Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The poles

Student 1: "The North pole is my favorite pole. Not the South pole or the East pole or the West pole."

Student 2: "I don't think there is a West pole."

Student 1: "Well, is there an East pole?"

Student 2: "Yeah, that's where the Easter Bunny lives!"

Monday, November 14, 2011

Kinder class pet

Last week, we welcomed our new class pet into our kindergarten classroom -- a baby leopard gecko. I can't decide who is more excited... me or the kids! They are fascinated with the little guy, as they have never had or even seen a lizard. I am thrilled with the possibilities he brings into our classroom. My students will learn so much from him -- science, responsibility, as well as care and respect for living things.

Of course, we brainstormed a name for him. After suggestions ranging from our own names to "Star Wars" (they are kinders after all...), we decided on Echo. We measured him on Thursday and documented our findings. He is currently 11 cm and we will continue to measure him and watch his growth to full-size (10-12 inches).

One of the best parts about having a lizard is that they are low-maintenance and it is SO FUN to watch them eat. Echo eats live mealworms and crickets, so he "hunts" them in his cage. He is even "hand-feeding" from a pair of chopsticks - which the kids LOVE.

My favorite part of having a class pet so far is the authentic and meaningful learning that has taken place. There is something empowering about arming a child with a supply of strong vocabulary words - and giving him/her the opportunity to use them in context. Right now, if you ask any of my kinders about our new class pet, their explanation would be littered with words like nocturnal, cold-blooded, reptile, and habitat. Oh, and they know exactly what they mean! I've never seen my class gain strong vocabulary and complex concepts as quickly and excitedly as they have with Echo.

Any educational philosopher would tell you this comes from the contextualized and naturalistic stage for learning our class pet is providing. And I know this is true. But, a small part of me has to believe it's because he is so cool. :) Stay tuned to watch our little guy grow-up.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Joy is meant to be shared

Whenever something exciting happens in my life, my instinct is always the same - to pick up the phone and call my family. When happiness occurs, I feel an immediacy to share my joy with the ones I love. I always attributed this urge to the close relationships I have with my family. But, this week, I learned that this instinct to share my joy with others may be just that... instinct.

On Thursday, our school had "Enrichment Day." All the students in our school travelled around the building to hear from special visitors. My kinders learned about sea creatures with a visitor from the zoo, experienced percussion instruments and the violin from musicians, and learned about the writing process from a famous children's author and illustrator. It was a great day - full of excitement and new experiences.

Something "hit me" that day. My students' favorite presentation of the day was from the percussionist -- who showed and played everything from the cow bell to symbols to a variety of drums. There was something very thrilling to the kids about VERY LOUD sounds in school... and it was completely acceptable! 

Every time something exciting happened, or every time something made my students smile, they immediately turned around to look at me. A big drum sound would surprise them and make them shriek with joy -- and they would search the room for my eyes and smile right at me. It was a very interesting phenomenon to me. They had an innate, human instinct to share their joy with someone.

I never told my students to look at me - I never told my kids to tell me when something exciting happened.   They sensed an urgency to share their joy and happiness with another person - even if it was just through a look and a smile.

It's amazing how much five-year-olds teach me about people and about life.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

First snow

I think I have found a day that rivals the innocence and beauty of the first day of kindergarten -- the first snow.

 Most years, the first snow happens over the weekend. Or it happens in the evening and we cancel school the next day. But yesterday, the snow came in HUGE flakes over the lunch hour.

It was beautiful. Even I was mesmerized. The snow, of course, did not stick, but it was so calming and beautiful to watch. 

During rest time, I opened all the blinds in our room for the kids to see. Everyone of my students rested their head on their hands, and with eyes as big as dinner plates, watched in true awe.

Even more beautiful than the snow was the look on their faces.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

brain talk

I look over to see a student intently staring at me.

Student: "I'm saying something to you in my brain right now. I'm telling you that you're beautiful."

Too cute :)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Engineering is Elementary

I had a wonderful experience last week - I travelled to Boston for work to attend the "Engineering is Elementary" workshop at the Boston Museum of Science. Since traveling is definitely *not* typical in my job, I was absolutely thrilled to go! I learned so much during the workshop and was in great company. The three women I traveled with made the whole trip memorable and exciting.

