10 Ways to Inject FUN into the Classroom

10 Ways to Inject FUN into the Classroom

Children can’t wait to start school. Kindergartners and preschoolers often talk passionately about what they are going to learn and do when they get to school. But unfortunately, with a crowded curriculum, these children can quickly lose their love for learning as teachers take to a more sedate classroom environment all in an effort to cram in everything they need to teach. In their zeal to raise test scores, too many teachers wrongly assume that students who are laughing, interacting in groups, or being creative with art, music, or dance are not doing real academic work.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Research suggests that superior learning takes place when classroom experiences are enjoyable and relevant to students’ lives, interests, and experiences. When students are engaged and motivated and feel minimal stress, information flows freely through their brains and they achieve higher levels of cognition, make connections, and experience “aha” moments. Such learning comes not from quiet classrooms and directed lectures, but from classrooms with an atmosphere of
exuberant discovery (Kohn, 2004).

So how can we make our classrooms fun (and still continue to meet the needs of the curriculum)?

Let’s take a look at a few approaches:

1. Change things up –
Don’t just settle for the same way of teaching and delivering lessons. Look for new ways of delivering content such as videos, YouTube, picture books, invited guests, excursions, etc. These are ways our children are familiar with and can bring automatic engagement with very little effort.

Taking your students outside for lessons can spark so much joy that what was once dull content, is now more alive and engaging.

You may even like to let your student’s take their shoes off in your classroom while they work. Researchers at the University of Bournemouth found that pupils who leave their shoes outside the classroom are more likely to arrive to school earlier, leave later and read more widely – ultimately resulting in better academic achievement overall.

2. Dress up –
Now I appreciate that this one may not be for everyone, but seeing a teacher dressed up in a costume is certainly bound to bring a smile to your student’s faces. Dressing up doesn’t mean you need to go hire some flamboyant Mary Poppins costume either. Simply a wig, hat or glasses may be enough to engage and capture the attention of your students and increase their recall of what you are teaching. You may like to do this when reading a book, when introducing a new topic or even when conducting a science experiment. Dressing up can be a truly powerful engagement tool in your classroom.

3. Be silly –
Now when I say this I don’t mean go crazy. And certainly moderation is needed with this as well. But simple changes in your voice and body language can help maintain student engagement and increase retention. Use funny voices as you read picture books. Sing your instructions to the class rather than speak it. Use body language and hand signals as you are explaining a concept to your students. Your movements and expressions help keep the focus on you and what you are saying and not other distractions that are always present in a classroom.

4. Allow students to work together –
There has been extensive research on using cooperative learning strategies in the classroom. Research says that when students work together, they retain information quicker and longer, they develop critical thinking skills, and they build their communication skills.

5. Give your students choices –
One strategy that teachers have found to be effective is offering their students the ability to make their own choices when it comes to learning. Choice can be a powerful motivator because it helps to foster student interest and independence. The next time you’re planning an activity, try making a choice board. Print out a tic-tac-toe board and write down nine different tasks for students to complete. The goal is for each student to choose three tasks in a row.

6. Games –
Whether you’re 5 or 25, playing a game can be fun. Games are also a great way to keep lessons interesting. If your students need to remember their spelling words, conduct a spelling bee—a contest in which participants are eliminated when they misspell a word. Or if the students need to practice math, have a math bee, which is similar to a spelling bee, but with math problems or facts instead of spelling words. Games make learning fun, and games in class are a prescription for happy kids.

7. Use Technology –
Technology is a great way to keep your lessons interesting. Children love electronics, so try incorporating it into your overall teaching strategy. Instead of standing in front of the room and lecturing, try using a Smartboard interactive display. Expand your cooperative learning activity lessons by connecting to a classroom in another city or country via videoconferencing. Use technology in a variety of ways, and you’ll see the interest level in your classroom increase by leaps and bounds.

8. Make your lessons interactive –
In a traditional classroom, the teacher stands in front of the room and lectures to the students as the students listen and take notes. Unfortunately, this is not the most effective way to hold students’ interest. Make learning interactive by creating hands-on lessons that involve students every step of the way. Maybe try a hands-on science experiment. When you involve students and make your lessons interactive, your class becomes more interesting.

