50 Ways to Wonder: Have Outdoor Hour.

50 Ways to Bring Wonder into the Classroom

In an effort to bring curiosity and joy back into the elementary school classroom, I decided to start a series called 50 Ways to Bring Wonder into the Classroom. I hope to keep these ideas simple and easy to implement for the time-crunched teacher. Most of these ideas come from other teachers, blogs, and books – so I don’t claim credit for them! Click here to see previous posts in the series. And without further ado, here is the next idea!

10. Have Outdoor Hour in your schedule.

There has been lots of media coverage on the benefits of children spending time in nature. A recent article in the Atlantic that fills me with joy, called Kindergarten, Naturally, describes a “forest kindergarten” in Finland where students spend 80% of their day outdoors. Now, being a public school teacher in the U.S., this isn’t a plausible goal for my classroom. Most schools don’t have access to rolling acres of forest and hills that are walkable from their building. I am lucky enough to teach at a place that has a school forest (albeit a “mini” one in the courtyard), but I still can’t get through everything I need to teach if I spent 80% of my time out there.

Forest Friday in the classroom

I can, however, afford to dedicate one hour a week to learning outdoors. I’m calling it “Forest Friday,” and it’ll be at the end of the day on Friday (when my students’ already-short ability to concentrate on indoor tasks has plummeted). Every Friday, for one hour, we’ll go outside to do whatever it is we need to do that day – a science lesson, a math lesson, a Readers Workshop. It’s not going to be play time (although there’s nothing wrong with that); it’ll be Explore time or Reading time or Writing time. Of course, we’ll talk about the rules for learning outside, so it doesn’t become a distraction-fest. And I know it’ll be a learning curve for me (How do I bring all these bookboxes outside? What if the kids need to go to the bathroom?). But I really believe it’ll be beneficial for my students.

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I’ve been telling parents about my plan for Forest Friday, and also telling my students. They’re really excited about it, and we had our first one yesterday (even though it started to rain so we didn’t make it to a whole hour). I told the families and students so I could hold myself accountable, since I know it’s so easy to lose motivation when you have so many other things on your mind. But this is one I want to remain committed to, because kids deserve the chance to learn outdoors.

It’s a small step, but I’m all about small steps towards bringing joy and wonder back to the classroom.

Image credits

Current obsessions: September 2016

I’ve been making lists called “Current Obsessions” since I was in middle school. These were primarily in the form of mix tapes and CDs, which, if you know me, is not at all surprising. (I am really into lists and also really into mix CDs.) So I decided to carry over my tradition of putting together a list of the songs I’m currently obsessed with, and tweak it a bit for the blog – putting together a list of all the things that I’m currently obsessed with. It’ll be kind of like my Inspiration for the Weekend posts, but not limited to internet links. I’m hoping to find more time to write about the things I’m passionate about, instead of just providing links to other people’s writing. So here goes!

Current obsessions Sept 2016

I should note that this idea came in part from one of my current obsessions – Nicole Antoinette’s podcast Real Talk Radio. She does long-form interviews of some really amazing people involved in health, wellness and activism. And the first question she usually asks her guests is “What are you currently obsessed with?” It’s an awesome get-to-know-you question. I want to ask all my new coworkers that question.

And yes! I have new coworkers! I made an epic life decision this summer to switch school districts, so now I’ll be teaching at a school in my neighborhood (as opposed to a suburb that was about 30 minutes away). I’m going to miss my coworkers and families so much, but it seems like the right decision and I’m really excited to be starting at the new school. And it’ll save me an hour of driving every day! I can ride my bike to work! #lifechanging

