Tag Your Friends

Happy new year! 
Though I'm still enJOYing being unplugged in a winter wonderland, I did come out of my holiday hibernation long enough yesterday to make my monthly Sunday visit at Making It As A Middle School Teacher, so click the cute graphic below for a riveting back-to-class team-building game of 
Tag Your Friends!

And, if you try it with your class family, 
don't forget to let me know how it goes.


A Holiday Haiku

Today's snow flurries have inspired me to try my hand at Haiku:

Snowflake blankets sprawl
white and soft, marshmallow clouds,
peaceful lanscapes call.

And the winter beauty has sparked an idea to use Haiku to encapsulate a holiday, so here's my try at a Haiku dedicated to the new year:

Promise. Wonder. Hope.
Move onward with intention.
Listen. Love. Laugh. Pray.

What words would you use in your New Year's Haiku?


A Thousand Gifts

Christmas 2012 has come and gone; did you get One Thousand Gifts? Today I'm excited because I did. My friend and mentor Sally recommended it and I have a really good feeling about it. It's called One Thousand Gifts: A Dare To LIVE FULLY Right Where You Are and it's by Ann Voskamp. The title intrigues me -- who doesn't love a good dare! What are you reading this week?


Our Instrumental Christmas Message

Joy & Peace from our house to yours. 

The Gruener Family Ensemble played a few tunes during our Christmas Eve service last night that we're happy to share with you now. There's John behind the tuba, Joshua on French Horn, Jacob playing trumpet, and Kaitlyn on her clarinet. I'm on piano behind the lens and Stephanie, our church organist and friend, joins us for Joy to the World.

Remember to always make time for music.


A Christmas Festival

Merry Christmas Eve; enJOY a musical greeting from the
 Friendswood High School Wind Ensemble!


A Blizzard Of Love

As Christmas nears, I'm sending prayers for hope and healing to our friends at Sandy Hook Elementary. Here's a Snowflake Project that you can do with your family this holiday break:

The Snowflake Project

Have your students create and glitter up some snowflakes to help welcome Sandy Hook students to their new school with a winter wonderland. 

Mail them by January 12, 2013 to:

Connecticut PTSA
60 Connolly Parkway
Building 12
Suite 103
Hamden, CT  06514

Here are more details and some other options about how you can help students and staff of the 
Sandy Hook family heal from our friends at 
Really Good Stuff.

Snowflakes for Sandy Hook
S'now therapeutic making these as a family!


Festive & Fun

There was so much crafting and creativity going on at school as we launched into winter break. Our character cam caught Heather Krail creating this festive handprint keepsake to give as a gift to each of her kindies. 
I can practically taste those tempting treats.

Photo of Handprint Santa plate

First graders got to experience the Polar Express - 
Well, ya comin'?

We celebrated our very own maintenance man, Mr. Fred, with a special 
Fred Day for his birthday. We all dressed like Fred, we gave him a copy of The Fred Factor book, and we made a bulletin board in his honor:

And finally, this picture that my brother snapped last year 
makes me laugh. It's also special because Mark made it a little contest and offered to donate money to the favorite charity of the person whose caption made him laugh the hardest. My son Jacob was one of the winners and Mark sent $100 to support Camp Lonestar on his behalf.  
In the end, generosity wins. 

My heart is so happy!

I'm going to be unplugging for a bit, so I'll wish you all joy and peace through this holiday season. Thank you for continuing to stop by the Corner. 
Have a Caring Christmas and a TeRRiFiC 2013!


Our Gifts Live On and On

I would be remiss if I didn't give a huge gratitude shout out to Susanna Hill before the holiday break for her continued willingness to add our favorite books to her ever-growing and comprehensive Perfect Picture Book list. We aren't officially having a PPBF today, but if you get a chance, stop by here today to say thanks! Here's a book that I think warm your heart and keep you in stitches as the author knits together fact and fiction to weave this tale of generosity and warmth.
Title: Kiki's Hats
Author & Illustrator: Warren Hanson
Publisher: Tristan Publishing
Date: September 15, 2007
Suitable for: ages 4 and up
Themes: kindness, compassion, generosity, warmth, pay it forward, knitting
Brief synopsis: Based on the story of the author's real-life neighbor who hasn't ever taken a cent for her hand-knit treasures, Kiki's Hats tells the tale of a woman who knits hats and gives them away, two at a time.

