Sunday, October 23, 2011

Story Stones

I spend hours on end, reading other people's blogs and being inspired by their brilliant ideas. Recently, I came across Story Stones TWICE in one day, on Red Bird Crafts and on Fairy Dust Teaching. Fate, I decided, was telling me that Story Stones must be made. Fate was right.

A pleasant trip to the beach followed, with a couple of zip-loc plastic bags stowed in my handbag (I always keep zip-loc bags in my handbag, just in case I can gather something for my classroom from nature). I collected a set of small, flattish beach pebbles to create my Story Stones. Once home, they were washed and dried, just in case of nasties or grit, which would prevent the smooth finish I wanted.

I printed off a series of stock clip-art from Microsoft Word. They have some awesome clip-art, and to begin with I started with some standard fairy-tale characters- princes, princesses, etc, plus a few animal characters too. Each character was then carefully cut out and matched to an appropriately sized/ shaped stone.

I then glued the images onto the stones using Mod Podge. A sprinkle of glitter and an extra coat of Mod Podge and the tops were ready to dry. Once dry I did coat the rear of the stone with a layer of Mod Podge, to give the stone a consistent look front and back. After a couple of hours to dry, I spray painted them all over in clear varnish. This really made the stones look super shiny, more like a polished rock.

The stones have been introduced to my class as a 'fast finisher' activity- if they finish their writing assignment early then they can continue with a 'free choice', imaginative story using story stones. We also made an extensive list of other characters they would like to have, and I have since made some of them into story stones. These, in particular, have really hooked in my reluctant writers. Now they are writing way more, and with better quality- if their work isn't 'best work', they don't get Story Stones! Some students were really inspired by the stones, and made some of their own at home.

Although I have exhausted my current supply of stones, I hope to make more characters shortly. I also have plans for some alphabet stones, number stones and some stones to use as game-pieces in board games. Can't wait!

Handy Dandy Glue Pots

Crafting almost always requires glue. Hot glue, paste, PVA... we school teachers love them all. However, they can be a messy wee substance to manage. So here is a teeny tiny tip for keeping your PVA manageable... milk bottle tops!

Milk bottle tops are plentiful, free and don't take up much storage space. They are easy to collect, and are darn useful. When using them as mini glue pots, I like them because they don't hold much (less waste), you can throw them out after one use (easy clean-up), and they are easy to prepare, so you can have many of them scattered around the room if necessary.

In the photo, I have used cotton wool buds (new ones) as glue applicators, and found them really good. In the past, I have also used scraps of cardboard, strips cut from ice-cream container lids... almost anything, except paintbrushes. Glue tends to ruin paintbrushes very quickly.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Fathers Day Craft

Yay! I love Fathers Day! Another occasion to get out the crafty materials and create cutesy little crafts with my little lovelies.

I'm probably going to repeat myself endlessly here, but.... there is a BIG place for crafts in the classroom. Cutting and sticking skills are pretty shocking these days (yes, I am old), even in my nine year old students. Pride in presentation is also something that is often lacking, and little craft projects are just PERFECT for this!

For Fathers Day this year, we followed the crafty theme of popsicle stick photo frames (as seen on Mothers Day). This time the frame said "My Dad is a star", rather than the jigsaw decorations. I set my Fathers Day gear up with three tasks... a card, a 'greatest dad in the world' certificate, and the craft table. The craft is a compulsory activity, while the other two are optional. However, there is the expectation that the children will spend the entire lesson MAKING, rather than talking or mucking around. As this is seen as a 'fun' activity, there are usually very few complaints.

First, I showed the children the finished craft project. I demonstrated how they could draw their own cardboard stars, or how to use a stencil (MS Word clipart printed out) to draw their stars. It was surprising how many children had never used a stencil before. Then we looked at coloring- how to get bright, vibrant colors, and the importance of not missing spots (honestly, they still miss spots!). I called the children up in groups of 4 or 5 to make their frames once their decorations were complete, while the rest are preparing their frame decorations, or completing a card or certficate.

