4th Grade Frenzy: 2017
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December 28, 2017

Teacher Budget!

This seems to be the time of year when many of us think about revising our budget. Maybe this is because of a blown December budget?! In any case, I have done some of the leg work for you, and I am prepared to share what I have learned. I am not a financial advisor in any sense. Rather, I am a teacher who wishes she would have known a little more about finances some time ago. After all, my idea of a budget was to pay the bills and spend the rest! I now know better after taking a good hard look at my habits. I learned little ways to cut back, how to score better deals, and how to make a little extra for spending and saving.

The first step in getting a budget under control is recording every penny that you spend. I like to write down everything I spend in a pretty notebook with flair pens. However, there are a few Apps out there if you prefer to be more modern. Either way, just get started, and never stop! I actually met the author of Millionaire Teacher, Andrew Hallam. He and his wife still record everything they spend, and he advises others to do the same.

Once you see where your money is going, the next step is to figure out where you can cut back. Here are 10 ways that helped me spend less:

We lowered our cable bill significantly by subscribing to only BASIC cable TV...no HD, no long list of channels, just basic TV. Do we really need more than that? Actually, yes, we also need Netflix. Teachers, especially need Netflix on Friday nights. Still, basic cable plus Netflix may lower your monthly bill.

I lowered our cell phone bill by going to my provider's store (Verizon) to have them look at our plan. I am eligible for the educator discount which is a small amount, but every little bit helps. All you have to do is ask about the discount and provide some sort of proof like a pay stub. We also use our phones until they break beyond repair. This means that all 4 of our phones are now out of contract, and we get a significant discount for staying with the same provider. The savings will make you think twice about running out to get the latest iPhone just because.

I canceled all paid subscriptions including newspapers, magazines,  satellite radio, etc. I find that I really don't NEED these subscriptions.

 I think in halves. I use half of everything possible: laundry detergent, shampoo, cleaning supplies. You get the idea. I even cut paper napkins in half! This is a perfect job for little ones, and it will save you money. Even if you save $1 per week, that is $52 per year. It all adds up. Thinking in halves means that you only have to buy the product half the amount of time which saves you money!

Speaking of buying products, I only buy generic products or products that are on sale at the grocery store. Generics often taste or work just as well as name brands, and this strategy has saved me a lot of money each week. Overall, I spend about $200 less per month by shopping generics or the sale. I also make sure that all my digital coupons are loaded onto my card before I go grocery shopping.

We have also cut back by not seeing a hair stylist as often. You can try to get some extra time out of your hair style. Although I refrain from playing hairdresser in my bathroom, we do have special scissors that we only use for hair to cut back bangs now and then. I realize that some people count on their nail salon time for their own sanity, but I do my own nails which saves money.

I pack my lunch. It's healthier because I choose what I am going to eat the night before rather than making a hungry decision after a potentially stressful morning at school. It also saves a lot of money. If I spent about $5 per day on lunch times 181 school days that would add up to be $905! My rough estimate for a packed lunch is about half of that! I do treat myself to a lunch out with coworkers on inservice days as a little treat and a break from packing a lunch.

An oldie, but a goodie....I make sure I turn off lights that I am not using. I turn the thermostat down a degree or two from my perfect comfort zone in the winter and up one or so in the summer. I also wash clothes in cold water most of the time. I preplan errands to make the most of gas mileage.

I cut back on entertainment. I try to plan one recreational event every month or so rather than every weekend. We actually enjoy those times at home when we can just chill with games, a craft, or a movie, and that one event per month is a special treat. I also look for bargains when deciding on recreational activities. I look to see what is offered in my community for free. Perhaps your library offers free museum passes like my library does! We also have a movie theater close by that shows first run movies at a significant discount especially if you choose a morning time. Remember to check for coupons and ask about a teacher/student/senior/military/etc. discount!

I spend less on clothes. I only shop the sale racks at department stores and find many bargains at my local thrift stores. Thrift stores are awesome because you never know what you may find! Have you ever heard of thredUP? I not only shop this online consignment store, but I also send them my clothes that are in great condition to earn cash! Here is a link, but first a transparency alert...I may get some spending money if you sign up through this link!


Maybe some of these strategies will help you with your budget! Once you record all of your spending for a month, you will likely see some other areas where you can cut back! I would love to hear your ideas in the comments!

Once you have located the areas in your budget where you can cut back, it is time to take a look at what you can do to make more money!

Here are the top ways that I have discovered for making money. Transparency Alert! Some of these sites will offer me cash or another reward if you sign up using the referral code.

