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.

Set up your home reading bags.
Ensure each bag has a student name on it. I like to use a label that has an identical label that I can put on my bin. This helps students who do not know how to read but can match! If you don't have much time a permanent marker works fine!

Figure out what style of bag you would like to store your books in.
I always have used a Ziplock type bag so that I can easily see inside to see if the book is there or if it is missing and I love that it is waterproof against spills that may occur inside a backpack (food, drinks or "other" accidents). I also like the fact that it is clear so I can easily see communication from parents. I try to reinforce the bag. I've tried packing tape in the past but this year I'm experimenting with Duct tape. I have found that packing tape eventually rips at some point in the year with students who do not have good fine motor control.

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 booklet format.

I have used a booklet for the past 9 years. 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, so this is easily seen by whomever is exchanging the books.

If you would like to see the communication booklet that I use now, click here!

Collection & distribution of bags to students.
Ensure you have a basket for students to place their home reading bags. No matter what plan I have, I always call a few children at a time. Normally my SK's and/or high reading JK's like to help hand out the book bags to the other children and they come automatically and this provides an authentic opportunity for reading in the classroom.

How do you want to organize 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/dynamics in your classroom.

1. Student Independence
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.

2. Independence with Some Control
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.

3. Retain Total Control 
I have found this only works with smaller class sizes. Have the sign out in a binder where children come to you when called after you have removed the books and placed the appropriate card inside the book. I usually call one student at a time and if done this way it is quite quick but not quick enough for a large class. Students are then given their bag to get their new book to sign out and they come back to you to give you their new card to place inside the binder and you ensure that the sign out card match the book they are taking out. The teacher returns books to the home reading cart to ensure that they are not damaged and are returned to the correct spot when they are all done.

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 and we have parents who say that they have returned their child's book. Because I have had complete control over the returns, I can say with full confidence that there is a missing book at home still or that it hasn't been returned to the collection. We have found missing books in daycare, in siblings classrooms and at home etc. This just aids with conflicts and ensures that other children have not taken out a different child's card and put it in the wrong book.



One of my favorite ways to engage young children in gross motor activities and incorporate math at the same time is through the game squirrels. It is super easy to set up and the kids love it and it is great at the beginning of the school year as the theme of hibernation is very relevant to the time of the year. Another nice part of this game is that it literally could never end. If you students have energy to burn this is a great way to get them to get their exercise!

Grades: JK-1

Object of the Game:
Each of the students are squirrels. They are on the hunt to gather food for the winter as it will be cold outside soon and there will not be much food! 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).

Students must gather a specific number of nuts, based upon a preselected number by the teacher. This will vary depending upon your students ability. At the beginning of the year, you may only ask for two or three nuts. At the end of the year, you may ask for five or more, all depending upon how many they can carry and/or how many tennis balls you have in your collection!

When the students return the nuts you instantly throw them back out into the field where there are no children. To prevent chaos with large numbers of students 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 they can identify their numbers. 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, but still 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 have potentially 60 kids playing and I prefer to have enough for each kid to have several balls at the same time.

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


Identifying Emotions In Kindergarten

One of the best ways we have found to introduce emotions is have a basic self regulation "check in" for our sign in routine every morning. Our days is structured that we go outside for the first 40 minutes after announcements, attendance and the national anthem. When we come inside the children have a couple jobs. They hang up their coats, get their mail bags and then they sign in for how they are feeling at that moment in time.

Throughout the day the kids can come back and move their picture to its appropriate location. It is fascinating to watch them check in as they realize that their emotions are changing throughout the day. Many of the kids will come and visit several times per day as they are learning.

Right now we are at the beginning of the school year and students are only able to choose between three different emotions: happy, worried and sad.

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.

How we set this up?
In order to create the barriers between the three options we use electrical tape as it easily is removed from magnetic white boards.

Photo Size
The photos we use are the smallest size we can print in a collage at our local grocery store (9 images on a 4*6 sheet).

Magnetic Photo Options:

* Photo sleeves cut to fit the size of the photos you are using and taped along the edges. (Dollar Store find)
* Photos attached to juice lids and the magnets are hot glued on the back. Then attach sticky tack to ensure that it lasts. This option is nice as the photos are small enough that you can add names below with permanent marker for name recognition. (Ask for donations from parents)
* Full magnetic sheets which a photo can be attached to and then cut out. (Dollar Store find)

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! I'm hoping that they last for the full year. The sleeves work great but over time can get very dirty as it collects dirt.


Teacher Tips: Start the School Year with Success

1. Make sure you take 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 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.
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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