Must-Read Books that Promote Individuality

As teachers, we want our students to accept and respect themselves, and others. We want them to follow their own path with confidence.

In my classroom, I try to promote the idea of "be you, do you." From day one, we talk about, and celebrate, how we are all different individuals, and how that is a wonderful thing.

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One of the easiest ways, in my opinion, to promote and celebrate individuality is with the use of books. The illustrations and storytelling are perfect for getting students' attention on an important topic. They are also perfect for facilitating a meaningful conversation about accepting (celebrating, honoring) yourself for you who you are, as well as accepting (celebrating, honoring) others for who they are.

What follows are my favorite books for promoting individuality. They are listed in no particular order because they are all amazing and awesome.

I Like Myself - I read this book at the beginning of the school year before the students paint their self-portraits. The illustrations are hilarious, as is the text (at times). And, it does a great job of reminding students to be proud of who they are. It's perfect for discussing how we are all different (inside and out), and how that is a beautiful thing.

Spork - Spork's mom is a spoon. His dad is a fork. This makes him different from all the other utensils in the drawer. His parents know he is perfect, but it takes Spork a while to figure that out on his own. This book is a great way to talk about race, differences, and acceptance.

Not Quite Narwhal - I'll be honest, I mostly bought this book because it had narwhals and unicorns. I mean, does it get any better? Turns out, it's a great book! Kelp is a unicorn, who was raised by a family of narwhals. The story is about discovering who you are and fitting in. I also love that it serves as a reminder that families can look different (something the kids may or may not pick up on, but could certainly be discussed if desired).

Rot, The Cutest in the World - Rot is a mutant potato and he is most certainly NOT the cutest in the world. Or, is he? In this story, the mutant enters a Cutest in the World contest because he is pretty confident in himself. He is ridiculed by the other (cute) contestants and begins to think he should be more like them. In the end, he goes on stage as himself and....well, you'll have to read it to find out what happens. This story is serves as a (fun) reminder that we are all perfect just the way we are.

Thelma the Unicorn - Well, Thelma is not a unicorn, but she pretends to be. And, it's pretty great, for a while, anyway. After spending some time in the spotlight and being admired by all, Thelma misses her old life as an ordinary pony. This book is another great reminder that we are all perfect just the way we are.

Princess Truly, I Am Truly - I love that this book simply celebrates a little girl who is confident in who she is (in every possible way). It's about believing in yourself and having the confidence to stand out. It's a great book to remind and motivate all students that they can do whatever they put their mind to.

Leaping Lemmings - This book is cute and funny. The lemmings just basically live their lives like a game of  Follow the Leader. Except for one lemming named Larry. He does his own thing, thinks for himself, and tries to teach his lemming friends to do the same. This book is a great way to show students the importance of staying true to yourself. In fact, it is perfect for talking about how being different may help others in the long run.

I Don't Want to Be a Frog - This book is funny. But, it's also another great book about self acceptance. Frog has lots of reasons he doesn't want to be a frog, but in the end, he realizes that being a frog really isn't so bad.

T-Veg - This book is all about being different. Reginald is a T-Rex. But, he's not a "normal" T-Rex. Why? Because he likes to eat veggies! His friends and family don't quite understand his taste for veggies and tease him. He leaves, but soon finds that this doesn't solve his problem of fitting in. In the end, he is accepted by his friends and family. I love that this character is different from the norm and that he accepts who he is.

Red: A Crayon's Story - Red had a red label, but he's actually blue! Red tries really hard to be red, but no matter how hard he tries, and no matter who tries to help him, he can't do it. With the help of a new friend, he discovers who he really is. This book could be interpreted on many levels. You could use it for general conversation about accepting who you are. More specifically, being true to yourself and following your own path.

Wolfie the Bunny - Wolfie is just that, a wolf. He is adopted by a family of...bunnies! His sister, Dot, isn't so sure it's a good idea to let a wolf into the family, but she ultimately stands up for him, when a bear decides that Wolfie would make a great meal. You can use this story to talk about acceptance (and how families don't always look the same).

