Mindfulness Through Art

I’ve spent my life being really critical of my artistic abilities so this blog took me out of my comfort zone!  Lately I’ve been wanting to give myself a chance to create art, especially after learning that putting your hands to use can be an excellent way to relax your brain and get some good feelings from dopamine. 

There is data to back up the theory that busy hands are good for your brain. Knitting, painting, carving, needlework, cooking, gardening and so many more activities that use our hands also help us feel happy and calm.  Studies by neuroscientist Dr. Kelly Lambert explore the effort driven reward cycle.  She believes that moving our hands to produce satisfying creations may help prevent depression and have other positive benefits on mental health.

Applying this science to ourselves and our classrooms could very helpful! Lambert encourages us to get off screens and put our hands and minds to use in more productive ways. 

I’ve included a suggestion for an art lesson. You could definitely do this with a class but honestly I also do it for myself. My brain needs a break too!

What you need

Paper – watercolour paper is great but try experimenting with old music sheets, pages out of discarded books, box board, etc

Watercolour paints – I have very inexpensive ones

Small paintbrush – since this is very blobby art, the brush doesn’t matter much

2 containers of water (one for washing brush and one for clean water to add to paint)

A marker, pen, pencil crayon or crayon

Scissors and glue (optional)


  1. Use masking tape to frame the paper and attach to the work surface.
  2. Draw curvy  intersecting lines with your marker – many of them
  3. Where the lines intersect make them thicker and  more curved
  4. Spray your water colour paints with water and let them sit for a minute 
  5. Dip your brush in and paint one of the empty spaces.
  6. Continue filling the empty spaces with colour.
  7. Allow colours to mix or leave each blob as a colour of its own.
  8. Let it dry.
  9. Options: 
  • Fold it and use it as a card.
  • Cut out shapes and glue them on a card.
  • Frame it!

If you enjoyed this activity then I encourage you to follow Andrea Nelson on Instagram. She often references that creating art soothes her brain. Her videos inspired me to do this!

A piece of white paper is taped to a table. The paper has intersecting black wavy lines drawn with marker.
Draw the lines freely.
Photo by the author.
The painting is partially complete with a variety of water colour paints mixing together around the wavy black lines.
Thicken the lines and smooth out the intersections. Add watercolour paints.
Photo by the author.
A heart shape has been cut out from the painting and glued on paper that is folded in half. Scissors are in the foreground.
This card is going to friend.
Photo by the author.



A Fresh Start with Spring Goals

I recently read Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer with a book club of people across Canada. We were amazed by the numerous messages throughout the book. The author is a Potawatomi woman and mother as well as a botanist. She encourages readers to use two-eyed seeing, meaning to see the world through an Indigenous lens as well as a scientific one.

This leads me to thinking about the medicine wheel and the teachings of the sunrise, the East, the beginning of life and the season of spring. Although I am Irish-Canadian, these teachings resonate with me more than the idea of a new year in January. The natural world is bustling with energy as buds burst into leaves and blossoms form on flowers. Birds are singing out and the bunnies are appearing in my neighbourhood. 

This energy transfers into our classrooms as well and we may need to re-establish routines that change as wet weather brings muddy shoes and cool frosty mornings bring layers of sweaters and jackets one day and then t-shirt weather the next. Spring is a natural time for all of us to review the goals we wish to reach before the end of the school year.

Personally, I am building an understanding of the theme of reciprocity from Braiding Sweetgrass. Kimmerer explains it as “Nature gives us so much; the only thing one can do in the face of such profound generosity is to turn around and do the same.”

My choices at the grocery store impact the planet’s health as well as my own. I know I cannot always buy organic or local food but I’m doing it more often than I was. I’m also adding native pollinator plants to my garden to help the ecosystem where I live. It’s a start.

Professionally, I’m working on how to develop rapport with students quickly as an occasional teacher. I enter their classroom community as a guest teacher hoping they will feel safe and respected. Some strategies I’ve adopted include quickly learning their names, using a seating plan, giving the safety talk and interspersing mindfulness activities throughout the day.

If you are reviewing your goals this spring, I encourage you to be gentle with yourself. Be realistic about what can be achieved in the next two months. 

One suggestion for student goal setting is to include daily goal setting in your morning meeting time and take time to reflect on previous goals. A wonderful picture book to illustrate this point is The Bad Seed by Jori John. One year I had a student identify with the main character and then he set goals for self-improvement. It was very inspiring to see him do the work needed to make positive changes in his life.

