I love spring student led conferences. It’s what I affectionately like to call, ‘The Big Show’ because it takes us weeks to prepare and practice for the day. In addition to getting all our materials together (it’s a long extensive list of items, including work from the first day of school to compare against recent work and entire Goldilocks and the Three Bears setting and puppets for retelling), we have to psych up the little sprouts to share their work.
No doubt, they’re excitement and exuberance is bubbling at the surface, but we want to make sure they feel ready to do all the sharing independently… this takes practice, and lots of it. By the time the day actually arrived yesterday (both Monday and Tuesday they all came in asking, ‘Are the conferences today?’), we were more than ready.
We spent the day gathering all the hard work we’d prepared and then, like all good hosts do, cleaning our room so it looked the best it could for our guests. When, at the last minute, I tried to find a hiding place for our laundry basket of art shirts (as my mom says, I’m a ‘stacker’ and a ‘hider’ – my bedroom closet and underneath my bed were all ways busting at the seams as a kid…), Mrs. D. reminded me ours is a ‘working classroom’ and should look as such. Knowing our custodian wouldn’t have time to clean our room before conferences began, everyone pitched in to wipe, sweep, and tidy our room.
And then they began. It never ceases to make my shirt buttons bust with pride to watch little kindergartners bring their families in, take their hands, guide them to their seats, and just show off. That’s basically what our conferences are… Mrs. D. and I do very little. We walk around prompting, praising, and patting (as in heads), but that’s about it. We answer the occasional question, but really, this is a chance for our sprouts to show how far they’ve come since school began.
Everyone came. The few we weren’t sure about came. The mom who is on bed rest because she’s about to deliver any second came (I told her I had my cell and was prepared to call 911 if needed). Most of the families found childcare for siblings to they could give their kindergartner their undivided attention. I saw more smiles on children’s and parent’s faces than I could count. Our journey is winding closer to a finish and I couldn’t be more proud.
Ah Spring! With the melting of mountains of snow comes the buying of new shoes… usually with laces. As the number of sprouts requesting their shoes tied increases, I feel the need to introduce the Shoe Club. Basically a ruse to help me with all the tying, the club is quite exclusive. To gain membership a sprout must:
Tie their shoes three different times on three different days. If a child isn’t wearing shoes with laces they can tie mine.
Each attempt must be successful. Successful is defined by the laces staying tied. In the event of a discrepancy of success, I am the ultimate decider.
Once a sprout is in the club they receive:
A badge that tells the world they’re in the Shoe Tying Club.
A pair of brand new laces of their choice from our ‘Box Of Laces’ – rainbow, Dora, and Spongebob laces are the most popular.
A star next to their name on the Shoe Tying Club roster so everyone knows they are a member for life… and will seek them out when if and when they need help tying shoes.
The club is always a huge hit. This year, just as last, there were four or five that already knew how to tie. After three days, they’re in. We also have a Shoe Tying Center during Center Time each day and I ask one member to be a ‘teacher’ and help others learn.
There is nothing as rewarding as seeing the smile on a child’s face when they successfully tie their first pair of shoes. I saw that look many times this week… I am one lucky guy.
With a sprout in class expecting a new baby brother or sister any day now and many friends with younger siblings, I decided to pull out one of my all time favorite books – Julius The Baby of the World by Kevin Henkes. One of my favorite author/illustrators, Kevin Henkes' books are sweet stories that always prompt amazing discussions. I suppose that is why I love his books so much… Chrysanthemum, Wemberly Worried, and Owen (oh how I loved my binky as a child) thrill my class over and over.
As I read Julius today, the connections were palpable. Kids fights with their siblings – I know, my brother and I practically waged war for the better part of my childhood. In Julius, Lilly is excited for her new baby brother to arrive... until he does. She can’t understand why her parents and family fawn over him when she finds him disgusting. The book never names the feeling… jealousy, but we did during our discussion.
One of the many aspects I love about Kevin Henkes books is the humor. He just finds the right balance between emotion and laughter. My favorite part of Julius? When Lilly stalks strangers warning them about the dangers of babies.
We had an amazing talk afterwards about sibling rivalry and sibling love. Most sprouts expressed their general dislike for their brothers and sisters, but a few could see the light at the end of the tunnel… thanks to Julius. These discussions about family, love, and life are what I cherish most about my job. Oh, and my brother and I, we stopped fighting and grew to love each other.
Martin and I have a problem. He’s small. He’s young. He’s extremely affectionate and loves giving hugs and holding hands. Apparently, he also loves sitting in laps.
Everyday at bus time, when I sit in the Rest Stop he approaches me for a hug… problem is, he tries to somehow turn the hug into lap sitting. He literally tries to climb into my lap. Each day I gently push him off and tell him to stand up if he wants to give me a hug. He never argues or questions me… until today.
“But why can’t I just sit in your lap?” He asked innocently.
“Martin, I know you sit in your mom and dad’s lap at home, but at school, it’s just not allowed,” I explained.
I’m not sure if there is an explicit rule against lap sitting… I’m guessing some female kindergarten teachers may allow it, but I know if anyone walked by and saw that boy sitting on my lap, it wouldn’t be looked upon fondly. It’s also a slippery slope. If I let him, I’d have many others climbing up for a turn. My lap can’t handle that much traffic.
“Well, you can hug me and hold my hand, but we just can’t have lap sitting at school… it’s just one of those rules we have to obey…” I continued.