Only One You - Adri is excited to venture out into the world. His loving parents share their wisdom with him. While the story could be used to reinforce the notion of family love, it is also great for showing students that they are unique and can make a difference. In a nutshell, this book is another reminder of the importance of accepting yourself and others for who they are. Use it as a lead in to a discussion about appreciating our differences.

You Be You - Adri continues his exploration of the world in this follow up book to Only One You. In his journey, he notices that there are many different fish in the sea, and that each fish has something to offer. This book promotes diversity and acceptance. It's reminds us that we all have something to offer, and that we should be accepting and appreciative of this.

Do you have any books to add to the list? Leave your favorite title in the comments below. I can't wait to hear all about your favorites!

Looking for more great books to share with your students? Check out all my favorites HERE.


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9 Meaningful Time Fillers for the Primary Classroom

I know it can be rare to find yourself with a few extra minutes in the school day, but it does happen. And, when it does, it's definitely a good idea to have a variety of time fillers to quickly choose from.

This post contains affiliate links for your shopping convenience. I earn a small commission each time someone makes a purchase through one of my links, which allows me to buy more books for my classroom. :) For more information about my Disclosure Policy, please visit this link.

Time fillers can give you the opportunity to add a bit of whole group fun to your day. They allow you to provide engagement in a different capacity. And, they can be used to foster community and/or quickly reinforce a variety of important skills.

I've decided to compile a list of my all time favorite time fillers that I rely on throughout the year. With each filler, I've identified about how much time it will fill. In many cases, the filler can be used for as long as you'd like, but can also be used when you only have a few minutes. And, I'm sharing them in no particular order, so be sure to work your way down the list. :)

Brain Quest
I just love, love, love Brain Quest. If you aren't familiar with Brain Quest, it's basically a question and answer game. Each set is packed with content related questions, as well as other stuff that kids should (and need to) know. Students are challenged to put their thinking to the test.

Duration: 5-15 minutes

Mad Libs Junior
Mad Libs are so fun! My second grade teacher used to do one with us everyday before lunch. I have many fond memories of our daily Mad Lib time. Every year, I share Mad Libs with my own second graders, and I have yet to meet a group of students who doesn't love them. I can reinforce basic parts of speech, and we all get in a good laugh (laughter is good for the soul). I prefer to use Mad Libs Junior with my students. I know the content is always going to be safe that way. ;)

Duration: 5-10 minutes (depending upon your pacing and/or how many you do)

Mad Libs Junior Sports Star
Mad Libs Junior Under the Sea
Super Silly Mad Libs, Junior
Summer Fun Mad Libs Junior

Whiteboard Review
If your students love using their personal whiteboards, then pull them out when you've got some time to spare. We all know this tool is super versatile, so use it to fill the time and review things that you're currently working on in class.

I often have my students spell words using a new spelling pattern, or solve multi-digit addition and subtraction problems. I also use them to play a quick game of true/false. To do this, I say something like, "There are 24 hours in a day." The students then respond by writing True or False (or "T" for True and "F" for False) on their board.

Duration: 5-10 minutes

Q's Race to the Top (On the Go)
Q's Race to the Top is a Q&A game that is great for discussing topics related to social skills and fostering emotional intelligence. It's actually a set of question and action cards, and not so much a game where you race to the top. There is a board game version of this, but the "on the go" version is just a set of cards (see below). But, they are great for the classroom. There are three different kinds of cards.

The Q cards are scenario cards. They share a scenario that involves Q, the monkey pictured on the lid.  Students then reflect on the scenario and relate it to their own life or experiences.

The You cards also ask a question. These questions lead to opportunities for meaningful discussion.

Then, there are the Do cards. Students follow the directions on the card to perform some kind of action. Quite truthfully, they are not connected to the question cards, but they are a great way to get your students up and moving, if only for a few minutes.

