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Owl Babies by Martin Waddell: Lesson Ideas and Activities

Owl Babies Craft Idea: Painting with Pom Poms

Owl Babies by Martin Waddell (illustrated by Patrick Benson) is an adorable read-aloud that fits perfectly into an owl theme! This book also works well for an animal mothers and babies unit or if you are dealing with separation anxiety in your classroom. Here in this post (which contains a few Amazon affiliate links) I've collected some ideas to help you build lesson plans around this sweet book.


Owl Babies, which is beautifully illustrated by Patrick Benson using watercolors with black ink crosshatching, tells a story about three baby owls (Sarah, Percy, and Bill) who wake to find that their mother is not home. As the three young owls wait anxiously in the dark woods, they talk each other in and out of worried feelings. The story ends with the babies flapping and dancing and jumping up and down at their mother's return. This book is a quick read with just over 300 words, but it is packed with teaching opportunities!

Before Reading

Because this story is great for making connections, I would recommend accessing prior knowledge before reading. To focus on personal, or text-to-self, connections, you might begin like this, "Owl Babies is a story about three young owls who are missing their mother and wondering when she will come home. Can you think of a time when you were away from the person who usually takes care of you and you felt worried or unhappy?" This type of question is great for a short "turn and talk" time so each child has the opportunity to speak. Have the children think quietly for a moment and then turn to their neighbor to take turns sharing. After each child has had a chance to share with their partner, pull the group back together and call on a few pairs to share with the group.

If you are learning about owls or about animals and their offspring, you might prefer to access prior knowledge about those themes. If you've read nonfiction about owls, you might say, "This story is about three young owls who wake up at night and find that their mother is not home. What do you know about owls that might help us explain why the babies are up at night and where their mother might be?" For an animal babies theme, you might say, "Owl Babies tells the story of three young owls and their mother. What are some things that you think might be different about baby owls and adult owls?"

During Reading

Everyone has their own read-aloud style--some like to hold the book facing the children so they can absorb the pictures while listening to the words. Other read a page and then show the picture (to force the children to visualize). Some like to stop on each page and talk about the pictures and details or to ask comprehension questions while other like to read straight through and then go back for a closer look. You know your style and what works best for your kiddos, so I will just supply you with some teaching points and questions that might be helpful to you during this read-aloud!

The illustrations in Owl Babies give a lot of support to the story. Benson has done a beautiful job of showing emotion in the faces and postures of the owls. When you get to the page where the three owls are sitting in different spots in the tree, you might want to stop and let the children figure out which owl is which. Knowing that Sarah is the biggest and Bill is the littlest adds a depth to these characters. As you go through the book, draw attention to the owl's feelings: How do you think they are feeling here? What detail do you see that make you think that?

The page where the owls close their eyes and wish for their mother is a great place to stop to make a prediction. Have the children close their eyes and imagine what might happen next.

Owl Babies Comprehension Questions for Critical Thinking

After Reading

Here are some comprehension questions that push children to find evidence in the text, access their prior knowledge, and think critically:

-How does the mother owl take care of her babies? (Evidence in the text: the nest description at the beginning, discussion about mother bringing back mice)

-What dangers might owls face in the woods? (Evidence in the text: "Or a fox got her!")

-Why were the owls awake at night? (Connect to prior knowledge of nocturnal animals or to an informational read-aloud)

-Why did Sarah think all three owls should sit on her branch? (Inference: She felt they would be safer together or she was frightened and wanted her siblings close to her...)

-What are some differences between the mother owl and her babies? (Mother has brown feathers, babies have white down; mother hunts for food, babies stay at home; mother can fly, babies cannot fly yet)

-If you were one of the baby owls in this story, what would you have done when you found your mother was not home? (Use information from the book and personal experience to create an alternate plot.)

-Do you think it was a good idea for the baby owls to leave their hole and wait on the branches? Or should they have stayed inside? (Analyze and evaluate the story.)

Owl Babies Writing Prompts

Extension Ideas

Owl babies lends itself to many written response ideas. Here are a few prompts you might want to use with your class:

Narrative Writing - The owl babies had to be brave when their mother wasn't home. Draw and write about a time when you were brave.

Informative Writing - The owl babies were worried when their mother wasn't home. Draw and write about some ways that owl mothers care for their babies.

Opinion Writing - The owl babies were awake at night. Would you rather be awake at night or during the day? Draw and write to tell why.

Your students' writing would make a great bulletin board display when paired with this cute owl baby art project!