Whatever happens with you this spring, I hope you enjoy this incredible season of renewal!

Early Spring Trillium


Uh-O Canada – A Teachable Moment for Inclusiveness

The schools where I work as an occasional teacher play O Canada in the morning. I’ve been listening to this anthem for decades and am happy there is a movement to have diverse and inclusive versions of the anthem played at various schools. Recently, I was at a school for two days in a row and on both days they played an older version of O Canada with the lyric “all thy sons command” in it. As you know that line was changed in 2018 to “ in all of us command.”

As the anthem played I wondered if any students had picked up on the different lyrics so I asked my grade 4 students what they had noticed about the variations in the versions of O Canada that their school played. Their comments focussed on the style of singing and the style of music. When I asked them about the lyrics there was one student who was able to identify the word “sons”  in the version we had heard that day.

Grabbing this teachable moment I realized we had an opportunity for a topic for their journal entry.  I decided the students would benefit from hearing the 2023 story of the anthem being performed at the Toronto Raptors game by Jully Black. Black changed the words to “our home on native land” instead of “our home and native land”. We watched her performance and then viewed an interview with her.  I asked the class to reflect about whether or not the lyrics of O Canada make a difference.

We then posted the current lyrics from the federal government website and I gave the students a chance to reflect in their journals about the lyrics. Should the lyrics go back to what they were originally? Should the lyrics stay the same as they are currently posted? Are there any lyrics that could be changed to make the Canadian national anthem more inclusive? It was an open opportunity for students to do some critical thinking and explain their reasoning in their writing.

After some discussion, the students settled into their work fairly quickly. I was only supply teaching for a couple of periods so I was impressed that we were able to have an honest discussion and get some thoughts on paper. I was pleased to see that there were students who noticed other words in O Canada that could be changed to make the national anthem more inclusive. 

One of the students had explained clearly that the school should stop playing the version of O Canada with “all they sons command”.  She backed up her statement with solid reasoning.  With her permission I showed her journal entry to the principal and she promised to have that version taken out of the rotation. The student was all smiles knowing that her work had made a difference.

Unexpected teachable moments are one of the great benefits of teaching. I think our day plans should always have an asterisk with a reminder to go with the flow of energy that the students bring. Keeping them engaged with relevant material and empowering them to make positive change keeps everyone motivated to be present. I hope you have many teachable moments this year.

Dreaming- The Brain’s Last Laugh

On March 31st, one of the last things I thought about before going to sleep was that I had not organized an April Fool’s joke for the morning. When my kids were little or when I had a class of my own I would often have some little April Fool’s thing going on. But now as a semi-retired teacher doing supply teaching it hadn’t really been on my radar. And besides this year April Fool’s Day fell on a holiday Monday and I had a busy weekend. I was looking forward to really relaxing on April 1st.

My brain had other ideas. 

I’ve had my share of teacher dreams. You know the ones that start in August and you’re worrying about not going to school on the right day or that you haven’t worn the right clothes or maybe any clothes. As I aged I started to have dreams about my teeth falling out and I’ve had dreams where I was blind and plenty of driving dreams where the brakes don’t work or the car is going in reverse only.

In the predawn hours of April 1st I was dreaming of a perfectly relaxing day at the beach. I had food and drink packed, a great novel, sandals and a floppy hat. I knew there was a school nearby and in this dream I planned to visit the school to use the washroom. I settled in the beach chair briefly when I realized that I would have to make my first trip to the school.

In this dream universe I was going into a school that I was familiar with because I had supplied there before. I arrived at the school just as the students were entering and the hallways were chaotic. A teacher spotted me and called out that she had been looking for me and that I would need to be in her class for the next 40 minutes. 

The look of shock on my face must have been quite noticeable to her because she explained that my name was on the board in the office and I had a schedule of prep coverage to do that day. 

At this point I really wondered what was going on. Was I dreaming? I had many questions. Wasn’t today was supposed to be a holiday? Why would I planning to use the school washroom on a holiday? How could I forget that I was supposed to be at work? I was sent into a swirling panic thinking I’d be teaching in my beach cover up. I snapped out of my deep sleep and into an awakened state of confusion.

I opened my calendar and there was the explanation I needed.

April Fools!

Learning Together – The Solar Eclipse

On April 8th, 2024 there will be a rare and unique event in the lifetimes of many Ontario students, a total solar eclipse. Many more will experience a partial solar eclipse. Whether or not your students are in school on April 8th, consider planning special activities and learning as the day approaches.

