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Saturday, February 17, 2024

Fun Phonics Activities that Align with the Science of Reading

If you're a teacher in the primary grades you surely know that one of our most important tasks is teaching phonics skills. As children progress in phonemic awareness it's our job to help guide them towards becoming a reader! While this might sound simple, we all know that a lot is at play here. We've got to consider the best methods and practices for helping our students reach their full potential! With that in mind, let's chat about the Science of Reading and fun phonics activities to support how kids learn best! 

Include these fun phonics activities in your daily lessons.

First Off, What is the Science of Reading? 

The Science of Reading refers to an evidence-based model on how experts believe children learn to read. The Science of Reading is based on scientific research that has been conducted over the last 5 decades around the world. There are 5 key components to this model which include:

Phonics activities help you make the most of the science of reading model to help your students master phonemic awareness, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension.
  • phonemic awareness
  • phonics
  • vocabulary 
  • fluency 
  • and comprehension 
Mastery of these 5, key components makes up "what it takes" to become a strong and successful reader. Luckily, as a primary teacher, you're likely already using teaching strategies and techniques that support these five skills! Once we understand what the Science of Reading is comprised of, it's a lot easier to recognize phonics skills that will support the five components. 

The Importance of Making Phonics Fun 

As teachers, we value progress among our students. We know that in order to be successful, they must "level up" over time and gradually increase their understanding of specific topics. 

While using phonics activities in your classroom keep them fun for maximum engagement from your students.
But we also know that if it's going to stick... it's gotta be fun! This couldn't be more true for the primary grades. 

We all know that children can learn to memorize things, but will they really remember if the lessons aren't engaging and fun? It's unlikely, right?! 

So with that in mind, it's time to shake things up when it comes to teaching phonics skills. Let's break free from the norm, explore new teaching methods, and best of all get those kids excited to learn! 

Not sure how to do that? Not to worry friend, I've got 5 tried and true, engaging phonics activities that align with the Science of Reading and make learning fun! 

1. Inference Phonics Riddles

I loved using songs, rhymes, and riddles in the classroom. Seeing my students light up with joy with these whimsical wordplays warmed my teacher heart to the core! Not to mention, they make teaching just about any topic SO much more fun. During small group time, one of my favorite phonics activities to use were these Inference Phonics Riddles. 

Include inference phonics riddles like these in your phonics activities for fun rhymes, beginning sounds, cvc words, blends, and digraphs, and vowel teams practice.
To use, you'll read the clues aloud to your students one at a time. Students will combine the informational clues with the phonics sound presented to determine the correct answer. Best of all, these cards each have a fold-back flap with the correct answer hiding until it's ready to be revealed! Self-correcting cards and fun riddles make this resource a total win! Phonics skills targeted in these activities include:
There is also a set of blank cards as well, for endless possibilities! I think once you give these a try in your own small groups, you'll find that the engagement factor is MUCH higher than you'd find with typical, phonics worksheets. Plus, you'll love watching your students build their knowledge with these fun phonics activities! Check out the full bundle here for year-long learning made easy.

2. Phonics Anchor Charts 

Looking to create a print-rich environment that's filled with words that are relevant to your lessons? Look no further than this great, big bundle of Phonics Anchor Charts. Each chart has a list of words for a target sound along with a picture of a keyword that's marked with a star as an example. Included in the bundle you'll find colorful posters for 7 different phonics skills including:

Phonics anchor charts like these are a great addition tor your fun phonics activities you can use in your classroom each and every day.

There are over 120 charts included in the bundle and many ways to use them! Display them as you teach new skills, use them as teaching tools in small groups, have students use them during centers while writing words, display them on a sound board, or attach them to a homework folder for reference. The options are endless! These phonics anchor charts are such a valuable tool as you work through various phonics activities and skills with your budding readers!

3. Phonics Picture Cards 

Looking for a simple way to introduce new sounds to students? These Phonics Picture Cards provide the perfect visual for primary learners! They offer a simple and effective way to introduce individual letter sounds, digraphs, spelling patterns, or word chunks. Each card features a colorful picture to illustrate the target sound. 

Include phonics picture cards like these in your phonics activities centers for independent or small group practice.
To help keep things organized, each card is marked in the bottom left corner by skill. And finally, a picture key helps to avoid confusion! These will come in SO handy during small groups and whole group teaching as you introduce new sounds to your students. 

The bundle includes 800 different picture cards, so you'll be ready for the whole year! Simply print, laminate for durability if desired, and store in plastic photo boxes. Then, as you're teaching, grab the set that aligns with your group's abilities and you're ready to go! These task cards make it simple and fun to provide examples of new sounds for students. 

4. Phonics Fluency Strips 

Alright friends, let's talk fluency! Reading fluency refers to the ability to smoothly read words and sentences accurately, and with the correct tone. In other words, fluent readers are able to read words automatically, without decoding. This is another key component of the Science of Reading and an important skill to practice in your phonics activities. If you're looking for a simple way to incorporate fluency practice in your lessons, I've got just the thing! 

