It’s Time to Kick Some Class! (of 2022)

Graduations across the globe are underway and thousands of students are about to enter a new chapter of their lives. Facing uncertainty can certainly be unnerving, and there are many new stressors that accompany the change. For high school students, they are figuring out which college to attend, what major they want to pursue, or if they even want to get a degree. College students are now faced with finding a lifelong career and hoping it is relevant to their degree and doesn’t turn into a dementor who sucks all the happiness from their life.

Fortunately there are plenty who have experienced graduation and lived to tell about it. Even more fortunate, I am blessed to know some pretty wise people who were willing to impart some of their wisdom with you. So for those graduating high school, college, trade school, or those who chose a different direction, these words are for you.

“Once you graduate, you quickly learn that there are two kinds of people: your friends and those who were friendly just because you had a class together that one time. And that’s okay. Treasure both friendships and learn from them.”

-Kassidy Baird (Yours Truly)

“Always expect more of yourself and take others with you on your way to the top.”

“Don’t be afraid to do something just because it seems interesting! There’s a lot of pressure to build a resume or look good for college applications or whatever, but taking time just for the things you think are cool or fun is so important in being well rounded and not getting stressed!”

“It’s okay to not have it all figured out right now, or even five years from now! Find what brings you joy, be yourself, and trust in your own personal journey.”

“Don’t rush into anything and just live in the moment. Be where you are and accept all of yourself and life will work itself out.”

“Find what you love and follow that passion. But don’t be afraid to try new things on the way. You may be surprised at what else lights your fire.”

-Twin 1

“Find something you love! So often we get caught up in ambition and what’s next, when in reality life goes so fast! Take some time for yourself to get to know what you like and what things excite you. There are so many more opportunities for your future than you could ever realize! The best part is that most people love talking about what they do and would be more than willing for you to come see their day-to-day. Explore, travel, and ask lots of questions. When what you do excites you, you will love life and make the world around you a better place.”

-Twin 2

(It isn’t super relevant that they are twins but I think it’s fun to see the similarities in their responses when they didn’t know what the other had said).

“Start applying now. And know you have more experience than you think.”

“It’s not about what you know. It’s about WHO you know. Network and be KIND.”

“Enjoy the day. Let your family take the pictures and celebrate the crap out of you. You deserve it.”

“Don’t get sucked into the rat race. After high school, for the first time, there’s all this flexibility and independence and it gets really easy to judge our own paths by the milestones we see other people hitting or not hitting (whether/when people are married, when people get degrees, if someone got a degree, other people who get right into working/careers). But life is flexible for a reason! You don’t have to have it all figured out, so don’t get caught up in measuring yourself against a measuring stick that doesn’t exist.

I hope you guys enjoyed these words of wisdom! I have plenty more nuggets of advice that I will share in a future post. What advice do you have for the graduating class of 2022? Share your advice in the comments! Who knows, you could even end up being quoted in my next post.

Friend or Foe? Fidget Toys in the Classroom

Fidget Toys: the very thought can make teachers (and parents) groan and roll their eyes. From stress balls to fidget spinners, there always seems to be some new gadget taking over your classroom. Should they be banned? Should they be embraced? The debate has been ongoing ever since stress balls first gained popularity in the 1980s. The practice of using sensory tools, however, has been around for much longer. Baoding balls originated during the Ming dynasty and were used to reduce stress, improve brain function, and aid in dexterity development. Before weighted blankets, there were Turkish yorgans which date back to the 16th century. The average winter yorgan weighed anywhere from nine to thirteen pounds. Komboloi, or “worry beads”, were used in Ancient Greece to promote relaxation.

While these sensory tools might have been around for centuries, the science behind them has only recently been looked into. Dr. Anna Jean Ayres first identified Sensory Integration in the 1960’s when she noticed there were children who struggled with functional tasks who didn’t fit into the specific categories of disability that were used at the time. She developed the term “Sensory Integrative Dysfunction” to describe the problems faced by children whose brains struggle to receive, process, or respond to sensory input. Sensory input instructs us on how to respond to our environment and there are consequences from being over or under-stimulated, especially for children who are still learning how to process these cues. When confronted with bright lights, messy or cluttered spaces, and loud noises, children can become agitated and retreat to quieter spaces; whether that is physically finding relief in a less stimulating area or by shutting off their sensory receptors and essentially shutting down. When stimulation is restricted, as is common in a traditional classroom, children will find their own ways to meet their sensory needs. Teachers know exactly what this looks like: tapping, bouncing up and down, kicking, touching everything and everyone, chewing on pencils, making noises, or getting out of their seat to go on some made-up “but I really needed to throw this away” mission.

This is exactly where fidget toys come in handy. (Ha! I didn’t even realize that was a pun until revising this post). And I’m not talking about fidget spinners in all their noisy, distracting glory.