Opening page:
Kiki loved to sit and knit.
She knitted for the joy of it.
Summer winter, fall and spring,
she sat there, knitting just one thing...
Hats, Hats! Hats!! HATS!!
Ziggy, zaggy, stripey hats!
Brown hats, white hats,
yellow, red...
A heap of hats
for any head.

Visit the author's page for an interview with Kiki and information about the musical play script {here}
A book review I wrote in the Character Educator {here}
A book review at A Book And A Hug blog {here}
Children's Books About Yarn, Mittens & other Knitted Things {here}

Why I like this book: This book was sent to me this summer as a gift from a Wisconsin teacher after she attended one of my workshops. Who does that? It was so special to think that someone would select a book for me that so beautifully connects to the knit-for-service club we started at Westwood ten years ago. Click the picture to be transported to our school's Knitting Club webpage.

Barbara's hats: I knit these preemie caps to help Save The Children!

Because students might not have the skill of knitting (yet), when I read the book I preface it by asking what word the kids could substitute for the word hats: Kiki's compliments? Kiki's kindness? Kiki's smile? We also talk about how the author uses alternate words (dome instead of head) to maintain the rhyme, and how he uses hyperbole (exaggeration) to make his point. Because there's a halo over Kiki's hat on the back cover, we talk about the phrase, "You're an angel." What does someone mean when they say that? Then find out whom they know that's an angel and why. 

Check out this book; its message is a gift that you'll enjoy giving.    


Elf Respect

So I had a lot of fun at school yesterday, reading my favorite holiday treasures to my students and visiting with my little friends about their winter break plans. The cutest thing I saw yesterday has to be this clever Tee with its play on words, perfect 'cause it cracks me up and who couldn't use a little laughter this week!

One of my knit-club mentors, Laura Danielson, gave me a new book for my collection, a gift that totally jumpstarted my day. Click the graphic to go to the book's website for more information about this new title that chronicles how young Annie overcomes obstacles to end up with a scarf.

Walking around school makes me feel festive. Our bulletin boards deck the halls with glitzy character messages. Second graders, for example, wrote about the greatest gifts underneath these lift-the-flap giftbox facades. It was heartwarming to read about their moms and dads, friends and pets and 
joy, caring and love.

In small group counseling classes, we used Ashley's delightful dice design from School Supply Addict to make small boxes. The girls left the lids unglued because they wanted to be able to put stuff inside; the boys glued all sides shut so that they'd have dice that they could play with or give away.

At lunchtime, I went off campus to watch my husband John conduct a class via Skype with some fifth graders in Missouri. What a memorable experience, I thought, to get to chat with a space scientist who works in Houston at NASA as if he were right there in the room. Thank you, Jordon, for giving him this opportunity to keep the passion for the space program alive and the dream for one day returning to the moon burning in our 
21st century learners.

After school, I had a blast as the guest chef at the gorgeous home of a student who's new to our school this semester. They hosted a candy class and and I got to teach four fifth-grade girls (and one adorable little brother!) how to make peanut butter balls. Such a delicious gathering! And then, as if I needed one more treat, a few school friends put the cherry on top when they stopped by my place to sing Christmas carols that totally put me in the holiday spirit.

I can't wait to see what today has in store for me!


The Habit Of Happiness

Happiness is a choice ... and it can become a habit.

So I made a Happy New You bulletin board that says so. I got these creative and adorable 7 Habits Of Happy Kids downloads from Stephanie over at 3rd Grade Thoughts. Go check it out; she has done an excellent job of using Sean Covey's book and concept.

Synergize is probably my favorite habit because I firmly believe that together is better. Yesterday we had a chance to Skype visit with author Jodi Moore and I could feel the synergy. We worked together to introduce 
Good News Nelson, her new book. She read it to the kids on the big screen, then answered their questions about the story that inspired the book and her life as an author. What fun it was to use technology to meet a new friend from Pennsylvania and get together in Texas to learn and enjoy.

Isn't that just a terrific way to launch our week? And then, I returned to my office to an email from my friend Jo at Prairie Elementary in Wisconsin, sharing that one of her teachers brought along some sweets to share some joy today. Together IS better!

