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Keeping Sensory Bins Simple

May 24, 2018

Hi, my name is Kaitlyn and I’m obsessed with sensory bins. There. I said it. If you’ve been following my Instagram account lately, you’ve probably noticed this recent obsession. I’ve always thought they were such a fun way to practice sensory and fine motor skills, and now that LG is old enough to be interested I just can’t get enough of them!


Although I think LG would do best with a giant sensory bin that she could make a mess in, we just don’t have the space for that currently in our RV. I’ve had to get creative with making simple bins that are still engaging for her. So today I’d like to share with you my strategy for creating a month of meaningful, fun sensory bins in our tiny space!


Filler Materials

The first thing I do when planning each month’s bins is think about what seasonal, inexpensive filler materials I already have or can easily get my hands on. My goal is to have at least 4 fillers each month. We have several favorite staples (black beans, colorful pom-poms/pouch lids) and then search for other relevant materials. For example, in January we added “snowballs” (cotton balls) and blue tinsel/shredded paper to keep with the theme of the season. Then comes my favorite part! I LOVE roaming through Hobby Lobby and the Target “Dollar Spot” to find little manipulatives that will be fun to scoop or pick out of the filler materials!


Filler Storage

To keep preparations simple, I like to have 2 prepared sensory bins each week that LG can play with when she chooses. Then I store the rest. Because we are limited on our storage space in our RV, I keep the fillers we aren’t using in gallon sized baggies and stored in our “hall” closet with the rest of LG’s crafts and “school” materials. Here I keep extra sensory bin fillers on a shelf, her matching activities on another shelf, and her manipulatives in a separate drawer. This makes putting together bins a breeze!


While I only use 4 fillers for the entire month, I do rotate the activities so that I can make the most of my small amount of fillers. Each week LG has one bin with a matching practice activity and one bin with manipulatives to scoop and play with.


Now, I know what you might be thinking and you’re probably right – this looks a little crazy for planning activities for a 2 year old. Planning like crazy is just what I do. The lesson planning teacher still lives in me and I can’t get rid of her. Ha! So, I embrace it because just like when I was teaching, planning large chunks of time makes my life so much easier. And I hope my crazy planning makes your life just a little bit easier, too!


Ready for the Road

April 12, 2018

Springtime is upon us, bringing new life and a fresh start! For our family, Spring also brings new adventures! Along with “April showers” come hail and wind storms, meaning we will soon be heading out on our way to work in – well, who knows?

Working the Storms

If you haven’t been following Tenspire for very long, you may be wondering why on earth our work life revolves around storms. I’ll admit – saying that sounds pretty crazy myself sometimes! But for those curious, my husband is a catastrophe insurance adjuster and we travel for his job. When storms bring too much damage for the local adjusters to handle, catastrophe adjusters are called in to represent the insurance company and help get claims handled. The exciting thing is that this can happen anywhere in the U.S. The crazy thing is that this can happen anywhere in the U.S. Ha! Since this job can keep you at work out of state for months at a time, our family decided to sell our home and purchase an RV so that we can travel and stay together. It has been an absolute blast so far!

Waiting for the Road

Once my husband receives a call for work, we have just a few days to hit the road. Unfortunately, that could mean we have just a few days to make a 20+ hour drive. (We never know until we get the actual call.) While he and I love taking road trips together, road trips with a 2 year-old are a bit more complicated. So to help with the possibility of long-distance travel, we decided to get a head start and take some time to explore the areas halfway between us (Texas) and the states that commonly have these storms. So here we are, hanging out in Tennessee, waiting to see where the weather takes us next. I can’t wait to keep you all posted on our newest adventure!

Art Creativity Motivation Uncategorized

New Year! New Art Goals!

January 29, 2018

So, it’s a new year which means many of us are making a year long list of resolutions that we intend to achieve and I hope each of you do! I set many goals for myself every day; don’t drink Dr. pepper, don’t eat the donut, don’t yell, don’t lose your cool, choose kindness, WWJD, and may other daily goals that’s just too many to list. I do have one very important goal for myself professionally and personally.

