Beginning Menstruation In Elementary School: How To Help

Beginning Menstruation In Elementary School: How To Help


     Menstruation is a fact of life for all girls and women. There is increasing research suggesting that menarche, a girl’s first flow, is happening at younger ages, and why that might be. According to the American Academy of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the national average is 12.5 years. While some of the causal data might be controversial, many women will agree that menstruation brings with it a host of challenges that truly take a village to successfully manage.

     Girls in middle school and high school will generally find a number of resources in their schools to help. From sanitary supplies, to a school nurse and/or counselor, to sympathetic teachers and friends, older girls can often find help to navigate the journey.

     Elementary school-aged girls (ages 9-11) who begin their menstrual cycles have unique challenges. Some of them are:

1.  Though it may be that more girls are beginning menstruation at earlier ages, it is outside the norm to begin in the elementary grades. Experiencing something so essentially female can be difficult when your peers don’t understand.
2.  When any child, boy or girl, has a “first time” experience related to their body, it can be an emotional event. Add hormones that can make a girl feel new physical sensations and emotions and you can have added stress.
3.  Parents can be reluctant to begin these conversations with their young daughters. From simply not being aware of their child’s unique growth to not knowing the best time to broach sex-related topics can be a challenge. This can mean that our girls are shocked, and even traumatized, by a perfectly natural event.

     Teachers try to serve their students’ academic, social, emotional, and physical needs in the best ways possible. Here are some ways that we can support our girls through the experience of menstruation in the elementary years.

1.  Communication. Be proactive in addressing menstrual issues with parents. In a private email or text, or a note on your welcome letter, let parents know that elementary girls do sometimes begin their first period at school. Be as private as possible to keep younger children from hearing conversations they might not be ready for. Be cautious as a teacher about having these discussions with your students. They should only be held within approved curricular boundaries. If you must talk about any sort of “sex ed” topic, be certain that you have administrative support first. This should apply even if you have a child who begins menarche at school and she is totally unprepared for it.
2.  Encourage parents to begin these discussions. These changes can happen rapidly, without warning. It is traumatic for a child to begin bleeding in a way they never have with no understanding of what is happening and why. It is even more traumatic for a child to have bled through their clothes and not know how to handle it. Remind parents that a girl’s menstrual cycle can be very irregular for the first year or two, another reason for clear explanations. Of course, we cannot control what parents choose to tell their children and discussions in this realm can be emotionally-charged. You can only encourage. They do need to be aware that, if their daughter does begin menstruating at school, you will have to do the best that you can. We wouldn't have a child gash their leg at school and be bleeding and in pain and tell them to, "Ask your parents." Neither should we dismiss menarche. 
3.  Have supplies ready. Consider all of the needs a child might need in this situation, remembering that some kids have to wait out the day and ride the bus home. Include stick-on sanitary napkins, clean underwear, clean outer pants, and large zipper bags for stained clothing. Again, preparation is key. Check out Lost and Found, solicit donations, or you may want to supply them yourself. Do you have parent volunteers? This would be an excellent project or committee! Click here for more parent volunteer ideas.
4.  Preserve privacy. When a child does begin flowing, either for the first time or unexpectedly, you’ll need a way to get supplies to her discreetly. In the past, I’ve handed girls manila folders and large envelopes with supplies hidden inside. My goal was to preserve the child’s privacy by making it look like she was running an errand for me. Another option is to have a soft lunch bag filled and ready to go. It looks like a teacher is simply delivering a forgotten lunch. You could also use a back pack, especially if extra clothes are needed.
5.  Emergency contacts. Sometimes a child simply needs to leave school. The reality is that many parents simply cannot walk out the door to come for their kids. I always asked my parents to always have a no-fail contact I can call for emergencies.

6.  Make a plan. Consider formulating a procedure with your grade level or grade span colleagues. It’s so much easier when everyone is on the same page! Consider that male teachers especially need to protect themselves While men can certainly be as compassionate and comforting as women, a young girl may not want a man to have that much information about her body. Also, men should not go in the girls’ bathroom and certainly not alone to discuss such an intimate situation. Additionally, parents may not want a man involved. If you have male teachers on your staff, designate a female staff member who can step in as part of your plan.

          Thoughtful planning and communication can make a potentially difficult situation much more positive. I'd love to know how you handle girls who deal with menstruation in elementary school. 

