How to Help Kids Cope with Mixed Feelings About Back to School

By James J. Crist, Ph.D., author of What to Do When You’re Scared and Worried: A Guide for Kids

How to Help Kids Cope with Mixed Feelings About Back to SchoolMost kids look forward to the end of the school year. No more getting up early, doing homework, studying for tests, or dealing with bullying at school. What’s not to like? Seems like everyone looks forward to summer!

However, as summer wears on, many kids start getting bored and miss the excitement of hanging out with friends on a daily basis. At the same time, many kids do not look forward to school starting again. The anticipation of getting up early, making new friends, and worrying about homework and grades can make it harder for kids as they get ready to return to school. But having mixed feelings about back-to-school is normal. By helping kids talk about their feelings, adults can make it easier for kids to process those feelings and get ready for school in the fall.

Anxious children often have particular difficulty returning to school. They may become clingier, have trouble sleeping, and may voice fears about school. If they have heard about school shootings or have had experience with bullies, their anxiety is likely heightened. Meeting a new teacher can be difficult if you’re not sure if that teacher will be nice or mean. Some kids worry about not knowing anyone in their class if their friends are all in different classes. Kids who struggle academically will worry about their school performance and the stress of keeping up with homework and doing well on tests, as well as their overall grades.

Parents Have Mixed Feelings Too

Just as kids can have mixed feelings about returning to school, parents can too. For some parents, the beginning of summer can be a relief from the stress of having to monitor children’s grades, email teachers, make sure homework gets done and is turned in, and transport kids to sporting practices and other after-school activities. At the same time, keeping kids entertained all summer can be challenging. Many of today’s kids value screen time above all else, and it can be a battle getting them to engage in healthier activities, such as playing outside. While some parents may look forward to having their kids return to school, others may dread the pressure that comes with helping kids be successful, particularly parents of kids who struggle academically or socially.

Helping Kids Cope

One of the most helpful things parents can do is simply reflect and validate kids’ feelings. You don’t need to convince them that they’ll have a great year, and you don’t want to minimize their concerns. Start by asking open-ended questions. For example: “How are you feeling about returning to school?” With younger kids, who often have a harder time putting feelings into words, it can help to give options: “Are you looking forward to returning to school, wishing you didn’t have to go back, or maybe some of both?” You might also name some feelings kids may have, for example: “Some kids feel nervous about going back to school. Is that something you are feeling too?” Let them know that it is normal to have mixed feelings and that it is okay to talk about them.

Often, stress about a situation stems from not feeling in control of what happens. So focusing on things they can control can help kids feel better about a stressful situation. Printing out the school calendar can help provide structure, including marking down days off and the beginning and end of the quarter. Going shopping for new school clothes can be fun for some kids. Practicing reading, especially with kids who don’t read much, can get them into the habit of doing schoolwork. Setting up an area for doing homework and making a schedule for when homework will be completed each day or week helps provide a routine. Allowing your child input into this process makes it more likely that they will follow through.

Making a list of pros and cons can help kids look at their feelings more objectively. You can ask: “What are some good things about going back to school? What are some not-so-good things?” If kids have trouble coming up with anything, you can suggest some possibilities. Some good things might include being around friends, making new friends, getting out of the house, learning interesting things, talking to friends during lunch and playing with them during recess, and maybe even not being around siblings all day! Some not-so-good things might include having to get used to a new teacher, making new friends, worrying about bullying, worrying about grades and homework, and even being away from parents and siblings, which can be harder for anxious kids.

Teaching Stress-Management Skills Can Help

Techniques such as mindfulness and deep breathing can help manage stress over returning to school. Mindfulness involves paying attention to what is happening around you in the moment. Tuning in to what you notice in your environment, such as what you see, hear, smell, or feel, can help kids feel grounded and move their focus away from unpleasant feelings.

Parents can practice this with kids at home. Noticing the feel of a stuffed animal or the beauty or scent of a flower can be a good way to start. Combining this with deep breathing (sometimes called belly breathing, balloon breathing, or square breathing) helps the body relax. Breathing in and out slowly to the count of five works well for most people. An internet search for “belly breathing for kids” will yield a number of short videos you and kids can watch. Here are two good examples:

For more information on mindfulness, which includes short audio clips of mindfulness exercises, check out the Mindful website. Guided meditations or guided imagery can also be helpful to put kids into a more relaxed state. Kids can listen to the soothing voice of the facilitator describe a calming scene. You can record your own voice reading a meditation or check out one of the many videos online. Here’s an example titled “Letting Go of Worries”:

Ask your child for suggestions on what they think a calming scene would be. It could be at the beach, curled up in front of a fire, or watching a balloon slowly float up to the sky. Here’s a script you can use.

