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Brain Boxes!

UPDATE:  Brain Boxes were a huge success in my classroom!  I'm in my second year of using them and they've worked even better than I could've imagined.  I originally thought I'd have to switch them out each month or so... but believe it or not, my class used these same boxes ALL YEAR LONG. That almost makes me feel like a tiny bit of a rotten teacher for not going nuts trying to make them fresh and seasonal, but guess what- no worries, because they LOVED them!  All. Year. Long. 

I love to share so... I'm giving away the "Fine Motor Mats" I use in my boxes for FREE!  You can grab them by clicking on the big pic above.  

So here we are 2 months into year 2 with the same boxes (these things will last forever) and basically the exact same activities as I used last year.  I've replaced the pipe cleaners for the bead stringing and decided to swap out the hole punchers (they got messy) with tinker toys I found at a garage sale (they're a total hit).  I'd recommend Brain Boxes to any teacher looking for SIMPLE, fine motor work kids can do at the beginning or end of the day or when they finish work quickly. 
Here's the original post:

I'm so excited to launch these BRAIN BOXES in my classroom soon!  Apparently it's an idea that's been around for a long time (my teacher/sister says she did them with her class 10 years ago, but I've seen them becoming "hot" again lately... so I wanted to share my management plan, what's in mine, where I got the stuff and all that in case YOU want to try them to!
How fun do these look?!
So pre-brain boxes, my kiddos would come in, do their morning routine (backpack, folder, order lunch, etc) and plop down on their sit spot to visit with friends while we waited for the school news to begin.  It'd usually take 10-15 minutes for the news to come on so honestly, I realized I probably COULD have been doing something more valuable with their time than sitting and chatting (although that's good too in some ways, right?).  I've never been a fan of "morning work" worksheets... so brainboxes are the perfect solution!  MOST of these focus on fine motor skills which are PERFECT for the beginning of the year!
My 4 and 5 year old "product testers" hard at work!  LOVE.

Padlocks and keys from the dollar tree = $4.  It takes some problem solving to figure out which key goes in which lock!  They all came with 2 keys so I am keeping one in my desk (because chances are good one may get lost or broken... it's okay).
My plan (at least initially- we'll see how this goes!) is that kids who arrive early/on time can do their morning routine and then grab a brain box of their choice to work on quietly in the room.
$1 mini hole punchers from Walmart with some $1 fun colored note cards.  My smart teacher-sis suggested putting an example of a "done" card in the box so I don't end up with oodles of cards with one punch out of them. Haha!

  • I'm not going to assign them (too complicated- what teacher needs one more job to do?).
  • I'm not going to keep track of who does what (again- no time for that! If they choose the same thing everyday, NBD). :)
  • I'm not going to make them sit at a table (we can be flexible!).
  • I'm not going to switch out the boxes very often.  Maybe a few times per year?  Playing that one by ear.  They'll only be working in them maybe 5 minutes per day so they should be interesting for awhile.
A little puzzle my kids don't play with anymore.  Fits perfectly at an angle!

I LOVE Leap Frog Letter Factory and it's one of the only videos I feel really, really good about showing my class.  It's how all my own personal kiddos learned their letters and sounds super early on.  So these are just flashcards that go with that video.  Many kinds of flashcards could go in these boxes.
How fun are these cards pictured below?  They fit perfectly in the boxes (more on where the boxes are from in a minute!).  I had to make them because I couldn't find what I was looking for on TPT. Everything I found was mostly black and white and full sized pages.  These are super fun and colorful (obviously, right?!) and they have little grey circles that show kids where to place the pom poms.  Not sure if you can see the circles from this pic, but they're easy to see up close.  I purposely made the circle light so they wouldn't overpower the pictures. :) See them HERE!
Probably one of the hottest boxes so far, at least with my niece, nephew, and Kindergarten aged daughter who have been busy "testing" these out for me!  It's pom poms from Dollar Tree and Hobby Lobby.  I think the kids will like them so much I dedicated 2 boxes to this.  I got medium, little, and even itty bitty sized poms for extra fun!  The big blue plastic tweezer is from Dollar Tree ($1 obvs) and I also got 2 of the cheapest metal tweezers from Target (less than $1 for 2).  I put a metal one and a plastic one in each box.  They BOTH work great for pinching pom poms, which surprised me because I wasn't sure the little metal ones would work... but happy surprise- they totally do! 
Good ol dominoes.  They can stack them, build, match them up, line them up, whatever they want!