This natural event is shared by millions of people across North America. Let’s take the opportunity to help our students understand how much we have in common with others.  It’s a perfect time to get kids connected to the natural world.

Fun Facts about this Solar Eclipse 

Very important!

Looking directly at the Sun, without appropriate protection, can lead to serious problems such as partial or complete loss of eyesight.

In Canada, the solar eclipse’s path of totality will pass through some cities and towns in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland, plunging them into darkness for a few minutes.


Solar eclipses happen about every 18 months but they are not visible to everyone on earth.

During an eclipse the moon casts a shadow that is approximately 250 km wide on the Earth.


Curriculum Connections

Explaining the eclipse will generate excitement in many areas of the curriculum. 

*We can study maps and learn more about places along the eclipse path.

*We can learn about space exploration and the upcoming Artemis mission to explore the moon.

*We can study the timing of the eclipse looking at both digital and analog clocks.

*We can write predictions about animal and plant behaviour during the eclipse. Will nocturnal animals awaken? Will flowers close their blooms?

*How will the horizon look? We can create a class mural, individual paintings or drawings.

*We can dramatize the eclipse by taking on the roles of sun, moon, earth, animals and plants.

Get more information on the eclipse:

Canadian Space Agency

Ontario Science Centre 

Queen’s University

Royal Astronomical Society of Canada

Forest of Reading Part 2 – Silver Birch, Yellow Cedar and Red Maple

For the second part of the series I’m going to focus on the Forest of Reading book clubs intended for independent readers. The Ontario Library Association created several categories based on age and reading ability. These clubs differ from Blue Spruce as the students read the books themselves in order to qualify to vote for their favorite book. In each case there are 10 Canadian books nominated and students are required to read at least five of the books to vote.

Silver Birch Express for grades 3 and 4

The list of 10 Silver Birch Express books often includes a combination of detailed picture books, graphic novels, nonfiction, and early novels. I absolutely love how accessible this book club is for readers who are beginning to read independently. For students in that age range there can be a great variety in the ability to read and yet this club makes books accessible for students to read on their own even if they are not as advanced in their reading as some of their classmates. I highly recommend a previous winner from Silver Birch Express called Meet Viola Davis. It is a very well-written overview of Davis’ life and includes the racial segregation she experienced and fought in the courts of Canada.

Silver Birch Fiction for grade 5 and 6

For readers in grades 5 and 6 there are 10 new Canadian novels nominated for the Silver Birch award. Again, students must read at least five of these books to qualify to vote. There have been many excellent books the nominated in the past and this year is no exception. The 2017 winner, OCDaniel, has been in constant circulation at my library. 

Yellow Cedar Non-fiction for grades 4-8

The Ontario Library Association recognizes the importance of non-fiction with the Yellow Cedar award. There is always a range of topics from animals to the world wars. Some students collect fascinating facts from these books and their horizons are broadened. One of my very favourite non-fiction books, Hannah’s Suitcase, was introduced to me through the Forest of Reading and I used it with many classes over the years.

Red Maple for Grades 7 and 8

Nominees in this category have included well known novelists Kenneth Oppel and Eric Walters. Having new Canadian books purchased for your school or classroom library always brings excitement to the literacy program. For some intermediate students, the Red Maple book club reignites their love of reading.

Tips for Running a Book Club

Giving students time to read is one of the greatest gifts we can give. These programs can be run in classrooms or as an extra-curricular activity. The OLA provides checklists of all the nominated books so it’s easy to track which books have been completed.  There are virtual visits with authors and illustrators if you register with the forest of reading as well.

Start early. The nominations come out in October and voting happens in April. If you can organize your funding and get the books right away then your students have more time to read!

Sometimes it’s hard for one adult to read several lists of books so this is a great opportunity to team up with colleagues and ask them to read some of the books too. In order for students to validate that they have completed reading a book they would visit the staff member who read the book and discuss the book with them.

Acknowledging reading accomplishments, such as completing a book, reaching voter status etc., can be done with announcements, posters or even a rewards program. School council, local businesses or your administration may be able to sponsor incentives such as food, stickers, or book fair credits. 

Celebrate by holding a special event. For example have an arts day with your school and get activity ideas from the nominated books.  When the OLA announces the winners you can attend in person or virtually. Your students can participate as ambassadors. It’s an energizing experience with music and great speakers.

