Outside The Box Guest Post

Today I'm welcoming my colleague and friend to share a lesson her little learners in Montana recently enjoyed. You might remember Tanya from 
her Empathy in a (Shoe) Box post or her Vision Boards lesson. 
I appreciate her willingness to share her ideas with us!


Careers: Thinking Outside the Box by Tanya Kirschman

Imagine the reaction you would get from your students if you walked into their classroom wearing a cardboard box! Laughter, confused looks and curious questions are common. It’s a great way to grab attention and get students hooked on the subject of careers!

Find a large cardboard box (cover with plain paper if it has writing on it) and cut holes for your head and arms to go through. Gather six markers and the book Being Wendy by Fran Drescher. Finally, ask the teachers at your school what they wanted to be when they grew up (when they were in elementary school) and make a note of their responses.

Enter the classroom wearing the box. Instruct students to write “the one thing you want to be when you grow up” with their first name on the box. Six students begin the activity and pass on their marker when finished. Anticipate that several students will ask if they can write more than one job/career on the box. Clearly repeat that they may only write “the ONE job or career you want to have when you’re an adult.” When all students have had a turn, remove the box 
and read the responses to the class.

Read Being Wendy aloud and discuss:

1.  Do you think everyone grows up to get the job they wanted when they were a kid? Share responses from the teachers at your school at this time to demonstrate that dreams change as we grow.

2.  If you set a goal to have a specific career someday and you grow up to be something different, does that mean you failed at your goal? 

3.  Wendy said that she felt different from everyone else, but was afraid to tell someone. Why do you think she was afraid? 

4. Is it a bad thing to be different from others? How do you treat people who are different from you?

5.   The author stated, “Wendy tried to take her dad’s advice, but the more she thought about it, the more she hated thinking inside the box.” Have you ever heard the expression, “thinking inside/outside the box”? What does it mean? How does it apply here?

6.  What do you think the town of “Freedomland” is like?

Inform students that they will learn about their own talents and abilities, and different jobs as they mature. These are the considerations they will make as they make choices about colleges and careers. Assure students they do not need to know right now what they want to “be” when they are older, and they will likely change their mind many times, which is to be expected.

Activity extensions:

Allow students to return to the box and write other jobs that interest them.

Suggest that students ask their parent(s) about what they wanted to be when they were younger and how they chose the job or career they have now.

Encourage students to:
      * consider their current capabilities and talents
              -take an interest inventory at Learn More Indiana 

      * draw their vision of “Freedomland”

      * express the things they want to be when they grow up

This worksheet can be downloaded {here}
Cut a square from a paper lunch sack to make the “box” and instruct students to complete the outline to reflect their likeness and dreams for the future.

       * let them work on their first resume {here}
       * explore careers at the Virginia Career VIEW

I surveyed some of our staff and here's the box that my cat puppet
will be wearing in our lessons this week; we'll also do a class sheet to list all of the careers we're thinking about so far.

Thank you, Tanya, for stopping by and sharing this engaging experience for elementary career exploration. Your students are lucky to have you to as a counselor, mentor, guide, and friend!


A Berry Delicious Tradition

For as long as I can remember, John has taken the kids dewberry picking in April. It has actually become one of our best-loved family traditions. Around spring break, he starts to scout roadside ditches in search of little white flowers, a sign that there's a vine ready to explode. He makes a mental note because fruit readiness is dependent on the amount of rain between then and harvesting day. And guess what? He's usually spot on about when to head out and grab the goodness. This year, that was Friday evening. 
They left with clean hands and empty buckets 
and came back with this ...

and three of these!

By now you may be wondering where I am in this picture. 
No, I typically don't go with them on their berry reconnaissance mission. 
It's not that I mind braving whatever might be lurking in those ditches 
in the way of snakes, spiders and the like. 
It's actually because I stay back to make the crust 
that will fairly quickly turn into this:

A berry-licious fresh dewberry pie! 

I tend to forget from year to year how flavorful this nature's candy treat is. And even though we freeze some berries for a kolaches or cobbler down the road, they just aren't quite as tasty as when those vine-ripened treasures are picked then turned into pie all in the same night. Top with a dollop of freshly-whipped cream and you've got a dessert that'll rival any restaurant or bakery creation. Friday night I remembered again. 
And I smiled.

What's your favorite springtime tradition?  