9. Connect learning to real life –
Try to create a real-world connection to what your students are learning. This will give them a better understanding of why they need to learn what you’re teaching. If they’re constantly asking you why they need to learn something and you’re always answering with “because,” you will soon lose credibility. Instead, try giving them a real answer such as, “You’re learning about money because in the real world, you’ll need to know how to buy food and pay your bills.” By giving a straightforward answer, you’re helping them make a connection between what they’re learning in class and how they’ll use this information in the future.

10. Bring ‘mystery’ to your lessons –
Learning may be the most fun for your students when they don’t know what to expect. Try to incorporate a sense of surprise and mystery into your lessons. When you’re about to unveil a new lesson, give students a new clue each day up until the last day before the start of the lesson. This is a fun way to make your lesson mysterious, and you may find that your students are actually looking forward to finding out what they’ll be learning about next.

So which strategy are you going to start including in your classroom today?

Beating the Jiggles – The Brain Break Jar

Beating the Jiggles – The Brain Break Jar

So you’ve taken on the role as teacher-mumma for the first time. Your lessons are going great, BUT, your kiddos just can’t sit still or seem to be off with the fairies! What is the problem?

This issue most likely has nothing to do with your teaching or learning environment but probably more to do with your child’s limited attention span and innate need to MOVE!!

To put it all in perspective, your child’s attention span is equivalent to their age. So for my 5-year old, I would expect that she could sit and listen to me for at most 5 minutes before I need to change things up. Which means, move her to a different location to do another activity, get her to stand up and move while we continue the activity, start working or simply change what we are doing altogether.

However, even with all these changes, as she is working, her brain is doing a lot of work and will become tired. Her attention span will wane and her ability to complete tasks will become more drawn out. You will see it in your child’s body language and in the speed in which they complete tasks. As the day goes on tasks will take longer and become more difficult for your child.

To help your child overcome these issues it is best to catch them before they even begin! Regular ‘brain-breaks’ can help a child overcome fatigue and continue learning for longer.

This is where The Brain Break Jar comes in!

In our house we have ‘brain-breaks’ every 15 minutes. At this point, my daughter will pull an activity card out of The Brain Break Jar and complete that activity.

All the activities on the cards have been chosen specifically to get your child moving or using other parts of their brain in order to relax and refresh them.

The list of activities in the jar are:

Some pointers when using the jar:

1. The length and number of activities completed at each ‘brain-break’ session is completely up to you

2. Do remember that this is intended only to be a short break – you may like to set a time limit or repetition limit to help your child know when it is time to return to normal work.

3. The activities are very open-ended to allow you the flexibility to adapt them to suit your own learning environment

4. Be clear about the guidelines for each activity with your child from the start

I hope you enjoy using the jar as much as me and my daughter have. You can find your copy of The Brain Break Jar here.

If you are looking for other resources to use perhaps in the Dance Off and Yoga for kids activities, please check out the following YouTube videos and websites:

Cosmic Kids – Yoga for kids
From the Pond Colouring Club – Great free colouring pages (just make sure you choose the free option)
Dance Like You’ve Got Ant In Your Pants – Movement song
Can’t Stop the Feeling – Trolls song
Simon Says – movement song
Super Stretches – Stretches for Kids
Let’s Move Jack Hartman – Brain Break Song for Kids
Move and Freeze – Song to get your kiddos moving
Stir it Up By the Learning Station – movement song
Shake your Sillies Out – movement song

Happy teaching!

Homeschooling Through COVID-19 – Part 3: Teaching Resources

Homeschooling Through COVID-19 – Part 3: Teaching Resources

So if you have been following our Homeschooling Through COVID-19 blogposts series, you will now have a rough plan in place for how you are going to tackle a homeschooling routine and have some idea of what topic you are going to start immersing your children in first to help teach them reading, writing and maths skills.