It might be counter-intuitive to think that doing two things at once can enhance a student’s ability to focus on their lessons but evidence is slowly backing it up. One study demonstrated how increased movement boosted the cognitive performance of children with ADHD. Another found that students who used stress balls had improved focus, attitude, social interactions, and even writing abilities. The trick with fidget toys is finding those that don’t require so much brain power that they pull focus from the main task. How many of you have your own fidget methods that you revert to without realizing? Do you chew on pencils or repeatedly click your pen? Perhaps you doodle or bounce your leg. We all have different ideas of what an optimal “focus zone” looks like and it’s important to help students discover their own learning styles and preferences. It’s important for adults too–I decided to invest in my own fidget toys a few months ago and I always keep one at my desk. 

Looking out over your sea of pupils, it can be a little overwhelming to try and figure out their individual needs but as I always say, “When in doubt, ask it out!” As you go into a new school year, reach out to the parents and ask what has helped their child calm down in the past. Do they have a history of thumb-sucking? They would probably respond well to chewelry or rubber pencil toppers. Having a quiet space in your classroom or noise-canceling headphones would be good options for children who need time alone in their room to defuse. Some students need physical contact in order to stay grounded so pressure vests or weighted lap pads would benefit them the most. 

Another great way to learn your students’ individual learning styles is to involve them! Have them complete a task while adjusting the volume of background noise and have a discussion about which one was easiest for them to work with. Give them fidget toys to use while reading to them or showing them a video and then ask them if they were able to focus better or if it was a distraction. This also helps your students develop self-regulation skills. Giving your students access to different sensory tools allows them to stop seeing them as toys and start to recognize when they really need them.

If this sounds like wishful thinking, there are lots of people who would agree with you. Fortunately there are also lots of tips and tricks out there to help you integrate fidget toys into your classroom. Here are some of the most common ones that I encountered in my research:

  1. BOUNDARIES. Work with your students to come up with rules for the fidget toys that they are willing to follow. Post the rules somewhere in your classroom as a visual reminder.
  2. Have a variety of tools available to the class. This can prevent jealousy among students and allows you to use discretion in deciding what toys are actually beneficial. 
  3. Find toys that don’t produce noise or require sight to use. The kids should be able to use their hands or feet to fidget while using their eyes and ears to learn.
  4. Be patient! Once your students get used to the sensory tools in the classroom, the novelty will wear off and they’ll be less of a distraction.
  5. Remind your students that “fair” isn’t the same thing as “equal”. Different people have different needs and it’s important to support those needs.

Ultimately the choice to integrate sensory tools into your classroom is up to you! The fad fidget toys will come and go, but there are plenty of tried and true options that can really work wonders when properly used.

Are fidget toys a menace to society or a misunderstood ally? What challenges or successes have you seen come from them?

Reading Before Kindergarten- Is It Really Necessary?

Reading before Kindergarten- is it necessary? Is it beneficial? Is it something parents and educators should be spending their precious minutes with the children on? As time goes on, more and more pressure is put on parents to have high academically achieving children and preschools across the nation are meeting this “need” by giving kids an academic-based preschool in exchange for a play-based preschool.  

I’ve been hearing an ad for a local preschool in my area that boasts “We will have your kids reading before kindergarten!” and every time I hear the ad it makes me angry that they are adding to the social pressure put on parents for having a reading four or five year old! No parent should ever have to feel inadequate because their child isn’t an early reader. It goes without saying that this is not a preschool I can support.

Reading to her horses, even though she can’t read! What great pretend play that will eventually lead to reading.

Did you know that if your kid is reading before kindergarten, studies have shown that by 2nd grade they don’t have much advantage over kids who learned to read in kindergarten? Did you know that teaching your child to read before they are ready can actually drive them away from reading and make them a worse reader in the long run? It may be exciting at your mom group to brag about how academically advanced your child is, it’s exciting to celebrate your kid’s accomplishments! But that shouldn’t be shadowing out what they truly need. 

I have even felt the pressure myself and my daughter is not even 3 years old yet. I see friends with kids similar ages who can name letters and sounds so easy, yet my daughter is just barely showing a small interest in letters and not even close to knowing what they are or what they say. This is discouraging because I have read to her every day and she has been exposed to letter for years now!! But she will pick it up in her own time. Until then, she is establishing her love of reading, and that is more important than letter names right now.

Reading before kindergarten is not bad by any means! If your child is genuinely showing an interest in letters and words and stringing them together to read sentences, by all means, let them fly!! When it comes to teaching kids to read, let them lead. 

There are so many other things we can and should be doing with our kids instead of pushing reading on them. First, back to the basics that create lifelong readers, and some of my favorite things to do!

Talk 

Sing 

Read 

Write 

Play 

These fundamental skills build the learning basics of reading. Talking and singing with them will do more in the long run than pushing letter learning on them. Giving them genuine time to play, build, and make-believe will do wonders. Play is a child’s work! It’s how they learn and grow. 

