Sunday, July 12, 2015

Recycling Old Crayons: A Tutorial

My Super Star families purchase two packages (each) of crayons to last their children through the year, pack #1 being opened nice and fresh on the first day of kindergarten, and the second pack ready and waiting when students return from winter vacation.  Instead of tossing the broken, old, or barely used crayons, I recycle them, typically in two batches, once in the summer and then again as we learn about reducing, reusing, and recycling in the spring.

Students can peel the paper wrappers from the crayons by hand (Crayola crayon wrappers peel cleanly, while other brands leave adhesive residue), or classroom volunteers can use exacto knives to quickly slice through and remove the paper.  At least two-thirds of my students relocate at the end of each school year.  Since their families prefer to NOT worry about where crayons might end up, melted and messy amongst their household goods, I end up with two or three LARGE ziploc baggies full of crayons each May:

Having an almost fourth grader in my house means that sorting crayons is a quick and easy job.  After looking through the silicone molds that I have, we decided to make star and heart crayons.

I've found great tutorials on making crayons using metal muffin tins, but I like the different sizes and shapes that are available in silicone molds.  I find my molds at Joann Fabric and Crafts or Michaels, and always use a coupon to get them for at least 40% off.  When you're looking for molds, make sure to NOT use plain ice cube trays: you need molds that are oven safe:

You'll need to break or chop your crayons into smaller pieces.  I've found that pellet size, about a quarter of an inch wide works best, especially when you're filling smaller molds.  I put a sheet of parchment paper down over a sturdy cutting surface, and use a large knife to cut same size crayons: I don't try to cut fat crayons with normal sized ones as it makes the knife wobble.  Safety first!

My son and I decided that we'd like our hearts to be red, white and pink.  Cut slowly across each crayon, applying pressure to the tip of the knife, then pressing slowly down as you lower the blade across each crayon to the back of the blade.  No slicing and dicing sous chef action here: s-l-o-w is the way to go.

 Once you have a pile of crayon bits, it's time to fill your mold.  You DO NOT need to use a releasing agent or cooking spray on silicone, but you will also NOT want to use the mold for anything other than crayons once you've used it for this craft. Crayon wax will remain in the mold.  Fill each cavity to the top (or even overfill, just a bit).  When the wax melts, the height of the crayons once cooled will be about 2/3 the height of the original mold.

I line a metal cookie tray with aluminum foil, and then place the mold on top of it.  The foil catches any loose pieces of crayon that might fall or melt onto your tray.

Preheat your oven to 275 degrees fahrenheit. Depending on the depth and size of your crayon molds, baking time will vary from 10-15 minutes.  The heart shaped crayons took twelve minutes to melt in my oven.  Later, we made star shaped crayons whose molds were bigger and deeper.  It took fifteen minutes for those crayons to melt.

 The crayon pieces retain their shape for quite a long time in the oven.  Look how shiny they are!

When you take the mold from the oven, you might find the edges of each cavity fully melted, with chunky bits left in the center.  You can put them back in the oven for another minute or two, but it's fine to carefully push down the center with a toothpick.  You'll see liquid wax fill in over those pieces.

Don't stir or over-mix the wax.  You want the colors to remain intact.

You can let your crayons cool to room temperature, but you can also hurry them along a bit by putting the entire tray in the refrigerator on an oven mitt.  These stayed in the fridge for twenty minutes.

Time to start popping the crayons out of the molds.  The silicone is flexible.  You'll be able to push the crayon up from the back, even peeling back the sides of the mold.

Never fear, the mold will return to its regular shape with some pushes and pokes.  It comes ~this close~ to giving you the same rush that popping bubble wrap does.  Well, almost.

Ready for more crayon bits!

I love how the heart crayons turned out.  Instant valentine treat for my students, or my son's classmates!

I've made star shaped crayons for my students for several years now.  These mold cavities are larger and deeper.  We still stuff them full to the top, making sure that each point on the star is filled.  Remember, when the wax liquifies, it sinks a bit and settles lower than the lip of the mold when cooled, so you want these crammed full of crayon bits.  My son likes to mix the colors in each mold to create marbleized crayons.

These took fifteen minutes in the oven, but were still cool enough to remove from the mold after twenty minutes in the fridge.  Now I have a class set, and plenty of heart shaped crayons too!

Fun-shaped crayons are enjoyed by kids and adults of all ages, though I wouldn't tell a student to "stay in the lines" when using them.  My students love to slide the larger star crayons across white paper, creating a marbleized background for collages.


P.S. The Almost Fourth Grader made Christmas tree shaped crayons for his classmates last winter for their gift exchange using the green mold in the first photo.  He filled the main part of the mold with green crayon bits, the very top with yellow, and the bottom with brown.  Beyond cute, I tell you.