But I bet you are now thinking… ‘Where can I find the resources I need to teach my child this content’.

Well, never fear! Ridgy Didge has you covered.

We’ve scoured the internet for the best online resources that meet the requirements of the Australian Curriculum. Check out the list below for more information!

Khan Academy
Khan Academy is an online portal of lessons created by experts and covering topics such as maths and science. The best part about it, is that it is FREE!

K5Learning
This website provides reading and maths lessons and worksheets for Kindergarten to Grade 5. This is a paid subscription but they do offer a 14-day Free Trial.

Epic
Epic provides a digital library for kids 12 years and under. Again this requires a paid subscription but they do offer a 30 day Free Trial.

KidsNews
KidsNews offers a great variety of news type articles that would be fantastic way of launching a new topic or for use as non-fiction text type reading.

Studyladder
Mathematics, English, Science and more! A comprehensive program of online educational activities for students aged 4 to 12, mapped to the curriculum. They are offering Free accounts for parents currently and have detailed information on how you can use their website through school closures here.

Hit the Button
Hit the Button is an interactive maths game with quick fire questions on number bonds, times tables, doubling and halving, multiples, division facts and number squares. The games, which are against the clock, challenge and develop a child’s mental maths skills. AND its free!

Read Theory
This website provides personalised comprehension exercises for K-12 and ESL students. AND its free!

Typing.com
Typing teaches the fundamentals of keyboarding skills, digital literacy and coding. AND once again it is free!

From the Pond
Mel at From the Pond designs beautiful colouring pages and offers a FREE Colouring Club – for when you need a bit of quiet time and want to strengthen your little peoples fine motor muscles!

ABC Podcasts
Probably more suited to the older kiddos, these podcasts are short and sweet and are great for encouraging your children to think globally.

Fierce Girls
Another ABC product that is completely free, and educates our children on the famous women who helped shape Australia’s history.

Vocabulary Spelling City
Not a free service but a fun one if you are looking for games to help your child with their spelling.

P.E. With Joe
Starting Monday 23 March, Joe will be hosting a free workout aimed at kids LIVE on his YouTube channel.

Wushka
Wushka is a cloud-based digital school reading program, carefully levelled to support students learning to read. Currently there is no cost to using their program until June 30, 2020.

BTN
This is probably one of my most favourite websites. Current events presented in a child-friendly manner. A great source of inspiration for further research and study.

ABCYA
Stacks of interactive maths, STEM and reading games, sorted by grade.

StarFall
Loads of videos about letters and sounds, sorted by grade.

Letter School
A FREE app to practice writing letters and numbers.

Jack Hartmann
This is a kids music channel with loads of active songs to practise and consolidate an enormous range of concepts.

The Night Zookeeper
The Night Zookeeper is your online writing too, class blog and library of interactive lessons. You can sign up for a 1 month free trial.

AlphaBlocks Youtube Channel
The Alphablocks are 26 living letters who discover that whenever they hold hands and make a word, something magical happens. Learn to read and spell easy, intermediate and hard words with the phonetic spelling technique designed especially for kids learning to read.

Art Hub for Kids
Art Hub is run by a man named Rob. He uploads new art lessons M-F, every week! Follow along with him and learn how to draw plus other fun art lessons for kids.

GoNoodle
GoNoodle® engages 14 million kids every month with movement and mindfulness videos created by child development experts. Available for free at school, home, and everywhere kids are!

Cosmic Kids
Making yoga and mindfulness fun for kids since 2012. Free adventures on YouTube. Online kids yoga teacher training. Kids yoga DVDs. Kids yoga class plans.

Storyline Online
Stories read by famous people.

ANNNDDD the list could go on!

If you have any other favourite online resources or apps, please let me know in the comments below and I’ll be sure to add them to the list!

I hope this finds you well 🙂

Homeschooling through COVID-19 – Part 2: What to Teach!

Homeschooling through COVID-19 – Part 2: What to Teach!

Okay, so now that you have a plan in place for your day, I bet you are asking yourself the question, ‘What on earth do I need to teach my child?’