Owl Babies Painting Craft, Art Project

For this project you will need: black and brown construction paper, white paint (tempera works well), a clothespin and a craft pom pom (per child painting at the same time), something to hold the paint (a jar lid or paper plate work well), glue, a black crayon (or marker), a white crayon, a pencil, something round to trace for eyes (such as: a milk jug cap, a round attribute block, or a template that you cut out of a file folder)

Here are the steps:

1. Have the children write their name using a white crayon on the back of their paper.

2. Model and have students draw a large oval on their paper. This oval should take up most of the paper. You can have them draw the oval with pencil first and then trace over it with white crayon so they can see it better.

For the painting stage, each child will need access to a small amount of white paint. A little goes a long way in this project and you can always replenish if they need more.

3. Have the students clip their clothespin to their pom pom. Model dipping the pompom into the paint and then dabbing it onto the paint tray (or plate) before dabbing it onto their oval. Show the students the difference between the feathery look of just a little paint and the globby look of too much paint.

4. The students should then fill their entire oval with dabs (or dots) of white paint. This is great finger exercise!

Set the paintings aside to dry while working on the next steps.

5. Give each child a small piece of brown paper (half of a 9"x12" sheet gives them plenty with room for error) and have them trace two circles for eyes. Have them cut the eyes out and use a black crayon or marker to color a black circle in the middle.

6. Show the students how they can easily cut a triangle by snipping in twice from the edge of their paper. Have them snip three triangles --one for the beak and two for the feet.

7. Once the paint is dry, have the students glue their eyes, beak, and feet onto their owls.

(Note: If you wash the pom poms out while the paint is still wet, you can reuse them for other art projects.)

Acting and Dramatic Play

Another way to extend learning with Owl Babies is through acting out. Since this story is very simple and only has four characters and one setting, it is perfect for retelling through dramatization. In groups of four, children can retell the story by acting out each part. This is a great way to reinforce beginning, middle, and end concepts and to practice vocabulary (like swooped, flapped, and bounced).

Incorporating Technology

After reading this story your students may be interested in learning more about owls. The Cornell Lab's All About Birds Online Guide is a reliable place to view pictures and videos of owls and to listen to their calls. I'm not sure what type of owls are represented in Owl Babies, but they look like they could be barred owls

While you're online, here's a short clip from youtube of author Martin Waddell discussing how he came up with the idea for Owl Babies

I hope you find these Owl Babies ideas useful! You might also be interested in these owl resources:

Owl Puzzles Literacy Centers     Bats and Owls Informational Unit

Happy teaching!

8 Engaging Activities for Your Spiders Unit

Spiders Ideas for Kindergarten and First Grade

A spiders unit in a kindergarten or first grade classroom is always a hit! It's a great theme for October because it has lots of educational value, but also fits in nicely with Halloween. In this post, I've compiled eight of my favorite spider-related activities to help you blend science and fun with literacy and math! All of these activities go well with lots of informational reading about spiders. There's also a great Magic School Bus episode (Spins a Web) that is full of interesting information. This post contains affiliate links.

1. Make a Paper Plate Craft

Spiderweb Paper Plate Craft

This craft is always a hit; using black paper plates and spider rings from the dollar store makes it cheap. First, teach students to draw a spider web. I have them start with an X and then draw a third line horizontally through the middle. Teach them to make two concentric rings of gently curved lines to finish the web. Pass out scratch paper (or chalkboards or whiteboards) and let your students have a little practice time with drawing webs. (They tend to love this!)

Prep ahead of time by cutting the ring part off of your spider rings. Pass out paper plates (I use black, but any color will do!)  and have the students write their names on the back and then draw a web on the front of their plate with a white crayon or a pencil. Next, have them trace their web with white glue. If you have an assistant or parent volunteer, you might have them work with the kids on this step in small groups or one-on-one (depending on how much experience your class had had with glue bottles). If not, try to find a time where you can pull them back (even if you only get to a few a day).

Once the webs have been traced with glue, have the kids sprinkle glitter or baking soda (corn starch would probably work well, too) over the glue. A shaker jar like this works well and if you keep baking soda in one, you can also use it as a cleaner for getting stubborn marks off of tables. After shaking off the excess, have the students squeeze a dollop of glue onto their web in the place they want to stick their spider and then gently press the spider down. Then let the web dry undisturbed overnight.

These webs make a great display along with some spider writing, which brings me to our next activity!

