Monday, July 14, 2014

Teaching Kiddos to Read One Cupcake at a Time!

Yesterday I uploaded my Alphabet Soup freebie onto Teachers Pay Teachers and today I uploaded my Cupcake Shop Word Family Sort. You may be thinking, "Wow! She's really churning those learning activities out!" Not really. Truthfully, this particular one took me much longer than it should. You see when I began toying with the idea of making learning activities to sell on Teachers Pay Teachers I didn't have a clue what went into creating a learning activity and then selling it. 

I had been making my own Reading and Math centers for ten years and though my students liked the activities I made, I really didn't know there was a better way. I found this fabulous Cupcake Creator Kit from Cloudstreet Lab.  I spent three days creating unique cupcakes and finally managed to narrow it down to 30 creations (I know, REALLY?!). 

After the cupcakes were created, I started working on the activity using Microsoft Office Word as I always had. However this was a very large file and as I started layering in those PNG graphics and text boxes. the file got slower to work with. Pushing those little cupcakes into the spot I wanted them to go became a challenge. I was getting frustrated and worried that my creative project would never reach fruition but I trudged (slowly) on. 

Then one night after working for an hour, I couldn't get the file to save no matter what I tried. Frustrated, I hit the off button on my computer. When I tried to open it up, it said there was a file error and it would not open. Can we say "Nooooooooo?!" I was devastated. All that work. Gone.

Who would have thought those beautiful cupcakes could make me so sad?  Luckily, I had emailed the file to myself two days earlier because my spidey sense said something might happen to the file. I lost some work but at least all was not lost. 

Perplexed and determined this would never happen again, I did some research and discovered Microsoft Power Point is the best place to create files of this type. I copied and pasted everything into Power Point. I was back on track and it looks pretty awesome, if I do say so myself. 

So how does it work? Well let me show you: 
Don't those cupcakes look delicious? I am pretty confident about this one. No one may ever buy it but my kinders are going to love it! The whole time I was creating cupcakes, Seth would peek over my shoulder and say, "Ooh Mommy! That one looks delicious! Can I play?" 

The set includes color and B&W game boards and word cards, center recording forms and cut and paste activities. 
If you are interested in buying it or just want to leave me a really encouraging comment (I need that, alot), just click on the picture below. 
Have a great week. 
Peace, Love & Cupcakes!

My First Teachers Pay Teachers Freebie!

Sooo excited! I just uploaded my first TPT freebie!

This is a learning center I originally created about ten years ago for my kindergarten students. When I decided to do a freebie for Teachers Pay Teachers, I got this one out and started revamping it and beefing it up. I have used this activity with several of my kindergarten groups and they loved it. 

I find it makes it a little more interesting if you put a plastic spoon with it so they can scoop up the picture cards. Doing this adds an extra dimension of fun but you always run the risk of having some industrious little monkey discover he can put the card in the spoon and then when he hits the handle, the card pops up. Of course the little monkey has to share it with all his friends and you can imagine what happens next. I always nip that in the bud by threatening to take away the spoon. I know. I am the fun sucker. 

So if you want to pick up this awesome freebie (is that bragging? Oh well!), click on the cute little button below (or the big one above) and download it. Have an great Monday!
 Click it!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Confessions of a Teacher Blog Groupie/Stalker

This morning I walked into my kitchen and upon seeing a sink full of dishes, told my husband, "Baby we're gonna have to fire that maid! She's not doing her job!" He chuckled and said, "Yup."

Now before you judge me too harshly or feel overly sorry for my out of work, former maid let me put your mind at ease. We don't have a maid. With hubby off to work each day and me at home for the summer, that's kind of my job and I must confess I've been slacking off. Before you think me a slob let me clarify, I can't stand a sink full of dishes. I'm just sure the germs are accumulating and mutating every second they sit there. So why would I leave a sink full of dishes--overnight, no less?! Because every evening for the past three weeks I have indulged in my latest obsession.
The moment I have any free time I grab my iPad and...oh my I am so stalk. It's true. Every evening I have to check out my Bloglovin feed and see if any of my favorite teacher bloggers have posted anything new. Then if they haven't, I go and check out their old stuff and before you know it I am mired in blogs. Each of my favorites has a blog roll (like my right column) with a load of other teacher blog links. Quite innocently, I will click on one of these links and time seems to speed up and I find I've blogged for thirty minutes or more (usually the latter).

