Can A Worksheet Do That? Teaching Social Studies in a Hands-On Way

We recently made the decision to pull my daughter from school and do “distance learning” for a short time because we had a new virus or sickness in our home every week and it wasn’t sustainable anymore (more on that story to come later). 

Luckily, the school was able to work with us to make her a “distance learner” because of Covid protocols still in place, instead of unenrolling and re-enrolling her when she’s ready to head back. 

She is in kindergarten, so the workload is fairly easy and somewhat hands-on. However, one worksheet for social studies looked like this: 

Photo: A group of neighbors with adults and children standing around, laughing, and talking. Food is being exchanged. 

Text on photo: Talk About It: Essential Question. Who are your neighbors? 

Text: Talk about how these people are being good neighbors. Draw and write about one way you can be a good neighbor. 

Writing prompt: I can be a good neighbor by 

I am sure this worksheet sparks great conversations in classrooms and it gives the students a chance to draw and write about what they’re talking about. 

The only requirement for my daughter was to do everything this page said. Talk about it, write about it, and draw a picture. Then she would have been done with the assignment and moved on. 

But what did she learn from that interaction? 

Are we really learning social studies with this worksheet, or are we learning conversation skills, writing, and drawing? 

How can we do this… better? 

We started with a picture book.

Good Morning Neighbor by Davide Cali and Maria Dek 

I highly recommend keeping this one in your personal library, it’s a good one with many applications. 

After reading the book, the discussion started.

Who are our neighbors? What nice things have they done for us? What nice things have we done for them? Why is it important to be a good neighbor? 

And then we took it one step further, what can we do for one of our neighbors today?

This led us to making and delivering dinner and cookies for a neighbor that we knew was sick. We also stopped next door to an elderly widow and chatted with her for a while, asking her if she needed anything. On our way out, we quickly shoveled her driveway and cleared her car of snow and ice. 

On our walk home, we noticed that another neighbor near us had some rugs left outside on their doorstep that had blown into the yard from the high winds. We spent a few minutes gathering them up and stacking them on the doorstep since they were not home to take them inside. 

Once we were finally home, we pulled out the worksheet, and my daughter felt like she was ready to write a whole paper on ways she could be a good neighbor. She wanted to give the full story of everything we accomplished in our afternoon of service. Instead, we settled on a simple few-word sentence, and then she was able to tell her teacher the whole story the next time we went into the school to bring back her finished schoolwork. 

Looking at it overall, how much would she have taken away if we would have had the discussion and written the sentence? She would have practice in writing, that’s for sure. But the whole point was to focus on social studies. What did she take away from a social studies standpoint? 

She would probably know that she needs to be a good neighbor. And maybe have some ideas on how she can be that will stick around in her mind for a few weeks, maybe up to a month. Nothing would stick around long-term. 

But after spending an hour serving our own neighbors, the lesson will engrain itself in her mind more than a light discussion and sentence writing ever would. 

Now I know delivering dinner and sitting down to an afternoon chat with everyone’s neighbor isn’t doable in a full classroom. So what can we do in a classroom of 25+ students to give them a similar experience? 

Talk about neighbors within the classroom. Our neighbors in a classroom are our friends sitting by us, but all together, we are a full community. Discuss ways we can be a good neighbor within our own classroom. 

Give them opportunities to draw pictures or notes for their neighbors. Maybe create crafts or pick treats for their neighbors. Let them practice helping their neighbor when zipping up coats to go outside, or picking up trash around their desk during messy play. 

If you’re creating an uplifting, teamwork environment in the small community of your classroom, it will eventually translate itself into their daily life and show in small ways around the school and in their neighborhoods.

Can filling out a worksheet accomplish that? 

Photo by Katerina Holmes

Kids Need Outside Time, Even in the Dark.

I am a firm believer in spending time with kids outside in the winter. But one problem that comes up repeatedly is the daylight hours lessening as winter pushes on. During the summer months, the days are long and the sunlight is plentiful, we’re typically outside by 7 am and the dark doesn’t force us inside until 9 or 10 pm. In the winter where we are, typically the sun starts setting by 5 pm. With school in session as well, this only leaves us roughly an hour of outside time during daylight hours, which is the busiest hour of our day as well, so finding the capacity to get outside can be hard.

But. If we make some changes and get outside even after the sun has gone down, it opens up so much time! It also proves to have its benefits as well. Simply changing up the lighting in which kids play, changes the way they have to think and problem solve. While riding their bike in the daylight hours eventually becomes a mindless activity to them, riding it during the dark forces them to pay extra attention to their surroundings and their bike, and use their intuition and senses to help guide them. Something that was once a mundane, everyday sport turns into an elaborate thinking process for them. 

Our tips for getting outside during the dark hours:

A little bit of risky play while we set up our Christmas lights

Wear the right clothing. The warmer you are, the longer you’ll last. You can read more about clothing here. 