Duration: 5-15 minutes (just depends on how many cards you go through and how much time you have to discuss each card)

Go Noodle
Speaking of moving, Go Noodle is perfect for getting kids up and moving! Students move to song or dance, in most cases. There are so many different options. The goofy Koo Koo Kanagroo guys are always a favorite for jumping around and being silly. And, Maximo is a favorite when it comes to slower paced movements (I like that they require some concentration and focus).

Duration: 1-5 minutes (it just depends on the video you pick)

Read Aloud
Anytime is a good time for a read aloud, if you ask me. Keep a variety of books on hand that give you some flexibility to use a read aloud as a time filler.

The Mercy Watson series is perfect for this! The chapters are super short, and super high interest. Your students will laugh out loud.

Duration: 5-6 minutes per chapter

Read a Poem
Poetry is always another time effective read aloud option, and since kids don't hear them as often, they are usually a captive audience.

Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends is my favorite. This is another time filler I remember my own second grade teacher using back in the day.  His poems are so silly and fun to share.

For even more excitement, let your students listen to Shel tell his poems. It is always entertaining. Sometimes, I pop in the CD shown above (which is no longer available, for a reasonable price, on Amazon). I'm not sure if these recordings are available in other formats or not, but it's worth a quick Google search.

Duration: 2-10 minutes (depending upon which, and how many, poems you read)

I Have, Who Has
Once your students know how to play this game, it can become a great time filler. Plus, your students will practice important skills at the same time!  You can grab this plural noun I Have, Who Has here (it's free!).

Duration: 10-15 minutes

Whiteboard Doodles
I'm all about reinforcing skills and sharing literature whenever I can, but sometimes, you and your students need a short break from each other. Sometimes, students need some time to just unwind.

This is where whiteboard doodling comes in handy.  Let your students take out their personal whiteboards and doodle away. Let them draw or write whatever they want on those boards. They don't always get to use their boards for fun, so when they do, they are happy campers. Let them get lost in their own creations for a few minutes. It will keep them on task, allow them to empty their mind of any ideas floating around in there, and to refresh their brain for the next lesson.

Duration: 5-15 minutes

Do you have a favorite time filler?  Comment below and tell us your favorite way to fill the time. :)


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How to Declutter Your Classroom

Teachers have a lot of stuff. We use a lot of stuff. Sometimes that stuff stacks up. It piles up. It's always there, in our way. If you feel like clutter is taking over your classroom, then keep reading. In this post, I'm going to share my favorite tips for keeping your classroom clutter-free.

The purpose of this post is to help you tame the piles of stuff scattered about your room and the junk that may be crammed into your closets, cabinets, drawers, and everywhere in between (OK, junk is harsh, but I'm willing to bet you have some of it crammed into at least one of those spaces).

This post is not meant to make you feel like you need to have a designer classroom. A clean space is not the same as a decorated space. They are two very different things, and this post is simply meant to help you clean up your existing space.

Why Declutter?
Why should you care about getting classroom clutter under control?  Because, whether you realize it or not, the clutter could be contributing to an uncomfortable classroom setting. It might make you feel anxious or stressed because you can't find things buried in the 97 (or 25, or 10, or whatever) piles scattered around your room.

We all have different notions of what constitutes clutter. And, some people are more affected by clutter than others, but it's important to keep in mind that it does affect people. I definitely fall into this category. Too much clutter makes me feel anxious and distracted. I have a very small classroom.  When there is too much clutter around me, I feel like the walls are closing in on me. I definitely feel anxious and bothered. That may sound dramatic, but it's true.

Your students could be affected too. A classroom that is free of clutter is more conducive to a productive learning environment. Less clutter means students can find what they need easily.  It means they can focus on their work with less distraction. A clutter-free space means students are more likely to feel calm and focused.

