A couple weeks ago, sisters Corinne Burton and Deanne Mendoza were with their Teacher Created Materials employees at Golden View Elementary School, volunteering for Read Across America and helping renovate the school’s farm, where their students learn about environmental science as sheep, goats, chickens and a giant tortoise roam around.
The company’s president and executive vice president of strategic development, respectively, reminisced about stickering and stapling educational products as kids for the business their mother, Rachelle Cracchiolo, started out of the family garage in 1977.
They laughed about how their now-89-year-old grandmother (the company’s first salesperson and the only one in the family who demanded payment) once interrupted a meeting when she heard that they had locked the ice cream freezer they’d recently purchased for their Huntington Beach office grand opening party. She made it policy that Teacher Created Materials employees would have access to free ice cream at all times.
But those were simpler times, before the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of COVID-19 a global pandemic, and schools across the United States started closing down.
On March 16, Teacher Created Materials, recognizing that parents were starting to get anxious about temporarily homeschooling their children, started releasing digital copies of over 300 of their educational materials for free.
This includes daily practice worksheets for reading, math and language skills taken from their popular “180 Days” series that are generally used by parents and grandparents who that want to supplement their students’ usual 180 days of school.
They are labeled by grade level, Pre-K to Grade 6, and week. So far, weeks 29 to 36 have been released for free to approximate the curriculum the students would otherwise be learning at school.
They made their original science readers available because those are the ones that happen to have science labs that can be done with materials easily found around the house or in the classroom, as well as parent guides on how help turn everyday interactions into learning opportunities. There’s also “Reader’s Theaters” scripts, where kids can practice reading by acting out plays.
In fact, they temporarily halted some of their big projects so members of their content team could work on figuring out which materials in their catalog would be most helpful for parents at this time.
“You know how there are those big cruise boats that take forever to turn?” Mendoza says. “I always think we’re one of those speedboats that are suddenly like, ‘Nope, we’re going to go this direction instead.’ We see what the needs are and respond quickly.”
Now used in classrooms in all 50 states and in 89 countries, Teacher Created Materials books cover everything from special education to second language to social studies and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math).
Recently, there’s been a demand to teach students civic education (how to become a community leader) and social and emotional learning (with the goal of reducing bullying).
Their mission, scrawled across the wall in their offices, is to “create a world in which children love to learn,” which Burton believes is extra important today, because according to a 2016 report from the World Economic Forum, 65% of children entering primary school will ultimately have jobs that don’t yet exist.
As implied in their name, they’re extremely proud that their materials are created by teachers for teachers, as well as the “super parents,” as Mendoza calls them, who go above and beyond.
Cracchiolo taught in Fountain Valley, where she started Teacher Created Materials as a hobby, and though Mendoza jokes that her sister has understood the company since she was 11, Burton taught in the Capistrano Unified School District before joining their product development team in 2000.
Mendoza, who came in on the sales side like her grandmother, remembers getting a hard lesson on company culture when she started in 2004.
They were working on a math product that she had already pre-sold internationally to three publishers, but when they started testing it in the classroom, it wasn’t working as well as they’d hoped.
So they pulled it last minute and spent another year on it. Mendoza, accustomed to working in a sales team where deadlines weren’t negotiable and you hit your numbers no matter what, was shocked.
“It was a bit of a learning lesson for me, because I learned that the respect for what was happening for the students and teachers far outweighed the business,” she says. “At the end of the day, we never waste a teacher’s time. We never put something out that doesn’t make a difference in a student’s life.”
“It’s about giving kids something personal to connect to,” says Burton. “We all learn lots of vocabulary and dates and facts, but if you tell a story about the American Revolution and kids can connect with the characters, that’s what sticks.”
That’s why they were inspired by the Golden View Elementary School farm, where their employees helped stain tree trunks and paint a chalkboard to create outdoor classrooms where students could learn science through growing avocados, broccoli, herbs and loquats.
Burton points to one of their STEAM readers, "Making a Mummy,” which they developed with the Smithsonian. It teaches kids how to take a fruit or vegetable and mummify it.
“It’s kind of gross but kids love it,” she says.
“You can teach kids about germs all you want, but now you’re teaching them something that’s absolutely relevant to their realities,” says Mendoza.
And while they’re reading about science, they’ll also learn some math.
“We’re parents too,” says Mendoza, emphasizing that they’re looking to provide free activities that are easy for non-teachers to teach. “But the truth is, parents have always been teachers. You’re their first teachers before they even going to school, and now it’s about trying to get the right tools to people who feel overwhelmed.”
Visit go.tcmpub.com/la-home for the list of free daily activities and homework packets available on their website. For more information and updates on new discounts and free releases, visit teachercreatedmaterials.com.