It is not often that I get excited about curriculum materials... but EiE is truly a refreshing and novel concept for elementary classrooms. Besides incorporating rigorous engineering challenges into the classroom (fun!), students are introduced to the engineering design process -- ask questions, imagine, plan, create, and improve. Talk about authentic and meaningful experiences! Of the 20 units, some of my favorite challenges included building walls with a plethora of earth materials (and of course knocking them down), toying with a play-doh recipe (balancing liquids and solids), and designing a fan-propelled windmill. You wouldn't be surprised to hear how engaged and involved we were in the challenges, as adults!

As if EiE was not already after my heart, each unit begins with a multiculturally-based storybook presenting an engineering problem (I'm such a sucker for a good story...) Best of all, the main characters in the book are children, illustrating a powerful core value of the program - anyone can be an engineer. 

I think the most valuable thing I came home with was inspiration. The whole concept of integrating engineering in the classroom - even a kindergarten classroom - was invigorating and exciting to me! My "wheels began to spin" as I realized all the ways my students are already engineers - on the playground, at the blocks station, and in life. They are naturally curious problem-solvers, and now I feel more prepared to guide and foster these natural characteristics within the engineering design process.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Too much?

Something happened today that really made me reflect -- really made me stand back and consider some important factors.

I pride myself in being a rigorous teacher. My classroom expectations are high -- and usually, my students rise to them. People who do not work with kindergartners on a daily basis are always amazed by what they can do!  As I always tell my students' parents, most of the time, if you expect a lot of children, and provide them the support they need, they will rise to your expectations! 

My district is well-known for high standards in academics. Our "kindergarten" is truly like first grade in some places! By the end of the year, my students are readers and writers -- they are problem-solvers -- they are self-motivated for learning. I am so proud of my students everyday. They're daily achievements are milestones in my eyes.

But, today, I had an eye-opening reflection... and it's got me thinking.

I have a challenging class this year. But I love them dearly! I know that this year, they will make me a better teacher with more strategies up my sleeve, and as I always say, "I'll take them how they are!" I accept each of my students for the little people they are, and we "work with what we got!" Each one of them start at a different point, and will progress to a different point. We are all learning, growing, and changing. But, my little ones are a challenge this year. :)

I've had to pull out every trick up my sleeve this year -- every tool in my toolbox. At the end of the day, I am exhausted... to say the least! I love my job and extract endless joy from my career, but it definitely isn't easy.
Well, today, we had a special drill planned for the afternoon. Instead of our intense writing, math, and social studies routine after lunch, our schedule was altered. We would be walking to a nearby park -- and with this being planned for right after lunch, I was a little worried about getting everyone to the bathroom. So, we watched a "story" (animated storybook) right after lunch while everyone had a quick bathroom break. With our remaining 15 minutes before the drill, I read a book and the students decorated folders for their parents to bring home papers from this week's conferences. 

As I was helping a student write her name on her folder, I took quick look around the room. Every single one of my students was concentrated on their folder. Some drew dinosaurs, some drew butterflies, some even wrote "mom," "dad," or "my folder." But, the true surprise was that every one of my students was in their seat, working hard -- and it was nearly effortless. I saw students using their letter knowledge in meaningful and authentic ways. 

It made me think... is this the problem? Are we pushing them too hard? Are we trying to fit too much into one day? We added 30 minutes to the school day this year... how much of that is playing into this challenging year? 

I have no intention of "lowering my standards" or expecting less from my students. Rigor is the foundation to a successful, engaging classroom. We will still be readers, we will still be writers. But, this moment today makes me sit back and think of some ways I can give my kids breaks. Alongside academics... in what ways can I encourage my kids to just be kids? What can I do to help my students be more successful with this exhausting day? If I am exhausted at the end of the day... how are my five-year-olds feeling? And most importantly... sometimes I just need to stop and look around. And reflect.

And that is the best part about being a teacher -- constantly reflecting, changing, and adapting to be the best I can be!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A letter

I found this letter on my desk over lunch, and it made my heart smile. It is from a first grader -- one of my students from last year. So sweet... I had to share.