The other day I had to interrupt my blog stalking to parent my son, Seth. I was so worried I would not remember where I had seen all these potentially awesome teacher blog links on a website I was stalking (tragic!). To ensure this did not happen, I took a screen shot of the site with my iPad. Sounds pretty desperate, huh?
If you look at the top  of this picture you can see the tabs of all the sites I was at previously. All teacher blogs. 

But that is not all. I've become a teacher blog groupie. I don't just read the blogs, I have to comment--a lot. My status as a groupie occurred to me as I was about to press publish on a comment I had made on the blog Smedley's Smorgasbord of Kindergarten. I had just read his latest post about CNN asking him for an interview (obviously they are Smedley groupies too). I, being the consummate groupie, was about to write a cutsie "Yay for you!" when I realized I had commented on his posts every day this week. Kinda creepy, huh? 

Now though this obsession with blogging and blogs worries me, I don’t have any immediate plans to stop. For now, it seems harmless (except for the mutating germs on the dirty dishes). Besides, I figure school will start in August and it will get better. Our school has a lovely filter system on the computer network that keeps kids from visiting anything unsavory. It also keeps the teachers from seeing anything even mildly entertaining. Yes, I have a feeling that filter will put a stop to any blog groupie/stalking activity while at school. But have no fear Smedley my dear (and all my other favorites--Mrs. Jump and A Teeny Tiny Teacher, just to name a few). In the evening (after the dishes are washed), I will be checking on you—and probably commenting. 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Top Ten Things to Know About Me

I am not a methodical person who plans everything down to the last detail and then acts. With most things, I get an idea and then--Blast off! I'm zooming! Blogging was no different. Below I have illustrated my initial blogging experience. (BTW: I've discovered Power Point so expect lots of little slides like this throughout my blog in the future. They are so fun to make!).

Now since that first blog post two weeks ago, I have done considerable research about blogging. I may be the "leap before you think" type of girl but once I commit, I joyfully immerse myself in research. In this case, research is also known as blog stalking. I heard that term on one of my stalking excursions on another teacher's site. It accurately describes it. After much enjoyable stalking of my favorite teacher blogs, I have discovered that most teacher bloggers begin their blogs with "Hey I'm blogging. Super excited to share my class and ideas with you."  Not me. Not my style. Wish it was. So, if you wish, pretend this is my first blog and I want "us" to get to know each other. To do that I have decided to share--wait for it--
Top Ten Things to Know About Me: 
I teach and have only ever taught at a small--but fabulous--school, Big Pasture Elementary in Randlett, Oklahoma. I have only ever wanted to teach kindergarten. It's where the magic happens.

You may have realized this already. It usually only takes a few minutes in my presence or on my blog to realize that. Let me emphasize this: I'm VERY ADHD! I am lucky to work at a place where they love me in spite of it. I think having ADHD is what attracted me to kindergarten. Kinders are naturally attention deficit. We get each other. I am especially lucky to have a husband and family who help me a great deal.

Probably due to #2 above. I didn't get serious about college until I was in my thirties. Didn't get married until I was 36 and had my first child when I was 43. Better late than never...or good things come to those who wait?

It sounds like I'm bragging but I had to put that in there. You see, when you are ADHD, people have a tendency to think you are ditzy and stupid. Ditzy I am, stupid I am not! Although in "their" defense, I'm very ditzy.

I was diagnosed shortly after my 40th birthday on June 2, 2003. I have been cancer free since May 26, 2004. It was a scary and awesome year but one I wouldn't change for anything. It was proof that even bad things can empower me and enrich my life.
Me, my kinders and my bald head! They loved me anyway!
My husband gave me my first iPad for my birthday three years ago and I think he would now agree it was the worst gift he ever gave me. He gets a little miffed at how attached I am to it. However, I will say this, we are a three iPad family so he kind of contributed and shares in my addiction. He is an iPad enabler. We are iPad codependent? Whatever, I've got it bad. Somebody organize an intervention.

And not just books. I love to read everything. On a road trip, it drives my husband, Kevin nuts because I read and don't talk to him. We have learned to compromise: I read aloud to him. My favorite book: Harry Potter. I've read all seven of them at least twice and have been to several Harry Potter book parties with my sister, Linda and Niece, Jen who are both Potter fans. Confession time: I still have all my complimentary Harry Potter glasses. Yes, I am a shameless nerd!

