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The Journey up the Mountain

I’ll be honest…this post is unlike most of the other’s you’ll read on my blog. It’s very candid- as if we were sitting down at a coffeehouse together. It’s time that I share this part of my life with you. I was scrolling through pictures from 2018, and I happened on one that stopped me in my tracks. It’s a selfie from a year ago, and it’s got me all up in my feelings. Here’s the story behind the picture…


The Journey to the Foothills

Ever since I was a little girl, doctors’ offices had been a very familiar place for me. I’m not going to get into it all here, but one of the doctors I was seeing was an eye doctor because I was born with something called Dwayne Syndrome.

Dwayne Syndrome looks different for different people, but for me, my right eye could never track over to the right. The muscles didn’t work quite right, and even when I tried, the eyeball wouldn’t budge past the center. It never bothered me as a kid, but it was always there.

As I got into my teens, whenever I would get really stressed, the eye would basically scream I NEED REST by pulling in to the center of my face. The muscles would get so tired that they would give up and I could feel my eyeball out of place. It was uncomfortable and I felt self-conscious about it. The only way to reset it was sleep. And, of course, this would happen at the most inopportune times. My doctor said that whenever I felt like I needed it, we could try surgery to pull the eye back to center, but there were no guarantees it would stay that way.

The Start of the Climb

Fast forward to my twenties and, in a series of about five years, the muscles of my eye got tighter and pulled the eyeball in more and more. Again, I had no control over this, and it became a constant. I had to turn my head to feel like I was looking at you straight on (even though I wasn’t aware of this). I had to switch from contacts to glasses because my eye wouldn’t even function with something in it. And it kept pulling closer and closer into the inner corner.

At one point, around two years ago, we (my parents and I) decided to pursue surgery. I was starting to have double-vision with my glasses (found out it was because of a too-strong prescription) and I had a hard time feeling “normal” or confident because my eye was such an “eyesore”.

Where the Rubber Meets the Rocks

If you were around on Instagram for that part of the story, you know how it went. If not, the cliff notes version is that I saw 3 doctors in 3 months over the summer when I was back in the US. And…everyone said something different. My doctor of 20 years didn’t recommend surgery because I wasn’t having double vision (why fix it when I could still see straight?). Another doctor in Omaha recommended surgery on BOTH eyes and said the good eye would pull the other eye back to center (Uhm, NO THANK YOU! What if we mess up my good eye?!). 

But the final doctor I saw (at the Mayo Clinic) gave me hope of having a straight eye with little to no double vision without having to operate on both eyes, and I felt like it was time to go that route and have him perform surgery. He was very knowledgeable and had done a lot of research on Dwayne Syndrome. He made me feel heard and positive about what surgery could do for me.


At this point, the plan was to have surgery in December. During the Fall, I tried to get insurance coverage for this out-of-state surgery, to no avail. Another roadblock; and I was BUMMED. But, as a final attempt, we went back to my original doctor, told him about what the 3rd doc said (turns out they know each other), and he said he’d be willing to give it a shot.

But he has a more realistic and conservative outlook, and he made sure I knew what I was getting myself into. He wanted me to try something to gauge how my eyes would do with surgery because he thought that I would end up with double-vision for months because my eyes wouldn’t be able to readjust. He had the prism seen in the picture put on my eyeglass to mimic how my eye would see post-surgery. #mindblown #thankGodformodernmedicine He told me to wear it as much as possible over the next month, and then I could make the decision whether or not to have surgery based on how my eye felt and adapted.

Let me tell you, I was NOT excited about this! First of all, all of this work could end in a big fat nothing, if my brain wouldn’t be able to adapt. Second, I felt like I looked like a robot, and looking through the prism for the first couple of weeks was really hard. My mom was with me at this appointment, and afterward, we went and got Starbucks and sat in the massage chairs at Bed, Bath, and Beyond for an hour and cried. I can look back on this moment now and laugh about it, but I was not happy then.

But the wing 3 of my 2 personality (comment below with your Enneagram number! I love talking about it!) wanted to do this 110%. I wore that thing all day long. Even when I felt self-conscious. Even when I wanted to pull it off. Even when I couldn’t see very well. And…it got better! My vision adapted, and by the end, I could see pretty well out of it. I knew that surgery was not a sure 100% win, but I felt God saying, “Do you trust me?”