I love my glasses -- and my super long arms! :)

Monday, September 12, 2011

A trip to fire station

We had an eventful morning in kindergarten -- with a walk to the local fire station! In honor of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, every student in our school wrote a thank-you note to our neighborhood firefighters. And with some donated cookies from Hy-Vee, we were off to salute our community heroes. As an added perk, our "book of the week" was Miss Bindergarten Takes a Field Trip with Kindergarten, so everything fell together perfectly.

It was such a fun trip and a beautiful day for the walk. But this evening, as I sat down to relax, I began to reflect on what a special morning it was. My students were simply joyful, entranced, and excited to be at the fire station, and as always, I soaked up every second of "sitting back and watching."

It all began on the walk to the station. Nearly every one of my students lives within one block of our 15 minute walk this morning, but you would never know it. Every house, every pretty flower, every crack in the sidewalk was a new adventure... and they had a comment for it all. "Look at that dog, Mrs. Anderson!" -- "Mrs. Anderson, look! I jumped over that big bump!" Sometimes we forget as adults how wonderful the world is through the eyes of a five-year-old. 

I spent my walk holding the hand of one of my little darlings. He's extra special to me because I just "get him." He might not have an ounce of self-control and he might blurt out at every opportunity, but he has a heart of gold, he's naturally curious and bright, and I just love him. But, to be honest, I held his hand not only because I wanted to, but also because if I didn't, he'd probably be in someone's backyard chasing a butterfly in less than a minute.

His commentary was honest and innocent -- and simply cracked me up. I'll give you my favorite quotes of the walk... and yes, they were really this random.

"This is a big hill. You should not roller-skate down this."
"That's an electrical box. Don't touch it."
"My aunt and uncle live close to here."
"I have fast shoes on. But, they can go slow too."
"Tell me if you see my aunt and uncle's house."
"I'm afraid of spider webs. And cactuses."
"There's the fire station! I see a flag pole. That's President Obama's flag. I saw it on t.v."
"I go to Morton Elementary School. I'm going to go to a big kid school one day, and all we're going to do is play with math toys."
"Mrs. Anderson, did you miss us last year when we didn't come to Morton?"

Oh, it was quite the walk. I loved every minute of it because it reminded me of the natural joy within a five-year-old. It made me literally ache for the simplicity of it.

So, we arrived at the fire station - rang the bell - and out come the stars of the show! If you know me... you know why I loved this field trip. :) They were a handsome bunch, and absolutely wonderful with the kids. With a mix of dramatic action, fancy fireman tools, a gushing water hose, a fire truck to crawl through, and a few tools from the ambulance, they had every student's full-on attention.

My main reflection of the day -- everything is bigger, shinier, more colorful, and better through a child's eyes.
We should all take a hint from our pint-size counterparts and everyday, remember to simply look around and say "wow."

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Kinder quote of the day

Student (as he pushes a friend on the tire swing): Look, Mrs. Anderson! I'm pushing him like he's in a tomato storm!

Mrs. Anderson: A tomato storm? Yummy, I love tomatoes! But, he will be all red, won't he?

Student (stomping his foot): No! A tomato storm. You know... like those things that go around and around?!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Happy birthday, Mrs. Anderson!

With the beginning of the school year, I have been very busy -- but I promise to update my blog more soon! I have a wonderful class of 24 little learners... and I can already tell this year is going to be a fun one! For some reason, my kiddos this year have turned me into a "big softie." I've always loved my students, but all of a sudden this year, I'm pushing little ones on the swings, giving more hugs than usual, and playing an occasional game of tag on the playground. I think my class has me wrapped around their fingers...

Today, we celebrated my birthday -- and Mr. Anderson brought us cookies! Every year on my birthday, I ask the students to guess how old I am. I love recording their answers because it demonstrates their lack of understanding of age (which is a blessing!) Here are the guesses (in order!):

14 - 20 - 16 - 15 - 17 - 81 - 18 - 84 - 86 - 87 - 14 - 17 - 11 - 4 - 16 - 17 - 16 - 17 - 18 - 13 - 88 - 19
Too funny!