For as long as I can remember, I have hummed and often I'm not even aware of it. When Seth was younger, I put everything we did to music. We could be doing the most mundane things-eating, changing diapers, bathing and I would belt out a song-but with my own creative lyrics. One day, I picked Seth up out the tub and wrapped him in a towel. I was on the way to the changing table when all of a sudden I sang, "Wrap him up, I'll take him!" This song and tune were borrowed from the Fabulous Thunderbird song, "Wrap it up." This became a nightly ritual when I got him out of the tub. I would sing and dance my way to the changing table. He loved it. I loved it. Shortly after he turned six, he asked me to stop singing everything we do. Saddens me but it's not as much fun when we don't both enjoy it.

Furthermore, almost everyone in my family has been in the military, even my sister. I must like the military life. My husband, Kevin is a retired sergeant who served 21 years in the military and served in Iraq. I'm very proud of him as well as the rest of my family.

Nope. Not my first rodeo. A couple of years ago I got the notion in my head to start a blog but after my first post I just lost the urge. This time feels different. I hope it is. I think I have a clearer idea of what I want to do with my blog. I am also super inspired by all the great kindergarten teachers blogging out there. I like to think I am the new kid on an awesome block.

So there you have it. That's me and I hope this is the first, um, third of many posts by me. Thanks for stopping by and please leave a comment (be kind). 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Teaching Kindergarten: It's Not All Pretty Pictures

Kindergarten is a magical place and it truly takes special people to teach little ones. People who don't mind cleaning noses (or having snotty noses rubbed on their shirts), sneak attack hugs (after lunch on burger days, I sometimes look like an Andy Warhol painting done in ketchup and mustard), dealing with the drama kinders are famous for (tattling, not sharing, mean looks, etc.) and the sweet but sometimes brutal honesty that comes with not having yet developed a filter.

The perks of kindergarten are that you will never be loved more. I am not known for my clean desk but at the end of the day, on top of my junk, is a stack of pictures made just for me by my kinders. Because I am a particularly sentimental person, I usually keep these all year and then in May throw away (sadly) the bulk of them. Some however, I keep forever just because they are so unique and make me smile.
In addition to the pretty pictures, I get told quite often how beautiful I am. Every year I have a kiddo or two I lovingly call Eddie Haskell. For those of you too young to know who this is--Google it! Anyway, Eddie or Edie, if it's a girl, will say "You look lovely today, Mrs. Liddiard!" Well no kinder likes to be outdone and so then I am showered with two dozen more such compliments, each louder than the last. In their bid to outdo each other, some of my kinder's compliments can be quite descriptive. "You have beautiful big ears!" My reply? Oh course, "Why thank you my dear. The better to hear you with!" 

As wonderful as it is, any teacher considering the jump to kindergarten should know it isn't all pretty pictures and flowery words. Kinders have not reached that age of restraint. They tell it like they see it. To a kinder, truth is good, even if it may hurt someone's feelings. Because of this, kindergarten teachers have to have what my mother calls thick skin. 

For instance, one day during my Phonics lesson, I was reviewing my letter/picture flash cards. I got to the letter T and with a sing song voice and a big smile I said, "T is for turtle! T-t-t-turtle! A little boy in the front row, I will call Lawrence, loudly and incredulously announced, "Your teeth are yellow!" That wiped the smile right off my face and at my look of shock in his direction, Lawrence must have thought  he was in major trouble because his big brown eyes got bigger, he nodded his head furiously at me and everyone around him and said, "They are! They aren't white! I saw them!" What could I say? I love coffee and he was right they weren't white. I mean I don't have bubba teeth and I brush and floss regularly but well, I guess they could be whiter. I'm over it. As for Lawrence, he worried for several weeks after that he had offended me. Each day without fail he told me how beautiful I was and he said it with such sincerity, I think I must have been a little.

Even when they are being insulting you can't be truly mad at young children. Most often it isn't malicious. Just a statement about something they have observed. For example, the other day my six year old son, Seth, who loves to draw and create, rediscovered his magnetic doodle board under a pile of junk in his closet. He immediately set about drawing tree houses (his latest obsession) and after having exhausted that artistic avenue announced, "Mom! I'm going to draw a picture of you!" He gave me a critical once over and then began drawing. Every so often he would look over the top of his board at me and then down again. He was taking this portrait thing quite seriously and I could tell he was comparing the accuracy of his drawing to me. Seth is a good artist. We have always marveled at his ability to draw things in such detail.