“But I love you,” he reasoned.
“I love you too, but we can show each other in other ways,” I explained.
The other day, as I walked back to my room from dropping my sprouts off at a special, a second grade teacher stopped me.
“I have a story to share with you about one of your students,” she began.
Uh-oh. I wasn’t sure this was going to be good… second grade teachers don’t often get kindergarteners… I know, I used to teach second grade.
“Yesterday, when you were walking your class to lunch I stopped a boy at the back of the line,” she said.
I was worried already. Who was it? What were they doing wrong? My school has a no talking policy rule for the hallways. My class is pretty good about it, but hey, they’re five, and total silence isn’t easy for them.
“He was wearing a winter hat that looked just like a tiger, with ears and everything…”
At this point I knew exactly who she was talking about… Andy. This wasn’t going to be good.
“I said ‘Oh what a cute tiger hat, it’s so adorable, I just love it’,” she continued.
“Then he walked right up to me, put his finger up to his lips and said, ‘Shhhhh!’” she laughed.
“My whole class roared with laughter, they thought it was hilarious… you should compliment him on remaining quiet in the hallway,” she finished and walked off.
See, because I know it’s almost impossible for my class to remain silent in the halls, I try my hardest to be silent myself. They are watching me all the time… if I’m talking to students, other teachers or staff, well, why shouldn’t they talk as well? If I’m a silent pillar, the likelihood of them being quiet increases. I was quite proud of Andy… he knew my teacher friend was breaking the rules and had no problem letting her know. Bravo my young friend!
During Quiet Time, sprouts often come up to offer hugs, ask for their shoes to be tied, or whisper sweet nothings (‘I love you,’ ‘You’re my friend,’ and ‘You’re the best teacher in the word’ are some of my favorites). Sometimes, when they all have something to share, a small line forms. They stand quietly waiting their turn for a little one on one attention and then go back to their seats.
The other day, Sarah was standing off to the side while I tied some shoes. She waited for about three or four minutes in complete silence. Sarah is one of the sweetest little girls I’ve met. She has a quiet and gentle nature about her… oh and she sounds like her nose is perpetually stuffed. I’ve come to believe that’s just how she sounds because nobody has a cold for over eight months.
As Sarah approached me, I was expecting a hug. With her calm nature, she usually doesn’t say anything during Quiet Time, even when visiting me. She typically just offers a sincere hug and smile and then returns to her seat. After waiting for what I imagine seems like an eternity for a five-year-old, she walked up to me, her face only a few inches from mine and… coughed.
It was a loud cough. Despite our constant teaching and reviewing of how to cover your mouth (with the inside of your elbow), she made no effort to cover her mouth or shield me from her germs. Basically, she held that cough in just for me. She did give me a warm hug afterwards, but the cough seemed to linger. I love the gifts my sprouts offer up on a daily basis, but this was one I would have gladly done without.
Every year brings new revelations and growth for me as an educator. This year, I’ve learned to say ‘I love you’ back to my sprouts when they tell me they love me… which is quite often. Most of the time it’s whispered as they pull away from a hug. Other times, they come up and say it softly, just loud enough for me to hear. Then there is Luther.
A few weeks ago Luther began saying ‘I love you,’ but as he became more and comfortable his enthusiasm and volume began to increase. Today, during Quiet Time, with all the room a hush, he literally shouted, “I love you, Mr. ______, I love you! I love you! I love you!”
He was practically singing it… just like this scene from Elf.
I suppose there is nothing wrong with singing ‘I love you’ at the top of your lungs. Luther has continued to yell it for the world to hear. For the record, I don’t shout it back, but I do say it back… every time.
Friday afternoons in kindergarten are always challenging… for me. My energy is spent and I’m just down right exhausted. We usually plan extra long Choice Time and I relish the opportunity to just observe and play with my sprouts instead of pulling them one on one to read or assess. Last Friday was no exception and with the lurking super-sized full moon, the entire class was quite energetic.
As we cleaned up and sat together in our meeting area, the liveliness was overwhelming… I needed to calm them down so we could get ready quickly… I needed to calm them down to prevent my head from popping off. As in most primary classrooms, non-fiction is the exception, not the rule. Personally, I adore non-fiction and I know many children do too. I went to my secret stash of non-fiction books and pulled Amazing Snakes from the pile.
Kids love snakes. I love snakes. Snakes are cool. Snakes are scary… in that rollercoaster it’s fun to be scared way.
“Girls and boys, I have a very special book to read you,” I teased, holding the book in my lap so no one could spy the cover.
A hush came over the group.
“Amazing… SNAKES!” I shouted, trying my best to say ‘snakes’ in scary way.
Well like a snake charmer taming a wild cobra with a hypnotizing pungi, they all sat at attention and were entranced by my book. I made sure to read it with my best suspenseful voice and outlined the goriness and horror of the photos. They loved it.
I finished the book and with the group quiet, we were able to get ready for dismissal quickly and quietly. As we move deeper into spring and it begins to get nicer outside, I’ll be pulling more tricks out of my non-fiction bag to help soothe the natives.
This week our theme is building and construction… a favorite of mine. In addition to all the fiction stories, I bought a set of construction vehicle books last summer that I’ve been itching to read. They are amazing! My sprouts adore them and I’m even learning some of the names of parts of the vehicles I didn’t know.