The Hardest Part of the Climb

So, five weeks later, I went into surgery. It was scary, but I knew that God had led me to this at this time. I knew that I could end up with double-vision for months. But I trusted that my Healer would work through the doctors’ hands. And, HE DID.

The Summit

Recovery wasn’t easy at first. My eye was swollen shut for a good week. And then, almost two weeks in, I had this crazy pain on the outside of my eye one morning…I couldn’t even open it. It turned out to be a suture that got loose. But it allowed me to go in to see my doctor a couple days early for my two-week post-op. I got to tell him that, less than TWO WEEKS after having this surgery, I had almost NO double vision. WHAAATTTT. And, friend, can I tell you, it was SUCH a testament to God’s divine healing power. My doctor, who we had never in 20+ years of seeing him mention anything about God, said, “Hallelujah! Praise God!” when I told him! He was expecting months of double-vision, if not a lifetime of it.

And, things continued to heal just as expected, if not better. I haven’t had double-vision since February, and my eye is still where it should be. God is SO good and gets ALL the glory!!! Sometimes God heals in a moment, other times it takes years. Sometimes it’s through a touch, other’s it’s through the meticulous hands of a doctor. Friend, if you are waiting for your miracle, know this: IT’S COMING.

If you couldn’t tell, this journey to the summit of this mountain was HARDDD. Probably as hard as climbing Mount Kilimanjaro…in a lot longer time! In the moments of confusion, the unknown, and sadness, I didn’t know why I had to climb the mountain this way. I wondered why there had been so many roadblocks and obstacles to find a way around. There were times when I was unsure that I could reach the summit. But, this trek sure did strengthen my trust and relationship with my Father. And, although I have faith that my eye won’t have any further complications, I know that there’s a possibility of Him calling me to a higher peak. 

We only see a tiny speck of the big picture- what’s right in front of us. It looks like rocks and dirt and sky. God gives us a small task and says, “Trust me.” And when we do our part and keep on holding His hand and take those baby steps one-foot-in-front-of-the-other, He does His and moves mountains. I believe that my testimony of His miraculous healing power and goodness isn’t just for me, it’s for my doctor and so many others too.

Holidays Around the World Made Easy

Holidays Around the World Made Easy

One of my favorite units to teach is about holidays around the world in December. No matter what grade I teach, I include this in my lesson plans, because I love learning and teaching about cultures around the world! Just because this is a busy time of year does not mean you can’t bring holidays from around the world into your classroom! I’m here to help make teaching holidays around the world in December EASY and FUN!

I believe that the more we can weave themes and topics, like Holidays Around the World, into our normal routines, the better our students will understand them and the better our classroom climate will be! We all know how our students tend to get a bit antsy this time of year, so changing up the theme without changing the routine will keep them engaged and having fun! Here are some of my best tips for your Holidays Around the World lesson plans!

Holidays Around the World Easy Room Transformation

You probably just let out a big sigh or rolled your eyes when you read this heading. DON’T CLICK AWAY! I promise this will not be expensive or hard. In fact, you probably already have most of what you need! It doesn’t have to be Instagram-worthy - it can be as simple as sticking some butcher paper up on your wall. YOU DO YOU.
Transforming your room is an EASY way to get students excited and buying into this theme. Here are my favorite ways to transform your classroom for holidays around the world:
  • Get (or make) flags of the countries you will be studying or just a variety of flags. This one on Amazon is less than $10 for 82 feet of flags! Great to hang around your classroom, and, for more impact, intertwine with twinkle lights! Have students try to find the flags of the countries you study, too!
  • Make sure you’ve got a world map to mark your travels!
  • If you want to get fancy, get some school butcher paper and create an airplane outside your door or inside the walls of your classroom!

  • Plastic tablecloths are an inexpensive way to add color! Red seems to be a popular holiday color in several countries, so you may choose to go that route! You can also cover your tables with butcher paper! 
  • See if you can collect some of the holiday icons to display in your classroom, or make them out of butcher paper! I’m sure parents would be willing to let you borrow some items if you need them! You can also draw them on white paper and have the students color them in!
  • Give each student a passport to put a stamp every time you “visit” a new country! Paradise Praises has a free download that looks like it would be perfect! You can also get some blank passports from Amazon

Preparing for Holidays around the World

This unit can be a hefty workload as you research, plan, and execute these lessons. I would recommend asking the students’ families for help! I’m sure they would love to share about their culture’s holiday traditions! You can have them share about their holiday traditions, bring in decorations or important pieces to the holiday, and even bring in traditional food to share! If you’re short on time, you could incorporate that time into a center, where the family member shares to each group of students, instead of the whole class. 