I highly recommend participating the Forest of Reading. Students get excited about the new books and the fact that their votes decide the winners.  It’s also wonderful to support Canadian authors and illustrators!

Happy Reading!


Forest of Reading Part 1: Blue Spruce Book Club

This two part series examines the annual Forest of Reading book nominations by the Ontario Library Association. 

Cracking open a box of brand new books is a wonderful part of the teacher-librarian role.  My favourite box has always been the Blue Spruce book club nominated titles.  Within the blanket of bubble wrap are 10 brand new Canadian picture books published within the past year. The selection committee uses specific criteria to narrow down the dozens of candidates to the top ten. The stories cover a range of topics with diverse characters and themes aimed at students in K-2.

If you register with the OLA you get several benefits including teaching resources and opportunities for virtual meetings with authors and illustrators. There is a fee for these services but I found administration or the school council always willing to support this initiative. 

By reading the 10 books before the deadline in April you can register your students to vote for their favourite book. Then in May the winners are announced. Blue Spruce book club time always generated plenty of excitement among the students and staff. We had deep discussions comparing illustration styles, characters and plots.  Students were eager to participate. What a fantastic way to generate excitement about books and reading!

Since I love reading aloud, this book club really suits me. I would read several titles to classes during library periods over a few weeks’ time. I would also encourage homeroom teachers to read some of the titles to show students that our entire staff was very excited about reading.

As the winter weeks pass, I would sometimes host large group readings with several classes in the library at once. Pushing aside tables and chairs we would gather together and warm up with a song or two and then settle in to hear a new book.  Bursts of laughter and the occasional sound effect or cheers of audience participation punctuated these large group readings.

The build up to the books arriving is also an exciting time. There are so many terrific past winners of the Blue Spruce book club.  I would read these books before starting the club for the current year.  I lean towards the funny ones…The Boy Who Loved Bananas, Stanley’s Party, Scaredy Squirrel and Chester come to mind right away. There are also touching stories about friendship, family relationships and struggles that our students can relate to.  It’s been wonderful to see BIPOC authors and illustrators nominated over the years, giving students diverse Canadian perspectives.

If your school doesn’t participate in the Forest of Reading, you can borrow the books from your local public library. When it’s time for voting day it’s fun to have students make posters and announcements so the whole school knows you are hosting this terrific literacy event. For more information check out these links…

2024 Blue Spruce nominees

 How to participate in the Forest of Reading 

Blue Spruce Winners and Nominees 2002-23

Happy Reading!


Lifting Each Other Up

Recently I was talking to a new teacher and she told me that she finds it helpful when experienced teachers reach out with helpful suggestions about her teaching methods, class management and assessments. She mentioned how it’s so easy for teachers to feel knocked down in the media and that we should really focus on building each other up.

Creating a safe space for students is part of our job but it’s not the only part. It’s so important for us to create a safe workplace for ourselves and our colleagues. We can build trust with one another by forming relationships that have positive connections.

I really appreciate those colleagues who were unofficial mentors in my early years of teaching. Elementary education in Ontario went through a lot of change in the 90s and I sometimes felt like my head was spinning. Through the changes in curriculum and restructuring I had some of the kindest people around me at the 4 schools I taught at in my first 5 years. 

In my first year, I was encouraged and lifted up by my peers to start a new club. We called ourselves the Green Team and we helped with environmental initiatives like recycling, composting and waste audits. I’m sure there must have been some eyebrows raised about what I was doing but no one ever questioned me or put me down. My class studied the Green Team statistics in data management and science. The school was recognized as a Green School as all classes jumped on board with the new programs being introduced. It built my confidence as a new teacher to have support from the staff and admin.

At another school we worked with parents and created a naturalized space in the corner of the yard. Students could run around the native shrubs and plants. Again, I was encouraged and lifted up by the staff to pursue this project.  We incorporated lessons on measurement and perimeter as we designed the space. It gave us a safe space to observe plants and insects that would not have been part of the grass and pavement yard that existed previously.

Sometimes it takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there. We each have our own passions and can benefit from sharing them. I’ve had many staff members over the years who have offered teaching suggestions and class management ideas. We continue to grow and learn and support one another.

I hope you are feeling encouraged by your colleagues and that your workplace is a safe place to try new ideas and share your passions.  If you are sharing a positive work experience in your social media you could tag #teachingmakesmesmile. On those days when you need a boost you could look through the posts and be reminded that our profession is pretty amazing on its best days.