Each day we usually pair a fiction and non-fiction book. They’re in the plans, but we plan quite far ahead (usually at least a week) and I often forget what is on the agenda on a given day. This morning I was running late and we had a meeting first thing, so I didn’t get a chance to look over the plans. When it was time for me to read, I turned around and grabbed the story… The Night Worker.
Go ahead… giggle… smirk… chuckle… I surely did. Luckily there were a few other grownups in the room to go along with me… really ‘The Night Worker’ – it’s just one of those funny titles.
After the reading the book (for the record, it’s about a boy who goes to work at night with his father on a construction site – NOT that kind of night worker…) I asked the class what other types of jobs might someone have to stay up all night for?
“Nurse,” said David… he would know, his mom is a nurse.
“Police Officer,” Audra offered.
“Dunkin Donuts! They’re open ALL NIGHT long!” Andy shouted.
"Firefighters," suggested Jason.
In between, I offered comments of praise… ‘Yes, some nurses and doctors are up all night long,’ ‘Sure police officers and firefighters work to keep us safe all night,’ and so on.
Finally, I called on Betsy.
“Rock stars!” She exclaimed with zeal.
“Um, yes, they do work late into the night, but I’m not sure they’re working all night long, they are… um, doing other stuff,” was all I could muster.
We moved on to making our paper construction paper hats and pretending to be in a work zone… oh, yes, I wore my hat. Who says rock stars should have all the fun?
Ah Writing Workshop. As we move closer to the end of the school year, we are beginning to ramp up our writing. Most sprouts are flourishing, but there are always a few who resist… they scribble, crumple, rip, and stare… but they don’t really write. We redirect, guide, and try, often without success, to steer them back on track… we also praise those authors who put their nose to the grind.
Today I stopped to read Nicole’s paper. Nicole has struggled academically all year. She has made amazing gains, but still has a long way to go. She had written a lovely story and all the beginning and ending sounds were there along with many other sounds. She had spaces, punctuation, and neat handwriting. She was trying… really trying.
Nicole is a quiet girl. She doesn’t make a fuss over herself and almost never asks for attention. I spent a few minutes reading her story and telling her how wonderful it was. She didn’t say anything, but just smiled.
“What will your next sentence say,” I asked her.
“I put a sun in the sky,” she whispered. She was writing about a picture she made at home.
“Awesome. You get started and I’ll be back in a few minutes to see how you’re doing,” I instructed as I walked away.
This guidance and moving away technique is one I read about somewhere that I find quite useful. I give a simple instruction and let the sprout know I’ll be back to check in and then walk away. It almost always works. I had no doubt it would work with Nicole… she was working independently before I arrived.
I walked away to deal with a few boys who were not writing. I was feeling rather stressed and deflated after trying, unsuccessfully, to guide them back to working. Our Workshop time was over and I was went to ring the bells to signal cleaning up. As I glided by Nicole’s table I looked down and saw, ‘I pt a su’ on her paper. She had done exactly what I’d asked. I waited for her to write her ‘n’ and finish ‘sun’ and then rang the bell.
Instead of giving the directive to clean up, I complemented Nicole on her writing and work ethic in front of the class. Never one to seek the spotlight, she beamed as I told the entire group how hard she had worked on her story. Nothing makes me feel as good as a child who truly tries. Nicole gave her best effort and she made my day.
She gave me a little picture at bus time too. It was the first gift she’s given me all year. That kid made my day today.
People often ask me where I get my ideas for postings... I have good days and bad ones. On good days, I'm pulling notes out of my pockets five or six times a day jotting down quotes and ideas. On bad days, the sprouts line up for buses and I wonder where the day went... nothing. To be fair, I'm sure something worth writing about happened, I just wasn't in a place to notice it... or I forgot to write it down...
This morning, the full first day of spring, a snow storm was predicted. I didn't sleep well and woke up from a bizarre dream I'm going to go ahead and blame on watching Black Swan a few weeks ago... if you haven't seen it, be warned. CREEPY.
Anyway, as the last group lined up to leave, Jason, who is quiet, calm and keeps mostly to himself (to date, he's only offered a hug twice), handed me a folded piece of paper. I opened it and saw this:
Sweet, he loves school. I had a hunch, but it was nice to see it in writing.
"Flip it over," Jason said with a slight smile.
Now that's how you flip a bad day on it's side and make it an amazing one.
A few weeks ago, while surfing around websites of the amazing educators who blog, tweet, and fill the internet with humor and ideas, I stumbled upon a book called A Child’s Work: The Importance of Fantasy Play by Vivian Gussin Paley. Ms. Paley worked as a kindergarten teacher for over forty years at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools and received numerous awards and accolades, so I figured she knew what she was talking about.
With the emphasis on academics growing stronger than ever and many feeling like kindergarten is becoming first grade, kindergarten teachers are always feeling like we need to defend the importance of play. We all know deep down the importance of play to our little sprouts, but sometimes articulating it can be difficult. A Child’s Work does just that… and beautifully I might add.
