Monthly Archives: August 2011

School Box Gift Card Winner!

Let’s announce a winner of a $20 School Box gift card, shall we? Now, in order to win, all you have to do is comment on the posts here on A Learning Experience– which is a no-brainer since the posts are all pretty darn helpful, we love to hear your comments, AND who couldn’t use $20 to The School Box? No. Brainer.

Then, we randomly select winners from our recent commenters. Here is our current winner, below. Congratulations, Paula!

Winner: Paula Whitfield

I enjoyed this article very much. It is so true. After working with middle schoolers, I realize how texting/spelling is a problem. I will use some of these ideas in my room this year. I especially liked the one about publishing on a blog.

Original Post: “Growing Strong Spellers in a TXTNG World”

If you want to win, too, just start commenting on some articles. Easy peasy!


1 Comment

Filed under Free Stuff!

Interactive Bulletin Boards, Part III: Sally’s Seashells

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

Comment on this post and be entered to win a $20 School Box gift card!

Welcome to Part III in our series on Interactive Bulletin Boards!

This great idea from was designed for a second grade classroom, to allow an interactive area to practice problem solving. It could easily be adapted to other grade levels and concepts, too. And– in addition to shells, you could use pretty much any objects, including items that tie into current science or social studies concepts (rocks, planets, fish, stars, etc.).




Sand paper

Paper for the shells and letters

Bucket to hold the shells

Blue felt

Activity Sheet (click to download)


To practice addition and subtraction problem solving

How To:

Students read the problems on the provided activity sheet, and then they manipulate the seashells on the bulletin board to depict the problem before they solve it.

The great thing about this board is that it combines reading, counting, addition and subtraction skills. Gotta love a multi-tasker!

And, if you think bulletin boards are only for elementary school, check out these super impressive interactive boards, geared toward middle and high school math concepts: Now those are some advanced ideas!


Filed under Centers, Classroom Decor, Math

Interactive Bulletin Boards Part II: Tell Me All About It!

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

Comment on this post and be entered to win a $20 School Box gift card!

Welcome to Part II in our series on Interactive Bulletin Boards!

This idea, from Megan Power with, is sheer genius. “If you teach young children, you know they always have something to tell you and to share with the class,” says Megan. “I love hearing their news and funny stories, but it was taking a lot of time away from getting started with our instructional day.” So, a few years ago Megan came up with the “Tell Me All About It” bulletin board, which is now a perennial class favorite.

Here’s how to make it:

  1. At the beginning of the year, attach a photo of each child to a bulletin board.
  2. Create and laminate a “speech bubble” for each child, and staple one near each student’s photo.
  3. Place a cup of dry erase markers under the board, and allow time every week or every day (like morning time) for students to write whatever is on their mind on their bubble. The dry erase markers erase easily to allow for an endless amount of chatter!
  4. Megan has a great idea for later in the year, too: “Later in the year, students make their faces with construction paper and craft materials. Changing the student faces is a great way to refresh the board and keep the excitement going all year,” she explains.

To get your students started with ideas, here are Megan’s sentence starters:

  • “My name is ___.”
  • “My favorite pet is a ____.”
  • “I like to___.”
  • “My favorite color is ___.”
  • “I am ___ years old.”
  • As the year progresses, she also has them write the whole sentence or complete the sentence starters with more words. “This weekend I ____.”
  • As students writing progresses, she opens the board up to sharing their own news without a sentence starter or question.

Parents love Megan’s board, too, and often stop to read their child’s comments. It’s a hit all around!

Put these ideas to work in your classroom and transform your ho-hum bulletin board into a flurry of learning.

For more on Megan’s classroom, visit For more clever bulletin board starters, visit

Stay tuned for Part III in this series on Interactive Bulletin Boards, coming soon to A Learning Experience!


Filed under Academic Success, Centers, Classroom Decor, creative writing, grammar, Language Arts, Morning Work, Writing

Awesome Interactive Bulletin Boards, Part I

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

Comment on this post to be entered to win a $20 School Box Gift Card!

So, you have this big bulletin board hanging on your wall. And it’s so tempting to cover it with paper, slap up a pre-made bulletin board set and be done with it. But, what if we shared a few EASY (promise) ideas that will turn your generic board into an interactive learning spot.

From reading to writing to social studies, the ideas we will share in our Awesome Interactive Bulletin Boards series combine disciplines and allow students to showcase their learning in a fun, student-centered way.

Literary World Travels

This clever idea, courtesy of blends reading and social studies.