Bring the light with you! Flashlights, lanterns, and glow sticks all work wonderfully. We like to buy our glowsticks on Amazon in bulk, making them more affordable. We’ve invested in LED light beanies also found on Amazon. We keep a handful of Dollar Store flashlights around for use as well as a few bigger, nicer ones that put off more light when needed. Pro tip: attach a glowstick to your child’s coat so you can always spot them. Flashlights are great for them to use, but can be easily dropped. Having something more secure that doesn’t require being held can be immensely helpful. 

Bringing light to the night!

Get creative with the light. Add in Christmas lights, brighter LED porch lights, or bust open spotlights used for working on cars. Our set typically stays up close to the garage door in the winter so it’s easy to access for when we need them. 

Have a set activity when you head outside. I talked about this before in my post about getting outside in the cold, but it’s relevant for the dark, too. Since it’s harder and takes a more active choice to go outside in the dark, choosing your activity before going outside can help. 

Visit well-lit areas. Window shop downtown, take walks around college campuses if they’re available in your area, or visit well-lit parks. 

Do you try to get your kids outside when it’s dark out? What tips would you add? 

Photo by Tobi

To the Parents Newly Entering the School System: You’ve Got This

I spent many years going to school to become a teacher. More specifically, a public school teacher. I wasn’t opposed to private or charter schools, but I did feel more of a draw for public schools. Maybe because that was my school experience, so that’s what I felt the most comfortable with? 

During my undergrad, I was able to spend time in around 5 different public schools and 1 public charter school in the Cache Valley, Utah area. It gave me a good look into the amazing, the good, the bad, and the ugly of our public school systems. 

When it came time to register my oldest for kindergarten, I was excited for her to start in a public school that I felt so drawn to! (For the record, I was open to her attending private or charter, but it’s not a feasible option in our current location.) We walked into the halls of the school on a mid-May day and could hear students practicing songs for their end-of-the-year program. We could physically feel the spring itch everyone had, ready for school to be out for the year so that summer vacation could officially commence. It made me so excited! We took the registration papers from the front desk, filled them out, and received all of the information we needed to know about the first day of school in the fall. 

The summer went on with constant excitement and conversation about starting school. I realized that as the day came closer and closer, the more nervous I felt. I tried not to let this show to my daughter, she was just one giant ball of excitement, and I knew if my nerves were showing, she would take them on herself, and that was something neither of us needed. 

Our school allowed parents to request teachers, but we were new to this town we were in and didn’t even have anyone we could ask for their opinions on which teacher to request! I assumed all four kindergarten teachers were probably amazing because it really takes an amazing human being to choose the profession of a kinder teacher. But when it came down to it, the reason I had so much anxiety about sending my daughter to school was the amount of control I had to give up as a parent. 

I’ve tried really hard not to be a helicopter mom to my kids and allow them as much independence as possible, which can sometimes be hard to do when you just want what’s best, easiest, and safest for your kids! However, research article after research article will tell you how important it is for children to have independence, opportunities for decision-making, and even moments of failure or risk. 

What ended up being the hard part for me was the fact that I had complete control over who was taking care of my children at any given time in their lives. Anytime we had babysitters, extra help with our kids, had to leave them overnight for something, or even just child care during work hours, I was always able to have a very large choice in the matter. When we chose a daycare for our kids, I took the time to tour and interview various daycares near us to choose which one I felt most comfortable sending my kids to. 

When it came time for my oldest to start public school, it wasn’t a matter of “tour various locations and interview many people to make the best possible decision.” It was a matter of, “This is where the boundaries say your child should go to school, so this is where you will go. Furthermore, we will assign teachers to the students.” 

Okay, it wasn’t that harsh. A lot of school districts will allow you to change schools and/or districts if you go through all of the right steps and paperwork. And they did allow requests for teachers. 

But in a large way, I really did feel like I was giving up so much of my voice and control over who my child spends time with and what she is exposed to all day every day by sending her to public school. It was daunting and anxiety-inducing. 

However, we are almost three months into it, and I’m realizing that it’s okay. 

It’s okay for her to be around a good diversity of safe adults within a public school. 

It’s okay for her to choose who to play with at recess. 

It’s okay for her to choose not to eat her lunch sometimes. 

It’s okay for her to grow and develop a relationship with her teacher, even if I didn’t handpick that teacher. 

So to all you parents that are new to any school system. Yes, even those that homeschooled for years and years and made the jump out of homeschooling and into public, private, or charter school. 

I see you. 

It’s hard and overwhelming to make this huge adjustment to your life. It’s overwhelming how many decisions are being made that you just cannot be a part of. It can be fearful to wonder what happens in those school hallways for all of those hours that you’re not there with your child, especially if you’ve been accustomed to staying home all day or most of the day with them. 

But it’s also so, so good. For both of you. And it’s okay for both feelings to exist at the same time. You’ve got this. 

Photo by Vlad Vasnetsov

Thoughts On Kid’s Extracurriculars

Back in February of 2019, I saw Mary’s post about placing her kids in activities and her formula for whether or not they should be in them. Here’s what she came up with, 

“Stress of making activity happen > benefit of activity = CANCEL regret-free!” 

