Setting Up Your Home Reading Program

 Although there is a bit of a front load in preparing, setting up a smooth running home reading program will save your sanity throughout the year as students will have a well established routine.

Bag size
I always have used a Ziplock style bag so that I can easily see inside to see if the book is inside or if it is missing.  It is waterproof against the lunch or drink spills in backpacks that do occur. It also allows clear, easily read communication from parents. I try to reinforce the bag. I've tried packing tape but it often rips for many students. This year I used Duct tape and I only had to reinforce one bag after 8 months of use!

Naming Bags
Ensure each bag has a student name on it. I use identical labels for easy sorting. This allows non-readers to be independent. If you don't have much time a permanent marker works fine!
Prepare some sort of communication between home and school and frequency of reading.
The type of forms filled in can vary depending upon the grade taught.

Especially as there are large variations in abilities. Some teachers have a monthly checklist for parents to fill out.

Others like to have parents sign in for each 10-20 minutes that their students read. I personally prefer a home reading book.
I have used this booklet for 10 years now and find it quite successful.

Parents fill out each book read and then they circle the difficulty of the book.

They leave it open and I can easily check feedback from parents. I also like to reward reading efforts with a small sticker for every 10 books read.

Exchanging Books

Make sure you have a sign out system. I have used many different styles over the years.

Here are three suggestions with varying degrees of responsibility depending upon the needs or the dynamic of your classroom.

Independent Option

Have students independently take out their books, put the cards back into the book envelope, and return it to the home reading cart.

This is best with older grade students or students who are very responsible. It can work in a kindergarten classroom with adult supervision.

Independence with Teacher Direction

Students retrieve their sign out cards from a sign out chart and I put them inside the books myself to ensure that the books are taken care of and the correct card is placed inside each booklet.

I hand each student their empty home reading bag and then they immediately go and pick a different book and place the card into their name on the sign out chart.

I collect and sort all the books as the whole class exchanges and then I return them back into the collection myself to ensure the cart does not get mixed up and books are not ruined trying to be stuffed back into the collection.

Teacher Directed 

This works best with smaller class sizes or when you have a dedicated parent volunteer. Have a sign out in a binder where children come to you. The teacher can control returning cards to books sleeves in order to ensure the appropriate card is returned and what books are returned.

I usually call one student at a time in a quick rotation Students are then given their bag to get their new book to sign out and return their new card to the teacher to be place inside the binder.

The only reason we have ever had to resort to this type of control is due to ensuring that the teacher has "seen" all books returned. We have parents who say that they have returned their child's book when we inform them that one is missing.

Teacher directed book exchange allows me to say say with full confidence that it hasn't been returned. Lost books are bound to happen (found at in the daycare, a siblings classrooms and at home etc). It is one way to ensure that parents are aware that you know what is going on in the classroom and provides them with reassurance.

Outdoor Learning Math & Gross Motor Activity: Squirrels

I love to engage children in gross motor activities that incorporate math is through the game squirrels.

It is super easy to set up and the kids love it.

The best part this game is that it literally never ends! If you students have energy to burn this activity is a great way to burn energy.

Grades: JK-1

Object of the Game:

Students pretend to be squirrels who on the hunt to gather food for the winter months. Since winter is just around the corner we need to collect it! They must search far and wide throughout the field for nuts (aka, tennis balls) and bring them back to be stored for the winter (in your bucket).


The teacher calls a number and students must find that many to return. No more. No less. Vary numbers based upon ability. How high can kids count? How many balls can they carry at once?

When the students return the nuts you instantly toss them back out into the field where there are no children. To prevent chaos, it is nice to have two buckets with two adults throwing the nuts back onto the field.

You can also easily assess whether or not students can count! If students do not have enough, send them back for more! If they have too many, they must figure out how to solve their problem to get the correct number of nuts.

Set Up:

Playing this game on the field is much better than on the tarmac. The soft ground will help in preventing injuries. Always make sure your students look before they turn around and run into a student coming towards them.

You need a large bucket that can easily hold 40-60+ tennis balls that you can easily toss to throw the balls and be able to hold on to the container.

40 to 60+ tennis balls are needed considering the number of students you have in your class. When we play, we often have 60 kids playing.  I prefer to have enough for each kid to have several balls at the same time to prevent fights.