Clutter and chaos hold you back. Your brain can't fully focus when it's distracted. Clutter is distracting. And, when we're relating clutter to a classroom setting, it stands to reason that clutter may also be holding back some of your students.

Bottom line, our physical environment affects how we feel, and it can completely squash our motivation. While some people are affected by this more than others, the impact of clutter is something teachers should be cognizant of so that our students are able to learn in a more optimal learning environment.

Are you ready to tackle your room and make it clutter-free?

How to Declutter Your Classroom
These tips are fairly general and they are presented in no particular order. We all have different notions of what clutter-free should look like. To some, that means your space is as minimalistic in appearance as possible. To others, it means that things are put away and kept in their designated spot. So, when you read these tips, choose the ones that work best for you and your idea of a clutter-free classroom. :)

Start Where it Matters Most
You can't expect to declutter your entire classroom in one afternoon. Don't try to bite off more than you can chew.  Attack one space in your room at a time. Start with your desk. Chances are this is where the majority of your clutter ends up, and it's the space you rely on most to do your planning and grading.  How can you productively plan upcoming lessons when your desk is covered in old memos, resource books, or whatever else. Each day, move to a new space and tackle the next clutter zone.

Prioritize Your Mission
You want to declutter, but you can't do it all at once. Break your mission into smaller ones. Make a list of all the spaces in your classroom that need to be decluttered and organized. From there, decide which spaces need the most attention and which ones need less attention. Then, decide how you want to prioritize from there. Do you want to start with the spaces that need the most attention and work your way to the others, or vice versa? There's no right or wrong way, do what works for you.

Do a Little Bit Each Day
So this tip is kind of a recap of one and two up above. You cannot declutter your entire classroom in one sitting. It's too overwhelming and you'll just be more stressed than before you started. Set aside a specific amount of time each day to tackle the spaces you've identified as needing some attention.  You'll feel more accomplished and more excited about tackling the next space the following day.

Get Rid of Stuff
As you work your way from one space to the next, purge as you go! Get rid of the stuff you don't need or use. If you don't need it, love it, or use it, get rid of it! Grab a bag and fill it up, and Or, if you prefer, pass it on to someone who could use it.

If you're super serious about decluttering, then, grab a trash bag and fill it up. Looking to baby step your way through the decluttering process? Then, grab a smaller bag (like a grocery bag) and fill it up.

Keep a second bag (or box) on hand where you can place items you aren't sure you should keep or toss. You can go back to these items a day or two later and then decide. In situations like these, I usually go with the advice my mom gave me as a teenager: "If you aren't sure, then you don't need it." This was what she'd typically tell me when shopping for new clothes and I couldn't decide if I really liked something or not. But, I've found that this advice has been helpful with other types of decision making. ;)

Organize Everything
As you go from space to space and weed through the materials/items in that space, give them a permanent home (if they don't already have one).

Decide how and where you should store these items. Storage bins and tubs are a great way to contain items and they allow you to find them more easily when you need them again.

Decide which items need to be kept on a shelf or counter top, which ones can be stored in a closet or cabinet, and which ones can be stored completely out of the way.  For example, I keep my math manipulatives in labeled storage bins inside my wardrobe in the classroom.  This way, I can grab them as needed, but they are tucked away when we don't need them.

There are some items that I simply do not need to keep in my classroom. I keep a giant bin of play props and costumes on my storage shelf in our pod storage room. I don't even label this bin because I know exactly what it holds. It might be just the world's second oldest storage bin, by the way. Since I only need access to these items once a year keeping them in the classroom really makes no sense (and so, a pretty storage bin is so not necessary).

Just remember, everything needs a home. When you're done with something, put it back in its home. Make it a habit.

Keeping Things Decluttered
Once you declutter your space, you'll want to keep it that way.  So, here are a few of my favorite tips for making sure your newly organized space stays that way.

