3 Surprising Reasons Back-to-School Decor Matters Big Time

Getting your classroom ready for back-to-school can often feel like a daunting and overwhelming task. I mean you have back-to-school decor and decorations to figure out, open house, beginning of the year essentials and back-to-school printables to prepare and copy.  The list could go on and on! But you get my point. 

The other really tricky part of back to school is choosing a theme. Each year that I was in second grade (12 at one school), we would have a school-wide theme. The expectation was that we would all incorporate it somehow in our classrooms. Now some of us were smart enough to pick something fundamental and reuse parts of it again and again! {For example, we started with ocean, and my teacher BFF used the starfish for the stars in her space classroom the next year and then used the stars again in the western theme the year after that! She hated themes! LOL}

3 Surprising Reasons Back-to-School Decor Matters Big Time

Now I loved themes. Each year I would deck out my classroom to represent the school-wide theme. It was awesome! {But I was married and spending several hundred dollars on my classroom decor wasn't the end of the world.} However, after my marriage of 17 years ended, I had to get smart about how I spent my money. So I chose something that I would do again and again- Superheros! {I totally needed the good overcomes evil theme at that point in my life!} 

If I were decorating a classroom today, I would go with a Fixer-Upper style. Something like farmhouse decor or black and white that could be used again and again. Maybe I would support the theme on the outside of my classroom, but the inside could be used over and over. 

Either way, I was surprised to learn how vital back-to-school classroom decor matters! You might be as shocked as I was.

3 Surprising Reasons Back-to-School Decor Matters Big Time

1. First Impression for Parents and Administrators

Back-to-school open house is usually held before school starts in my district. So having my room complete has been crucial for parents and administrators who happen to be walking the halls. I'm not going to lie; it isn't easy to be ready for parents in the first week of teachers going back. In fact, I had to go back early EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR. {Just so that I could accomplish the mammoth task of having my room ready for open house.}

Although it was rough getting everything ready on week one, I will say the years my coworkers didn't get finished with their classroom set up were filled with passive aggressive comments by parents about not being ready and murmurs of is that teacher prepared for my kid? Do I agree with this? No! But we all know how that can go. {I will say it does seem like parents in Title One schools are a lot more forgiving if everything isn't decked out like you are entering Disney World! A definite plus for working in Title One. }

So think of classroom decor as the first impression for parents. What message do you want to send to them? How do you want to present yourself right off the bat? A classroom can often speak for itself when you are busy talking with another parent. {If this reason irritates you keep reading. You might feel better with idea #2 and #3.} 

2. First Impression for Kids

Parents aren't the only ones where a first impression matters, the students are even more aware of the surroundings! So classroom decorations do matter big time for kids! 

One year, I had a young boy come into my room and look around in amazement. It was a superhero year for my classroom. I had Spiderman hanging from the ceiling, Batman standing near the science word wall, Thor's hammer hanging from the ceiling, and a cape attached to the Up, Up, and Away Word Wall. {All thanks to my son, who had outgrown all his superhero garb.} He looked at his mom and said, I'll definitely come to school now. The mom later told me that he was a very reluctant student who struggled in all areas. For me, that was a huge win. I knew I could at least get him in the door! {You have to win them over before the real learning can begin.}

3. Puts You In The I'm Ready Mindset

I've been reading a lot about mindset in the past few years, and I'm sure you have heard that buzzword A LOT. So let's get down to it. Mindset is an established set of attitudes that you hold about just about anything. So if I am feeling lazy and unproductive, I have to readjust my mindset. I may want to see my lazy demeanor as a reminder that I need to slow down and take a moment for myself. See what I did there? It all comes down to how and what you think about something. 

For me, when my room is ready and organized, I feel like I am ready for kids to come. If I'm still putting things altogether after kids come, it may NEVER happen. There is just too much that comes up after the children come back to school.  So having my room completed before back-to-school allows me to feel accomplished, organized, and prepared. 

As you can see, there are some valid reasons for having your back-to-school decor set up. So where can you find cheap classroom decor and back-to-school themed packs? Well, you will have to find out next time! 

In the meantime, here are a few themes I have done over the years. You might also find my blog post, Why Creating a Classroom Community is so Valuable, helpful for your back-to-school mindset. 

Until next time,
Happy Teaching and Learning

P.S. Follow me on Pinterest to see all my classroom themed boards: Ocean, Sports, Camping, Superhero, Space, Western, and Back-to-School

3 Terrific Whys To Do A Summer Makerspace STEM Challenge

Summertime is filled with trips to the beach, playing outside, and using your imagination. But what do you do if all you are hearing from your kids is What can we do today? {One thing I will say is when did my generation and the following suddenly become the cruise director for our kids?! When I was little, the answer was going outside and don’t come back in until it is dark. And we drank from the hose!} Yes, I am guilty too. I felt the constant need to entertain my children. I’ll get off this soapbox! Just keep that in mind. ;)

One terrific summer activity for kids is a cool (get it, it’s hot!) summer makerspace/STEM challenge! This summer activity is a great way to get kids thinking about science, building and creating ideas, and having fun!