Use fluency strips like these in your phonics activities for targeted phonics practice you can use for differentiation throughout the school year.
These fluency strips allow you to hand off a word list to a student and have them start reading! They're the perfect way to provide meaningful and consistent practice with reading fluency that is tailored to each child in your group. Inside the resource, you'll find cards for 42 different phonics sounds. Each card has 11 words, giving students ample practice with the target phonics chunk. 

I love using these in small groups. They're a great way to see how individual children are progressing with various phonics sounds. They're also fantastic to send home in weekly homework folders too! Having parents oversee the weekly reading list will give students more opportunities to become familiar with the phonics sound and ultimately become fluent readers! 

5. Phonics Skills Scoot Games 

I saved the best for last! If you're looking for a recipe for engagement in your phonics activities, these games will be the golden ticket! We all know that primary students tend to be a wiggly bunch. They need opportunities to stretch their legs, move around the classroom, and have a change of scenery. Why fight it? With fun Scoot games, you won't have to! You'll be able to target important phonics skills such as: 

A scoot game like this not only gets your students up and moving but helps them practice magic E, vowel teams, beginning digraphs, and more as part of your phonics activities.

To play, simply choose a skill and prep the cards. Then, lay them out around the perimeter of your classroom and supply each child with a clipboard and recording sheet. Every kiddo will start with a specific card and their pencil in hand. As they arrive at their card, they identify the phonics sound/word being targeted on their card and write it on their recording sheet. Then, when you give the signal, they "Scoot!" to the next card. This is such an engaging way to practice important phonics skills and I know your students will love it! 

Fun Phonics Activities for the Whole Year 

Teaching students phonics skills can be exciting with the right activities. This post is filled with my favorites for making daily phonics activities engaging for students! But the fun doesn't need to stop here... be sure to check out my TPT Shop to see all of the phonics activities and lessons I've used over the years! Once you've got engaging phonics activities at the ready, teaching to align with the Science of Reading is a snap! 

Save This Post 

Pin this post on Pinterest so that you can come back to these engaging phonics activities when you're ready to plan your lessons! 

Looking for ways to get in extra phonics activities into your daily lesson plans this year? Use these engaging phonics activities to help your students learn important phonics skills they can carry with them throughout their school years. #tarynsuniquelearning #phonicsactivities #thescienceofreading #thescienceofreadingphonicsactivities

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

5 Staff Morale Boosters That Aren't Food

In the world of staff morale gifts and activities, you may have noticed a common theme... food! Treats, meals, and other food-related events are pretty typical when it comes to showing appreciation for staff. While I think we'd all agree that food is a fun way to celebrate, sometimes you want an alternative, right? If you're nodding your head in agreement - I've got just the solution for you! Let's talk about some of my favorite staff morale boosters that are not food! 

Use these staff morale boosters that don't include snacks or food to show your teachers and staff how much you appreciate all their hard work this year.

Why Staff Morale Counts 

First off, why does staff morale matter? If you're an administrator or member of the staff sunshine committee, you already know the importance of staff morale. School staff members work hard! 
Enhancing staff morale means your teachers and staff will look forward to coming to school and be the best teachers and support staff for your students all year long.
In today's social climate, staff morale is even more important as staff and teachers navigate tricky situations at school. Keeping staff morale high is important in maintaining a healthy school atmosphere. In turn, this benefits everyone involved. When staff are happy and feel appreciated, you can expect the daily routines in your building to hum right along! And remember, staff morale is important for ALL staff members, not just teachers. 

I'm talking about admin, cafeteria, tech support, secretarial staff, janitorial, security, counselors, librarians, and more! Everyone who works in the school is an important piece of the system. Let's do our part to show appreciation for school staff members with these fun staff morale boosters! 

1. Staff Morale BINGO 

We're kicking off this list with one of my best-selling staff morale boosters... BINGO! Everyone knows and loves BINGO, right? I've certainly found this to be true in my own school building after years of using it. This game is a bit of a twist on the traditional, with a giant, life-size BINGO board for everyone to use! There are 2 options included, one for teaching staff and one for ALL staff, so you can choose what works best for your building.

Use this staff morale boosters BINGO activity as a fun way to celebrate all the hard work that goes into being a part of an incredible school.
To set this up, you'll choose your favorite 25 prompts. There are 90 different ones, so no matter what you're looking to recognize and promote- there's something here for you! Prompts include making positive calls home, leaving for the day with an organized desk, not working through lunch, and more! The great thing about this resource is that you can pick and choose what works best for your school. Think about what will motivate YOUR staff, and choose accordingly. If certain prompts don't align with what you're hoping to target- simply leave them out for ones better suited. 