Here’s how to create one in your room:

  1. Post a large, detailed map of the United States or world on a bulletin board, preferably near your classroom library.
  2. Next to the map, post a map key listing your students’ names, each designated with a different color or style of push pin.
  3. Every time a student reads a book, story or poem that mentions a city, state, or famous landmark, they pinpoint the geographic location on the map with their designated push pin.
  4. To keep the students organized and independent, give each student their own drawer filled with push pins of their designated color or style in an organizer below the bulletin board.
  5. Later in the year, the places “visited” provide an authentic springboard for a research project: Research the favorite city or country you read about this year.

Voila! Literacy meets geography! And, this board can stay up all year– how easy is that?

For more bulletin board materials and idea starters, check out’s online array here.

Stay tuned for Parts II and III in this series on Interactive Bulletin Boards, coming soon to A Learning Experience!


Filed under Centers, Classroom Decor, Geography, Reading, Social Studies

Are You Prepared for a School-Time Emergency? {3 ways to know}

Comment on this post and be entered to win a $20 School Box gift card.

“Do you think a school emergency card is enough to protect your kids if something happens to you during school hours?” asks attorney Steve Worrall to a crowd of parents attending his popular Protect My Kids! seminar last month in Marietta, Georgia.

The majority of the room raises their hands yes. A few parents are undecided. Yet from a legal standpoint, all of them are wrong.

“Contrary to popular belief, a school emergency card will not protect your children from spending time in the hands of social services if something tragic happens to you,” says Worrall. “The emergency card only gives named contacts permission to pick your kid up if they are sick, not take short-term custody of them if one or both parents are killed or incapacitated in an accident.”

For this reason, experts such as Worrall recommend parents create an emergency plan so there is no confusion or legal headaches should tragedy strike. According to Worrall, this plan can be created in three easy steps:

1. Legally name short-term guardians for your kids.

Short-term guardians are the people who have legal permission to care for your child until the surviving parent or long-term guardian can arrive. This should ultimately be someone who lives close by and one who will comfort your children in an emergency.

2. Make sure your short-term guardians match those named on the school emergency card.

In addition to listing friends and neighbors who can pick your child up from school if he or she gets sick, it’s equally important to list the full contact information of your short-term guardians for true emergencies. Without this information, your children could be placed temporarily in the custody of social services until the surviving parent or legal guardian can arrive.

3. Make sure the babysitter knows what to do if you don’t return home.

It’s extremely important that parents give their a.m. or p.m. babysitters detailed instructions on what to do and who to call if they don’t return home. In most cases, a babysitter will panic and turn to the police for help, again opening the door for social services to temporarily take custody of your kids until a long-term care provider can arrive.

“Creating a back-to-school and babysitter emergency plan is so easy–and something that will greatly pay off if a parent is injured or, God forbid, killed during school hours,” Worrall says. “The first few hours after an emergency are the most painful for a child, so it’s important for parents to make sure their kids spend that time with people they love and trust, rather than in the arms of the state,” he concludes. Good advice for parents and teachers, alike.

For more information on Marietta family attorney, Steve Worrall, please visit or call 770-425-6060. You can also sign up for an upcoming Protect My Kids! Plan Workshop at to gain detailed guidance on how to guarantee that your kids are legally protected…no matter what.

Stephen M. Worrall is an experienced family law and wills, trusts, estate planning, probate and elder law attorney in Marietta and Atlanta, Georgia. He concentrates his practice in all areas of family law, including divorce, adoption and prenuptial agreements, and family estate planning, including estate planning, including wills, trusts, guardians for minor children and incapacitated adults, probate and trust administration. He also helps families plan to protect their assets and their children in the event of their death or incapacity, and to transfer their whole wealth: their financial, intellectual, and spiritual assets, to their loved ones.


Filed under Parenting, School Readiness, Welcome

Growing Strong Spellers in a TXTNG World.

by Diane Burdick, M. Ed. and Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

Comment on this post and be entered to win a $20 School Box Gift Card!

Spelling is important. Now, this fact is debatable if you look at the i-gadgets of most tweens and teens (CU L8R), but CTO (that’s “check this out”): Spelling correctly is essential to proper communication and success in life. Misspelled words immediately bring a connotation of lower intelligence, leaving readers wondering if you’re TSTL. (“Too Stupid To Live”…and no, we’re not making up this netlingo.)

So, even if “Spelling Bee Champ” isn’t on a child’s radar, you can still encourage your students to become better spellers (and writers) with just a few simple tips:

1. Show them the importance of spelling.

Spelling correctly isn’t just for writing papers or acing spelling quizzes. Show students real-life (and fun) examples of how people use spelling.

For example, create a list of games or television shows where spelling is important: Scrabble, Wheel of Fortune, Boggle, Word With Friends (a popular iPhone ap game). Depending on your child’s age, you could let him or her watch a few rounds of the national competitions of spelling and geography bees, where students are expected to know (and often DO know) the spelling of obscure words and country names. Mucho impressivo.