Should You Stay or Should You Go?

Have you been considering a change? Moving schools or applying for a position at your board office? Here are a few anecdotes to think about as you consider this very personal decision.

As a child I had a teacher named Lilian as a neighbour. She was very kind to me and we often had little chats. She had worked in the same school for more than 20 years and then took the opportunity to change schools to work in a classroom with students who dealt with hearing impairments. Lilian told me she was very happy with her decision to move because it was invigorating and refreshing. She loved learning how to be successful in her new role and she adored her students.

At the beginning of my teaching career I was surplus to my school for 4 out of my first 5 years.  On the one hand, I was very happy to have a job. But on the other hand, I was frustrated. Being forced to move schools meant adapting to new staff, admin, students, parents and communities. All of that on top of adjusting to a new grade assignment.  In my fifth year, I was happy to be placed in a new school that wasn’t quite at capacity.  I stayed at that school for 26 years and was never declared surplus again.

Compared to Lilian, you might think I became stale and dispassionate about my job. One of my principals encouraged me to move, citing that it did him a world of good to change work locations frequently. I often looked at postings but always decided to stay on. After a decade of being a homeroom teacher, the position as a prep coverage teacher and teacher-librarian gave me plenty of change in subjects and students. I felt challenged by the role and really enjoyed being in the library for part of my teaching time.

There was an occasion when I applied and was interviewed for a position at another school. Part way through the interview I asked a lot of questions and realized I did not want the job. It was a relief to get the call that they went with another candidate. It wasn’t the right position for me.

Throughout my career I’ve met teachers like Lilian who made a happy change near the end of their career and some like me who made no change once they settled into a position they liked.  There are many variations as well.  We all wonder “what if” but in the end we realize that the decision to apply for new positions is yours to make. You will be considering many factors such as your health, family and career. Sometimes reducing your commute can improve your quality of life, even if it’s not the teaching position of your dreams.  It’s always a risk to put yourself out there but you will never know if you don’t try.

My new position as a semi-retired occasional teacher has been a welcome change. I used to say I would never be a supply teacher, but here I am, loving it. Every day is a new adventure!

I wish you well in the staffing process of 2024.

Take Care,



Self-Regulation with Sensory Experiences

We all experience stress and anxiety that can make self-regulation challenging. As adults we have figured out strategies to help us feel more calm and in control of ourselves.  Perhaps you listen to music, try a new recipe, get some exercise or chat with a friend. These strategies that use our senses can bring us out of our heads and more focused on the here and now. Our students will retain more of their learning if they are in a good headspace so let’s consider some sensory activities to try.


I highly recommend creating slime with your students. It is a fantastic learning experience in science and gives students a tactile, gooey substance to stretch, pop, roll, and squeeze. I’ve seen quiet students have confidence to talk to classmates while using slime and I’ve seen students who were screaming calm down completely when slime was introduced.

Brain Breaks

Exercising in the classroom with videos that have visual prompts, music and fun characters can put energy into a class after a longer period of sitting still. No video? No problem! Using a playlist of favourite music combined with body movement is energizing too!

Food Experiences

With a parent volunteer or co-op student it’s rewarding to get some easy recipes like fruit kebabs, veggies and hummus or personal pizzas going. There are so many recipes available to accomodate all kinds of needs. Plus your students will be more likely to try something new in this social situation. Years ago a colleague introduced me to the book Stone Soup and we made soup together. I kept that tradition with all my homeroom classes because students really enjoyed it and it reinforces healthy eating habits. 


Having materials on hand for students to make creations can be very soothing.  The act of creating really gets the mind focussed and calm. I’m a fan of loose parts, a collection of odds and ends like paper towel rolls, scrap paper, plastic lids, bread tags, etc. 

Soft Start

Looking for a smoother start to your day? January would be a great time to implement the soft start.  Students enter the class and have choice of quiet activities. You may include things like building materials, play dough, drawing, reading, etc. Using a timer can help students to be aware of the transition to your start of day routines.

Invite Animal Visitors

You may have local organizations that sponsor pet visits to the classroom. Animals can bring out the best in humans! I have witnessed examples of empathy from everyone in the class when they are learning about dogs, chicks or even lizards.

I’d love to hear more helpful suggestions from our readers. What works to help your students with self-regulation? Do you have other sensory activities that your students love?

Photo Credit: T. Pfautsch