Once you choose your BINGO cards, you'll print them out - I like colorful Astrobrights paper, and then hang them on the wall to make a giant BINGO board. It's a good idea to put this in a high-traffic area so that staff members are reminded to add to it regularly. To play, staff will add their name to each BINGO card as they complete one of the prompts. Once someone has a BINGO, they win a prize. You can continue this until the board is completely filled, or you reach a set time. Either way, this one will energize and motivate staff to fill up those cards! 

2. Random Acts of Kindness Poster 

This next option is a fun way to get all staff members involved in spreading kindness! This resource includes 10 different full-color posters with tear-off prompts for random acts of kindness. The idea is to print them off and hang them in areas where staff congregate. They will look through the prompts and select one to "pay it forward" to a colleague. The prompts include things like:

Staff morale boosters like this random acts of kindness poster will help your staff show each other appreciation.
  • pass off a book to a great friend
  • plan a walk with a colleague after work 
  • offer to cover someone's duty 
  • bring in fresh flowers to brighten up a common area
  • share a bottle of soap or lotion for the staff lounge 
  • provide a listening ear and many more! 

I love this staff morale booster because it's a way to get staff members thinking about how they can spread a little kindness on their own. I don't know about you guys, but when things are busy and crazy in my life, it can be hard to remember to slow down and think of others. This natural human tendency can stir us into a frenzy! Using random acts of kindness is a great way to reconnect with those around us and remember we're all facing challenges on a daily basis. 

3. Windshield Messages 

Looking for a simple, non-food related way to show staff members you care? Windshield wiper cards are the perfect way to do just that! The idea behind this staff morale booster is to choose a heartfelt message for staff and leave it tucked behind the windshield wipers on their car. When they leave for the day, they will find a fun message to motivate and inspire them! 

Windshield messages like these are a great addition to your staff morale boosters and give your staff a sweet note to appreciate when going home at the end of a long day or week.
I have options to carry you through the entire school year. By choosing one that relates to the season, you'll end up with whimsical notes that are pretty punny! Some of the fall notes include messages like:
  • I be-leaf in you!
  • Your students are falling in love with learning!
  • We are totally NUTS about you!

The fall notes will come in handy from August through November. The winter notes are filled with messages that are perfect for adding to staff vehicles right before winter break. The spring windshield notes will carry you through the spring months leading to the end of the school year. 

The notes include cute clipart and seasonal designs as well, so all you need to do is print and add a personal touch if desired! Your staff will love going home for the day and finding these notes waiting for them. 

4. Self-Care Challenge 

I already mentioned my love for BINGO games, and I have another to share! This Self-Care BINGO Challenge is the perfect way to steer your staff towards focusing on health, wellness, and stress relief. This game is designed to be used after hours to help create a better work-life balance and get the necessary rest to be their best self at work. 

To play, each staff member will get a BINGO board. You can distribute these in staff mailboxes with instructions, or pass them out at a staff meeting. Staff members will work on completing the board throughout the month until the next meeting. This challenge will work for ALL staff members, so make sure to include everyone in your building! The boxes are filled with prompts such as:

Use this self-care BINGO challenge as a staff morale booster to remind your staff to take time to take care of themselves.
  • light a candle
  • cut or color your hair
  • take a bath
  • binge-watch a new show
  • find some quiet and enjoy a good book
  • get your car washed
  • go to bed early and more!

As staff complete an item, they will mark it off. You can decide if you want them to complete 5 in a row, or go for blackout! Collect some prizes and distribute them to the winners. These scratch-offs are great options for winners!

We all know what it's like to work ourselves into overdrive and never take a moment to rest. This process is exhausting and results in burnout quickly. Encourage your staff to be mindful of their self-care routines with this fun challenge! 

5. Staff Favorites Book 

This last staff morale booster is a tried and true favorite! Plus, it can be used all year long for many situations. Creating a Staff Favorites Binder will pay off all throughout the year. The idea behind this resource is to have your staff members fill out a page with all of their favorite things. They will include things like:

A staff favorites book is a great staff morale booster because it ensures you are giving meaningful gifts, treats, and acts of kindness to show your appreciation to your teachers and staff.
  • sweet treat 
  • office supply
  • flower
  • store
  • hot beverage 
  • pen and more! 

Once you have everyone's sheet back, you'll make a few copies and place them in 3-ring binders. I like to make multiple copies so that I can place a binder in various places such as the office and staff lounge. As I do this, I let staff know that they will be available for random acts of kindness. If they notice that a staff member is having a rough week, they can check out the binder and pick up their favorite flowers. Or maybe they want to thank a colleague for something, so they grab a pack of their favorite pens.

The nice thing about this staff morale booster is that it can be used all year long! There are food options inside, but there are plenty of non-food items listed as well, so staff can choose what they'd like to give. 

Staff Morale Boosters for the Whole Year 

Which of these is your favorite? It's hard for me to choose, but I will say that the Staff Favorites and BINGO were always a huge hit in our building. No matter what you choose, remember that it doesn't have to be anything super fancy or flashy! A simple thank you note, some fresh flowers in the lounge, or a new set of flair pens was always enough to make me smile and feel appreciated. The idea is to spread sunshine and kindness in ways that are accessible to you. If you're looking for more Staff Morale boosters, be sure to check out these posts for more inspiration! 

