Tuesday, August 29, 2017

My Favorite Back to School Books

I have taught school for 6 years, and been an avid reader all of my life. When it comes to Back to School books though, I've found most of the list and ideas similar. Most of them focus on being nervous for back to school. Those are great, but I wanted to share my own list of books I love to read during the first few weeks of school and why. Beware, this is not your typical list! 

"It's Mine!" By Leo Lionni
Lots of times when students come into your classroom, they're not prepared to share and work together. Maybe they've never had to share before, or the excitement of being in a new class makes them forget how to work together. This is a simple book that teaches both of those concepts! 

"The Magic Hat" by Mem Fox
I love this book. It rhymes, has fun pictures, and a cute story line. Even more, I love to share this book with my students to show them that it's okay to find magic and excitement all around them! 

"Chrysanthemum" by Kevin Henkes
This fun story is set at school. Chrysanthemum feels embarrassed by her long name, then when she realizes her teacher is similar to her she feels happy and special. This can teach so many lessons, especially about loving who you are and having your teachers support. 

"Today I Feel Silly" by Jamie Lee Curtis
This fun book not only has great pictures, but teaches students all about different feelings. It comes with a fun emotions wheel and can be used all year to help you as a teacher if a student is having trouble describing how they're feeling. 

"Not Your Typical Dragon" by Dan Bar-el
I absolutely love this story. It is one of my very favorites and it's a great way to teach that it's okay to be different, and being different can make you special and helpful to others! 

"A Weekend Woth Wendell" by Kevin Henkes
If you get into school and find you have students who aren't getting along, this book is a great introduction to them about learning to have fun with people who may at first seem frustrating to you! 

"You Are Special" By Max Lucado
I never let a year go by that I don't read this book to my class. I always want my students to know that I think there special and important and loved by me. This book teaches just that. 

"The Relatives Came" by Cynthia Rylant 
This is a great book to get your students talking about what they did over the summer. I always love to hear about the adventures they had! 

Whay books do you love to read during your first few weeks of school??

Follow along this year as I use books to create a toddler curriculum for my son. You can find the first few weeks in my TPT store and this packet below is free!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Little Owl Academy Update

It's been a while since I've given an update on Little Owl Academy. Things have changed around here and I'm excited to see where we go from here. 

I was teaching preschool from my home in Idaho Falls, called Little Owl Academy, when we made an unexpected move to Utah. Since moving here, I no longer teach preschool from home. Instead I have been creating products like these for teachers pay teachers. 

It's been a great way for me to still feel involved in the teaching world and be creative. 

Now, I'm focusing more of my teaching time on my son. He has a rare metabolic disorder and because he was so sick early on in his little life he is delayed in gross motor and speech. I am beginning to create a toddler curriculum for young children, around age 2, to begin the learning process. I will use this blog to share ideas, pictures, and the fun projects we're doing! 

A little bit more about my family and I: 

Me: my name is Melissa and I started Little Owl Academy. I have a degree in elementary education. I taught 3rd, 2nd, preschool, and currently teach an online life skills course for BYU-Idaho/Pathway. I am working on my masters degree in Learning and Technology from WGU. I love learning and teaching and creating things to go with both!!

My 2 boys: B is my oldest son. He is 2 1/2. He may be delayed but he is a fighter. He's survived a scary life flight, lots of hospital stays, and hours of therapy. He loves anything that moves: cars, trucks, trains, airplanes...you name it. He gives the best snuggles and kisses and is my hero. C is almost 10 months old. He may not be a great sleeper but he's so great to have in our home. He makes us laugh every day and I'm sure he will be involved in a lot of our toddler fun!

My husband is my biggest fan and supports all of my crazy ideas. I am so lucky to have him.

So stay tuned for more fun from Little Owl Academy!

Follow along for more fun:
Instagram: @melissaslittleowlacademy
Facebook: Little Owl Academy
Teachers Pay Teachers: 

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Boy Who Changed My Teaching

I have an old laptop that I used all through college and my first year of teaching. I was searching for an old poem I had written and thought maybe I could find it there, so I dusted it off and pulled it out of storage today. I was pleasantly surprised to find a picture of me and my first class as the desktop background picture. A flood of memories rushed back to me. I loved this little class of 21 students. There were some challenging days, but for the most part it was a truly enjoyable teaching year.
Almost automatically my eyes were drawn to a little boy in stripes on the front row; Grant. I got emotional just thinking about little Grant, because Grant forever changed my teaching, and my life. 

Grant, you see, had autism. 

I taught this class when I was just 22. A brand new college graduate. I had very little teaching experience under my belt, and I had absolutely no experience with autism. To say I was nervous to be his teacher was an understatement.

I soon got to know Grant. He only initiated conversation with you if he was asking a question. His favorite was, "How old are you?" He would read to me or answer questions if I asked them, but if he began the conversation it was ALWAYS a question. 

He wore hearing aids, and if he was mad or upset he would simply take them out so he couldn't hear the conversation. 

He had a wonderful Mother who checked up on his progress often.