Be A Hummingbird

Have you seen this clip of Wangari Maathi telling the story of The Hummingbird? It really spoke to me this morning so I thought I'd share it with you.

How will you be a hummingbird today?


PPBF: Amazing Faces

I've done a lot of promotion of April as Autism Awareness Month,
 but did you know that it's also National Poetry Month
So for today's PPBF, let's have a look at this compilation of poems.

Title: Amazing Faces
Poems Compiled by: Lee Bennett Hopkins
Pictures by: Chris Soentpiet
Publisher: Lee & Low Books, Inc.
Date: June 30, 2010
Suitable for ages: 7 and up
Genre: Poetry
Brief Synopsis:  This anthology is a collection of 16 poems to celebrate diversity while exposing emotions through the children's beautiful faces and the powerful poems.
Sample page:  This book is going to be difficult to explain well because my words aren't going to do it justice; just look at the page that features the poem I'm The One by Jude Mandele:

Read a review from the blog There's A Book {here}
Visit the illustrator's page {here}
Go to the Publisher's page {here}
Talk with your students about how authors write to persuade:

My character cam spotted the book along with this anchor chart 
in Melanie Patton's second grade classroom.

You can also make a bulletin board with a Poetry theme:

My daughter and I created this one earlier this semester.

Why I like this  book: This eclectic collection of poems puts a face on feelings and diversity like none other that I've seen. The poignant poems complemented by the incredible illustrations will grab your heart and refuse to let go. Sharing it with a poetry buff would be the perfect way to put closure on Poetry Month.

Go ahead, open it up; you'll see. 


Happy Campers

My friend Terri is at it again; 
she's helped me with the graphics 
for this summertime bulletin board. 
Didn't it turn out adorable!

Here's what it prompts our students to do:

Drift around on a Responsibility Raft.
Cruise along in a good Citizen Canoe.
Relax on the shores of Respect River.
Sing silly songs around the Caring Campfire.
Sleep tight in a Trustworthy Tent.
Take a hike in Fairness Forest.

Talk about your recipe for happy campers!

She's also created this behavior board:

The fish colors represent the choices that her students have made at the end of the day. The green fish are the ones that have met our expectations, the yellow fish have required some redirection and the red crabs represent the unacceptable behaviors. 
Such a vibrant visual for tracking 
and reflecting upon choices.


Hero Mom Guest Post

Today I'm honored to be guest posting  at the brilliant Books That Heal Kids blog, one of the very first blogs I discovered and subsequently followed. Go there now to read about Hero Mom by Melinda Hardin and browse for a bit to see why it's one of my favorite blog stops.

What are you excited about today?


When Compassion Explodes

He knew that they needed help and that he had a trailer. 
What he didn't know was exactly what to do, 
but he knew exactly whom to call. 
The phone rang and he offered our Assistant Principal his trailer; 
he said he'd drive it to West himself 
if only we could help him fill it. 
How cool is that!

But we're so busy with state testing next week; 
could we? 

It was Friday at noon when we made the decision to hold a one-day {Monday only} blitz to help feed our friends in West. We would have to create a flyer to be distributed and sent home in Friday folders to tell our families about it. We'd need a rotator slide for the website and a message for our marquee to share the plan with our community. And collecting stuff requires boxes to put it in for our donation station. 

I prayed that our school family would be able to answer our call to help feed our friends with non-perishable, ready-to-eat food items
 on such short notice. 

Then came Monday, and stuff came pouring in ...
for West.

Students stopped by with 
cans and boxes, containers and bags. 
A first grader asked if I knew "what made that sanitizer place blow up?" sparking a conversation about whom we're helping and why. When he noticed that some cans didn't have pop tops, 
he suggested we put a can opener in one of the boxes. 
Another first grader asked if we could all go along 
to help deliver the food ... 
field trip anyone?

Third graders helped us sort and box up the food that helped fill the trailer. One of them gasped when she came across two boxes of Girl Scout cookies. 
"Whoever gave these must really be generous!" 
she enthusiastically announced.

That dad and his daughter left school at 2:00 ...

to drive our donations 220 miles 
down the road to West.

Such a beautiful outpouring of 
love, compassion and care...

that started with an idea and a phone call.
Sometimes that one spark is all it takes ...


Earth Day - Hooray!