Pin this post on Pinterest to keep track of these staff morale boosters!

Looking for meaningful staff morale boosters that don't include food to use in your school this year? Use these non food staff morale booster ideas to show your teachers and staff how much you appreciate all the hard work they do to make your school the amazing place it is each and every day of the school year. From BINGO to windshield messages, these fun and creative ideas will let your staff know you appreciate them. #tarynsuniquelearning #staffmoraleboostersthatarentfood #staffmoraleideas #increasingstaffmorale

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Teaching Money Skills with Math Crafts

Ahhh, money skills in the primary classroom. This essential math topic generates a fair bit of excitement for our students. And who can blame them? Learning to count money and make purchases is a rite of passage while growing up! As a teacher who strived to maintain high student engagement, I took advantage of this excitement and created a brand new way to practice money skills with math crafts! Come along to see how this works and the impact it can have on your students. 

Use this exciting math craft to teach money skills to your students in a creative and memorable way.

The Importance of Money Skills for Primary Learners 

Learning to recognize coins, recall their value, count them up, and make change is undeniably important for our little learners! 

Giving your students lots of options and independent choices when it comes to learning is going to be a key to success when teaching money skills. Luckily, this topic tends to be well-received in the classroom. This is so helpful since we all know that when students are engaged in learning, they gain so much more from our lessons! Aside from the obvious, mathematical benefits of learning to count coins, students will also gain financial skills from money lessons too. 

Teaching children to count their money, assess its value, and carefully plan for purchases is such an important lesson. 

One of the reasons money skills are so engaging for students is because they involve choice. We all know that little learners love being given choices and options. When we present them with an opportunity to decide what they'd like to spend their very own money on, the anticipation soars!

Introducing Money Skills 

Before we dive into my favorite way to master money skills, let's get down to the basics of teaching students about money values. Your school likely has standards and curriculum for working with money in your math lessons. Most of us are required to use these materials, but I think it's safe to say that we often like to add in our own supplemental resources too! The extra resources are usually much more fun for students, encouraging enhanced engagement and participation. 

Introduce the concept of money skills with these engaging picture books you can add to your classroom library or use as read alouds.
In my room, books are always on the lesson plan when it comes to introducing new topics. This is certainly true with money skills as well. I like to use a few read-alouds to introduce the concept of coins and dollar bill values to students. Some of my favorites include:
These books provide a basic overview of financial literacy topics, as well as information about how much each coin is worth. I like to read them aloud in the mornings before we dive into deeper lessons on working with coins. These will be a great complement to the math curriculum you're already required to use with your kiddos. 

Real-World Application of Money Skills

Alright friends, ready to take your lessons to the next level? Once your students have some baseline knowledge of money, it's time to put practice into play! Money skills are already fun, but when we let students use them in action, we've got a recipe for success! 

Using seasonal money skills activities will help you give your students an opportunity to practice real world money applications throughout the year.
In my classroom, one of my absolute favorite ways to work on money skills throughout the year was with seasonal math crafts. And, it was definitely something my students looked forward to as well!

Each season, we'd set aside some time to transform the classroom into a marketplace with multiple shopkeepers selling pieces of our craft materials. The idea here is that students will move from "shop" to "shop" and purchase pieces to build their craft. 

In order to make this work, you'll need to do a little planning ahead and utilize parent volunteers, support staff, or even older children to help manage the shops. But, trust me - this is well worth the time and effort to organize! Your students will look forward to your money skills crafting days and have SO much fun along the way. 

Planning the Activity

As I mentioned, we used these activities throughout the year for different seasons, holidays, and themes. For example, in the winter months, our craft was a silly snowman that everyone loved. When it was time to plan one of our money skills crafting days, I liked to collaborate with other teachers and see if they had any students they'd like to lend out as classroom helpers. 
Plan your money skills math craft by asking for volunteers and older student helpers or parent volunteers.

This is a great opportunity for older children to practice patience and cooperation with the little ones. Another option is to ask support staff or parent volunteers to help out. The money-exchange portion of the activity will probably take 30 minutes or so, depending on the size of your class. If your volunteers can stay to help with the crafting portion of the activity - even better!

The additional prep work includes printing out craft pieces on colored or white cardstock. There are full-color options as well as blackline. I like to print them out ahead of time and then roughly cut the paper into pieces across the dotted lines. Students will do the final cutting when it's time to assemble.

Oh, and we can't forget the coins! You'll need to gather up enough coins for each child to borrow for the lesson as well as plastic cups or small containers to keep track of them as they move throughout the classroom. 

Using Money Skills to Buy Craft Pieces

Once you're ready to begin, students will each be given a cup of change in the same amount. You can use plastic coins or real ones, whichever you prefer. Then, each volunteer will work as a "shopkeeper" and have different types of craft pieces available for sale. 