Dollar Tree had some 6 cute little piece puzzles (4 for $1).  I put two of them in this box and will save the other 2 for later in the year.
  • I am going to have them keep all the pieces in the container (ESPECIALLY for boxes like the beads and pom poms... yikes!).  They can work while keeping most pieces in the box.... no need to dump it all out.
  • I am going to have them clean up 1 minute before the news begins.  Some kids may never get to work in brain boxes if they get to school late or are pokey doing their jobs.  That's okay.
  • I am going to let them work alone or with ONE other person (because I have less boxes than kids).  The volume in the room should be pretty chill because they're focusing on their work.  They can talk, but it's not like a party.  :)
The other HOT ticket so far!  So I made TWO of these.  Stringing beads on pipe cleaners!  Remember- I'm going to expect them to leave these IN THE BOX and just pick up one at a time to put on the pipe cleaner.  I'm already mentally preparing myself that these MIGHT spill someday.  Ha!  But the lids do snap on pretty securely so maybe I don't have to worry.

OF COURSE I had to use the 25 cent twisty crayons, right?  So this is just coloring with some special crayons that are different from what they usually get to use.  My rule will be one note card per kid per day.  Make it fancy and use both sides cause you only get ONE.  :)

These are some blocks that hook together that my husband played with when he was little.  No idea what they are exactly, but kids might think they're fun?!

THESE made me happy cause they're so dang cute and they fit so well in these boxes.  Dollar Tree has some Frozen puzzles that are 12 pieces each (4 for $1).  They fit PERFECTLY into these adorable little boxes that are only $1 each from Walmart.  I'll warn you that I bought several other little 12 or 24 piece puzzles- and even those 6 piece Mickey puzzles, but none of those fit in these little boxes.  Only the Frozen ones.  Oh well.  These are a WINNER though!

Also a cute little box.  A mixture of nuts and bolts that cost a few dollars.  They have to see which nuts fit on each bolt cause they're different sizes.  This one is kind of like the locks and keys. 

I'm not sure I'll be brave enough to do Play Doh (I have carpet!) but I'm sure kids will LOVE it so I might need to give it a shot.  The cards I made can also be used with play doh if I teach them how to roll the doh into little balls.  Cute!

If you'd like to grab a set of the cards I'm using with the play doh and pom poms, you can find them HERE:
I know a lot of teachers who were going with plastic shoe boxes for this idea, but mine are just 3x5 index cards from Walmart.  They have clear lids that snap on so easy, yet tight.  I love that they won't take up tons of space in my classroom.

Get Set for Kindergarten!

Are you new to teaching Kindergarten?  Or are you like I often am and even though you’ve done this before, you’re having a late-Summer panic attack like, “Wait- I think  forgot how to teach!”  Or maybe you’re a seasoned veteran just looking for new ideas?!  Whoever you are, and whatever brought you here… WELCOME!  
Hi!!  My name is Katie Howard from HOWYWOOD KINDERGARTEN and I’ve been teaching Kindergarten and 1st grade for the past 16 years.   
This kind of a sign is perfect for hanging at 5-year-old eye level outside your classroom, especially at the beginning of the year!  Those sweet babies may not be able to tell anyone what their teacher's name is yet, but they can PROBABLY recognize your face after a few hours.  This is just one of the hundreds of ideas I'm excited to share with you in today's FREEBIE!

I'm FAR from knowing it all, but I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeves after all these years in the classroom and I'm the kind of girl who can’t keep a good thing to myself- I love to share! 

So here is what happened: I have a couple of new teachers on my team this year and as I started pouring my heart into typing out notes and tips and ideas to share with them, I was like, “Dang, this is turning out to be pretty helpful... Why don’t I just share this with everyone?!  I'm sure there are other teachers who’d feel a little more prepared for the first day if they could read this!  Heck, I even feel more prepared for the first day after typing it all out! Ha ha!”  

So, BAM!  A super value-packed freebie was born!  It’s over flowing with sanity-saving tips, detailed plans and bright ideas, my "TOP 10 Beginning of the Year Survival Tips," easy clickable links to my favorite websites and resources I won’t teach without during those first few weeks, and MORE! 