Reading her book (it’s a slim quick read), I kept discovering deeper layers of the importance of play. Writing specifically about play in kindergarten, Ms. Pulley states, ‘Here the children have a clear view, for the firs time, of the pecking order in school society. For these insights and others, the kindergarten year can be an exceptionally productive period, the culmination of years of early social observations and fantasy play. By kindergarten, children have the added patience, experience, and vocabulary with which to carry the plot and the characters to places they have never been before…”
Ms. Pulley isn't opposed to teaching academics per se, she just feels fantasy play shouldn't fall to the wayside, 'However, since fantasy play is the glue that bind together all other pursuits, including the early teaching of reading and writing skills, I am compelled to put it on display as clearly as I can... It is in the development of their themes and characters and plots that children explain their thinking and enable us to wonder who we might become as their teachers. If fantasy play provides the nourishing habitat for the growth of cognitive, narrative, and social connectivity in young children, then is is surely the staging area for our common enterprise: an early school experience that best represents the natural development of young children.'
Filled with anecdotes from her own classrooms as well as her observations in other rooms, she finds amazing insight in the conversations and revelations of her students.
Frederick once told me that the single word “Frederick” was his entire story. This seemed insufficient to me. “What do you do in the story?” I asked. “Nothing.” “You could go to school.” “No.” “Just Frederick?” That was it, there would be no more. I asked the other children about his story. “Is anything different?” “Because he’s Frederick,” Libby answered. She was four. “The story has only one word, you notice,” I persisted. “It’s not one word,” said John, “It’s one person.” Of course. A person is a story. Everyone in the class understood that.
Ms. Pulley is concerned about the fate of fantasy play in our early childhood classrooms too. She writes, ‘But today fantasy play is at the barricades with fewer and fewer teachers willing to step up and defend the natural style and substance of early childhood, the source of all this vocabulary building and image decoding and Socratic questioning.’
A Child’s Work has led me to rethink the time and quality of play in my kindergarten classroom. I’ve already started to think of ways to increase the time allotted to play and ways to better document and interact with my sprouts during their play. If you work with young children, I can’t recommend this title enough. Oh, and Ms. Pulley has many other books I can’t wait to dive into.
Yesterday, as by some fluke, Mother Nature decided winter was over (this morning it's snowing). The temperature climbed into the sixties and I swear, for a moment, it hit seventy. As luck would have it, I’d worn a t-shirt with a hoodie sweatshirt because like most classrooms in America, mine can swing from a penguin habitat to a sweltering desert and back again in about five minutes. That hoodie sweatshirt came on and off more times than I can count, but by bus time it was off permanently.
As I sat in the Rest Stop chair talking to sprouts while they waited for their bus to be called (really, by Friday afternoon in kindergarten, the only place for me is the Rest Stop), Luther came in for a final Friday hug to get him through the weekend. When he moved away from me, he looked down, and as if finding some secret treasure announced, “Mr. _______, you have hair on your arm!”
“Um, yes, I do,” I replied. For the record, I’m not some crazy ape man, just a normal regular guy with some arm hair.
“Why?” He asked as most kindergarteners do when explaining almost anything.
“Well, when you grow up and become a man, you’ll have hair on your arms too,” I explained.
The details of this transformation from boy to man were not in the cards… I’ll save that for the dreaded fifth grade health teacher’s ‘Your Body Is Changing’ talk. Needless to say, Luther’s face look mortified to think he would one day have arm hair.
He then turned his attention to the hair on my head.
“When I become a man, will my hair be curly like yours?” He asked.
A reasonable question from a five-year-old.
“No, some people have red hair, some have blonde hair, and others have brown,” I began as I gently tapped the heads of sprouts with different hair colors.
“Most people have straight hair like you, but a few lucky people have curly hair like me,” I said.
As chance would have it there were no sprouts with curly hair in our class this year, so I really stand out.
Like tiny explorers discovering a new species, the group of children around me all reached up and began feeling my curls. Surely we looked odd, me sitting in the Rest Stop with six small hands atop my head, but in kindergarten, strange is usually the norm.
Like an alarm waking them out of a deep slumber, the secretary in the office announced the next group of busses and they were out the door.
This past Monday, as we did some syllable work, I realized quickly, that even with Mrs. D., myself, and Miss F. (who comes into our classroom to help once a week), there wasn’t going to be enough adult support. We'd been reviewing breaking words into syllables and we had a fun St. Patrick’s Day worksheet to review the skills. Yes, it was only Monday and we were already reading and talking about St. Patrick’s Day… one of the fun aspects of kindergarten is no holiday is just one day.
We did some syllable work as a group and reviewed the concepts and it was time for the worksheet. The sheet had twelve words. Each word was one, two, or three syllables. There were three shamrocks and after reading each word, students had to color how many syllables a word had. Here’s the problem… most kindergarteners can’t read the words on the sheet.
Since every sprout needed almost every word read to them, three adults wasn’t going to cut it. Cue Billy. Billy can read, I mean really read. He reads at about a third grade level and we’re always trying to challenge him.
“Billy, do you think you could be a teacher and help read words?” I asked.
“Do you think you can do it without being silly?” I inquired.
Like most kindergarten boys, Billy can be silly and I wanted his help, but not if he was going to make it more difficult to complete our task.
Well wouldn’t you know it, Billy walked around the room and read and helped, without telling any answers. He wasn’t silly, he was a little miniature teacher. Maybe Billy will be a teacher when he grows up. I’d like that.
This morning, a leprechaun must have sneaked something into my coffee (perhaps he switched my decaf with regular?)… I was in a cheeky sneaky mood and decided to play a trick on my friends from last year.
Armed with shamrock and gold confetti I took off for some first grade classrooms. Without asking, I waltzed in, before the children arrived, and spread a little Irish cheer on tables and carpets. The first grade teachers seemed amiable enough and one even emailed me later to tell me that my cheer made her students morning.