Incorporate real world money skills in your math crafts by giving your students the opportunity to "purchase"  their craft supplies.
Students will read the price list, choose what coins they need from their cup, and pay for the necessary materials with the help and guidance of the volunteers. Each craft has required pieces, as well as optional pieces, so students will need to budget accordingly to make sure they have enough money to pay for all of their pieces. 

Keep in mind that the first time you use this activity, you might need to slow things down a bit and provide a few example transactions. This will be helpful for your students as well as the volunteers! Once you've done this activity a few times though, I think you'll find that this activity flows quite easily with young students. 

As children progress, you can differentiate the activity to be more difficult with increased prices, varied "menus", and even different types of coins. Younger students might work exclusively with pennies and nickels, while older kiddos will use all coins. You can even discreetly pass out pre-made coin cups to correspond to the skill level. Since kiddos will be buying their craft pieces independently, no one needs to know who has what. This makes it fun and easy to continue practicing money skills all year long and with a variety of skill levels. 

Assembling the Craft 

After the money skills lesson is complete and all of your children have purchased their pieces, it's time to craft! Students will work to cut out their pieces, color if necessary, and assemble their craft. If your volunteers are still available, they can circulate in the classroom and assist as necessary. 

Once your money skills math craft snowman is assembled, consider displaying them on a classroom bulletin board for everyone to see.
You can even take this a step further and incorporate some writing skills as well! Simply have your students write a short story about their snowman and how much it "cost" to build it. You can also have them count how many pieces they needed to build the snowman. Another option is to ask them why they chose to decorate him the way they did. 

No matter what you choose, this is a fun way to incorporate money skills, counting, fine motor practice, following directions, and even writing if you so choose. Talk about an all-in-one activity!

When everyone is done, I like to display these on a bulletin board. Everyone is proud to show off their work and in turn, we have a fun and festive seasonal bulletin board for everyone to see! Since we use these seasonally, I know that I have at least one bulletin board covered - which is one more added plus!

Practice Money Skills All Year Long 

So what do you think friends? Would you use this money skills math craft in your room? This was certainly a hit with my kiddos and we always looked forward to this special day each season. If you want to take a closer look at these resources be sure to check the holiday and seasonal options in my TPT Shop:

holiday math crafts to help students work on money skills

seasonal themed math crafts to help students work on money skills and counting coins.

There's a little something for everyone in these bundles, and I know you and your students will love completing one of these crafts during each season. Plus, it's so much fun to watch your students grow in their money skills throughout the year! 

Save These Math Crafts!  

This post is a fun way to mix up your classroom math lessons. Pin this post on Pinterest to keep these money skills math crafts handy! 

Looking for a new and exciting way to introduce the concept of money skills to your students? Use these engaging math crafts to introduce money skills to your kiddos this year with exciting activities they can use to learn about real world money use. #tarynsuniquelearning #teachingmoneyskillswithmathcrafts #mathcrafts #teachingmoneyskills

Thursday, January 4, 2024

6 Tasty Staff Snack Bars Everyone Will Love

We've all had staff parties and potlucks, but sometimes we just need to mix it up with something different. If you can relate, I've got the perfect solution for you... staff snack bars! I'm talking about a buffet-style snack table with a fun theme. There's really no way to go wrong with this staff appreciation idea and I know everyone in your building will love it! Here are 6 of my favorite staff snack bar ideas to get you started. 

Pep up your staff with these delicious ideas for staff snack bars you can use all year long.

What is a Staff Snack Bar? 

A staff snack bar is more than just food. It's a way to get everyone involved in celebrating how amazing your staff is.
Have you ever been to a party where food is served buffet-style so that you can customize it to your liking? 

This is such a fun concept because it allows everyone to make their own creation. It's also pretty cost-effective and conducive to mingling since people can come and go as they please. 

That's the idea behind staff snack bars, except I like to take it a step further and use a fun theme to tie it all together. A staff snack bar is a fun way to celebrate or show appreciation to staff members and serve food in a fun way. 

As a bonus, it also allows people to grab and go when they have a few spare minutes which is great for schools with varied break times. The best part though is that everyone gets exactly what they want! 

When To Use Staff Snack Bars 

Staff snack bars are super versatile and can be used all year long for different seasons, themes, and celebrations. For example, at the start of the school year, you might have a breakfast bar to show appreciation for staff as they settle into a new routine. In the winter you might choose to have some kind of warm drink station with a variety of toppings and add-ins to warm everyone up! Or maybe you want to have a taco or nacho bar to celebrate the big game at your school. 

Use staff snack bars any time of year or coordinate them with special events and holidays.