Choosing an academic-based preschool and even kindergarten robs them of their most needed resource- PLAY! Let the kids play, really play! Mary also wrote out 5 lessons her kids taught her about play that is also helpful in this situation! I also loved her perspective of Kindergarten readiness from a teacher AND a parent standpoint when her daughter was almost kinder age! She has amazing resources and tips for us. 

Other things you can focus on with your child that promote kindergarten readiness instead of reading: 

Sensory activities

Writing, drawing, coloring, and painting 

Puzzles and problem solving 

How to maintain and hold a conversation 

Establishing a love for books and being read to 

Build positive relationships with books- from the beginning!

Let’s take the pressure of reading off kids! Let’s play and sing and let the kids lead! Choose a play-based preschool, give them books, point out letters in your daily life, and when they are interested, let them read! 

What are your thoughts on reading before kindergarten? Do you as a parent feel the social pressure of early reading? 

Parent Resources For School Closures

With schools across the nation shutting down for COVID-19 social distancing purposes, parents are left at home, many overwhelmed by keeping up with student’s needs for learning. 

First, take a deep breath. There are resources and help out there for you, and I want to share my best tips with you as well. 

Whether you have a newborn or a college student moving home, these basic principals apply. 

TALK

Talk to your kids. Ask them their thoughts and feelings, tell them about your day and your thoughts and feelings. Comment on colors of objects or numbers around you. Have open, fun conversations. 

SING

Sing lullabies and I’m A Little Teapot, sing made up songs about washing hands, and throw a little Queen in there. Sing them songs. 

READ

Read picture books and chapter books. Read their favorite book and your favorite book. Read them magazines and online articles. It doesn’t matter what you’re reading, it just matters that you READ. 

WRITE

Write small journal entries about their day, write a book, write a sentence. Have them notice everyday life and write about it. Let them see the scientific method be put to use every day in the simple things like getting dressed or choosing a breakfast food, and write it down. Use a pencil, use a pen, use a computer, but all they need to do is put words together to make sentences. Or if they are younger, put pictures together to create a story! 

PLAY

Engage in real, genuine, play. Make pillow forts and cuddle on the couch. Just enjoy your time together and use your imagination. 


No need to overcomplicate an already stressful situation. Just take it day by day, do your best, and wash your hands. You’ve got this! 

The Worst Phone Call I’ve Made to a Parent

My hands were shaking as I picked up the phone. I was about to make a phone call to a parent of one of my best first-grade students, a call that I never thought I would have to make during my time teaching, especially during my very first teaching experience.

“Hi, Mrs. Johnson, it’s Mrs. Ross, your daughter’s teacher right now while her regular teacher is on maternity leave. I’m calling about your daughter, we had an incident today that I need to let you know about. While we were doing an activity with scissors, a boy in the class took a pair to your daughter’s braid and cut off the end of it. It was about an inch of hair and she is devastated. Do you mind talking to her for a little bit?” 

When the phone was handed back to me a few minutes later, I apologized over and over to her. I couldn’t believe that something like that happened in my classroom. All of the reminders of procedures and the rules we had in place for using scissors, it all went out the door the second the little boy put the scissors up to her hair. I felt like a failure as a teacher. 

Her mom came to pick her up from school early, she was too upset to make it through the school day. Proper action was taken on the situation with both students, and at the end of the day when all of them filed out of my classroom, I finally let my emotions show. I sat with other teachers in the copy room while we prepped for the next day and I told them how awful I felt about the situation. All of them helped me feel better by swapping their own stories of situations they have been in with students throughout their years of teaching, it helped me realize I wasn’t alone, others had been in this boat before too. 

What really helped most was my conversation with this little girl’s mom the next day. She dropped her off at school in the morning with a fresh new haircut and I continued to apologize to each of them again. Her mom responded by letting me know that she wasn’t upset in the slightest, either at me or the other student. These kids are seven years old, they are unpredictable and emotional human beings and it would be impossible for me to keep my eyes on each of them at all times, it wasn’t my fault. She even ended the conversation by asking if she could volunteer for anything, even if it was just cutting up things for me (since we had a new classroom rule of NO SCISSORS ALLOWED until I could get over what had happened). 

I expected her to be more upset with me, blaming everything on me, so to have her be understanding and in my corner was refreshing and uplifting. It really made me realize how much we as teachers need parents. They can be your advocate in bad situations. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve dealt with my fair share of difficult parents too, but that doesn’t mean they are all that way. Even though I was only in a long-term substitute teaching job, I wish I could have gone back and utilized parents more from the beginning. They really can be your best tool, if you let them in. 

I truly am curious, what is one of your worst teaching memories that you can hopefully look back on and laugh now?