He was generally an average student, but tended to throw tantrums and fits at times. One time he had to leave my classroom and go sit in a special chair for him in the office to calm down. About 10 minutes after he had gone he came running back in, jumped on his desk and began dancing. As an inexperienced teacher I didn't know what to do! My calm principal simply walked in the room, whispered to me, "Give me a second." He calmed wrapped his arms around Grant in a hug, picked him up, and carried him out of the room. 
We got right back to work and Grant was soon back in our room calmly working at his desk. 

I loved that little boy and still think of him often when I am teaching.

The day he changed my life was on the last day of school. Remember how he always only initiated conversations as a question?? Well on this day he walked right up to me, gave me a hug, and whispered to you, "I will miss you Miss French." We both cried, gave each other a squeeze, and I sent him on his way.

I have no idea if the things I taught him that year or the way I led my class made a difference in his life. But, the way he lived, acted, grew, hugged, and taught me will forever change me as a teacher and a Mom.

On my drive around town today I saw a sign up that said, "Do Work that Matters." I love the saying and I love that teaching is work that truly matters. But, it was also the work of my little student that mattered so much to me. No matter what you do each day, make it count, make it matter to you and those around you, and give it your all. 
 Download a classroom poster here

Also, if you haven't already, snag this FREE number sense #11-20 Packet here

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Seeking Advice

I've been busy creating lots of preschool curriculum like this Dinosaur Unit over on Teachers Pay Teachers. (You can find it here) I am working on entire years worth of preschool curriculum for my almost 2 year old son. I want to be prepared for when he turns 3 and we begin a little preschool at home.


I want to begin creating a new type of document to keep it fun for me. I want to create packets to go along with teacher read alouds. As a teacher I loved when I read a book aloud each day. It was my favorite part of the day and we read everything from Harry Potter, Fablehaven, The Witches, Where the Red Fern Grows, and More. But, I never did work to go along with these books. We simply read the book for 20 minutes each day and moved on. Looking back now, that was a mistake, and I wish that I had done more to solidify my students comprehension on the book and the topics being discussed.

So, the advice I am seeking is:
When you read aloud to your students, what activities do you like to do to go along with your book?

So far I've thought of a focus on:
Comprehension questions and projects
Art projects

What else would you like to see?

I so appreciate your advice! If you can leave me a comment saying what you're looking for, and your email I will send you ANY document from my teachers pay teachers store for free! 


Thursday, August 11, 2016

5 Years

I woke up this morning to find this picture on my facebook memories:
This was taken on my first day, in my first classroom, where I was just starting to set up and decorate. I had just graduated from college a few months before and was a young 22 years old. (And, I was so tan!) My Mom must have come over to say "Hello" and snapped this picture. I am wondering why I look so tired when I hadn't even started yet...
Instantly thoughts popped into my head about that first year, and all the years of teaching and life since then. It literally has been a whirlwind. I wanted to take a minute and list a few things that have happened in just that 5 years. 
5 years ago:
  • I began teaching 3rd grade at Hawthorne Elementary in Idaho Falls. 
  • I bought my first car
  • I lived in a little basement apartment with one roommate and had more fun than I can even recall.
  • I went to Seattle to a Tech conference and it really opened up my eyes to a bigger teaching world.
  • I met my husband in my parents back yard.
4 years ago:
  • I got engaged.
  • I moved states to be where my future husbands job was.
  • I began teaching 3rd grade at Farnsworth Elementary in West Valley, Utah. 
  • I got married.
  • We made the choice to move back to Idaho.
  • I finished out the school year and moved home the day school was done.
  • We bought our first house.
 3 years ago:
  • I began teaching 2nd grade at Iona elementary.
  • We planted grass and decorated our new home.
  • I had the best class I've ever taught with the happiest group of kiddos.
  • We found out we were pregnant
  • I began teaching for the Pathways program at BYU-Idaho.
 2 years ago:
  • I began year 4 of teaching at the same school and same grade.
  • I taught my identical twin nephews in my class and finally learned to tell them apart.
  • I had a baby boy in December and went on maternity leave.
  • I went back to work and finished the year driving back and forth between school and the sitters at lunch to feed and be with my son.
  • I packed up my classroom.

