The Power of YET: 40+ Songs for Supporting a Growth Mindset

Music can have a powerful effect on the brain, and so can one’s mindset. Growth mindset is the belief that one’s abilities, talents, and skills can be improved through education and hard work. In this post, we’re combining music and growth mindset in one amazing playlist. We asked the Free Spirit staff to share songs that fit the theme of growth mindset. From “Itsy Bitsy Spider” to “I Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty, you’ll find over 40 songs that can help develop a growth mindset. Use our playlist to create one for your classroom—or for yourself! Not all songs are appropriate for all ages. Listen to the songs first and use your judgment before sharing in the classroom.

Did we miss a song? Share it in the comments below.

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FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2019 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The views expressed in this post represent the opinions of the authors and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

Posted in Social & Emotional Learning | Tagged , | 1 Comment

How to Budget Lump-Sum Summer Pay

By Andrew Hawk

How to Budget Lump-Sum Summer PaySummer months bring teachers a much-deserved break from the daily routines and challenges of teaching. However, summer can bring its own set of challenges depending on how school districts choose to distribute teachers’ pay during these months. Teacher pay is usually distributed in one of three ways. Teachers’ salaries may be divided into 24 equal payments that teachers receive twice a month for a year. Salaries may be divided into eighteen equal payments that teachers receive twice a month during the school year only. Or teachers may receive regular paychecks during the school year and then one lump-sum payment at the beginning of the summer.

Every year I have taught, I have had my salary divided into 24 equal payments—except for one year. That year, I taught in a small school district where I was given my summer pay in one lump sum. This presented me with added responsibility. However, with a little careful planning, I think you will see that it is not hard to budget lump-sum summer pay. Here are some ideas that might help you if you ever find yourself in a similar situation.

Write Your Own Paychecks
This was my strategy. I deposited the lump sum in my checking account. Then I wrote checks to myself in the amount of my normal pay, one for each day that would have been a payday throughout the summer. On each of those “paydays,” I simply tore up a check and threw it away. The money was always in my bank account, but because I’d written those checks, it looked on my ledger as if it wasn’t. When I tore up a check, I added the amount of the check back into my ledger. This may sound a little backward to some people, but it worked for me.

Pay Your Bills Early
Most bills have a set amount. Car payments, house payments, and credit cards can all be paid early. By paying these bills early, you can divide and budget the leftover income (disposable income). You will still need to set aside some money to pay bills that do not have a set amount, such as your water and electricity bills.

The Envelope Method
A former colleague of mine described this strategy to me. She and her family used it throughout the school year. Her family was having trouble spending their money too quickly, so when she and her husband got paid, they would pay their bills and then withdraw the rest of their money from the bank. They came up with a list of expenses, such as gasoline and eating out. They wrote these expenses on a series of envelopes and then put the amount of money they could afford for each category into its envelope. During the time in between paydays, they spent the money in the envelopes. When all the money in an envelope had been used, that expense was finished until the next payday. This strategy is easily customizable to meet the varied needs of any household.

Make Your Own Star Chart
On a piece of posterboard, list all the bills and expenses you are going to have during the summer in a column. Then across the top, make a row of due dates. Place star stickers on your chart as you pay each expense. This visual representation can be a helpful reminder of how much money is needed and how much can be classified as disposable.

Use a Calendar
On a physical or digital calendar, record all your bills and expenses on the dates they are due. Now you can add up these expenses and subtract them from the total of your lump sum. This will indicate to you how much of the lump sum is disposable. From this point, you can divide and track your disposable income. Using this method helps keep all your bills paid and ensures you do not run out of money before the end of summer.

Ask a Friend for Help
I have had a couple friends who needed help budgeting their money, so they gave me lump sums to keep for them. I was instructed to only give them money for certain things. This helped them save their money and keep all their bills paid. What we learned was that after a couple months, my friends had established good spending habits and were able to go back to keeping their own money. This can work to budget lump-sum summer pay too. Pick a trusted friend or family member and work out a plan.

Research Your Purchases
Never rush into large purchases. In this day and age, there are more buying options available than have been available in the past. If you need to buy something such as a washing machine or a new laptop, shop around to find the best deal. Practicing this due diligence is extra work, but it can save you lots of money. Sometimes it is even cheaper to travel to a neighboring city to visit a store that is having a sale than it is to buy something in your hometown.