I must confess, I was quite interested in seeing myself through his eyes. That is until he said, "I didn't forget those things around your mouth." At my blank look, he described them in detail. I realized at that point I had probably never said the W word in front of Seth: Wrinkles. Ugh. No one is more aware of my wrinkles than I, especially since Seth has entered school. Being the "older" mom of a kinder, I've always stuck out like a sore thumb at class parties and gatherings outside of school. Most of the parents of Seth's classmates are half my age. It's okay. What I lack in collagen, I more than make up for in a winning personality and happy outlook on life. Some days I miss collagen. Okay let's move on.

Luckily, Seth became less obsessed in drawing my face and moved onto other details of my appearance. When he was satisfied he had captured every detail of my face and figure, he proudly turned the drawing board around. I must have a poker face because his happy expectant smile never faltered.

Within a few seconds several thoughts ran through my head. "Does he really think I look like that? Do I look like that? Wait a minute! Haven't I seen that person on that show Seth likes to watch-The one with the rude characters? What is his name? The green one with the muscles, pug nose, big teeth and man boobs? Is that a coincidence?" Then I wondered if Seth was being funny. Our Seth has a wicked sense of humor and sarcasm is a Liddiard family art. Nope. He still had that expectant grin. "I LOVE IT! It's so...creative and detailed!" Correct response. His effort was rewarded and he was ready to slide the erase button and move on to his next masterpiece. Suffice it to say, magnetic doodle boards are not kind to us over fifty gals. 

My years as a kindergarten teacher prepared me well for that moment. I have heard every comment imaginable on my appearance. Every few years I get a pat on the belly by some new or soon to be big brother or sister and asked, "Miss Liddiard? You gonna have a little baby?" Though it slightly offended me my first year of teaching, it now gives me a big laugh. It's innocent and so sincere. That's the fun part about teaching kinders. I get to see the world and sometimes myself, through their little unjaded eyes.  To them I may have yellowing teeth, wrinkles and a big gut but they love me in spite of it and I like to think that says something about me as well.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Surviving Kindergarten

As a teacher we all have our difficult students. I like to think I love all my students equally despite the difficult behavior they throw my way. However, this past August I had a student in my class that tested me more than any child I had taught in the past. My bag of tricks didn't work on this kid and for the first time ever, I questioned my ability to teach every child.

Having taught kindergarten for 15 years in the same small school district, I had the confidence that comes from having done a job many years. At this point in my career, I was a veteran teacher but I still had plenty of the enthusiasm I'd been known for as a rookie. I was the fun teacher who taught her kids to line dance to Thriller dressed as zombies and did dance aerobics with them to the beat of Madonna and Katy Perry. Kids loved me and I only had to walk down the hall to have at least one former student hug me and tell me they wished they were still in my class. I loved hearing it but honestly, who doesn't love their kindergarten teacher?
My little zombies after dancing "Thriller" in the hall for parents and students. 
Teaching in a small, rural school district in Oklahoma, there's only one teacher per grade. One kindergarten teacher and I'm it. We don't have the luxury of dividing up the difficult kids among classes the way bigger districts do. I teach every kinder who walks through that door.

I began the 2013-2014 school year with all the enthusiasm and high hopes I have every year. I was excited to start school. That first day, my students came through the door with enthusiasm to match my own. They listened attentively as I went through my usual routine song and dance.  They were a high energy group so I made sure that there were plenty of opportunities to get up and move around.  I could tell this was a sweet bunch and once they understood the rules, we would do just fine. Except for one problem. Seth.

Seth was a bright boy with a sweet smile but about an hour into class he let me know very vocally that kindergarten was boring and Ms. Champion's class (his pre-k teacher and my best friend) was more fun. He didn't want to go over the routines; he wanted to play in centers. With a smile, I firmly told him we would be going over the center routine a bit later but we were currently learning the rules that would help us do our best in kindergarten. He sat down on the carpet with a sour look. Moments later he began messing with a little boy behind him and soon they were giggling. I asked them to please be polite listeners because Mrs. Liddiard had something important to share with the class.

The little boy behind Seth immediately straightened up, but not Seth. He ignored me and continued to try to engage the children around him. I was frustrated but determined to get a handle on the situation. In my firmest voice I told Seth, that because he had chosen to not listen to me, he would need to take his seat at the table and could rejoin us when he chose to listen.