Systematic desensitization is a therapy technique that helps people deal with scary situations by thinking about them one step at a time and using deep breathing when the thoughts of the situation become too scary. Kids can learn to use their imagination to walk through the steps of going through the school day as if they are watching a movie or video. When combined with deep breathing, kids can desensitize themselves to the idea of going to school. If they start feeling anxious, they can stop the imaginary video, take deep breaths until they feel calmer, and restart the video. Kids can practice until they can get through the entire school day without feeling anxious. For some kids, visiting the school prior to the first day can help allay the anxiety of going to school, especially if the school is new for them.

If your child expresses worries about returning to school, help them come up with a game plan to handle them. For example, they can plan to talk with their teacher privately before or after school if they need extra help. If they know who their school counselor is, you can have them write that person’s name and room number on their agenda or planner so that they can seek them out if they have trouble handling feelings or dealing with conflict.

Conclusions

It’s normal to have mixed feelings about returning to school, for kids as well as for parents. Helping kids talk about their feelings openly and providing them with strategies to cope can go a long way toward a successful transition back to school.

Dr. James J. CristAuthor James Crist is the clinical director and a staff psychologist at the Child and Family Counseling Center (CFCC) in Woodbridge, Virginia, and a substance abuse counselor, working with addictive disorders in teens and adults. At CFCC, he provides psychological testing and individual, couples, and family psychotherapy for children, adolescents, and adults, specializing in children with ADHD, depression, and anxiety disorders. Visit his website at jamesjcrist.com.

Free Spirit books by James Crist:

What's the Big Deal About Addictions? Answers and Help for Teens by Dr. James J. Crist Siblings The Survival Guide for Making and Being Friends WhatToDoWhenYou'reScaredAndWorried What to Do When You’re Cranky & Blue


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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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How to Help Teens Develop Better Phone Habits

By Beverly K. Bachel, author of What Do You Really Want? How to Set a Goal and Go for It! A Guide for Teens

How to Help Teens Develop Better Phone Habits“Put your phone down and go outside.”

How many times will you say this to teens this summer? Chances are several times each day.

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, teens spend upwards of nine hours a day on their phones. And according to behavior change expert Kris Jennings, summer is a great time to focus on helping teens improve their phone habits.

“Shifts in our usual patterns such as moving from the structure of school days to the freedom of summer vacation create opportunities for us to stop old ways of behaving and start new ways,” explains Jennings. According to a 2019 survey, the average person picks up their phone about ninety-six times a day and then proceeds to use it for one minute and fifteen seconds. That amounts to two hours a day. And while it’s not easy to stop ourselves from picking up our phones, in large part because they’re designed to keep us coming back, learning a few basic principles of behavior change can help your teens take control of their phones . . . and their lives.

Our phones create messy habits, so we need to start by untangling the good from the bad,” says Jennings. “Asking your teens to quit cold turkey or taking away their phones is not helpful . . . or sustainable.”

Start with awareness

The first step is to help teens become more aware of how they currently use their phones by encouraging them to observe their phone use over a few days, jotting down what they notice, while you do so as well. What time-specific or emotional triggers prompt them to pick up their phones? For instance, do they do so when they first wake up? When they get home from camp? What about when they’re feeling anxious, bored, excited, lonely, or sad?

Also ask them to pay attention to how they feel before, during, and after using their phones in various ways (playing Wordle, scrolling social media, chatting with friends, watching online videos).

Tapping into greater self-awareness for how they use their phone and how they feel after doing so can help them identify which behaviors they want to continue, which they’d like to leave behind, and which they’d like to replace with more positive, and perhaps even more productive, habits.

“Once your teens decide they want to make changes, it gets much easier to support them because their motivation is coming from within,” says Jennings, who uses the Tiny Habits method of behavior change to help teens alter their behaviors.

