Miniature Worlds

the doll people

Mr. Star Wars’ teacher just finished reading The Doll People as a read aloud to his class. Mr. Star Wars promptly checked out the sequel, The Meanest Doll in the World, and read it in one sitting. It reminded me of other miniature world stories that I loved when I was his age. The Borrowers and The Indian in the Cupboard were my favorites. In these books, there are mini characters living in a regular-sized world. I think the technical name for this genre is “enchanted reality” but I might be making that up. I wanted to create a book list of all of the great miniature world books, but it turns out there really are not that many that I have read– or could find. So, I guess it is fitting that I have a miniature list of books.

indian in the cupboard

  • Awfully Short for the Fourth Grade by Elvira Woodruff
  • The Borrowers (and sequels) by Mary Norton
  • Castle in the Attic (and sequels) by Elizabeth Winthrop
  • The Doll People (and sequels) by Martin and Godwin
  • The Indian in the Cupboard (and sequels) by Lynne Reid Banks
  • Knight’s Castle by Edward Eager
  • The Littles (and sequels) by John Peterson
  • The Minpins by Roald Dahl
  • The Wednesday Witch by Ruth Chew (out of print– locate a used copy through Amazon or search your local library)

I considered adding books like The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary and The Rescuers by Margery Sharp because they have small animals doing human things in a regular sized world. I feel that a book like that fits into animal fantasy better. What do you think? What great books would you add to the miniature world list?

the mouse and the motorcycle

Sick Day

missed work page

Just about every kid illness has swept my class this year. Since December, students missed school due to the flu, strep, a throw-up virus, fever virus, that unnamed “yuck” stuff where a child does not run a fever but can barely get his head up off the desk, and lice. I have also had absences for a variety of other reasons.

Student absences fall into two categories. Teachers are tolerant about the first group and get irritated about the other. Make-up work is hard on students and teachers. Students never perform as well completing work days after the rest of the class finished it. Logistically, teachers hate tracking the make-up work, and things get overlooked. Bottom line, if it is at all possible to have your kids at school, get them there.

Excused Absences: An excused absence is typically due to illness where a child is running a fever, and a doctor note can be provided. At my school, excused absences also include a close family member’s wedding (or funeral), religious holidays, and family emergencies.

  1. If parents let the school know about the absence first thing in the morning, most teachers have a MISSED WORK form. They can gather missed assignments and send it home with a sibling, a neighbor, or leave it at the school’s front desk where a parent can pick it up at the end of the day.
  2. Do not expect make-up work before the end of the day. It takes almost the same amount of time I spend teaching a lesson to gather books, make a list of assignments, and provide teacher notes.
  3. If a parent requests make-up work be left at the front office, the parent better PICK IT UP. I have arrived at school the day following a student absence to see the pile of books still sitting on the counter in the office. I’m pissed. Organizing sick assignments usually takes an entire planning period. When parents do not collect the work, it makes me feel like they do not have respect for my limited time during the day.
  4. If we send work home with a sibling or neighbor, ATTEMPT TO DO THE WORK (see #3). I have kids return from an absence all the time telling me they did not even look at the assignment sheet I carefully completed.
    • Sometimes there are situations where students aren’t able to complete any assignments that go home. Contact the teacher and make arrangements to complete any missed work when the child returns. Don’t make the teacher go through the trouble of creating the make-up work packet when you know it is not possible for the child to do any of the work.
  5. Finish missed work as soon as possible. Typically, students have one day for each day absent to complete any work. If a student was sick for two days, he can have two days when he returns to complete all missed work. The longer it takes to catch up, the more opportunity there is to get further behind.

Unexcused Absences: Unexcused absences are things like family vacations, checking out of school early for a long weekend, spending the day having a passport picture taken, or driving 100 miles for a Taylor Swift concert because it is your birthday.