No matter what you're looking to celebrate, there's a snack bar for that! Here are some of the snack/food bars my school has done in the past:

  • Chili & Soup Bar 
  • Taco/Nacho Bar 
  • Hot Drink Station
  • Baked Potato Bar 
  • Salad Bar 
  • Apple Bar 
  • Breakfast Bar 
  • Dessert Bar

There are SO many options out there, I know you'll be able to find something that's just right for your next event. If you're not sure what to choose or need a little more inspiration on how to get your staff snack bar set up, here are my top 6 favorites! 

1. Apple Snack Bar 

There is no better way to celebrate fall than with an apple bar! This is one of my absolute favorites to use in August or September when apples are ripe and fresh. I originally got this idea from an apple orchard that was down the street from our school. All of the delicious varieties were just begging to be used for something fun! 

An apple staff snack bar like this is perfect for the fall season.
To get started with this idea, you'll need a nice variety of apples. If you don't have an orchard or farmstand market near you, check out your local grocery store to see what's in stock. Large grocery stores usually do a good job of stocking many different varieties in the fall. 

Once you've got your apples, it's time to stock up on toppings! Grab items like caramel sauce, peanut butter, chopped nuts, chocolate chips, coconut flakes, and crushed cookies. Make sure to also get some paper plates, napkins, and apple cutters. 

You can even include specialty apples as well like caramel apples and chocolate-dipped creations. This is a good idea for staff who might not have time to make their own fancy apple plate and would rather grab and go during a quick break. The sky is really the limit on this one, so feel free to make this idea fit the needs of your school! 

Once you've got your goodies, arrange them all on a long buffet table and let staff build their own apple treat! I like to use signs and reminders before the event to make sure everyone knows that this treat is available to them in the lounge. If you want a quick and easy way to facilitate this in your school, be sure to check out this resource that includes fun decorations, labels, and signs for your apple bar! 

2. Staff Salad Bar Luncheon 

Who doesn't love a good salad bar? I love this idea because it is one of the healthier options out there as far as snack bars go. As teachers and administrators, we know that so many of the goodies we receive are sweets and treats, so it's nice to be able to offer a more health-conscious option from time to time too! 

Celebrate your staff with a healthy staff snack bar which includes salads, fruits, and veggies like these.
Setting up a salad bar is very similar to an apple bar, except you'll be focused on grabbing different types of greens, chopped veggies, salad toppings, and dressings. 

When hosting my own salad bar, I used signs, labels, and reminders from this resource. The printables make planning and coordinating salad bar day a breeze! 

Salad bars are really fun to do potluck style as well. Use the included sign-up sheets in this resource to have staff members sign up for an item and make planning this event even more simple. 

It's always fun to see what types of toppings other staff members enjoy using on their own salads! 

3. Hot Cocoa Bar 

In the wintertime and around the holidays, nothing feels more cozy to me than a hot cocoa bar. 

A hot cocoa staff snack bar like this is a great way to show your staff how much you appreciate them during the cold winter months.
We often used this for our staff meeting in December. Everyone was eager to attend knowing that before we got started they'd get to make their own special mug of cozy cocoa just the way they liked it! 

This one is really easy to orchestrate and requires minimal supplies as well, which is always a plus in my book! 

I liked to make a few pots of homemade cocoa for this special event.  But to save time you can grab premade chocolate milk from the grocery store and warm it in a crockpot.  The other easy option is having hot water and cocoa packets available. 

Whatever route you choose, don't forget to serve the hot chocolate alongside toppings such as marshmallows, chocolate chips, candy canes, whipped cream, and fancy syrups. 

You can also include a big pot of coffee so that people can make a mocha if they prefer! If you want to be extra festive, grab holiday cups and napkins to use as well. 

This resource includes my own recipe for slow cooker cocoa along with all of the other printable materials you'll need to make your cocoa bar a success! 

4. Trail Mix Snack Bar 

Looking for a simple snack bar option that staff can grab throughout the day? This trail mix snack bar is perfect for you! This idea is so great if you want to be able to show some appreciation for staff during a busy week or if you're having trouble coordinating break schedules. Staff can stop by and make their own little trail mix when they're free and no refrigeration is required! 

Make snacking simple with a trail mix staff snack bar like this for your staff to enjoy throughout the day.
This one is super customizable too, which is great for staff members with allergies. I like to offer a TON of options for this one such as: 
  • mixed nuts
  • shelled sunflower seeds
  • small crackers
  • popcorn 
  • candy 
  • dried fruits 
  • chocolate chips 
  • pretzels 
  • granola 
  • cereal, etc. 
When setting this one up, I always try to make sure everything is kept in its own bowl, with its own spoon to avoid cross-contamination. 

If you have staff members with severe nut allergies in your school, I recommend keeping those on a separate table just to make sure things don't get mixed up. I know your staff will appreciate this one, especially during a busy time like testing week! 

5. Cereal Bar 

Speaking of testing week, this cereal bar is a great option for that time of year too. 

A cereal bar like this is a great staff snack bar option you can use before staff meetings or at the beginning of a long teacher conference day.
Everyone always tells the students to eat a good breakfast, but the teachers and staff need one during this stressful time too! 