My 2018 goal- Do not let fear of failure consume me.   

Professionally, how can I make this happen? STOP BEING AFRAID OF NEW MEDIA. If I’ve never used a particular media before, most likely I’m not going to try it because I’m terrified of hundreds of sad faces and failed projects. One thing I enjoy about being an art teacher is that the students think I’m an art genius ( I can assure you that I’m not), but I mean come on, would you want to see the disappointment on their sweet faces?  In college, we’re taught how to teach lessons you can do with your kids, but have I tried some of these with 20-25 students? NO.  Do I feel comfortable and confident enough to teach this lesson? NO. So what can I do about it? EDUCATE MYSELF. I can’t expect this change to happen magically. So I have vowed to attend as many conferences, watch as many webinars, listen to as many podcasts, and make as many messes by myself. Not letting fear consume me professionally allows my students to have the best art experience possible in my classroom!

Personally, I could go on and on and on, but I won’t! Something from my top 5 is, STOP BEING AFRAID TO GROW ARTISTICALLY. I love going home to create art, paint, craft, sketch, and color in those fascinating coloring books and I tell myself to start sharing my artwork with people more.  I have somewhat done that, but I fear rejection and lose confidence in myself so quickly when something doesn’t go the way I planned. I often feel stuck and that I’m not progressing artistically.  So how can I make this better? MAKE ART DAILY. I can’t expect to become this art making genius like my students think I am if I’m not putting in the work to become better!

So, what are your goals year and what are you going to do about it?

Featured School Psychology Uncategorized

Mindfulness Vs. Meditation

October 7, 2017

Often these terms are grouped together, and while they are both positive strategies to better your well being they are very different.  These tools can be used in your personal life or you can incorporate them into your classroom.  Lately, I’ve seen several great ideas on how teachers and schools are using meditation and/or mindfulness during the school day.

So what is mindfulness?

This practice is all about living in the moment without judgment or worry.  It’s simply allowing yourself to experience the moment as it is, and then letting it float right away.  Practicing mindfulness can allow you to better enjoy your life without worrying about the future or focusing on the past.

A simple way to begin being more mindful is to quietly sit still for 5 minutes and just observe your surroundings.  What do you see?  What do you hear? What do you smell? Often we get caught up in our daily mindless routines, and instead of being in the moment we are stuck thinking in our minds.  This is a good opportunity to practice being more mindful.  When I’m on my way to work I try to enjoy the scenery or enjoy the feeling of the heat on my feet rather than worrying about a meeting I have that day or facing my to do list.

So what is meditation? The biggest different is meditation is about calming your mind and taking a break from what is going on around you while with mindfulness you are taking in everything in the current moment with acceptance.  Meditation helps you quiet your worries and thoughts and just be with yourself in a calm state. You can individualize your experience.  Some people may like to mediate standing outside in a garden while some may like to sit inside in their favorite chair.  It’s finding a quiet and private place you can be comfortable in.  There are many types of meditation, and it can be done in 10 minutes or you can mediate for an hour.  There are no strict rules.

Often meditation involves a body scan of any tension or pain with deep breathing to help relax and center yourself.  The goal of meditation is not to stop thinking but it’s to guide your thinking.  Positive affirmations can be used during meditation where you repeat a positive phrase about yourself.  You can find apps or videos with guided meditation practices that can be helpful for beginners.

With anything that’s new it takes time and practice so be patient and kind with yourself if you give meditation or mindfulness a try.

How can mindfulness and meditation impact students?

Similar to the positive benefits for adults, children can experience decreased anxiety and increased self-awareness.  These practices can help us better understand our thoughts and give us a positive coping strategy to use when we are upset.  It can lead to a better ability to focus, decrease attention problems, increase social skills, and help overall well-being.