Steal and take any ideas you want, tweak it and make it your own.   
This is for YOU!

Best wishes for a bright, beautiful school year!

Christmas in July! FREEBIES for all seasons!

How’s your Summer going?? 
As I type this, I'm sitting on my deck, soaking up the sun, listening to the birds sing, not really thinking AT ALL about school!  Don't get me wrong- I LOVE school, but I also always love some time to recharge, refresh, let my kids and their cuzzys take Snapchat selfies...

and hey- how about stock up on some sweet FREEBIES to make life easier and better once school finally does roll around again??  Woo-hoo! Count me IN!

I'm so excited to share some of my favorite free items with you-- something for every season! 

Okay, let's do this!

Beginning of the Year
This one is simple, yet profound!  It's one of the KEY pieces I use to get all my Kindergarteners to know their numbers from 1-31 ASAP.  It includes detailed directions and everything you need (which isn't much, but seriously- it WORKS!)
Click the pic to grab this freebie!
You'll be "thankful" you snagged these sweet little Pilgrim Kids when they look so adorable in your hall or classroom!  You can add a little writing about what kids are thankful for and call it perfect!
Click the pic to grab this freebie!
Do you "have a dream" about owning some great writing papers to go along with your lesson on Martin Luther King Jr.?  BOOM!  Dream come true!
You know the drill.... Click the pic to grab this one!
Don't miss this last one!
Cheep, cheep, cheep... free, free, free!  Oh, it doesn't get any cuter than these sweet babyRobins!  These are a classic my sisters and I have been doing for years and years.... and now YOU can make them too!  I love the personalities these little birdies seem to show.

Well, ENJOY "Julying" this month, soak up some sun, have fun with the people you love most, and grab lots of super school freebies!

35 FREE {or super cheap} Ways to Make the End of the Year AWESOME!

Let's hear it for the end of the school year!!  Whether you're already on Summer vacation, have a few weeks or months to go, or maybe just 7 days like me (YAY!!), those last few days we have with our students are ones we teachers want to make extra special!

Note:  If you want to make this EXTRA festive and suspenseful, put these ideas inside balloons! They don't have to be helium filled... just plain ol balloons are perfect!  Before you blow each one up, slip in a little piece of paper that says one SPECIAL activity your kids can do that day.  Then blow them up and label the balloon with a # or date so you know when you want it to get popped.  Each morning pick a lucky student to pop the balloon and reveal what today's surprise is.  Kids LOOOOOOVE this!

Need some simple ideas about what you could put in your balloons?  I gotcha covered... 

20 minute Dance Party: Take their requests for some Kids Bop songs and let them color and sing or show off their sweet dance moves!
Sit Where You Want Day: Have assigned seats?  Let them try sitting where they want as long as they still “do their job.”
Paper Airplane Day: teach them how to make them and then go outside to watch them soar!
Stinky Feet: Let them take their shoes off in the classroom!
Picnic Lunch Outside or Lunch in the Classroom w/ the Teacher: Yay!
Think in Ink: ditch the pencils and use markers or pens for the day! 
Kickball vs Another Class: Coordinate with another teacher and let the good times roll!  A variation of this I also love is called “Big Base.”  Google it!
Dark Day: Work all day with the lights off.
20 min of extra recess time: always celebrated and appreciate by children everywhere (and if it’s nice out- teachers love this, too, right?!  Soak up a little Vitamin D!).
Backwards Day: Do your whole daily schedule backwards… end with your morning meeting, etc.  Kids think this is sooo hilarious!
Homework-Free Day:  If you usually give out homework, give the kids a night off instead!
Game Time: Lead them in classic, simple whole class games kids love like Heads Up, 7 Up , Silent Ball, 4 Corners, or others!
Minute-to-Win-It-Games: Google for specific ideas, but you can put kids into 4 teams and have one person per team go at a time.  The 1st student to get the task completed earns a point for their team.
Computer or iPad Free Time: Check out my website for kids… it’s the only place I let my class play because it has safe links to all my favorite ad-free online games!
Movie: Grab one from your personal stash or rent one from the library for free… or splurge on something hot and new: Zootopia comes out June 7!  That’s my plan, man!
Extra GoNoodle Time: Please tell me you GoNoodle in your classroom?!  It’s the BEST!
Paper Party:  Let kids use paper scraps, tape, glue, paint, markers, etc to just create anything they want… they’ll think they are in Heaven!  SO happy to just sit and create.
Puzzle Party: bring in several 24-100 piece puzzles and put kids in groups to work on them.
Super Science Day: google some simple experiments … there are many easy, low-prep, fun ones!
Thankful Day: Brainstorm a list of people who helped us get through this year: staff, teachers, family, etc.  Give kids paper and time to write and draw their gratitude to the important people in their lives.  This is the sweet template I use that’s always a HIT: 

