Classroom Fundraiser! World Wildlife Fund

Recently my entire class organized a bake sale to raise money to adopt a few¬†animals from the World Wildlife Fund. This was an activity I envisioned¬†as both a Community Service and a Practical Life project. I’ve been trying to figure out how to make Community Service part of my curriculum and this is definitely one of the ways I will be doing it in the future.

Initially, I approached the class with a number of charitable organizations they might want to support:

  • UNICEF–United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, which works with the¬†UN to defend the rights of children around the globe.
  • The Nature Conservancy–I suggested adopting an acre in the Northern Sierras or the Gulf Coast or possibly a Coral Reef.¬†This was my first choice, since we’re currently studying biomes and it would have complimented that unit perfectly!
  • Adopt a Classroom–I came up with this idea because I thought it couldn’t hurt to get my students thinking about others in their own country their own age needing help. Their experience of the United States is one of privilege. It’s important for them to know that’s not the case for everyone.
  • World Wildlife Fund–Our donation would allow us to¬†symbolically adopt an endangered animal.

We did a round of voting, with me assuring the class we could always support more than one organization if the enthusiasm was there. Not to mention the fact that it might be an organization they would like to support on their own. However, what with my class being animal-mad, I knew the World Wildlife Fund would sweep away all the competition. I offered it anyway. Since this was my first time attempting such an activity, their enthusiasm was key. The World Wildlife Fund won, hands down, with UNICEF being the closest runner-up.

With our charity chosen, the next step was to brainstorm fundraising ideas:

Ideas ran the gamut from penny jars to, as you can see, a charitable singing performance. Eventually, having eliminated a car wash (the drought) and selling chicks (we don’t actually have any to sell), we winnowed the list down to a bake sale. It was time for the planning to begin!

I gave the students a list of details that they’d be responsible for:

  • choosing a date and time
  • creating a sign up sheet for the bake sale
  • getting the word out (advertising the event)
  • creating a price list for the baked goods
  • choosing which animals to adopt

As much as possible, I wanted the students to participate in the planning and running of the bake sale, so that it was as much a¬†Community Service project as it was a Practical Life one. In order to chose the animals the class wanted to adopt, I printed the World Wildlife Fund’s list of available animals. The students perused the list and made top three selections in the first round of voting. I decided not to tell them that some adoptions came with stuffed animals and some didn’t, since I didn’t want that to factor into their decision-making process. We did, however, discuss the fact that the WWF categorizes the¬†animals¬†in three ways:

  • Extinct, Extinct in the Wild or Critically Endangered
  • Endangered, Vulnerable
  • Near Threatened, Least Concern

This was important to some of the students, but as you can imagine, the irresistible allure of the Snowy Owl (thank you, J.K. Rowling) overrode everything else. After our first round of voting, I created a shortlist and we voted again. Not knowing how much money we would make (and wanting the class to have a goal), I narrowed our shortlist to the top three:

If we raised $100, we would adopt the Red Panda…

If we raised $200, we would adopt the Red Panda and the Tiger…

And if we raised $300, we would adopt the Red Panda, the Tiger and the Snow Leopard.

Goals. Gotta have ’em.

There were, of course, disappointments but I encouraged students to think about sponsoring an¬†animal on their own if one they really wanted didn’t get chosen. They can do it for as little as $25.00. (Stuffed animal adoptions are more, but they didn’t know this at the time and I didn’t tell them.)

Planning went on apace. Signs were made for each of the classrooms around the school, and one large one for the bake sale table:

I paired the students up and asked them to create short speeches to inform the younger classrooms about the bake sale. They had to include the who, what, where, when and why and take any questions the students had. I was reliably informed that the questions were mostly animal-related.

On the day of our bake sale, the students decided they wanted to make one those arrow signs they could spin and twirl to attract the attention of parents in the parking lot. My lovely assistant Hannah helped them with the dangerous mat cutting and they created the arrow sign of their dreams.

Finally, the time to host the bake sale had arrived!

As you can see, we sold more than baked goods! Some students brought tangerines from the orchard behind their house. They also brought a scale so they could sell the tangerines by the pound. (I just about died with pleasure!) Another student brought her family’s honey. Students took turns being responsible for handing out baked goods, dispensing hot chocolate, recruiting parents from the parking lot, taking money and making change. As much as possible, I stood¬†back and let them run the show. Of course, they amazed me.