P.S. -- I'm 25... tomorrow!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

More fun than homework

I'm not going to lie to you... I mainly did this because I wanted to procrastinate doing homework. But, I'm so glad I did! It turned out so darn cute and I can't wait to show it to my kinders in August. They will love playing with the cars and other toys on it. And what a great way to encourage language while playing! I can't wait to see the stories they come up with. 
A view of the whole "Kinder Town"

Every town needs a few of these...

and these... 

and a farm, of course! (Named after my dog...)

My favorite part of the mat is the baseball field.
I have lots of leftover felt (probably twice as much as I needed), so I'm already planning on making an "animal mat." It will be a great way for the kids to apply our science unit on animals -- and a fun activity before we go on our field trip to the zoo!
Thanks to this blog -- Girl and a Glue Gun  -- for the great idea!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A time for goodbyes

Here are a few of my favorite "goodbye" letters:

I will miss my class so much! They were wonderful!

Friday, May 27, 2011

A goodbye from the heart

Translation for those of you who don't read kinder-writing for a living :)

"I love kindergarten and Mrs. Anderson's class. I will miss you very, very much. I promise that I will visit you every year and I will see your new kindergarteners and how much you teach them like us. I hope that you have fun!"

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Fire safety

Student: "I can stay safe from fire by not playing with mattresses."

Me: "Do you mean matches?"

Student: "Oh yeah!"

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Playing pretend

I just overheard the most hilarious "pretend" game... 

Girl: "Mr. Anderson! Where is Frankie?" 
Boy: "Oh no, don't tell me he ran off again..." 
Girl #2: "Maybe he went to school!" 

Tyson and I have officially become characters in their game -- oh my! :) Too cute!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

From the heart

This gave me a big smile last week. 2 Fruit Loop necklaces wrapped up for my husband and me -- definitely a giftfrom the heart!  

Oh... and the "AAF" inside the hearts is for "Mr. Anderson, Mrs. Anderson, and Frankie." Cute!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Look, Mrs. A! They're moving!

Our kindergarten classroom got a very exciting package in the mail this week... our CATERPILLARS! The kids could not be more excited, wide-eyed, or curious about our 5 new "classroom pets."

We have been learning about living things, what they need, and how they change and grow in science. This is the perfect culmination of life science in our classroom. We have 5 new friends, but one is very little. It has been a great "teachable moment" to discuss why this might be a disadvantage and how he might not progress the same as the other caterpillars. I love their honest opinions of the world around them. They have few misconceptions -- they are simply little minds ready for growing scientists.

One of the highlights of this week was naming our caterpillars. Because kinders have an impossible time "voting," we had to do a modified version. Each student gave me one suggestion for names and I chose five from the list. One student could not think of any name except for his own name -- ha! :) We ended up with Harry, Larry, Poppy, Tulip, and Tiny.

We made a "word bank" poster and posted it above the caterpillars. We brainstormed a list of words that would help us write about or write letters to our caterpillars. The kids now visit this station during literacy workstations and they have done the sweetest writing ever. I am simply in awe of not only their interest and curiosity in these little creatures, but also their kindness and consideration.

My students can't WAIT to watch the caterpillars grow, form cocoons, and turn into butterflies. And I can't wait to watch my students. It is truly a blessing.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Friday mailbox

This letter and picture made my teeth ache -- it's so sweet! I was simply floored by it, as well, as this student has been an extremely reluctant writer throughout the year. I can't imagine how long this must have taken him and how much effort it took to write this message. I love this letter more for his effort and success with writing than for it's adorable message. :)

"I love you, Mrs. A. Forever."

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Learning about writing with voice

"Can you sing the ABCs? I can. It's kind of hard, but I can still do it. It is fun. You should try it."

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A new baby

Me: "Kinders, our friend has an exciting announcement..." 
Student 1: "I have a new baby brother!" 
Me: "Does anybody have a question about the new baby?"
 Student 2: "Does he like applesauce?"

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Little smarties

Student 1 (holding up the inside cover of one of my books): "Hey, Mrs. Anderson, we found a date in this book and we're trying to figure out when it was. It says 7-2-10."

Student 2: "Yeah, we think it says July 2, 2010. Are we right?"