Other obsessions include, obviously, how best to set up my classroom for the beginning of the school year. I have way fewer students (only 16! Last year I started with 24!) but also a smaller classroom, so I’ve had to be creative in how I set it up. I’m also trying to resist the idea of making my room perfect. I always dwell on the smallest of details, and end up spending two hours on, say, making my word wall letters perfectly spaced apart, when I could be using that time to, I don’t know…look at the curriculum? Or go home and relax? Thus, I’m trying to let go of the need for perfection. Which is hard, seeing as I am a classic Type A perfectionist… Anyways, in that spirit, I found this link to be super helpful: How Finland Starts the School Year. Seriously, if you are a teacher, read this post. It turns out you don’t NEED to spend 60 hours setting up your classroom, and in fact, maybe you shouldn’t?! (gasp)

I’m also really really trying to be more mindful about how I spend my money. Seriously, where does it all go? I don’t buy a lot of stuff, or so I tell myself. But somehow, at the end of each month, I end up spending way more than my paycheck probably allows for. Which is why I have been obsessively reading minimalist and don’t-be-stupid-about-money blogs, like this one and this one and this one. I also especially loved this from Becoming Minimalist: One Simple Question to Ask Before Any Purchase. Now I need to just start following his advice…

And last but not least, I am currently obsessed with what most others on the internet have been obsessed with for many years now… Instagram. I finally, finally let go of my resistance to having another social media platform to keep up with, and jumped on the Instagram bandwagon. So far, so good. I have a reasonable amount of willpower about not checking it too often, which makes me feel less guilt about enjoying all the inspirational pictures and posts from yoga/outdoorsy/runner people that I follow. Anyway, if you want to follow the blog’s new Instagram, I’m planning to post pictures of my morning runs and a few other things from time to time!

Mindfulness in the classroom: a six-week unit

mindfulness in the classroom: a six week unitI’ve talked before about teaching mindfulness in the classroom – I started it this year with my students, and LOVED it. My kindergarteners are young and energetic and emotional and impulsive, there’s no denying it – but learning the components of mindfulness, including mindful breathing and finding a quiet space to calm down, really made a difference in how they interacted with each other and with themselves. I found students reminding others to be mindful, utilizing our Peace Table to calm themselves down, even referencing mindfulness during math lessons!

Since this year was my first year teaching it, I was kind of pulling together resources in a haphazard way, throwing in a mindful moment here and there. While my favorite time to teach it was Morning Meeting, I didn’t always have time (or remember) to practice it with my students every day. But that’s the life of a teacher! If it’s not in the curriculum, it’s hard to prioritize it. Sooooo….

I decided to make a mindfulness unit! I wrote up a formal unit that lays out the lessons I did with my students more explicitly, and I plan to use it during the first month of school this year. You can find it here on my TPT store!

Mindfulness Moments in the ClassroomThe unit is designed to last for six weeks, with each lesson introducing a new mindfulness technique that you can teach all week long. Like I said, I tend to do my mindful moments during Morning Meeting, but there are lots of other times that would work as well. See my post on mindful moments during transitions! The unit includes a lesson on introducing the Peace Table, which I HIGHLY recommend using in classrooms for any elementary age. The Peace Table is a concept adopted from Montessori education, and is an amazing resource for teaching emotional intelligence, cooperation and problem-solving for young students.

The unit also includes lots of resources on where to learn more about mindfulness education. See also my post on learning to practice mindfulness in your own life!

And if you have ANY questions about teaching mindfulness or meditation in the classroom, just send me a message! Namaste 🙂

Inspiration for the week

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I apologize I haven’t been posting lately. School will be over in one week (actually four days!) and I promise to be more active on here. One of my goals for the summer is to connect with writing and blogging more, as it’s a creative outlet that brings me a lot of happiness. But only when I make time for it! Meanwhile, here are a few links to inspire over the next week:

Catching a piece of the sky: on childhood and wonder

Jose Vilson (who wrote This is Not a Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class and Education) had a series of guest posts on his blog that I loved. This one especially.

Another Jose Vilson piece: We must not be defeated. On optimism in May.

I’m fascinated by simple, effective ways to do inquiry-based teaching. I liked this article, on why it’s not always important to name everything we find in the natural world.

