It’s hard to believe that summer is winding down and students, teachers, and parents everywhere are gearing up for a new school year. This time of year can bring about many changes and stressors, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Fortunately, there are many tools to combat those stressors, including positive affirmations.
“Today is going to be a good day, and here’s why: because today at least you are you. And that’s enough.”
Dear Evan Hansen
Positive affirmations are phrases or statements that are used to challenge negative thoughts. The concept of positive affirmations might seem hokey or awkward at first, but with consistent use, they can rewire and increase neural pathways. Not only can affirmations have physiological benefits, but they have been shown to reduce stress, boost self-esteem, aid in interventions, and increase academic performance. Our core beliefs are often formed during childhood and introducing affirmations to young children is an excellent way to instill a positive sense of identity.
Whether you are a parent looking to recite affirmations with your children in the morning, a teacher looking to incorporate them into her class routine, or a student who wants to practice them individually; here is a list of some affirmations to get you started!
I am smart
I am talented
I am kind
I am loved
I can learn anything
I always try my best
I am a problem solver
I am needed
I am valued
I respect myself
I am in control of my learning
I deserve joy and success
I can meet my goals
I do not compare my success against the success of others
I am proud of myself
I can do hard things
I am brave
I am important
My brain and/or body is powerful
I choose to include others
I can try again
I choose how I respond to things
I am responsible
I am prepared for my test
I can make a difference
I am creative
I am organized
I am capable
I see the best in myself and others
I listen to others
There is no one better to be than myself
I bring joy to others
I can adapt to any situation
I challenge you to choose two or three affirmations that resonate with you and apply them to your daily routine. If you need a little more inspiration, I highly recommend checking out this video:
This post is part of a series of posts on teaching to different personality types as found in the True Colors Personality Test. To see more, head here.
I’m sure a lot of you are familiar with the phrase “curiosity killed the cat”, but how many are you familiar with the entire phrase? “Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back.” This expressions aptly describes the inquisitive souls that have a green personality. They have an insatiable curiosity and they are willing to die any (metaphorical) deaths in their quest for enlightenment. To your green students, work is play. They love a good challenge and using their intellect to solve problems. They are logical and analytical while still managing to be creative and abstract. Kids with a green personality are independent thinkers and come across as being far older than their years. They are calm, cool, and collected–until emotions get involved. Much like a plant, those who lean green thirst for knowledge and absolutely thrive in the right environment.
But what is the right environment?
For starters, these students are your introverts. Not only do they struggle with social interactions, they can feel stifled by group work because it doesn’t give them a chance to explore concepts in depth. Whenever possible, meet with them one-on-one or in small groups and you’ll get a much better idea about where they are at with the material. Give them time to internalize new information and to recharge after social interactions. They are usually overflowing with knowledge but they don’t always know how to open up. On the contrary, they might open up easily but they don’t always have the awareness to know when to stop.
The other students might see them as cold, critical, and callous but it’s really just that they prefer to do their own thing in their own way. They are inclined to get directly to the point and they don’t feel the need to stop along the way for social calls. Greens probably won’t completely come out of their shell while in class, but there are ways you can get them to poke their heads out and look around.
Your blue students are the perfect pairing for your green students. Blues are social, but not overwhelmingly so (like an orange), and they can think in abstract terms just as well as a green can. Blues care about genuine connections and they know how to befriend someone in a way that the other person needs. They might overwhelm a green by the ease in which they talk about their emotions, but it also helps greens be aware of their own emotions. Consider the unlikely friendship of Sherlock and Watson. Sherlock is absolutely brilliant, often comes across as arrogant, and he only focuses on the case in front of him. Watson is also brilliant, but a lot more approachable and has a healthier work-life balance. And yet as different as they are, the friendship works. Next time you switch up your seating chart, try sitting your green students near your blue students. It will probably be a little uncomfy for the green at first, but there never was any comfort in the growth zone or growth in the comfort zone.
Your green students need to respect you as a teacher before they will be willing to learn from you. Allow your class to ask questions or contribute ideas anonymously, or use email as a way to communicate with them. This helps build trust with them and shows that you are willing to foster a relationship that is unique to their learning style. They want others to notice their competence and intellect so complimenting them on specific knowledge that they share is a great way to get them to open up even further.