Friday, July 10, 2015

What I've Learned Over Summer Break (So Far)

Sounds like that obnoxious essay we had to write the first week we were back in elementary, middle, or even high school, doesn't it?  I never liked having to write it, because it was much more efficient to just tell friends and teachers that I read books, crocheted, watched t.v., did chores, and then read some more books, no s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g or "expanding upon a theme" required.



To the point.

And now that I'm a forty-five year old wife, mother, kindergarten teacher, blogger, crafter, coffee drinker and cookie baker, here I am.


About what I've learned this summer.

Oh the irony (which could be the opposite of "wrinkly," in some of my students' minds).

No three page papers, double spaced here though, okie dokie?  A list will suffice.

  • I taught myself how to create slides, posters, work pages and labels via Powerpoint, all by my lonesome.  That's right, now there's a Teachers Pay Teachers button in my sidebar.  Go me.
  • Lurking and even participating in education-related Twitter chats is an awesome way to build and learn from a global PLN.  Once school starts up again, my favorites will likely end up being the ones that post questions in advance so I can set my responses and additional questions into the queue on Tweetdeck to auto-post.  Yeah, I've become THAT tweep.  Thanks #TeacherFriends, #edchat, #ResilienceChat, #G2Great, #KinderChat, #SatChat, #SunChat and #KSEdchat. You ROCK.
  • There's no rhyme or reason to my summer teaching goals except for the fact that they're always related to making my Super Stars' learning environment exciting, inspiring, fun, and safe. One summer I sorted all of the math and ELA manipulatives into easy-to-distribute containers and bags.  Last year I painted wooden toys to eliminate graffiti, er, "environmental print" that a student had added.  I modified inherited storage, making materials more mobile on a rolling cart which helped as my students used every available surface, corner, and hidey hole in the classroom.  This summer, it has been all about the books. Sorting books, donating books, buying books, and creating my longest ever wish list on  Sure hope Santa or some generous benefactor looks me up and surprises me with them all.  A teacher can dream.
  • It takes me exactly thirty-three days out of school to lose track of what day it is.  Now THAT'S data.
  •  You know how Lucy always freaks out after Snoopy kisses her, dancing around, arms flailing wildly, screaming "Ugh! My lips have been touched by DOG LIPS?"  Turns out I have a VERY similar reaction when I'm outside watering plants and a frog jumps out from the leaves and attaches itself to my bare ankle. And.  Won't.  Let.  Go.  A few more energetic kicks in an attempt to ~fling~ the frog off of my foot perhaps, but the same number of "ughs" and gags.  And flailing.  I've got the moves... like... Lucy.

I learned that last one just this morning. 

Yes, I'll admit I washed my ankle.


What have YOU learned this summer?

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Teacher Truth: We Shop 'til We Drop

 Go ahead, ooh and ahh for just a second:

Non-teachers might think that the goodies above have been purchased for a party, and in a way, they're right: the beginning of my 20th year teaching kindergartners occurs in August.  What they might not be aware of is the fact that ~every~ year I've taught I've HAD to make similar colorful, cute, usable, necessary, and SUBSTANTIAL purchases.  I had to build my class library.  I had to feed more than a few students.  I had to purchase items that a one hundred dollar classroom budget couldn't cover. There was a year I bought used iMacs so my students could have technology tools, and another where I created a housekeeping center from scratch.  Educational videos, music c.d.s, my own printer, laminator, storage tubs for organization, paint, colored pencils, google eyes, glitter... I've shopped 'til I've dropped.  

Hunting for and finding perfect classroom essentials can be a lot of fun, until you realize that it's your own wallet making purchases to support 16-30+ students, in addition to the children who may reside with you under your own roof.  We are never done shopping, trading, recycling or making, and as a result many of us become hoarders of:

Manipulatives, reading buddies (stuffed animals), markers, crayons, folders, pencil grips, paper, desk tags, ink, play dough, storybooks, paper towel and toilet paper rolls.  

Shoelaces, spare winter gear (scarves, hats, mittens) and coats, and NOT for dress up bins or dolls, because those, by golly, are kept in their own separate stash. 

Plates, cups, plastic food, puppets, sensory bin supplies, bulletin board trimmer, curtains, pocket charts, measurement tools and tape.  Lots of tape.

Cereal, snack bags, crackers, and juice which are stockpiled ~before~ "treat" purchases like Smarties or valentine lollipops.  Birthday pencils, gift books, supplies for parent gifts, paper, label packs and ink to print off name tags, anchor charts, and organizational signs. 

... and volunteer appreciation gifts, notecards, and "Welcome to School" postcards. 