Developed by BJ Fogg, director of the Stanford University Behavior Design Lab and author of Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything, the Tiny Habits method is scientifically proven to create new, lasting habits quickly and easily.

Jennings stresses three ways to help teens develop and maintain their momentum:

  1. Start small. The Tiny Habits method focuses on taking small, positive actions, such as saying a daily affirmation, that can be completed in as little as thirty seconds and incorporating them into other, existing habits like brushing one’s teeth or pouring a bowl of cereal.
  2. Focus on the positive. Rather than admonishing teens for using their phones, praise the behaviors you want to see more of. Also consider setting up a few rules that both you and teens agree to. For example, no using phones at the dinner table or while driving.
  3. Celebrate! Intentionally celebrating success, even with something as simple as a high-five, reminds teens they have what it takes to change and that their new behaviors are worth celebrating.

“Self-awareness and building habits that support our goals are lifelong skills,” Jennings says. “Unfortunately, most of us learn to resist change because we don’t have positive emotions around it. By embracing tiny habits, teens can change in some pretty big ways.”

To help teens improve their phone and other digital skills, download this free Slaying Digital Dragons Resistance Manifesto. It is one of many practical tools included in Slaying Digital Dragons, a book that helps teens better understand how their digital habits impact their bodies, brains, psyches, relationships, and reputations.

Beverly BachelBeverly Bachel is a freelance writer and the author of What Do You Really Want? How to Set a Goal and Go for It! A Guide for Teens. She has introduced thousands of teens and parents to the power of goal-setting.

What Do You Really WantBeverly is the author of What Do You Really Want? How to Set a Goal and Go for It! A Guide for Teens.


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9 Ways Administrators Can Prepare for the New School Year

By Andrew Hawk

Even though students head home for the summer, at the majority of schools across the United States, the behind-the-scenes work of running a school never really stops. Sure, things slow down a little, but the gears keep right on grinding. As years pass, administrators learn how to prioritize their to-do lists to increase efficiency when getting ready for the new school year. Here are a few ideas you may want to consider as you prepare for the upcoming year.

9 Ways Administrators Can Prepare for the New School Year

1. Survey Stakeholders

At the very least, include teachers, students, and parents in your survey. You might also include a random sampling of other members from the community. After all, a school has a major impact on its neighborhood. I recommend sending out a survey at least once every three years. The survey should be concise and to the point to increase the number of people who fully complete it. You’ll gain much valuable knowledge from these surveys, but I know the first time can be a little scary. If you have not done a survey in recent years, make the leap.

2. Schedule Repairs

Every year, administrators hope repairs will be few and easily completed. While it is true some years are better than others, you’ll need to make at least a few repairs each year. The best way to stay caught up is to maintain constant vigilance. If your budget allows, you might also be proactive. Having a good maintenance crew can make all the difference, but take a collaborative approach to ensure nothing is missed.

3. Order New Supplies

Who orders the supplies for a school can vary from state to state. In Indiana, the school treasurer is usually responsible for this task, but the building administrator plays a large role in prioritizing what gets ordered based on the needs of the building. This is another area where it helps to solicit feedback from your staff.

4. Organize a Student Assistance Day

I have witnessed schools do this in a variety of ways. Some keep things simple, such as handing out backpacks of school supplies, while others go as far as bringing in hairstylists to cut students’ hair for free during the last week of summer. Something that never changes? How continually impressed I am by community support when it comes to organizing events to assist students. Organizing a student assistance day is too big a project for one person to complete. So I recommend you recruit some helpers to organize the day. This could be a great way for national honor society students to earn some community service hours.

5. Schedule Training Sessions

Wow! How did I manage to summarize that vast topic in only three words? This topic occupies page after page in books and blogs. However, this list doesn’t feel right without acknowledging the never-ending journey of professional development (PD) for educators. I swear I am going to keep this simple! Some professional development is required by state law and needs to be completed annually or biannually. These types of trainings include topics such as CPR and de-escalation training. Be sure to get mandatory training sessions on the schedule, and then the sky’s the limit on everything else!

6. Update Handbooks and School Improvement Plans

I hope you consider both of these to be “living documents.” They do little more than take up space otherwise. If I am planning a major overhaul of either the School Improvement Plan or one of the various handbooks (whether it’s for students, classified staff, or certified staff), I form a good-sized committee. This helps ensure that everyone has a voice in the process. If only minor updates are needed, a small committee is fine.

