Friday, August 15, 2014

10 Helpful Tips & Ideas to Get You Ready for Back to School

Welcome back to the Crazy Critter Café! Things are getting ready to get really CrAzY in the next few weeks!

Many of you have been back in school for a week or so. We start next week! {Just think, those of you who already started back will get out for summer earlier! ;-)}

I've been going out to my class a few days to try and get things *organized*. I don't think there's a true meaning for that word, because I've never seemed to be able to figure it out! However, I did clean out a closet and filled up a huge trash bag. {Yay me for actually wanting to get rid of something!} And now I feel much more *organized* in that area, at least.
Then I started to think about things I plan to do {or things I've done in the past} to get myself ready for back to school. I'd like to share some of the ideas I've used in my class that helped me over the years to make back to school a little easier:
(1) Paint your bulletin boards~
 If it's too late this year, plan to do it for next year! Go to the local home improvement store and buy a small amount of paint (I used latex and it worked just fine). I also bought 2 sample jars at Lowes and that covered a small board. It may take 2 or 3 coats, depending on the color and how it absorbs into the cork.
I've had many of my boards painted for at least 3 years and they still look vibrant and new!
(2) Laminate file folders to use for keeping track of all of those orientation papers~
This used to be a paper nightmare for me! Emergency forms, lunch forms, handbook forms, classroom discipline acknowledgement form, etc., etc.....some regular-sized, some 1/2 sheets, some extra long sheets.....whew!
I've had my folders for years and they still look neat if they're out on the table during orientation. Put labels on the front so you'll know what papers go where. {lunch forms to cafeteria, copy of emergency forms to school nurse, office, and bus drivers, etc.} If I still have papers in the folders, then I know I haven't turned them in yet! And it ensures they didn't get lost in the mix of the first week madness!
 I also have a master checklist of the papers that need to be returned and I check off when that student has turned in forms and paid fees. It's easy for me to see who's turned in what.
I keep all of these folders in a little book bin.
(3) If you use tables consider having crayon table tubs for kindergarten or first grade~
After many years of trying to solve the dilemma of missing / stolen / broken crayons, I decided to create a table tub for crayons that members of the table would share. I've used this for many years and it's worked like a charm!
NO MORE ARGUING OVER CRAYONS!! Because it doesn't matter how many times you remind the little ones to please take out only 1 crayon at a time and be sure to put it back so it doesn't get lost.....they DON'T DO IT! {most of them, anyway} They're so focused on their work, they're not worried about putting the crayon back. And what if a friend needs to borrow one? Oh no! That crayon might not find it's way back home!
I ask students to bring in 4 boxes of crayons {a box of 16 regular crayons - no twistables or fancy ones}; one box for each 9 weeks. I put 4 boxes in each table tub. This usually lasts throughout the 9 weeks.
 If students need a crayon I have 2 tubs of extras {leftovers that were donated by students at the end of years past}.
No more arguing over crayons!! I love it!
I also purchase crayons at the back to school sales and contribute to the tubs if students aren't able to purchase supplies. We'll check the good crayons at the end of each nine weeks, weed out the broken ones, and add more boxes to refresh.
Students have chair pockets, so they keep their pencils in a pencil pouch and store it in their chair pocket.
(4) Eliminate distraction and mess with table tubs for scissors, glue, colored pencils~
 I can't tell you how many times I've had kids cutting papers or gluing during class when they had scissors and glue on-hand.
Kids will be kids, I understand. But I wanted to keep this distraction away from them so they could focus more and the room would be a lot neater {no more paper snow on the floor}.
I created table tubs, labeled with their table's name. I store these on top of our cubbies. When it's time to get scissors, glue, etc. I'll call a member from the table {I use cooperative groups, so I may say "I need my number 3's to get their table's tub}. I only have 4 or 5 students up walking at a time to get their tubs.
They keep trash balled up in the lid unless it's a lot, then I'll get my trash helpers to walk around and collect. It's a really simple, effective way to manage scissors, glue and colored pencils. Plus, I can reward tables for keeping their tubs neat! When it's time to clean up, the same helpers put the tubs back on top of the cubbies.