Manipulatives wear out or disappear over time.  If you're a kindergarten teacher, you regularly encounter teeth marks, bends, folds, and tears.  Maybe you're stuck with a grade level or district-wide school supply list, and you're inundated with materials that you have no need for, but certainly don't want to go to waste.  Two-thirds of your students will come to school with the exact tools they'll need, but one-third won't even have a backpack. You will shop

The more you think about it, the less you see these items as "cute," "fun," or "sweet."  Your professional filter accommodates your utilitarian intentions.  You recycle, repurpose, and rethink furniture, toys, books, and your own child's outgrown clothing or shoes.  You find stores with teacher discounts, and learn to track down coupons and annual sales.  You use spray paint and a glue gun.  You accept any and all donations.  Every year that you're an educator, you'll buy before you teach a single lesson.






(Thrift store, Target)


Except for the star-shaped chalkboard tags, none of the items above were a "fluff" purchase.  Everything will be put to good use, right down to the last marker that will dry out prior to May, at which point I'll have my summer shopping list ready.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Perception VS. Truth

Teacher Truth: educators don't sleep in coffins all summer.

We stalk the Target $1 Spot until classroom manipulatives, organization and decor items are unboxed, and then descend upon its bins like a swarm of ... well... teachers.

(Thanks to Bill Watterson)

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Every Student Deserves Representation and Safety

I believe teachers' responses near and far to both yesterday's SCOTUS decision and recent news that increased awareness of transgender issues will be the ultimate litmus tests for many in the profession, stretching the patience and tolerance of those with whom they work. Some might consider it the height of professionalism to "leave well enough alone" or "keep your mouth shut," but student advocacy, not just instruction, is part of our responsibility.  In the search for age-appropriate books to add to my class library, I came across a thread on social media where veteran teachers were asserting how they weren't going to read "filth"/"this material" to their students, such as storybooks that include characters who dress in gender-opposite clothing or have two mothers, even if there is a student (or students) in their classroom who has same-sex parents or demonstrates gender fluidity (like many do in kindergarten). 

If "this material," meaning storybooks that illustrate the diversity represented by families, doesn't belong in the classroom and in the hands of our youngest learners who are likely to witness, if not experience these and many other social changes firsthand, then how will students learn to adapt, behave, interpret, and hopefully positively impact the world around them?  How are they to feel safe within their classrooms, schools, and neighborhoods? How are children from more traditional family arrangements supposed to learn about and practice respectful behaviors if they can't ask the questions they're bound to want to every time they encounter something new to them?  Some teachers in the post I stumbled across were advocating for a return to the "good ol' days" of reading, writing and arithmetic, and ignoring "the sick behavior" they find so disgusting.  These folks are oblivious to the fact that change and diversity are the rules on this planet, NOT the exceptions.  Are we to deny our students access to literature portraying biracial or bicultural families, or media that includes images of those suffering from handicapping conditions, or the death of a family member because a teacher thinks they're icky or the topic makes them uncomfortable?  Do we have the right to deny each student supportive representation and the feeling of belonging?  Teachers should not contribute to the idea that some children are less deserving or less human because of the decisions that their parents, in whatever arrangement they're presented make, or because of which gender each child might identify with.  Teachers should commit to the emotional and physical safety of our students and their families without thinking that our opinion regarding issues OTHER than abuse and neglect are in any way our business.  The love and care between parents and children and teachers and classmates has nothing to do with promoting sexuality.  I weep for the children who have to face a "trusted adult" in the classroom who looks at them or their families with an expression of disgust.

It's imperative for those who have chosen to work in the arena of public education to remember who they serve: the public, not just select members of that neighborhood or community. If your upbringing, belief system, sense of entitlement, or even gag reflex prevent you from giving each and every student your best, consider a change in venue. Find support and employment in a like-minded private school, or open your own. You'll be doing yourself, and many children a favor.

I found the following books on do you know of any others?  Link me up in the comments.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Need a New Source of Classroom Inspiration? E-t-s-y !

It's summer, and if you're like many teachers, you're ready to track down new and inspiring resources and design elements to help create the perfect learning environment for your students... or you're still catching up on naps.

Whether you're taking part in book studies, sales shopping, or attending conferences, the thought of tackling furniture arrangements and bulletin board displays will eventually cross your mind.  If you're anything like me though, you'll notice that trimmers, anchor charts, and manipulatives featured in teacher stores and catalogs have all started to look alike, no matter the animal, super hero, or polka dot pattern used.

They're tried and true stand-bys, and I'll appreciatively admit that Bordette corrugated trimmer has ~saved~ my bulletin board displays on more than one occasion, but if you're wondering what else might be out there (and you're the creative sort who isn't afraid of scissors, a glue gun, Mod Podge or printing in color), I've got the perfect place for you to find fresh inspiration:

Oh yes, take a gander at art prints, bunting, printable posters and manipulatives available on Etsy, and let your imagination, creativity, and craftiness be inspired.  I've created a treasury of items that caught my idea for classroom consideration here

How about these?  Teaching in Kansas, The Wizard of Oz is one of my favorites.  Illustrations, typography, and textural elements can all contribute to the feel and comfort of our students' learning spaces.