We ask for donations from our local tennis club. We have found that they are always more than willing to donate to schools in order to recycle old tennis balls!


Developing Self-Regulation Identifying Emotions In Kindergarten by Signing In

One of the best ways we have found to introduce emotions is having a basic self-regulation "check in" for our sign in routine every morning.

It has made a world of difference in children understanding how they feel.

Throughout the day the kids can come back and move their picture to its appropriate location as needed. It is fascinating to watch them check in as they realize that their emotions are changing throughout the day.

I am amazed at how reflective and observant many students are. I often see children who have moved their picture to sad and then seen friends come to help support them and ask if they want to play. I am often in awe at how frequently children want to help each other.

As the year progresses we change and eventually add more emotions as we teach them to the students. We will then teach them more strategies to help them deal with their emotions in age appropriate ways.

I use the product "This is how I feel," shown below, for our check in for my class. It allows me to have kid friendly images for my students as we learn about the emotions one at a time.

I teach each emotion in isolation and usually read a book with a fiction character about the emotion to help kids understand it better.

We then brainstorm together what makes us feel that emotion and why. At first there is a lot of copying of ideas but as children are more aware of their emotions they love to share their original ideas.

Alternative ideas

As you can see in the image below I will put out chart paper during learning center time and allow students to represent through pictures or words what makes them feel an emotion.

We then share our ideas with the class afterward and post their thoughts in the classroom.

They love reading these, as they remember all the situations, and reflecting upon how they are the same or different from their friends.

This is the best type of learning for me as I firmly believe that children learn best from each other.


In order to create the barriers between the three options, we use electrical tape as it easily is removed from magnetic white boards.

The photos we use are the smallest size we can print in a collage at our local grocery store. 9 images can be printed on a 4"*6" sheet.

Magnetic Photo Options:

Photo sleeves can be cut to fit the size of the images you are using and taped along the edges to stay secure. I have found these at the Dollar Store.

Photos can be attached to juice lids glue magnets to the back.

I have also found at the Dollar Store full magnetic sheets for photos which can be attached cut.

I've used all three options in the past. This year I am using the magnetic sheets as it was the cheapest option from the Dollar store and I didn't have enough juice lids! They worked great but were easily lost.


Teacher Tips: Start the School Year with Success

1. Make sure you take the time to get to know your students.

In the younger years, this might involve a lot of time spent with your students. Asking questions and just listening to them tell you all about their day and their interests.

In the older grades, get to know you activities as a whole group or as inventory checklists are great ways to find out more about them!

The better you know them, the easier it is to make good connections which will provide the foundation for learning and a smoother year both for them and yourself.

2. Make sure you talk to your students about your own life.

Yes, it is true. Children find it fascinating to find out about our own lives and that we do not live at school! They need to know it is normal to have a life outside of school and that you have a family too.

3. Prepare in spurts!

Save yourself stress by getting things done before school starts.

I try to prepare basics at the end of the school year but just leave student names off of them. This way, when I come back to school I can focus on setting up the classroom and preparing lessons with less stress.

Everyone does this differently, but try to find a good balance of spreading your "to do list" out in a way that will not overwhelm you at the beginning of the school year. If you have access to your classroom early try to head in to set up in the summer

4. Collaborate with others.

Collaboration is one of the best parts of teaching. Getting to know your colleagues and having each others back is imperative to having a smooth year.

5. Purge when you can

When you start planning and you come across an old resource that you were saving "just in case someday you may need it," it likely means that you will never use it.

I know many colleagues, as well as myself, who had good intentions like this. We eventually have learned that hoarding isn't to our advantage and we often never use those "old keepsakes" anyways.

I've learned the hard way, don't feel guilty about purging!

Teachers are notorious for saving everything. Give yourself the freedom to let things go.

6. Enjoy your summer.

Take a break from school!

If you are constantly thinking about school you will never get reenergized the way that you will need to prepare for the new school year.

Relax, enjoy your family and enjoy life!

7. Enjoy each moment along the way.

The curriculum is important, but not so much that you forget to enjoy each day to its fullest.

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Please feel free to post your favorite tip for starting the school year with success. All the best in a successful school year!
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