2. Make a Can/Have/Are Chart

Spiders Can Have Are Chart

As you read and learn about spiders with your class, work together to fill in a Can/Have/Are chart with them. This framework for organizing facts is a great lead-in to informational sentence writing for beginning writers! You can find informational text and these chart headers in my Spiders Unit on TPT, but you can also make a chart like this to go along with books from the library or your own collection.

Once you have a chart full of spider facts, show students how they can use the information on the chart to write (or dictate) sentences about spiders.

3. Make a Simple Math Craft

Spider Math Craft

This simple math craft reinforces number sense while also exercising little fingers and developing fine motor skills! Prepare ahead by using a die cut machine to cut out a number eight for each of your students. Also pre-cut eight strips of paper (legs) for each student. These strips should be five or six inches long and 1/2 to 3/4 inch wide. (Depending on the size of your eights, you might want to make the legs bigger or smaller. Use any colors that you like!

I start this activity with a little math and movement exercise. Have the children hold up four fingers on each hand. Together, raise one hand and say "four," then repeat with the other hand. Finally, model putting your inner wrists together and wiggling your eight fingers to make a spider while saying "eight." Repeat this a few times, "four, four, eight," adding in the words plus and equal if you're students are at that level in math.

For the craft, have the students accordion fold each of their eight legs and glue them to the back of the eight so they are sticking out to the sides. Tie this into their knowledge of spiders by helping them recognize that the eight has two sections, just as a spider has two body parts. Finally have them add eyes. (You can use self-stick googly eyes, eye stickers, tiny dot stickers, or simply have students draw the eyes with crayon or marker.) This would be a good time to talk about how spiders often have eight eyes, but sometimes have six or fewer--always an even number!

4. Use Nursery Rhymes

Write the words to "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" and/or "Little Miss Muffet" on chart paper. Use these rhymes for shared reading and to look for and recognize phonemic patterns and rules. To add to the fun, hot glue a spider from a spider ring to an unsharpened pencil or dowel rod to make a spider pointer!

5. Make a Spider Graph

Spider Graphing Freebie

Use this freebie from my TPT store to have your students graph whether or not they are afraid of spiders. This can be a fun activity to do before you start your spider unit. You can then make a new graph when you finish learning about spiders and compare the data!

6. Make a Spider Snack

Ingredients: round crackers or cookies, spreadable nut butter, cream cheese, or frosting, pretzel sticks, raisins or chocolate chips or mini-M&Ms

Spider Snack

Making a snack is a meaningful way for students to practice following directions and helps students build background knowledge. This simple snack involves spreading something sticky on a round cookie or cracker, adding pretzel sticks for legs, and raisins or little candies for eyes. If you want to be more scientifically accurate with your students, you can have them overlap two crackers, attaching them with your spread, to show the two body parts of a spider.

7. Write Spider Rhymes and Chants

Spider Chant, Using Rhymes and Poetry to Teach About Spiders

Chants and rhymes hold an important part in children's play, so integrating them into our teaching helps us reach our students in a developmentally-appropriate way. The image above shows a simple chant inspired by the jump rope rhyme, "Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear." Children can recite this while jumping rope, or can use it as a hand-clapping rhyme (great for crossing the midline and developing hand-eye coordination!). 

Try working with your students to make simple rhymes or chants about spiders. This type of language play helps children develop their sense of rhyme and rhythm and helps them hear and isolate syllables and sounds.

Other songs and rhymes you might want to use for inspiration are, "Five Little Ducks" or "Five Green and Speckled Frogs." 

8. Explore Genres by Reading and Writing Fictional Spider Stories

Fictional read-alouds about spiders can inspire great discussions. Children can compare how spiders are portrayed in fantasy stories versus informational books.

Miss Spider's Tea Party by David Kirk, The Spider and the Fly by Mary Howitt, and various versions of Anansi the Spider folktales are some of the read-alouds I like to include.

Allowing students time for creative writing and drawing about spiders helps them synthesize their new knowledge while stretching their imaginations. Consider having them invent and draw their own spider characters, assigning them names and characteristics. They can then build stories around these characters that they can write, dictate, or tell orally.

I hope this post brings some fresh ideas to your spiders unit! I'd love it if you'd drop some of your own ideas in the comments below!

For more spider learning, check out these resources at My Happy Place on TPT:

Spiders Unit: Science, Math, and Literacy        Spiders Fiction and Non-Fiction

Open House Bulletin Board Craft for Kindergarten

School's First Day of School Craft for Open House Bulletin Board

Need an easy (and free!) idea for a bulletin board craft for open house? The beginning of the year in kindergarten can be exhausting and chaotic which sometimes means that parent night (or open house or curriculum night) can sneak up on you! This free printable template goes along with one of my favorite back-to-school read-alouds, School's First Day of School by Adam Rex (affiliate link).