1. thredUP
As mentioned above, I use this site to buy clothes and to make money selling my gently used clothes that I no longer wear. I love shopping with the "New with Tags" filter, and I get lots of compliments on the clothes I buy from this site! It is super easy to use whether you are buying or selling.
The link includes a referral code which means that I may be compensated if you sign up!

2. ibotta
This is a site where you earn cash back for items you normally shop for. All you need is a smart phone to sign up and to download the app.  Then you will be ready to start earning cash back on your normal shopping trips. You check out the offers before you shop, and unlock the savings on items that you plan to purchase by completing very simple tasks. When you are through shopping, you simply upload your receipt through your cell phone camera. I use it mostly at ShopRite because that is my usual grocery store, but I did notice that Walmart always seems to have great offers! Yep, you can use this app at many of your normal hangouts. If you sign up with this referral code, we will be part of a team which makes it easier for all of us to earn bonuses!
The link includes a referral code which means that I may be compensated if you sign up!

3. Rewards Credit Card
You may already have one of these, but I thought it deserves some mention. I use my cash back rewards credit card for just about everything. I charge big purchases, small purchases, and everything in between. All my purchases are paid for before interest is charged, so I am careful to make sure that I only charge what I can afford to currently pay for. Once a year I cash in my rewards....either to put towards Christmas or towards a vacation.

4. Wellness Bucks
Check with your medical insurance company about this. I use to have a wellness component to my health insurance where I would earn Visa cash cards for healthy habits. For example, I earned cash back for walking for exercise, visiting my dentist, getting my yearly physical, and even for taking a mindfulness class at my local library! My new insurance company doesn't offer this program, but I understand that these programs are still around. It may be worth looking into!

5. Tutor
I have found that private tutoring is a rewarding way to earn some extra money. Our local library offers space for tutoring which is convenient for both the tutor and the student.

6. Loose Change
Roll up your loose coins, and take them to the bank. It's not really making money, but it may feel like it! I complete this task once a year, and have left the bank with as much as $600!

7. Coke Rewards
A coworker told me about the Coke rewards program. We don't drink much soda, but I thought it sounded like fun, so I signed up. I've already won a large soft drink coupon redeemable at a movie theater.
Coke Rewards

8. Mystery Shopper/Surveys
I've looked into a few of the survey companies, and I must admit that they weren't for me! I am not cut out to take part in surveys, but many people use them to make a little extra cash. Mystery shopping sounds like fun, but I have never tried it myself!

9. ebates!
Ebates is by far my favorite money saving resource out there. It is perfect for those of us who shop online because almost any store you can imagine participates. You simply start out at ebates.com, and then shop like you normally do. Several times per year, you will get your big fat check in the mail!
This link includes a referral code which means that I may be compensated if you sign up!

10. Join Teachers Pay Teachers!
It is so much fun to make resources that are being used all over the world, and you may just earn some money doing it!
This link includes a referral code which means that I may be compensated if you sign up!

Finally, let's talk about discounts. One thing we can do is get into the habit of asking about teacher, senior, military, student, etc discounts whenever we are making a purchase. It doesn't hurt to ask! My absolute favorite place for teacher discounts is A.C.Moore. It has been my experience that I can use my teacher discount on top of any coupons that I have. I have bought premium materials at a fraction of regular cost using this method.

Here are a just a few other companies that offer teacher discounts at the time of this posting:

1. Apple
2. Loft
3. Aerosoles
4. Joann's Fabric
5. New York and Co.
6. Michael's
7. J. Crew
8. Eddie Bauer
9. Easy Spirit
10. Banana Republic

These are just a few of my personal favorites. The list actually goes on and on. I think the best thing to do is just ask about a discount every time we shop or visit a museum or restaurant and keep that school id in our bag at all times!

I hope that these tips will help you as much as they helped me!

November 19, 2017

Kindness Bulletin Board


This kindness bulletin board was very easy! I chose a black background and a white border. I cut out the words on our Ellison Machine using pastel colors and white.  Then I had my students write motivational messages on pastel-colored sticky notes and stick them all over the board. Finally, I sent out an email to my colleagues asking them to join in by bringing their class to the board where they would take messages to give away. I also invited them to have their kiddos add some of their own motivational messages. Here is just a sampling of what the kids came up with on their own:

All month long students would grab sticky notes to give away, but the board was always full because more sticky notes were added. This board was a fun way to encourage kindness! My heartwarming surprise was when students would take messages to give to me and other teachers. How sweet is that?!

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October 9, 2017

Lining Up Math Problems with Ease!

I don't know which I say more....
"Line up your numbers!" or "Show your work!"

Students who struggle to keep their numbers straight may benefit from this simple solution. Take a plain piece of lined paper, and turn it so that the lines are vertical. Students write each digit in their problems between the lines and solve. TADA!