1 year ago (this last year)
  • I opened up and began teaching a preschool, "Little Owl Academy," from my home.
  • We moved to have a better house for our growing family (I was pregnant again) and my preschool.
  • I had a miscarriage
  • I cut out lots and lots of art projects!
  • We celebrated my sons first birthday.
  • My brother-in-law unexpectedly passed away.
  • We found out we were pregnant again.
  • We moved to Utah, and bought another house, for my husband to help fill his brothers role at the family company,.
  • And now I get to be a stay at home Mom and teach for the Pathways program online!
I list all of these things not to bore you, but to show you how much can really happen in 5 years. As I sat and thought about all of the things that have happened I realized, what can all happen in the lives of our students in just 5 years. Some of the things I have had to go through have been extremely happy, and some have been extremely sad and painful. How much do our students experience every day? What experiences are they bringing to school? How would this little tid bit of knowledge and idea that they can be experiencing so much make a difference? If I as an adult struggled during the hard times, how can our little ones handle it when they've never experienced hard times before? We need to be there to help them.
While I was teaching in West Valley I had a little student, Christopher, who I adored. A little way into the year he began showing up later and later to school every day. Being my immature teacher self I got frustrated and he got in trouble for being late. Finally after about a month of this (and I wish I had done it far sooner!) I sat down and asked him why he was late every day. It turns out, after talking with him and the social worker, his Mom was a druggy and had been up all night and by the morning when Christopher needed to go to school she was passed out on the couch. He spent his morning bathing and feeding his toddler sister before coming to school. He just wanted to make sure she had a good morning and was ready for the day. 
How I wish that I had recognized that even the littlest ones can have huge emotional changes in their lives and paid just a little more attention.
Think back on your last 5 years, how much has happened, and how much has changed. Then think of your students. How can recognizing their changes, good and bad, make you a better teacher?
As I sat typing this I looked over and saw my son lining up his cars on the couch. He is learning and growing so much right now and changing every day. I just hope as his Mom and as a teacher that when he starts school in a few years that his teachers will recognize the individual needs of their students and take the time to get to know their concerns and joys. 
I know I will be more mindful now that life does happen while school is going on, and as a teacher I can be loving and kind and there for my students through the ups and downs.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Quiet Book Pages

For the past year my sons nap time was filled with teaching piano and preschool. This summer I've taken advantage of his naps to work on a few personal projects of my own and create documents for teachers pay teachers. My newest fun project is this quiet book for him to use at church, in the car, and all sorts of fun places. He loves it (especially the dog page) and I already am making plans for my next one! Below are pictures and small descriptions of each page. Feel free to use these for your own ideas! I know I got many of my ideas from Pinterest. 

This video link here takes you to a tutorial on binding a quiet book...but ALL of her videos are amazing. I had started my quiet book one way and after seeing her videos tore it apart and began again. She goes through the page prep, binding, and even specific pages if you'd like step by step. She is amazing! 

The cover: Pretty simple and fun. I loved incorporating all of the fabrics I had used throughout the book. 

 I got the idea for my hippo page here but changed it to fit my own style. The only thing I will be changing is adding a real toothbrush. My son likes to take the toothbrush and put it in his mouth and I'd prefer it to be a real toothbrush and not felt :)

 A car page was a must for my car loving son. He drives it all over this page and all the others pages in the book! My car page spans 2 pages, one mostly to hold the cars. 
The anchor fabric is a pocket to hold the cars.
 I wanted to throw in some counting, so this jelly fish page uses beads that count from 1-8.
 Since I LOVE owls over here at Little Owl Academy I had to have an owl page. This is a puzzle where all 4 pieces are secured by velcro and can easily be removed and added back on. I got the original idea for this page here.
 Since my extended family and husband love to jeep this jeeping page was fun to make. It incorporates a jeep, the family business Teraflex symbol to hold extra tires, and extra tires that my son can change.

 Around the 4th of July I got the idea for this easy and fun flag page. We practice counting, patterns, colors, and the star is a fun touch and feel.
 The spider page idea stemmed from this page. I like the look of the bigger spider I created. The legs are fun to play with!
I saw lots of ideas for lions on Pinterest. It was fun to find the beads and ribbons to make this touch and feel page.

I've been daydreaming today of how fun it would be, if I was truly ambitious, to create a quiet book for every month for my son and for preschool students. It would be a great quiet activity and teach them SO much! It would be a perfect early finisher activity or a center for your preschool...maybe someday!

Happy Teaching and Sewing! 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Mystery Readers

My favorite activity to get parents involved in our classroom is to have them be a mystery reader. Here's how my mystery reader program works:

I send out an email to all parents asking them to volunteer to be a mystery reader. I tell them that they need to be available on Friday afternoon (use whatever day and time works for you.), that they can bring their own book or I will provide one, but it has to take less than 10 minutes to read, and they need to send me an email with 5 clues about themselves. 

After hearing back from a few parents I scheduled one mystery reader a week. In some schools I have been lucky enough to have one parent a week the entire year....in others I only had a handful of readers. No matter what kind of involvement you get, use the parents, they are amazing!

Many parents will ask what types of clues you need. Here are some ideas:
What is your hair color?
Where is your favorite place to vacation?
Do you have a favorite food?
How many children do you have?
Where do you work?
What are your hobbies?

Then, the fun begins. Every day each week I leave a clue. I always leave the older clues written up on the board for the students to go back and review. I simply help the students read the clue aloud in morning meeting and leave it at that.

Then on Friday we all take a minute and guess who the reader is. I then invite the reader in and have the student in the class who the parent is related to introduce the reader.

It takes a short amount of time: the parent reads the book and then I let the students ask the parent a few questions. But, these few minutes make all the difference. The child whose parent came feels so lucky, the other students anxiously look forward to the reader and hope they have guessed right. And in the end it introduces children to new books and new readers.

I have had a variety of books from silly stories to stories about babies all around the world. Remember to always have some stories on hand in case the parent didn't bring one!

I hope you can take this simple idea of a mystery reader and roll with it. I'd love to hear how it goes! You can find a packet of clue cards and summary sheets at my teachers pay teachers store here if you wish.

Happy Teaching!