Free Holiday Bookmarks

It's well known among my family and friends that a gift from me is really likely to be a book.  Most people don't need a bunch of junk filling up their space, but everyone can use a book, right?  I think of them as consumable gifts -- once you've read the book, you can pass it on to a friend or sell it at the used bookstore.

If you are giving books as gifts this year or just trying to promote holiday reading, check out these free printable holiday bookmarks.  You can give them out as prizes or gifts for students, include them along with book gifts, stuff them into stockings, use them as gift tags, or have them delivered by your resident elf.

Visit It's Written on the Wall to get these and nine other holiday-themed bookmarks.

Students can decorate these Christmas bookmarks from Activity Village.  This printable would be perfect for a library activity center.

If your students love telling corny jokes as much as mine do, you'll want to hop over to Nyla's Crafty Teaching to get this (and 11 more) cute, holiday joke bookmarks.
The punchline for these bookmarks appears on the back once you print, cut, and fold.

If you're looking for more, try these four free Christmas bookmarks I found last year or these holiday character bookmarks that can also stand in as tree ornaments or stick puppets.


Snow Globe Learning Theme

Since the early 1800s, adults and children have been mesmerized by the tiny worlds encapsulated within snow globes. The captivating collectibles push people to imagine life in far away places, and for us warm climate folks, they create a window into the world of wintery weather.  Their appeal among both young and old makes snow globes a fun theme for reading and learning.

Begin by reading The Snow Globe Family.
In this book by Jane O'Conner, a snow globe is home to a family of real, living, itty-bitty people.  The full-sized family of people who own the snow globe are all oblivious to their tiny companions -- all except the baby who is just too small to reach the snow globe and help the little family enjoy another snow storm.  This story is great for teaching kids about perspective.  Plus, students enjoy the element of repetition in this book that allows them to "guess" what's going to happen next.

After reading, let students imagine what it would be like to live in a snow globe.

Get this free printable writing prompt from Ginger Snaps Treats for Teachers.  After writing, allow students to illustrate their snow globe scene on a circular piece of paper.  Use the writing template as a base for students' globe pictures in order to create a bulletin-board-worthy student work display.  Older students can be pushed to write an entire story just by giving them a bigger piece of paper.  In a science class, you could ask students to describe a biome that experiences snowy weather.

Be sure to add a snowy effect to the illustrations.  You can use spray glitter to quickly add sparkly snow, or allow students to glue on dots from the hole puncher or stamp white paint using a pencil eraser to fill the scene with snowfall like in these globes from Through the Eyes of a Dreamer.

Students can make a more interactive snow globe using disposable plates.
This version was created years ago for our blizzard-themed book fair.
  1.  Let students draw characters and scenery for their globes.
  2.  Have them glue their drawings onto a dark blue plate.
  3.  Add some fake snow.
  4.  Then glue a clear plate on top to encapsulate everything.
  5.  Attach a piece of construction paper to form the base of the globe.
  6.  Shake, shake, shake and enjoy!
Snow globes crafts can be created using many unexpected, recycled materials.  Visit Our Best Bites to learn how to use food jars to make these personalized photo snow globes, which are sure to provide endless entertainment both during and after crafting.

 Clear ornament balls can easily be converted into adorable snow globe tree ornaments that students can proudly take home as a holiday gift for their parents.
Get the full tutorial for this simple yet delightful project at Cook Love Craft.

Another idea uses small, spherical coke bottles to create snow globe cupcakes.
Cake afficianado, Bakerella invented these amazing snow globe snacks, and you can get the instructions at her blog.  The biggest problem with this treat might be locating the special edition round bottles which most people seem to find at my least favorite big box store (sounds like shawl kart).  If you aren't able to find the bottles, you can try this cake, which uses a glass bowl to form the snow globe.

Learn how to make your own at Todera.


Free Printable Elf

If you're looking for an elf for your shelf that won't break the bank, head over to Disney's Spoonful site where you can get this printable, foldable elf puppet who will surely report to Santa as well as any $30 doll.