Prioritize Your Disposable Income
Make a list of things you want to accomplish during the summer. Do you need to complete some home repairs? Do you want to go on a trip? Do you need a new appliance? The advantage of lump-sum pay is that you get a lot of disposable income all at once. You can use this to your advantage and perhaps pay for something in full that before you might have had to finance. Once you have your list, you can prioritize your goals based on your needs and wants.

Andrew HawkAndrew Hawk has worked in public education for 16 years, starting as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He has taught first, second, and fifth grades as a classroom teacher, and for the past five years, has worked as a resource room teacher, providing services for fourth and fifth graders. Working as a special education teacher has given him the opportunity to work with a variety of age groups and exceptionalities. Andrew earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Indiana University East in Richmond, Indiana. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University, and in 2016, he completed a second master’s degree in educational leadership, also from WGU. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter.

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)© 2019 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The views expressed in this post represent the opinions of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

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The One Thing Queer Kids—and All of Us—Need Most

By Kelly Huegel Madrone, author of LGBTQ: The Survival Guide for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Teens 

The One Thing Queer Kids—and All of Us—Need MostWhen adults find out that I wrote a survival guide for LGBTQ kids and teens, they frequently ask me what they can do to help support kids in their area. Parents reach out to ask about how to support their child who just came out (or who they suspect may be queer) or how to be a safe space for their children’s LGBTQ friends. Teachers ask how they can make their classrooms feel welcoming.

Each time, after asking some questions I go through a standard series of suggestions (many of which I’ve outlined in my previous blog posts). But those responses are almost always about supporting queer kids as queer kids. One of the most important ways we can support LGBTQ young people is by doing something that benefits all young people: foster their self-esteem.

My Struggle with Self-Esteem
A few weeks ago I had the honor of talking to a group of young people at an LGBTQ community center in Florida. It was casual. We sat cross-legged on couches, some of the kids cradling overstuffed pillows. I talked to them about some of my experiences as a kid growing up queer in rural Pennsylvania. I was real with them. I took them into my experiences with depression, an eating disorder, self-cutting, and an eventual suicide attempt that landed me briefly in a hospital psychiatric unit.

Then I told them about my life now. About a career I love where I get to spend most of my time helping people. About my incredible wife. About our two kids—one who just turned one and the other about to turn four. About loving where we live. And about our incredible friends.

And the mood shifted. The heads that were nodding in empathy when I talked about my struggles stopped, and the eyes that had held sadness filled with something that looked like hope.

Then we talked about how I got there. About how one can transition from the deep self-hate that often comes from years of harassment and internalized queer-phobia to a place of self-love and self-esteem. And that’s something pretty much all of us could use more of.

Our Role in Helping Kids
I never like to talk exclusively about how to help LGBTQ young people. I always want to include those who bully too. How do we help them? How do we change the world so that we’re no longer dealing with ignorance-based hate and harassment? We can’t do that until we’re all on board, until we all—and that includes us as parents, teachers, and other adults—foster greater self-esteem within ourselves and among young people.

We’ve all had that teacher who was hard on us. Maybe the teacher was even hard on most kids. Chances are these teachers were also hard on themselves in ways we never saw.

It’s up to us, as the people these kids are looking to for help, to tend our own gardens first. Only then can we truly support others in creating fertile ground for their own self-esteem to grow.

How We Can Do It
In addition to cultivating your own self-esteem, here are some tips for nurturing the kids around you:

