Keep Kids Moving

Keep kids moving - Seeing things from multiple perspectives increases learning.Kids feel great with their bodies in motion, and I do too.  Almost every lesson can be adapted to add movement.  It could be as simple as showing a character’s mood through facial expression.  Or it could be as complex as simulating the inner workings of an animal cell using human bodies.  Seeing things from multiple perspectives increases learning.

I recently discovered the game “Scoot” which can be adapted to any subject or grade level.  To play the students start at one area (desk perhaps) answering a posted question, then when directed they “scoot” to the next location (another desk maybe) to answer a different question.  They keep track of their answers on a student recording sheet. You can find many printable “Scoot” games online (and better directions) by doing a simple search.

In this Ted talk by gamer Jane McGonigal, she explains her remarkable recovery from depression and illness by building 4 types of resilience – one of which includes the FUN of moving.

Crack open those games – what a great way to keep moving, build resiliency and have FUN!

Kat and Squirrel - See things from multiple perspectives poster

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Keep Kids Communicating

Sharing your thoughts with others helps everyone to learn.We all know that people love to talk, and we know that sharing thoughts with others helps students learn.  It’s our job as teachers to manage classroom chit chat so it is most beneficial to our students.  We also need to be sensitive to those children who aren’t ready to share in front of the whole group, but would be just fine communicating with a trusted friend.

We can corral this verbal veracity by using strategies such as:

I had the most awesome “hello” moment this spring.  My class had attended the fifth-grade science fair where they went from exhibit to exhibit and the fifth graders explained their experiments.  A week later we were making our Force and Motion lapbooks and working on the magnet page.   I pulled down my “magnet box” from my classroom cupboard to see if any of the old collected junk from the teacher’s lounge give-aways might be useful.  The kids were somehow magnetically drawn to the box and with this kind of spontaneous craving of knowledge – I could not deny them the contents of the box.  I stood back and watched with amazement as they naturally grouped up and conducted little experiments much like the fifth graders had shown them.  Then they started to explain their procedures to one another!  I felt so unnecessary, but so proud.  Allowing them to discuss important topics with older kids, then getting out of their way when they imitated and taught each other gave them a tremendous understanding of the curriculum.  And we were all learning while having FUN!


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Cherish Diversity

Our differences make the whole world more interesting and beautiful.If you are more of the lip-synching, can’t keep a beat type person (like me), then you know how wonderful it is to have a student who is musically talented. Oh, how I love to have them lead the ABCs or Happy Birthday. Everyone has unique talents, and we can strengthen any skills through practice and perseverance. Kids need to understand their strengths and appreciate the hard work people put in to enjoy high levels of talent. Some of these strengths and intelligences are cultivated in school and some are not. Check out this beautiful infographic of Howard Gardner’s 9 types of intelligence by artist Diana Ziv.

Teaching tolerance and acceptance of others is a must for every educator. Start by modeling your appreciation of other’s abilities, explain your own skills as a series of steps (as opposed to natural talent), and allow others to explain themselves rather than assume their background and motives.

Sometimes behavior you think is “naughty” may be totally acceptable from another perspective. Think of a woman in labor speeding to the hospital. (Yes, I know she should not be driving, but you get the point.) One of my favorite examples comes from a first grader who stood near me refusing to talk. I could not understand why she was being so seemingly oppositional until she wrote me a note that stated, “I haf to thro up.” Then the light bulb of acceptance turned on!

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Model Imagining and Questioning

Imagination and a pile of scraps make for a sturdy learning pedestal.Share your spontaneous inventiveness and let the kids share theirs.  Express curiosity and discuss the FUN of learning new things even at your (oh so very old) age.  A “Wonder Wall”, described in the book A Place to Wonder by Georgia Heard and Jennifer McDonough (, where people can post ideas they wonder about is a perfect start to get knowledge seeking started.

A great Earth Day (every day) activity is turning trash into treasure.  Arvind Gupta demonstrates some amazing inventions made from things he found lying around.   He proves that it doesn’t take a lot of money to create a huge educational impact.

Now I know why I save every little thing saying, “I think I could really use this for something.”  I can’t imagine what this man would do with my stash – but then again, maybe I should start imagining.  I would need a little help from my kiddos of course.

P.S. If you are as fascinated by any and all foldables as I am, here is a link to the a site about “flexagons” (that paper circular thingy he was playing with).

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Let Them Work

Help your kids catch the "I can" bug - www.KatandSquirrel.comYou don’t need to be in control of every decision in the classroom.  Allow the kids to come up with creative solutions to classroom problems and jobs that need to get done.  People love to contribute and even have FUN while doing it.  I am always amazed when my students beg to stay in from recess to clean the room.  (If only this would happen at my home!)

Giving kids challenging work that matters and letting them know you trust that they can accomplish the task helps them feel that they are capable.  If they fail, (and they will) make sure to discuss what they did well and how they think they might change things if they were to try again.  When kids feel capable and in charge of their own learning, they gain inner contentment, excitement and joy.  Which, in my world, translates to FUN.