But a cereal bar also works well at the beginning of the year as staff are settling back into their routines and might be short on time in the mornings. Really, you can't go wrong with a cereal bar any time of the year!

To set up your own cereal bar, I recommend rounding up as many different types of cereals as you can find along with an assortment of milk options. 

Get regular dairy milk, as well as other options like almond milk and soy milk for those with allergies. 

I also recommend grabbing some sliced fruit for topping as well as juice and coffee. Set these items up with your paper bowls, cups, and utensils and you're good to go! 

This is such a great way to show appreciation for staff and help them fuel up for the day! 

6. Taco or Nacho Bar 

Most everybody loves tacos, and who can blame us? They're so versatile and delicious! Hosting a taco or a nacho bar is a fun way to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, the big game, or even a regular old Tuesday! No matter what the occasion, this one is always a staff favorite. 

Personally, I think this idea works best as a potluck since there are so many components to great tacos! I used sign-up sheets to have staff members volunteer to bring items such as:

Everyone loves tacos and nachos so include these tasty treats in your next staff snack bar for instant success.
  • taco meat (chicken, beef, pork, plant-based, etc.)
  • beans 
  • shredded cheese
  • shredded lettuce 
  • chopped onions and tomatoes
  • guacamole
  • chips
  • tortillas, etc. 
On the day of this event, staff members set up their slow cookers full of taco meat and beans. These can stay on warm to heat up throughout the morning.

Then, when lunchtime rolls around we all work together to set out the rest of the toppings and fixins. Everyone loves to visit and chat while they enjoy their meal and celebrate as a group! 

Tips for Staff Snack Bar Success

No matter which option you choose, I know your staff snack bar will be a hit! Just be sure to keep a few things in mind to ensure things run smoothly:
  1. Post signs and reminders leading up to the event. 
  2. Be sure to provide plenty of notice if you're hosting a "potluck style" snack bar. 
  3. Be mindful of allergies and food preferences. 
  4. Don't forget plates, napkins, and utensils. 
  5. Be creative and have fun! 
Staff snack bars are such a fun way to mix things up with your staff and show appreciation all year long. If you're looking for even more fun ways to celebrate with your staff, be sure to check out my shop! You'll find tons of helpful resources to make your staff smile and bring a little sunshine to your school! 

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Pin this post to your favorite staff morale Pinterest board to keep track of these staff snack bar ideas!

Looking for fun and creative ways to show your staff how much they mean to you? Use these creative and delicious staff snack bar options to treat your staff to yummy goodness throughout the school year. From apple snack bars in the fall to breakfast staff snack bars these are sure to be a huge hit with your staff. #tarynsuniquelearning #staffsnackbars #snackbarideas #teachertreats #teacherappreciation

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

7 Ideas for Making Student Birthdays Special

As a teacher in the primary classroom, you probably already know how important student birthdays are. Celebrating student birthdays helps cultivate a sense of community in the classroom and makes each kiddo feel special! If you're looking for ways to make celebrating a doable part of the routine, come along to see some of my favorite ways to make student birthdays special! 

Use these 7 ideas for making student birthdays special in your classroom this year.

Why Celebrating Student Birthdays Matters

Before we dive into my ideas for making student birthdays special, let's chat about the why behind this! Chances are, if you're a classroom teacher you probably love being part of a community. 

Build community and help each and every student feel special by making student birthdays a special celebration throughout the school year.
Teachers play a vital role in cultivating a sense of community in the classroom, and celebrating with students is a great way to do so. 

Aside from helping to strengthen your classroom community, celebrating also offers an opportunity for students to feel special. Young children love having a day that's all their own. While many students will be celebrating at home with their families, not every child will get to do so. Taking time to recognize them in your classroom will help them to feel valued and cared for. 

And finally, celebrating birthdays is just plain fun! Once you've got a routine in place for birthdays, they will become a joyful experience rather than a disruption to routine. Your students will love it and I'm willing to bet it will put a smile on your face too! 

Now, onto my favorite ways to celebrate student birthdays in the primary classroom! 

1. Start the Day with a Crown 

In my opinion, every student needs a birthday crown! 

Create a simple birthday crown like this to help make student birthdays extra special for each student.
When I was still in the classroom, I always took a few minutes to make students a simple crown to kick off the day. 

For this, I took a piece of long construction paper folded in half lengthwise. Then, cut a jagged crown shape. It doesn't need to be perfect so don't stress about this!

Finally, take your 2 pieces and staple them together to make a large band. 

Write "Happy Birthday" with the student's name across the front and staple it to size when they arrive. You can also decorate it with a few stickers if you'd like to jazz it up a bit. Students love wearing these on their special day! 

