Exploring Beyond the Classroom: 6 Ways to Think Creative with Field Trips

By Shannon Anderson, author of  Mindset Power: A Kid’s Guide to Growing Better Every Day

With budget cuts, holds on large group gatherings, and bus driver shortages, taking your students on a field trip can be pretty tricky these days. However, with a little creativity, you can find ways to keep field trips in your plan this year. Here are some ideas to help you rethink field trips and get kids learning outside of the textbook and the classroom.

Exploring Beyond the Classroom: 6 Ways to Think Creative with Field Trips

1. Think Small

Since many places won’t allow 100 kids to come to see a play or tour a museum right now, think about splitting your grade level by classes. Perhaps you can still go on “that trip that fourth graders always look forward to,” but just on different days and in smaller groups. Many of the other ideas in this post work better and will be easier to plan if one class goes at a time. If you need transportation, having a smaller number of students means you will need only one bus driver instead of three or four at the same time as you would when transporting a whole grade level. There are many benefits for keeping your group size small.

2. Think Local

Think about what is within walking distance of your school. Could you walk your kids to the public library? To the post office? To the police or fire station? You may be surprised at how many students have never been inside these places. Or, if they have, they have never had a behind-the-scenes tour. These are great ways to create partnerships with the community too. Trips to these places help kids learn about how the different parts of a community work together for the common good. (If you have students who cannot physically walk a long distance, many times you can get special permission for someone to drive a student to the location.)

3. Think Online

There are many zoos, museums, and other attractions that offer virtual tours. When these venues had to close to in-person events, many were able to stay open by offering online programming. Here is a link for some museum opportunities and a website with a list of zoos that have live web cams.

4. Think Global

Taking your class to another country would be very expensive and time consuming, but there are many globe-trotting options online. You can travel to the Egyptian Pyramids or walk through the White House. If you want to travel even farther, you can explore Mars with a Mars rover.

5. Think Within

Students love to know insider secrets. So how about showing them places within your own school? Could a custodian give your students a tour behind all those doors kids normally aren’t allowed to enter? Many students don’t know what a boiler room is or about the work that happens to keep the school comfortable, clean, and safe. It may give your students a whole new appreciation for the upkeep of the school.

What about the cafeteria? Could the cooks show students where the food is stored, prepared, and cooked? A visit with the technology team is sure to spark some interest too. What goes into keeping all those tablets and computers in working order? How do they make sure the internet use at school is safe for students?

6. Think Guest Experts

If you cannot go to a museum or zoo, can you bring them to your school? There are many places that will send experts with a collection of items or animals to you. You save a lot in travel and time by hiring the expert to come and spend the day at your school. You may be able to socially distance in a gymnasium or auditorium to hear the presentation, or the speaker could travel classroom to classroom.

I hope this has given you some ideas for helping kids have learning experiences outside of the textbook and the classroom. Exploring exciting places can spark an interest in a topic, allow for a deeper dive into the content, and provide a fun experience that is engaging and memorable.

Shannon Anderson, M.Ed., authorShannon Anderson has taught for 25 years, from first grade through college level. Her career highlight was being named one of the Top 10 Teachers who inspired the Today Show. Shannon is also the author of many children’s books and a national speaker. She was named the JC Runyon Person of the Year for her work helping kids with social and emotional issues through her writing and speaking. To find out more, you can visit: shannoisteaching.com.

Free Spirit books by Shannon Anderson:

Mindset PowerY is for YetPenelope PerfectCoasting Casey


We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.


FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2022 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The views expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

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Tips for Safe (and Warm) Outdoor Winter Play in Preschool

By Molly Breen

Tips for Safe (and Warm) Outdoor Winter Play in PreschoolDepending on where your preschool program is located, winter may not equal wintery weather. But in Minnesota, where I run a preschool, we get to experience pretty profound seasonal change—both in the landscape and in the temperature. Over the years I have discovered two things that are absolutely true about winter weather and outdoor play and learning: Children learn to tolerate some discomfort from cold weather if outdoor play and learning are a routine part of your time together, and winter gear matters—for children and teachers. Without proper insulation, cover, and water protection, our bodies (and our spirits) focus more on survival and keeping warm than on the joy of being outside in all kinds of weather.