I realize standards are going up, benchmarks are getting tougher, kindergarten is becoming more like first grade, and first grade is becoming more like second, but kids still need to have fun. Kids still need to believe in magic… Kids still need leprechauns to cause a little mischief. I’m happy to play the part anytime.
Teachers love to be loved. It's part of our charm. Like it or not, the sprouts are going to adore you. Some show it with hugs, others with words. Some are a little more shy and draw pictures or give you notes. Then there is David.
David tells me he loves me daily. He offers hugs, gives drawings, and tells me he's already thinking about missing me when summer comes. On top of all this, he's funny. He makes me laugh all the time...
Today he handed me this:
"Mr. _______, I wrote this note for you because I wanted you to know you're cool," he said.
Today, in anticipation of St. Patrick’s Day, we made our leprechaun ladders. These tiny ladders allow children to practice fine motor skills (cutting and sewing) and patterning. They’re made from cut out shamrocks, pieces of straw, and yarn. When they finish, we add a little sparkle (to attract the leprechauns) and then hang them around the classroom.
As most sprouts were finishing, I walked around and hung them up… I tried to spread them around the classroom and hang them high enough so the leprechauns had to jump a little (and to avoid kindergarten hands from destroying them).
Luther was almost finished and raised his hand for help. I walked over and began punching holes in his shamrocks so he could begin stringing his ladder.
“So, Mr. ________, how do the leprechauns get up to the ladders?” He asked.
“Well, they jump up… leprechauns can jump really high,” I explained.
“Oh, so how do they get from ladder to ladder… they’re kind of far from each other?” He wondered.
“Well, leprechauns are magic – so they can jump really far,” I finished.
I figured the old ‘magic’ explanation would cover me.
“Magic? You mean like Santa and God?” he asked.
“Um, yes, I suppose so… Santa, God, and leprechauns – all magic,” I agreed.
So there you have it. The Holy Trinity according to a kindergartner.
Driving to work, once again, in the pitch dark, is not a fun way to start the day. As most of you know, I try to be a positive person. Losing an hour of sleep, driving in the dark, and then walking into my classroom to see the clock stating the time my body felt it truly was, well it wasn't easy to stay up beat.
Of course the kids came in looking more like zombies than their normal energetic selves. As the day dragged on, we all got more tired. During Quiet Time, I swear, I almost put my head down and took a snooze...
David made my day by coming up to me during Quiet Time and whispering, "Mr. _______ I'm gonna be sad when it's summer, cause I'll miss you."
I survived the day and hopefully as the week wears on, will catch up on some sleep. When do we set the clocks back? Is it too early to start looking forward to it? (If there are any typos or grammatical errors, I apologize, I'm too tired to proofread.)
My post last week, Sammy, about my visit with Valerie from last year, sparked some more thoughts about girls. See, Valerie is one of those little girls that everyone comments on. Last year, whenever ladies came into my room to volunteer, work with students, drop something off, etc. anyone who saw Valerie would comment on her appearance. She’s just strikingly beautiful and people always noticed.
This is why I always tried to encourage Valerie to work hard and understand how smart she was (and still is). In my short time as an educator, I’ve seen too many girls, that for one reason or another (really, can someone explain this to me?) thought being ‘pretty’ or ‘cute’ was the most important thing in their lives.
Here are a few suggestions for the parents of little girls… I hope I’m not stepping on any toes here, but here goes.
Spend as much time reading and writing with your little girl as you do combing her hair, teaching her about makeup, or talking about the way she looks.
Remind your daughters they can grow up to be anything… I mean anything they want to.
Actively listen to girls' voices, opinions, and ideas. Remember to recognize accomplishments.
Statistics show young girls are more worried about being teased than being violently attacked. Talk about bullying. Know your daughter’s friends. Stay involved.
Resist jumping to “fix” things for girls; empower her to discuss struggles, and problem solve; show her you believe she has the ability to handle her life; discuss ways to approach struggles, and ask what you can do to help support her through the process.
I haven’t kept a record, but I see far more t-shirts that say ‘Cutie Pie’ or ‘Pretty Princess’ with cutesy pink and purple kittens and cupcakes on them than t-shirts that say ‘Girl Power!’ or ‘Anything boys can do girls can do better’ – although for the record, one little girl in my class this year owns both of the latter and she rocks.
Compliment your daughter on her reading, writing, athletic abilities, friendships… things other than looks.
Obviously, our society places a high value on appearance and parents have an uphill battle ahead of them. Teachers and other adults in the lives of young girls can help too… it really does take a village and we owe it to our girls to show them the value of what real beauty means… it’s on the inside.
Last Monday, during sharing, Andy was not in a sharing mood. When it was his turn he sulked, “My name is Andy and…”
Following the ‘and…’ came a sour face. After a minute of waiting (why does a minute of silent waiting in kindergarten feel like an eternity?), we moved on. Clearly Andy had woken up on the wrong side of the bed.
The rest of his Monday wasn’t much better. He was basically crabby the entire day. Andy has mastered what my mom would call the ‘sour puss’ face and it was on display all day long. Ugh.
Tuesday morning, after Andy arrived and had taken off his coat and put his backpack away, I summoned him over.
“Andy, I want you to have a better day today,” I began.
“Did you get a good night’s sleep?” I asked.
“What can I do to help make it a better day?” I inquired.