When I read her post, my oldest was not even two years old yet so we were not even thinking about extracurriculars yet. However, I made a mental note about it to remember for the future. 

So far in the last two years, my kids have participated in swim lessons, soccer, dance, tumbling, and a handful of others. Every single time we’ve gone through an activity I have the same thought process, “what is this activity’s worth? Are the stresses of making this activity happen worth it?” 

Soccer? Nope. It was not worth it. But we learned and moved on. 

Swim lessons? Because of the nature of the private swim lessons we did, it was definitely the most commitment, the longest drive, and the most stressful. But having my kids become water safe and able to self-rescue in the water before they were a year old? Worth it. 

Dance? It didn’t interfere with any meal times, it was an easy time of the day to go, and it was close enough for us to walk. But my daughter protested it each week, and that alone made it not worth it. 

Tumbling? Easy time of the day, the location was close, and my daughter loved it and was learning so much. Yes. Worth it. 

Even at our preschool, I try every year to keep it in close proximity to our house and within decent times that are doable for us. 

And I have to say, I love it! I don’t feel like I’m spending all of my free time in my minivan acting as a chauffeur and my kids are spending more time in my backyard and in our playroom with neighbors and friends instead of buckled into their car seats rushing to the next thing. They are getting a great dose of unstructured play because of this handy formula that Mary created. 

And just because the video that Mary shared in her post was so perfect, I wanted to share it again here. 

Questions To Ask At Parent-Teacher Conferences

Parent-teacher conferences can be an overwhelming time for parents. What do I need to be prepared for? What will my child’s teacher say about them? And one of the most daunting questions- what questions do I ask? Here is a list of thought-provoking questions you can bring to parent-teacher conferences with you to get the most out of your experience. 

How is his/her/their social development? 

Are there any concerns I should have? 

What can I do to support my child’s academics at home? 

What can I do to support you as my child’s teacher? 

Is your classroom in need of any school supplies? 

What is something my child did really well this week/month? 

What type of workload can we expect from this class moving forward? 

What strengths and weaknesses does my child have in your classroom? 

And then of course questions specifically for you:

What is the best way to get in contact with you if I need anything? 

Can I talk to you about this concern I have? 

Do you know about this situation my son/daughter has going on at home?  

Is there anything else going on in the classroom that I need to know about?

A #TeacherMom Quandary: To Go Back or Stay Home?

substitute teacher quandry

Current life quandary: do I disrupt the delicate balance of being a mom with a work-from-home job to help in the community in a very understaffed job? Or continue this delicate life balance that we as a family have finally figured out and dismiss the job? 

Basically, what it comes down to, is that our community (and I’m positive the majority of the nation right now) is severely understaffed in regards to substitute teachers. With the fear of teaching in schools during COVID last year and the lack of teachers in general, it created a large gap that needed to be filled. This year may not be as hectic as last year, but regardless, they are still understaffed and struggling. 

My quandary comes with trying to continue my at-home work (this blog and our running scholarship), while still maintaining my status of a stay-at-home mom. While still feeling a pull to also throw “substitute teacher” on my stack of to-dos. I’ve had plenty of past experience subbing and I genuinely enjoyed it, but at what cost would it come to the rest of my responsibilities I need to maintain? 

I’m also feeling a big pull that I owe it to our community to be there for these teachers and students in their time of need. Is commitment to my community enough reason to take on something like this? 

All of these thoughts have been racing through my mind over the last several weeks as the first day of school slowly creeps closer and closer. 

I still have not decided which route to take yet and I will probably stew over this question every day until school starts. If you were faced with this decision, what would you choose? What would help you make your decision? 

A List Of Our Favorite Toys

Toys are an important part of childhood. They may create clutter and stress in our lives as parents and teachers, but the truth is, they can be essential to our kid’s childhood. They don’t have to be noisy and there doesn’t have to be a lot of them, as long as they are intentional. Here are our favorite toys we keep at our house. In fact, the less noisy and flashy they are, the better development wise. 

Magnet tiles- Learning more about magnets AND the ability to build various structures. They are also an easy add-to collection. Where we can continue to purchase more as gifts to my kids, but our abundance of toys doesn’t feel overrun. 

Wooden blocks- Again, building! Imagination! And sustainable materials. 

Kitchen set with food and dishes- More pretend play has happened in our play kitchen (both outdoor and indoor) than anywhere else in our house. 

Pop open tent- I’m a big fan of these because they fold flat for easy storage behind or under the couch. Our next purchase will be a pop up tunnel. 

Baby dolls- Both my son and daughter love playing pretend with our collection of baby dolls. None of them are very fancy and we’ve thrifted the majority of them. 

Outdoor kitchen with real pots and pans- I spent a weekend thrifting old pots, pans, silverware, and other kitchen dishes that we’ve put into our little playhouse in the backyard. These combined with some dirt and water seem to be our most popular toy! 

The toys you choose to have in your home for your kids don’t have to be extravagant and don’t have to be flashy. In fact, the less batteries required, the better! The more work your child has to do in order to play with the toy, the more learning and growing that is happening. 

What are some of the favorite toys in your house?