Are you new to Makerspace? Check out 5 Astonishing Reasons Every Classroom Needs a MakerSpace. {This includes learning spaces at home too!}

The short answer is summed up perfectly by Thinkers and Tinkers-

What do you do in a Makerspace? The simple answer is you make things.  Things in which you are curious.  Things that spring from your imagination that inspire you.  The informal, playful atmosphere allows learning to unfold, rather than conform to a rigid agenda.  Making, rather than consuming is the focus.  It is the craft, engineering, technology, and wonder-driven.
— Thinkers and Tinerers

3 Terrific Whys To Do A Summer Makerspace STEM Challenge

1. Beat the Summertime Blues

3 Terrific Whys To Do A Summer Makerspace/STEM Challenge

At the beginning of the summer kids, parents, and teachers are like woo hoo! {Unless you are teaching summer school or homeschooling year long and then this is perfect for you anyway!} Summertime starts off with grand ideas of how we can finally use our time to play, vacation, sleep in and finally finish our home projects (or maybe that is just me!). 

Quickly adults realize how long summer can feel. Shortly we are thinking uh oh how are we going to keep our children or students from experiencing the summertime blues? {The I don’t know what to do, and the Are we there yet of summer.} When these questions start rolling in day after day, this is when makerspaces are the perfect answer. 

When we have an area or even gather some materials for kids to design, create, build, and test out ideas, we are sitting on a goldmine! Kids will come up with the most refreshing ideas if we allow them to discover and wonder. It doesn’t take a lot of money either. Think toilet and paper towel rolls, red Solo cups, arts and craft materials, cardboard boxes from your Amazon orders (is it just me again?!), and even sticks and rocks from outside! Straws, cotton balls, toothpicks, and popsicle sticks are gold, as well. Pretty much anything goes. In fact, when you challenge your kids to design and create something, you will be shocked at what they think of to use. (There is an engineer in all of us. Some of us are just really good at thinking outside of the box. On the other hand, some of us need ideas, and that’s okay too!)

2. Encourages Problem Solving, Creativity, and Critical Thinking

Problem-solving, creating and critical thinking are my favorite aspects of makerspace/STEM challenges. I love when learning happens by accident or better yet during what feels like play. Building and tinkering feel like play. When we challenge our kids to solve problems, such as How can we address the issue of being too hot to play outside, we give them a chance to think critically about solutions. We are also giving kids a creative outlet in the designing of solutions.  

I also love how easy it is to integrate science and math into challenges. For example, I recently created a Summer Makerspace/STEM challenge: Build a Pool. Besides having to design a pool that would hold water for three toy figurines using some specified materials (although you could use whatever you have or want to use), science topics such as solids, liquids, and gases and force and motion become a natural part of the conversation. Measuring, counting, and estimating occur seamlessly in a challenge such as this, as well. Need a technology connection? Why not watch a time-lapsed video on pool creations? There’s a great one on YouTube! That’s the beauty of Makerspace/STEM projects. They are filled with thinking and learning.

Here's a quick look at the Build a Pool STEM challenge:

3. Super Fun

Best of all Summer Makerspace/STEM activities are terrific and fun! They may be the answer to your What are we doing today? questions!

Need some ideas for summer projects? Here is where Pinterest can be your best friend. Type in summer makerspace/STEM challenges, and you will find more than you will ever have time to complete in one short summer. ;)

In case you are afraid you might go down the Pinterest rabbit hole, I’ve created a list of challenges that I will be doing/creating with and for my kids.
Build a Pool
Create a waterslide that goes into that pool
Designing a rollercoaster
Building a tent or even a fishing pole

The list can go on and on. 

I created an engineering journal to go with my challenges. I think this is an excellent way for kids to think through the engineering design process- ask, imagine, plan, create, improve. This journal, the challenge, teacher/parent guide, vocabulary, K-2 engineering standards, criteria and constraints list, ways to make the projects more difficult, and extension ideas are in the complete Summer Makerspace/STEM Challenge: Build a Pool pack is available in my store on TpT. 

Want a FREE copy of the single pool challenge card? Click below to get it sent to your email! 

I hope you and your students/children enjoy summer challenges! Hopefully, this gives you a few moments of time to enjoy your summer time, as well. 

Happy Teaching and Learning

Another fun challenge is to build a waterslide into the pool you created the day before!

My Heartbreaking Journey With An Empty Nest

Just last week, I said goodbye to my 18-year-old daughter. After 6 years of going to camp with our church every summer for a week, she was now going to be a camp counselor for that same camp she attended as a camper. She will be gone for 2 months. I realize this is not forever, but I know that it is just the beginning of the end

My Heartbreaking Journey With An Empty Nest

I have never been away from my daughter, Emily for longer than a week. So needless to say, I am having a tough time with my empty nest

You know you hear of an empty nest, but you never really think it is that big of a deal until it happens to you. Empty nest syndrome is a real thing. According to the Psychology Today, it is defined below.

