Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Summer Fun While We Can

August. When I make my mega to do list at the beginning of August I am always overwhelmed. School things begin to creep on to my list, and the carefree summer day countdown begins. So, last Monday, instead of being responsible and crossing things off our list we decided to spend the entire day having fun. (Oh, and did I mention we had a showing from 3:30-4:30, so I wasn't going to let the kids touch the house after breakfast anyway?)
We climbed in the car by 8:45 and headed to the doctor's office to have my arm checked for TB. The kids both held my hand and told me to be brave, just like I do when they go to the doctors. (Routine test for my new job!!!! I will be working at a Middle School this year!!!)
Then, we drove over the Walt Whitman Bridge towards the Philadelphia Zoo. We parked at the zoo, did sunscreen and set out for a day of fun with our friend Emily and her 39 week pregnant Momma. We checked out the monkeys, then it was snack time. After snack we saw the crocodiles, alligators, zebras, rhinos, giraffes, and penguins. My friend Kelly and I were amazed at our "daycare" kids. They held hands, took turns and actually stayed at each exhibit to watch the animals. Then we ate lunch with the geese. Patrick kept scaring them away, but alas they would come back. As we were eating lunch the kids spotted the train. Kelly and I exchanged a similar look - NO! So, we sat the kids on the wall by the train and told them to wave to the people. The kids sat for over 4 train rides. They waved to the people, they threw leaves at the train, and laughed so hard with each other. Kelly & I were proud of our savings from the train, and thrilled to catch up while the kids provided entertainment for the train ride. Then, it was time for Kelly and Emily to leave. We continued to see the Big Cats, which we never do, so the kids were super excited to spy leopards, lions, tigers, and pumas in the exhibit. Oh, and they loved the 2 min movie. Patrick even exclaimed that the Lion was almost as fast as him! We ended our visit in Kid Zoo U. We recycled, checked out the coral reef, went through the ant tunnel, looked at the ant farm, and played in the tiny tot barnyard. But, our favorite part was meeting Crystal, the oldest goat at the Philadelphia Zoo. I was surprised both kids wanted to brush her. Patrick never wants to get near animals, yet he felt comfortable with this older, wider, animal.We grabbed our usual snack of a Frozen Lemonade and headed out of the zoo. I figured an entire morning and afternoon would at least get me a quiet car ride home, but Patrick never fell asleep!

Check out Shannon's lady bug costume!
Around 5 o'clock we met up with Finn and my very best friend and cousin, Tricia at the Garden State Discovery Museum. The kids were super excited to show Finn all of their favorite exhibits in the "Lady bug" museum. (as Shannon calls it) We began in the Dinosaur room. All of the kids loved climbing the huge T-rex and finding their way through all the different holes in him. Then they dug in the huge dinosaur fossil dig. They also explored the magnetic dinosaur map and learned where the dinosaurs lived in the United States. We worked our way slowly through the museum. We pretended to be news casters, shopped at Whole Foods, played with the huge Lite Brite board, and visited the Barnyard. Our last stop was to the "beach" room. We have never spent a significant amount of time in this room, but it is well worth spending time playing in this room. Patrick loved the boat, especially fishing for fish from the boat. Finn discovered we could climb under the boat, and Shannon played with a beach ball and a steam of air. Then the kids discovered the bicycle ice cream truck, which was another huge hit!
Needless to say, the kids were exhausted when we left Garden State Discovery Museum and slept well!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Experiential Education, Energizers, and Team Building

Last week I took a course on Experiential Education and Facilitation. It was a fantastic week where I learned many new games and activities to do in the classroom with my students. I created a list of activities that I wanted to share on my blog. I will be adding to this list throughout the year. Please let me know if you have anything to add!

