June 3, 2015

The Magic Solution to Missing Assignments

Fun Friday Works Like Magic!

One my biggest struggles as a 5th grade teacher was getting kids to do their homework. I'm guessing you can relate! I was never a fan of loading kids up with homework, but I did expect them to complete whatever was assigned. Most of my homework was finishing classwork, returning a signed paper, or reading for 20 to 30 minutes. Yet precious minutes of class time were wasted every day while kids looked for missing assignments or worse, wasted my time trying to explain why they didn’t have it.

Then I discovered the magic solution to missing homework... Fun Friday! I can’t take credit for the idea, but I can tell you that it works! It was definitely the most effective system I've ever used for dealing with the problem of missing assignments.

How Fun Friday Works
Fun Friday is a weekly event that 3 or 4 teachers organize and implement together. On Friday afternoon, each teacher hosts one activity in his or her classroom for 30 minutes. One or two teachers take a group of students out to play or organize indoor recess activities. Another teacher hosts a free time in the classroom where students play board games, draw on the Smartboard, use iPads or play with a class pet. Sometimes a teacher will offer a special arts and crafts activity.

At least one teacher supervises a “study hall.”Students who have not completed all homework for the week attend the Study Hall and use that time to make up missing work. Each week teachers rotate activities so that all share the responsibilities equally.

If there aren't 3 or 4 teachers at your school who want to participate in Fun Friday, you can implement the program with just two teachers. One will take students outside or provide indoor recess, and the other will split his or her room between a study hall and a quiet reading or game room.

Why Fun Friday Works
My students loved Fun Friday and looked forward to the chance to get together with friends in other classrooms. It was one of the few rewards that actually motivated them to complete every single assignment all week. I kept a homework chart where I checked off those who completed all assignments for the week, and I was pretty strict with my requirements for Fun Friday. If a student even had one missing or late assignment during the week, they went to Study Hall. If you think this is a bit extreme, let me say that after just a few weeks of implementing Fun Friday, most kids would earn it every week. I was amazed at the difference this program made and how much time it saved me from dealing with late and missing assignments.

Fun Friday Sign-up Freebie
One thing that helped make Fun Friday easy to implement was a sign up chart. Right after lunch on Friday, I allowed those who had completed all assignments to sign up for their preference of activities. I’ve created several variations for you to try that you can download for free from the Odds 'N Ends page on my Teaching Resources website.

Convincing Administrators
Over the years I did have a few principals who needed to be convinced that the 30 minutes we devoted to Fun Friday were not wasted. My rationale was that we easily made up this time by not having to deal with missing and late assignments all week. Also, everyone, teachers and students alike, are downright brain-dead by the time Friday afternoon rolls around! Have you ever seriously tried to teach a lesson on a Friday afternoon? Trust me, it’s a wasted effort. You’ll just have to reteach it on Monday!

Do you implement a similar program in your classroom? Have you found it to be effective? If you haven't tried it, I hope you'll test it out. I believe you'll discover the magic of Fun Friday, too!

June 2, 2015

5 Fun Ways Pets Can Help Children Learn All Summer

Guest post by Christina Berry from The Lazy Pit Bull

This is the time of year when teachers and parents alike begin to wonder what they can do to help students keep their academic skills sharp all summer long. Is there a way to keep kids active and entertained while also engaging them in learning activities? There sure is, and you might be surprised to know that it’s the family pet that can make all the difference for kids this summer.

If your students – or their parents – are asking you for ideas for staying busy this summer, suggest that they try enlisting the help of some pets – their own as well as shelter pets and neighborhood pets - to keep kids reading, writing, and doing math all while they’re enjoying a few weeks away from school. Here are some ideas to get you started, and you'll find a printable version at the end of the article to send home with your students.

1. Walking Dogs

Walking the family dog should be on every kid’s chore list for the summer, whether the child is old enough to go by himself or if he’s accompanying a parent or older sibling as they walk the dog. The exercise benefits everyone, and there are fun ways to incorporate games and challenges into it, using math skills. The student may not even realize he’s practicing math because it will be so much fun!

Parents might consider purchasing an inexpensive pedometer for kids to wear while walking the dog. Create challenges like taking 1,000 steps per walk. Make a chart so kids can keep track of the steps they’ve taken over the course of a week, and then offer a reward once they’ve reached a certain number of steps. Bonus: have them try to figure out how many steps the dog takes, too (hello, multiplication!).