(Read more about this book and other fantastic beginning of the year read-alouds in this post.)

Told from the point of view of a freshly built elementary school, School's First Day of School beautifully works through so many of the concerns and emotions children might have as they begin school. If you read this book a few days into the new school year, it can facilitate a really great discussion about what the children expected their first day of school to be like compared to what happened in reality. You can then follow up with this relatively simple craft. (We all know that nothing is really THAT simple at the beginning of kindergarten, though, so I'm including some ideas to adapt this craft to meet the needs of your class.)

The free printable template for this craft includes two pages: A school building outline to color and cut out and a background page to glue the school building onto. The final product is a school with doors that open to reveal a drawing of the student.

School's First Day of School Craft for Open House Bulletin Board

Printing options:

Print both pages on white paper. Have the students color the school building before cutting it out.
(This requires a lot of coloring. Children with low hand strength may find this tiring which may result in a less-polished looking end result.)

Another idea is to print the background page on white paper, but the school building on colored paper. Students can still color portions of the school building, but do not need to color the whole thing in order for it to look complete. Consider copying the building onto a variety of different colors of paper and letting the children choose their favorite. This can make for a bright and colorful display!

School's First Day of School Craft for Open House Bulletin Board

Teacher tips:

You will definitely want to do this project in steps with a lot of guidance. I suggest first modeling how to complete the background page by writing your name and drawing a picture of yourself in the white box. At this time, show the class a completed sample, so they will understand that their picture has to be contained in the box so it won't be covered by the building.

After they finish the background page, set those aside. (You may even want to do the rest of the project later, in a different session.) Pass out the school building page and guide the children to write the name of your school in the box above the door. Assist as needed--some children may need to trace this--consider writing the school name with highlighter for those who would benefit from a tracing guide. Then allow the children to color the school.

Next, model cutting the building out on the thick outline followed by cutting the T-shaped door lines. Watch for children who are over-zealous in their cutting and have your patience and scotch tape ready! The children will probably need some help in folding the door open. It is best to open the doors before gluing the two parts of the craft together so the doors don't accidentally get glued shut.

Finally, how the students how to put glue on the gray-shaded portion of the background page (glue sticks are useful for this part), Help as necessary in placing the building on the background, lining it up so the doors open over the child's drawing.

School's First Day of School Craft for Open House Bulletin Board

If you'd like to give this project a try, you can download the printable for free, right here. You can find the book School's First Day of School on Amazon by following this affiliate link. Thanks for reading!

DIY Highlighter Strips for Literacy Centers

DIY Highlighter Strips from Page Dividers - Big Books, Charts

If you've been hanging onto big books, chart poems, and old anchor charts, but aren't quite sure how to use them with your students, this simple idea is just for you! When you're out shopping for school supplies, grab some plastic page dividers (I used these, but rather than ordering online, look for deals in stores. You should be able to get them for a dollar or two a pack during back-to-school time!)

These multi-colored translucent plastic dividers are easy to cut with scissors or a paper cutter into a variety of sizes to make these useful highlighter strips! To make the strips, measure the text height in a few of your big books and on your charts and then cut strips in a variety of lengths and colors. (Think about what you might want to ask students to highlight: words, letters, blends, digraphs, punctuation, etc.) Store the strips in a shallow basket or container so students can look for and select the strips that are the size they need.

DIY Highlighter Strips out of Plastic Page Dividers

To use these strips, have your students lay a big book or chart flat on a table or the carpet. Challenge them to find certain words (letters, patterns, etc.) that you have been focusing on in your shared reading or small group instruction. You can give the students a list of items to look for, or you can have them refer to your word wall or class-created anchor charts.

Hint: If you use removable highlighter tape during your shared reading activities, your students will know just what to do with these strips. Wikki Stix are another way to isolate words and letters on a vertical page or chart.

Another way students can use these highlighter strips during literacy centers is to play a simple partner game. This works best with a big book or poem that you've already read together. Have the students take turns highlighting a word for their partner to read. Teach the students to check for accuracy using strategies you've already taught (letter sounds, blending, re-reading the sentence to check the context...).

These DIY highlighter strips made from plastic dividers will add some fun and purpose to a simple read the room center in your early childhood classroom. Preschool, kindergarten, and first grade students will all enjoy and benefit from using this simple tool!

While you're in the DIY frame of mind, you might want to check out this DIY Math Toolkit post.