Clean Your Desk Every Day
This is non-negotiable for me. Before I leave each day, I make sure my desk is cleared of clutter. It takes me less than 5 minutes. There is nothing worse than coming in first thing in the morning with the intention of being productive only to be defeated when you remember that your desk is a mess and you don't have any space to do your work. Prevent unnecessary morning stress from the get go and make sure you clean that desk off before you go home each day.

Sometimes my desk looks like this during the day.

But, I can't leave for the day until it looks like this.

Once upon a time, I left school with a mess on my desk. I forgot about said mess overnight. When I got to work the next day I was supremely disappointed to see that I couldn't tackle my to do list because I didn't clean off my desk the night before. I had to go through the junk on my desk just so I could get to work. Then, I was grumpy because my morning wasn't as productive as it should have been.

Moral of the story: Starting the day with a clean desk is totally worth the five minutes it might take me to clear it off at the end of the previous day.

Put Your Stuff Away...All Day, Every Day
When you're done with something, put it away. Seriously, it takes more time to do a full cleaning of your classroom than it does to clean as you go. So, tidy up as you go through the day. Sometimes we feel rushed and just set things down with the intention of putting it away later. If you do this 15 times a day, that adds up to way too much stuff sitting where it doesn't belong. Just put it away. I mean, it will probably take you less than a minute to do so, so just do it (even if you have to save that task for after school, just make sure you do it).

When we're done with a set of manipulatives, or reading group books, or a specific art supply, I put them away. If you're done with something, just put it away. Leaving it out is pointless.

Weekly Clean Up 
I get it, teaching is  crazy. You are bound to have some stuff sitting out that you should have put away, but literally did not have an opportunity to do so. I'm guilty of this too (I hate clutter, but I'm not perfect). I try to put things away as soon as I'm done with them, but sometimes that just doesn't happen. Once a week, take the time to survey your room and put away any lingering items that are still sitting out. Make it part of your end of day Friday routine. Visually sweep your room and put away any small piles of stuff that are still out of place.

Keep the Clutter at Bay
Don't buy things you don't need. In other words, don't bring more stuff into your classroom unless it will serve a specific purpose, and you have space for it. Also, just say no.

Let me repeat that last one. Just. Say. No. When your neighbor asks if you want her old collection of empty toilet paper tubes, just say no!  First, WHY would you want them?  Second, WHERE will you keep them. Third, do you REALLY need them?  I mean, taking them won't make you a more effective teacher. And, they're just going to take up space. If you find that you really need those tubes later, ask your students to send them in. 

Anytime is a good time to tackle the clutter, but as the new year approaches, make it a goal to get the clutter in your classroom under control. Making sure your classroom is clean, organized, and calm will help you and your students in the long run.


Related Posts
Click an image to go to that post. :)

Decluttering your classroom is just one way to eliminate stress in your life.  My post on Self-Care for Teachers will give you more ideas on how to eliminate and manage stress.

If you're looking to work smarter, not harder, then be sure to check out this post.  By following some of the tips found there, you're sure to eliminate more stress in your life.

Looking for some easy to use organization ideas? Check out these posts.

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Classroom Gift Guide

I am a teacher who likes to give gifts to her students. Please don't throw tomatoes. Or stones. We all work hard every single day to provide our students with a quality education full of engaging and meaningful experiences. Gifts are not necessary. But, sometimes, it's nice to give our students a little something extra.

This post contains affiliate links for your shopping convenience.  I earn a small commission each time someone makes a purchase through one of my links, which allows me to buy more books for my classroom.  :)  For more information about my Disclosure Policy, please visit this link.

If you're a teacher who enjoys sharing holiday gifts with your students, then this post is for you. This post includes lots of ideas for student gifts.

Buuuuut, they aren't just any student gifts. They are classroom gifts! No need to buy 24 (or more) individual gifts. Invest in your classroom by purchasing something that you can give to your students now, but your students for years to come will benefit from. It's a win-win!

Here's a sneak peek at some of the ideas shared in this post. Keep reading for all the ideas, and all the specifics.

