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Morning Work Based on Brain Science

Morning Work Based on Brain Science

Morning work used to be one of the easiest parts of my day. I had a resource from Teachers pay Teachers that I loved. Each day of the week was a half sheet of paper with review on math, reading, grammar, spelling, etc... The kids were getting a spiral review and all I had to do was make copies and use the paper cutter. It was the perfect way to start the day, or was it?

I have nothing against easy prep. It is actually what I am building my store around. Since I am not in the classroom anymore, I have the time to create resources that are meaningful for students and easy for teachers. As a teacher, you have so much more important work to do than creating resources for your students.

My problem with my old morning work routine is that is was easy at the expense of the students. 

Let me explain. I am fascinated by how we learn. I am always reading about how our brains work, so I can give teachers resources that will help their students learn better. One idea that has resonated with me lately is the idea that our brains need to be ready to learn. But what does that mean?

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs shows us the order of importance of our basic needs. For example, if I don't have oxygen, nothing else matters. So, to be ready to learn, all of our physiological and safety needs have to be met. You might even argue that the love and belonging needs would also have to be met to be ready to learn.

If you are interested in what happens to our brains when we don't have these basic needs met, you will want to check out my blog post on scarcity. It turns out, humans aren't great at making decisions when they don't have something they need.

When thinking about being ready to learn, we also have to think about emotions because in the brain, emotions always trump thought. We can use the connection to help our students remember lessons that are emotionally important. On the other hand, if a child's brain is full of emotions, there is no room for thinking. This could be caused by a fight with a parent before school, the death of a pet, a slight from a friend, etc...

The last thing our brains need to be ready to learn is sometimes the hardest to get at school. We have to be interested in a subject to learn. The more interested we are, the easier it is to learn. How interested in morning work do you think my students were? Now, they did it because they have been trained to do what the teacher says, and, I don't mind saying, they loved me and wanted to please me. But there are very few nine-year-olds that get excited about a spiral review of math concepts.


So, with all this jumbling around in my head, I heard about STEM bins. They are a new (at least to me) way of doing morning work. Teachers provide hands-on materials that students can work on when they get to school. This sounds like a great idea. It is definitely better than a worksheet, but is it getting brains ready to learn? For most kids, no.

Learning about STEM bins did give me the push to think outside the box about morning work. My new morning work would be all about getting our brains ready to learn, and I would explain this to my students. We would talk a lot about brain science in my classroom because I want my students active and engaged learners.

Here is what morning work in my classroom would look like:

1. If you are hungry, eat. Luckily, many schools provide free or reduced breakfast, so I wouldn't have to buy breakfast for twenty students every morning. I would make sure I had snacks on hand for those kids who didn't get breakfast but were hungry. My favorite snack to have are bananas because they are filling and cheap. 

2. If something is bothering you, deal with that. Maybe you want to talk to me about it. I am here to listen. Maybe you need to talk to a friend, that works too. Maybe you want to draw a picture or write. Maybe you just need some quiet time snuggling a stuffed animal. All of these are great options because you are getting yourself ready to learn.

3. If you have work you need to finish, do that. Homework, work from yesterday, work from last year... I don't care. If you feel like you need to get something done before you can focus on the day, do it. Notice I said if you feel like you need to finish it. The teacher should not determine what a student does for morning work (unless the student is being disruptive to other students).

4. If you need to be creative, do that. There is so little room for creativity during the school day. If you have a kid that needs a creative outlet, this is the perfect time for it.

5. If you need to play, play. (But do it quietly.) These are kids. Some of them are so overscheduled outside of school that they don't have time to play. Stock your classroom with blocks and other creative toys. It may look like play to us, but to a child's mind, it is important work.

6. This is a tough one, but, if you need to sleep, sleep. We cannot learn if we are exhausted. Obviously, a child should be getting sleep at night, but as teachers, we can't control this. If our only job with morning work is to get students ready to learn, then we have to let them do what they need to do to learn. Obviously, if a kid comes in so tired they need to sleep every morning, you will want to reach out to the parents and try to work together to come up with a solution that is more effective than a twenty-minute nap at the beginning of class.


The goal of this morning work is to get student brains relaxed and ready to learn. It is a transition from the outside world that is out of their control to school where they are in charge of their own learning.

I hope this blog post helped you think about your morning work routine. I realize that I am not in a classroom anymore, and I don't have to think about administrators or teacher evaluations. I have the luxury of only thinking about learning. So, take what you can from my ideas and forget about the rest. 

If you have ideas for unique morning work, please share them in the comments!

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