If you are interested in the poem in the photos above, check out this post all about apples! (The poem is from my Apples Thematic Unit).

DIY Pocket Folder Toolkit for Small Group Math Instruction

Laminated toolkit made from a pocket folder is perfect for small group math work

If you teach math in small groups, you know how imperative it is to be organized and prepared. With the rest of your students working independently at math centers, time is of the essence and you don't want to spend it counting out manipulatives or distributing materials. These do-it-yourself toolkits are perfect for keeping your supplies at the ready for passing out. Made out of simple pocket folders (which are so inexpensive at back-to-school time!), these envelope-like kits store manipulatives and a dry erase marker and double as a whiteboard surface.

Make a DIY toolkit for small group math work in kindergarten

By gluing a ten frame to the toolkit prior to laminating, you give your students a surface for practicing and demonstrating a variety of number concepts. At the beginning of the year in kindergarten, these kits are great for practicing simple counting and cardinality concepts (show a number, write the numeral). Later in the year they can be used with teen numbers (fill the ten frame and place extra counters to the side to develop the beginning place value idea of "a group of ten and some more"). Using two-sided chips or two different styles of counters, these kits can also be used to practice composing and decomposing numbers when beginning addition and subtraction. The ten frame is such a powerful tool!

Read on to see how you can easily create a set of these toolkits to use during your small group math time!

DIT How-To for Math Ten Frame Toolkit

One folder makes two toolkits.

1. Cut a pocket folder in half down the center.
2. Stack the two halves and trim a little of each side (about 1/2 inch, but it doesn't need to be exact).
3. Use clear packing tape to seal the two sides of the pocket. Use a ruler or some sort of straight edge to make a neat crease for the flap (this will make it easier to fold after laminating).
4. Print out a ten frame (find some here, or make your own using a table in PPT or a word processing program), cut it out, and glue it to the pocket.
5. Laminate the pouch with the flap open. The thick laminate from a home laminator works well for making these envelopes sturdy. Whatever laminator you use, make sure to let it heat up plenty since these are pretty thick. After laminating, trim as needed, but leave enough of an edge to keep the plastic from popping open.
6. Use a craft or utility knife to gently slice the laminate open at the top of the pocket. (Don't press too hard!)
7. Attach self-adhesive hook and loop closures to the corners. Velcro dots (affiliate link) work really well and don't gum up your scissors like the tape does! Close the envelope and press the corners together for a bit while the adhesive sets.
8. Stock your toolkit with a dry erase marker, a little square of felt for an eraser, and some counters such as mini-erasers or two-color counters (affiliate link).

Note: When having students use these (or any laminated materials) as a dry erase surface, make sure they erase completely before cleaning up for the session. Otherwise the surface can be hard to clean completely. In addition, it seems that the black dry erase pens wipe off more easily than other colors and that fresher markers are easier to erase than those that are running low on ink. If these become hard to clean, try using some whiteboard cleaner or some rubbing alcohol to get a fresh, clean surface.

This ten frame toolkit has a dry erase surface for small group practice

These envelopes don't take up too much space, even when loaded up with supplies. You can keep a small group set in one of those many bins and tubs you picked up over the summer ;) or even store them in a large zip-top bag.

I hope this tip helps you start your year off in an organized way and takes some of the stress out of small group planning!

Perfect Picture Books for Back-to-School Read Alouds

Back to school read alouds, beginning of the year picture books

Ah, summer break! Time to relax and soak up the sun and--if you're so inclined--do a little prep for back-to-school time. I recently collected a bunch of picture books that work well as beginning-of-the-year read alouds in kindergarten and first grade and I'd like to share them with you. If you're looking for some fresh books for your new class, read on! (This post includes affiliate links.)

The beginning of the school year is the time to set the stage. This is when you establish your routines and procedures and prepare your students to participate in a classroom community. Planning ahead to include lots of reading aloud during the first weeks of school is a great way to break up your schedule (hello, short attention spans!) as well as to provide opportunities for class discussions and practicing whole group norms. Having extra high-quality books on hand is also a must for those moments when you just need something calm to fill a few minutes or if someone needs to cover for you while you deal with an unexpected interruption.

beginning of the year read alouds - The Pigeon Has to Go to School!
The Pigeon Has to Go to School!
The newest Mo Willems Pigeon book just came out and it is perfect for the first day of school! In The Pigeon Has to Go to School, our favorite bird is very anxious about his first day of school. For the three quarters of the book, Pigeon expresses (through speech bubble exclamations and questions) his anxiety about going to school. Some of his concerns are very typical, but others are silly and sure to bring a laugh! ("Reading can be hard with one big eye!" and "What if I learn too much!?! My head might pop off.") Finally, pigeon gets answers to his most important concerns and learns that school is a place with books, classrooms, experts to help, a playground, other birds to play with...and that he gets to ride a BUS to get there!