2. Publish student writing.

Make your students’ worlds known to other people by publishing their work. Now, publishing used to mean printing and binding, but in our digital age, publishing is as fast (and free) as clicking that mouse.

Consider creating a class website or blog that features their written work. Include stories, journal entries, and graphic projects like comic-strip stories and photo essays (pictures with captions that tell a story or convey an argument or social message). To set up a class blog, just visit and click through the steps: free and easy!

Writing with an audience in mind provides authentic accountability for spelling and grammar. Be sure to give children a writing/editing checklist (checking for spelling, run-ons, fragments, etc.) to help them proofread their work before hitting “publish” for the world to see!

3. Develop an interest in words.

Implement a “word of the day” segment of class to broaden your students’ vocabulary and spelling prowess. Here are some ways to spice up this idea:

  • Learn the word in a variety of languages. Translate words from English to pretty much any other language in the world (Spanish, French, Tagalog, Swahili) at Point out how many Latin-based languages use similar spellings and pronunciations.
  • Share the root word or word of origin.
  • Use a thesaurus and dictionary to find appropriate synonyms and antonyms for the word of the day.
  • Hold a “creativity contest”: the student who can correctly use the new word in the most inventive, creative, humorous or clever sentence is the Word Champ for the day.

4. Relate word spellings to other words.

Use clue words to help students spell other words. For example, if your student knows how to spell the word “telephone” but struggles writing the word “elephant” remind them that the /f/ sound is the same as in the word “telephone.”

5. Read stories aloud.

Studies show that reading aloud to students cultivates more interest in–and positive connotations with–reading and writing. Read aloud to your students, and have them read aloud to you, as well. The result? They’ll gain a better comprehension of and appreciation for the printed word.

In summary, while our world may be increasingly lazy when it comes to spelling, we can still present this necessary skill as relevant. CU L8R.

For a list of innovative spelling projects, posters, and instructional aids, check out

Diane Burdick, M. Ed. holds a masters in elementary education and a bachelors in history, and is currently pursuing her specialists degree with a concentration in teaching and learning. A homeschooling mother of three, she also enjoys freelancing for online publications.

Elizabeth D. Cossick, M. Ed. has a bachelors in education from The University of Georgia and a masters in curriculum and instruction from Lesley University, Cambridge. In addition to being the editor of A Learning Experience, she publishes Little Black Dress | Little Red Wagon Magazine. She resides in Atlanta with her husband, two young children, and a frisky Westie named Munson.


Filed under creative writing, grammar, Language Arts, Phonics, reading aloud, Spelling, Writing

How to Pack a Lunch with a Punch!

by Diane Burdick

Comment on this post and be entered to win a $20 gift card to The School Box!

Here’s a great article if you’re a parent (use these tips!) or if you’re a teacher (print these tips for your parents on what to pack for snack and lunch). It’s all about eatin’ healthy…because, in the classroom, children really are what they eat. Healthy food = healthy brains that are ready to learn.

Packing a Lunch or Snack

Packing your child’s lunch with good-for-them options doesn’t necessarily mean that your child will come up with a sack full of food at the end of the day, or that you’ll spend tons of time prepping, either. What you need is a balance: pre-packaged items that are minimally processed. Meaning? Healthy, filling, kid-friendly, but not draining on the crazy morning routine.

Play With Your Food: Cheese Sticks

Whether you cut sticks yourself from a large store-bought brick or purchase pre-packed string cheese, cheese sticks pack a powerful punch of calories and nutrition. For example, string cheese typically comes in a 1 oz service size, which has only 70 to 80 calories but a whopping 7 to 8 grams of protein. Plus, they’re fun to eat. I mean, who doesn’t love creating all those strings?!

Yummy Yogurt

Kid-oriented freezable yogurt, such as Yoplait “Go-Gurt,” Danimals “Coolisions,” and organic varieties allow you to freeze the yogurt overnight. As the yogurt package sits in your child’s lunch bag, it thaws out, but is still cool enough to each and taste great. And, it’s great frozen, too– like a healthy popsicle! And, no spoon required. Loaded with calcium, about 10% of the suggested daily amount, kid-friendly yogurt is a sure bet.

Fun with Fruit

If you’re worried about fresh fruit going bad in the house, look for prepackaged fruit instead. For example, mandarin orange fruit cups in their own juice (not artificially sweetened) are around 40 calories, but they offer 100% of the daily value of vitamin C. Flavorful, convenient and oh, so sumptuous!