Thanksgiving Day Parade

Felix the Cat was one of the parade's first balloons in 1927 (Forbes)
 One of my favorite Thanksgiving traditions is watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.  This annual festivity makes an excellent theme for learning as Thanksgiving (and Thanksgiving break) draw near.

For starters, there are several great books about the parade that are fun to share with students.
Milly and the Macy's Parade is a picture book by Shana Corey and Brett Helquist about the origins of Macy's annual parade.  The story isn't exactly true to history, but the book conveys that Macy's began the parade to cheer up the New York department store's many immigrant employees and shoppers who often felt homesick for Old World traditions (like parades and caroling) during the holiday season.  This heartwarming book makes a great introduction to conversations about immigration and cultural diffusion.

Students can visit the official Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade website to view real photos and facts from the parade's past, which they can use to create a timeline.

Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade, by Melissa Sweet, is another story about the parade's history.  This book focuses on puppeteer Tony Sarg without whom the parade would not be the fantastical tradition it has become.  This Caldecott honor recipient was just named as one of the titles on the 2013-14 Texas Bluebonnet Reading List.

Macy's on Parade is a non-fiction book in pop-up format that includes interactive features like a pull-out parade map and confetti for the reader to throw.  This book is a fun way to bring a little of the parade experience to far-flung revelers.

After reading these stories, students can dream up balloons and floats for their favorite book characters.  Miniature 3D parade floats can be made using shoe boxes.  Another idea is to create Christmas ornaments inspired by parade floats.  Author Melissa Sweet demonstrated how to make parade ornaments using Styrofoam balls.
 Visit Martha Stewart's site to see the tutorial video.  Meanwhile, teachers can use the theme to create a book display like this one from Andrea Elson.

For a little math practice, students can analyze this parade graphic from Nielsen, which shows viewership trends over the past couple of decades.

Students will also enjoy watching the History Channel's behind-the-scenes look at how the floats are made, which could springboard a science discussion about why helium makes balloons float.


Fighting the Late Fall/Early Winter Blues

For nine years, I have been teaching various subjects in public schools.  Every year, sometime around October, I begin to think, "man, this is a really stressful job."  Even though this happens year after year, the frustration always sneaks up on me just when I think I've got everything under control.  I invariably spend several weeks questioning how I'll ever get everything done that I MUST do, complaining to my poor friends and family about the impossible expectations of teachers, grinding my teeth through the night, and developing nervous twitches in my face by day.

Before I started teaching, I was told that this late-fall / early-winter funk was likely to strike.  Ellen Moir illustrated the phenomenon in 1990 in a now well-known line graph called "Phases of first-year teachers' attitudes toward teaching."
New Teacher Center
The nasty trick about this graph is that it isn't just true about the first year.  Although the specific obstacles and pressures vary and are, therefore, each uniquely challenging, the path of the roller coaster remains equally turbulent.

Since my experience tells me that I probably will survive this difficult season, just as I have every year before, I am trying to focus on doing what I can to fight away the blues.  If you are likewise experiencing the free-fall from survival stage into winter disillusionment, try out some of these suggestions for keeping things in perspective.

1. Know You're Not Alone
Even though every educator deals with a unique brew of frustrations made up of specific local issues and student needs, there are also some broad national and international trends that affect teachers almost universally.  Knowing that others are experiencing the same struggles or feeling the same emotions can help teachers avoid indulging in self-doubt.

If you are craving a brutally frank discussion of what is going on in education, visit dianeravitch.net where you will find daily updates about the issues that trouble serious education advocates worldwide.  Staying informed about the evolution of education policy will also help teachers use their experience to become informed advocates for education.

2.  Fill Your Day with Your Favorite Things
Include the things you enjoy as themes in your lessons.  If you're following the presidential election in your spare time, let students practice reading, math, and social studies skills through election-related texts and problems.   If you're a sports fan, turn your favorite game into the theme for reading comprehension, historical studies, and mathematical problems.  Students will feed off of your enthusiasm for the topic, and their motivation is priceless.