In the end, the class raised enough money to adopt two animals: A red panda named Molly and a tiger named Hunter. Their names were democratically chosen by the students. Look at their proud little faces:

All in all, I really can’t wait for our next student-planned fundraiser!


Sewing Ideas for the Classroom


Sewing is very much on my and my students’ minds since Harvest Moon, our annual auction. If you missed it, or aren’t already a member of our school’s community, Harvest Moon is our annual fundraiser. Each of the classrooms makes a project for the auction. This year, I made a quilt with my students. Students got really into the whole process, from ironing:


to embroidering quilt squares:

Landmarks Quilt

While I love Montessori Services various sewing works, the two that I’ve been thinking about adding to my classroom are the Individual Sewing Basket and the Button Sewing Exercise. After all, I work with students who are a little more confident in their sewing skills and want to take their skills to the next creative level.

Since I have many of the items in the baskets pictured above, I plan to¬†assemble my own sewing baskets. Additional items I’d like to purchase are pictured below:

100 Sheet Assorted Acrylic Craft Felt

100 Sheet Assorted Acrylic Craft Felt

In addition to using excess scraps of fabric for the students to sew with, I’d also like to have a stock of felt for them to turn into pillows, wallets and ornaments. It’s forgiving, cheap and colorful–the perfect medium for novice sewers.

Embroidery Pocket Guide

Embroidery Pocket Guide

I love cards like these with simple, straightforward diagrams and instructions. They’d be a handy addition to any embroidery basket.

Sew Spectacular: Adorable Animals

Sew Spectacular: Adorable Animals

I learned about these sewing cards from no less a person than my esteemed niece. The cards are not only a cute project, but they teach different stitches in a simple, easy-to-understand format.

And here is a collection of hand-sewing projects from around the web that I think would be great to have samples of on the shelf as inspiration for their own projects:

Sewing Project Ideas from the Absorbent Teacher

Sewing Project Ideas from the Absorbent Teacher

Here are the projects (from top left):

I’ve also been researching sewing works that other teachers have assembled for their shelves. I love this one from How We Montessori:

Our Sewing Tray from How We Montessori

Our Sewing Tray from How We Montessori

On the Shelf: A Picture Diary of Work in Our Montessori Classroom came up with the charming idea of sewing prayer flags:

Sewing Prayer Flags from On the Shelf

Sewing Prayer Flags from On the Shelf

Finally, the North American Montessori Center has a sweet Earth Day/continent work project:

Hug-the-Earth from NAMC

Hug-the-Earth from NAMC

I hope you’ve enjoyed this foray into sewing in the Montessori classroom. I look forward to sharing the students’ projects with you!

Cool Happenings at School: Halloween and Dia de los Muertos

Halloween and Día de los Muertos

I realize that we’re full steam ahead into Holiday Season and talking about Halloween and D√≠a de los Muertos is old hat, but I wasn’t about to miss sharing the Big Side’s awesome day. We were extremely busy, but it was a fun busy. Check out out our craft menu:

Paper Marigolds


The instructions and blackline masters for these paper marigolds can be found in the book Paper Crafts for Day of the Dead by Randel McGee

 Scary Spiders

Scary Spiders

Instructions for this craft are on the blog Kids Craft. However, in the interest of time, we didn’t paint our toilet paper rolls. Instead, we encircled them in construction paper–a genius time-saver of an idea!

Skeletons and Skull Masks

Skeletons and Masks

No available links on these ones. We’ve had them forever and there’s no original source that we can find.

Spooky Paper Bag Trees

Spooky Trees

The kids loved these! Find instructions on Pikadilly Charm. We found that gluing a bit of cardstock to the bottom of the brown paper bag helped the trees to stand up. And those little white ghosts you see there are made with tissue paper and tape. Easy peasy.

Pan de Muerto

Pan de Muerto

I was in charge of the “Bread of the Dead” and it was, fun but hard work. I recommend starting early. We had to eat ours on the Monday following Halloween. I used the recipe from Celebrate Day of the Dead.


Hope these ideas inspire you for the next holiday season!