New Read Aloud Book(s)
Buy a new book (or two) to add to your read aloud collection.  My students always get so excited when I share a new book with them, and I love finding new books to keep my collection current and fresh. Shown below are the last two books that I bought for my class.  My current students get to enjoy them now, and my classes 5, 6, or even 10 years from now will also get to enjoy them.

The Little Reindeer is a sweet little story filled with Christmas magic. The illustrations are simply precious. It's the perfect book to share during the holidays.

Nerdy Birdy is a reminder that it's OK to be yourself. There's also a reminder to be kind to others while being accepting of their differences. A message that never goes out of style.

Any book of your choosing will do in this situation. :) Don't know where to begin?  Trust me, I get it. There are a ton of amazing picture books out there. I often feel overwhelmed when presented with too many (awesome) choices.  If you fall into that camp too, then you need to check out my favorites HERE.

New Classroom Library Books
Scholastic book orders are a great way to add books to your classroom library.  Scour those order forms and take advantage of your bonus points, or look for titles that fit your price range. That's one thing that is so great about Scholastic, they have lots of affordable options, so for $20 or so, you can get your hands of lots of great books like these.

I seriously have no idea why someone would make a book about vegetables in underwear, but the 8 year old in me thinks it's pretty much the best idea ever.   

Finger Flashlights
If you do not have a set of finger flashlights, you need to get some ASAP!  They are great for reading in the dark. We often turn off our classroom lights and dig out the flashlights. Reading in the dark is fun, and it keeps the students on task.  You can also use these flashlights during guided reading! Often times the sets include 100 flashlights, so I'm guessing if you let your students keep one flashlight from the set, they'd be pretty darn excited.
Building Toys (aka STEM Toys)
I keep a supply of building toys in my Fun Friday bucket.  Every Friday, my students get 30 minutes to explore and interact with these toys.  They need this after a week of working hard.  I've found some great (reasonably priced) sets on Amazon.

Brain Flakes
Brain Flakes are a huge hit with my students. I've seen them use these toys to construct people, parade floats, and everything in between. They are easy to use and don't take up much space. 

Interlocking Building Blocks
I know, they don't look like building blocks.  But they do interlock.  And, they are amazing.  My students like using these to make large flowers, UFO's, and other imaginative structures.

Bar Building Block Toy
I love this set of building toys. The name is a bit awkward, but that's what they're called on Amazon.  Now, maybe I suffer from a case of false memories, but I feel like I may have had something similar to this a kid in the 80's. Once again, these don't look like building blocks, but the bars and other shapes can be used to make all sorts of fun things.  I've seen my students make basketball hoops, robots, and houses.  They are great toy for encouraging students to be creative and take risks.

Puzzles are a must! What better way to teach problem solving, organization, patience, and perseverance. Your students will love using them, and if you teach your students to take care of them, you'll be able to use them for years to come.  I keep a variety of puzzles on hand for use during Fun Friday. My puzzles range from 24 to 100 pieces. I don't like to go above 100 pieces because I want them to be able to finish before they run out of time.

I usually buy the majority of my puzzles at Dollar Tree.  I mean, you can't beat the price!

I have also grabbed a few puzzles from the Target Dollar Spot.

Annnnd, I also have a few floor puzzles. I guess you could say I like puzzles. A lot.

The floor puzzles are super popular with my students! My favorite are the Melissa and Doug floor puzzles. They make quality puzzles and the price is great.  Check them out on Amazon, or check your local discount stores like Ross, TJ Maxx, and Home Goods. These stores frequently carry the Melissa and Doug floor puzzles.
If you're looking to share a gift with your students this year, consider giving one of these items as a classroom gift. While they may not walk away with their own personal gift, they will love using the new materials that you have shared with them.  And, since you'll be giving it to them as a gift, wrap it up!  Find a fun way to present the classroom gift. They will be excited just knowing that you've shared something new with them to enjoy for the rest of the school year.

Happy holidays!


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