Holidays Around the World in Morning Meeting

Use your class meetings to introduce different holidays around the world that you’re studying! You can have students greet each other with the holiday greeting in each language. If you have a student that celebrates that holiday, you can ask him/her to teach the class how to say the greeting. If you don’t have an in-class resource, you can find most of the holiday greetings for different December holidays around the world on YouTube!

Your activities could be a special activity or game that the culture does around the holidays! This article from Parents.com has ten GREAT games for you. This post has two more that your students would love, to go with Germany and Mexico! You can also have playdough challenges where you give each student some playdough and tell them to make one of the holiday icons in 5 minutes! Then you get to look at all of their masterpieces and see whose creation is the closest to the actual icon!

The message portion of your Morning Meeting would be a great place to incorporate direct instruction of the culture and holiday you’re learning about. You can write a message to your students with information in it, or just have a discussion, show pictures, etc. about the culture and holiday traditions!

Holidays Around the World in Math

It’s easy to integrate Holidays around the World into ELA, but it can prove a bit more difficult for Math. Here are some of my favorite math activities for learning about Holidays Around the World:
  • Have students figure out how far away the countries you are studying are from you! Great for research and working with large numbers. You can also have students figure out the most cost-effective way to get from your town to a place whose culture you’re learning about. This would be a fun and real-world project for older students!
  • Have a math party, or incorporate some of the ideas in this blog post from Around the Kampfire in your math centers! Linda is a genius with these activities!
  • Amanda Stitt has a 5th Grade Math Project which is another great option if you’re short on planning time! It looks amazing!
  • Holidays around the World math building challenge: Use any task cards that your students need practice with along with some sort of block or building material. As students complete a task card, they get three more blocks. As they get blocks they try to build something that goes along with the holiday you’re studying! 

Holidays Around the World Books

Who doesn’t love picture books?! They are such great tools for teaching something new and connect the students to new cultures, concepts, and experiences! Here are some of my favorites for teaching Holidays around the World in December:

Walk this World at Christmastime is a sweet book showing different holiday traditions around the world! 

A World of Cookies for Santa is a great book to kick off the unit. It takes you around the world to see some of the different treats children put out for Santa, and learn about the difference in holiday traditions.

‘Twas Nochebuena is a beautiful depiction of Las Posadas, in the style of the Night Before Christmas. The illustrations are beautiful and I love getting a look into the traditions of this holiday! 

The Story of Hanukkah is a great read when teaching Hanukkah. It’s informative, historical, and kid-friendly. I love the recipe for latkes at the back too! That would make a fun extension if time allows!

The Legend of Old Befana is perfect for teaching the Italian Christmas traditions!

Diwali the Magical Diyas is an enlightening and fun book to learn about Diwali!

Lucia Morning in Sweden is such a wonderful book to learn about Lucia Day and Swedish traditions!


Holidays Around the World in ELA

There are so many fun ways to incorporate Holidays around the World into your ELA block! Here are my favorite activities:
  • Have students read or listen to a book about the holiday, discuss it with a classmate, and respond to it.
  • Use a Venn Diagram to compare and contrast two of the holidays, and then write about the similarities and differences.
  • Come up with holiday vocabulary for students to play games with, memorize, and use in writing.
  • Use Holidays around the World reading passages.
  • Have students research a certain holiday and present their findings to the class or make a video about the holiday and culture.
  • Teach how-to writing and have students write a how-to writing piece on something that they have learned to do from a culture or holiday tradition.
  • For your younger to middle-aged elementary students, work on labeling or writing about each holiday you discover.

Even More Holidays Around the World Ideas

Here are a few more ideas, activities, and resources for your Holidays Around the World lesson plans!
  • I created a Holidays Around the World video playlist on YouTube just for you! Feel free to save it so that you can use the videos year after year!
  • Crafts are also a great idea for Holidays around the World, but they can tend to get tedious after a while. I would recommend having your students choose a holiday to represent through craft at the end of each week, and give them all sorts of materials to make something. But, the twist is to keep the Holidays around the World crafts open-ended! Students will have seen the holiday traditions and items of each culture through books, videos, and lessons. So, why not let them create what they love the most!?! They can be so creative, and it’s a great way to engage the upper grades. 
  • Students can make Holidays around the World journals to keep track of what they learn and write down what they experience. This is a great keepsake to remember these holidays and traditions, and even introduce some to their families at home!