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Manage the Unhappiness

Manage Unhappiness Blog Post - Kat and SquirrelBefore some kids can enter the “ready to learn zone” they need to deal with some unpleasant issues.  It could be as simple as, “I think Sue looked at me with a mean face,” to the more serious, “My mom is going to jail today.”  With help from a caring figure at school, hopefully the student will be able to switch gears and be ready to receive the FUN lessons of the day.  Don’t brush these issues aside.

One way to keep the class moving forward while dealing with childhood stress is to include a great read-aloud into your classroom routine.  According to research by Dr. David Lewis, reading is the best and fastest stress buster around.    How lucky for us as teachers!  I know when I am reading a Junie B. Jones or a Skippyjon book to my class, all eyes are on me with that relaxed look of complete engagement.  What a beautiful sight to see from my perspective!

Another way to reduce anxiety in the classroom is through human touch.  Touch causes the human body to produce a brain chemical called oxytocin.  Research is still being conducted on this chemical, but oxytocin has been shown to relieve stress and increase feelings of trust.  I know the idea of human touch in the classroom can be a scary thing depending upon your age group and school policies.  But this can be as simple as a hand shake, fist bump, high five, patting someone on the back, or having kids hold hands to make a circle.  In my classroom hugs happen all the time, but if you have older kids, avoid hugs or teach them to use a side to side “teacher hug” with arms over the shoulders.  Oh yeah – we get our own special hug – that’s right.

Your classroom could become a child’s sanctuary from the stress of their world.  A place to relax, learn, and have FUN.

Free Manage Unhappiness Worksheet from Kat and Squirrel


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Care About Students

 Show People you Care - Look them in the eyes when you talk to them.Care About Students – Create a unique human connection with each student.  Look them in the eye when you talk as much as you can.  Let them know through your actions and words that each one of them is uniquely important to you.  Without a doubt, no teacher is expected to “like” every student he or she teaches in the great span of a teaching career – but that teacher can make sure every student feels “liked”.  We all know the unlikable ones are the ones who need our support the most.  Rita Pierson says it much better than I can in this passionate talk below.

One way to build positive relationships is to discover the interests of your students.  Who loves to ride horses? Who knows sports stats by heart?  Who writes computer programs for fun?  If you use these passions as a way to tie home life to the school curriculum the interest level soars. And so does the FUN.

After all, if not for listening to my little ones I would have never known that President Theodore Roosevelt had a badger for a pet, football players wear tight pants so the other team can’t grab on to them, or that sometimes I look like I was too tired to brush my hair. Really? Just try to have neat hair after recess duty. 🙂


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Be Happy

If you plant happy thoughts, happiness will grow.Your mood and attitude create the atmosphere in the classroom.  Students want to feel that you are sincerely glad to spend time with them.  You can model positive ways to interact by saying please, thank you, and I’m sorry.  You can sing, act, dance, or not.  You don’t need to be a performer to let kids know you’re happy – but do smile.  In the video below, Dan Gilbert explains how we have the ability to create a state of happiness in our minds that rivals truly joyous experiences.

His talk reminds me of the “Choose Your Attitude”  idea from the book Fish! A Remarkable Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results.  I am comforted by the idea that I have the power to choose my reaction to events in my life.  Upon self-reflection, I find that I have mastered my reaction to spilled milk at snack time.  I am stilling working on my reaction to the child who immediately does what I have just asked the whole class not to do.  And I am going to need much intervention and remediation in order to find my “happy place” during staff meetings when teachers are hashing out whether we should use the word “of” or “for” in our school mission statement.  It will pass. Think Happy – Think Happy – Think Happy 🙂

“Every thought is a seed.  If you plant crab apples, don’t count on harvesting Golden Delicious.” – Bill Meyer

Happy Thought Seeds Poster


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8 Ways to Make Learning Fun

When students feel safe, respected and connected to the learning, fun happens naturally.I’ve been waiting to start our blog until school was done for the year. The moment is finally here! After 4 straight days of crazy wild activity (awards ceremony, indoor picnic, relay races, trip to the children’s museum, lunch at McDonald’s, walk through the zoo, tornado warning, room clean up, outdoors picnic, end-of-the-year movie, and one last recess) my first graders are stepping into summer ready to return to school as second graders. I am sad about saying goodbye, exhausted from moving nonstop, and happy about the thought of relaxing a bit this summer.

I want my first entry to this blog to be something that speaks about me as a teacher as well as a mother, daughter, sister, friend, etc. So I will reflect on my idea of FUN. Teachers often say things like, “We never get to do anything fun anymore”, “It would be nice to do something fun for once”, and “Finally, something fun for a change.” It makes me wonder why these teachers are not having fun. And if they are not having fun – their students sure aren’t. That is not the classroom I want to spend 180 days in.

I’m not speaking of fun as frivolous and flippant trivia but as a playful and lively education. I strive to create fun wherever I can in the classroom. When students feel safe, respected, and connected to the learning, fun happens naturally. Some tips for creating a FUN classroom experience are as follows:

I will be elaborating on each of these ideas in the posts to follow. Meanwhile, I hope your school year is going well. And to those of you still in the classroom – keep calm – summer’s coming!

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