During this pandemic, our program has shifted so we spend a significant portion of our days outdoors. We have always emphasized outdoor play, but this was an intentional plan to be outside for 75 percent of the day. Even in the winter! We are fortunate that the residential area where we are located has several good parks with interesting and varied terrain, and there’s even a wooded area about a mile from school that we have walked to on many occasions. For us, the key to successful outdoor adventuring in the winter (in addition to the two items I mentioned previously) is the teacher’s positive disposition to get outside to play and learn alongside children. Part of this positive disposition includes preparation: a grab bag of possible activities and materials that can make outdoor time more like an outdoor classroom.

Wagons, Sleds, and Framepacks, Oh My!

We use several different modes of transport for our play stuff when we go outside in the winter. If the sidewalks are mostly clear, we can bring our utility wagons packed with everything we need. But when the snow is falling or there is some ground cover, we bring sleds and backpacks instead. Occasionally the wagons or sleds turn into emergency sag wagons for children who lose stamina, but in general they are for STUFF!

Here’s a starter kit for taking children out and away from the building for outdoor winter play:

  • First-aid kit. It’s an obvious one, but always important—in any weather.
  • Handwashing kit. We bring this along in warmer weather months when we snack and eat lunch outside too.
  • Electronic hand warmer. These are rechargeable and offer some warmth, but also are soothing for children who are worried about the cold.
  • Book basket. I know it may seem like books are for indoor time, but we LOVE to pile up outdoors to read a story. We usually pack a variety of fiction and nonfiction, including books that have wildlife and plant or tree information.
  • Clipboards and markers or pencils. Children can use these materials to draw or write observations. We always have clipboards with paper on hand when we go outside.
  • Nonplastic shovels, pails, or other containers. Some plastic will survive in cold temperatures, but we have discovered that metal measuring cups, ice scoops, ice cream scoops, and other metal containers are much more durable for winter play. Don’t forget to label everything and count how many implements you bring along. It’s easy to leave things behind if you don’t know how many you started with!
  • I like to bring a Bluetooth speaker with us so we can listen to music or dance when we are outside. For some children, having music along on our walk transforms their mood and lifts their spirits!
  • For those who want to take one more step, consider bringing a portable toilet with supplies for composting waste and biodegradable bags. This has absolutely transformed how we do outdoor time at preschool! We found pop-up tents that work well for privacy so we can set up our port-a-potty virtually anywhere. Our whole portable toilet setup was about $50, and the bags and ecosolution for the waste are not too costly. It may sound crazy, but it gives us WAY more options for getting outside and staying outside!
  • Last, but not least, make sure you bring along backup gear: mittens, hats, neck gators or balaclavas, and even extra wool socks.

Once you are geared up and have what you need for sustained outdoor play, there are limitless possibilities for what you can do. Here are a few of our favorite winter activities.

Sledding

We have a handful of molded plastic sleds with rope handles. The children pull these to the park nearby (and back again!) and pull one another. It’s great heavy work and a meaningful job! We’ve also experimented with cardboard box sleds and snowshoes. We used duct tape to waterproof the bottom of the sleds and snowshoes we fashioned out of cardboard boxes. They worked really well and provided us with an indoor activity when we prepared them!

Digging/Snow Play

Snow is a wonderful open-ended material, and our preschoolers use it in every way imaginable! We dig, we throw, we stomp, we tunnel, we make snow people and snow animals and snow food in snow restaurants . . . you get the idea!

Snow Obstacle Course

This was born from the imagination of our preschoolers on a winter celebration day last year! We brought plastic cones to use as markers for our obstacle course along with some hoops and balls and sleds. The children designed the course and sequence, and we used our phones to time them as they took turns completing it.