KeyPunch – using ABCs
Teambuild; have students work as a group to accomplish a common goal
Hit ball around circle; discuss how to get better; parts of speech, vocab words, part of a story, prefixes/suffixes
Balloon Train
Communication, lead from behind, interdependence, “my success depends on your success”
Name Animal most like you
Write it in journal/partner/circle
Name Weather condition most like
Write it in journal/partner/circle
Name Instrument most like you
Write it in journal/partner/circle
Name and Action Game
Write it in journal/partner/circle
Name and Adjective to describe you
Write it in journal/partner/circle
When the Wind Blows/I Like People Who
Energizer, Commonalities,
Identify Your Peanut(rock,
Write first, partner work, descriptive writing, using adjectives
I Spy Writing
Choose object in classroom, write about share writing, practice fluency and communication skills
The Human Knot
“Everyone’s actions affect your own
Build a Tower
Planning, group work, communication (limit talking, blindfold someone)
Teams build a matching bridge ½ the team builds left side, ½ on the right but the left and right can’t see eachother’s product until the end. They will have planned times to meet to discuss bridge.
Dragon Tail
Groups of 3 are formed. Goal is to protect your dragon tail.
Hidden Path
Great game to work on focus. Instead of numbers I might use vocabulary words, characters from stories, or letters
Goonie Likes/Green Glass Door
Double letters – start auditory move to visual
Hold hands move a squeeze around a circle
Impulse – cross hands, cross feet
Move a squeeze or foot tap around a circle
Impulse Race
2 teams; send impulse at same time and see which team moves it faster by grabbing something at the end
Name Explosion
Use a name to make a list of things beginning with letter (animals, people, cities, states)
Speed Rabbit
Stand in circle, make animals (Rabbit, Elephant, Moose)
Zip Zap Zoom
Put word with motion practice focus
Magic Carpet
Make a plan, work your plan, perseverance
Everyone inside hula hoop circle
Make a plan, work your plan, think outside the box
Magic Squares
Count squares – perspective
Make a line to retirement
Working together towards a common goal, make a plan, work your plan
Review game for test, great activity may color code questions for difficult then assign point values
Adjective, Noun, Verb Point Value
Great way to show the importance of adjectives in our writing, create anchor charts of adjectives, and verbs
Masking Tape Timeline
Could create a story map as well – Beginning, Rising Action, Climax, Resolution
Space Shuttle Game
Work as a team to make it to the top of the space shuttle w/ questions
Everyone write an idea/term, put in middle of room, then group sort

Spelling words or homophones
Going on a camping trip
Focus, name association

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Questions I wish I could ask my stroller

I never thought I would rely on my stroller as much as I do. It fits snugly in the trunk of my Camry, and unfolds to to bring us to so many places both old and new! As I was strolling along I made this list of questions I would ask my stroller if given the chance.

How many miles have we walked?
Where have you been?
What is your favorite place to stroll?
Do you like when the kids talk or would you rather it be silent?
Do you prefer morning or night rides?
Do you like cold weather?
When we go to the zoo do you mind how often the kids jump in and out of you?

What questions would you ask your stroller?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Repositionable Glue

A few months ago I sat next to a colleague at an Inservice. As we were sitting listening to the speaker I noticed a book on her lap. I gave her a nudge, pointed to the book, and practically stole it off her lap. She then whispered she saw the authors at a recent Teacher's College Reunion Day. I flipped through the book, and at the next break she clued me in on a very well kept secret...Repositionable Glue. Have you ever heard of it? Have you ever used it? Where do you even buy that stuff? Well, let me fill you in - repositionable glue can be bought at any Office Supply Store. Apply this glue to paper, wait 1 min, and you instantly have post-it note type stickiness! In the world of teachers this is earth shattering!

I have been using this glue on posters around my room.

I also used it to word sort with the kids this week. I just applied to their papers, then gave them words, and BINGO! they were able to sort and stick without the messiness of glue and without the slightest gust of wind knocking all the words off. 

And, I plan to use it this weekend to play Pin the Tail on "Boots" at my daughter's birthday. I'll let you know how it goes...