This virus has certainly forced us all into roles we weren’t expecting, as educators to our children, but there are some very clear and simple guidelines you can follow to ensure you child is progressing and you are teaching them what they need to know.

From the very start I will tell you there is a very easy way of finding out what you need to teach to meet the requirements of the Australian Curriculum. They are found here on the Australian Curriculum website. But if you aren’t a teacher, all this information can be a little bit overwhelming. So let me simplify it for you and make it manageable for a homeschooling context.

If nothing else in your homeschooling day you need to make sure you are covering the following subject areas:

These three curriculum areas are the pillars on which you can then base everything else. But what does Maths, Reading and Writing look like in your home context?

That really is totally up to you. Remember this is your classroom. How you teach is up to you but here is a helpful diagram explaining what these three pillars actually entail:

There are definitely more types of writing and reading strategies and maths topics but these are the very basics. It causes you to kind of wonder how on earth your child’s teacher actually gets all that done in a year doesn’t it?!

Well let me let you in on a secret!

The key to pulling all of this together and making the learning experience enjoyable for your child, is to use overarching topics/themes to teach these three pillars.

For example you may be doing an under the water theme. To start with you might do some READING to research the topic. You may then do some WRITING to record what you have found. You may then do some science experiments which involve measuring and recording data so this brings in your MATHS. You may draw some pictures of under the sea creatures and paint them. You can then WRITE some sentences describing what is happening in the picture. You then might like to do some more READING to find out more about the topic or simply READ some picture books relating to the topic. You may print off some whale pictures and write numbers on them that are relevant to your child’s age, have them put them in order, have them write them down using words and numerals and other ways of representing to draw in a bit more MATHS.

Can you see how one topic can cover so many areas of the three pillars?! It really is magic! And by teaching this way you are making the content engaging and fun for your child/ren.

The Australian Curriculum is very specific about the topics that need to be covered in every year level. So to save you time sorting through the curriculum website, I have simplified it for you in our Homeschooling Curriculum Overview document. Available now, in our Free Resource Library.

Have a read and let me know what you think by commenting below. Was this helpful for you? Is there something I’ve missed? I want this to be helpful for you so please let me know if there is anything I can add to it.

And while you wait for the third and final blog post in this series focusing on the resources you can use to teach the Australian Curriculum content in your home, have a go at integrating the three pillars into some of the topics outlined in our Homeschool Curriculum Overview. I hope you find it as fun as I do!

Homeschooling through COVID-19 – Part 1: Planning your Day

Homeschooling through COVID-19 – Part 1: Planning your Day

Whether you have withdrawn your children voluntarily or your school has been shutdown due to COVID-19, the reality of homeschooling your own children can be a daunting one. I totally get it! I’m a teacher and it has me a little anxious about how I am going to educate my own child here at home too. Particularly with further travel and social restrictions being put in place, the options of environments to educate your child are getting few and far between, putting pressure on the few resources you most likely have in your home to cater for education.

But let me put your mind at ease straight away!

In fact it is the very opposite and when embraced openly can have great advantages over the traditional schooling system.

A typical homeschooling day looks very different to a typical school day. In a typical classroom, a teacher has up to 30 little people to manage and educate. At home you may only have one (as I do) or you may have several more (my hat goes off to you!). For this very reason then, the amount of time you need to spend teaching can be reduced dramatically. Really you should be spending no more than 2-3 hours engaging in ‘formal’ learning activities. Of course you can totally spend more, but for most children, with one-on-one attention, 2-3 hours will be plenty.

Who is feeling relieved already?!

The remainder of your children’s time may be spent doing the following:
– reading
– bike riding
– outside play
– building cubby houses
– arts and crafts
– bushwalks (if socially possible)
– cooking in the kitchen
And the list could go on…

Do not underestimate the value of these activities to your child’s education. Not only do they provide a brain-break opportunity, but they also serve to engage other parts of the brain that normal paper and pencil activities can not.