Cold-Weather Projects

Freeze colored water (use liquid watercolors instead of food dye to avoid staining mittens and coats) in various plastic containers and then build colorful ice castles. Make ice ornaments to hang from trees or outside your classroom windows: using recyclable materials, like plastic takeout containers, layer pine needles, cranberries, and other natural materials into water and leave out overnight to freeze. Don’t forget to loop a twine or string hanger into the water so that you have a way to hang your ornament!

In my experience, more than anything “special” that you may prepare for outdoor activities, your own enthusiasm for being outside together takes center stage and sets the tone for how to be outdoors. I will admit that very cold weather makes me want to get cozy inside and avoid braving the elements. But I never, ever regret getting outside in winter with children—even in spite of myself! And what a joy it is to experience our amazing planet earth doing its seasonal thing, and all the cascading effects from vegetation to wildlife, with our students! So get the gear, pack the wagon, and make a commitment to let the outdoors be a true learning environment this winter!

Molly BreenMolly Breen, M.A., E.C.E., has worked with kids and families for nearly two decades as an educator. A believer in lifelong learning, her heart is in early childhood, where the seeds of curiosity, character, and community are planted. Through her work with children as a practitioner in the classroom, Molly has developed broad expertise in curriculum development and instruction, behavior guidance, and social and emotional learning. In her role as a program director, she has created innovative approaches to professional and program development, family engagement, and community outreach. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, with her husband and three kids.


We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.


FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2022 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The views expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

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6 Steps to Opening a School Food Pantry

By Erik Talkin, CEO Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, California, and author of Lulu and the Hunger Monster™

6 Steps to Opening a School Food PantryIt’s a new year, and students are back to school after the winter break. After two years of the Covid-19 pandemic, it remains a very challenging time for many families. And the new strain of the virus has thrown additional roadblocks in the pathway to economic stability. Schools can support children and their families in these difficult times by being a place where children get not only the education that helps their brains develop, but also the food that helps brains and bodies grow.

When kids have access to healthy meals every day, they feel better, do better in school, and have fewer behavior problems. They have what they need to grow and just be kids. And the national school breakfast and lunch programs are a tremendous part of the effort to make sure kids thrive. But when school is over for the day, many families need assistance filling the gaps.

So perhaps now is the time to consider a school pantry program if your school does not already run one. You can partner with a local food bank to provide access to food for children and their families after the school day has ended.

School administrators, food bank staff, and parents work together to set up the pantries, which generally distribute fresh fruit and vegetables as well as canned foods. Some schools provide a dedicated space for the pantry where families can walk through and pick out their food. Others distribute prepacked bags of food.

Schools are a natural fit for food pantries—they provide an easy-to-access location that parents and students feel comfortable in and regularly visit. While some parents might not be able to visit traditional food pantries because of distribution times or location, in most cases school pantries distribute food at the end of the day when parents are already at the school to pick up their children.

Food pantries in schools can connect kids and their families with the healthy food they need during the weekend too. And by including a food pantry at your school, you will be in good company! Every year, school pantries serve 21 million meals to nearly 110,000 children.

three white students shelve food at a school pantry

Here are six steps for setting up a food pantry at your school:

Step 1. Identify the adults who will be responsible for the overall effort (gathering donations, ordering from a food bank, coordinating delivery to the school, safe storage, distribution, recordkeeping, etc.).

Step 2. Secure your school administration’s support for the project.

Step 3. Identify where in the school nonperishable foods will be stored and distributed. Consider these questions:

  • Is the space secure from theft? Tampering? Contamination from chemicals, water, etc.?
  • Can the food be appropriately stored—clean, dry, cool, off the ground, and at least six inches away from walls?
  • Is shelving needed? Do you have a cart to move food? A scale?

Step 4. Devise a plan and schedule for distribution. What days will you distribute food and supplies? What times?

Consider requiring families or students (if in high school) to bring a referral from counseling or administrative staff to get food. Be sure to protect their identities from other students and families, and protect their privacy in seeking emergency food assistance, in carrying food home, and so on.