This book is really fun and is a perfect light-hearted read for the beginning of the school year!

Back to School Books for kindergarten and first grade - School's First Day of School
School's First Day of School
This book, School's First Day of School by Adam Rex, is adorable and perfect! Told from the point of view of a freshly built elementary school, this story beautifully works through
so many of the concerns and emotions children might have as they begin school. Christian Robinson's kid-friendly and inclusive illustrations, which depict a diverse student body, complement the text beautifully. As the school comes to terms with having to share its whole self with masses of children, one kindergarten student (a "very small girl with freckles") overcomes her anxiety about school. The story is tied together nicely by the school's relationship with the custodian.

School's First Day of School is a perfect choice for the first week of school. It lends itself to discussions about the school building itself (caring for the facilities, learning the way around) as well as about feelings and fears. This book also includes a fire drill and can lead into teaching of your school's procedures for safety drills.

Back to School Books for kindergarten and first grade - First Day Jitters
First Day Jitters
Another fun book that deals with those beginning of the year anxieties (and an unlikely protagonist) is First Day Jitters by Julie Dannenberg (illustrated by Judy Love). This popular first day of school read aloud begins with Mr. Hartwell coaxing the main character, Sarah, out of bed. Sarah vehemently resists preparing for her first day at a new school--she doesn't know anybody, her head hurts, she feels sick--but eventually makes it through the door of her classroom where her principal introduces her as..."your new teacher, Mrs. Sarah Jane Hartwell!"

This fun story is a perfect way to get a giggle out of students and give them a chance to talk about their own cases of nerves.

Back to School Books for kindergarten and first grade - The Day You Begin
The Day You Begin
The Day You Begin by award-winning author Jacqueline Woodson (illustrated by Rafael Lopez) is a beautiful book. Written from a second person point of view, this book reassures listeners that, despite sometimes feeling like they don't fit in, all children can find a place at school. Woodson gives several examples of instances in which children may feel like outsiders at school (skin, hair, clothes, language, foods, interests), but ends with the message that "every new friend has something a little like you--and something else so fabulously not quite like you at all."

Though this book and its messages are beautiful (and may even bring a tear to your eye), some younger children may lose focus while listening to some of the more abstract prose. If you teach kindergarten, I would recommend saving this one for a few days while your students develop their carpet listening skills (and you gauge their readiness). For older students, or for later in the year in kindergarten, this book is excellent for introducing a discussion about valuing our differences.

Back to School Picture Books - All Are Welcome
All Are Welcome
All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold (illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman) paints a picture of a school in which all children and families are valued. Each page includes a few lines of rhyming text followed by the refrain "All are welcome here." The illustrations depict a wide range of children and families so that all students are sure to find something familiar. This representation is fantastic for diverse classrooms and is also so important for children who attend school with a more homogenous population. A fun feature of this hardcover book is that the jacket unfolds into a "All Are Welcome" poster full of the children from the story! It also ends with a fold-out page spread with a very detailed illustration.

Back to School Books for kindergarten and first grade - The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School
The Gingerbread Man
Loose in the School
The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School by Laura Murray (illustrated by Mike Lowery) is a funny, rhyming story that lends itself to a school-wide scavenger hunt/tour. Laura Murray was a teacher before becoming an author, and it shows as the story perfectly integrates the traditional gingerbread story with the realities of an elementary school day. The comic book style illustrations are fanciful and fun and the happy ending doesn't even involve eating the gingerbread man!

This book includes a cute poster to hang by your door. On the back of the poster are reproducible activity ideas, a coloring page, a maze, and a recipe. This book has all you need to plan your own hunt around your school--such a fun way for little ones to learn the ropes!

Back to School Books for kindergarten and first grade - Be Kind
Be Kind
Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller (illustrated by Jen Hill) is a great book for building a classroom culture of friendship and caring. The story begins with a girl (Tanisha) spilling grape juice all over her dress during snack time and running from the room in embarrassment. Her classmate, the narrator, begins to wonder what it means to "be kind." With examples of kindness from both in and out of school, this book can lead to a brainstorming session on ways to spread kindness. It can also be used throughout the year to anchor discussions about conflict resolution and peer interactions. (In the end, the narrator cheers Tanisha up by painting a picture for her.)