I am raising little geniuses, people -- little geniuses!!!

Friday, March 25, 2011

From the outside looking in

Something truly amazing happened during indoor recess today. Something that made me genuinely smile to myself and reflect.

I was working on cleaning out my desk mailbox. It was overflowing with pictures and letters, and I am bound and determined to keep up my promise of writing back to each student. So, as I was writing little notes back to my students, I look up from my desk to see a group of six girls sitting cross-legged in a circle on the floor. They each have a whiteboard on their lap and are writing with a dry-erase marker. 

Here is the conversation I overheard:
Girl 1 (holding up her whiteboard to the group): "What's wrong with my sentence?"
Girt 2: "You forgot to use a period."
Girl 1: "That's right! You are so smart! I forgot to use a period. Now you all write a sentence on your board."
Girl 3: "Okay, let's pretend I'm not paying attention."
Girl 1: "Don't forget those spaces!"

It soon became obvious that they were playing school -- and very accurately portraying our classroom! I heard phrases being said in my exact intonation, exact imitations of my teaching mannerisms, and adorable reenactments of how I provide positive feedback to my students. It was quite possibly the cutest thing I have ever seen.

I sat back in my chair and simply smiled. There was something sweetly honest and innocent about their game. That was definitely my "feel good" for the week.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Student 1: "Mrs. Anderson! She hurt her brain!"

Student 2: "Yeah, I biffed my brain on that yellow bar!"

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Another one

Too cute not to share!

"Dear Mrs. A, I missed you yesterday and the day before. I like when you are here at school. I am glad you are feeling better."

Glad to be back!

After two days out of school with strep throat (hmm... I wonder where I got that?!) I was so glad to get back to work yesterday. The kids were so sweet and so excited to have me back -- and of course, they had to tell me everything that happened while I was gone. But, one of my favorite parts about yesterday was sifting through my mailbox to find letters from my students while I was away. This was my favorite:

"Dear Mrs. A, I hope that you are better tomorrow. I miss you."

It's hard for me to pin-point why I love teaching kindergarten so much. Everything about kindergarten is wonderful. I will never tire of the endless letters and pictures because they materialize our special relationship. 

Their words just tug at my heartstrings every time I read their letters. Needless the say, this letter definitely helped me feel welcome back at school.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Do you have a card?

I recently attended a young professionals happy hour with a fellow kindergarten teacher. She recently moved to Omaha and became involved in an organization called "All About Omaha." Being fairly new to Omaha myself, this was great opportunity for me to network and meet some new people. 

I went and met some nice people. Had some nice conversation. Enjoyed some time with my friend. Pretty average night.

However, one part of my night really made me ponder. Several times throughout the night, I was asked the same question - "Do you have a card?" At first, I was quite confused. A card? Like a credit card? Once they extended their crisp, neatly printed card, I realized what we were talking about. Oh, a business card. Well, no.
I've never been asked for my "card" before. Then again, I've never been to a young professionals happy hour before. I consider myself young... I consider myself a professional. How come I stick out so much in this group?

This predicament really got me thinking about how teachers are not necessarily regarded as professionals. Why? We all have college degrees. In fact, the majority of us have further degrees. We attend meetings. We have conferences. We exceed our 40 hours on a weekly basis. Why is it that teachers are not viewed in a more professional manner?

I started to discover that the reasons why we might not be regarded as professionals are exactly the reasons why I love what I do. We do our job with enthusiasm and passion. We laugh and smile everyday. We play at work. We do not wear a three-piece suit, but something much more conducive to sitting on the carpet. Instead of churning out papers, we churn out memories, smiles, and children at their very best.

So, they can keep their fancy business cards. They may be more "professional," but I know that they will never feel the way I do when I leave work everyday.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Random student quote of the day

You just can't make this stuff up...

"I'm glad I didn't get blown up by a big bomb at the air show. Because then I would be dead. That's why I always stay away from bombs. And from the army. That's where jets tend to drop bombs."

I have no idea how I contained my laughter! :)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

My very first day

Today, a co-worker of mine reminded me of a very funny story about my very first day teaching. I know I will remember this moment for the rest of my teaching career and I just simply had to share.

