My Favorite Back to School Equipment

Today is the big day– our first day of school. On the homefront, getting ready has been easier than anticipated. Our school provides supplies, so I did not have to shop for notebooks, pencils, glue, tissue, or wipes. My kids wear uniforms, so I ordered online in bulk last month. And, we did not need new bookbags, water bottles, or lunchboxes because I splurged a few years ago for some higher end items that are built to last. If only setting up my classroom had been this easy…

planetbox lunchbox

The PlanetBox Lunch System

  • I eat lunch alongside my students, and a couple of years ago, I noticed a few of my students had a lunch carry case with a metal tray inside that looked like an army (prison?) lunch tray with divided sections. The tray had an attached lid that clipped closed and fit inside a thermal carrier. There were pockets on the outside that had room for a juice pouch or small water bottle. I loved this lunch bag. I had to have it for my own children.

planetbox lunchbox exterior

  • The lid for the metal food tray stays attached, so I do not have to scramble to find lids in the morning, which I think is the benefit to this product over other bento style lunch boxes. We (and by “we” I really mean TheRoomDad) fill each compartment in the tray and clip the lid closed. We have not had to buy lunch baggies or mess with smaller lunch tupperware containers since we started using the PlanetBox.
  • The metal tray is dishwasher safe. The kids empty any leftover lunch bits and drop the tray in the dishwasher when we get home. I just have to remember to run the dishwasher at night. It dries completely unlike the tupperware that is perpetually wet after a dishwasher cycle.

planetbox lunchbox open

  • Place a flat icy pack on the bottom of the carry case under the tray to keep the food cool. You can purchase special icy packs from PlanetBox, but my Blue Ice packs work just as well.
  • There are a variety of sizes available; my children have The Rover. I do need to cut crusts off the bread to fit a whole sandwich in the large compartment. We also avoid anything juicy (like cut strawberries) that will drip and  leak.

LL Bean backpack

L.L. Bean Original Plus Book Pack

  • Three years ago when Mr. Star Wars started 1st grade, we bought the bigger L.L. Bean backpack with the water bottle pocket on the side and added his name for ID purposes.
  • The bag has a variety of pouch sizes for pencils, pens, and books. It also has little secret places, which are great for hiding cash or checks when I have to send field trip money to school.
  • The bag is easy to clean, and I have not had any zipper problems. The nice thing about L.L. Bean is that they will replace the bag if we ever do have problems with it.

camelbak water bottles

Camelbak Insulated Water Bottle

  • It is double insulated like a Tervis tumbler, so it does not sweat while sitting on a desk (very important to teachers).
  • The drinking spout can be pushed down to close the water bottle.
  • The lid has not started leaking yet.
  • I can detach the straw.
  • It is dishwasher safe.

What are essential school supplies in your house and is the brand important?

P.S. Teacher friends, there is a one day sale at TeacherPayTeachers Wednesday, August 20, 2014. Use code BOOST to save up to 28% off your purchases. Start your shopping by visiting This InLinkz Link-up to see some favorite upper elementary teaching resources.

Teacher Emergency Kit 2014


teacher emergency kits

Every year I create some sort of back to school gift for my children to give to their new teachers on the first day of school. For the past 3 years it has been a variation on an emergency kit for the teacher.

In case you missed my memo from the past few years, teachers are trapped in the school building until every last student is out the door at the end of the day. There are no quick trips to the grocery store or the gas station for an aspirin or a Coke. If teachers do not bring essentials with them and have a secret stash in the classroom, they are out of luck until the end of the day. Giving an emergency kit to a teacher is a thoughtful gift idea.

teacher emergency kit pouches

The Cloth Wallet

  • This year I found a free pattern for a business card holder with two pockets on They weren’t the right size, but I doubled the fabric piece measurements in the pattern to get the size I needed to hold the contents of the teacher emergency kit. I used 11 1/2″ x 8 1/2″ fabric pieces for the outside, lining, and interfacing and 11 1/2″ x 13″ for the pocket. (FYI– You are required to register on the site before downloading the free pattern.)
  • If you are a normal person and don’t have the obsessive need to sew massive amounts of cute little cloth wallets, use a bead box like I did in 2012. If you do like sewing but want a super fast sewing project, make the potholder clutch like the one I made in 2013.