Also, give yourself mini rewards for accomplishing micro-goals.  Make a quick list of little things that make you happy.  Then use those as little motivators to get you through tough days.  Attaboys and immediately-evident success are few and far between in schools.  To keep myself motivated, I bribe myself with tiny extrinsic treats throughout the day.  Made it through the morning laptop-checkout rush?  Then I get to enjoy my favorite carbonated cranberry juice.  Survived my morning classes?  Then I reward myself with a yummy sack lunch and a few minutes reading a novel.  Even the most trivial incentives can make a big difference when frustration levels are on the rise.

Plan ahead to do fun things after work.  Having something to look forward to will make the day go by more easily.  Check out Laura Winslow's list of 101 fun things to do in the fall for ideas about free entertainment like star-gazing, baking, bird-watching, and crafting.

3. Just Say "No" to Optional Responsibilities
Remember that it's okay to pass on non-required committee positions, party invitations, and other time-consuming activities that you may be invited or encouraged to join.  If your mouth has a habit of saying "yes" before checking with your brain, like mine does, practice saying "no" in advance.  Actually rehearse how you will confidently say "no, thank you" the next time someone mentions an upcoming "opportunity."

What are your tips for circumventing the blues?



Election for Kids

  If you're not living under a rock, you know the U.S. presidential election is coming soon to precincts near you.  Although kids don't get to vote, they are keenly aware that the election is looming.  While some just notice because their regularly scheduled programming has been interrupted by debates and campaign ads, others are genuinely interested in how the results of the election will affect their education opportunities, their families' finances, and their own access to Big Bird.

Seize this opportunity to help kids understand the electoral process.  Check out these books that highlight aspects of elections.

Familiar Characters for Little Kids:
Several entertaining picture books have been written that will help begin a conversation about voting with little learners.  Clifford for President, by Acton Figueroa, employs a friendly and familiar character to introduce children to basics about elections. Clifford and another dog are nominated as candidates for president of the dog park. In this simple story, students get to see how the dogs campaign for votes. In Vote for SpongeBob, by Erica Pass, another favorite character introduces children to election vocabulary and concepts. In this story, which is a bit longer than the Clifford tale, SpongeBob and Squidward are nominated to run for Royal Krabby at the Krusty Krab restaurant. SpongeBob enlists Patrick as his campaign manager, and the two eagerly get to work making posters and buttons, planning a debate and a parade, and going door to door to talk to voters.

More Great Election Stories for Young Learners:
In Grace for President, by Kelly DiPucchio, Grace runs against Tom for president in her school's mock election after learning that the United States has never had a female president.  This story even introduces the electoral college by having students vote on behalf of each state.  In Kay Winters' My Teacher for President, Oliver sends a letter to his local TV station listing all the reasons his teacher would be a perfect president. This book is a perfect introduction to discussions of nominations and the characteristics that make up a good president.

Election Books for Big Kids:
Election Connection: The Official Nick Guide to Electing the President is like an almanac of election information and trivia.  Middle schoolers enjoy this format, and of course the Nickelodeon characters help increase its appeal.  In The Kid Who Ran for President, by Dan Gutman, 12-year-old Judson Moore decides to run for president, figuring that a kid could provide a fresh perspective since adults have had plenty of opportunities to get the job done right.  The entertaining story will catalyze discussions about the rules of the electoral process and roles of journalists, candidates, and voters.

To help students apply the election concepts they learn, head to Make Beliefs Comix.  Bill Zimmerman's site offers many fantastic free printable comics that students can complete.  An entire page is devoted to Election comics that prompt students to create dialogue between the presidential candidates, list the qualities of a good candidate, design political campaign buttons and more! 
Even my younger students enjoyed designing buttons to encourage others to vote in the the upcoming election.