  • Compliment them. I know it seems basic, but being recognized counts for a lot. Yes, kids might roll their eyes, but they do hear you. Keep in mind that the most impactful and positive comments have to do with things related to our actions, which are under our control, rather than our “gifts.” In her excellent book Mindset, researcher Carol Dweck discusses the value of fostering a “growth” mindset versus a “fixed” mindset. The latter is the concept that, in short, either we’re born with “gifts” or we’re not. Intelligence and aptitude are relatively limited. The former concept—growth mindset—holds that we can develop our skills and intelligence. To encourage a growth mindset in kids, compliment them on things like their work ethic rather than on how smart they are. Or you might say, “You have such great style,” instead of, “You’re beautiful.” In each case, the former speaks to a growth mindset, the latter to fixed.
  • Give kids chances to succeed and support them in doing that. Even if the chances seem tiny, they can make a big difference. I see this all the time with our nearly four-year-old. Recently she really wanted to help make her baby sibling’s birthday cake, but obviously there’s a lot she is not yet capable of. So I isolated the tasks that she can do, such as measuring out the dry ingredients, adding them to the bowl, and mixing everything together. She was so proud of being able to contribute to the celebration in a meaningful way.
  • Encourage kids to identify and cultivate their strengths and help them do it. One of my proudest days in high school (and those were few and far between, let me tell you) was when one of my favorite teachers held me after class. She told me she was going to be out one day the next week and said that since I seemed to really enjoy the metaphysical poets we’d been reading, she was wondering if I would like to take one of the poems on the lesson plan for that day and “teach” it to the class. She gave me her notes and encouraged me to make my own. It was nerve-racking for me and required me to stretch, but that vote of confidence is something that has clearly stuck with me. (And I ended up getting a degree in secondary English education.)
  • Like them. I know, I know—as teachers and parents, it’s not really our “job” to like kids all the time. We’re there to nurture them, to teach them, and—in the case of parents—to love them. Sometimes, with some kids, it might feel hard to like them. But when kids sense through your words and actions that you, as a central adult figure in their lives, don’t like them, it has a deep and lasting impact—one that makes it harder for them to like themselves. As much as possible, as difficult as the situation with a kid might be at any given time, look for the positives, and then foster them. Seek out and support what’s going well, even if it’s something tiny. Remember—you were once there too. Your willingness to hang in there with kids goes a long way.
  • Model it. As adults, modeling is one of the most powerful ways we can make a lasting impact on kids. Model self-esteem, and they’re more likely to adopt it for themselves. And remember that the opposite is true as well.

Kelly Huegel MadroneKelly Huegel Madrone is a freelance writer, writing coach, and speaker. She has worked for the Metropolitan Washington, D.C., chapter of PFLAG where she helped provide support and educational services to LGBT people and their families. The author of two books and more than 100 published articles, Kelly holds a degree in secondary education. She lives in New Mexico with her wife Mala and their daughters. Kelly welcomes readers to follow her on Twitter @LGBTQguide or visit her website at

LGBTQKelly is the author of LGBTQ: The Survival Guide for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Teens.

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)© 2019 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The views expressed in this post represent the opinions of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

Posted in Parenting, Teaching | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

How to Take Learning Outside with Your Child

By Allison Amy Wedell

How to Take Learning Outside with Your ChildI’m not sure when it was that I realized, with a bit of a jolt, that I’m raising a city girl, but there it is. She feels just as at home on public transportation as she does in a car. She navigates the downtown area of our city with ease. And if given the choice, she’d probably rather spend the day indoors on a screen than outside doing . . . well, anything.

That last point means I have to find creative ways to get my kiddo off her screen and out the door, especially when the weather is nice. And if she learns a little bit in the process? Well, that’s just the icing on the cake. Here are a few subject areas I try to incorporate into our outdoor adventures.

I’m lucky to have a house with several garden areas, one of which I have let my daughter take over to do with whatever she wants. She has learned that if plants are to grow well, they need enough room. Together, we calculate the area of her garden, then look up the amount of space each plant needs and make sure we plant them far enough apart. Soon I’ll extend this learning to three dimensions and have her help me calculate how many cubic meters of mulch we’ll need to keep her plants healthy.

If you don’t have a yard or garden, you can make similar calculations for window boxes on a balcony or even for indoor pots of herbs, flowers, or other plants.

Astronomy, Myth, and Legend
My daughter happens to be fascinated with outer space right now, and I happen to know an astronomer, so I asked him to recommend a couple of websites we could use to go out and observe the stars (because we’re in the city, sometimes our view of the stars is limited, but we can always drive to a park or, if we’re feeling ambitious, out to the city limits). Sky and Telescope has a weekly “Sky at a Glance” column that tells you what constellations, planets, and other goodies you can expect to see in the sky. Similarly, StarDate’s “In the Sky This Month” outlines the astronomical sights and events happening for the next few weeks.

Since many constellations and asterisms are based on myths and legends from many cultures, I like to look up their origins so we can learn the story of, say, the Seven Sisters or the Big Dipper.