So then how can you plan your day? No doubt you will have other busy jobs to attend to, whether it be making dinner, cleaning the house, working from home yourself or even just needing a bit of downtime. Don’t underestimate the need for downtime. It isn’t you being slack, it is you being sensible! Teachers in classrooms need breaks too! DON’T FEEL GUILTY!!!

So let me layout a few ground rules before we talk about the specifics of a daily plan. Keep these close so that when you are feeling overwhelmed from trying to juggle everything (including teaching your children) you have a base-line to always go back to.

#1. KEEP THINGS SIMPLE
I can’t emphasise this enough. The best learning can happen out of the simplest ideas. You don’t need whiz-bang resources to help your child understand a concept.

#2. DON’T BE AFRAID WHEN YOUR CHILD DOESN’T GET IT
Repetition is the key to learning. Most likely your child will not get a concept the first time you teach it to them. You will need to revisit concepts several (and I’m talking possibly up to 50 times!) before a child has fully grasped a concept!

#3. BE PATIENT
I know this is easy to say from afar, but it really is important. And if you feel like you are loosing your patience, step away from what you are doing and take a break. Come back to it another time when both you and your child are fresh.

#4. CONSIDER THE TIME OF DAY
I can guarantee you will have the best success teaching your child in the morning rather than in the afternoon (although I’m pretty sure most of you would have worked that out yourself). Personally I am going to be avoiding doing any formal teaching after lunch. If we do anything after lunch it will be online, craft, art or physical activity based.

#5. ATTENTION SPAN
Did you know the attention span of your child is equivalent to their age? So my daughter who is 5, has a MAXIMUM attention span of 5 minutes (unless of course she is watching the television ;p). This is really important to note, as this will impact on how long you should be spending explaining something. Keep things as short and simple as you can. You may need to break things down into steps.

#6. DON’T BE AFRAID OF CHANGE
Don’t be afraid to change things up if they are not working. Google will be your friend during this time no doubt as you research different ways to teach certain concepts. You may also need to experiment with your daily routine until you are all comfortable with it. Also don’t be afraid to contact your child’s classroom teacher for tips and tricks to help teach your child.

#7. YOU DON’T HAVE TO TEACH EVERYDAY
You will no doubt need a break as much as your children will. Feel free to take days off from the routine to aide the sanity of all!

#8. USE PLAY
Play is a powerful tool for engaging children and teaching concepts without formally doing so. A great addition to your afternoon perhaps, to continue teaching covertly 😉

#9. BREATHE
This may sound like a given but make sure you schedule in time to breathe and have some space to yourself.

#10. HAVE FUN
This is always our motto here at Ridgy Didge. At the end of the day, if you and your child are having fun, the learning will follow. If an activity is not engaging you or your child, you have permission to think outside the square and make it more engaging for yourself and your child. Rather than writing your sight words out on a piece of paper, take a piece of chalk and write it on your driveway! If the sums on your sheet are driving you bonkers, head out to the sand pit and write the equations and answers in the sand! If your child is struggling with their reading, make a ‘microphone’ out of alfoil so they can speak into that as they read! There really are so many ways you can add fun to ‘dull’ activities.

So with all this in mind… To help you further I have laid out a possible homeschooling plan you can follow to get you started. And remember, you can take this and tweak it to suit your own individual needs.

The template for the plan can be found in our Free Resource Library and is editable for you to use to schedule out your homeschooling day. Below you can see how I have used it to plan out my homeschooling days with my daughter. I’ve added notes in there for you to consider and justify my reasoning for my schedule choices. Mould your schedule around these tips and your child’s needs.

Remember: Despite the world circumstances that are happening around us, you are being offered a really wonderful opportunity to connect with your child. We are wanting to support you in your transition to this new role in your household as educator. This is the first of four blog posts helping you make the transition with ease and reducing the overwhelm.

Let’s help one another make the most of it! Add your thoughts below in the comments of any other tips and tricks you may have to share with new homeschooling parents.

Keep an eye out for blogpost #2 coming tomorrow: Homeschooling through COVID-19 – Part 2: What to Teach.

Keep your chin up parents! Us teachers have your back 🙂