Before School Morning Routine

With summer vacation winding down, it's time to begin easing into school-year routines.  We know children need to start going to bed and waking earlier so that the back-to-school transition won't be abrupt and unpleasant for them (or their parents and teachers).  These final weeks before school begins are likewise the perfect time for adults to develop meaningful morning routines.

Rise Early
During my career, I have gone back and forth in my feelings about the early start of my work day and the related early bedtime, sometimes enjoying the routine and other times feeling like I am squeezing my adult life into a child's schedule.  Nevertheless, experience tells me I should embrace the routine that fits my job.

To get your day started on the right foot, begin by waking early.  Yes, I know that teachers already start early, even if you do hit the snooze button until the last possible moment before jumping into whatever clothes are close and then applying makeup and eating breakfast drinking coffee at red lights on the way to work.  I have definitely employed this approach with moderate success.  But, often, this harried routine has left me to get through the workday lunch-less, simply reacting to each problem as it arises.  By waking earlier (about an hour earlier than it takes me to get dressed), I can begin my day prepared, confident, purposeful, and with a feeling that I have cared for myself before beginning to serve others. 

Once your eyes are open and the alarm is turned off, it's time to wake up your body and prepare it for the rigors of the day.  You should customize this part of your routine based on what your body will be put through during the school day.  Since I have struggled with foot and heel pain caused by taking a zillion steps a day on hard tile floors, I begin flexing and pointing my toes while I'm still in bed, in order to stretch my calves and feet before they take their first steps of the morning.  Then, I focus on stretching the rest of my body.  I like to follow an extremely basic yoga routine called sun salutation.  Visit Women's Health Magazine for a written and visual guide to this series of basic stretches, or check out Portal Yogi for a slightly extended version of the stretch sequence.

Now that your body is awake and alert, it's time to prepare your brain for the day.  As humans, we have some self-destructive mental tendencies.  In an article about mindfulness meditation, Psychology Today explains, "First, we cause ourselves suffering by trying to get away from pain and attempting to hang on to pleasure...Second, we cause suffering when we try to prop up a false identity usually known as ego."  Meditation can help our brains form better, more productive habits.  Once you get into this routine, you can customize this part of the morning to fit your goals, but to get started, consider following one of the short, guided meditations provided by UCLA's Mindful Awareness Research Center.

After this mindfulness practice, I shift my thoughts briefly toward gratitude.  Instead of letting your brain fill with worries first thing in the morning, spend a moment being aware of the people and circumstances that provide you with beauty, pleasure, comfort, and happiness.  We can all think of something to be thankful for, even on the groggiest, greyest morning.  This process will help you start the day with joy instead of stress.  Finally, I move my thoughts to my intentions for the day.  This is not time to make a huge to-do list.  Instead, focus on one or two things that will make you feel proud at the end of the day.  These goals can vary widely from tasks, such as getting to the gym after work, to intentions like treating others with a generous spirit or avoiding vocalizing mundane complaints throughout the day.  This entire brain-preparation routine will only take 7-10 minutes, but it can make an enormous difference in the remainder of the day.

Now it is time to complete the tasks that were formerly the entire "getting ready" routine.  Treat yourself well by using non-toxic cosmetics (check out the safety of your products using the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep database) and dressing in comfortable, well-fitting clothes.  A tight waistband or lack of pockets can lead you to feel annoyed all day long as you sit uncomfortably or lose your keys repeatedly.  Why deal with that frustration?  Dress yourself in a way that is practical and that makes you feel confident.  For me, comfortable shoes are absolutely non-negotiable, due to the aforementioned foot pain.  (Read more about my thoughts on teacher shoes.)  This process is much simpler if you have pre-selected your clothes the night before.  More on this later in a discussion of evening routines.  Also, finish getting dressed now instead of planning to apply makeup or file your nails (or whatever) on the way to work or just after arriving for the sake of your safety and sanity.

A teacher's job is not for the faint of heart (or soul or body).  If you want to perform well, your body is going to need fuel.  During my first days working as a teacher, I developed a morning habit of feasting on a Nutrigrain bar and a ginormous diet soda.  Although this wasn't even a tasty breakfast, it seemed like the right menu.  After all, I didn't feel hungry at sun's-not-even-up-o'clock, and I just wanted to wake myself up.  Having learned more about the weirdo chemicals in factory-produced "food," I tried slightly healthier variations of this meal, such as a granola bar and a homemade latte.  However, I'm here to tell you, stuffing random food-like substances + caffeine down the hatch is not the most productive approach to your morning meal.  Build a habit of eating a nutritious breakfast, even if it's quick and small.  Some of my favorites are a bowl of real oatmeal (not the packet full of artificial colors and flavors) or a smoothie.  Both of these are great ways to sneak extra servings of fruits and vegetables and even dietary supplements into your day.  For example, a spoonful of ground flax seed, which is jam-packed with Omega-3s and other essential and often under-consumed vitamins, is basically unnoticeable once it's stirred into either of these breakfasts.