Super cool! The first school district to embrace climate literacy. Maybe I should go teach in Portland.

I don’t know much about John Muir, but I’d like to know more, and I always see his quote “The mountains are calling” all over my Pinterest boards. Adventure Journal delves into what the quote actually means.

Hooray for the new food labels! They now have to show explicitly how much added sugar is in packaged foods. Serving sizes will also be changed to more accurately reflect the amount people eat.

This is your brain on nature.

I’m a slow runner, and always have been. This piece gave me hope that it might not have to be that way forever 🙂

Inspiration for the weekend

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Ah spring. My favorite season. Yes, I know that fall has changing leaves and that crisp autumn smell. But spring is filled with blooming flowers, and sprouting gardens, and hope. Here are some hopeful links to share with you this morning…

Making peace with my body: How I did away with guilt and focused on joy.

On mindful running.

A beautiful story on why we should be able to walk through our country, and how absurd it is that we can’t.

Rewild your life: a 30-day challenge. I signed up to do this challenge to spend 30 minutes in nature each day, but realized that it’s near impossible during the school year. Fortunately, next month is the end of the school year! So I’ll start it up then.

One of my all-time favorite bands is Cloud Cult. Their songs, shows, and albums are filled with so much beauty and emotion. Their lead singer, Craig Minowa, did an interview on the show On Being. I love everything he talks about, and also his midwestern accent.

A good lesson on being mindful when something is frustrating.

I wear these headbands all the time and love them! They’re adjustable, don’t slip, and come in really pretty patterns. Highly recommended.

Inspiration for the week

wildnessI love leisurely Saturday mornings. They usually result in me drinking too much coffee (so warm and tasty!) and attempting to read the whole internet. So here is some weekend inspiration to share:

Have I mentioned my obsession with the Running on Om podcast? I can’t get enough of it. Try this episode on feminine fierce, or this one on falling in love with your running, or this one on the intersection of running, nutrition and intuition.

I’m trying to get better at journaling every day. I’ve figured out a good way to meditate in the morning (just two minutes, right before breakfast), but haven’t been able to fit journaling in my daily routine. This gives some good inspiration to find the time:

  • When you become a better listener to yourself, you become a better listener to others.
  • This soft quiet practice initiates the nurturing of your inner teacher, who happens to be pretty benevolent, empathetic and compassionate. You’ll start to be more lenient on yourself and that will trickle down to others because you’ll realize that we’re all doing the best we can with the tools we have.

When things are changing. Paying attention to subtle changes in your life/mind/body/soul, and why that’s important.

I always grapple with the paradox of personal growth: How do you find a balance between accepting and loving yourself for who you are, and working to change yourself for the better?

And in the teaching world:

Extraordinary things happen when we simplify childhood. I’m not a parent, but I have kids I love, and oh my gosh do I love this article.

Teaching kindergarten in a new age of anxiety. YES.

Just found another teaching book I can’t live without. I wish I had an unlimited budget for books… The Teacher You Want to Be: Essays about Children, Learning and Teaching.

50 Ways to Wonder: Educate families on how to connect with nature

50 Ways to Bring Wonder into the ClassroomIn an effort to bring curiosity and joy back into the elementary school classroom, I decided to start a series called 50 Ways to Bring Wonder into the Classroom. I hope to keep these ideas simple and easy to implement for the time-crunched teacher. Most of these ideas come from other teachers, blogs, and books – so I don’t claim credit for them! Click here to see previous posts in the series. And without further ado, here is the next idea!

9. Educate your students’ families on how to connect with nature.

One of my all-time favorite quotes comes from Rachel Carson, when she says “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder… he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.”