Mindfulness/Observational Skills
Last summer, my mom came for a couple weeks to be my childcare (because summer camps get expensive). I didn’t want my mom and daughter to be bored out of their skulls while I was at work during the day, so I made them a photo scavenger hunt. It consisted of a list of about 40 items they had to find and take a picture of with my mom’s cell phone, and all of them could be found by taking a walk around our neighborhood: a shrub with yellow flowers, a house with white shutters, a cat sitting in a window, a red mailbox.

The rule was that they had to find at least five per day; if they got the day’s allotment, I had a goody ready for them: some sidewalk chalk, a bottle of bubbles. My mom said it helped my daughter pay attention during their walks (instead of just plowing mindlessly forward) and observe the world around her—always good skills to practice!

Social Skills
My daughter loves dogs, but we don’t have one (our cat is sweet to people, but dogs are another story altogether). So when we’re out anywhere and encounter a person walking a dog, my daughter always wants to pet it. When she was little, I would ask the owner if we could pet the dog, but then it occurred to me that this would be a good opportunity for my daughter to practice her assertiveness skills.

I coached her in standing up straight, looking at the person, and politely and clearly saying, “May I please pet your dog?” The answer is almost always a resounding “Yes!”

There’s a lot for my kiddo to learn out there in that great big world, and it’s fun to be by her side, watching and helping. This isn’t by any means a comprehensive list of the things we try to learn together when we’re outdoors, but hopefully it will give you some ideas for turning your own yard and neighborhood into one big, fun classroom.

Allison Amy WedellAllison Amy Wedell is a writer, editor, and mom whose diverse work focuses on sexual abuse prevention, bullying prevention, social and emotional learning, public safety, and theater/acting. She is the author of Shaking Hands with Shakespeare: A Teenager’s Guide to Reading and Performing the Bard (Simon & Schuster, 2004), and her work has been featured here and at,, and Committee for Children. You can find her on LinkedIn.

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.

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FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2019 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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All the World’s a Stage: Using Theater Techniques in the Classroom

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.

All the World’s a Stage: Using Theater Techniques in the ClassroomMany of you know that my first college degree is in theater. After years of suffering for my art, I decided I needed to change directions. I went back to school and earned a degree in education. During my first teaching position, I found myself relying more and more on my theater training. Theater teaches you how to be focused, solve problems, think critically and creatively, work as a team, and self-regulate to achieve a goal—many of the skills and attitudes we expect our students to develop in the classroom.

Using the techniques of theater in your classroom gives kids a safe place to try new things, make mistakes, and learn from others. Along with developing creativity, theatrical tools teach problem-solving, critical reasoning, and collaboration. Kids also learn risk-taking skills, affective resilience, nonverbal responsiveness, and social mindfulness.

Theater activities encourage students to think on their feet without the fear of being wrong, because the number one rule is “there are no mistakes, only opportunities.” Through using movement, pantomime, improvisation, role playing, and group discussion, students develop greater communication skills, social awareness, confidence, problem-solving abilities, and self-concept. The goal is to guide children to a greater sense of self-fulfillment and personal and social acceptance.

Actors have five tools they use to communicate: voice, body, imagination, concentration, and collaboration. Teaching students how to build their own toolbox of strategies can benefit them in learning and communication processes.

Voice: The ability to use your voice to be heard and understood
Articulation is critical in being heard and understood. All actors routinely go through diction practice. Our students must be articulate to project ideas and communicate effectively with others.

Start with simple practices such as: Sally sells seashells south of the seashore or Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. Move on to more complex sound reproductions such as tongue twisters (repeated numerous times as fast as possible):

  • Unique New York
  • Red leather, yellow leather
  • She says she shall sew a sheet

And then move to more difficult and longer statements: She stood on the balcony, inexplicably mimicking him hiccuping, and amicably welcoming him home.

While working through these diction activities, have students concentrate on their breathing, being sure to breathe from their diaphragms. Focus on breathing deeply. Also pay attention to lip and tongue movement—really work those muscles.

For more diction strategies, click here.

Body: The ability to use your body to communicate messages
Actors use their bodies to project characters, emotions, and ideas. The use of the body in communication is extremely important—it’s called body language. Poor body language can communicate the wrong messages, whether in verbal or nonverbal interactions.

To help students develop this language, start with basic physical stretches. Not only will stretching help your students loosen up, it can also release stress.