teacher emergency kit contents

The Contents

  • Forehead temperature reader: This is a new addition to the emergency kit. Students love to leave the classroom and take a walk. One way for a student to get out of the classroom is to tell the teacher that he/she does not feel well, so the teacher will send that child to the office for a temperature check. Not anymore. With the forehead temp reader, a teacher can quickly see if a child is in fact a little warm, and the student’s plan to sneak out of the room is foiled. The temp reader is not totally accurate, but it is a good gauge. I found mine at CVS.
  • Advil (I put 5 or 6 in a mini ziploc bead bag I get from Michael’s Crafts)
  • Tums (inserted 5 or 6 in a mini bead bag)
  • Band-aids
  • Blistex (or any kind of chapstick)
  • Dental flossers (in a mini bead bag)
  • Travel size Clorox wipes: Here is another new addition to the kit. I am not a fan of Purell or any of the hand sanitizers. It makes my hands smell and have a funny feel to them. I do like a Clorox wipe. I can quickly clean a surface, desk, spill on a backpack, etc. and then my hands are touching things that are (moderately) clean since I cleaned the item rather than my hands.

teacher emergency kit contents viewAlternate Contents

  • travel size tissues
  • quarters for soda money
  • travel size toothbrush and paste
  • Tampax
  • mints
  • safety pins
  • Sharpie marker
  • travel size sewing kit
  • emery board
  • hair bands or a hair clip
  • travel size lotion– no scent is better


  • If you are a sewer and grab the pattern from Craftsy, the original pattern size is fun to make too and is the perfect wrapper for a gift card. Here is what the two sizes look like.

teacher wallet 2 sizes

teacher gift card 2 pocket wallet

Do you give a back to school gift to your child’s new teacher? What else is a thoughtful sirsee for the beginning of the school year?

Sort it, Group it, File it

sorting swim ribbons

Some of the 11-year old girls waiting to start their swim practice sat with another mom and me and helped us file swim meet ribbons. The ribbons are filed by last name into a folder for each swim team family. Filing was going well until we got to the Smiths. There are 3 Smith families on our team. The helpers were momentarily stumped until they realized they needed to refer to the first names (the sub-category) to file correctly.

Ordering information alphabetically requires multiple thinking steps. First, the child must compare a letter to the alphabet as a whole to figure out where its place should be. Typically, a kid will jump to the beginning, middle, or end of the alphabet and then get more specific. That is a great skill because you are generalizing first.

The next step is to determine an exact location. The child recalls the alphabet order and matches letters. If there are multiple choices like the 3 Smith families in our swim box, then the child has to move to a sub-level and process the steps again.

Ordering information is an essential skill for successful students. We need to constantly rate or qualify information and then prioritize to complete tasks. Children begin learning different strategies for grouping information at a young age. In my experience, students who can organize information in a logical order well tend to finish homework and classwork more easily, are less likely to lose or forget information (both hard copy and information stored in their brains), need fewer reminders from parents, and can more easily problem solve.

sorting books

3 Basic Ways to Sort Information

  • ABC Order: Put information in an order that follows a standardized system like alphabetical order (or numerical order). Children will know to look for information at the beginning, middle, or end of a list. When there are a group of items that all start with the same letter, moving to the next letter helps students practice a system of sub-categorizing and learning to organize items as a whole then break the whole into smaller parts.
  • Grouping: Identify similarities and differences among items and sort and separate. This helps focus attention on the key idea and eliminate distractions.
  • Ranking: Qualify information in an order of importance. This allows children to prioritize a list from high (important) to low (least important). Kids will develop the ability to recognize if something is bigger or smaller, slower or faster, weaker or stronger…

Everyday Activities that Involve Sorting

  • On laundry day, have the kids sort the laundry by creating piles of white, light, and dark to help you get the loads into the washer.
  • Organize a bookshelf  by author’s last name, series in numerical order, size of the books, chapter books in one area and picture books in another (and board books in their own area), or paperback versus hardback books.
  • Have kids pick up their toys and store by type. Put all the cars together in a box or basket, all of the Lego people together, all of the Barbie clothes together…
  • Ask your children to put clean laundry away in the drawers. Kids can put all socks together in one part of the drawer, all of the shirts in one area, and all of the pants and shorts together.
  • Organize a collection. Sort and store swim ribbons by color, rocks by size, or stuffed animals by size or “species”.
  • Put groceries away by type. Separate fruits and vegetables and put them in a designated spot. Group chips and/or snacks together in the pantry. Determine non-food items like detergents and put those away in the appropriate area.
  • Group topics and facts when completing homework assignments. This is particularly helpful when completing textbook reading assignments and will double as a good study skill. List similarities for the main ideas in the reading assignments– something like noting all Pilgrim clothing details, all Pilgrim food details, and all Pilgrim shelter details on separate lists.

Children today have information thrown at them at a much higher rate than I did growing up. When a child researches polar bears, chances are they will not look up “polar bear” in a big heavy (paper) Encyclopedia Britannica and locate one page of organized facts. They will Google the animal and get thousands of text and image responses. How does the child choose? Having a variety of systems for sorting information is essential, so kids can eliminate unnecessary data and retain what they really need to succeed. What are other good sorting activities that are already built into your daily life?

sorting toys

Snacky Dinner

turkey quesadilla slices

I so enjoy making party food, cooking a big dish for a group, or assembling appetizers and class snack foods, but I avoid the daily grind of cooking family dinner that will be eaten in 3.7 minutes followed by kitchen clean-up like the plague (and don’t even get me started on packing school lunches).