The quote inspires me to be that adult, the one with whom my students can explore the world and marvel at its mysteries. I do everything I can to make room for joy and wonder in the classroom. But let’s be real – there isn’t enough time in the school day to do it right. The pressures of academic expectations in kindergarten (or any grade) are way too high to really let my students spend the optimal amount of time exploring the outdoors. I am lucky if I get in 30 minutes a day of unstructured time for my students, plus a few science lessons outside each week.

But this is where I turn to my students’ families – after all, they are the ones who spend the most significant amount of time with their children, long after the kindergarten year is over. Why not help them learn to bring joy and wonder into their children’s lives? Yes, families are busy, and many may not be receptive to pushes from their child’s teacher to find time for playing outside. But I believe strongly in the importance of connecting children with nature, so it’s worth every attempt at involving my students’ families to do just that.

There are lots of ways to involve families. I run the garden committee at my school, which has parents and community members on board for planting and growing the garden. We also encourage parents to adopt the garden for a week in the summer, bringing their children with them to weed and harvest during the non-school season.

nature parent books

If you don’t have a garden, consider purchasing books that parents can borrow. I recently read How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature by Scott D. Sampson, and LOVED it. It’s filled with ideas for how parents can help their children at each stage of growth (early childhood, middle childhood and adolescence) become enamored by the natural world. He gives ideas for how parents can become “nature mentors” (like Rachel Carson advises), addresses the paradox of technology and the outdoors, and lists tons of other resources for parents and caregivers.

Another good resource is the book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv. He outlines the research behind the dramatic drop in time spent outdoors, and why it’s bad for children’s health and futures. This one is a little gloomier than How to Raise a Wild Child, but it’s become a classic for parents and teachers who are worried about their children’s connection to nature.

There are also TONS of resources available online, and I sometimes print this and attach them to my weekly family newsletter. Here are just a few you could include:

These conversations might be hard to have at first, since parents are often worried about a myriad of things besides getting their kids outdoors more. But I believe it will help enormously to encourage parents in your mission to bring more joy and wonder into the lives of your students. Make sure to tell parents that they don’t need to be nature experts to take their kids outdoors – it’s less important to name all the plants on your hike, and more important that you are going on a hike together.

Inspiration for the week

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I woke up this morning full of excitement for my upcoming nine days of freedom (aka spring break!). And for some reason, even though it’s only just turned to spring, I couldn’t get summer plans out of my head. There’s so much I could possibly do this summer. There’s a master naturalist course I want to take, plus a yoga teacher training I got accepted to (!), as well as my summer grad school classes, some science-related professional development stuff through my school, and my summer job at the nature center. Plus J and I are hoping to take a trip to California to see the redwoods and Big Sur (!!).

So much to choose from, which is an awesome problem to have. But it seems as always that I’m taking on too much and won’t be able to do it all without being a crazy busy crazy person. And summer is definitely NOT the time for being a crazy busy crazy person. It’s supposed to be my season of relaxation.

So I’ll have to do some thinking and schedule-balancing, and probably let a few of those things go for now. I need to get better at remembering my intention to simplify my life. To help me remember, I decided to put together a few links on intentional living for your viewing pleasure…

Why saying you want change is not enough. A conversation in this article, that his mentor has about truly wanting something, really rang true for me. I keep saying I want a simpler life, or enough money to travel, or more time to read, or to learn how to rock climb better. But I don’t realign my priorities to make sure I do it.

A mentor of mine was interacting with a gentleman older than me when the man made this statement, “I want to buy a Corvette.”

My mentor responded to his desire quite frankly, “No you don’t.”

“What do you mean? Of course I do. I’d like to own a Corvette.”

My mentor responded with words I have never forgotten, “No, you don’t really want to buy a Corvette. You see, if you really wanted to buy a Corvette, you could buy a Corvette. You could sell your home and maybe also your business. Then, you would have enough money to buy a Corvette. You say you want to own a Corvette… but if you really wanted to buy a Corvette, you’d be changing your life to do exactly that.”

