I know this because I have a strong-willed child myself. I’ve been brainstorming my favorite tried and true ways to help foster this independence in children, whether they are the strong-willed type or not. It will mostly be in a bullet point list so that this doesn’t turn into a lengthy post.  

  1. Don’t be a helicopter mom.
    • Read more about my experience being a helicopter mom with both of my kids.
  2. Give kid access where possible. Can you imagine living in a house where everything is out of reach and inaccessible? Because that’s how your kids can feel. It is freeing for them to have everyday things on their level to have access to. 
    • Access to their dishes 
    • Access to electronics, with boundaries. 
    • Helping make meals and snacks
    • Access to snacks/ food- again with boundaries. 
    • Books and toys at their level. 
  3. Think “what can I not do” 
    • Can your child wipe down their high chair after a meal? 
    • Sweep the floor with a dustpan and small brush? 
    • Put items away? 
    • Tip: Give them specific tasks, not big tasks. 
      • Example: “Can you put this pair of shoes in your closet?” instead of “Please clean up the front room.” Younger kids can get so overwhelmed by these bigger tasks! Break them down. It takes a lot more conversation and working with them, but doing this can eventually lead to, “Can you please clean up the front room?” 
  4. Basic daily tasks they can do by themselves. 
    • Getting dressed (clothes at their level)
    • Brushing teeth 
    • Using the bathroom
    • Opening snacks and drinks 
    • Preparing meals 
    • Getting buckled in the car (with supervision) 
    • Helping grab items off the shelves in grocery stores. 
    • Opening doors for self and others. 
  5. Remember that struggles are okay. It’s okay if your child doesn’t get it right the first time or becomes frustrated when they can’t do a task. In the words of Daniel Tiger, “Keep trying, you’ll get better!” Always keep in mind that they are only (this many) years old. For example, when my daughter can’t get her shoes on by herself, I remind myself, “It’s okay, she’s only 3 years old.” to keep it in perspective that I shouldn’t be expecting her to act older than she is. 
  6. Remember that messes are okay. Learning and growing are messy and hard! Everything can and will be cleaned up. And I firmly believe that kids learn the responsibility of being clean when they are given the chance to get messy and clean up. It’s important that they are expected to clean up too! Even if it’s just a small portion of the mess. 
  7. Remember that getting hurt is okay if it’s not serious. A short tumble off the bottom step of a ladder, a little slip in the grass, and other small ways kids get hurt are how they learn to move their bodies without getting hurt someday. 
  8. Remember that you are the parent/ teacher and you have the right to any boundaries you want to set. Constantly be evaluating your boundaries to see if you need to give more or less freedom. Do what is comfortable for you! 
    • Ex: It’s okay for you to have this cupboard of dishes. But it’s not okay for you to pull out all of these dishes and spread them all over the kitchen. 
    • Ex: It’s okay for you to play on your tablet or watch TV, but I will set a timer for one hour and that’s all the screen time you can get for the day. 
    • Ex: It’s okay for you to play in the backyard by yourself, but I will close the gates so it is locked in and leave the window open so I can hear you if you need me. 
    • Ex: You can buckle yourself into the car by yourself, but I will check it when you’re done to make sure you are safe. 
    • Ex: You can ride your bike on the sidewalk by yourself, but you cannot go past that tree down the road, it is too far. 
  1. The power of choice is your BEST FRIEND when it comes to an independent-minded child. You choose what they can have, but the ultimate choice is in their hands. 
    • Ex: Do you want a PB&J for lunch or a ham sandwich? 
    • Ex: Do you want to go down the slide first, or swing first? 
    • Ex: You can wear a yellow shirt or a green shirt today, which shirt do you want? 
    • Ex: We need to go to Walmart and Costco today, which one should we go to first? 
    • Ex: Do you want to walk to the car, or do you want me to carry you? 
  2. Mantras you can teach your child. Read more about our experience using them.
    • “I can do it if I try!”
    • “I can do it if I practice!”
  3. Mantra for yourself. 
    • “Go for good enough” – How your child performs doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be good enough. 
  4. Conversations/ questions to have with your strong-willed child about to attempt something or just have attempted something. These conversations can lead to good, independent decision making. 
    • “Why do you think that happened?”
    • “Show me how you like to do it!”
    • “What would happen if you did it this way?”
    • “What are all of our options?”  

What else would you add to this list? Bookmark it to save for later! This much information can be overwhelming to remember all at once, so keep this post tucked away and pull it out when you find yourself frustrated with your strong-willed child. 

Feature Friday: Isiah Wright

Welcome to Feature Friday! Where we showcase a new teacher each week in an interview. For past Feature Friday interviews, go here. 

Today’s Feature Friday is highlighting Isiah Wright, a teacher in California specializing in arts and creativity. 

Tell me more about the arts and creativity initiative? What does it entail?