2. Read a Birthday Book 

Books like these are a great way to make student birthdays special with a themed read aloud for birthdays.
In my classroom, I had a collection of birthday-themed read-aloud books. I kept them in a birthday gift bag and on a student's birthday, I'd have that child pick a book. There are tons of great books out there but here are some of my personal faves:

Whenever I saw an inexpensive birthday book in the Scholastic flyer, at a yard sale, or thrift store, I would grab it and add it to my collection. This is a really fun way to start the day during your morning meeting! 

3. Sing The Happy Birthday Song

In my classroom, I had this really fun, interactive birthday chart that we used every time someone had a birthday. 

Create a fun chart like this to help your students sing Happy Birthday to make students birthdays special.
Mine was shaped like a cake that had sentence strips with the lyrics for the "Happy Birthday Song" on it. 

On the morning of a birthday, I would add the special student's name and we'd sing along as I pointed to each word. 

If you don't have a chart like this, try setting up something similar in a pocket chart or making your own poster. You can make a large birthday cake shape or just grab a piece of poster board.  Write out the birthday song leaving a blank space where the name would go. Then laminate the poster for durability so you can use it for many years. 

Then, on the morning of a birthday simply write the student's name in the blank using a dry-erase marker.  You can also create a name card for each student and connect them to the poster using sticky velcro dots.

It's a really easy way to make kids feel special.  

4. Celebrate with More Birthday Songs   

In my room, we sang a lot of songs throughout the year. We used them in regular lessons, and especially to celebrate fun holidays and birthdays! Our favorite birthday song was by Greg and Steve. I'm pretty sure you can't buy their CDs anymore, but I found it on YouTube if you'd like to try this one in your classroom! 

When we sing, the birthday boy or girl gets to stand at the front of the room and hold a cake.  They also get to answer the questions from the song during the musical pause.  The lyrics ask for the name and age. Then for the big finale, the student gets to pretend to blow out the candles when we get to that part of the song. 

In my classroom, I had a small inflatable cake that was perfect for this. I haven't been able to find a similar mini cake, but a wooden one like this Melissa and Doug set would also be fun to place on display for the day. This is a great way to celebrate as a class if you're not allowed to have food in your classrooms. 

5. Make a Plan for Treats

Speaking of food in the classrooms, it's a good idea to map out your plan for birthday goodies. 

While candy and snacks may not be an option when celebrating student birthdays non-edible treats like these are pretty amazing too.
In my school, we had a no-food policy due to allergies. This meant that if parents wanted to send in a treat, they needed to be individually wrapped or bagged items that could be sent home. 

I had my birthday kiddo distribute these in student mailboxes at the end of the day. I also encouraged parents to bring decorative pencils, stickers, mini toys, and small party favors instead of food so that everyone can enjoy them, regardless of allergies! 

If you are allowed to have food in your classroom I would suggest creating a policy and informing parents at the beginning of the year.  The last thing you want is to be surprised with an unexpected birthday party in the middle of your math lesson.

Your policy should clearly state what type of food items are allowed under your school or district policy, what time the parents should bring the treats, and ask for the parents to notify you in advance when they plan to send a treat so that you can make sure the schedule is adjusted for that time.

6. Use a Birthday Box 

I loved using a fun birthday "treasure box" for student birthdays. 

A prize box like this is an extra way to help your kiddos celebrate student birthdays.
I used a sturdy, lidded box that was decorated with wrapping paper. This type of box works well because it looks festive, but the lid comes on and off easily. This box was special and only came out on birthdays.  

If you have a treasure box in your classroom, I would suggest keeping them separate and have different items in your birthday box.  That will keep it feeling extra special all year long.

I filled the box with all kinds of small treasures from the dollar store like stencils, bubbles, crayons, bracelets, matchbox cars, and other trinkets. 

You can often find piƱata-type prizes like these in the party section of stores like Walmart and Target too!

After singing Happy Birthday, I always let the student choose a gift from the birthday box. Everyone was always SO excited to see what they picked!

7. Make a Birthday Book 

Have you ever made birthday books in your classroom? 

Help your students remember their special day with a sweet student birthday book like this.
This idea is a little out of the ordinary birthday celebration and so much fun to complete as a class! 

I have each birthday student complete a "birthday application" form and the rest of the class completes a page for the book all about the birthday child. The idea here is that everyone will write something special about the birthday boy or girl. 

Once all of the pages are complete, you will bind the application and pages in order then present the book as a keepsake to the birthday child. 

This is such a fun way to recognize them and make them feel special! They will love flipping through the book for years to come. 

Have Fun Celebrating 

I hope you enjoyed these ideas to help make celebrating student birthdays a snap! With a routine like this one in place, you'll be able to make every child feel special on their birthday. If you're looking for more fun activities to add to your daily routines, be sure to check out my TPT shop for ideas! 

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Pin this post on Pinterest to keep these ideas for student birthdays at your fingertips. 

Looking for fun ways to make your student birthdays extra special this year? Here are 7 fantastic ideas to help you celebrate each and every one of your students this year on their special day. #tarynsuniquelearning #celebratingstudentbirthdaysintheclassroom