The internet has lots of great ideas for incorporating mindfulness and mediation at school.  You can even use the apps or videos with guided meditation practices.  You can listen to calming music and have children focus on their breathing or take a mindfulness walk where children observe certain things in nature.  Blowing bubbles or balloons can help children focus on their breathing and be in the moment.  It’s important to explain the purpose of the task in a developmentally appropriate way so they will learn how to more effectively use it.

I hope this brief introduction to mindfulness and meditation will help improve your well-being as well as your students’.

School Psychology Uncategorized

Visual Processing

September 30, 2017

This month I’ll be telling you about the cognitive area of Visual Processing.  This is exactly what it sounds like; it is how you brain interprets and processes visual information.  There is a lot your brain has to process to interpret what we see.  You have to be able to perceive and think about visual patterns, visual sequences, and see letters and symbols as they really are.  Of course if you have a vision impairment this will impact your eyes ability to see; however, when we talk about visual processing we are talking about what the brain is doing not what the eye is able to do.

If a child struggles in this area they might struggle to orient themselves in their own space.  It might seem like they have difficulty paying attention to where other people or objects are.  This is because they aren’t able to use the visual cues around them to help guide where those things move.  Let’s meet Jimmy who is a student who struggles with visual processing.  As you can imagine, if Jimmy is walking around bumping into objects or standing too close to someone this can impact him socially.  Also, imagine him in gym class!  He isn’t the most athletic student.  Academically, visuals like graphs, models, diagrams, and charts might be confusing for him.

Let’s let Jimmy tell us more about how his is visual processing weaknesses impact him…

If I’m not perceiving words, letters, and numbers as being separate that will make me very confused too.  I might struggle to go in the right direction when I’m solving a math problem or reading something.  This makes it even worse when letters and numbers look alike! If I see a p I might not know if it’s a p or a q very quickly.  When I’m solving 6 X 2 I might glance and think it’s 9 X 2.

Especially, when I’m reading I’m likely to be inconsistent with recognizing words, symbols, and letters. When I see a picture I might not be able to see all of the details and everything might blend in together with the background.

I might dislike writing because it’s hard for me to organize my thoughts on paper.  Then if I have to look at my book and answer questions on a worksheet or type on my computer. It’s hard for me to transition between the two.

When I do math I get lost trying to find information in my book when I’m looking at number lines, graphs, and charts.  Even if I’m doing an activity on my computer, it can be hard.  The hardest is when I have to write my math problems on my paper all by myself.  I just can’t seem to keep everything lined up in a neat row.  It’s so hard for me to compare objects in math problems.  I try to picture it, but I can’t.

Luckily, I have a teacher, Ms. Brown, who understand these things are difficult for me, and she uses all these tricks so I can understand better.  She used tape on my desk at the left side so I know where to start all my work.  She taught me to use my finger from left to right under the words when I read so I don’t get lost as much.  She also put a helpful chart on my desk to help me remember which letters and numbers I confuse so now I can use it to see that it really is 6 X 2.  My favorite thing Ms. Brown did was give me graph paper to write my math problems on!  Now I don’t have to worry as much about lining them up neatly!  This year we were able to learn to write in cursive, and that helped me out a lot since I don’t have to pick up my pencil as often.  Ms. Brown even gave me this cool grip I put on my pencil that makes it easier to write! Even though those tricks help me a lot, when Ms. Brown gives us a long writing assignment she gives me the option of typing it up or writing on paper.  I’m always so excited to use the computer because I’m able to write more of what I know quicker.  When Ms. Brown gives me notes she highlights the important stuff just for me! That way when I go to study it’s not so overwhelming.  Sometimes instead of highlighting it she’ll let me fill in the blank.  I love this because I can focus more on what we are learning instead of freaking out about trying to write everything I hear down.  Charts and maps still get confusing, but she lets Matt, my friend who sits beside me, work with me on them.  It really helps when Matt explains what the chart means to him.

I hope Jimmy’s story of his visual processing struggles helps you work with Jimmy and his friends this school year!