7. Renew School Clubs and Sponsors

This is not just about renewing clubs and sponsors, but about evaluating clubs and organizations to assess their successfulness. Students deserve as many extracurriculars as a school can provide, and in this day and age, there are a lot of great options to choose from. Not every activity is going to be a perfect fit for every school. If something is just not working, it is okay to replace it with another option.

8. Plan to Welcome New Staff Members

At most of the schools I’ve worked at, this was usually handled by a committee of teachers. However, I recommend checking in and making sure that something is taking action to help new staff members feel welcomed and supported at their new school.

9. Outline Your Orientation Meeting

I have been a part of orientation meetings that lasted an entire school day and ones that only lasted half an hour. The orientation is a real balancing act of relaying needed information to staff members and making sure you are not wasting people’s time. I believe administrators should not exceed ninety minutes with these meetings. Start getting your discussion points outlined and see if there is anything that can be excluded this year!

I hope these tips help you have a successful start to the new year.

Enjoy the rest of your summer, everyone!

Andrew HawkAndrew Hawk has worked in public education for 18 years. He started as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He completed his bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Indiana University East in Richmond, Indiana. Andrew has taught first, second, and fifth grades as a classroom teacher. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University. Andrew has worked as a resource room teacher and also has taught in a self-contained classroom for students on the autism spectrum. In 2017, he earned a master’s degree in educational leadership, also from Western Governor’s University. This is Andrew’s first year as a building principal. He is the principal of an elementary school that houses kindergarten through fifth grades. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with his wife and two daughters.


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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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9 Ways to Build Student Confidence for a New School Year

By Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., author of Self-Regulation in the Classroom: Helping Students Learn How to Learn
Part of our Cash in on Learning series by Richard M. Cash, Ed.D. Click to read other Cash in on Learning posts.

9 Ways to Build Student Confidence for a New School YearIt’s hard to believe that a new school year is about to begin! After two-plus years of chaos and disruption, we are all hoping this school year brings some semblance of normalcy into our world. So as we begin this new school year, I want to offer you some advice for starting the year off right: with nine ways to build up students’ confidence!

Confidence is the essential ingredient to success! A lack of confidence will hold you back from even trying. Without confidence, you are less likely to get started, stand up for yourself, overcome your fears, take intellectual risks, and negotiate the hurdles of failure. Some students, often those who need the most support, lack belief in themselves. Others may not have seen the talent or light that shines within them. Therefore, it is our duty as educators to build their confidence to try, work hard, and ultimately achieve success.

Before I get to strategies for building student confidence, I’d like to share a few of the reasons students may lack positive self-belief.

People develop their sense of self from those with whom they socialize or spend time around. If caregivers are overly critical or distant, this can cause a child to feel they cannot do anything right. Lack of exposure to outside interests may inhibit a child’s sense of wonder and confidence for exploration. If peers are not welcoming or socially isolate a child, this can affect the way the child perceives themselves. How a child sees themselves represented in classroom materials and the media can also have an effect on their self-esteem and confidence.

These are all reasons why a child may lack confidence. Now, I’ll share some ideas for how you can model confidence-building strategies and set up your classroom to help students feel more confident, self-assured, and welcomed.

1. Model how you feel and what you do when setbacks arise.

This modeling must be overt. Kids need to hear you think out loud about how you deal with stress, failure, and bumps in the road. They need to see you laugh at your mistakes and not take things too seriously. Talk through even the simplest setbacks, such as what you did when you encountered road construction on your way to work. What did you say/do when there was no coffee left in the staff lounge and you had seconds to get to your classroom? What did you do when you had a flat tire on your way to your best friend’s wedding? We can share with students how we handle ourselves in both simple and complex situations.

2. Set up your classroom to encourage collaboration.

Every child wants to feel a part of the group. Putting your desks in pods or small groups encourages kids to talk to each other, communicate, and build friendships. A classroom that encourages community bonding is one where each child is important and supported. Also, consider making space in your classroom for kids to work in partnership or spend time chatting together. When I taught in the classroom, I had a beanbag chair in my book nook where kids could sit with each other to read or just talk.