Step 5. Develop a plan for how you will notify families, students, and the school community about the emergency food assistance available at school. Consider these items:

  • When/how often will you share the information with the school community?
  • How will you share it? Flyers? Posters? Articles in your newsletter?
  • How will you familiarize school staff with the program so they can refer students who may need food assistance?

Step 6. Consider enlisting student groups, clubs, or classes to collaborate on the project. These groups can:

  • Organize food drives to refill shelves in the pantry
  • Sort and shelve foods
  • Periodically take inventory and discard expired products

If you want to help feed kids during the school year, consider setting up a pantry at your school and work with your local food bank to start it. Also check out this link for four steps to starting a school food pantry and download the free action pack.

three Black students work to put food in a bag; in the background are shelves of food

Erik TalkinErik Talkin is also a writer and filmmaker and has served as a principal in two production companies. His short film The Gallery, starring Helena Bonham Carter, was selected for the London Film Festival. He has won an International Television Association Award for writing and directing educational drama, and his theatrical work has been produced on the London Fringe. Erik lives in Santa Barbara, California.

Lulu and the Hunger MonsterErik is the author of Lulu and the Hunger Monster.


We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.


FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2022 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The views expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

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Top 21 Posts of 2021

Our blog had a great 2021, and we want to give a shout-out to our bloggers, authors, and readers! 2021 was challenging in many ways, and we’re thankful that you’re here to make our blog what it is. You are amazing!

Today we’re rounding up the top posts from 2021. Got a favorite we didn’t include? Drop it in the comments.

1. How to Transition to In-Person Learning: Ideas and Suggestions from Students

How to Transition to In-Person Learning: Ideas and Suggestions from Students

To help with students’ transition back to the classroom, author Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., reached out to a few students to ask them about their fears, anxieties, and hopes for what is to be our “new normal” and shares those in this post.

2. How to Use Mental Health Check-Ins to Address Students’ Social and Emotional Needs

How to Use Mental Health Check-Ins to Address Students’ Social and Emotional Needs

Author and school counselor Stephanie Filio, M.Ed., explains how quick and intentional interactions with students help them develop a larger belief that there are people who recognize their existence and care about their well-being—helping meet their social and emotional needs.

3. Perfectionism in Children: How Parents Can Help Bright, Complex Kids

Perfectionism in Children: How Parents Can Help Bright, Complex Kids

Author Jean Sunde Peterson, Ph.D., discusses when perfectionism can become a problem and offers parents and other invested adults advice for helping bright, complex kids lessen the burden of perfectionism.

4. 12 Creative Ways to Find Funding for Your Classroom

12 Creative Ways to Find Funding for Your Classroom

Author Shannon Anderson and classroom teacher for 25 years shares the creative ways she’s found to pay for things over the years, from fundraisers to grants.

5. How Amanda Gorman’s Inauguration Poem, “The Hill We Climb,” Empowered One Middle School Class

How Amanda Gorman’s Inauguration Poem, “The Hill We Climb,” Empowered One Middle School Class

Middle school teacher Isaiah Moore built a short-notice lesson around Amanda Gorman’s inauguration poem and shares his experience with his class.

6. The Importance of Intersectionality in Empowering Underrepresented Gifted Students: We Are More Than You Think We Are

The Importance of Intersectionality in Empowering Underrepresented Gifted Students: We Are More Than You Think We Are

Joy Lawson Davis, Ed.D., explores the importance of intersectionality in empowering underrepresented gifted students and provides suggested strategies for educators and schools.

7. Activities for Every Day of Week of the Young Child®

Activities for Every Day of Week of the Young Child®

The Week of the Young Child is a springtime celebration of young children and their families. Lydia Bowers and Shawn Forster share activities for each themed day of the week. Watch for Week of the Young Child 2022 from April 2 to 8.

8. Social Emotional Stories: Helping Kids Connect

Social Emotional Stories: Helping Kids Connect

In this post, author Barbara A. Lewis shares the social and emotional power of stories and shares discussion questions and activities connected to The Ugly Duckling for use in classrooms.