Empty nest syndrome refers to feelings of depression, sadness, and, or grief experienced by parents and caregivers after children come of age and leave their childhood homes.
Empty nest syndrome is not a clinical diagnosis, but rather describes a transition period in which many people experience feelings of loneliness or loss. While many parents encourage their children to become independent adults, the experience of sending children off into the world can be a painful one. {Psychology Today}

Little did I know how painful it would really be. In a column titled Saying Goodbye to My Child, The Youngster, published in the Washington Post, writer Michael Gerson wrote that dropping his son off at college was the worst thing that time had done to him

"That moment at the dorm is implied at the kindergarten door, at the gates of summer camp, at every ritual of parting and independence. But it comes as surprising as a thief, taking what you value most."
"But with due respect to my son’s feelings, I have the worse of it. I know something he doesn’t — not quite a secret, but incomprehensible to the young. He is experiencing the adjustments that come with beginnings. His life is starting for real. I have begun the long letting go. Put another way: He has a wonderful future in which my part naturally diminishes. I have no possible future that is better without him close." {Michael Gerson}

The long letting go is the hardest part. I feel it might take me the rest of my life to do so. And much like Michael Gerson expressed, I feel like I have no possible future that is better without her close

My Heartbreaking Journey With An Empty Nest

Emily's life is just beginning. Even after her recent college disappointment, Emily is always one to pick herself back up and move forward. She takes failure and learns from it. She uses it to propel herself into the next journey. If you are interested in how the college thing transpired, you can read my post How the Current Education and I Failed My Child. 

It hasn't even been a week yet, and I am wondering how I will make it through the summer without seeing her smiling face. I am lucky. I have a very unique bond with my daughter. She is one of the very best people I know. She makes me happy and brightens up my life with her laughter, kindness, and love. I have known that she was not mine to keep forever, but giving her back has been harder than I could have ever imagined. 

Yes, I miss her like all parents do when their kids leave the nest. But I also miss her from my very core. I guess, for me, I put a lot into the relationship. I never intended for us to be best friends.  Actually, I had planned NOT to be friends at all. I was the mom. She was the daughter. Honestly, I felt a smidge (well more than a smidge) judgemental about moms who thought of their daughters as their friends. Even my own mom. When I was younger, I wanted a mom. Not a friend. My mom didn't quite understand this. So I promised myself that I wouldn't put that kind of pressure on her or push the boundaries. Then I got divorced in 2014. Emily was in middle school. We were already very close. She seemed to be the only one that could reach me in my darkest moments. I tried not to rely on her emotionally, because again, I was the mom. Yet, I found myself letting her in. Letting her nurture and love me. 

Despite my resistance to connecting with her beyond my child, I have found myself feeling utterly enamored by her very existence. My daughter has always had a profound connection to something bigger than herself. It was like she came into the world knowing that she was here to do God's work. And she has and is continuing to do so. 

Emily has taught me so many valuable life lessons. She has taught me what unconditional love really looks like and feels like. Emily has taught me to laugh and to embrace the good in the world. She has inspired me to be a better person and a better parent. My daughter has supported my decisions that to others may have seemed like a giant leap into crazy. All the while she cheered me on.

Did I let her down as a mother? I hope not. I believe that in the early years I gave her a mom. But a sad mom who didn't think she was worthy of real love or happiness. I took care of her. I provided a family for her. I gave her a brother to love. I was very involved with her education. In fact, she came to school with me every day of her life until high school. (In middle school she volunteered in my classroom before school every day.) So I think I loved her like a mom. I know I tried to protect her from my sadness and from the cruelty of life. Sometimes I did, and sometimes I failed. 

After our lives fell apart, I showed her how to pick yourself back up and move forward. But she also taught me how to do that. She also motivated me to do and be better. So we learned from one another. And because I learned to take risks and trust faith, she too did the same. I hope that I gave her space to figure out who she is and what she wants out of life. I don't know if I would have been able to do this before.

So fundamentally we have shaped one another, and our relationship morphed into something beyond mother and daughter. Emily is my Rory and I her Lorelai. Yes, there is some dysfunction in that, but there is also immense beauty

I'm not going to lie her leaving has left me feeling empty. I know this feeling is temporary. It comes and goes. Most of the time I feel happy for her. It's like I gave her back to the One who gave her to me in the first place. Knowing that she is filled and overflowing with joy, makes me feel at peace. 

Other times, I feel alone and sad. Things like your dearest friends taking you out to eat the night she left and driving down from North Carolina to cheer you up make it a little easier. Messages from my brother (who I love with all my heart) make all the difference, as well. 

Hope you’re doing okay. I guess that is the blessing and tragedy of life. To hold, protect, and nurture them, and then release

You guys seem to have such a tight bond that her evolution will always be yours and her journey will be your journey

So I guess I'll have to figure out how to watch The Bachelorette, Grey's Anatomy, and Gilmore Girls on Netflix without her. And I'll learn to pick myself up when I am down. I'll also find other sources of light and healing. And maybe I'll finally get my barn door painted and hung with all my spare time. Either way, I am still her mom, and she is still my sweet girl. Time nor distance will take that away.

Eighteen years went by too quickly. But, my daughter, those days have been the greatest wonder and privilege of my lifeAnd you will always be my sweet Emily and my very best friend. {Boundaries be damned.}

My Heartbreaking Journey With An Empty Nest

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