I also printed a couple of the full-color comics on our poster machine and added them to our election book display in the library window.


1940 Time Machine

Visit Ancestry.com's 1940 Time Machine to let your students see a personalized video about daily life in 1940.  This is a great way to help children relate to a time before they were born.

If you decide to look up your ancestors in the 1940 census, check out my tips for making a family tree with kids.


Reading is All Good

Here in my neck of the woods, school got started this week. This year, I am inspired by Pete the Cat, written by Eric Litwin and illustrated by James Dean, and his awesome attitude.
For teachers (and school librarians) it can be easy to get discouraged by any number of frustrations from broken technology to misbehaving students.  Kids encounter as many challenges each day.  Pete, on the other hand, keeps his head up even when things don't go quite as he planned.  I love Pete's approach so much that I introduced all my library classes with a read-aloud of Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes. Students from kindergarten all the way through fifth grade loved the predictable text, hilarious illustrations, and glass-half-full perspective of the story.

After reading the story, visit HarperCollins' website where you will find audio downloads for each story as well as videos and printable worksheets.


Indoor Playtime

Some days, the weather just does not cooperate with outdoor play plans.  Whether it's a torrential downpour or oppressive heat, the climate can make the great outdoors into an uninviting space.  Before being inside drives anyone stir crazy, try one of these restlessness-curing activities for playing in the house.

Giver'slog recently shared an indoor-play project that combines several of my favorite qualities: it's fun, it's recycled, and you can send it to a friend through the mail!
This hopscotch kit is made from scraps of bubble wrap.  The non-recyclable material sneaks into the house inside packages received through the mail.  But, kids (and big kids) love the sensory experience of playing with this bubbly plastic, so it's easy to reuse.  Kids will have fun hopping and popping with this indoor game.

You can also convert recycled materials like cereal boxes into an action figure play scene.
 This Summer Olympics track and field scene was created by Rachel at AlphaMom.  Use any favorite activity or story as inspiration for your setting.  Kids won't have to be asked to imagine dialogue, character traits, and action for their toys once the stage is set.

Fishing is another activity that usually takes place outside, but with this magnetic bathtub fishing idea from Pigtails and Tutus, the outdoor hobby comes in.
You can use a dowel rod and string for the fishing pole.  Then add a magnet as the "hook" and more magnets to the items you want to fish.  This is a great activity for experiencing magnetic and buoyant properties of objects.

Visit this past article to get even more inside-play ideas.


Digital Paper Dolls

Paper dolls and their cousins, pop-up books, have been captivating readers for a couple of centuries. Kids since at least 1810 have loved paper dolls for storytelling and imaginative play.  I mentioned their long history a few years ago when I wrote about lots of places to find printable paper dolls online.  Wonder how today's paper dolls compare to the earliest examples?  You can see for yourself at Pop-Up and Moveable Books: A Tour Through Their History, a digital exhibit by The University of North Texas Libraries.  The site even includes a feature that allows you to digitally try on the outfits for a pair S. & J. Fuller dolls from 1811.
Frank Feignwell doll by S & J Fuller, UNT Libraries
The worst part about antique toys is that you can't play with them.  With these digitized dolls, there's no need to worry about tearing the fragile paper.  After trying on the dolls' clothes, kids can compare and contrast the 200-year-old fashions with modern clothing preferences.


4th of July - Primary Documents and Perspective

July 4th 2008 fireworks, Washington, D.C., loc.gov
 The Fourth of July has always been my second favorite summer holiday (after my birthday).  The commemoration of the USA's 1776 revolution falls during warm weather which naturally accommodates swimming, picnics, popsicles, sprinklers, bubbles and other outdoor fun.  And then there are fireworks!  Even for a chicken like me, fireworks are a spectacle too exciting to pass up (as long as I have earplugs).  In addition to bringing summertime festivities all made up in red, white, and blue ribbons and paints, Independence Day is the perfect time to practice analyzing centuries-old documents and ideas in order to understand the patriotic tradition.  While many holidays are based on ephemeral concepts or folklore that are difficult to attach to a timeline, Independence Day commemorates a specific event in history that students can explore for themselves using important information literacy skills.  Between the barbeques and bottle rockets, let students find out what the day is all about.