3. Construct classroom norms with the entire class.

Ask students what they feel is important for a just and supportive classroom environment. Keep norms simple, and phrase them in a positive and inclusive manner, such as: “We help each other. We respect differences. We have fun while learning.” A positive learning environment can help all kids feel like they belong and are supported when times get tough.

4. Make space for all emotions.

There are certainly times when you and your students will feel overwhelmed and under pressure. And it’s important to acknowledge and affirm these more difficult emotions. When things get tough, like when we need to practice during a safety drill, for example, we need to be serious, so kids know the importance of the situation. You can reflect on the tough situation after the fact and discuss how students felt. Then, do things like relaxation breathing, a few yoga poses, or a mindfulness activity to bring everyone back to “center.”

5. Line your doorway with positive affirmations.

Each day, post some positive sayings on your doorframe, using sticky notes. These might include: “I can do this!” “If I stay focused, I can succeed!” “There is NO ONE like me!” You can find numerous websites that offer lists of affirmations appropriate for kids. Encourage students to take an affirmation with them if they’re having a tough day or just need a smile or a pick-me-up. When a kid takes an affirmation, ask them to make one to replace it.

6. Have kids do “shout-outs” for other students.

Similar to the sticky note idea, students create a positive saying about another student, such as “Domingo was very helpful when I met a challenge in math.” Not only will Domingo feel good from hearing these affirmations, but they also send the message to kids that they are part of a classroom community that supports each other.

7. Teach kids how to “flip” their thoughts.

One of the most used methods of flipping thoughts is the “Power of Yet.” When students say, “I’m not good at this” or “I don’t like this,” encourage them to add the word yet: “I’m not good at this . . . yet.” “I don’t like this . . . yet.” Post “The Power of Yet” in large letters in your room and refer to it often. Let kids see and hear how you use it every day. Other ways to flip thoughts are through deep breathing, repeating positive self-talk, or taking a moment to calm down.

8. Expose students to enriching experiences.

Every child has the right to shine and achieve great things. Sometimes those great things may not be in math, science, or social studies. Some, like me, might excel in music, theater, and the arts. Wherever students find themselves, it’s sure to come with a sense of belonging and uniqueness. Having access to content beyond the “core” can have a profound impact on how students see themselves as individuals and may even uncover some amazing talents.

9. Ensure your curriculum materials and classroom reflects your students.

Just think what life might be like if you’d never seen a woman as a doctor, or a Supreme Court Justice. Just think if you never saw someone like you traveling the world or coming up with new ideas. We are more likely to succeed when we know others like us have done it as well. Make sure kids see, read about, know of, and meet scientists, musicians, artists, authors, economists, construction workers, firefighters, and restaurant owners like them. Our world is rich with diversity—let’s celebrate and honor it. Who knows, maybe you have the next Sonia Sotomayor or Simone Biles in your classroom!

Confidence breeds success, which breeds more confidence! But which comes first? I’m not sure—it’s kind of a chicken-and-egg dilemma. But by modeling confidence-building strategies and setting up your classroom to be an environment that encourages positive self-talk and self-belief, you can help kids experience success and grow confidence.

If you have more ideas for building student confidence, I’d love to hear them. Just post a response to this blog to share your ideas.

Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., writes the monthly Cash in on Learning blog posts for Free Spirit Publishing. He has given hundreds of workshops, presentations, and staff development sessions throughout the United States and internationally.

Free Spirit books by Richard Cash:

Self-regulation Advancing Differentiation Revised and Updated Edition

Differentiation For Gifted Learners


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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3 Ideas to Get Young Children Learning About and Playing with Food

By Molly Breen

3 Ideas to Get Young Children Learning About and Playing with FoodIn early childhood education, we practitioners are very familiar with the importance of play—in all its many iterations. Play is social, connected, creative, and open-ended. It requires critical thinking and problem-solving, and it both signals and encourages children’s development and growth.

Play is queen in early childhood (and across the lifetime).

But when we plan activities and provocations with a curricular goal or a specific outcome in mind, it can be easy to leave play in the dust. And the kids know it! We all can imagine a time when we gathered our little learners together for a thoughtfully prepared activity that was missing a key ingredient (play), and it went totally off the rails. And suddenly, the hoped-for shared learning felt more like a “have to do” than a “get to do.”