Also, drink water.  It's good for your everything.  You know this.  Just do it.  Consider having your first glass of water just after you get out of bed.  I keep a water bottle on my nightstand and finish whatever I didn't drink during the night as soon as I wake up.  Have another glass with breakfast.  With two down, you just have six more glasses to go during your bathroom-break-less work day.

Pack Up
You're almost ready to leave for work, and just look at what all you've accomplished!  Before you walk out the door, though, be sure you have everything you will need.  Yes, you are going to feel like a pack-mule as you walk to the car, but it is so worthwhile compared to feeling unprepared all day.  Check your teacher bag for your school ID and keys, so you don't have to beg a custodian to let you into your room over and over all day.

Fill up your water bottle - the big one.  Yes, I know you don't get to go to the restroom.  Just bring the water and drink it anyway.  Someone will watch your students for the 30 seconds it takes to run to the bathroom as long as you are willing to return the favor.  You're going to be doing a lot of talking and moving, and anyway, water's good for your everything, remember?

Get your lunch ready.  The food that is available for you to purchase at work is not good enough.  (It's not good enough for the kid's either, but that's a topic for another day.)  You are an individual with specific dietary needs and preferences, and a double side of soggy cafeteria fries or an overpriced candy bar is simply not enough - not enough calories, not enough nutrition, not enough enjoyment.  Get out your lunchbox, and fill it with enough nutritious, delicious items to feed yourself a meal and two snacks.  I always include nuts and dried fruits for my morning and afternoon snacks, and I usually pack leftovers and fresh fruit for my midday meal.  Trying to lose weight?  Pack even more fruits, so that you aren't tempted by the box of stale doughnuts in the teachers' lounge.

Morning can easily become a rushed and stressful part of the day if you don't pre-plan a routine and then loyally carry it out.  Trying to accomplish all the things on this list without a plan would be mentally exhausting.  By establishing a routine ahead of time, you can use your morning to care for yourself and prepare for your day instead of getting bogged down with decision fatigue or simply sleeping through this opportunity.

What are your best morning routine tips?


Fourth of July - Learn & Celebrate

 Happy Independence Day!  Before you don your patriotic mohawk and head out for parades and fireworks, find out a little about the history of this day and the traditions with which we celebrate it.
Visit the National Museum of American History's blog to find out 7 Things You Didn't Know About the Star-Spangled Banner (the specific 42' x 30' flag that inspired our national anthem).

Then read some primary documents that demonstrate various perspectives on our national holiday throughout history.


Ringworm and Lice

January has been the fastest and slowest month ever.  I feel like I should make an excuse for taking such a long break from writing, so I wrote a haiku:

Got ringworm and lice.
The teacher’s life isn’t all
apples and kids books.

Lunar New Year

Happy Lunar New Year!  Today's celebration creates a perfect opportunity for a multidisciplinary story time.  Since many children are only familiar with the Western / Gregorian calendar, begin by introducing the lunar calendar, which is based on moon cycles rather than Earth's movement around the sun.

Then read aloud a story to introduce symbols and traditions of the holiday.  Students will love the alphabet-book presentation and detailed illustrations in D Is for Dragon Dance by Ying Compestine.  Get more ideas for using this book and celebrating the new year from this earlier article.  After the story, students can listen to a clip of Compestine discussing New Year traditions on NPR's Morning Edition episode from this morning.

Students also enjoy the brief introduction to the holiday presented in Grace Lin's Bringing in the New Year.
Older students will finish this short picture book ready to dive into Lin's longer fiction like The Year of the Dog and the rest of the Pacy Lin series or Lin's Newbery Honor book, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.

After the stories, encourage students to make text-to-self connections regarding the traditions mentioned in the books.  Students will discover that many cultures share similar traditions.  Then demonstrate how students can count backward to their birth year and learn about the Chinese zodiac. The zodiac chart is printed in the back of D Is for Dragon Dance, for the letter Z, and you can download and print a beautiful version created and shared by Jan Brett.  I've written about this printable before, but kids seriously love it and will practice patterns and arithmetic with this image for as long as you will let them.