  1. If the absence is planned ahead, and the teacher is notified, the student may have to complete any assignments or take any tests he will miss before leaving (if it is convenient for the teacher). Otherwise, the work will be made up the day the student returns. OR, the work will not be made up at all, and the student may receive a zero.
  2. Do not ask the teacher if a student will be missing anything important. YES, HE WILL. There is no way to replicate instruction when students are not in school. Even if teachers do give the page numbers from a textbook, it will never be the same as participating in the class discussion, listening to the explanation, or completing an activity with the group.
  3. Do not expect a list of assignments before you leave. If you want to take your family to Disney World at a non-peak time (which happens to be when school is in session), I am not responsible for making sure you have school materials before you leave. There is another reason too. I do not plan weeks ahead. I have a general idea of what will happen the next week in my class, but I never know for sure until the day before. I might give work to a student ahead of time, and by the time he returns, our class plans have changed based on student performance and interest. I may have replaced an activity with something different or decided to reorder lessons based on student responses. The classroom adjusts all the time.

Getting Sick at School

  1. In my experience, the students who are really sick and need to be sent home won’t say very much. They get very quiet, stop participating, want to wear a coat or big sweater in the classroom, and don’t move very much. When this happens, my antenna goes up, and I run a mom check for illness.
  2. Kids who complain a lot about not feeling well usually should have eaten more breakfast, need a drink of water, need lunch, have a missing assignment, did not prepare for a test, or want to get out of class and visit the school office.
  3. I am unlikely to let a kid go home unless they are running a fever, have (confirmed) vomiting, or I have a note from a parent about potential illness before they came to school that morning. Be warned– if a parent sends a my-kid-might-be-sick note, but it is a kid who is frequently absent and kind of a hypochondriac, I will employ my best water fountain diversion tactics to keep him at school.

missed work teacher notesWhat is the absence policy at your school, and how do you handle make up work with students at home?

Capitalize It!

I am always miffed when I collect a paper, and a student has forgotten to capitalize his or her name. (I also get ticked when students misspell their name, but you can refer to the cursive post for help with that problem.) I recognize that there may be some things that are difficult to know whether or not to capitalize in the 4th grade, but other things are not.

capitalization rules

The students just finished up their research papers about American businesses, and I had to have a capitalization rant with them. There are some capitalization rules that I think we should all live by and use without being reminded. Capitalizing the name of the company and the company founder a person researched for 2 weeks should happen automatically without any outside assistance. And, as I had to remind my students, auto-correct and spell check won’t catch everything!

Capitalize “I” by itself— no questions asked, always and forever.

  • I should capitalize proper nouns.
  • I often forget to capitalize proper nouns.
  • My teacher reviewed capitalization, and I listened carefully.

Words that are related to a country name are capitalized.

  • I am an American.
  • I speak English.
  • I love junky Mexican food (and margaritas) on Friday nights.
  • We used to refer to Native American people as Indians, but now it really means the people who live in India.

ladybug girl poster

In titles, the first word, the last word, and the “important” words in between are capitalized. Deciding if the middle words in a title should be capitalized can be tricky. When in doubt, count the letters in a word. Words in titles that have 4 or more letters will probably be capitalized (this is a guideline only– the trick won’t work for every short word).

  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  • The Phantom of the Opera
  • The New York Times
  • The Statue of Liberty
  • Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters

research paper outline

The first word in a sentence is always capitalized. No other words in the middle of the sentence should be capitalized unless they meet the “proper noun” criteria. Proper nouns are the words that name a particular person, place, or organization. Proper nouns name a specific, one-of-a-kind item.

The words “mom” and “dad” may be capitalized in some situations. Students write these words a lot, so they should be familiar with the capitalization policy for their parents. When a person is using “mom” and “dad” like a first name, and the words could be replaced with a first name like Jennifer or Scott, capitalize. If the words are being used to describe a person that is like many other people, do not capitalize.

  • I did my homework, and Mom checked my assignment book.
  • I did my homework, and my mom checked my assignment book.
  • After dinner, Dad played basketball with me.
  • After dinner, my friend’s dad played basketball with us.

Up next… whether or not to underline titles or put them in quotation marks. Is that a problem for anyone else? We had to have a class discussion about that too.

I Believe in Cursive

cursive handwriting

Almost every year, I develop a new learning theory that is not based on research or educational best practices of any kind. It is simply an opinion based on my experiences with students. This year’s theory relates to the deterioration of spelling skills and the de-emphasis of handwriting instruction– cursive handwriting in particular. I partially blame e-mail and texting for the spelling problem, but I think the fact that schools do not demand better penmanship is a larger contributor to the increase in poor spellers I see every year.