Amazing new podcast discovery! It’s called Running on Om, and it’s all about the mind/body/soul connection between running, yoga, mindfulness, and intention. How did I function without this podcast until now?

I think making avocado toast every night could simplify my life.

The secret to having a simplified schedule. Something I need to work on.

A book I got and a book I would like to get.

I was trying to avoid the major fad that is the Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, because I’m freakishly organized already and don’t need to be pushed any further in that direction. But then a good friend of mine convinced me to look at how the book recommends you get rid of possessions – by asking the question “Does this spark joy?” It seems silly, because items in your house don’t really spark joy. But I looked at my closet with the lens of “does this piece of clothing make me feel joyful?” If the answer was no, I got rid of it. If the answer was “well I might wear this someday” or “I really like this color” or “I paid a lot for this dress,” I still got rid of it. Lo and behold, I got rid of about one-fourth of my clothes in 15 minutes. It was awesome.

Mindfulness in the classroom: Mindful Moments

mindful moments in the classroom

You guys you guys, I discovered the best thing!! I’ve been trying to figure out practical, not-overwhelming-or-hard-or-time-consuming ways to bring mindfulness into my classroom, and when I came across this artist, I realized it was made just for me. Or so I’d like to believe. Anyway, her name is Kira Willey, and she is a singer/songwriter and yoga person who wanted to bring more mindfulness into kids’ lives. She has lots of albums filled with beautiful yoga-for-kids songs, but my absolute favorite is her new one, Mindful Moments for Kids. I highly recommend you get it.

mindful moments album cover

The songs are about a minute long, and have names like “Candle Breath,” “Imagine You’re a Tree,” and “Be a Bumblebee.” They give short and simple directions for calming your body, breathing in and out deeply (sometimes like a bumblebee, sometimes like you’re blowing out a candle), and centering your mind. The fun instructions (“pretend you’re holding a cup of hot cocoa…take a small sip and say mmmmm as you breathe out”) completely captivate my kids, and the songs get even the squirreliest bunch of kindergarteners to calm down and focus. The album has 32 different songs on it, so the kids always have a lot to choose from.

I especially like doing them when the class comes to the rug. If you think about it, transition times like coming to the rug are a really good time to take a minute for mindfulness. I realized recently that I don’t allow my kids to have slow transitions from one thing to the next. When writing time is wrapping up, I say “okay time to come to the rug for science” and expect them to be cleaned up, seated and quiet within minutes. We rush our kids from subject to subject, from room to room, from area to area. But sometimes they need time to refocus on the new topic at hand, or the new role they are expected to play (before I was a writer, now I am a scientist). These mindful moments from Kira Willey are a perfect way to help them do just that.

Inspiration for the week

inspiration for the week

Spring is coming! I’ve decided (even though I realize my confession borders on sacrilege, given the popularity of fall in the collective minds of millennials) that spring is my favorite season. Nothing gets me more excited about life than hearing that first mourning dove, watching snow melt from the branches, and feeling the warm spring sunshine on my face. So happy spring, and enjoy some links that have inspired me this week!

Self-care is something that I know teachers don’t prioritize nearly enough: Experts share their tips on how you can be kinder to yourself.

Homemade almond milk. My bf makes this every week, and it’s always more delicious than the store-bought kind. Given how much I use each week for breakfasts, I should probably start making it too.

I sent this to one of my busy momma friends, about giving yourself some space, a moment of peace, which women don’t do often enough.

Along those same lines, you can’t read, watch and do everything (but I’m always guilty of trying).

And last, a super interesting article that gives another reason why poverty is a barrier to healthy eating habits. Children need to try a new food at least 8 times before they learn to like it – and if you’re strapped for cash, why would you bother buying a food that you know your child will reject 8 times in a row? Wasting food is not an option in many families, so kids don’t get enough chances to try new fruits and vegetables. Enter…the school system! Just another reason why we should systematically educate kids on healthy eating habits in schools.