No need to print out grid paper! As you can see, this little trick works well for the 4 basic operations. Now the kids will be less likely to make errors due to misaligned numbers. Then we can focus on that math talk where students explain their thinking!  Let me know if this hack works for your kiddos!

September 10, 2017

Patriot Day for Kids

Most of us want to be able to discuss September 11th in a way that is age-appropriate. Here are a few ideas...

1. Watch a video for background knowledge.

This YouTube video titled: What Happened On September 11, 2001? indicates it is appropriate for ages 9 and above. Be sure to watch it for yourself before you decide to show it to your students!

Open in YouTube:

2. Talk about the helpers.

Mr. Rogers' mother once said, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping."
Students may like this story about Stephen Siller:

3. Complete follow-up activities.

Here is a freebie on TpT:

4. Write letters to local heroes.

Consider a letter-writing activity and invite local firefighters into class during fire prevention week. The kids can read their letters out loud to the firefighters if they wish.

September 11th is a day to remember our heroes of yesterday and today. You are appreciated! 

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August 12, 2017

The Last Week of Summer

There's one thing I NEVER do the last week of summer....and that is...go into school!

I make it a habit to have my classroom ready or nearly ready before the last week of summer...well you know...Are we ever really 100% ready? There's always something else we could do.

I save the last week for me! Some of the things I do are organizational so that the first few weeks of school go smoother. Some of the things I do are just plain fun!

Here are some things I do the last week of summer.....

1. Stock Up

I stock up on just about everything. You know how it goes. You are getting ready for school or should I say trying to get ready for school when your little one spills,  your other kid drops his toothbrush in the toilet, and you have used the last of the conditioner (even the adding water to the bottle and swishing it around to get the last bit part). You're now running late, and you have to be at 2 soccer games and a meeting after school. You have no time to stop to pick up household items on your way home! But if you stock up the last week of summer, you will breathe a sigh of relief knowing that you have everything you need in the back of the cabinet.

Here are some things I like to stock up on:

Makeup and Toiletries

Keep them hidden if you can. That way they won't mysteriously disappear. Your teenagers may find that extra body wash and start using it well before the one currently in the bathroom is used up.

Paper Products

Hide the paper towels. Significant others take lots of these. I have no idea what they use them for, but somehow they have a way of making them disappear. No need to hide anything else. You are the only one who knows how to change the toilet paper anyway.

Cleaning Supplies

No need to hide any of these. If someone in your family decides to use the cleaning products, consider yourself lucky.

Poster Board

And if any of your own kids are in middle school....poster board. Yep, stock up on poster board. Even in this digital world, the night will come when your middle school child declares at 10:00 p.m. that he/she needs poster board for a project that is due tomorrow.  Take my word on this. If you have a middle schooler, buy poster board.

2. Get the Clothes Ready

You probably already did the back-to-school clothes shopping thing, but maybe the clothes are still in bags. It's time to get them out, cut off the tags, iron if necessary,  and prepare every outfit for yourself and your own kids for the first week of school. 

Why? Because after that first PD day, you will come home with a headache as you wonder to yourself who thought up these new procedures, how on earth are you ever going to get it all done, and when are they going to fix the laminator? On their first day of school, your own kids will hand you a stack of forms to fill out and tell you that they will get a prize if they are returned tomorrow. You will be glad that you do not have to worry about clothes. They are in the closet already lined up for the next day. Do this for yourself and your kids.

3. Prepare and Freeze Some Meals

Honestly, I don't go overboard here but do a little of this to save your sanity.

4. Have Fun!

This is my view from my kayak. My county Parks and Rec runs a program where you can rent a kayak or canoe for $5 an hour, life jackets included. It is incredibly relaxing, not to mention cheap. My kids usually come with me and rent their own kayak. Sometimes we pack a picnic lunch and hang out for a while in the adjacent park. Our tax dollars at work!

Start a tradition with your kids or even for yourself. Our tradition is a day down the shore, just me and the kids. (Jersey girl here!) We throw a football around, read, walk, chat, and ride the waves. Yep, I'm the oldest one in the ocean on a boogie board! I think I scare the living daylights out of my kids by doing this!

We also do the boardwalk. The Jersey boardwalk is full of shops, games, rides, and places to eat...

Did I mention that on tradition day, there are NO rules about what to eat? That's right! The kids are allowed to eat whatever they want, whenever they want all day! Of course, if one or more of your kiddos have dietary needs, you will need to modify this rule to make it work for you. We eat pretty healthy on a regular basis, so this one day is a fun treat! And really...it's just one day out of the year. Your kids will wonder if you have lost your mind upon hearing this one-day rule, but will not question your judgment. My older kids still love this idea, and I actually look forward to this day of pizza, ice cream, cotton candy, and fries!