For those of you teaching high school, continue to cultivate the natural curiosity that your green students have. Allow them to share their insights whenever possible. Help them identify what they are passionate about and point them in the direction of potential careers within those interests. For those teaching greens of any age, try not to get frustrated when they point out any flaws in your teaching or when they bombard you with increasingly in-depth questions. Spend time discussing their personal goals and touch base with them often. Taking even a little interest in them as an individual makes all the difference to anyone with a green personality.
Students with a green personality bring so much to your class! Do you have any tips on using their curiosity to drive their learning?
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Points: This one is simple. It’s easy and can be done on a whim. Divide the class into groups or just in half. Start asking questions on the topic you want to review and give points to teams that answer correctly. It’s a bonus if you ask probing questions that require a discussion among the team!
Kahoot!: I believe this game is well-known among most teachers, but if not, you can see their website here. It’s free! And a great way to study as a whole group or individually.
Jeopardy: A classic! You can find free templates online to use from your computer, or go with the old-fashioned paper taped to the whiteboard way. This can be fun to switch it up from not using technology all of the time, and it’s an easy one to store and use again the next year.
Beach Ball Toss: Write or tape review questions onto a beach ball and toss it around the room. Whoever catches the beach ball, answer the question that their left thumb lands on.
Hedbanz: If you own this popular game, you can easily change out the cards to reflect the information you are reviewing.
Whiteboards: Need a review game but haven’t planned ahead? Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. Have your students grab their personal whiteboards and write or draw answers to questions. If you want to promote collaboration, break into groups and have each group answer on one whiteboard.
Be The Teacher: This role reversal can be so fun for students! It can be done as a bigger project that lasts a few weeks with plenty of preparation, or just on a whim if you feel like you have students that can easily get up and teach specific subject matter.
I walked into my classroom one day just feeling… off. That’s the best way I can describe it. I was tired and already annoyed before my students had even walked into the classroom. I didn’t greet them at the door like I typically did, and found myself bothered by the fact that they all walked into the classroom talking with one another.
The morning was dragging on, it felt hard to get through our morning meeting, 15 minute phonics lesson, and reading groups. FINALLY, it was time for recess! But then I remembered something awful….. I had recess duty! It was the perfect way to make my day even worse. By the time 28 sweaty kids, plus myself, walked back into our classroom, a classroom with NO air conditioning, mind you, I was just done. My kids asked if they could do some free drawing during our read aloud time and I snapped at them. During our math lesson I was not tolerating any funny business, whatsoever.
I was not a good teacher that day, and worse off, I was down on myself for not being a good teacher. Finally, the day ended and all 29 of us went our separate ways. On my drive home I recounted my day and regretted being so short and unhappy with my class. Did they deserve to be the ones taking the brunt end of my bad day? No! They talked a little extra and were a little extra loud in the hallway, so what? They are first graders. They deserve some grace!
I ended my drive trying to figure out how to make it up to them the next day in class. Plenty of ideas flew through my mind. Ice cream party? No. Extra long recess? Not good enough. Then, finally it came to my mind.
The next morning I greeted each one of my students at the door with a smile and directed them to the rug to start our morning meeting a little earlier than normal. I had them all seated in front of me and told them I had something important to tell them, and with eager eyes they looked up at me waiting to hear what I had to say.
Then, I sat in front of all of my kids and apologized. I opened up my heart and was vulnerable in front of these 6 and 7 year olds. I admitted my mistake and let them know that it wasn’t their fault that I had an off day. I told them they are really great kids and that I was extremely lucky to be their teacher, and I meant it! And I told them we would have a better day.
And we did!
Here’s what I learned from that day. First, it sucks to have bad days! It’s hard to walk away from a day feeling defeated and regret your decisions. But it’s also okay to have those days. A bad day of teaching does not make you a bad teacher.