Lee Resolution, ourdocuments.gov
Let students begin by reading Richard Henry Lee's June 7, 1776 resolution upon which the idea of independence from Britain was based.  This is a great time to discuss what primary documents are, and how they differ from secondary accounts of history.  The National Archives website provides lots of resources for teaching students to evaluate primary resources, including printable analysis worksheets.

Students can also see an image of the July 4 Declaration of Independence, courtesy of the Library of Congress, along with a timeline of 1776 events related to the famous document as noted in the Journals of the Continental Congress.  Encourage students to imagine what kind of dissatisfaction could lead a group of people to make a bold statement as was made that day.

Puck fourth of July 1905 / Frank A. Nankivell, loc.gov
Explore the history of fireworks displays for the annual observance, which date back the the revolution's first anniversary in 1777.

Then turn the subject into a discussion of perspective by introducing Frederick Douglass' 1852 speech, What to the Slave is the 4th of July?  For a short activity, share just an excerpt of the former slave's composition:
Your fathers staked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, on the cause of their country. In their admiration of liberty, they lost sight of all other interests.
They were peace men; but they preferred revolution to peaceful submission to bondage. They were quiet men; but they did not shrink from agitating against oppression. They showed forbearance; but that they knew its limits. They believed in order; but not in the order of tyranny. With them, nothing was "settled" that was not right. With them, justice, liberty and humanity were "final;" not slavery and oppression. You may well cherish the memory of such men. They were great in their day and generation. Their solid manhood stands out the more as we contrast it with these degenerate times...The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn...Fellow-citizens; above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them...To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world.
Students can discuss who Douglass' audience might have been and what his purpose and meaning were in the speech.  Then, they can compare Douglass' perspective on the July 4th holiday to that of the 1852 audience or to the view represented through modern Independence Day celebrations.

Let students get an idea of how the holiday traditions have evolved over 236 years by reading "What the Presidents did on the Fourth of July" compiled by James Heintz.  Ask students to pick which year's presidential celebration they think best fits the meaning of the holiday.

Kids can also find a personal connection to the day's history by interviewing family members about how they have celebrated the day in the past.  Visit Climbing My Family Tree One Branch at a Time to get a printable family interview form kids can use to prepare questions and then record family members' answers. 
Then transition from study time to play time by listening to examples of how Independence Day has inspired music through The Washington Post's User-Poll Fourth of July playlist.


Fun Things to Do -- Free Summer Printable List

When I was a kid, my mom had lots of really creative ways to keep my little brother and me happy and entertained.  One time she made me a personal craft box full of all kinds of supplies I could use to create kiddy masterpieces.  During one winter vacation when I got antsy waiting for Christmas to arrive, my mom pulled together a bunch of oddball supplies including a board, glitter, paint, and dried beans so I could create a Christmas tree collage.  And one summer, when my brother and I finished our last day of school for the year, Mom presented us each with a handmade book titled Fun Things to Do This Summer.  Each page inside had a task we could do independently in order to keep us busy and satiate our relentless curiosity.

As a teacher and librarian, now I realize what my mom knew: it's easier to plan ahead than have to clamor for ideas and materials when boredom strikes!

Summertime, with all its beautifully unstructured days, is prime time for trying news things and getting things done.  To make sure you and your little people can remember all the things you want to accomplish during summer vacation, it always helps to make a list.  This summer, I made up a Fun Things to Do This Summer list of things I've been meaning to try (as well as a few things I just need to do) for those moments when I find myself with free time, but just can't think of what I should be doing.

You can get my free printable kids list with 29 ideas for summer activities HERE.
 In case you would like to fill in your own Fun Things to Do This Summer list, I'm including a blank printable HERE.