Today I'm excited because it's my dad's birthday! Sometimes his special day is on Easter, sometimes it's on Earth Day. In any event, birthday blessings, Dad. Here's an Earth Day lesson plan that I submitted for the Georgia-Pacific (#GPEarthDay) contest that Lisa over at Teaching With Soul hosted.

To create an awareness about our responsibility to the earth
To understand what it means to conserve our resources
To integrate citizenship and math
To engage students in a recycling and/or repurposing project

Materials Needed:
●  A copy of the book Earth Day – Hooray by Stuart J. Murphy
●  An example of something that has been repurposed
●  A collection bin
●  A map to look for and identify local parks

Anticipatory Set:
●  Inquire as to why it is important to show responsibility to the earth and be good stewards by recycling and conserving resources.
●  Show your example of something that has been repurposed (ie. a handbag made from empty juice pouches) and talk about costs and benefits of recycling and repurposing.
●  Set the scene for reading the book with this question: What is something you use every day that can easily recycle? Why is it important to recycle?

Step-by-Step Procedures:
1.  After setting the scene with the above set, read the book Earth Day – Hooray aloud. Simple synopsis: Members of a school’s Save the Planet Club meet to clean up for the upcoming Earth Day celebration. Instead of putting cans in the trash, they recycle them and buy flowers with the money to beautify a local part. Their goal is to collect 5000 cans. The Club pools its resources by sacrificing recess time to count and sort cans and by taking after-school field trips to search for cans. They expalnd their efforts by recruiting other kids, handing out flyers, and carrying bags for people’s cans in nearby neighborhoods. Because of their can-do attitude, these students do meet their goal and are able to plant those flowers.

    2.  Review the story for comprehension.

    3.  Announce a class service project that would allow for   some recycling or repurposing in your school. Brainstorm possibilities using a circle thinking map. For example, could students join Capri Sun’s Juice Pouch Brigade and collect empty juice pouches. Each pouch up to 5000 pouches (minus the straw) is worth one cent. Once the goal of 5000 pouches is met, they are worth three cents each. Have the class set a goal and develop a plan for collection of these pouches. Discuss how they are repurposed into handbags and other items. Visit Kraft for all of the details. Let students research other repurposing project. Crayons recycle as well; check out the National Crayon Recycling Program. Or maybe they want to collect aluminum cans like the children in the book did. I believe those treasures bring in about 63 cents per pound.

4. Whatever they collect, use it as an opportunity to bundle and count by 5s or 10s and to chart and graph the progress of the project. This can also be an opportunity to teach place value. 

5.  Finally, decide on which local park your students want to beautify. They may have to make phone calls or write an email to secure permission to plant flowers. Perhaps they could even use the money they’ve made (if there is any) to beautify your own school grounds.

●  Students decide on recycling/repurposing story, set a goal and create an action plan.
●  Project is ongoing until their goal is reached.
●  Money earned is used to purchase flowers or tree.
●  Planting ceremony brings class community together. 
●  Students write reflections about it on the school website or for the community newspaper.

Independent Practice:
●  Students count and bundle their recycled goods.
●  Students practice math by charting and graphing their progress.
●  Students practice their writing and verbal skills by making contact with community officials to request partnership.
●  Students practice technology by using Google Earth.

Optional Enrichment: Students can write ongoing observations and reflections in a service-learning journal.

For more Earth Day activities, visit Apples 4 The Teacher.


Breakfast On The Farm

Today I'm excited because I just found out that 
my family is again hosting this year's 
in June! Those of you from Wisconsin know that June being Dairy Month is a big deal, so farmers take turns showcasing their places by hosting a free breakfast on a Sunday to promote June Dairy Month. 
Here's the advertisement my brother sent:

Photo by my youngest brother, Mark Natzke

Growing up on a family farm has its challenges, but in the end, it really was an amazing adventure. Just look at our backyard playground! Of course, at 150 years old, our farm wasn't always this big. 

We built a milking parlor in the early 70s and increased our milking herd size to 250 holsteins, and that's where we stayed for almost three decades. Here we are in the spring of 1973:

Paul, the little boy on my right, lives on the farm with his family now.
My dad has just been named Wisconsin's 
Outstanding Young Farmer of the Year 
and the newspaper came out to take these pictures.