But here is the part that is the most important to remember:
It’s okay to have those bad days if you take the time to reflect on them and troubleshoot the day (or situation), so that next time you’re in that situation you can handle it a little better. It absolutely will not be perfect, but it’ll be a stair step process as you troubleshoot the next bad day and try to improve each time after. This is what leads you to the tools you need to cope with the bad teaching days. Troubleshooting and trying again. It’s what we teach our students to do anyway, isn’t it?!
You’re not a bad teacher- it’s just a bad day. You’ve got this.
I’ve written a few blog posts giving tips and advice and often say “set your kids up for success.” I give a quick little excerpt of what that means, but I really want to dive deep into this topic and define what it means to set your kids up for success.
In a parent or teacher role, we set expectations for our kids.
“Ask before using the restroom.”
“Keep the paint on the paper and reasonably clean.”
“Do well this spelling test.”
We can give our kids these expectations, but it’s a two-part system: We have to set them up for success to carry out these expectations before we can expect them.
What does that look like? If we expect them to ask before using the restroom, we must make ourselves approachable and give them the resources needed to ask to go. Such as a hand signal or allowing them to raise their hands.
If we want them to do well on a spelling test, we have the responsibility as the adult to provide them with the spelling words to practice before they head into the test. We don’t give them a spelling test of worlds they’ve never seen and expect them to do well! It’s unfair.
If we expect them to keep the paint clean during their craft time, we have to be responsible for giving them the proper space, table covers, and rags to clean up any accidents.
If we are going to expect things from them, we need to set them up for success before we can realistically keep these expectations. So during activities when I say, “set your kids up for success with a rice bin” I mean, lay down that blanket so the rice doesn’t go rolling under the fridge. We want them to keep the rice in the bin, but we all know that won’t 100% happen. When they are playing with oobleck or slime, set a wet rag next to them to wash dirty hands so they don’t track the material all over the house when they become overwhelmed with the mess. They won’t be able to navigate the road without giving them the map first.
When a spelling test is coming up, handing out the spelling words before the test is the minimum. Practicing the words is the next step. Giving them ideas on how they can practice at home is great too!
What does this accomplish for us by taking the extra time and effort to do these things for them? Less frustration for us! Less time spent
It is so important for us to set our kids up for success! Give them the means to accomplish what they need in order to find success. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for letting our kids struggle a little to learn, but we still have a job as the adult to set them up with the tools they need. If you want to read more on that, check out my post on lighthouse parenting.
What other things do you do to set your kids up for success?
If you’re here you need some direction on how to start up sensory bins and other activities for the early childhood age! So before we begin, I want to share with you a whole page I’ve put together of multiple blog posts that can direct you and answer questions that you may have. Check it out here!
Adding in hands-on activities for your early childhood learners can be overwhelming at first, but don’t stress! I am here to help. What qualifies me? I was in the exact same position as you a few years ago. I had the desire to be the #teachermom that pulls out fun, educational activities for my kids, and even followed plenty of people on social media giving me all of the ideas for activities. BUT it seemed absolutely overwhelming to do so. Eventually, I got the hang of it, and now I am in a place where I can walk you through it! Here’s what I did.
I invested in materials. Typically, these materials are fairly inexpensive and you’ll probably find a lot of them around your home (rice, cooking utensils, paper, markers). But I found the most success when all of the materials were there and ready for me to pull out. I spent around $75 at Amazon, Walmart, and The Dollar Store combined. This is also partially because I didn’t want to share my kitchen materials with my kid’s activities, so I spent a good chunk on new spoons, cups, muffin tins, etc. Having all of the materials together and organized helped tremendously to help me feel like I could be a part of this crafty early childhood educator bandwagon of hands-on activities!
I lined out the purpose of these activities. Yes, I want my child to have these experiences and learning opportunities. But was I setting up activities for me to sit down and work with my kids one-on-one? Did I need the activities out to keep them entertained while I worked on something else? Yes to all of the above. However, it would take time to achieve the latter.
I decided to use the sensory bins and activities for one-on-one time and connection with my kids at first, and then eventually use them as something for them to do while I made dinner or worked. I wouldn’t be setting myself up for success by expecting my kids to play independently and keeping expectations of the activities.