The frames themselves are very simple. Four popsicle sticks, hot glued together to make a square. Then we hot glued on our cardboard stars, and a little paper message "My Dad is a star!".

Next, we flipped it over and worked from the back of the frame. We glued a square of laminate to create a 'glass' effect. The laminate is offcuts from our large format laminator at school. Apparently it takes a while to warm up, and in doing so runs through a bit of laminate. The resource lady saves this laminate for me, and we create fun projects like this!

After that we hot glued in a recent photo of ourselves, followed by a cardboard backing. Easy peasy! If I was to do this project again, I would probably give the children a magnet to glue on the back, making a cute fridge frame.

Funnily enough, I did not need to monitor the children with the hot glue... they knew not to burn themselves and were very safe and responsible. However they do not understand that it dries fast... and would often pile on massive loads so slowly that it would dry before they could attach the next piece. Another next learning step for our crafty activities!

Place Value Charts

Its been a while since I last updated this blog, so I am going to do a bit of an 'idea vomit', as I have been stockpiling ideas and just haven't gotten around to getting them up online lately.

In Math we have been looking at place value a fair bit lately, developing their number knowledge. We have been using a lot of concrete materials- beans, iceblock sticks, unifix cubes, money etc. I am now trying to link the more abstract with the concrete- using place value 'house charts', where the children need to image the materials and quickly tell me how many tens/ones are in a number.

Quite frankly, my slow brain does not generate numbers fast enough. The poor thing finds it hard enough to make my body breathe, talk and eat, without generating random numbers for the children to computate. After a while I realised I was using the same digits over and over, and completely forgetting digits like '7'. Poor 7.

In the interest of using completely random two digit numbers, and saving my brain from a complete meltdown, I decided to use dice to generate my numbers. I roll two dice, one goes in the 'tens' column, the other in the 'ones' column. The children then read the number, and tell me how many 'tens and ones' there are in the number. I just love these large foam dice I bought from a local emporium (6 for $2). Bargain!
Yes, I did realise that these dice only deal with the digits 1-6. So after a while of using the dice, we switched up our equipment to.... playing cards!
I have millions of packets of playing cards in the classroom, they are handy for lots of things (these ones were 50cents a packet at the same emporium.. double bargain!). In this instance, I have removed the tens and picture cards, leaving the single digit cards behind. If you wanted, you could use permanent marker to create your own 'zero' cards too.

The children loved the rapid fire 'game' of name the number, and my brain loved me too. Triple bargain!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Sight Word "Go Fish"

Recently I had the sweetest student teacher in my class. It was a thought provoking experience- it certainly makes you aware of your own little idiocyncrasies and question why yourself about your teaching and learning program.

It also means that for a block of time (in this case, one week), you have a student teacher in full control of your class. So all of a sudden you have time to GET THINGS DONE (of course I was still busy supporting them in their new role etc, but it is nowhere as full on as fulltime teaching).

It was a bit of a shock to the system initially. There are so many things to get done that I didn't quite know where to start. However, after 5 minutes the shock wore off and my hands and mind were racing.

I have been meaning to create some more learning activities for my two dyslexic students, and here was the perfect opportunity. First stop- Adrian Bruce. Adrian runs an amazing website dedicated to free, printable learning games and activities. If you haven't already been there, call into for a plethora of awesome activities.

In particular, I made this sight word game (link at the end of this post). It is based on the more common card game "Go Fish", but instead of finding pairs of digits, the students are finding matching words from the sight word lists. I followed Adrian's lists, but with a few adaptations in the actual making. He suggests printing and laminating the cards, but I made them up on cardboard cut into large playing card sized squares. I think that this is easier to use/ hold, a bit more durable and easier to make and replace. Its also pretty darn cost effective.

I also used a blue permanent marker to highlight blends/ digraphs etc, as this is currently a learning focus for us. As I made up multiple sets all in one go, I made a small mark on the back of each card to distinguish between the sets. Usually I would put a matching stickers on the back of each set, but just gave up this time. Each set is stored in a little zip lock bag, and popped into their reading group box.