“Every year the department of education gives out grants for arts in education. These grants are meant to supply teachers with the knowledge and supplies necessary to integrate art into classrooms. I don’t mean like a single subject teacher that teaches art either. I mean multiple subjects K-8 and getting creativity to stay with our children and even fostering it. In the grant program that I’m a part of they have taught us many things but one of the first things is about increasing engagement and asking the right questions. We go through training employing VTS or visual thinking strategy, which turned my classroom from 5 or 6 of the same kids answering everything to building the confidence of every single child in the room so that they might try to answer also. Seriously since I started using this strategy, I can get in the ’90s for student participation and engagement. That’s %, it truly is a thing to behold. They teach us great skills in hands-on art as well. Something that I had never used was oil pastels, they taught me the proper way to use and teach their use. We went through training on collaboration in school. Believe it or not, most students don’t know how to work together. Teaching them to look past their short-sighted need to get what they want every time is difficult but essential to making well-rounded adults and it is one of my favorite things to teach them. My class in general is centered around this overarching statement: Contradictory elements can and should co-exist.”

Why do you feel like arts are so important to the education of our students?

“Teaching art appreciation does more than just look at pretty pictures. Observational skills, thinking critically, attention to detail, and respectful discussion are all elements of appreciating art. Guess what? Those are all also the key elements to Common Core. I am drawing a blank on who said it but at one of my training, someone was quoted saying “If you’re not teaching art you’re not teaching the whole kid ” I think this statement is dead-on, and the age I teach it makes teaching them easier if I integrate art into every lesson I can. I have even taken up sketchnoting science and social studies because of this training. Sketch noting is an amazing way for students to remember what they are being taught. Some studies I have seen put students being able to remember 6x more information when they are just writing traditional notes instead of blending words with pictures”

How do you incorporate art into your core curriculum?

“Art is everywhere and in every subject. If you think of how an NGSS (next generation science standards) lesson starts with an anchoring phenomenon, I teach every lesson I can with that basic format but usually using art in its place. We hold class talks, starting with art but eventually branching out to math, ELA, science, social studies, and everything else. Let me tell you how a lesson I just finished looks.”

“We look at a few pieces of art from a book, this book I’m talking about is called Blockhead, which is the life of Fibonacci. as we look at some of the pages of art we hold an art talk on 5 or so pictures from all over the book. This helps because everyone wants to participate in the art talk. This will also help when I go back and read the book because students will be looking for the pages they spoke on earlier. As I stop to discuss the reading periodically students remain engaged because they bought in at the beginning. We move into a fun patterns lesson using some kids ciphers that I loved as a child. Which could go on for multiple lessons and I love to end patterns with art from nature. That is a wonderful lesson where students create art from anything and everything, depending on what lesson I employ this, kids can make a paintbrush from random things, or collect and place colorful rocks or leaves. Art from nature truly is a universal assignment that I can end many units with. My goal is always increasing student engagement and understanding of core content through arts integration and I feel like I get that every time I integrate art into my lessons”

If you could recommend one children’s book, what would it be and why?

“It really depends on the age. My kids in the upper elementary school range The Blue Witch by Alane Adams never disappoints. She is such an amazing advocate of literacy and does tons for kids in need. Most important though is it is a book that students actually want to read. I read the introduction of Odin riding Slipnir to collect a young witching and they are instantly hooked and relate to the female lead or her brainy male sidekick.  If we are talking about my personal children’s age, say 5 and under The Wonky Donkey by Craig Smith. I have read it well over 200 times to thousands of kids. I have it down to a science you could say, refining my abilities over the last 8 years or so.”

How has Twitter helped and influenced you as a teacher?

“Teacher twitter is beyond the most helpful thing ever. Thousands of teachers on standby to help at a moment’s notice. Even if that help is just as simple as liking a “rough day” post. I have taken some of the best ideas in my classroom from a Twitter teacher’s bragging posts. You know what? My classroom is better because of Twitter.”

How do you use student voice in your classroom and what outcomes have you seen come from it?

“I’m an elected official so student’s voices and civics are very often at the forefront of my class. My kids’ collective wisdom is greater than my own and I recognize that. It is my belief that students have tons to teach us. I may be the most educated person in the room but their collective years of individual experience are powerful. I use that to my advantage as often as I possibly can. Every now and then we way in on current political problems and generate multiple answers to questions that adults can’t seem to figure out. Last year we had our writing prompt about solving the homeless issue in our community put in the newspaper. The kids were so excited and loved seeing their words published for all to see.”


Thanks, Isiah for your insight! He had some great thoughts on creativity and using art in the classroom. 

A Short, Sweet List Of Snowy, Winter Books

Snow is falling! Winter is here! I know for many this is discouraging and sad, but I am one to adore winter and the falling snow. So to excite everyone about the upcoming winter season, let’s come up with a great book list to get us ready for the snowy season. 

The Snowy Day: A Caldecott award book, and the first picture book to have a Black child as the protagonist. What a great conversation to have with students! 

Owl Moon: I can’t explain it, but you can HEAR the silence the snow brings in this book. It’s mesmerizing. 

Wolf In The Snow: This book with no words pulls at your heartstrings when you realize the sense of family and community both humans and animals have, and how we aren’t as different as we may think. 

The Wish Tree: I haven’t read this one yet, but it’s on my list to get at the library next time we go. 

The Polar Express: Okay, okay. I know, it’s a Christmas book. But the wintery feel of the train and the page of the book with the wolves standing in the snow looking at the train? It just lights up something in me that excites me for that fresh snow smell! 

Are you team snow or team no snow? Do you think reading fun books about winter and snow help change your attitude about winter?