Snack in the Elementary Classroom

Snack in the Elementary Classroom

Sometimes I think my students come to school¬†completely hollow on the inside. It doesn’t matter what their parents fed them for breakfast. They may have had a six-egg omelette, nine pancakes or a gallon of oatmeal (or all three), but somehow they manage to burn off all calories by the time the bell rings. Other¬†children¬†simply don’t like to eat first thing in the morning. I have no problem with students eating breakfast in the classroom, since I firmly believe that properly nourished¬†students are functioning students. And, honestly, if I didn’t allow¬†students¬†to eat when they need to, I’d be shooting myself in the foot. Anyone who works with children can tell you that¬†it’s impossible to get them to focus on anything when their stomach is sending them “feed me” signals. I can also personally vouch for the bad things that happen¬†when one’s blood-sugar runs low.

from Etsy

Most parents send their children to school with snack. However. Sometimes they forget, sometimes it’s a battle between parent and child (i.e., the parent believes the child is old enough to pack his or her own snack, etc.), and sometimes whatever snack is packed somehow still¬†isn’t enough to get my students through to lunch. Whatever the reasons, hungry children have become prevalent in my classroom. This year I have decided to be proactive. This year, I’m bucking the system. This year, the¬†Upper Elementary classroom is offering snack. I feel like such a rebel!

Just because I’m doing snack, though, doesn’t mean I’m throwing a bag of Goldfish crackers at them and calling it a day. At least, not yet! (Check in with me later in the year; that might change.) I’m trying to tie snack into Practical Life. Things I’ve done:

Making bread in bread machine

  • We made bread in a bread machine. This, unfortunately, took too long to be snack for the day of. I recommend making the bread for the following day and having a different snack available for¬†the present¬†day.
  • They made¬†toast with butter and jam.
  • I’ve put out raisins, almonds, apple chips, sunflower seeds, banana chips and/or few other items so the students can assemble their own trail mix.
  • I put out apples and an apple slicer.

Things I plan to try:

Celery and peanut butter

  • Celery and almond butter (with raisins if they want to make ants on a log).
  • Apple sandwiches with almond butter, raisins and nuts.
  • Rice cakes with almond butter. Almond butter has a lot of vehicles! We use almond butter to avoid issues with peanut allergies.
  • Veggies with hummus or possibly a yogurt dip?
  • Fruit kabobs with fruit donated by the students.

The idea is to provide snacks that require a little bit of preparation and a minimum of adult supervision. I put out small instruction cards that say how many slices of bread or scoops of raisins, etc. If the students are unfamiliar with a tool (like the apple slicer), often the other students in the classroom are willing to help them. I do have a rule that there only be two people at the snack center at a time. Otherwise, chaos reigns!

Sometimes the students are so excited by the prospect of getting snack that they don’t realize they don’t want it (or don’t like apples). When this happens, they are invited to offer their snack to their classmates. If I have the time, I slice up that piece of toast into small pieces rather than let one person have the whole thing. There are few things cuter than students walking around asking, “Would you like a piece of toast?” The routine of snack is completed with each student washing his or her dishes.

So far, I think snack is a wonderful addition to my classroom.

8 Classroom Cooking Ideas

Cooking with kids in the Montessori classroom

Clockwise from top left: Smoothies, Scones, Mini Pizzas, Mini Pumpkin Pies, Monkey Bread, Cherry Clafouti, Ratatouille.

Cooking is, by far, students’ favorite Practical Life activity. I like it, too, because it’s an¬†opportunity to remind them¬†that food doesn’t always come prepared. It also gives them a chance to experience the satisfaction of eating something they made themselves. You’d be surprised how much more adventurous kids can be when they make food themselves. Take Ratatouille, for example. I made it with my Summer Camp attendees and despite the fact that some of them had never seen eggplant before in their lives or hated tomatoes, they all at least tasted the finished product. Even if all they have¬†is a tiny spoonful, I consider that a success!

I try to cook with my students as often as I can, but it’s hard since we don’t have a kitchen in our classroom. We do have a school kitchen, but it’s used daily to make food for hot lunch. Also, it’s built for adults, so the countertops are too high for kids to work comfortably on them. My solution has been to do food prep in the classroom and the actual cooking in the kitchen. This has the added bonus of keeping the students away from hot stoves. I can’t tell you how much that fact lowers my stress level!