9. 3 Outdoor Creative Movement Activities to Support Children’s Mental Health

3 Outdoor Creative Movement Activities to Support Children’s Mental Health

For Mental Health Awareness Month, author Connie Bergstein Dow shared three creative movement activities kids can do outside to support their mental health.

10. How to Include Self-Care for Educators in Professional Development

How to Include Self-Care for Educators in Professional Development

Author and middle school counselor Stephanie Filio reminds educators that as more emphasis on intentional SEL practices with students is made, professional development can also employ willful tasks and tools to strengthen staff self-care.

11. 6 Ways Educators Can Create Safe Spaces for Students of Color

6 Ways Educators Can Create Safe Spaces for Students of Color

Middle school teacher Isaiah Moore shares six factors that will help educators succeed when collaborating with other educators to create safe spaces for students of color.

12. How to Build Empathy and Trust During Circle Time  

How to Build Empathy and Trust During Circle Time

Author Lydia Bowers shares how early childhood educators can create a circle time that’s intentional and meaningful.

13. Resolving Conflicts in Early Childhood Education: Sweat the Small Stuff

Resolving Conflicts in Early Childhood Education: Sweat the Small Stuff

Coauthors Chris Amirault, Ph.D., and Christine Snyder, M.A., says that when it comes to conflict in the workplace, you should invest time and energy into small situations. They explain why in this post.

14. How to Help Kids Make Friends During the Pandemic

How to Help Kids Make Friends During the Pandemic

Author James J. Crist, Ph.D., shares ways to keep kids connected to each other, including helping them make new friends, that can help reduce the negative fallout from the pandemic.

15. 9 Tips for Creating Inclusive Movement Activities

9 Tips for Creating Inclusive Movement Activities

Author Connie Bergstein Dow offers tips for modifying creative movement activities to be inclusive of all children.

16. How to Mentor New Teachers During COVID-19

How to Mentor New Teachers During COVID-19

Mentors can be hugely beneficial to new teachers. Principal Andrew Hawk shares seven ways to mentor new teachers during COVID-19.

17. 9 Ways to Create Structure and Reduce Anxiety in Children During the Summer

9 Ways to Create Structure and Reduce Anxiety in Children During the Summer

Routine and fun aren’t mutually exclusive! Author Summer Batte shares ways to create structure and reduce anxiety in children during the summer months.

18. Children’s Book Authors to Follow on Social Media

Children’s Book Authors to Follow on Social Media

Looking for a way to connect with Free Spirit authors beyond their books and our blog? Many of them are on social media! Check out just a few of our children’s book authors and where you can find them in this post.

19. How Trauma Impacts Students’ Motivation

How Trauma Impacts Students’ Motivation

Author and school counselor Stephanie Filio, M.Ed., explores how trauma can affect students’ motivation and how to respond to the changes in their motivation.

20. 7 Ways to Foster Kindness in Your Virtual or Hybrid Classroom During the Pandemic

7 Ways to Foster Kindness in Your Virtual or Hybrid Classroom During the Pandemic

Author Naomi Drew, M.A., shares seven simple ways to integrate kindness into your classroom.

21. How to Improve Children’s Sleep with Mindfulness

How to Improve Children’s Sleep with Mindfulness

It is hard to function at your best if you are sleep deprived. Author James J. Crist, Ph.D., shares how mindfulness can improve children’s sleep.


We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.


FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2022 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The views expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

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Enter for a Chance to Win Books on Managing Emotions!

Enter for a chance to win books that help kids cope with big feelings!

This month we are giving away books that help children recognize, explore, and manage their emotions. One lucky reader will win:

To Enter: Leave a comment below describing how you help kids cope with big feelings.

For additional entries, leave a separate comment below for each of the following tasks you complete:

Each comment counts as a separate entry. Entries must be received by midnight, January 21, 2022.

The winner will be contacted via email on or around January 24, 2022, and will need to respond within 72 hours to claim their prize or another winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way affiliated with, administered, or endorsed by Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. Winner must be US resident, 18 years of age or older.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.


FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2022 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The view expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

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