I found the right social media accounts to follow. There are parents and educators out there that have done all of the dirty work for us! You don’t have to carefully create a new activity each time you feel your child needs entertainment or has a skill they need to practice. Others have already done it, and they are on social media! My favorites: Busy Toddler and Days with Gray.
These two stand out to me because they don’t post extravagant activities. It takes minimal set up time, simple materials, and are doable for any parent or educator to put together! Watch out for those social media accounts that are posting above and beyond activities that will make you feel inadequate to carry them out!
I made a schedule. This was a temporary thing that I didn’t have to do for long, but helped initially. It made it predictable for all of us and gave me a visual of what I could expect. I decided activities in the morning would be 1:1 and done with new activities that needed a lot of supervision. Afternoon activities, while I was cooking dinner, would be independent activities that I knew I could trust my kids alone with. It looked like this:
Week one: Activities in the morning after breakfast, before nap.
Monday: bubble foam Tuesday: rice scoop and transfer Wednesday: water painting on construction paper Thursday: Color mixing pour station Friday: contact paper art
Week two: morning activities for together time, afternoon activities for independent play
Monday morning: moon sand Tuesday afternoon: water painting on construction paper Wednesday morning: color mixing pour station Thursday afternoon: contact paper art Friday morning: dot sticker line-up/ color match
Week three: Start trying two activities a day!
Monday morning: moon sand Monday afternoon: sticky note shape match Tuesday morning: rice bin scoop and transfer Wednesday afternoon: water sensory bin Thursday morning: play dough Friday afternoon: dot sticker activity
This isn’t exactly but gives you an idea. Mornings were for working together and learning together. Afternoons were for independent play with materials I could trust my kids with. This schedule didn’t last forever, only about 3-4 weeks. But once I was in the rhythm and knew what to expect more, I didn’t need the schedule as much and slowly tapered off. Eventually pulling out activities became intuitive and I could tell when we needed one, what type it needed to be, and so forth.
Do what you feel comfortable with. Are you not into playdough or paint? THAT IS OKAY! You can still have success. Just because a teacher or mom on Instagram shows how “easy” and “doable” it is to let children play with slime doesn’t mean you have to do it too.
My first activities with my daughter were water sensory bins (because all it takes to clean up when it spills is a towel.) and “painting” with water on construction paper. Again, because cleaning up water is mounds easier than cleaning up rice.
Eventually, all of our water play led to me being more comfortable with dried corn in a sensory bin. Then rice. Then, I let my daughter paint… It was absolutely nerve-wracking, but guess what I learned? The paint can be cleaned up. I can clean it up, and my daughter can learn how to clean when she helps! “Everything can and will be cleaned up.” Now, years later, we paint at least once a week, and I can comfortably leave my 3.5-year-old alone at our kitchen table to play with play-dough. Rome wasn’t built in a day, friends.
Set you and your kids up for success. This is something that deserves a whole blog post, but I’m going to sum it up in two paragraphs for you. When setting up activities, think ahead. Are you working with paint? Keep a wet rag close by for messes. Maybe today is rice sensory bin day? Don’t put the bin near the fridge, because when it inevitably spills, it will roll under there and you won’t ever want to set up a rice sensory bin again. Also, set your kids up for success. No child was born knowing how to play properly in dried rice and corn, they need boundaries and rules! Keep it simple, but keep them there.
Don’t add too much rice, don’t give them access to too much paint, or too much water, etc. Use big blankets or dollar store table cloths and shower curtains to protect your floors. And know your exit plan. What will clean up look like? What will your child help with, and what will you take on? Read my whole list of sensory bin tips here.
I know, I know. This post can be just as overwhelming, if not more so than you were before. But take it in baby steps! Figure it out as you go! Your child isn’t looking for the perfectly curated bin with exactly the lessons and skills they need for their current age and stage.
Your child is looking for an opportunity to play. To spend time with you. To just be a kid. These finite details aren’t here to scare you away or add more to your plate, it’s just a reference guide for when you need help.
So let’s break it down to basics.
How do you start a rice sensory bin? Open a bag of rice. Pour contents into a large bin or bowl. Add in a cup and spoon. Sit on the floor with your child and enjoy.
It really is that simple. So, go play! Go have fun! And go let those kids explore!