My cross-country collaborations make me happy.


Let There Be Light

It happens like this every year at this time. I try to get out of the middle, but, alas, I always find myself there nonetheless. The God-winks are hard to ignore and it always ends up being incredibly satisfying and rewarding.

And I did enjoy it last week, matching up donors with families in need. Gifts, mostly, but this time I actually got a sizable cash donation that I wasn't quite sure how to use. You can imagine the dance in my head; do I take the cash and go buy a gift card or present for a family in need? Do I go to City Hall and pay a water bill? Or do I use it to keep snacks on hand at school for my little friends who are hungry?

I couldn't decide, so I made a phone call. Turns out, there was a utility bill due, that very day, so we were able to keep those lights aglow for another month. It was providential!

Today, it may feel like the bill is due, and the electric company has come to collect. Pay up or they'll turn off the lights. The families of Sandy Hook Elementary will be on our the hearts and minds and school may not seem like a very safe place right now. But we, as educators, must be the security, the power sourceToday. 
And tomorrow. Next month. And next year. 

So turn on your lights this morning, literally and figuratively, 
and burn, baby, burn! (Can I say that on a teaching blog?) 

For those of you who need some extra amps for your circuits today, 
here are a few links with information that you might find useful:


Silence Is Golden

I've heard it said that "silence is golden" so when a fellow teacher blogger suggested we set aside Sunday as a day of silence to honor the school family at Sandy Hook Elementary, I knew she had a golden idea.
Except for the horror and the heartache that I feel, things in my world are pretty normal today, but I know that life in CT is forever changed. And that makes my heart so heavy. 

So I'm taking tomorrow off to remember and reflect.

Head on over to Oh Boy Fourth Grade to 
grab the graphic if you want to join us. 

Since we know that music is a great healer, I'm sharing some joy today before the silence tomorrow. At times like these, it comforts to trust in our higher power for hope and healing.


In The Wake Of Tragedy

My thoughts and prayers are with the school family at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut today. Children depend on us for security in general and even more so in a time like this; how do we as adults process the senseless tragedy that happened there this morning so that we can help our children navigate through it? Look to the experts for help. Start with these comprehensive suggestions about responding to trauma from the 

Limit your child's exposure to the news. 
Focus on the heroism of the helpers. 
Calmly reassure children that an event like this is not likely to happen to you or to them. 
Review your safety plan at home and at school. 
Embrace your loved ones so they know they're safe.
Pray for the families of the victims. 
Pray for peace.

Photo credit: Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher

Suggestions from Dr. Brad Schwall, reprinted with permission:

Tragedy Talking Points by Dr. Brad Schwall

The following guidelines may help you in addressing the school-shooting incident with your children based on the information currently known about the tragedy to this point.
  • Avoid exposing children to too much media coverage.
  • Avoid fostering rumors and speculation about the tragedy.  

Age and Stage Responses

Preschool-2nd grade – discuss the incident only if the child has heard any of the news. There is no need to inform the child of the tragedy if the child does not know about it.

3rd- 5th graders are more likely to have heard the news.  Decide whether to bring the issue up with 3rd and 4th graders based on their temperaments.

Check for what your child knows – Ask, “What have you heard today?"

You may choose to approach the subject with children in 6th grade and older.

No matter your child’s age, consider the following responses based on how you believe you need to address the tragedy with your child.
  • The tragedy is isolated and tragedies like this happen rarely.
  • The fact that this tragedy happened does not mean there is an immediate danger where you live.
  • Emphasize that safety precautions are in place in schools.
  • Reflect what your child may be feeling – “I know this is scary news. It is very sad.
  • Emphasize empathy for the victims – “It is very sad that this happened to those families and children.”
  • Teenagers may reflect on the fragile nature of life and the unpredictability of life.

The conversation may focus on:
  • Validating your child's feelings - it is OK to feel scared or sad
  • Emphasizing that your child is safe
  • Empathizing with the victims 
Michele Borba also offers advice at her blog {here}.