Back to School Books for kindergarten and first grade - When Pencil Met Eraser
When Pencil Met Eraser
When Pencil Met Eraser by Karen Kilpatrick and Luis O. Ramos (illustrated by Germán Blanco) is a cute story that explains why pencils have erasers. Serious and artistic Pencil likes to work alone. He is frustrated when enthusiastic Eraser comes on the scene, altering his work. Eventually, Pencil learns to appreciate Eraser's strengths and they begin to collaborate. The illustrations in this book are great--the cartoon faces on Pencil and Eraser are very expressive and lend themselves to great conversations about emotions. What I love about this book is the emphasis on working together--such an important concept for a successful classroom community. This can also lead to important discussions about conflict resolution and the importance of respecting each other's space and work.

Back to School Books for kindergarten and first grade - My Mouth Is a Volcano
My Mouth Is a Volcano
In My Mouth Is a Volcano by Julia Cook (illustrated by Carrie Hartman), exuberant Louis has a big problem with interrupting. His inability to resist the urge to interrupt others causes trouble for him in his relationships with friends, lands him in a time out in the classroom, and gets him sent to his room at home. It isn't until Louis himself is interrupted by two of his classmates during a presentation at school that he really begins to feel empathy for those he's been interrupting. His mother helps him come up with a strategy (deep breaths and visualizing) to control his interrupting. Kids like the colorful and fun illustrations in this book as well as the repeating text as Louis describes the feeling he has when he is about to interrupt. This is a great book to read at the beginning of the year and revisit as interruption crops up throughout the year.

Beginning of the Year Books for Kindergarten and First Grade - Clark the Shark
Clark the Shark
Clark the Shark by Bruce Hale (illustrated by Guy Francis) is another fun book with an boisterous protagonist. Clark's size and energy level impede his success at school until he develops (with the help of his teacher) a strategy for using self-control. When an even larger new student, Sid the Squid, arrives, Clark is able to use his strengths to help Sid fit in. What I love about this book is that, though Clark's enthusiasm is a problem at school and he needs to learn to control it, he is still able to be himself. I also love that his peers and teacher encourage him as he uses his new strategies. Clark makes little rhyming rules to help regulate himself (like, "When teacher's talking, don't go walking,") which can help guide discussions on class rules and behavior. This is a great back to school book for discussions about class community!

Beginning of the Year Books for Kindergarten and First Grade - We Don't Eat Our Classmates
We Don't Eat Our Classmates
We Don't Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins balances light-hearted humor with a lesson about empathy. The illustrations are adorable and funny and the length of the story is just right for beginning-of-the-year attention spans! Penelope is a T. rex who manages to end up in a classroom full of (delicious) children on her first day of school. Though she wants to make friends (and is lonely when she doesn't), she simply can't stop eating those tasty children! (Don't worry, she always spits them back out.) When the class goldfish bites her finger, Penelope gets a taste of her own medicine and resolves to stop eating her peers. This humorous tale can be used to talk about all kinds of problematic classroom behaviors and is perfect for talking about empathy and second chances.

Beginning of the Year Books for Kindergarten and First Grade - Listen Buddy
Listen Buddy
Listen Buddy by Helen Lester (illustrated by Lynn Munsinger) is a story of a rabbit who, despite his huge ears, is not a good listener. Because he doesn't listen closely to his parents' instructions, Buddy makes all kinds of comical errors (such as bringing his mother a slice of bed instead of the slice of bread she requested). After not paying attention to his parents' caution, Buddy has a frightening encounter with the Scruffy Varmint and barely escapes being made into soup. Afterwards, he resolves to listen.

Though this book does not take place in a school setting, it's a fun read (lots of silly adventure) and is a nice tale for emphasizing the importance of listening closely to directions. One caveat--many of Buddy's listening mistakes seem more like the errors someone with hearing loss might make. I would keep that in mind and address the difference between not being able to hear something and not listening.

Beginning of the Year Books for Kindergarten and First Grade - Giraffes Can't Dance
Giraffes Can't Dance
Giraffes Can't Dance by Giles Andreae (illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees) is a motivational story about an uncoordinated giraffe named Gerald who struggles to fit in at the Jungle Dance. The catchy, rhyming text and bright illustrations in this book hold the attention of young children. With the encouragement of a gentle and friendly cricket, Gerald eventually finds his inner dancing ability, much to the awe of the other animals. After the other animals ask Gerald how he learned to dance, the story ends with these words, "Then he raised his head and looked up/ at the moon and stars above./ 'We all can dance,' he said,/ 'when we find music that we love.'"