During the summer in my program, we like to experiment with new approaches to learning. Because why not try something new? And here in Minnesota, summer is the season of growing: gardens, farmer’s markets, CSAs (community supported agriculture), and pollinators as far as the eye can see. So this summer, we decided to design a project around garden goods—focusing on what we like and what we don’t like (and why). This intersection of produce and preference could stand on its own legs, but we wanted to make sure that play was also at the center. Here are three ways we are learning together while playing with our food this summer:

1. Every Vote Counts

Using produce from a HAFA CSA, we asked the preschoolers to vote (with stickers) for produce they were interested in trying based on its appearance. The kids each got a strip of stickers, and we labeled the vegetables and fruits with the item name and included photos of ways in which the foods could be prepared. After everyone voted, they got to make “goody bags” to take home the produce of their choosing. And we asked families to share their experience preparing and eating the food together at home. During the voting, preschoolers were eager to taste and try the raw vegetables and herbs—possibly an unusual occurrence for young children. But the playful voting game set the tone, as did their natural curiosity for hands-on sensory experiences.

We had a parent generously offer to sponsor the CSA for us. Think about reaching out to your parent community or the general community near your program to ask for help funding a share or a half share if you want to get into some local produce with your preschoolers!

2. Smooth-ie Moves

We have worked with the organization WithAll to better understand what to do and what to say when it comes to kids and food. We know that kids must have voice and choice at mealtimes and snack times. Using frozen seasonal fruits, yogurt, honey, cinnamon, and dairy or oat milk, we created individual smoothie recipes with the preschoolers. We displayed our available ingredients and gave everyone a note card and markers/crayons. We then invited the children to become our smoothie chefs. They drew or wrote their smoothie recipes and even gave their smoothies names! Then each child came up to the mixing station and (with teacher help and supervision) assembled and blended their ingredients. We took pictures of each preschooler taking the first taste of their creation and then asked them for a simple rating of thumbs up or thumbs down to indicate if their recipe was a winner! Even if the smoothies didn’t get a thumbs up from the chef, everyone tried what they made, and many of the kids wanted to try their friends’ recipes too!

3. Solar-Powered Pizza

I don’t know about you, but I will eat just about anything if it’s on a pizza. And guess what? A lot of children will too! This activity took place across a couple days, but it was worth the effort. Since children are learning about how everything grows and the importance of the sun for producing abundant gardens, we thought it would be fun to harness the sun’s power to cook our lunch. If you’ve never made a solar oven, they are surprisingly easy and effective. Just make sure that when it’s time to cook your food outdoors, your solar ovens are protected from curious critters!

To make the solar oven, you will need:

  • Cardboard box about two to three inches deep with attached lid (the lid should have flaps so that the box can be closed tightly)
  • Aluminum foil
  • Clear plastic wrap
  • Glue stick
  • Tape (transparent tape, duct tape, masking tape, or whatever you have)
  • One-foot-long stick (or skewer, knitting needle, ruler, dowel, or whatever you have) to prop open the reflector flap
  • Ruler or straight-edge
  • Box cutter or Xacto knife (only used with adult help, of course!)

For instructions on how to assemble the solar oven, visit NASA’s Climate Kids site.

To make the solar-powered pizza, we visited a farmer’s market to choose ingredients for our pies. The sky’s the limit for topping a pizza! We had broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, onions, basil, and even fresh mozzarella cheese. We used a store-bought sauce, but you could certainly blend up your own with garden produce. For the crust, you could use tortillas, naan, pita, or really any flatbread (we used pita).

We invited our preschoolers to be pizza chefs in our pizza restaurant. We even named the restaurant: Sun Pizza. We started early in the day so that our pizzas had plenty of time to cook. Each child assembled a pizza with ingredients of their choosing, and we took before photos to share with families. Next came the cooking. We had a good and sunny day, but it still took about two hours for the cheese to totally melt. When everything was finally ready, we had a pizza picnic at our restaurant, and everyone enthusiastically enjoyed their creations! We’d done this project before with s’mores (that was the time squirrels got into our boxes), and it was a gooey and delicious success.

Our exploration of summer produce, local agriculture, and children’s preferences has been a tasty and fun experience because we have been able to keep play at the center of each activity. And yes, things do still go off the rails, but that is to be expected! As teachers, we can model flexibility and creative problem-solving for kids when things don’t go according to plan. But at least when we play with food, there is always something good to eat in the end!

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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