Finally, let students practice creating similes by comparing the upcoming year to a horse, since 2014 is the year of the horse.  Kids can browse non-fiction books about horses to get ideas for adjectives to use in their similes.


Ancient Egypt Storytime

We just wrapped up our Reading Oasis book fair.  This Ancient Egyptian theme immediately excited the former science and social studies teacher in me because of the opportunities to incorporate so many subject areas into one brief unit.

Perhaps because of the current zombie crazy, my students were fixated on Egyptian mummies, so we dove right in.  With younger students, I shared Judy Schachner's book, Skippyjon Jones in Mummy Trouble, in which Skippyjon imagines that he is mummified during a treasure-hunting adventure in an Egyptian pyramid.
After the story, students imagined what it would be like to go on a trip to ancient Egypt with Skippyjon.  Then they illustrated themselves in mummy trouble.

Older students learned about the mummification process by reading portions of DK Eyewitness Books: Ancient Egypt.
The book's full color images grabbed everyone's attention immediately.  Students can continue exploring this ancient burial custom with Discovery Kids' Mummy Maker game

Students can create their own pharaoh headdresses just like the ones Pete and our other library cats wore for our book fair.
Visit First Palette to get the printable headdress template.  Then kids just color, cut, and assemble three pieces into the completed headdress.

For science and writing, we looked up the definitions of the word oasis.  Many students were surprised to discover that deserts contain wet, fertile areas.  Next we discussed why oasis can also refer to a refuge or pleasant place.  Finally, students brainstormed about their own ideas of a reading oasis and then wrote about and illustrated their perfect places.
Students' creative ideas included a cozy chair, a tree house, a football field, and a gold mine.

For more independent learning and fun, kids can check out Rick Riordan's Kane Chronicles webpage. The Kane Chronicles series is based on Egyptian mythology, and the site includes information about Egyptian mythology and Egyptian magic as well as links to online games about Egypt.


Learning the Dewey Decimal System

To organize and keep track of a large collection of books, you have to have a system.  Which system you use, depends on how you will need to access and use your media.  Many classroom teachers organize their books by reading level or theme.  In home libraries, book owners can sort by genre or even cover color.

Dewey Decimal Classification is the most widely-used library system in the world.  Melvil Dewey's method was first published in 1876.  The system assigns a three-digit number to each book to represent its subject.  Decimal points are added when further division is necessary.  After they are grouped by subject, books in a category are sorted by the authors' last names.  This method allows users to find books about similar topics together on the library shelves.

In order to make the most of the system, most students need a little instructional orientation.  To introduce the Dewey Decimal System, begin by reading Do You Know Dewey?: Exploring the Dewey Decimal System by Brian P. Cleary & Joanne Lew-Vriethoff.
This rhyming book succinctly describes the purpose of the system and the topics included in the ten major subject classifications.  After hearing the book read aloud, my students were immediately interested in exploring new areas of the library's collection.

Patrons can (obviously) practice the Dewey Decimal System by searching for and locating books on the shelves.  Learning stations are another way to help students review the new information.
Using the Dewey See It? poster from Demco, students can play an I-Spy game that helps them review the major Dewey categories.  You could also make your own poster with various magazine images at the top and item lists at the bottom.  Just be sure to include items from each of the ten classifications.

Students can also play Dewey Match, a game like Memory that helps students build familiarity with the Dewey categories.
Our set is another Demco product that seems to be out of stock.  But you could definitely recreate this idea by printing images on card stock.

Students can review the Dewey groups by playing Mike Frerichs' Dewey Decimal System Library Skills Game.

Above all else, though, my students' favorite activity for reviewing the Dewey Decimal System is watching and listening to the Dewey Decimal Rap.


Banned Books that Shaped America Checklist

Next week is Banned Books Week.  Learn more about the history of the event by exploring the American Library Association's interactive timeline, Celebrating 30 Years of Liberating Literature.  Then visit ALA's Banned Books Week site to discover which books were banned or challenged in the last year, and get ideas about how you can help protect the right to read.

One of the best ways to mark the event is by exercising your freedom to read. BannedBooksWeek.org shared a list of 30 Banned Books that Shaped America.  Use this checklist that I created to tally how many of these important books you've read.
Then pick out a few more to read this week.  Even the youngest readers can find some favorite titles to explore on this list of challenged books.