Classroom Community Culture Uncategorized

Celebrating Student Birthdays

September 9, 2017

When I was a kid celebrating my birthday at school was always my favorite part of the year. My mom would always bake and ice sugar cookies and put them in fancy little bags for my classmates which made me feel like a rock-star! Even though I was a relatively shy kid I loved having my classmates tell me how pretty my cookies were and having the class sing to me (even as a kid I liked being the center of attention!)

These days it’s very common to have school-wide policies that don’t allow cupcakes or cookies in the classroom. Whether it is because of allergies or just too many lime green icing stains on the carpet it is easy to celebrate your student’s big day without rainbow cupcakes with those fancy plastic rings.


Make sure that your parents know about your policy for birthday treats right away. My first year of teaching I had a birthday during the first week of school and I wasn’t sure what to do when a parent showed up early with a big tray of cupcakes. Setting expectations at open house or within the first week will help make birthdays a fun (not stressful) experience!

Things to think about:

  • Will you allow food treats? If so, do they need to be store bought or is homemade okay?
  • If you aren’t going to allow food treats can parents send in other treats like pencils, stickers, or toys?
  • Or, would you prefer to celebrate by having the parent donate a book or game for the entire class to enjoy?


Most teachers celebrate their students by treating their students on their special day. I have seen so many adorable (and inexpensive ways) to celebrate your students’ special days. My favorites include birthday balloons which are a paper balloon shape attached to a pixie stick or a curly straw.

Teachers can also celebrate their students without a gift. You could let your student sit at a special birthday chair, give them a birthday badge/sash/button to wear, or even just let them have a special job that day.


In addition to feeling the love from their teachers, classmates also LOVE to celebrate their peers’ birthday. Whether that is by singing, making cards (hello authentic writing experience!) or doing a word bubble like this idea from Tracie Stier-Johnson. Regardless of how you celebrate your student’s birthday I am sure it will be a memory they will have for years to come!


How do you celebrate student birthdays in your classroom?

Creativity Culture Morale Uncategorized

Making Positives Outweigh Negatives

September 4, 2017

If you’re like me you can be hard on yourself and not always have the most optimistic or healthy outlook.  I hate this about myself- there we go another negative.  I wonder why I have the tendency to focus on the negatives rather than the positives.

For example, I recently cleaned my bathroom mirror and instead of looking at all the fresh clear reflections I stared at the one tiny spot I missed.  I was upset with myself for not being more thorough and missing it.  Then I thought why am I not proud of myself for making the effort and making 99% of the mirror sparkling clean?

At work, sometimes I think I judge my entire performance on my mistakes or oversights rather than the successes or new helpful ideas.  Late one night I realized I had forgotten to prepare for a meeting I had the next day.  I felt upset with myself for the next few days.  Why couldn’t I have been more kind to myself and focused on all of the meetings I have prepared for in a timely manner?

It is so easy to negatively judge yourself by one silly little error or oversight instead of celebrating your hard work.  So now when I think of a negative or something I want but don’t have I make myself stop and think of 3 positives in my life.

Part two of this post is for you to use this thought process at school with your students.  Of course when children get in trouble and break school rules parents are informed.  However, we need to make even more of an effort to inform parents when children follow the rules or go above and beyond expectations.

We need to show ourselves love and compassion but also everyone around us.  Sometimes this might be easier said than done.  It’s easier for me to be compassionate to myself when I miss a spot on the mirror, but it might be harder when I realize I forgot to prepare for an important meeting. Just like it might be easier to recognize the good behavior of your kind student who is always on the honor roll versus the student who is always going to the office for bad behavior.

Just like we want ourselves to focus more on the positives in us and our life the students we work with and their parents want that too.  If you can try to send more positive notes home and make more happy phone calls home, it can lead to a more positive day for you, your students, and your families.

You might have to be more creative with finding the positives on some days and with some children, but if you look hard enough it will be there.  Personally, even on the worst day, you can find something positive about yourself and your life.

Changing thought patterns takes time and practice.  So be gentle with yourself when you are being negative and change it to a positive as quickly as you can without beating yourself up for being negative!