Students can also use apps on a smart phone to map their dog walking routes and keep track of how far they’ve walked. There are some dog walking apps like Woof Trax that earn money for shelter pets each time you take your dog for a walk. ResQWalk is another popular option.

Adding the tech element is sure to make the dog walking more fun, get kids moving, and help keep their number skills sharp over summer break.

2. Writing Stories About Adoptable Pets

It’s a challenge to get most kids to practice writing over the summer, but if you find something fun to write about, there’s a better chance your students will change their tune.

Ask students to visit their local humane society’s web site and choose an adoptable animal to write a story about. Encourage them to imagine where the pet came from, how the pet ended up in the shelter, and predict what kind of family might be good for him (who knows? Maybe it’s the student’s own family!).

Then, have kids visit the shelter to meet the pet in person and deliver the story to shelter personnel. Shelters love receiving work from kids, and they may even hang the child’s story next to the pet’s cage to entice would-be adopters.

This kind of recognition might be just the motivation your students need to keep up their writing practice over the summer.

3. Reading to Pets at Home… or at a Shelter

If you have students who are enthusiastic readers, suggest that they try reading to the pets in their own families. Sometimes reading to a non-judgmental animal who’s often content to simply sit and listen, helps build a young reader’s confidence.

Some libraries offer “Reading to Rover” programs where kids can practice their skills with therapy dogs. These programs are so much fun for both the two-legged and four-legged participants. Check your local library to see if something like this is available for your students.

And, some shelters and humane societies have reading programs where kids can visit adoptable pets and read to them. This type of interaction has proven helpful to young readers, as well as to the pets that enjoy the company and the socialization. This is also a great way to get kids involved in philanthropic practices at an early age.

Check out the website Crayons and Collars for a database of humane societies across the country that offer programs for kids to see if there’s one near you.

4. Earning Money by Pet Sitting

Lessons about earning and saving money are valuable for kids of all ages! Suggest that students set up a vacation pet sitting or dog walking business, as this is a good way for responsible, animal-loving kids to learn the value of money, plus other great lessons like keeping commitments, managing responsibility, and more. Oh, and don’t forget the ever-present math lessons when it comes to anything money-related.

Obviously, pet sitting or dog walking is more appropriate for older kids, unless a parent or older sibling is willing to be the child’s “business partner,” which could be fun, too!

No matter what age your students are, suggest that parents work closely with them when it comes to the money they’re earning, how much they’re saving (this is a good way to work on percentages!), and how much they’re pocketing. Kids can benefit from consistent reinforcement about good money management from teachers and parents alike.

5. Holding a Donation Drive

Summer is a great time for kids to learn about philanthropy. Animal shelters always need supplies and many of the things they need can be found secondhand in our own homes. Encourage your students to open their hearts and give to those in need!

With adult supervision and guidance, students can hold a supply drive in their own neighborhood to collect things that neighbors may not need but the shelter can use, like old sheets, towels, and other items.

Suggest that parents sneak in some math practice by working with their kids to create goals for items collected, and then keep track of the number of items they collect for their shelter.

Some shelters make toys for the pets in their care using empty toilet paper or paper towel rolls. Some collect milk jug caps to use as cat toys, and some make toys out of empty plastic water bottles. These are all things students can collect from friends, neighbors, and family without asking for a dime! Check with your local shelter to see what kind of supplies they need.

Recommend that students organize the collected supplies into categories, tally up the number of items, and then proudly deliver the donations to their local organization. I promise, that will be an experience these kids won’t forget.

Freebie to Send Home!

During the summer, it can be tough for teachers and parents to help kids balance work and play. Finding fun ways to incorporate lessons into pet-related activities might be just the key to help your students continue to build their academic skills all summer long. Before you know it, school will be back in session and students will have had a valuable summer full of good times and learning, too!

Download this free printable checklist with these 5 fun ways pets can help children learn all summer long! Teachers, send it home with your students to share with their parents, and you'll help them avoid the academic "summer slide!"

Christina Berry lives in Indianapolis where she is a wife, mom, Virtual Assistant and Social Media Strategist, Pet Lifestyle Blogger, movie lover, and recovering Diet Dr. Pepper addict. She loves helping bloggers and handmade shop owners create successful businesses, and she enjoys advocating for pets as a volunteer with her local humane society and a Pit Bull rescue. She blogs at The Lazy Pit Bull.