What is your favorite culture and holiday to teach during this time? What do you include in your plans every year that I missed? Let me know below! 

And if you are looking for more holiday ideas and resources, check out these posts:

Happy Holidays!! Don't forget to enjoy this fun, exciting, crazy time with your students!! The countdown to break is on!!

7 Gratitude Activities for your Classroom

November is the perfect month to focus on teaching the social-emotional learning element of gratitude! I have seven activities on gratitude that you can use with your students or even your own children to promote thankfulness this month and all year long! These gratitude activities for kids help us be mindful of what we have! Get ready to dive into seven fun, engaging gratitude activities for elementary students!

Gratitude Activity 1: Gratitude Read Alouds

I love introducing all of my social-emotional topics and, really, any topic with picture books! Picture books are so helpful when teaching because they give our students tangible examples and experience with what they’re learning.

I’ve collected a list of my FAVORITE gratitude books to read with my students. Clicking on the links will take you to Amazon, so you can add them to your collection!

Gracias/Thanks is about a young biracial boy who is recounting what he is thankful for in a poetic way! I love that I have students that can see themselves in this book- I always aim to increase the diversity in my read alouds!

Thanksgiving in the Woods is a sweet story with beautiful illustrations and words about a family in New York who spends Thanksgiving in the woods on their farm for over 20 years! It’s based on a true story.

Thankful is the perfect way to start out the month of November. It shares in a poetic way who is thankful for what, and it’s just perfect for teaching gratitude and thankfulness! It’s one that I’m adding to my collection this year!

The Secret of Saying Thanks reminds us of the wonders of the world that we can tend to forget to be thankful for! It has beautiful illustrations and provides a great story to read and discuss gratitude.

Today I Am Grateful is another great jumping off book to start or continue the gratitude discussion. It gives active ways to be grateful at the end of the book and teaches students to be grateful!


If you want some more Thanksgiving book recommendations for kids, read my friend Sarah's blog post on Little Learning Corner!

Gratitude Activity 2: Gratitude Walk

Getting outside in nature calms us down and helps us be mindful of what’s around us. For one of our gratitude activities, I like to take my students on a walk outside around the school. Before we go for our gratitude walk, I talk about grounding ourselves and using our senses to be mindful of what we experience.

During the walk, we may pause and close our eyes, take some deep breaths, and listen. If it’s safe, I have my students take their shoes off during a part of the walk and feel the ground through their feet. We might share things that we’re grateful for during the walk or afterward. Maybe you want your students to pick up something to remind them of the walk, or maybe not.

Once our Gratitude Walk is complete, I usually give my students five minutes to sketch or write in a journal whatever is in their brain. They can write how they felt, what they sensed, what they felt grateful for, what they thought of during the walk, etc. Then, we will discuss it all together or in small groups,

This gratitude activity expands our minds of what we have to be grateful for and helps us reflect on life around us.

Gratitude Activity 3: Write Thank You Cards

From a young age, my mom had me writing thank you notes for birthday and Christmas gifts. And even though I [still] sometimes roll my eyes at the task, I do know that it is such an important act of gratitude. Not only does it acknowledge what others do for us, but it also makes us appreciate their special gifts or acts. Plus, it makes the recipient feel so special!

This is one of my favorite, easy expressing gratitude activities. Having our students write thank you cards help them think about all of the things that others do for us that we can be grateful for. I have my students write thank you notes to other teachers, support staff, admin, parent volunteers, each other, etc. Everyone chooses someone to thank, and we spend time writing thoughtful, specific, kind thank you notes to them.

You can make the cards out of construction paper, or pick up a couple of packs of cards for students to choose from. Here are some of my favorites from Amazon:

Gratitude Activity 4: Serving Others

Some of my favorite gratitude activities for elementary students are service projects. Pushing our students outside of themselves and their bubbles helps them better understand the world around them and how they can serve others. These gratitude activities for the classroom to serve are a great place to start:

Conduct a Drive

Have your class decide on something to collect for a specific group of people in your area. It could be a food drive for a local food bank, clothes drive for a women’s shelter, a book drive for another school in need, etc.