The students absolutely love the game. They naturally adapted it to a sight word memory game after a while, and alternate between the two games as desired. It is a popular request as they get to pick someone from another (higher) reading group to play with.... and will often win! Thank you Adrian Bruce and thank you student teacher!

Link to Sight Word Go Fish:

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sitting Pretty

We don't have a couch in our class this year. When I moved into the new (but oh so very old) classroom at the start of the year, there was no couch available. And I am yet to source one myself (still looking).

I miss the couch, its a lovely place for the children to snuggle with a book, to rest if feeling unwell or to perch on as a privilege. In the past I would have a quick lie down on our class couch before a late night meeting or in an odd lunch break if feeling unwell.

Classroom couches are often saggy baggy and wrinkly (much like me), and usually have ripped covers and horrific stains (seriously.... where did those off putting marks come from?)

Last year I managed to pick up some throw cushions for our class couch for the bargain price of $1 each from Habitat for Humanity. They were quite big, nice and comfy and an uninspiring beige color. A run through the washing machine with half a bottle of disinfectant and they were good to go.... but really really boring.

Of course, there is only ONE solution possible... new covers. Now it just so happens that every year I support the Canteen bandana campaign and buy at least one brightly colored bandana. I had 6 sitting still in their wrappers at the bottom of a drawer... ready to become instant cushion covers! I had also purchased the non-adhesive type of Velcro one day by mistake, so that was also on hand.

These covers are truly easy to make. Just sew the Velcro onto two bandanas, then stitch the bandanas together on the remaining sides. Voila! Instant cushion cover that looks divine.

I took these cushions with me when I moved into my new (but oh so very old) classroom this year. They are kept in the library corner for the children to curl up on.

The cushion with the black side on it has names written all over it as part of the design. The children particularly love reading the names and finding the names of their friends and family. These cushions are the cheapest way that I can reproduce the magic of the classroom couch... and are much more space-friendly.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Mothers Day Crafts

I make it my personal mission to make sure that craft projects are completed to commemorate all possible occasions in my classroom. We celebrated Mothers Day on the 8th of May this year in NZ, and this was the perfect time to craft our little hearts out.

Mothers Day crafts have two pre-requisites:
1. They must look homemade
2. They must be darned cute.

I found this craft somewhere on the internet. I am sure it was, but I can't find the link anywhere. If this is your original craft idea, please leave a link to the reference in the comments section!

This photo frame is cute as a button, costs very little and is perfect for recycling jigsaw puzzles that are missing pieces. Note: the little scrap of paper says "I love you to pieces".... so, so, so cute!
First, take your popsicle sticks. Each student will need four popsicle sticks to make the frame for their photograph. Lay them out so they make a square (or other shape), and hot glue at the corners to secure. 
Now, here is the fun part! Using oil pastels, color in the backs of jigsaw puzzle pieces. Thirty pieces will do an average popsicle frame comfortably, and the average 1000 piece puzzle will make 33 frames.
Oil pastels will provide bright, vibrant and interesting colors. Of course you could paint them, but that gets messy and takes longer. Don't worry if your jigsaw puzzle pieces aren't colored in perfectly- this adds to the 'homemadeness' of the project!
Now hot glue your jigsaw puzzle pieces around the outside of your frame. If speed is of the essence, I recommend that you apply the glue and the children put the pieces on, otherwise you may need to allocate extra time/ lots and lots of hot glue guns to this project.
Once your pieces are glued on, cut out the message and hot glue it onto your frame somewhere. I printed the message out on the computer (Comic Sans, size 12). This was to avoid spelling mistakes and size issues (of lettering- in case you were wondering).
 The printed paper comes up better than anything else I tried. When we do this next time we will spray the frames with clear paint to stop the pastel from rubbing off and protect the message on the frame, but we just ran out of time on this occasion.
(picture is blanked out.... the owner is very shy!)
I printed out the children's photographs (9 pictures to an A4 page). They were the right width, but slightly too short so I backed them on colored card. I then laminated the pictures for durability. These were then hot-glued onto the back of the frame (be careful that they are up the right way!).