“I dunno, maybe a hug?” He wondered.
If Andy thought a hug would improve his day, who was I to argue? With that, I gave him a big, tight hug.
Well wouldn’t you know, his morning was fantastic. After lunch, during Quiet Time, I called him over to check in.
“Your morning was wonderful, keep it up,” I encouraged.
He gave me another hug before returning to his seat.
We repeated this ‘hug therapy’ the rest of the week. Andy’s mood seemed much improved. I’m not sure if it was the hugs or something else, but who am I to argue with the power of a hug? On Monday, I’ll be sure to start Andy’s day with a hug in hopes of keeping him in a good mood from the get go. Who am I kidding… the hugs put a smile on my face too.
One of my favorite ways to spend my free time (I know, it’s an oxymoron for a kindergarten teacher…) is with my sprouts from last year. From time to time, they invite me to come listen to them read and there is no better way to spend part of my lunch.
Today, Valerie, a dear student from last year, invited me to listen to her read. I walked in, she grabbed her book box and I was a little skeptical. The books in her box looked more like second grade books to me. Valerie is smart, but I wasn’t sure these books were going to work… I wanted her to feel proud about her reading, but this was her show and I was just her audience.
She pulled Sammy the Seal from her box. This is a long book. The first thing she did was flip to the last page…
“Look, it’s sixty-four pages,” she pointed out.
“Can you read the whole thing?” I wondered.
“Oh sure, I read it this morning, here, elbow to elbow and knee to knee,” she instructed me.
We buddy read this way in kindergarten and I was happy to see she either remembered it or was continuing the practice in first grade.
She read Sammy the Seal with more zeal and enthusiasm than I think the author ever intended. I soaked up her every word. I was aghast. She was not just reading, she was more fluent than I could have ever anticipated. I kept giving amazed looks at her first grade teacher.
When Valerie finished, I just looked at her.
“Wow, you have become a wonderful reader!” I exclaimed.
“Who do you read with at home?” I asked.
“Mainly just myself,” she said.
“Well, you keep it up. Keep learning from Mrs. ________ doing your best… remember how smart you are and how being smart can take you anywhere,” I finished.
“I know,” she replied.
“Well, you made my day, thank you so much,” I finished.
I’ve had enough of the smart girls aren’t cool routine I see and I don’t want Valerie falling into that trap. With that I gave her a hug and headed back to my class. She really did make my day.
This week we started a mini-unit on Goldilocks and the Three Bears. We’re reading as many versions of the story as we can and making our own storyboard and stick puppets to practice retelling. Our student led conferences are at the end of the month and each child retelling Goldilocks to their parents is the pièce de résistance of the day.
I did this last year and read many, many versions of the classic tale, but one I missed was Dusty Locks and the Three Bears by Susan Lowell with illustrations by Randy Cecil. Mrs. D. offered it up to me to read (we always do two read alouds and share them) with, “Can you do a southern accent?”
“Sure!” I replied, figuring I’d wing it.
Well let me tell you, if you haven’t ever read Dusty Locks, stop what you’re doing, run, don’t walk, to buy it, and READ IT to your class or children at home. This was the most fun I’ve had reading a book aloud in a very long time… this from a guy who reads many books aloud daily. It was downright hilarious.
The story stays relatively close to the original, with plates of beans standing in for the porridge and lots of fiddles and cowboy boots and hats.
Dusty Locks entrance (please imagine my best southern drawl):
A cloud of smoke? A swarm of mosquitoes?
No sirree! It was a dirty little girl.
She hadn’t had a bath for a month of Sundays, so everybody called her Dusty Locks. But Trouble was her middle name. That little outlaw had run away from home without stopping to kiss her mother good-bye!
Really? I have to give the author credit, the writing is laugh out loud funny.
Upon seeing the plates of beans, Dusty Locks cries, "Ya-hoo! I'm so hungry I could eat a saddle blanket."
When Papa Bear sees someone's been eating his beans, he growls (in a deep southern accent), "SOMEONE'S BEEN EATIN' MY BEANS!"
In case you haven't guessed yet, I had a ton of fun reading this book... as did all my sprouts. The illustrations go perfectly with the text and it just injected a burst of laughter and joy into our day. Don't be shy, invite Dusty Locks into your heart and let her rustle up some trouble.
This is more a fellow teacher story than about my sprouts... I'll call it a 'tale from the teacher's room' as it happened there. I don't usually share sacred stories from the place where students dare not dwell, but this one just tickled me pink... and the teacher gave me permission.
I am not a baker, but after a friend gave me a new cookie cookbook, I've been delving into making cookies... the winters here are long and we all need to fatten up to survive the cold temperatures... I figured I needed to do my part to help out.
In any event, on this day, I had brought some cookies to share and was walking around the teacher's room using my meager sales skills trying to pawn the poor things off on the sweet ladies brave enough to eat something I'd made.
As I approached my friend Mrs. R., who bless her soul, is VERY pregnant (she's due in a few weeks), I asked her, "Would you like a cookie?"
"No, really, I can't," she replied.
She was almost done with her lunch... a tray she'd bought from the school cafeteria.
"Oh come on, you're eating for two, you know that sweet baby wants a cookie," I pleaded.
"Well, I would, but..." she hesitated.
"This is your last chance to eat to your hearts content guilt free," I reasoned.
"Well, the thing is, I ate my lunch from home during snack and this is actually my second lunch," she confessed.