This book has an encouraging message that isn't so much about perseverance as it is about confidence. It also shows the importance of support and friendship, making it a great choice for building classroom community.

If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator
to School, DON'T!
If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, DON'T! by Elise Parsley is hilarious. It is written in second person from the point of view of Magnolia, who warns the reader not to make the mistake of bringing an alligator for show and tell. The illustrations are detailed and really add to the already amusing story. This one will bring comic relief and will really speak to those kiddos who just can't seem to stay out of trouble. I see that Elise Parsley has a few other Magnolia books and I can't wait to check them out!

I could go on for days about children's books, but instead I will just list a few more back-to-school books you might like to check out:
Chrysanthemum (and lots of other Kevin Henkes books!)

I'm sure I've missed some wonderful beginning of the year read alouds. If I've left out your favorites, please leave a comment! 

Back-to-School Read Alouds - kindergarten and first grade

Thanks so much for reading! Happy prepping!

The Spin on Spinners: Test Driving Classroom Game Spinners

The Spin on Spinners: Test Driving Classroom Game Spinners

Game spinners can be used in so many ways in a primary classroom. They are a great alternative to dice when you want to focus on specific numbers and concepts and they add fun and fine motor practice to simple practice activities! While I have often use the paperclip and pencil spinner method, which is easy for students to learn, I wanted to try out some store-bought spinners that still allow for customization. I will include an Amazon affiliate link to each of the spinners I tested.

The printed and laminated spinners I used when testing these spinner arrows are 4.25" square. Two of the arrows I tested require making a hole in the middle of the spinner (which was little challenging), one uses a suction cup, and the other is a clear plastic overlay spinner. They all spun smoothly and did the job, but I think each are best suited for particular tasks.

The Spin on Spinners: Test Driving Classroom Game Spinners

These colorful spinner arrows are four inches long. They are reasonably priced for a 12-pack and, once attached to the spinner, work nicely. To use, you must make a hole in the center of your spinner and snap the two parts of the arrow together through the hole. The arrow can easily be removed to use with a different spinner.

These black board game spinner arrows function in the same way as the rainbow arrows above, but they are only three inches long, which worked better for my purposes (as the 4" spinners extended beyond the spinner circle. What I like about this type of arrow is that they stay put, spin smoothly, and lie just above the surface of the spinner, making it easy for children to see which section the arrow has "landed" on.

If you are making games that you want to keep forever, it is probably worth it to use these arrows. If I were going to be rotating my arrows through a variety of spinners, I don't think I'd want to have to make a hole in the center for each one. (To make the hole, I used this extended-reach hole punch which still wasn't quite long enough. The hole also wasn't big enough, so I had to expand it with scissors.)

 BryBelly Rainbow Spinner Arrows      Black Board Game Spinner Arrows

The next arrows I tried are these cute suction cup ones! I wanted these to be the best because they are such a fun idea. These can simply be pressed down onto the center of your spinner before flicking. What I found is that these are fun to use, they just don't stay stuck for very long. To a laminated spinner, the arrow did stick for long enough to spin, but it needed to be pressed down again for each new spin. I tried sticking it to plain paper and it would not stick for more than a brief moment (no surprise), but it stuck for considerably longer to a white board (both horizontal and vertically). These spinners are great if you want students to just be able to grab one and get to work. They might be motivating to some students, which could make up for their lack of stickiness! The only other downfall to these it that the arrow sits up higher from the spinner surface. This makes it a little trickier to see where the spinner is pointing if it's close to a line.

 Suction Cup Spinner Arrows

These last spinners, by ETA hand2mind, are transparent plastic overlay spinners. With these, you can lay them on top of your own spinner (and tape them if you don't want them to shift). This is a super simple way to make anything into a spinner! Another popular use for these is to tape the clear spinner to a CD jewel case. You can then stick any homemade spinner inside the case for a secure and interchangeable spinner solution. These spin smoothly and are, in my opinion, the most versatile and easy of the four spinners I tried. If you'd like to try the CD case option, these Memorex Jewel Cases are great. They come in five colors, which is great for grouping and differentiating, but the front covers are clear, so your spinner inside will be clearly visible.

 ETA hand2mind Clear Spinner

 Clear Spinner on CD Jewel Case

Speaking of spinners, check out my newest resource! These spinner games can be used all year long.

 Spinner Math Games on TPT

Thanks for reading!