Friday, June 21, 2013

Never underestimate the power of a good assist

Wow, I could write so much about this title...
I thought of it this morning while I was crouching down and "twisting my lowest ribs to shine towards Haddon Ave." This morning, the assistant in my yoga class held on to my feet during this pose. What a huge difference this made in my stretch. All of the sudden, I was able to stop worrying about my quivering shaking legs and start concentrating on the twist, my entire body opened up and I finally was able to feel the exhilirating opening in my body.
It is important to remember that people are put into our lives for a reason. Today I challenge you to be a good assist to someone who needs it. Assists come in all shapes and sizes. Think about someone you can help today and just do it!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Summer Schedule!

The school year is over for me, which is always a bittersweet feeling. I must admit, I don't think I've ever made it through the last day of school without shedding at least 1 tear. This year was no different. The tears are happy and sad. So, today, let's focus on the happy. Now I am completely focused on being a mother to my awesome children. My kids are such a gift to me - they bring me joy, and I love spending so much time with them. Most of all, I love to watch them interact as brother and sister...the hugs, the fights, the laughter, the mischief!
Last summer I really liked the Literacy Challenge I set for myself. This summer my goal is to keep my shelfari shelf up to date with all the books we read on a daily basis. What? You don't know shelfari? Well, check out my digital bookshelf at the bottom of this page! Go to and start making your very own digital bookshelf! I hope to write a short review of select books. Check out my shelf if you are looking for book ideas to read with your toddlers, tweens, teens, or even for yourself! I will admit, I almost always choose a young adult book over adult!
Also, I have formed a toddler book club. Our plan is to meet once each week to read a book and create a language experience for our children ranging in age from 6 months - 3 years. I will post about those gatherings as well.
Happy summer to all! Remember to read with your children, and create meaningful memories by interacting with your children!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day

As I wake up this morning I am filled with gratitude and joy. Even though today is the day Hallmark deems "mother's day" I believe Mother's Day is celebrated all year long. My children have their own little ways of showing appreciation, and these little acts fill my heart and keep me striving to be the best mom I can be all year long.
Yesterday was a perfect day..I began the day with a play date with my college friends. Even though our friendship started before motherhood I am happy to be raising my kids with these awesome women. It is interesting to watch the next generations' friendships blossom, and share parenting troubles and triumphs together. Then, we celebrated my niece's First Holy Communion with my family. Again, I had the opportunity to spend time with my own mother, nieces,  brothers, and their fantastic wives. When I looked around the room yesterday I felt rich. I am surrounded by women who are all role models to me. My day continued with a very special coffee date with my own mom. We were able to talk with no interruptions! My mom has taught me everything I know about mothering and teaching. She is an incredible mother and my best friend. The last stop of my day was up to my in-laws house to rejoin my husband (who had already put the kids to bed!) and mother and father in-law. We had a great time catching up. My mother in law has a very special place in my heart. She is fun, caring, and a wonderful listener. I went to be last night and I thought wow I am really I saw most of my favorite mothers. Cheers to all the mothers out there- I hope you are as fortunate as I am to be spending time with the people you love!

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Cast is Off!

Monday I had the wonderful experience of taking my daughter to have her cast removed. I didn't even think about how casts were removed until I picked up Shannon from "school." Lynda, (her teacher) asked, "So do you know how they take casts off?" I replied, "I haven't even thought about it." I was so excited to get this pink fiberglass cast off her foot that I didn't even give a thought as to how in the world casts come off.
For those of you that don't know...It involves a huge machine. It involves a huge, loud machine. It involves a huge, loud, ultrasonic saw machine that would scare me if it came near me. Needless to say Shannon freaked out. The saw master had to stop his sawing and call out to the hallway for the reserves to come in to help hold Shannon. The most ironic part was that the saw master kept saying, "Don't worry. This won't hurt you. See it tickles." Tickles????? A you completely out of your mind? This saw was terrifying to me. Maybe it doesn't hurt, but it certainly doesn't tickle.
Well, my Shannon took it in stride. The cast came off and she immediately wanted to put her blue walking shoe back on.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Pretty in Pink