I’ll start right now.  Normally, I procrastinate on writing my posts, but today I am writing this at the beginning of the month instead of the end of the month.  I am proud of myself for being more positive and proactive in my life! Now I think I’ll go tackle that smudge on the mirror!

Art Creativity Uncategorized

Creative School Breaks!

July 5, 2017


As you’ve read in previous post here on Tenspire, us educators enjoy and fully take advantage of school breaks, especially summer break. School breaks are for relaxation, restoration, and still some work for educators. Sometimes, this can difficult when your own children or children you may baby sit begin shouting, “I’m bored!” and wants to color, play outside, watch movies, and everything else a kid enjoys doing over break.  If you’re too busy to go out or you’re living on a budget there are creative art activities you can do at a low cost or with household items you have at home.

Let’s check out a few…

Squirt Gun Painting!

Most likely, if you have children you’ll have water guns laying around. Instead of filling them with water, fill them with watered down paint or liquid watercolors, using their favorite colors. You can use any size or color paper and lay it on the grass to avoid a mess. Pick up your water gun and begin creating abstract art pieces! Just as simple as that! 

Glitter Goo!

Slime was all the rage this school year. Weekly, students walked into my classroom eager to show me their silly putty or goo that they had made in ESP or in their homerooms. So, I’m sure it’ll be a hit when creating with your munchkins over any break! All you need is…

  1. Glitter glue of any color. Make sure it isn’t washable glue.
  2. Water (equivalent to the amount of glue you are using.
  3. 1 tsp of Borax.
  4. 4 additional oz. of warm water (dissolves the borax)

Keep stirring until you have a gel-like substance and store it in a Ziploc bag or container. And Walla! You have Glitter Goo!

The Famous Coloring Books!

The content and images of coloring books have definitely changed since I was a child. The images are very detailed, creating a zentangle design that is mesmirizing and attracts all age groups. These coloring books are also themed and can tell a story. You can purchase a Harry Potter colroing book, The Secret Garden, Wild Savannah, Animal Kingdom, and many more themes that may seem interesting to your children. If you can’t find a coloring book in stores that you like there are numerous pages online that you could print off for free.  Not only are these for children, but some coloring books are specifically for adults! Coloring a few pages a day can be very relaxing while your children are playing with Glitter Goo or creating water gun abstract art pieces.  

On your next break from teaching, try one of these activities to keep everyone around the house busy and entertained! What are some activities you have done with your children or even for yourself that you have found to be enjoyable?  

Homeschool Motherhood Uncategorized

Can I Really Start My Own Co-Op?

June 4, 2017

Community. It’s something we all long for, need, and yet often resist because sometimes it just seems like too much work.

Now, if you’re a homeschool mom, you need this community more than ever! Yes, you seem to be talking with little ones all day, but having a conversation with another adult, especially in person, is a rarity.

And to be quite honest, when you don’t have a community encouraging, supporting, and pouring into you, your motivation to continue can become depleted quite quickly!

So, what’s a mom to do?

Our solution – one that has truly been nourishing to my soul was starting a co-op.

On a side note, when we started, the kids were all preschool age, as you’ll see in my story below, but the principles and applications hold true for moms with older homeschool students as well.

Now, you might be thinking: Can I really start my own co-op? Or, my little one is only 2 (or 3 or 4 or 5), does he really need this? Or, I can barely make it out of my house as it is, do I really have the time and energy to coordinate a co-op? Or, my plate seems so full already, is the effort to attend another thing every week even worth it? The answer to all of these questions is YES, YES, and YES!

I know because I wondered the same things.

After teaching for 8 years, I transitioned to being a stay at home mommy. I was incredibly thankful to be home with my little ones – a newborn and almost 2 – but I was completely overwhelmed. To be honest, I just survived for about a year. While I loved being home to pour into these little lives, I was exhausted. I knew something needed to change.  