Some other fruity options:

  • A small 1-oz package of dried cranberries is less than 100 calories, but offers 4% of your daily recommended fiber.
  • A 1.5 oz pack of raisins offer about 10% of the suggested daily amount of fiber, and only 130 calories.
  • And prunes (which are just dried plums) are even better for you than a fresh apple, because they offer almost 2 grams of fiber in just a 1 ounce serving size, that’s twice the fiber of a fresh apple! Look for prunes loose in a package, or in small cellophane wrappers which lock in the juiciness and freshness.

Granola Bars

Traditional chewy granola bars, such as the Quaker brand with 25% less sugar, run at only 100 calories (for the peanut butter chocolate chip variety) and offer 10% of the recommended daily fiber, 2 grams of protein, 10% of calcium, and 2% of iron. But at 20% of your daily recommended fiber per serving, the “Fiber One” bars in the chocolate peanut butter flavor are only 90 calories, and, in my opinion, are even tastier than the original.


It’s not just for breakfast anymore. You can satisfy your child’s sweet and salty cravings with a handful of cereal from the pantry instead of greasy and overly salty chips or crackers.

For example, a dry (non-milk) one-cup serving of Quaker Oatmeal Squares provides 90% of the suggested iron and 100% of folic acid. Traditional Cheerios clock in at only 100 calories a serving, with 11% of your recommended dietary fiber. The slightly sweeter Multigrain Cheerios offer 100% of the suggested values for many nutrients such as iron, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B, folic acid, B12 and zinc.

The takeaway: healthy lunches are a real possibility in your home and classroom. It just takes a few minutes and a few ideas.

And, if you’re teaching nutrition to your class this year, The School Box has a super fun game to try: Food Pyramid Bingo. Because, let’s face it, Mom won’t always be there to pack the lunch. They’ve gotta learn the basics on their own, too.

Diane Burdick, M. Ed. holds a masters in elementary education and a bachelors in history, and is currently pursuing her specialists degree with a concentration in teaching and learning. A homeschooling mother of three, she also enjoys freelancing for online publications.


Filed under Academic Success, Parenting, Snack Time

Back to School! Easing the Transition {for everyone}

by Diane Burdick, M. Ed.

Comment on this post and be entered to win a $20 School Box gift card!

The long, lazy days of summer are done and gone. Ease your child (and yourself) into the new school year by establishing routines both at the beginning and ending of the day. Here are a few tips on how to make August easier for everyone. (Read them now, thank us later!)

1. Opt for a high-protein breakfast.

While you may not eat a lot of food for breakfast, little tummies need food more frequently. They also need something to jump start their bodies and brains in the morning. Look for high-fiber, high-protein foods, such as peanut butter on a whole-wheat waffle or toast, eggs or yogurt. For more healthy, easy (and fast!!) breakfast-on-the-go combos, check out this list from Real Simple.

A good general breakfast rule: avoid simple carbs (see ya later, PopTarts), which are metabolized quickly (long before lunchtime) and can cause sluggishness when the “sugar high” wanes. If your kid loves Frosted Flakes, let them have it…but for dessert after dinner! Fortified cereals (even the sugary ones) are better than most other options.

2. Create—and post—routines.

The summer-to-school transition is hard on everyone. Make it easier by establishing routines early on in the year. Like:

• Require your child to make his bed and brush his teeth before coming down to breakfast.

• Change into school clothes before eating breakfast.

• Lay out the next day’s clothing AND pack book bags the night before.

Consider posting your decided-upon routines (as a checklist) on the fridge or other conspicuous area where you are all sure to see it everyday.

3. Get active!

Okay, so there’s not time for a full-fledged yoga class before school. But even mild activity, such as stretching or taking the dog for a short walk, synchronizes the brain and body and helps prep your child’s neurons for learning. Homeschooling parents especially should remember that traditional schools have a break or recess time, so let your child get up and stretch or play outside from time to time to keep his mind working at top performance.

4. Go to bed on time!

According to, children ages 3 to 6 should get 10 to 12 hours of sleep per night, children 7 to 12 years old need 10 to 11 hours, and students 12 to 18 years old need 8 to 9 hours. Since it may be difficult for children to go to sleep while it’s still light outside, make the room as dark as possible. Purchase black-out liners for the windows (available inexpensively at most national big-box stores), or switch the position of your child’s bed so it is farther away from the bright window.

The bottom line:

Healthy habits and a set routine help ensure a smooth slide into the new school year—for you and the kiddos.

Diane Burdick, M. Ed. holds a masters in elementary education and a bachelors in history, and is currently pursuing her specialists degree with a concentration in teaching and learning. A homeschooling mother of three, she also enjoys freelancing for online publications.


Filed under Academic Success, Parenting