Tuesday began like any other day. Kevin had court, which meant I had both drop off and pick up duty. We got the kids in the car, said our goodbyes and I headed to Lynda's house. I pulled in her driveway, quickly unbuckled Pat, and grabbed Shannon out of her seat. We walked in and I lowered Shannon down. She wouldn't go. This never happens. Shannon is not clingy. Shannon is a social butterfly. I gave her another squeeze and went to let her ago again. She clung. Then, I noticed she was pointing her toes so she wouldn't put any weight on her left foot. "Seriously, Shannon? Can't you stay healthy for 1 week?" I though as I sat down with her and pulled her shoes off her feet...
So, my double duty day turned drastically different. Here are the highlights...
-went to work for all of 20 minutes. Called the doctor at 9:00 sharp and got an appointment for 9:45.
-picked up Shannon (tenderly explained to Pat that Shannon had to go to the dr. and he couldn't come)
-went to least favorite at the practice...see previous post on his act
-went to get x-rays, which were negative
-took Shannon back to Lynda's (gently explained to Pat that I couldn't take him this time because I had to go to work)
-went back to school to teach my first graders
-tried to make an orthopedic appointment, but dr. wouldn't see her until a virus was ruled out.
-headed to the ER to rule out a virus around 7PM
-arrived home at 10:30 with a new set of x-rays and NO NEW INFORMATION.

Yes, Tuesday was a frustrating day. I was hoping to see improvement in Shannon throughout the rest of the week, but she just got worse. She couldn't climb on and off the couch by herself, and asked to be carried much more. At times, she wouldn't even try to walk. Other times, she would walk and even RUN around the house. But, when she was running she was running on her toes.  Oh, and I must mention that she even climbed out of the pack-n-play at school this week. Who does that when you have foot pain???

So, last night I took her to the orthopedic doctor. He took one look at her foot, and explained it could be a hairline fracture or a bad sprain. When this happens to toddlers they assume the worst and always cast. So, here is my 20 month old with her pretty pink cast.  She will be in a cast for 2 weeks. Then, she will be reevaluated.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Why Do I Teach?

This morning while I was tutoring a high school student I saw another former student walk by in the hallway. I waved to her and continued on with my tutoring lesson. Next thing I knew this young lady was stretching her arms out exclaiming, "Mrs. Birkhead!!!! You're Back!!!!" We embraced, and I explained to her that I come once a week to the high school to work with a student. She went on to tell me about how successful she has been in school, and that, thanks to me, she loved to read and has moved from self-contained English to inclusion English.
This little story is the reason I teach. I want to make a difference in the world, and I know I can do that by teaching students how to read, and how to positively contribute to society. I taught this young lady English in 9th grade 2 years ago. I no longer work at the high school. Yet, when she saw me this morning SHE stopped what she was doing. SHE turned around, SHE entered the library, SHE walked all the way to the back room where I was working, and SHE reached out to thank me. Thank you former 9th grade English student for reminding me why I teach, and for thanking me. But, I must admit, I am the one who learned the lesson important it is to thank the people who help you get where you want to go in life.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

3 Things to Do To Make the Nebulizer More Fun

The nebulizer has become a regular part of our days and nights around here. Shannon has never been a fan of the nebulizer. In fact, last June when she had to get a treatment in the hospital the Respiration Tech stopped and claimed she was the worst neb patient ever. I've tried to brainstorm creative ways to distract her during treatments this time around. I really hope this helps other parents with children who refuse to use the nebulizer.

We do not use the mask...I just hold it up in front of her nose and mouth.

3. Watch a movie, or youtube clip on a computer, tablet, or phone. It is impossible to hear the regular tv over the noise of the nebulizer, but if the device is in close proximity to the child it tends to hold their attention better. Allow your child to hold a favorite toy or blanket.

2. Sing songs together. This works well for an active child because you can bounce them up and down and swing their head from side to side. Again, hold hands which keeps the hands away from neb.