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Pat McFadyen
Games Over Worksheets

Games Over Worksheets

The longer I work with children, the more I see the value of playing games. Playing math games is a powerful way not only for students to learn and master skills but to apply those skills.
Games give you the same great practice as the best worksheets, but are vastly superior. Why?
  • Games are much more engaging than worksheets. Who doesn't want to play a game, right?
  • Games can address curriculum standards as well as, or better than, any worksheet.
  • They can be less stressful. We typically don't "grade" games, so that pressure is off kids.
  • They are new and fresh each time they're played. Especially if the game includes pulling cards randomly or rolling dice, you never know what you're going to get.
  • Once students learn a game, they can work independently. That's great for building confidence and for the smooth flow of a classroom.
  • Games are typically one-prep/low-prep for teachers. Enough said.
Subscribe to my newsletter (to the right) and you'll be able to access my Resource Library. There, you can download my Valentine Fraction 4-In-A-Row game. Complete directions are at the top of the page. You can copy in color or black and white. All you have to add are number cubes and markers.
I deliberately designed this version to include more challenging fractions. By February, students should be able to reduce fractions successfully. This game gives them tons of opportunities to have fun while they practice this skill!
I'd love to hear how it works for you! Happy Math-ing!
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Pat McFadyen
Valentine Math Choice Board FREEBIE

Valentine Math Choice Board FREEBIE

     We're heading into the wonderful Valentine season! There are so many fun and creative activities for this time of year and we can't forget that academics come first. I've designed a fun and creative, Valentine-themed Math Choice Board for you - and it's free! Kids can choose from among 16 different activities to practice math and get creative! I've included three different color versions and an ink-saving black & white version.
    How to get this Valentine Freebie? Sign up for my newsletter. You'll have access to the link and an immediate download.
     I'd love to know how you like it!
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Pat McFadyen
Movies That Will Inspire Teachers

Movies That Will Inspire Teachers

     Teachers spend their careers feeding and inspiring others. It's no surprise that teachers often need a dose of inspiration themselves. A recent Facebook thread had members sharing their favorite inspirational teacher movies. Some were funny, some modeled great teaching, and some modeled the teachers we don't want to be. As I read the list, I thought how great it would be to have a ready resource for those times when you need to pile up on the couch with snacks, and possibly tissues, and reaffirm why we all do this. 
     Consider searching for a quick synopsis before you watch these movies. You can determine which ones fit your needs and tastes, then sit back and be inspired! I'd love to know what other movies inspire you in the comments section below.
  1. Mr. Holland’s Opus
  2. The Ron Clark Story
  3. School of Rock
  4. Akeelah and the Bee
  5. Stand and Deliver
  6. Mona Lisa Smile
  7. McFarland USA
  8. Finding Forrester
  9. Bad Teacher
  10. Dead Poets Society
  11. To Sir, With Love
  12. Mr. Holland’s Opus
  13. Dangerous Minds
  14. Kindergarten Cop
  15. Freedom Writers
  16. The Miracle Worker
  17. Billy Madison
  18. Matilda
  19. Pay It Forward
  20. October Sky
  21. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
  22. Jump Street
  23. Mean Girls
  24. A Smile As Big As The Moon
  25. Facing Giants
  26. Wonder
  27. The Marva Collins Story
  28. Harry Potter
  29. Finding Nemo
  30. Big Fat Liar
  31. Precious
  32. Renaissance Man
  33. Remember the Titans
  34. To Be and To Have/Etre et Avoir
  35. Lean On Me

Stock photo by Samuel Ramos, TpT Hardplayed
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Pat McFadyen
Have Fun Building Number Sense: Play "No More"!

Have Fun Building Number Sense: Play "No More"!

     Would you like to have a no-prep math activity that you can use with almost any grade-level? Would you like to feel confident that you're building number sense? How about knowing you're creating a segue into pre-algebra? If so, let's play "No More"!
     When I say "no prep", I mean it! Simply stroll to the white board or Smart Board and sketch this:

     Next, pick a number. I typically use the day's date at the beginning of the year, but you can pick any number. Write the number at the top.
     Now, challenge students to call out as many different ways as they can think of to "express" that number. This is a beautiful way to get used to identifying just what a mathematical expression is - another way to say a number. I always make an ELA connection here, explaining that I can refer to a child, say Jayden, with different expressions. I can refer to Jayden as, "Jayden", "Mr. Williams", "the boy closest to the door", "the guy in the red shirt", "one of my students", etc. In the same way, we can refer to numbers in just as many ways.
     As you get started, students will typically share fairly simple expressions although some students are ready for more advanced examples:
      You can help students by interjecting some expressions yourself. Remind students that they can use the word form of a number, the short word form, Roman numerals, and later on, decimals and fractions.
     My students would often hang out with the easiest expressions they could think of, like addition. As you notice one operation being used a lot as in the example below, write the operation in the "No More" column. This means that there can be no more addition used in expressions for the rest of the game! Yikes! Kids really start to slow down and think!
     They may head for the relative safety of, say, subtraction. Let them go a while, then lower the boom. No more subtraction!
     Continue playing for a few minutes, usually 2 - 5. Once you eliminate a third operation, you're really cooking!
     You get the idea. You're guiding students to think deeply about how to create a number and they're understanding the difference between expressions and equations.
     Consider adding this to interactive math notebooks, assigning it as a warm-up, and letting kids collaborate before they share. I'd love for you to try "No More" and let me know how it works for you!
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Pat McFadyen
Build Number Sense With Contig!

Build Number Sense With Contig!