If TheRoomDad has taken care of the grocery shopping, I can be persuaded to make fast dinners during the week that have minimal clean up. I have a recipe for turkey apple quesadillas that is acceptable as a mid-week meal. It is an odd combination of ingredients, but the adults and children at my house love them. The other nice thing about the recipe is the fact that all of the key food groups are in one bite, so I don’t have the pressure of having to come up with a side dish TOO. Utensils are not required to eat this “meal”, and we really don’t have to have plates either, so clean-up is a breeze.

Have you developed a resistance to making weeknight dinners night after night after night, or is it just me?

turkey quesadilla slices 3


  • Dijon mustard (I use Grey Poupon)
  • honey
  • flour tortillas (any size– I like large then folded in half when heating)
  • Munster cheese slices (our grocery’s deli section has pre-sliced packs. Cut or break each slice into halves or thirds when assembling the quesadilla)
  • Granny Smith apples, peeled and thinly sliced (or another tart, green apple)
  • deli turkey, thinly sliced

turkey quesadilla slices 2


  • Mix equal parts honey and Dijon mustard in a small bowl. I start with 1 tablespoon each of mustard and honey. That is usually enough for 4 quesadillas (4 large tortillas folded in half).

turkey quesadilla honey mustard

  • If using the large tortillas, spread the honey mustard on half of the tortilla.

turkey quesadilla spread and apples

  • Layer 1 1/2 slices of Munster on the honey mustard spread. Since I cut the deli slices into smaller strips, I place ~3 1/2-slices across the half of the tortilla with the honey mustard.
  • Add 1-2 slices of turkey on top of the cheese.
  • Place several apple slices on the turkey.

turkey quesadillas assembly

  • Top the apple slices with 1/2 to 1 cheese slice.
  • Fold the tortilla in half to close.
  • Spray a skillet with Pam and using medium heat, cook the quesadilla on both sides until the cheese is melted, and the tortilla is browned.

turkey quesadilla cooking

  • Remove from heat, cut in thirds or quarters, and serve immediately.

turkey quesadillas finished


  • You can purchase a “brick” of Munster cheese and grate the cheese instead of using slices.

Follow the Clues

mr lemoncellos library cover

A former student recommended I read Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein because there is a character in the story who has the same last name I do. It took me a few months to get to it, but I finally read it during my spring break.

This book follows a group of characters who are trapped in a library through a scavenger hunt of library knowledge in order to escape. The book becomes a puzzle for the reader too. It taps into your library skills and background knowledge of classic books. The riddles inserted into the story reminded me of a few other books I read and really liked. I had a starter list of this style of books in my Style-Alike book post, but I thought it was time for a dedicated scavenger-hunt-wrapped-in-a-mystery list.

Most titles on the list have the “riddle” element to them, but I also included classic mystery books like Nancy Drew where characters uncover clues to solve the crime without having to decode a puzzle first to reveal the clue.

red blazer girls cover

  • The 7th Level by Jody Feldman
  • Belly Up by Stuart Gibbs
  • Benjamin Pratt & Keepers of the School series by Andrew Clements
  • Chasing Vermeer (and others) by Blue Balliett
  • Conspiracy 365 series by Gabrielle Lord (must be read in order)
  • Floors series by Patrick Carman
  • Gollywhopper Games by Jody Feldman
  • Hardy Boys by Franklin W. Dixon
  • The Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan (and The 39 Clues series)
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart
  • Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene
  • Red Blazer Girls series by Michael D. Beil
  • The Secret Series by Pseudonymous Bosch
  • The Sherlock Files series by Tracy Barrett
  • The Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley
  • The Teddy Bear Habit by James Lincoln Collier (older publication)
  • Theodore Boone Detective series by John Grisham
  • Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage
  • The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

floors cover

Mysteries are actually a great book style for younger readers (1st through 3rd grade) because students have to maintain plot details from earlier in the book to understand any resolutions that happen later in the book. There are many series for this lower reading level that are popular. Reading multiple books from a series strengthens reading because they typically follow the same plot pattern in each book. This gets repetitive for an adult but actually helps improve reading skills in kids because they can begin to more accurately anticipate what will happen next, which makes the story easier to follow and remember.

  • The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids by Debbie Dadey and Marcia T. Jones
  • A to Z Mysteries by Ron Roy
  • The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner (I like the ones by the original author the best, 1-19)
  • Encyclopedia Brown by Donald J. Sobol
  • Hank the Cowdog by John R. Erickson
  • Jigsaw Jones by James Preller
  • The Magic Treehouse by Mary Pope Osborne

jigsaw jones book cover


Have you read any good mysteries lately?