Ideas that need to be announced a day or more in advance so kids can prepare:
Show & Tell Time: Let kids bring something that’s not super valuable and small enough to fit in their backpack and give them each a minute or 2 to tell the class about it.  Finish up each child’s sharing by letting them take 1 comment or question from the class.
Game Time: bring a card or board game from home to play
Dress up like a Character Day: Do they have cute Halloween costumes they didn't get to wear to school (no scary stuff!)  Wear em!
Crazy Hair Day: Classic.  No explanation needed.  My favorite teacher-do to do is a bun with sharpened pencils poking all around it.  I’ve gotten over a 100 in there.  It gets heavy, but it’s so easy and always makes kids think you’re AMAZING!
Cozy Reading Time: read while wearing jammies
Fuzzy Friends: Bring a stuffed animal to school!  My rule is that it needs to be shorter than the distance from a parents elbow to finger tips.  I also have extras for anyone who forgets.
Matchy-Matchy Day: dress alike w/ a group of friends
Read & Munch: read while eating snacks from home
Crazy Sock and/or Mismatched Shoe Day: Fun!
Silly Socks! Take a picture!
Flashlight Reading: Bring a flashlight from home and read books with the lights off!

Super Cheap {$5 or Less} Ideas:
Chew gum in the classroom for 20 minutes: You might be SHOCKED how much my kids were excited about this one!  Apparently gum is a mega big deal in the K world!
Shaving Cream on Tables:  Roll up those sleeves and let kids smear it around!  Write sight words & draw pictures.
shaving cream fun!!!
Bubble Blowing Bonanza: Grab some dixie cups and a big bottle of bubble solution (or make your own) and have kids make wands out of pipe cleaners (It works!  I tried it!).
Chalk Party: Get a box of sidewalk chalk and go write messages on the sidewalks/blacktop.
Movie & a Snack: A giant bag of popcorn is usually pretty cheap, simple, and sugar-free!
Math Games:  My class loves these 2 lately:  Around the World and Math Football. They're totally EDITABLE and only $2 ea!

These SHOULD all be easy and really exciting for your kids, but if anyone complains or gives you a bad time about any of these, just be like this teacher: ;) LOL an "End of the Year Celebration" coming up?  Grab my template for these {surprisingly sturdy!} hats, sweet diplomas, and pages of ALL my time-tested tips and tricks for planning the BEST EOY Celebration EVER!

If you need any other end of the year favorites from my TPT store, you can click on the pics for links: 

The perfect Spanish word book for Cinco de Mayo (or anytime!)

Love this book! We usually use it with a Spanish story in our language arts curriculum but it's also perfect for Cinco de Mayo!

Find all these pages and more: HERE! Spanish Word Book!


Can't wait to make this project with my Kindergarteners this week!!! 

Side note: I became Facebook friends with a mom of a former Kindergartener and in one of her recent FB pics, I spotted this project STILL proudly displayed on their fridge, almost a year later!!! Made me so happy! These a TRUE keepers that moms will treasure for always, guaranteed!  Even the ones that aren't so good (as far as amazing artwork and perfect coloring) are still SO, SO good in a sweet precious way, wouldn't you agree?!  :)

The pages for this project are actually a combination of 2 products I have on TPT:
 It's totally worth it to buy them both cause the Mother's Day Project pack has 2 other really winning projects included...
This is another one of the super cute projects you get directions and printables for in the "Mother's Day Project Pack!"
and the Self Portrait Directed Drawing is something that's SO fun to do at the beginning or end of the school year. The directions are so clear and easy to follow that parents often comment that "this is the BEST thing my child has EVER drawn!" It includes special papers just for Mother's Day and Father's Day!

Have fun celebrating those oh so special mamas (and grandmas and other special ladies in our lives!)!