I suspect that students spell better when they spend time learning, practicing, and using cursive handwriting in the elementary grades. Cursive connects letters together creating a muscle memory between your hand and brain. Your brain will then remember common letter connections, patterns, and rules and subconsciously guide the hand to order letters correctly more often. Try to spell your own signature with a different letter order. It is difficult to force your hand not to put the letters of your name in the correct order. Your hand is on auto-pilot to write the name correctly. Students can achieve the same success with common words and common spelling patterns if they correctly write them in a connected way on a daily basis.

Here are a few activities I am asking my students to complete this year. They work well at school or at home to reinforce the correct spelling of the words we use most often and the patterns that repeat frequently. If you are looking for a new way to study for that weekly spelling test, have your child practice writing the words in cursive.

cursive handwriting spelling patterns

Make a list of words that a student often misspells. Have the child write the word in his/her best cursive multiple times. Provide a sample to copy, so the letter order and letter formation are correct.

Group words that have similar letter patterns and write the portion of the word that is the same in all words multiple times. For example, if the student has a handful of words in a list that end with the letters le (settle, riddle, struggle), require the student to write the letters le together 5 times or 10 times or 10+ times.

I watch my students’ papers and track the cursive letter connections that are hard to form. M and n are particularly tricky because kids want to add an extra “hump” and don’t see that the hump is actually a connector piece. O is also hard to connect to the next letter because it ends “high.” Letter pairs like os and ol are challenging. Compare the difficult connections with misspelled words and make a list of those letter groups. Practice writing the letter pairs together correctly.

cursive handwriting connections

Always provide a sample with the correctly formed letters. Sometimes, this is the hardest part because my own cursive handwriting is adequate at best. I have tried harder this year because I need my students to be able to use cursive more effortlessly, so I can prove my theory.

I will admit that I completed a mini Google search about handwriting and spelling. There are articles here and there that support my theory (ha, I knew I was right). While I also have my students complete a lot of keyboarding and typed writing assignments, I think there will always be a place for handwritten documents. If you have read any of my letter writing posts, you know how I feel about handwritten thank you notes! Does anyone else have an opinion?

To purchase cursive handwriting practice pages at my TeachersPayTeachers store, CLICK HERE.

Grown Up Kid Food

chicken nuggets bite

TheRoomDad was reminiscing about the days when I used to prepare delicious meals most evenings. That was before we had children, and I was trying to impress him. Fast forward to today. I only get excited about preparing food for parties and school snacks. If it is bite sized food, snack food, or party dips, I am all about it. Otherwise, I don’t want to be bothered.

One recipe that I have not used in awhile is something from my childhood– a recipe for homemade chicken nuggets. They may seem like kid food at first glance, but they actually have a slightly more sophisticated taste than your average chicken nugget, and I used to make them for TheRoomDad. It is a recipe adults and kids enjoy. I was gracious enough to dust off the family cookbook and make the chicken nuggets last night. I was going to say how much healthier they are than a box of nuggets from the freezer section of the grocery store, but then I remembered that the chicken is dredged in melted butter before being coated in seasoned bread crumbs. Enjoy!

chicken nuggets ingredients

Ingredients

  • 2-3 boneless chicken breasts (or 1 pkg of chicken tenderloins, ~1 lb.)
  • 1/2 c. Italian bread crumbs
  • 1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 t. dried basil
  • 1 t. paprika
  • 1/4 t. thyme
  • 1/2 c. melted butter

Directions

  • Cut chicken into 1 1/2″ squares. If you are using the chicken tenderloins, cut each piece into 2 or 3 nugget-y pieces. The tenderloin can also be left as is to make a chicken strip.

chicken nuggets assembly

  • Mix dry ingredients in a shallow dish.

chicken nuggets coating

  • Pour melted butter in a separate shallow dish.

chicken nuggets melted butter

  • Dip chicken pieces into the melted butter and then into the dry mixture to coat.

chicken nuggets bread crumb coating

  • Arrange coated chicken pieces on a jelly roll pan (baking pan with a lip).

chicken nuggets covered

  • Bake at 400 degrees about 20 minutes or until browned and chicken is cooked through. If you are using larger chicken pieces, you may need to turn once while baking.

chicken nuggets cooked