(5) Get your orientation treats ready~ 
For the past few years I've used this cute little idea I created. I've collected so many smiley face stickers free from Highlights magazine, I decided to use them in my back to school orientation treats.
 I purchased 4"x6" bags from Hobby Lobby for under $5.00. They came in a pack of 150, so I'll have plenty for years to come.
I add a few pieces of candy and a smiley face sticker for this quick treat. The tag says "Looking forward to a sweet year with lots of smiles and laughs"
I put these out on the desks of students to pick up at orientation.
(6) Go ahead and write upcoming dates in your calendar - or GET A CALENDAR~
I feel like this is a no-brainer for a teacher, but I wanted to share anyway since it's a very important part of my back to school routine.
I print our district's calendar and mark all of the dates, such as report card days, progress report days, workdays (whether they're required or optional), holidays, early dismissals, end of the nine week marking periods, and any other personal dates that I might need to know of when planning. 
When I get our school's Dates At A Glance I'll go ahead and pencil those dates in - sometimes they'll change so I don't mark those in ink. {picture days, fundraisers, testing days, staff meetings, committee meetings, etc.}
I also write down the stories / units from our reading series we'll be working on each week over in the Sunday column. I write the spelling test # we're on that week. This is a quick reference when planning, although I also keep a more detailed weekly planning calendar just for planning.
If you don't have a calendar, you may want to get one. This is my lifesaver during the year. It's nothing fancy, but for @$10.00 it'll work just fine!
 I added the cute little sticker.
The pages look empty now, but will certainly fill up fast once school starts!
(7) Make some quick center activities from old file folders and extra copies of worksheets~
Have old file folders you don't use anymore? Have extra copies of worksheets?
Glue the worksheets inside the file folders, put a title on the outside, laminate, and ...Ta have instant quick center / time-filler activities!
Use dry-erase crayons or markers and fun socks as erasers {from the Dollar Tree}. Kids can do this at table groups, then switch with their group members once they've finished.
(8) Get organized with drawers~
I purchased one of these carts for under $30. I went back and got 2 more at that price!
These little drawers are perfect for storing materials for reading groups, Class Dojo treats, copies of worksheets, supplies, etc.
If you don't use rolling carts, you can use any drawers, or think about reorganizing ones you already have.
Finding places to store my math and literacy center activities was so simple when I bought these carts! I put little games in Ziploc bags and store in the drawers.
We use Reading Street and there are 6 weekly stories in one unit. I copy the spelling, comprehension, and other papers related to each weekly story and file them in 6 drawers - one drawer for each story. It keeps pre-copied papers from piling up on shelves!
 (9) Don't securely tape down student name tags until after the first week of school~
Many times I've wanted to go ahead and make my seating arrangements and mark that off my list. I securely taped down student name tags to only have to switch them within the first few weeks of school {Special needs, behaviors, parent concerns, etc.}
I learned, then, that using masking tape on the backs to temporarily assign seats was a better idea.
 Or, rather than putting down my new name tags I'd use some leftover tags from past years {if I had enough for the class}.
Once the first week or so is over and most of the roster changes are made, I'd put down my new ones.
I place clear, packaging tape over the tags to keep them down and in place.

(10) Make Back to School Survival Kits for fellow teachers~
We're always asking, "Who has chocolate!?" after a stressful day, so I created these First Week Survival candy tubs full of chocolate and lots of stress-relief for getting through that first week.

This is a great way to start the year. I made these for other teachers on my grade level, but they would be great for interns or, if you're a parent, give a candy tub to your child's teacher to start the year. Depending on the size of your container, you can crumple up a piece of tissue paper in the bottom and fill it with candy!

{You can DOWNLOAD both labels below}


I hope you'll find some of these tips and ideas helpful when getting ready for back to school.
Please feel free to share ideas you use for back to school.

Have a great year and thanks for stopping by the Café!
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