Siblings Tim and Debra watch as I clean up in the parlor.
We moved to milking the cows three times a day and increased the herd to 400 sometime between then and 2001, when an errant spark from an industrial-strength dryer lit the timber barn up and burned the place down. That was a sad, devastating day for our family for sure. But they rebuilt and hosted Breakfast On The Farm that year; Some 5000 friends came out to celebrate our rebirth. I took this shot from atop a silo at the neighbor's place. 

This year that number may double as people around the state (and country if you include us!) come to have a hands-on agricultural experience as they tour the barns and celebrate our 150-year anniversary with us. If you're in the Fox River Valley area on June 23rd, won't you stop by and say hi? 
We'd love for you to join us for some Breakfast On The Farm! 


Look For The Helpers

Happy Saturday. 
Today I'm excited because we have a winner of the book Perfectly You ... congratulations to Kristina D. Her name was randomly pulled from all of the comments the old-fashioned way, out of a hat, by our son Joshua. I will be in touch to get your author-signed copy to you. 
Thank you, Julia V. Taylor, for this generous gift!

Graphic by our awesome school webmaster, Jane Ann.

Our school family is hosting a one-day blitz on Monday to help our friends in West, Texas who were displaced after the horrible fertilizer plant explosion out there this week. From what we understand, the most helpful thing right now would be to send ready-to-eat, non-perishable food items, so that's what we're collecting for them.

Did you see the report about the students from the middle school in West who were pushing wheelchairs down the road as they helped the elderly evacuate?
 I just love how people come together and jump in to help when there's a need. 

 One of the bloggers whom I admire and have become friends with is also helping a friend in need this weekend. Click the graphic above to go to Runde's Room and read all about it. Her creations are AmAzInG and she's going to donate the profit from her sales to helping Taten get better. Jennifer, keep up the heart work!

What need are you helping to fill this weekend?


PPBF: Leah's Voice

It's been two weeks since my last PPBF and I've been waiting for this book to arrive so I could share it with you while it was still April, Autism Awareness Month. This is without a doubt an important book because of its potential to give children with autism (and their siblings!) a voice. 

Title: Leah's Voice
Author: Lori DeMonia
Illustrator: Monique Turchan
Publisher: Halo Publishing International
Date: October 6, 2012
Suitable for: ages 5 and up
Themes: autism, acceptance, kindness, compassion, art, siblings
Realistic Fiction
Brief Synopsis: When Leah's differences start to get in the way and ruin things for her younger sister Logan at a play date and then at the movies, Mom decides it's time to explain to Logan that her big sister is on the spectrum and has autism.

Opening page: Logan stood at the window waiting with excitement. Her friend Abby was coming over for her very first play date. As soon as a car pulled in the drive, Logan yelled out, "She's here!"
Logan waited with the door open as Abby waved to her mom.
"Hi Logan," Abby said.
"Hi Abby, what should we do first?" Logan asked.
"Let's play a board game."
"Yeah, that's a great idea. I have a new one we can play too." Logan started to set up the board. "Abby, I can't wait for you to meet my older sister Leah."
"Does she want to play with us?" asked Abby.
"I can ask her."

Check out Leah's Art Work at KindTree.org {here}
Check out the activities at the book's website {here}
Read a review from Cozy Little Book Journal Blog {here}
Find a list of other books on autism and links to activities {here}
Read Sean Barron's list of unspoken rules that people with autism might have {here}
Download a Feelings Booklet I created {here}

It's challenging for a student on the spectrum to draw his/her feelings.

Why I like this book:  First of all, I like this book because I blogged earlier this month that I had it on my wish list and the author offered to send me a copy with no strings attached. I thought that that was so nice. But even more delightful is that I was instantly drawn to the playful and brightly-colored illustrations that enhance this simple story of two siblings who are dancing through life and learning the steps it'll take to successfully navigate life on the spectrum. 

The book is so realistic that it took me back to my life as a little girl. When family friends with two girls would come to visit my sister and me, I always wanted to play with the younger one because I didn't connect with the sister who was my age very well. I was a kid, so I'm not entirely sure about this part, but I think that she was challenging in a way that I found difficult to understand. The younger one was so much more like me and I remember feeling so torn and conflicted about wanting to do the right thing and play with the older one, yet longing to spend time with the younger one with whom it was easier to be friends.

Compare and contrast this tale with Anthony Best, a story about a boy on the spectrum from the viewpoint of a friend.