PPBF: Great Joy

Since today marks the anniversary of the date in 1954 that the UN General Assembly recommended there should be a Universal Children's Day, Susanna was hoping that our PPBF picks could help to raise awareness of the plight of children around the globe and promote the welfare of children in the world by focusing on multicultural/multiracial issues, human rights, and/or children who have helped to change the world in some way. My selection spotlights the latter, a little girl whose kind invitation warms up a homeless man, inside and out! And just for fun, we've added a little snow flurry to the Corner, thanks to Deb from Fabulously First! Can you make it switch directions and speed? OK, enough playing. 

Without further ado, I give you Great Joy.

Title: Great Joy
Author: Kate DiCamillo
Illustrator: Bagram Ibatoulline
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Date: October 2007
Suitable for: ages 4 and up
Themes: homelessness, kindness, caring, compassion, holidays
Brief Synopsis: Frances can't help but worry about the homeless man and his monkey on the street on a cold winter's night, but her idea to invite him over to dinner is squashed by her mom. Will she give up or find a way to help him out?

Opening Page: The week before Christmas, a monkey appeared on the corner of Fifth and Vine. He was wearing a green vest and a red hat, and with him was a man, an organ grinder, who played music for the people on the street.


A Reading Rockets video interview with the author {here}
A Pirottablog book review {here}
Enrichment ideas I shared last December {here
I looked for a reading of the story online but didn't find one, so my friend Jennifer kindly agreed to flip my visit to her first-grade class yesterday:

Why I like this book: This story has many layers with SO much food for thought, but the biggest draw for me is a child who sees a need and works to problem-solve it. When I read it, we pause after Frances is told that they cannot have the Organ Grinder and his monkey over to share a meal because I ask them if she should just give up. When they agree she shouldn't give up, I ask them what they would do next if they were Frances. Their answers always manage to warmly touch my heart, like these ideas that a first-grade class brainstormed with me earlier this week: 

Get money from my piggy bank and put it in the monkey's tin cup, build them a fire to warm up, give them a blanket, take them some hot chocolate, build them a log house, knit them some mittens, bring them some food, make friends with them so they're not strangers any more.

After the big finale, there's an illustrated picture of the post-pageant party with no words, which gives us a chance to write the next page. Ask students what they would say if they could put the words on that last picture. Finally, talk about what happens tomorrow. Does the homeless organ grinder go back to the streets? Or has his situation changed now? Again, expect miraculous responses that'll show you that they get Great Joy!


A Musical Message

Can you tell that I got my hands on the sign today?

And my musical gift to you: The Friendswood High School Wind Ensemble's spirited version of Sleigh Ride, under the direction of Gregory Dick, complete with a horse whinny at the tail end performed on the trumpet by our son, Jacob.


On The List

Happy 12/12/12. Do you know about the B.I.O.N.I.C. 
12-12-12 campaign compassion challenge? 
Click {here} to learn more about it.

Today I'm excited because I made the caramel list! Homemade caramels, melt-in-your-mouth, individually wrapped in waxed paper, buttery goodness. From Iowa. I wasn't even trying to get on the list. I just accepted an invitation to write a guest post for a new blogger and voila, I was on the list. In fact, the caramels could show up on my doorstep any time now, and I can't wait! Upon further investigation, I found out that Laurel and her family make about 1400 of those decadent delights every Christmas ... and they give them all away ... to whom? I inquired, and this is what she said:

We give those caramels to friends, neighbors, teachers at school and church, pastor, secretaries, doctor's office, veterinarians office, dog groomer, dentist (they need separate bags because the receptionist says she is going to keep them), postal carrier, and all the other people who come our way that make our lives easier or special every day. And of course to our guidance counselor!  They also get sent overseas to friends in Germany. 
It's just our way of saying "thank you" and Merry Christmas!

She even takes some along to her mammogram for good measure. She's downplaying it, but I know that this sweet treat is truly a labor of love. 
Have I mentioned that I can't wait?

We don't make caramels, but we do bake sour cream sugar cookies. Here's a before picture as the cookies were cooling on Saturday afternoon:

Here's a picture after we've eaten more than we need and we've made special deliveries to some of the people on our list - co-workers, the piano teacher, the mail carrier, that favorite classroom teacher, custodians, maintenance workers, the cafeteria crew at school, my car mechanic:

Since the cutouts are almost gone, the next people on the list will be getting peanut butter balls like these (or turtles or heath bits):

What's your coveted holiday speciality and who's on your list?

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