How Take Home Binders Saved My Sanity

Hey everyone! I've been thoroughly enjoying summer break, but as August creeps closer, I can't help but think about the to-do list that will surely be waiting for me when I get the keys back to my classroom. There are lots of things I try to do at the end of each school year so that I don't come in to a crazy mess, but there's always prep work to be done in those first few teacher days. I always plan for the first day, prep all of my Play Centers, get all of my Back to School Forms printed and ready, and prep my Take Home Binders. Even though I won't have binders for all of my students until they bring them in from their class wish list, I still always make all of the copies before school starts so that my aide and I can quickly pull and assemble binders once they arrive.

I have been using Take Home Binders (they've been called all sorts of other names, but I think I've finally decided to stick with this one) since my second year of teaching. During my first year, the school purchased student planners and parent-teacher communication folders for every student. Those worked really well! I knew, though, that I wouldn't be able to afford planners AND folders for my students at my new school. So, I made Take Home FOLDERS. Big mistake.

See, my old school bought those thick, flexible, plastic folders that had clear cover inserts for the front and back. Those puppies don't destruct. But those folders are also expeeeeeeensive if you're buying them yourself from your own pocket. So I tried my best and got the "nice" plastic, 3-prong folders from Walmart. They didn't have a clear cover, so I had to TAPE ON THE COVER with clear packing tape. You guys, let me remind you it was my second year of teaching and I was still 25 years old without a clue. Long story short: those folders were falling apart by December and any introduction of fluids (water bottle or who knows what else) made them self-destruct almost immediately. Well, dang.

That's when I bit the bullet and went out to buy a class set of 1-inch, white binders with a clear cover. You can actually get them in sets of 2 from Staples, although the Staples brand binders aren't nearly as sturdy as the Avery binders. After re-printing the entire binder for my whole class, replacing the page protectors, and almost crying from exhaustion and defeat, I had my first set of Take Home Binders.

Well, to make another long story short, those binders lasted for the rest of the year practically unscathed! The occasional water bottle spill definitely affects them because, duh, but overall they were a success! Never again was I having to stop my morning routine of checking folders and taking attendance and greeting students with, "MS. HODGES! My folder is wet and so is my newsletter/homework/note from my mom/note from you/lunch menu!" Me: "Ok hold on, let's just lay it by the window and see if it dries!" It never dries like you want it to, y'all.

So now here I am, almost 30 years old and much wiser. I have my students put the binders in baskets next to their tables, and all day as they do their work (if it's something I don't want to have them turn in) they just pull out their binder, slip their work in the back pocket, and done! Parents know where to look for EVERYTHING because EVERYTHING is in the binder. Always. Students start managing themselves and their belongings. Trust me, you want to use Take Home Binders. 

Let me finally tell you what's inside:

  • Cover: I type my student's name and my class info and done! This is so easy for when you get a new student in November/January/May (yes that last one's happened more than once).
  • What's Inside: I slip this "table of contents" page in the back cover. It's crucial you get binders with a front and back clear cover. This allows parents to see EVERYTHING that's inside the binder.
  • Daily Dialogue: Each afternoon, my students get out their Take Home Binders and flip to this page. I project one up on our screens and we have a quick little shout-out session of what we learned & talked about that day. Then we pick one thing and write it in! This is a fun wrap up activity AND prevents the "I dunno" response to the age-old impossible parent question: What did you do at school today?
  • Homework Helpers: I have 4 pages of what you could also call "kindergarten study guides." My students' parents say they LOVE these pages. Super helpful while doing homework or, as a few parents have told me, great for when you're sitting in a waiting room and have your binder with you. Pull it out and read your letters or sight words! Win!
  • Reading Log: Well, because we want to see how many awesome books our kids are reading!
You'll notice that the newsletter and homework calendar are mentioned on the What's Inside page but are not actually included in the binder if you buy it in my store. That's because I didn't want to include something that many teachers already have their own version of. That seemed repetitive to me. BUT I do have awesome editable newsletters and a year-long monthly editable homework calendar in my store! You can click on the images below to check those out if you'd like:

If the watercolor foliage theme isn't your thing, I have a couple of other ones in both the binder and the newsletter. This is what they look like:

I hope you try Take Home Binders in your classroom. Everything goes inside and you never have to worry about flimsy folders falling apart on you ever again! Enjoy!