"Oh," I said, tucking my cookies under my arm and walking away.
Today was our read loud via Skype with Iza Trapani. Tomorrow is actually World Read Aloud Day, but our schedules didn’t connect so she graciously offered to read today. After reading almost every book she’s written and illustrated and learning all about her, the energy was bubbling first thing this morning… and our read aloud wasn’t until two o’clock.
David walked off the bus saying, “Today we get to meet a real author!”
We had a few glitches with our technology, but as I explained to Ms. Tapani, when you work in a public school, you do the best with what you have. She was extremely patient with us and read her version of Froggie Went A-Courtin’. She used a small froggie puppet to help her read and also had us join her at times.
During one of the computer meltdowns, Mrs. D. and I regaled the class with stories of Pong and Asteroids as we tried to explain how when they’re adults this technology will seem passé.
Our time with Ms. Tipani was extraordinary. She took the time to answer a few questions and was just so genuinely happy to join us. Meeting her was more exciting to my sprouts than any celebrity or sports star – which is just what a kindergarten teacher hopes for.
I have to give a big thanks to my friend Susan (she has her own wonderful blog for older grades at The Book Maven’s Haven) for helping me set this up. Tomorrow, we’ll be writing our thank you cards and sending them off. Meeting, as David said, 'a real author', was a highlight and showed my sprouts what they can achieve.
Today, after reading Iza Trapani’s I’m a Little Teapot (we’re having a read aloud with her tomorrow via Skyle… SO cool), Mrs. D. showed the class the music she put on the last page of the book.
“If we had a musical instrument and someone knew how to play, we could play the notes to the song,” she explained.
“If we only had a piano, I could play it for you,” I added.
Everyone looked surprised. I’m no virtuoso, but I took piano lessons as a child and I can tap out notes and play a few random songs (Lean On Me is my go to song of choice).
“Well, how about this?” Mrs. D. asked.
She handed me the small children’s xylophone we use to get the class’ attention. When we play a few notes, the children stop what they’re doing, turn their voices off, and place their hands on their heads. We don’t usually play any actual songs, so this was going to be a first.
I balanced the xylophone and opened book on my lap and began tapping out the notes. This was not Carnegie Hall and I was not going to win America’s Got Talent, but when I finished the last note, the class erupted in wild applause. I was a hit.
When we finished reading Iza Trapini’s version of The Itsy Bitsy Spider and the class saw the notes, I was put in the spotlight again. Again, I was lavished with rapturous applause.
I’m contemplating going on the road with my xylophone. I hear U2 is looking for an opening act. If you asked my sprouts, I’d be a shoe in.
Last week we read Spoon by one of my favorite children’s authors, Amy Krouse Rosenthall. The story about a little spoon that envies his friends lives (“And Chopsticks! They are so lucky! Everyone thinks they’re really cool and exotic.”), but eventually learns he’s actually lucky to be a spoon just warms my heart.
At the end of the story, Spoon finally jumps into bed (a drawer) with his parents and, you guessed it, spoons. Well, have you ever tried explaining what ‘spooning’ means to a group of kindergarteners? It’s not easy.
“Have you ever snuggled in bed with your parents like Spoon does?” I asked.
Lots of heads nodding.
“Well when you spoon, you would lay in front of your mom or dad and kind of fit like two spoons,” I explained.
Lots of perplexed looks.
“Hang on,” I said, running to grab some plastic spoons.
“See how they just fit inside of each other perfectly?” I asked.
“Well, if you lay in front of your mom or dad, with your back to them, that’s spooning,” I continued.
“But, we’re not spoons,” offered Ricky.
My mind began to wonder if this was making any sense and with that I said what comes out of my mouth way too often, “Anyway, moving along…”
In any event, the book is a wonderful story about self-acceptance and I never tire of reading it year after year. Next time, perhaps I’ll leave the ‘spooning’ lesson out.
This week, I was greeted with a wonderful surprise. When we returned from our winter break I was nervous about the behaviors I might encounter after so much time off. To my delight, not only were there no behavior issues from our respite, but the friends who struggled with some of our class rules had seemingly grown up.
A few little boys who often spent time in our Rest Stop thinking about their actions had just simply stopped their trips to the chair. Our first day back, I thought they were either tired or in shock about their return to school. By the second and third day back, I knew something had shifted. By Friday, I was on could nine… my little kindergartners were becoming first graders before my eyes.
We have a lot more to learn before our time together is over and it appears my sprouts are just a little more serious about school. To be clear, we still are having fun, dancing and singing our hearts out and finding time for silliness… but when it’s time to focus on our learning, it seems we’re all a lot more focused now.
The hugs haven’t diminished either. In fact, they seem to have increased. Perhaps it was the time away from each other or maybe it’s just a realization that, after our one hundredth day together, our time is limited, but whatever the reason, the hugs are constant. What I love most are the hugs from kids who almost never offer them up… like a rare gem, when I’m least expecting it, I’ll feel arms wrapped around me, look down and see a face I wasn’t expecting.
I am always telling my class you never stop learning… I often use myself as an example and try to highlight when I learn something new. This week, I discovered the magic of March in kindergarten… and those pesky enchanted leprechauns haven’t even visited us yet.
Today I had a Mrs. Brown moment. She was my fifth grade teacher and she always made comments typical of a fifty-ish year-old school teacher with thirty somewhat years experience. I wasn’t proud of my comment, I don’t think it offended the child, but it still mortified me that it came out of my mouth.