Those are just two of my fun days. The idea is to do something that you enjoy for fun!

5. Watch To Sir, With Love (or your own favorite teacher movie)

I watched To Sir, With Love before going back to school for nearly all my teaching years. It's an oldie but a goodie starring Sidney Poitier. You will laugh, you will cry, and most likely be reminded of just why you became a teacher. 

So, as you get ready to go back to school, I want to wish you all the best! May you have understanding administrators, cooperative colleagues, delightful children, and days full of learning and discovery. 

And as the butterflies turn in your stomach as they do each and every year on that first day of school, just remember this.....Summer will be back! 

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July 27, 2017

Best Field Trip Ever!

"Best field trip ever!" declared nearly all 96 Fourth Graders as we trudged out of the quarry...

For the first time since its opening, our grade level/school/district secured a coveted time slot to visit Rowan Fossil Park in Mantua, New Jersey. (Recently renamed Edelman Fossil Park)

After months of planning, a glorious fall day presented itself for our one and only field trip of the year.

Students spent the first hour of our visit rotating through stations learning about fossils in general and the specific types of fossils that have been discovered at Rowan Fossil Park.

Finally, it was our turn to head down into the quarry!

And guess who we met down in the quarry?! A real live paleontologist!

Dr. Lacovara told us that if we were alive 66 million years ago, we would have been standing in the ocean!

Then Dr. Lacovara set us loose to go and dig for our very own fossils! We were even allowed to sit and dig in the mud! No worries about getting wet and muddy....we all had a change of clothes back at school.

The best part of the trip was that we could take home all the fossils that we found! How cool is that?!

We are so very fortunate to have Rowan Fossil Park right in our backyard! We are grateful to Rowan University for making this educational experience possible.

Best field trip ever?....Yep!

Sound interesting to you? They hold events open to the public...but sign up for their emails because the slots fill up very quickly! People from all over the world have visited, and plans for expansion are underway. I am not an affiliate, but I have volunteered at the Fossil Park!

Edelman Fossil Park Website

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July 13, 2017

How to Yard Sale Like a Boss: A Teacher's Survival Guide

You need cool things for your classroom, but you don't want to break the bank. Have you tried yard "sailing" for some great bargains and interesting finds?

I was introduced to flea markets and yard sales at about age 7. The kids across the street always had "new" and interesting toys to play with that their parents picked up at yard sales. I had so much fun playing at their house. I remember that one time the family even took me to an auction and bid on a box of toys that they gave me. At the risk of dating myself, I must say that I was one happy camper driving home in the back of their station wagon! My mom caught the flea market bug, and we started a weekly trip with my cousins. Talk about fun times and memories! Our trips to the flea market expanded to yard sales, and as I got older they were a teacher's dream come true. I've picked up some tips over the years that I'd like to share. If you have never tried yard "sailing" before, grab a friend, and give it a try!

Here are some of my latest yard sale finds. I hit the jackpot when I found a teacher who had recently resigned to stay home with her own kids. Once she found out that I was a teacher, she was practically giving her stuff away!

Fun Stamps for Stamp a Story

Brand New Markers

Prize Box Items

Math Station Game

Magnetic Labels 

Emoji Stamps

Here are some steps to follow:

1. Find out when and where the yard sales are. Some are still published the old-fashioned way in the local newspaper, but I usually use sites like Garage Sale Finder. (Not an affiliate!) You can also look for signs around your town. My favorites are church yard sales and neighborhood yard sales as there is usually great participation and selection. Don't overlook estate sales! You may think that everything is old and collectible type stuff, but many people who are simply downsizing have estate sales too. Most sales are held on the weekends.

2. Plan your route to make the best use of your time.

3. Get up early, and head out!*

4. Smile and greet the seller. This sets the stage for good communication. They may ask you if you are looking for anything in particular or mention some items and prices. The last sale I was at, the seller said, "Books and stuffed animals are free!" What?! Just in time for updating my class library!


5. Consider stating that you are a teacher. I have gotten many good deals this way as sellers are usually delighted that their items will have a new life with your students.

6. Negotiate prices. You are not being cheap...sellers expect this! For example, if the price of an educational toy is $5.00, you might say, "Will you take 3 for this?" The worst the seller can say is, "No." Usually, sellers accept reasonable offers. Sometimes, they might counter an offer back like, "How about 4?" So go ahead and make offers.

7. Pay for your items, say thank you, and head to the next sale!

*Hint: Heading out early gets you the best selection. Arriving later tends to get you the best prices. After all, sellers don't want to have to put this stuff away!

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