Here are some of my go-to cooking projects:

  1. Bread-Making: Making bread was really the¬†first¬†cooking activity I did with my students. I¬†had been into making bread for classroom snack (toast) at¬†time and one day it occurred to me that I could involve them in more of the process. (I actually designed a lesson plan for bread-making for my Teacher Training.) Making bread can be an all-day process with long intervals of waiting, so it fits perfectly into a long school day. Plus, it’s easy to make a lot of bread so you can either do¬†mini-loaves for each student or enough for a few days’ worth of snack. (Additional Thought: For a great shortcut, use a bread machine! The students can help add the ingredients and the classroom will smell fantastic.)
  2. Mini pizzas: I’ve never met a kid who didn’t like pizza, so this one is a no-brainer. (Check if you have gluten free or dairy free kids. There are options if you do.)¬†I’ve made mini pizzas a couple of different ways: with English muffins, pita bread or by giving each student some dough so he can create his or her own crust. I prefer the dough option, but it’s up to you and your schedule. If you’re using¬†dough, you can purchase some premade and uncooked from the grocery store or make it in your KitchenAid or bread machine with little fuss. (Additional Thought: You can offer toppings, but most kids are happy with just plain cheese.)
  3. Monkey Bread: This one is always a big hit, and I can’t take a speck of credit for it. I got the idea from this wonderful blog about a King Arthur cooking class: A Lesson¬†In Cinnamon Pull-Apart¬†Bread: Monkeying¬†Around.¬†(Additional Thought: The lesson shows kids making individual monkey breads. I don’t do this because I don’t want to buy the wax paper baking dishes. Neither do I add the frosting. The cinnamon sugar is plenty sweet!)
  4. Cherry Clafouti: I discovered this dish while planning my Summer Camp curriculum. Cherry clafouti is easy to make and quite delicious to boot. The most time-consuming aspect is pitting the cherries. I thought about getting a cherry pitter, but it turned out to be completely unnecessary–the kids enjoyed pitting with a butter knife. And chatting while they worked! (Additional Thought: Cherries aren’t the only option for this dish. Any kind of berry would do, along with plums and apples.)
  5. Ratatouille:¬†Another cooking project from this summer! Full of fresh, seasonal veggies, Ratatouille is a nutrient-packed dish. (Probably the healthiest on this list!) The kids enjoyed chopping zucchini, eggplant, yellow squash and mushrooms to their hearts’ content. The best part? I did the cooking in a crockpot, so the classroom smelled fantastic! (Additional Thought: Bar none, these blunt-tipped serrated knives from Montessori Services are my favorite for food prep. Probably not ideal for younger students, but perfect for Upper El. I even use them at¬†home!)
  6. Smoothies: I use my Magic Bullet when I make smoothies with my students. This way, I can offer a smorgasboard of fruits and they can either experiment or choose only what they like. You can also make fresh fruit slushies or milkshakes with frozen yogurt instead of ice cream. Another option is to choose three different types of shakes or smoothies and then serve tasters rather than full servings. (Additional Thought: Honest Pretzels by Mollie Katzen has some great smoothies recipes.)
  7. Mini Pumpkin Pies:¬†This is a project for anytime in the fall. I recommend canned pumpkin, mostly because baking and straining your own pumpkin can be time-consuming and messy. I also purchase premade frozen crust. We roll it out and cut circles in the dough. I used to make mini pies in mini pie tins. Now I use muffin tins instead. They’re just the right size for a serving and they take no time at all to cook.¬†(Additional Thought: Give the students ample opportunity to smell the different spices used in pumpkin pie. For that matter, instead of pumpkin pie spice, try to use individual ones so they have a chance to smell nutmeg¬†and cinnamon¬†and ginger¬†and¬†clove instead of a mixture of all four.)
  8. Scones:¬†I love scones and they’re pretty easy to make. You can make them any number of different ways, but I prefer the classic with currants. Raisins, dried cranberries and chocolate chips all work, too. Students enjoy cutting in the butter¬†with a pastry blender (most have never seen one before) and I enjoy limiting the amount of time their hands spend in the dough. (Additional Thought: I have an electric tea kettle in my classroom, so tea time–and practice in grace and courtesy–is a natural extension of this cooking project!)

I know (from experience) that cooking with students can be stressful. So stressful, in fact, that we often forget that it can also be very rewarding. Your best defense is preparation and familiarity with the recipe you’ll be working with. Just remember: kids won’t care if their pizza is shaped like a monkey. If anything, they’ll be thrilled!