This morning, as Mrs. D. was in the middle of a story, I looked up and saw Martin holding this:
He was swinging it back and forth and, I can only assume, trying to figure out what it was. It looked like either a nest of some sort or part of a dead carcass. I had no clue what it was and here is what came out of my mouth, “Martin Jones, what on heaven and earth are you doing?”
The moment it came out of my mouth, I felt like a fifty-ish year-old school teacher with thirty somewhat years experience. It wasn’t a mean or inappropriate thing to say… I’m pretty sure nobody was hurt or offended… I didn’t raise my voice… but it just wasn’t me.
After taking it away and investigating with Mrs. D. it turns out the offending object was a girl’s hair scrunchie (or is it scrunchy? I will never master the ins and outs of girls hair). We returned it and moved on with our day… but my Mrs. Brown comment haunted me the rest of the day.
I forgot this funny tidbit from our one-hundredth day… Audra had brought in her collection of marbles to count. She diligently counted and recounted them with no issue. We even gave her a tray to use so they wouldn’t roll around the room.
At the end of the day, Audra raised her hand, I walked over and she showed me four loose marbles.
“Oh Audra, you better put those with your others, you don’t want to lose them,” I warned.
“No, Mr. ________, these aren’t mine…” she began.
I cut her off with, “Wait, I didn’t think anyone else brought in marbles…”
“They didn’t, someone has lost their marbles!” She exclaimed.
Not being familiar with this idiom, she didn’t get the humor in her statement, but I sure did and wanted to share the joke.
I shouted across the classroom to Mrs. D., “Mrs. D. someone has lost their marbles!”
She laughed and I repeated myself a few times for added effect.
We identified the owner of said marbles and headed home for the day.
Oh the one hundredth day of school… I try to explain it to my non-teacher friends and they just don’t get it. It’s like Christmas, Valentines, and the Fourth of July all on one day. Maybe it’s something about kindergarten and the fact that it is their first hundred days in school, period… whatever the reason, the exhilaration is palpable.
During calendar time, as Jason did the careful work of counting our straws to make sure we indeed had one hundred, the grounds crew decided to remove the icy, crunchy snow that had piled up to almost the top of our windows… with shovels, at the exact moment he began counting… the shades were pulled and we talked about ignoring distractions, but it was hard.
As Mrs. D. read the first of many read alouds about the one hundredth day of school, the first page read, ‘Little Johnny came to school and plinked a penny into a jar. Mrs. Madoff told him his would be the first penny in the class jar.’
Yes, Mrs. Madoff. Mrs. D. burst out laughing… I let out a howl. The class looked at us like we had ten heads. It really is nice having another adult to appreciate references that fly over the kids heads.
When each sprout was counting their collection of one hundred items they’d brought in, I heard a desperate Rebecca call out, “One of my marshmallows, it’s missing!”
I ran over.
“Rebecca, what’s wrong?” I asked.
“My one hundredth marshmallow, it’s gone… Luther ate it!” She cried.
I shot a look at Luther. He looked guilty, but he always looks guilty.
“I didn’t eat it, Mr. _______, I’m being honest,” he proclaimed.
With that, Mrs. D. wandered over.
I explained the dilemma to her.
“Well, Rebecca, you’re missing a marshmallow because you ate one… remember you thought you had an extra?” She asked Rebecca.
Later as we made our necklaces with one hundred pieces of Fruit Loops, Sarah made me bust out laughing again.
We had instructed the class not to eat any cereal as they counted and worked. We were using communal plates of cereal and we promised when we finished the necklaces everyone would get a small cup to eat. This satisfied the kids and while they moaned and groaned about how amazing the cereal smelled and how they all wanted to eat it so badly, nobody did.
As we finished and I was about to announce we were ready to pass out the cereal for eating, I glanced over at Sarah… her necklace was in her hands and she was gingerly licking it. I lost it… laughter that probably alarmed the teacher next door. Oh well, it was funny.
There were probably one hundred ways I laughed or smiled today. Loving your sprouts and job is a brilliant way to spend your day.
This morning, as I was driving into work after eleven days away (our winter break plus a few tacked on days for snow), I had a revelation. As I was driving up a steep hill, something hit me… the sun. It was rising over a mountain and splashed across my face. I wasn’t driving to work in the dark anymore and somehow I knew this was a fantastic way to begin my day.
We had the unique opportunity of welcoming a new student today. The later they arrive in the year the more challenging it can be to make a new sprout feel welcome and safe. Mrs. D. and I made sure to review all the classroom rules and expectations and most of the time it was our students, not us, who were doing the teaching.
During sharing, a few children shared they were glad our new friend had joined our class. This after a long vacation, most likely filled with exciting events to share. They saw her as someone who might be feeling scared or nervous and stepped right up to the plate to take her in and make her feel at home.
In addition to the excitement of a new friend, my other friends were just so darn happy to be back it was hard not to share in their joy. When I picked them up from Art, the smile I got from Luther was alarming... he was genuinely thrilled to see me. Overall the day was filled with hugs and smiling and everyone on their best behavior... it was truly a gift to be their teacher today.
I know our new friend will settle in after a week or two… Mrs. D. and will be sure to set clear expectations and praise every positive move she makes, but it’s our class, with their patient, warm, and loving hearts that will ultimately lead to her success.