 These were wrapped in wrapping paper that we decorated ourselves with stamps and paint as a reading tumble activity during the week (reading and following written instructions).
Be aware that you will go through a surprising number of hot glue sticks to complete this with your class. It is also worth buying your glue sticks from a craft supply store that you trust- dollar shop sticks can mess up your hot glue guns. Here is a price break-down:
Popsicle sticks- 1 packet for $1 from local emporium
Hot glue- 10 sticks for $3 from local emporium
1500 piece puzzle- $3 from local op-shop (with heaps left over)
Oil Pastels, Laminating and Photographs from classroom resource cupboard.
Happy crafting!

Hanging Displays

I luuuuuuurve dangling displays from the ceiling. If you don't need to duck as you walk through a classroom, then there is something wrong with the classroom- or you are really short.

Hanging displays maximizes the space that you have- because lets face it- the wall space in classrooms is pitiful. I have a series of writing exemplars hanging in the classroom, and have just finished a set of 'childrens rights and responsibilities' mini posters to hang along the window. I'm sure there is many other uses, and we could all have dangly bits everywhere very soon!

So here we go- easy peasy hanging displays :)

These work best with firm materials- laminated paper or cardboard is perfect. Just punch a holes top and tail of each step of your hanging displays. Attach to each other with paper clips. Plastic coated ones paper clips are great- they don't scratch your hard work and they look better :).

Paper clips mean that they swing in the breeze, and hang nicely. They are easy to attach, just as easy to remove and are cheap... what more can you ask for!?

These wonderful printable posters can be found at

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tinny McTinTins

I am an avid lover of the "free" concept. If not free, then it must be as close to free as possible in order to warm my heart completely. If I can find something that is 'free' AND 'pretty' then I am on cloud nine for several days.

These tins really tick my boxes. They are recycled tin cans donated by a commercial kitchen (thank you mummy), covered in the prettiest paper that I can possibly find and then coated in decoupage finish. Marae kitchens are also a great source of the big tins.

First, find yourself a collection of empty, clean tin cans. The ones that I use were once 2kg tins of fruit, so there is no staining on the inside.  The 2kg cans are ideal for class or group sets of equipment. However the average family does not eat 2kgs of tinned fruit very often, so also try to collect other sizes- kidney beans, pineapple, condensed milk, and single serve beetroot also make great tins for covering and give a variety of sizes. The labels remove really easily, and it does not need to be a perfect job.
Wrapping paper is perfect for this job.I scour the wrapping paper stands at dollar shops whenever I am there, and have collected a variety of papers for this purpose. Of course you could use coloured paper from the classroom art supplies, newspaper, magazine pictures etc. Lucky Book Club catalogs make great Literacy themed tins. I have done these tins on the cheap and used PVA glue to attach the paper and give it a clear coated finish. However the tins seem to rust underneath the coating, and spoil the look very quickly. Decopage finish (like Mod Podge) is available from Spotlight for $17.99 and will last you a very very long time. Just give the tins a quick coat in Mod Podge, attaching the paper and smoothing it on in sections. Once the paper is wrapped around coat the tin again in Mod Podge. This will give it a protective coat and will mean that you can wipe the tins clean with a damp cloth from time to time.
Some quick labels printed off and glued on with Mod Podge finishes off these tins. If I was really pedantic I would cut a circle of felt to go inside the bottom of the tin, to prevent the equipment from making a loud clanging noise when dropped in. However, I am not that pedantic... yet.

I use these tins a lot in my classroom. As you can see they make great stationery holders, containers for group activities, worksheets, taskboard tags etc. I use a tin as a drop box for my students to post notices for me to collect, rather than them bugging me in the mornings. The one thing they are not suitable for is holding paintbrushes etc, as the bases will rust when wet and will leave huge rust rings on your bench. If that happens, just make sure that you don't EVER move the tins until you move classrooms.