1. Gather 5-6 books to read during treatment. Read and point to different pictures. Reading is good because if the child sits in your lap you can read right into his/her ear. Then, you can hold their hands (this keeps hands away from neb!) and point to the pictures.

Another idea...
Neb in the high chair. The child has nowhere to go. I'll admit I haven't tried it this time, but last year this was the best way for me to do it.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Be Flexible

The alarm sounded at 5AM this morning and I hit snooze...5 more minutes! When it rang again I sprung from bed, put on my workout clothes and headed out the door to yoga. I love to begin my day with yoga, and find on the days that I practice in the morning I am more centered and peaceful. I've often thought about how incredible it is that so many people wake up early to come to yoga, or to work out. It's like an entire different universe of people who are up before the sun - ready to start their day on their terms rather than on the typical hustle and bustle that fills our lives.
This morning just as class was beginning one of the other ladies jumped up from her mat and said, "Ok, plan B today. The first teacher overslept, and I'm going to be teaching class this morning. I recognized this lady right away - she is another teacher at the studio, so it wasn't just a random person. But, then I thought, she came this morning for herself, and when she found out that one of the teachers overslept she was flexible and readily accepted the task of leading the 5:30 AM class. More importantly, she did it in a positive manner.

I was getting excited for this weekend because we were sending the kids to stay with my parents so we could go to a St. Joe's game, and then out for drinks to celebrate my brother-in-laws birthday. But, around 1 o'clock I received a text from our caretaker to let me know Shannon had a "croupy cough" and we may want to have her seen by the doctor before the weekend. After calling the doctor's office they said they weren't seeing anyone just for a croupy cough. The moment I saw Shannon after school, I knew she was sick. I called the doctor again, and we both agree the best place for Shannon was the Emergency Room. She was diagnosed with RSV and the FLU, and stayed for 2 days in the hospital. The entire weekend I just keep thinking about being flexible. I am grateful my little girl is ok, and I am thankful for the reminder that we need to be flexible in all areas of life.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Shaking up the Typical Bedtime Story

Read with a flashlight!

Children are fascinated by flashlights. And, if you have a smart phone you can download the flashlight app. It is so much fun to read by flashlight. So, tonight (or tomorrow night hopefully!) give it a try. Snuggle in bed, pull the covers up and shine your flashlight on a favorite book. If your child is a little older, play "I spy" and shine the flashlight on parts of the picture.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Parallel Lives

In 10th grade I decided to switch high schools. Initially, I was a bit nervous to make the move, but the moment I walked into Upper Dublin I knew it was the right move for me. The music, athletic, and academic programs were top-notch. But, most of all, the people I met at Upper Dublin were welcoming, kind, and caring individuals. There was one girl I knew that even back in high school when you are easily influenced, was not afraid to be herself. I remember on one of my first days as a new student she welcomed me and asked if I needed any help. Really she always went out of her way to chat with me. I would say in high school we were acquaintances.
After high school I lost touch with her. But, she reappeared at my cousin's wedding. One of her best friends was marrying my cousin. Weird. But, it was nice to reconnect and check in on how life was going for her.
The next year, she began teaching Special Ed in Central Bucks School District. I remember looking around the auditorium and spotting her blond curly hair in the crowd,, and thought I was dreaming. Of course, she was a great addition to this district.
Then she became the 7th grade girls basketball coach at another middle school in the district. We coached against each other several times, and I think it was an even split. But, at the end of the games we hugged and went on our ways.
Once I got married we decided to make our way over the state lines to New Jersey. I got a job here, and began teaching. Somehow we connected again only to find out She lived in NJ. We lived in different towns and never saw each other, but still, it was weird we both left CB at the same time and went to the same place.
It was literally my first day back in my own house with 2 kids that I received a facebook message from this girl indicating she had moved to Haddon Township. I wrote back asking where, and guess what? She was 2 blocks away from my house! She walked over a little while later, and we caught up on life again. This time she was pregnant with her first, and she met my two little ones. Last year I became good friends with this kind-hearted woman. She made me several dinners when she was out on maternity leave last year and I was working. These dinners would show up on my doorstep at just the right moment. She never judged my messy house, and brought her daughter over several times for playdates. She introduced to me hot yoga at 5:30 in the morning, which has become a staple in my life, and she introduced me to 31 products. Sadly for me, she moved back to PA in August. Now it is my turn to follow her as we look forward to moving back to PA sometime in the near future.
Lesson learned - You never know how a person can impact your life. Be kind to everyone you meet!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Happy Hour