You can join Etsy for free, and search to your heart's content.  I use terms like "art print," "bunting," "classroom decor," "teacher gifts," "quotations," and "nursery" when I'm on the hunt for ideas.

Where else do you find inspiration for your classroom?  The great outdoors?  Museums? Travel?  Movies or television shows?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

August Will Mark My Twentieth Year Teaching

August will mark the beginning of my twentieth year teaching.  Barring any administrative changes with grade levels, it will also be the start of my twentieth year teaching kindergarten students.

How did it all start? With multiple job interviews after the start of the school year, I was called late one Thursday evening by an administrative secretary who needed more information from me before I reported to work the next day. "What job did I get" was my question to her, because honestly, I had no idea if I was going to be a librarian's assistant, third or fifth grade teacher, or ~shudder~, kindergarten teacher.

"Oh, didn't Mr. S (principal) call you? You've been hired to teach kindergarten! Your first day is tomorrow" was her reply.  After answering the rest of her questions, I hung up the phone and proceeded to cry.

My twenty-four year old self cried because I couldn't believe I had been hired.  A real teaching job.  The beginning of a career.  Yes, a paycheck.

And then I sobbed, because it was ~kindergarten~.  I didn't want to be a kindergarten teacher. Give me sixth grade, fourth grade, even first grade.  NOT kindergarten.

I reported to school the next morning, met my two grade level colleagues and the speech and reading therapists whose room was being commandeered to accommodate the new kindergarten class.  I was introduced to the existing kindergarten classes from which my students would be drawn, and then I had the weekend to build my classroom from the ground up.  After my first exhausting week with kindergartners, I knew I didn't want to teach any other grade.  A whirlwind of teaching adventures, missteps, successes, heartbreak, revelations, and learning, yes, so much learning, followed in the years to come.

I invited parents and volunteers to the classroom regularly, though I spent the most time with parents during conferences, school events or class parties.  I moved rooms only once, but stayed in the same building with the same staff for a decade.  They were my models, my mentors, and my standard. They became teachers for my own children, and I theirs.  Friendships grew, and many colleagues became friends who are family.  I taught siblings, working my way through families stair step by stair step.  I taught practicum students, and learned more about the history of public education while experiencing first hand the shifts of extensive technology integration and teacher blaming.

I fell in love with a solider, and relocated with him to New Mexico, then Kansas, then Texas, and finally back to Kansas, balancing multiple deployments with the expansion of my pedagogy.  I learned that in spite of highly publicized mandates for education reform and equality, cookie cutter results could never be achieved, no matter how strongly politicians espoused the idea that our nation's children should be treated like machine-hewn identical parts, to be assembled into a future mechanical work force.  I came to realize that I was at odds with districts that bought into the pitch from publishing and political snake oil salesmen, and I was at odds with teachers who insisted on keeping their heads stuck in the sand, hoping to ignore the bigger issues in education that were beating on their classroom doors.  I didn't find the developmental stages of early childhood offensive or in need of intervention or remediation.  I found the predation upon parents, the exploitation of their fears and the subsequent attacks on how I did my job by NCLB evangelists alarming. The ebb and flow, ebb and flow, and branching out of learning and growth that I observed year after year reaffirmed to me my belief that organic exploration with guided support is naturally more beneficial to students than inauthentic, drill and kill assembly line tactics.  I began blogging about my frustrations, my concerns, and shared ideas, tips and tricks, and humor.  Missing my first teaching family, and after careful reflection, I also decided ~not~ to cave to the pressure of fitting someone else's definition of what it meant to be a "team player."  I could do what was best for my students, and could be professional, supportive and polite while avoiding the traps of "... but this is the way we've always done it" or "just do what we do and everything will be fine."  In spite of the stresses, I didn't quit teaching.

After nineteen years of teaching five and six year olds, I have to admit their bluntness has worn off on me.  The things that they find silly, I do likewise.  Like my kindergartners, I prefer the freedom of movement, exploration, and growth.  We sing through much of our days together, which my husband surely finds odd as I hum "Down By the Bay" or "I'm Gonna Eat on Thanksgiving Day" while preparing dinner in the kitchen, far from the classroom.  Unlike my earlier years, classroom volunteers and visitors are much more regular now, which has made parent teacher conferences considerably less stress inducing.  Our partnership and dialogue occurs year 'round, our sharing not constrained by marked conference dates on a school calendar.  I still make the occasional mistake, and I continue to revel in my students' accomplishments.  I prefer the truths of children, and find myself increasingly offended by those who disrespect the necessity and timeline of childhood itself.  I suspect that I'll continue to ask "what can I learn now" and will appreciate all that practicum students and new-to-service teachers share in exchange with me.

After nineteen years, I also wonder if I'll teach for twenty more.