I expected a bit of pouting and perhaps the reluctant walk to his chair. What I did not expect was the meltdown that ensued. I dug into my bag of tricks and walked over to him and handed him a tissue and told him in my firmest voice to get up and walk to that table like big boy. He didn't budge. As gently as I could, I picked him up and took him to the chair where he immediately flung himself at me, threw his arms around my legs and cried loudly.

 I looked at the shocked faces of my students. My perfectly planned morning was going down the drain and I worried that if I didn't get this train back on the tracks I would have a hard time ever getting a handle on this group. Begin as you plan to proceed and I was losing them.

I was a veteran teacher. I'd had worse. In my years, I'd had chairs thrown at me and even been called a dirty name or two. It had never flustered me or caused me to be anything but professional. However, this sweet faced little boy left me feeling powerless. Why? Perhaps it was the words he was wailing as he clung to my leg with a death grip. "Mommy NO!"

That's right. My little problem student was none other than my own precious son, Seth Gabriel. So began a 9 month long battle. We butted heads all year long. In Ms. Champion's class he had been a well behaved student who never uttered a disrespectful word. With me, he became surly and disrespectful  and had meltdowns pretty much daily in the beginning. I was at a loss as to how to handle this new Seth. Nothing I tried worked.

In an effort curb the meltdowns in class, I started the Grumpy Book. Whenever he was grumpy and looked ready to throw a fit, he had to go out into the hall and draw in the grumpy book. Being a kid who loves to draw, you would think Seth would love going out in the hall and drawing for ten minutes. No. He loved the other kids and couldn't stand to be away from the action. Because of this, his stints in the hall were forced and the pages in the grumpy book could be brutal and always aimed at me, his rotten teacher.
The Grumpy Book.  Translated: "Stupid mom, Dumb mom." Ouch!

The rule was he could write whatever he wanted in the grumpy book but he couldn't share it with anyone but his dad and me. This rule was put in place after the first time I put him in the hall to write down his feelings. Five minutes later I walked into the hall to find the table covered in picture after picture of me with a big strike across my face and the words "stoopid mom."  I was mortified to hear a group of second graders snickering at the display. With as much dignity as possible, I gathered up the pages and put them up to share with his dad later.

I went from being the fun teacher to the teacher who smiled a little less. It was hard for me to let loose. I couldn't stop being Sheriff Liddiard and I realized my expectations of Seth were sometimes unrealistic. My boss had warned me in the spring before Seth entered my class. She wanted me to teach first grade because she was afraid I would have a hard time treating Seth the same as everyone else.  I was just sure it would be fine. I knew I wouldn't show special favors to Seth. I didn't. I was harder on him than any other kid and he knew it. He resented it. Who could blame him? I worried that our relationship would be forever marred by his time in my class.
My class discipline system as explained by Seth to dad. 

In May, three days before school ended, Ms. Champion was battling with a student that she had had trouble with all year long. The child had tripped her hard the day before (not the first time) and was screaming hateful words while repeatedly slapping her arm as she was led her to the office. I gave her a sympathetic look and knew that was my student in August. During my last interview with my boss, she asked me if I was ready for next school year and some of the difficult behaviors I would be encountering in August. I smiled and said, "Definitely. I can't wait!" At her look of surprise I explained to her. "You see in August, I can walk out that door at 3:30 every day and if I don't want to, I don't have to think or talk about school until I walk back through the door at 7:30 the next morning. I can have dinner each evening without burdening my husband with mine and Seth's latest blowup. My son gets to go home and not have his mean teacher go home with him. Next year is going to be absolutely awesome!" She laughed and said her usual, "I warned you." Yes she had.

On the last day of school, as I watched Seth walk across the stage looking so handsome in his red cap and gown and receive his kindergarten diploma from our principal all I could think of was, "I love you and I'm so proud of you. THANK GOODNESS IT'S OVER! You no longer have to deal with that horrible, mean teacher and I don't have deal with that mouthy disrespectful student!"
Seth Gabriel. Kindergarten was tough but you made it! 

I have done much in past weeks since the end of school to repair my relationship with Seth. I make sure each day we do something creative and fun and I can tell we are becoming close again the way we once were. Some people teach their kids and do fine. I know a few who did wonderfully. I'm a good teacher; just not the best kindergarten teacher for my son. Maybe someday we will laugh about this.