There is nothing better than a great happy hour after a long week of work. During my first years of teaching, I would frequent happy hour with my colleagues up in Doylestown. Happy hour started and would run right into a regular Friday night out. I cherished the time spent with my teacher friends talking about school, then our business friends would join us and slowly our conversations would shift from school life to personal life. I still keep in contact with many of my first group of professional friends.
Since having kids, I have not made it to many happy hours. Actually, I have made it to one. After a long week of work I really want nothing more than to pick up my children and take them somewhere fun. After all, they have also survived a long week away from their mom! I'll let you in on a secret...the hot spots like My Little Adventure and Jellybean Jungle that are mobbed in the early morning and afternoons are less busy during dinner hour on a Friday night. I have tested my theory several times this year, and now I am ready to share...these places are a perfect Friday night happy hour spot for a mom and her little ones!
Tonight we went to Jellybean Jungle. We had dinner in the car, or as my mom always called it, a picnic in the car, and arrived at JBJ around 5:15. The place was practically all ours! If you have never been to Jellybean Jungle, I highly recommend it. There is a room with 2 ball pits, very safe climbing and tunnels, child friendly boats, dress-up, train tables, slides, a 5 horse merry-go-round, a play house, store, and even a castle. Both of my children have fun running around this place, and the staff is always friendly and willing to help. Last time we went, we had dinner at Jellybean Jungle (they give you the option to order from a local pizza place or buy their own snacks, which are pretty healthy.) To me this place is a goldmine, and a perfect way to unwind after a hard week of work. So, I now have a new kind of happy hour - one that I spend with my kids...reconnecting, playing, laughing, and starting our weekend off on the right foot. Cheers!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Happy New Year!

Ok, so it hasn't been quite a Happy New Year for my little family. I'm not complaining, I am just proposing to put off my New Year's Eve til Saturday. Here are 3 reasons why...

1. Both my children are sick. Shannon has her 4th ear infection in 4 months. I feel horrible for her. She is a real trooper, though. Every time she gets an ear infection, she gets a TERRIBLE diaper rash, which then requires a different ointment to get rid of it. She doesn't sleep well, and she is irritable all day long. Poor baby girl. Patrick is also sick. He has a cough and fever. And, I haven't felt good for 3 weeks. The doctor told me it was allergies and an ear infection. So, on Christmas Day, we took down our Christmas tree. I thought I felt better, and maybe I did feel better for a couple days before feeling worse. Now I am so congested I feel like I am in a tunnel. I am hoping by Saturday we will ALL feel better!

2. We decided to eat healthier in the fall. We did great with it until December hit. I think I've gone overboard. All that hard work to eat right for so long is ruined by a couple weeks of cocktails, appetizers, and desserts. One thing that helps me get back on track is having meals planned out, and no sweets in the house.

3. I bought a bottle of champagne to crack open at midnight on NYE, but I was asleep by 10:30. I can't let a good bottle go to waste, can I?

So, for this year, I am having my very own personal New Year's Eve on Saturday night. Sunday morning will be "New Year's Day."

Here are a couple of my New Year Resolutions
-Eat healthier
-Go to yoga regularly
-blog weekly
-plan monthly meal calendars
-pray a new prayer each month.

-post lesson plans
-create more individualized action plans for my students
-keep a cleaner desk

-be a better mother by living in the moment with my kids (less time multitasking with technology)
-be a supportive sister by checking in with my brothers more often
-set up playdates with siblings/cousins
-spend time with Kevin (less time multitasking with technology)