For enrichment and character infusion, use this sibling story as a springboard for accepting - and celebrating! - differences. I just love that Leah found her voice through painting and art, but you don't have to have autism to find your voice. And a voice doesn't have to be words either, does it? Ask your students how and/or where they find their voice. Maybe it's outdoors, exploring or playing, where they find their voice. Maybe it's in a book, connecting with the characters, or maybe it's dancing up on a stage. I know I find my voice when I'm writing or when I'm presenting material that I'm passionate about at a workshop or seminar. Have students illustrate a paper for a bulletin board showing how they make their voice heard, then vote on a title for the visual display: See My Voice or Hear My Voice? Or something else?

Check out Leah's Voice; I think you'll be glad that you have this
 Mom's Choice Award Winner on your shelves.

For more information on autism, 
visit Autism Speaks or Students First Project.

And if you want to link up to Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Book Friday today or see what other titles are being recommended, you can do so {here}.


Just A Few Dollars Each

Today I'm excited to share a letter than my college-aged daughter sent to our family regarding an American Cancer Society event she's participating in. I love that she wants to help people in their the fight against cancer and that she's set an attainable fundraising goal of a hundred dollars. Just imagine if every college student on every college campus joined her in raising 
just a few dollars each 
for their favorite charitable organization.

More Birthdays, Less Cancer
Hello friends! I’ve joined with the American Cancer Society to help save lives by participating in a Relay For Life event.

The American Cancer Society Relay For Life program is about so much more than just walking around a track overnight. At Relay for Life events, we celebrate loved ones who have won their battle against cancer, remember those who are no longer with us, and fight back against this disease that takes so much from so many.

I will be participating on The University of Texas at Austin Campus this Saturday, April 19th at 7:00 pm and would appreciate your support with an online donation toward my fundraising goal. In addition to funding lifesaving research, every dollar raised helps the American Cancer Society provide services to cancer patients in need, like providing rides to treatment for those who don’t have transportation of their own.

Thank you so much for your support! My organization, Tau Beta Sigma, actually started the Relay for Life on Campus many years ago and we are hoping to get back into this and make a change. I hope you are having a wonderful day!

Kaitlyn Gruener

Click here to visit my PERSONAL page.

Click here to view the TEAM page for Tau Beta Sigma and Kappa Kappa Psi.


Tax Day Giveaway & Self-Esteem

Today I'm excited because I've partnered with author Julia V. Taylor 
for a Tax Day Giveaway as we celebrate self-esteem!

Perfectly You is a small-group counseling class must because its message that beauty and character come from within will really resonates with your character kids. It encourages us to embrace oir differences and celebrate our uniqueness. It also weaves in a healthy body and lifestyle piece that I think is so critical to a healthy self-esteem. 
It's kind of a 
mind-body-spirit book
for young and old alike, 
and that makes it ... perfect!

  I'm planning to read it this Friday and then let my little learners 
dance with Grover. Wanna join us?

Oh, and here's some tax-day relief: Julia has generously donated a signed copy of her book {Perfectly Youto one lucky reader! 
To enter, simply leave a comment below telling us
one thing that makes you special
between now and April 20th. Then check back on 
Saturday (after 9 am central) 
to see if the Gruener Generator randomly selected your entry.

Yay - thank you Julia. 
You've made my day week extra special!

This giveaway is now closed - congrats Kristina!

I also have a few other titles that would 
perfectly complement this clip;
click the book cover graphic for more information.

What is your secret weapon for helping students
embrace and celebrate being unique?


Worth The Wait

Bulbs don't always do very well in Texas, and the amaryllis is no exception. Our soil is like a gumbo clay because of the hot and humid temps and those temps are oft times way too warm for their liking. But this gift from my Dad and his wife a few years back is actually faring pretty well this year.

I really thought they'd be opening up in time for Easter, but it was actually April 7th when I took this first shot as they were just starting to peek out.

A few days later, they're opening one by one.

Just a week later, they're in full bloom and ...

a second wave of blooms are just behind them.

The flowers in my garden aren't all that different from the students in our classrooms, are they? It's springtime, and many of them are in full bloom by now, but look at those three that just need a little bit more time. They won't be blooming for us until they're ready, but it's always, always 
worth the wait!

Doesn't springtime make you so bloomin' happy?

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