One drive that would really be meaningful for our students is a toy drive. Have each student bring in a toy that they are willing to give to another child, take a picture of each student with their specific toys, and have them write about a memory they have with that toy. Then, find a donating service to give the toys to, along with the pictures and stories. What a special way to pass on a special toy to another child!

Better your School

There are several gratitude projects you can do to make your school a better place. You could plant a tree, build a garden and plant some vegetables or flowers, help organize the library, read to a younger class, pick up trash, start a recycling program, etc. The opportunities are endless! It would be best to get your admin involved right away to make sure that your project is approved before you plan and take action!

Coffee Cart

This is not a new thing in the teacher world, but I think it’s a great service project for our students! Organizing and serving teachers through a coffee cart or coffee station helps our students learn so many things, and helps them show gratitude for staff in a tangible way.

You could make this a weekly project for the month, or the whole year! To make things easier and not recreate the wheel, I’m going to direct you over to Mrs. D’s Corner - she has everything laid out for you step-by-step to get started! The Resource Teacher also has great ideas to make this work!

Gratitude Activity 5: STEM Gratitude Tower

Add a STEM element to practicing gratitude by making a Gratitude Tower!! This idea comes from Carly and Adam, and I love it! It gets all students engaged in thankfulness- as students write what they are thankful for on index cards.

Then, they work to build the tallest tower using the index cards they wrote on! It shows that as we work together and be mindful of what we are grateful for, we can make something special!

Gratitude Activity 6: Student Spotlight

This gratitude activity gets our students thinking about why they are thankful for each other! Each day I choose one student randomly to be our spotlighted student of the day. That student sits in front of the whiteboard, and then I ask the students what do you love about (student)? Why are you thankful for them?

The students answer, and then write their answers with expo markers on the board behind the student. You can also keep these a surprise for the student until the end. We fill up the board with compliments and reasons we’re thankful for them, and then I take the student’s picture with all of the words of encouragement. I send the picture to the child’s parents that day, and print and frame the picture for a gift sometime during the year!

We do this for every student - one each day until everyone has had a turn. This really makes the students feel special and seen, and it gives them opportunities to be encouraging and appreciative of their peers!

Gratitude Activity 7: Thankful Tree

This might be my FAVORITE of the gratitude activities for the classroom. I do this with my students every November, and I see the difference it makes in their mindfulness and gratitude. We make a class thankful tree! This is how it works:

Before November 1st, I make a tree trunk and branches on a bulletin board or wall in my classroom. I make it out of brown butcher paper. I also print out a bunch of leaves on red, orange, and yellow paper. You’ll need enough leaves for each student (and you) to write on one each school day in November. I cut leaves for each of us for November 1st.

Then, on the morning of November 1st, I introduce our Thankful Tree in Morning Meeting. I first read one of the books I shared above. We discuss gratitude, and why it’s important to be thankful for all the good things in our lives. I introduce the Thankful Tree and share that we will be working on our mindfulness and gratitude this month with this class gratitude project.

I explain that every day we will each start the day by writing one thing that we’re thankful for on a leaf, and bring it to Morning Meeting. At Morning Meeting, we will share what we’re thankful for, and I will attach the leaves to our tree. As we go through November, our gratitude tree will continue to flourish with leaves! The trick is that you can’t write the same thing twice. Every day you must think of something different that you’re thankful for. Practicing gratitude every day will help us be more mindful of our decisions and our mindset.

Next, I will show my leaf for the first day, and talk about how our leaves can be specific or broad, but it’s good to be creative and mindful about every part of our days. Every day may not be good, but we can find something good in each day. I will put my leaf on the tree, and give each student a leaf to go write something that they are thankful for on. And I will put them all up on the tree afterward.

TIP: I put all the other leaves I printed out in a center on November 1st for the students to help me cut all of the leaves out. It works on their fine motor skills, and we can get them all done in 1-2 days. I keep all of the blank leaves in a basket, and students know to grab one when they come in each morning, write what they’re thankful for, and join me in our meeting area for Morning Meeting. Routines will help this activity work even better!

It’s so exciting to see our tree expand as we continue to be thankful throughout the month! If you want to save time and make your life easier, you can check out this resource here!

I love incorporating these gratitude activities for kids into my November lesson plans and beyond! The gratitude activities help our students become mindful of what they have to be thankful for and learn how to express gratitude in many ways!

I hope you found some helpful ideas in this post, and I would love for you to pin it for years to come! How are you going to incorporate gratitude into your lesson plans this month?




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