     Have you ever heard of the math game Contig? If you haven't, please keep reading and consider adding it to your collection of go-to math activities. I recommend this game for any class for so many reasons:

  • it's awesome at building number sense
  • it's easy to prep and play 
  • each game is fresh and new 
  • you and your students can adapt it to your own needs as you go 
  • it works beautifully in centers, small groups, or as whole-group fun 
     You can download a free copy of the game board here. There is also a Contig, Jr. for younger students. Here's the game board:

     Materials are simple. For a pair of students, you need a laminated game board, 3 dice, and a different colored dry erase marker for each player.
In a nutshell, here are the rules:
1) Roll three dice. Use the numbers just as they are. For example, if you roll 2, 4, 6, they cannot be 24 or 62... just 2, 4, 6. 
2) Add the three numbers. The sum is your starting number. Cross it off the board. This is the only time that you are required to do anything specific with the numbers you roll.

3) Look at all of the numbers surrounding the number you marked off. These are your target numbers. For example, if your starting number is 12, your target numbers are 3, 4, 5, 11,13, 19, 20, 21. You do not have to mark them, as I have in blue below. This is just to show you what is allowed.
4) On each turn, roll three dice. The player can perform any operations in any order on those three numbers as long as the result is one of your target numbers. For example, if you rolled 3, 5, 6, you could say: 3 x 6 - 5 = 11. Cross off 11. 
5) Your new target numbers are 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, 13, 18, 19, 20, 21.
6) Continuing rolling 3 dice on each turn. Perform mathematical operations to produce one of the target numbers. Notice that your target possibilities increase with each new number. Continue play for a specified time or number of turns, whatever works for you.

     Once students are very confident with playing the game, they typically start asking to change the rules. That's great! This type of mathematical discussion is powerful. I always ask students to predict how their suggested change will affect the game.

     If students ask about the name, Contig, I love to make this ELA connection. I tell them it comes from the word contiguous, then ask if that sounds like a word they've heard before. They typically respond, "Continuous". I agree and say contiguous means continuous and touching. That refers to the target numbers that need to be touching, or contiguous to, the numbers you choose.
    I hope you'll give Contig a try. I love it so much, I created a version to send home with my students. It's a great homework activity. You can find it in my store here.

     Best wishes and I'd love to hear how Contig work for your students!
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Pat McFadyen
Have Fun Learning With This Adverb Game!

Have Fun Learning With This Adverb Game!

     When we teach grammar, students can get a little stuck on different parts of speech. Nouns and verbs can go more smoothly, but adverbs and adjectives can be challenging. The names both starting with the same letter can add an extra layer for kids to sort.

     For years, I used a game that is such a great learning tool! "In The Manner Of The Adverb" is easy to teach, so much fun to play, and helps students internalize an important concept. You don't even have to wait until you're teaching parts of speech to introduce it. It makes a great indoor recess game or brain break and is super at building collaborative skills. In addition, kids are very active, they practice expressive skills, and the game is supposed to be fairly quiet!

     How to play "In The Manner Of The Adverb": 
1. If you haven't already, explain to students what an adverb is and how it's used. You don't need to go into a lengthy grammar lesson, you'll be developing the concept by playing the game over time.
2. Have a list of adverbs from which to choose. If you're good at "mental grammar", that's great! I always needed a list so I could differentiate on the fly. You'll also need a list of tasks that can be performed in the classroom. Examples are "sharpen your pencil" or "adjust the mini-blinds". I've added a list below to get you started.
3. Choose two students, the Adverb Guessers, to step outside of the room. I always used two students just so they could support each other and to foster collaboration. You can use one, if you wish. Another character you might need is a Door Person to call the Guessers back in and to assure there's no peeking if you have a glass window!
4. Once the Guessers are outside, write an adverb on the board or a slate and silently show it to the rest of the class. It's important that no one says the adverb out loud. Erase the word and call the Guessers back in.
5. Start calling on students to silently perform a specific task "in the manner of the adverb". Let's suppose we chose the adverb "quickly". You might say, "Jayden, please come shake my hand in the manner of the adverb." Without speaking a word, Jayden would quickly leave his seat, come shake your hand, and return to his seat, all without speaking. The Guessers can now take a guess at what the adverb is. I always give each pair of Guessers three tries.
6. Let's suppose the Guessers don't know or guess incorrectly. You'll call on Lilly. "Lilly, please go sharpen your pencil in the manner of the adverb. Without speaking, Lilly will quickly walk to the sharpener, sharpen her pencil, and return to her seat. The Guessers can try again.
7. After a third try, or whatever works for your group, you can reveal the adverb to the Guessers, choose two new students, and choose another adverb.

   You'll probably have a plethora of students volunteering to perform a task for each adverb. They get so excited! To keep everyone active and involved, I allow students to sit on their desks or stand out of the way during the game.

     The two tools that I mentioned in Step #2 that are good to have at hand are a list of adverbs and a list of activities that can be performed in a classroom. To get you started, I've included a list for each. Feel free to add to them!
     I'd love to hear how this game works for you! Best wishes!
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Pat McFadyen
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