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3 Tried and True Hands-On Math Activities

When I was in school, math wasn't my favorite subject. Like so many other adults who've said this exact same thing, I felt like I wasn't very good at the computation and problem solving. Now that I'm a teacher, I want to make sure my students don't ever feel the same level of frustration that I did. And yes, I teach kindergarten, but academic confidence should start young! To you, adding 4+1 or knowing that the number 10 is a 3 and a 7 seem like such basic concepts. To a human who has only just learned to walk 48 months before they become one of my students (crazy, right?!), math can be difficult no matter the concept.

I've been teaching kindergarten for 6 years, and I've finally figured out methods of teaching math that not only make it FUN for me but engaging, challenging, and fun for my students, too! Here are some math activities that are hands-on and can easily be used for multiple math concepts. You probably already have most of the materials in your classroom!

If you've been following me for a little while, you know how much I love and believe in Counting Collections. I have another blog post HERE that talks about the "why" behind doing CCs. You can also read more about CCs and watch them in action.

Counting Collections are not just used for counting. However, they are a tremendous tool for developing, strengthening, and advancing the way your students count. They provide so many opportunities for extension into composing and decomposing numbers, addition, subtraction, equal parts, even/odd numbers, teen numbers, grouping by 2, 5, 10, or more, and so on. I can't get over how much I love Counting Collections.

You don't need any special manipulatives or containers for collections. Find and use what you have or what works best for your space. I started out in the beginning with putting counters, tiles, and counting bears into Ziploc baggies and giving those to kids to count. Now, I have accumulated lots of small manipulatives that I can change out throughout the year. You can also vary how many objects you put into a container, you can color-code for amount (blue containers have 11-19, green containers have 20-29, and so on), or you could even give students collections of things that are already in a "collection" like a pack of cards or a roll of pennies.
Notice the plastic baggie I used? I've graduated to tubs since then!
These tubs are from Staples and come 16 in a set (I have two sets). You can see that inside the tubs I have counters, beads, pom poms, counting bugs, counting dinos, and of course, MINI ERASERS.
I have created a set of response sheets that I use over and over and over again with my students as they work on Counting Collections. I keep them double-sided in sturdy plastic dry erase pockets. You can find them in my store, click on the picture below!

Ever see rice or beans on sale for super cheap at the store, buy it, then wonder what else you could do with it besides dump it into a bin for a sensory tub? Do scoop math! You can do scoop math activities to practice addition, subtraction, place value, grouping, and lots more. I've put beans into bowls, on plates, or inside of plastic bins. Students just scoop out randomly, then they can practice lots of concepts.

For addition, students can scoop, count, then scoop again. Once they have two piles, they can push them together and count how many in all. For subtraction, students can scoop, put some back, then count how many they have left. For place value, students can make a big scoop, then group by tens, count how many they have, then add the ones on at the end. For grouping, students can make a big scoop then group into 5s, 2s, or whatever else you want them to work on!

I've got some easy-to-use Scoop Math activities with counting mats that make it much more organized. I laminate the counting mats to use over and over. You can click on the picture below and see them in my store.

My students and I love, love, love to play this game. You can use it for ANY math concept (and even some ELA ones, too!) and it requires very little! Your students will need dry erase markers and some sort of eraser. You will need loud music and the optional ability to dance.

Musical Counting: Students stand next to their tables. You start playing music, and they walk around and around the table. When you stop the music, shout out a number/sequence. They find a seat as soon as they can and write the number. I sometimes say, "8" or "2 more than 6!" You can also give them directions to write three numbers when you shout out the first one. You can say, "7!" and they would write 7, 8, 9.

Musical Teen Numbers: You'll also need base ten rods and cubes piled in the middle of the table. Play the same way as before, but when you stop the music this time you'll call out a teen number! They'll build it with the base ten blocks and/or write it with the dry erase marker.

Musical Addition/Subtraction: Again, play the same way, and when you stop the music this time you can shout out an addition/subtraction problem. They can write the problem or just the solution!

Rules for playing:

  • Students get to write on the tables ONLY when we play this game! It comes off very easily with Clorox wipes or whiteboard cleaning spray. (If you can't write on your tables, hand out mini white boards or just use white paper!)
  • When a student is done writing, they put their hands in the air so I can scan and check. Once I tell them, "Check!" they can erase their numbers.
  • Teachers will need to walk around so they can check students. It would be a very fun and easy way to *formatively assess* your students on math concepts, just have a notepad/sticky notes/checklist with you and write down what/who you notice.
  • Teachers need classroom-appropriate music they can blast!

*No pictures of this activity, sorry! Almost impossible when you're managing the music, checking student progress, and helping along the way. If only I had a photographer...*

I hope you use some of these easy, challenging, and FUN ways to get your students' hands on their math! Let me know your favorites or share any other hands-on math activities that you swear by!

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