Once you start making these tins you will become addicted. When I go grocery shopping I now scour the shelves for interesting tins I can use in my classroom. Duraseal is a quick and easy way to cover the tins as well, but that is the easy solution.

I will leave you with an example of patience and the extreme desire for the free and pretty. This tin is covered in pictures of material cut from a Spotlight catalog that arrived in the mail. It created a really cool patchwork effect. I love it to pieces!

Free, Printable Bookplates

Teachers spend ridiculous amounts of money on resources for school. With most resources I just name on the front cover with a black permanent marker, so everyone can see that it is mine at a glance. One particular vice of mine is to purchase beautiful, beautiful picture books. And when I spend all that money on a new picture book I want to keep it in pristine condition and ensure that it comes back to me if it is borrowed.

There is something about a bookplate that makes a book really special. Try going to for the cutest printable bookplates to put inside your favorite books. The artwork on each book plate is divine, and the plates come in both color and black and white. Happy printing!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Mrs Pancake

I love this website, and not just for the pancakes. I love it for its aboslute, unequivocal awesomeness (I hope I used 'unequivocal' correctly, i've always wanted to use it in a sentence). , home of the most beautiful printables you can possibly find on the internets. And they are free (although the website creators do accept kind donations). Fire up the color printer and the laminator people, because you are going to be here a while.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Easter Crafts

Easter is really really close now and I am getting extremely excited. It could be the crazy sugar highs that are hitting me in that direction, but I think that it is mainly the Easter sales that I get excited about (and the copious amounts of chocolate, but that is another blog altogether).

Last year in the Easter sales I picked up an Easter egg mould for $1 from Spotlight. Totally exciting, this bad boy means I can mould 12 (half) eggs at a time. So as we approached Easter this year I started wracking my brain for a little moulded craft idea for my class to complete. I came up with Easter plaster of paris magnets.
Having only one mould and 25 students, I decided that I would mould and dry the eggs myself. This turns the activity into a definite craft rather than art activity, but was very managable and easy to complete in a short space of time. I also wanted the magnets to be an Easter gift to my students, rather than several weeks of tedious work. I made up 31 eggs, which gave me a couple of spares and a couple to decorate as examples for the children to see the process.

 The children were given the option of two types of decoration- painting the eggs in layers, or decoupage. Painting the eggs was tedious at some points, as the children had to wait for each layer of paint to dry. However, normal school acrylic paint dried really quickly and I had a selection of Easter activities (word-searches etc) for the children to complete while they waited. To create the decoupage look the children were given stacks of magazines (donated to my classroom by a friend) to cut out interesting patterns and color schemes and a pot of PVA glue. Each piece they glued on needed to be really small (about the size of my fingernail) to create a smooth finish.
Each egg was left on top of a milk bottle top to dry. This stopped the eggs sticking to the newspaper. The upturned milk bottle tops also made a great cradle when completing the back of the magnets. Just write their names on the newspaper next to the egg so you can tell them apart. 

After the eggs were completed I spray painted the eggs with a clear coat of varnish. Being budget conscious I use car spray paint from Super Cheap Auto for $7.50 a can. Super cheap and super long lasting, a really good buy. This gave the eggs a beautiful shininess. The magnets came from the $2 shop (12 for $2, and they need to be quite strong). The magnets were glued on the back with a hot glue gun.
So there you have it- a relatively quick and easy craft activity that we all really enjoyed. The eggs were sent home in little Easter baskets that the children made. They made a quite inexpensive gift for the class and a fun activity as the term drew to a close. A win-win situation if ever I saw one!

Plaster of Paris 3kg= $13.50 on TradeMe (you really only need a small amount- maybe around 500g?)
Magnets= $2 for 12 from the local dollar shop
Hot Glue gun
Clear spray paint= $7.50 from Super Cheap Auto