If you are into yoga, teach your students the poses. Or ask your physical education teacher to share with you stretches students do in gym class. You can also use the “shake and stretch” method. Starting at the top of the head:

  • Shake and stretch each body part individually.
  • Shake and stretch body parts in pairs (head and arms, shoulders and feet).
  • Shake and stretch up high and down low.
  • Shake and stretch wide and thin.
  • Shake and stretch fast and slow.
  • Shake and stretch without bending your knees or elbows.

Another fun way to warm up your body is to draw the alphabet with different body parts. Ask the students to use their nose to draw the letter B. Now, ask them to use their ear to draw the letter Z. And so on.

For more movement activities, click here.

Imagination: The ability to come up with different ideas
The best ideas are formed through an expansive imagination. Imagination is the ability to come up with novel and unique ideas through different ways of thinking. Creative thinking is one of the most powerful tools of imagination. The strategies of fluency and flexibility are a great place to begin.

Fluency is the ability to come up with a lot of ideas. To develop students’ fluency, start with simple steps such as asking them to list everything they can think of that is green within one minute (you can use any color you wish). Have them share their lists with a partner and compare and contrast the lists. Do it again with another color or shape. Routinely asking kids to do this simple activity can open up their minds to thinking more expansively. Wait for unique ideas to pop up—for example, the kid who writes envy when asked to list things that are green.

You can expand this idea to your content by asking kids to list things that are “independent,” or any other concept you are working on. You can also have your students draw pictures of what the concept looks like. Seeing what kids list or draw gives you an idea of how well they understand the concept.

Flexibility is the ability to think of things in a new way. I used to have a “junk bag” in my classroom full of strange and common objects (like a wooden spoon, an electrical outlet cover, an extension cord). Look around your house or school for those odd-looking objects to put in your junk bag. Using one of the objects, ask kids to think of the item as something that it’s NOT. So, for the wooden spoon, kids may say it’s a microphone, a baton, a sword, a magic wand, and so on. Being a flexible thinker helps in finding unconventional ways to solve problems by using what is available.

For more ideas on building imagination, click here. I also have many more ideas for developing creative thinking in my book Advancing Differentiation: Thinking and Learning for the 21st Century.

Concentration: The ability to stay focused
Our students are being raised in a very concentration-challenged environment. With technology, everything is at their fingertips immediately—there is no need to persevere or wait. While technology has made our lives more efficient, its downside is that it has made us want instant gratification and has decreased our ability to concentrate for long periods of time.

Concentration is a learned skill, and you can teach kids to stay focused through engaging activities. To build concentration, find a time during your day for kids to go “off the grid”—no gadgets, tablets, phones, or computers. During this time, go old-school: Use thinking or memory games or crossword or jigsaw puzzles, or have students put a list of words into alphabetical order (use similar words such as adjustments and adjusting so that kids alphabetize beyond the first few letters).

Also have your kids put their heads down on their desks. Tell them to sit up when they think one minute has passed. Monitor your kids, listing when kids sat up and how close they came to one minute. Practice this activity over time to see how close kids can come to the one-minute time.

For more ideas for building concentration, click here.

Collaboration: The ability to work with others to get things done
We are all in this together. The best ideas come when people work together. No actor does it alone—even in a one-person show. Many people contribute to the production. Each person has a role to play in making the show a success.

So, too, in the classroom. When students work together with purpose, great things can happen. Working collaboratively takes practice. Just like in a Broadway musical, everyone has a role to play to make the production a success.

One activity that can build collaboration and teamwork is having small groups of students go on a scavenger hunt. Have your students look for things hidden around the classroom or school. Use a list of clues that lead to more clues and ultimately to hidden objects. Consider using information students learned during lessons to help them find the items. (For example, your clue might be, “The date of the Boston Tea Party.” The answer to this is 12/16/1773, which can lead kids to room 1216 or 1773, where the next clue is located.) Group the students based on each having a special talent or a different area of knowledge—so that collectively they can find the objects. Another idea is to give each member of the team a specific job to do—so that collectively they can find the object.

For more ideas on building collaboration and teamwork, click here.

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” (As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII, William Shakespeare) Knowing how actors learn, practice, and apply their skills can be an exceptional way to help students be more confident, self-aware, and productive. Who knows, maybe you will spark the next Meryl Streep or Sidney Poitier!

Richard CashRichard 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)© 2019 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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