I knew I wanted to start incorporating some “instruction” into our day, especially for my then almost 3-year-old. I knew we needed more structure for our day because I constantly felt frazzled. And I definitely knew we all needed to get out and connect with other families more regularly. How that was going to happen? I didn’t know, but I started to ask.

The more moms I talked to, the more I found that so many moms were in the same boat. Being a stay at home mommy is HARD. Even when you have a wonderfully supportive hubby (like I have been blessed with), I truly believe it is one of the hardest but most important jobs in the world! So, we started talking…and meeting….and meeting at parks to talk some more.

We asked questions and discussed. We tried out different ideas – some were successful, while others weren’t. But we kept talking and meeting, praying and encouraging. Slowly but surely our co-op was born.

It has now been 4 years. Our little co-op of about 6 kids has grown into a much larger co-op that meets at a church because we’ve simply outgrown anyone’s home. We currently have 4 classes (grouped by age) and will be adding a 5th class next year. To be honest, I have been blown away by the way our community has grown, and it is truly a testament to how much we crave that community.

The friendships that have grown out of these weekly meetings are some of our most treasured – for the kiddos and myself. They have both learned so much – not only academically, but socially, spiritually, and yes even physically. They’ve learned about listening to authorities (other than mom and dad). They’ve learned about conflict resolution – when that one special toy just seems to bring out the worst in them. And I must say, I’ve been quite impressed with their academic growth! Personally, I’ve learned that I am not alone, even when it feels like no one else understands. I’ve learned that I don’t have to be perfect – and neither do my kids. And I’ve learned that the push to get breakfast done, everyone dressed, and out the door with their school supplies (most of the time), is worth it every time.

It has truly been a blessing for our family, and I would love to pass it on to you! On my blog, Teaching Where You’re Called, I am offering a FREE email course that will walk you through 7 steps to starting your own co-op. There will be an email lesson with a simple PDF printable to make things as easy as possible for you! Don’t worry, you’ll get a lesson every 3 days, so you’ll have plenty of time to process and prepare. And hopefully, by the time fall hits, you will be ready to kick off your own co-op! I am so excited for you to start this journey! Don’t hesitate to ask questions- I am more than happy to help!

Or you can just click HERE to sign up!

Art Creativity Integration Uncategorized

Famous Art Projects around JPE!

May 23, 2017


The last few post here on Tenspire have focused on some of my “go-to’s”. I have written about go-to sub plans, go to artist when lesson planning, and go to resources that help me develop new ideas. What about go- to lessons? Are there any activities that you feel that you must incorporate into your lessons each year because the students seem to love and learn from it? There definitely are some projects for me that I do each year because not only do I enjoy teaching it but I admire how hard the students work and how much care they put into these projects. No matter what I try to change up and present in a new way I have to teach these lessons because the students look forward to entering a new grade and getting the chance to make the artwork they’ve seen hanging in the hallways from previous school years.

POW! 4th grade Onomatopoeia’s!

Each year with my fourth grade students we create onomatopoeia collages inspired by the artist Roy Lichtenstein and various comic book series. The students LOVE this lesson, and so do I! I mean, who doesn’t love looking at comic books with their students? The students create a background and chooses an onomatopoeia to create with paper using primary and secondary colors. I wrap up the lesson by giving the students blank comic book panels, allowing them to create their own comic book story with multiple onomatopoeia’s. The students love sharing their original comic book stories with their class. This lesson also hits on a few of the fourth grade standards due to the use of the onomatopoeia and the writing component during the comic book panel section. Every school year I hang these in the hallways and love the reactions I get from students, parents, and fellow staff members. Check out the pictures below!


Clay projects! 

Clay time is the messiest but most productive time during the school year! As an art teacher it’s one of the most tiring months because of all the preparation but it’s worth it once I see how excited the students are when creating their projects. I do clay projects with every grade level and each grade level does different project. The most famous projects I do with clay are the second grade clay pendants and third grade clay monsters. No matter what grade they are in the entire school loves seeing the students wearing the clay pendants or carrying their clay monsters home every year! Check out the pictures below!