It was the very first day of kindergarten. Not just for my students, but for me, as well. I had never been so nervous in my life. My heart was pounding and I could not seem to calm my overwhelming feeling that I had no idea what I was doing. The school bell rang and 18 five-year-olds were adorably striding towards my classroom. Some were a little bashful, some were bursting at the seams with excitement. I was somewhere in between.

I immediately realized that this was a true test. Whatever I chose to do in these first few, precious moments could affect our entire school year together. I started to relax when I realized that no matter what I did, they came in with no expectations. There was no right or wrong way to do this. I sighed with relief, took a deep breath, and dove right in.

After greeting my new friends for only a few minutes, the tardy bell rang and the announcements came over the loud speaker. Wow. I had completely forgotten about this. Okay... no big deal. We're just going to say the pledge of allegiance. I stood up with my hand on my heart and looked back at a very confused group of kindergartners.

They had no idea what we were doing, nor did they even know what the pledge was! Right before the pledge started, I instructed my students to stand and put their right hands on their hearts. Of course, they knew neither which hand was their right hand nor where their heart was. But, more importantly, my class was facing every which way -- no idea where we were looking. I settled with mastering this one piece of the pledge today.

Immediately inspired to lead my troops, I explained that we would be saying our pledge while looking at the flag. I raised my right arm to show where the flag was located just as the pledge started over the speaker. Feeling a little better, and much more sure of myself as a teacher, I smiled, turned back to the flag, and continued with the pledge of allegiance. Halfway through, I turned my head to check on my perfect little class. 
There behind me were 18 kindergartners in what can only be described as a Nazi salute. Imitating their new role model (me), they had raised their right hand to the flag, fixed their eyes, and continued with the pledge. 
My initial shock eventually melted into laughter. It was then and there that I learned how truly malleable my students were. I can't say I remember anything else from my first day of teaching. It went by in a flash and I left school absolutely exhausted and exhilarated at the same time. But, I know that I will never, ever forget that moment. And it always brings a smile to my face.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Monday mailbox

"Dear Mrs. A, I hope your day is fabulous. My day is fabulous. You are pretty."

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Journal Time

So creative. Can you believe this student is just learning to write? And is already using questions and such great voice in his writing? I love the little person patting him on the head and the date in the cloud. TOO CUTE!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Growing little readers

Me: I'm putting a sticky note on this book I'm sending home to tell moms and dads that we are working on chapters 1, 2, and 3.

Student: Can we read more chapters if we want to?

Love, love, LOVE it! I am growing little readers!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Bright little moments

I love witnessing my students’ bright little moments - especially when they don’t know I’m watching. It’s so awesome to watch their thought process. Here’s a perfect example from today:
One of my little guys was doing his “morning work” right when he arrived. I did not tell my students to do this part of the paper, but at the top, there was a spot to write the date. He sounded out the word and decided he would write the date. Being extremely resourceful, he opened up his journal from yesterday and found the date (2-3-11). He started writing the date on the line, and then, with a perplexed look on his face, he thought for a moment. He then erased the 3 and replaced it with a 4.
How cool is that? I loved seeing such complex thinking and problem-solving in such a routine situation. I didn’t even say anything to him - I just gave him a smile and kept going. It just makes me wonder how many of these bright little moments I miss everyday. :)

Sunday, January 30, 2011

What are you saving for?

Today, we started a classroom piggybank, adding a penny each day. Once we reach benchmark amounts (5, 10, 25), we will trade-in our pennies to learn other coin combinations. 
To peak their interest, I asked the students if they had a piggybank in their rooms. Almost every child responded with an excited “YES!” So, we passed around our teddy bear and each said what we were saving for with our piggybanks. Here are some of my favorite responses:
“College.”  Many of these responses - YAY!
“Nintendo DS game.”
“A new car — a mustang!”
“A train set.”
“Pretty clothes.”
I was so pleased to hear that so many of my students had piggybanks and actually had a goal they were saving towards! Even more so - I was so excited to hear so many students say college as their savings goal! Way to go parents!!!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Learning to read is tough...

Me: “Can you sound out this word?” [pointing at the word naps]
Student: “n…a…p…s — octopus!”
How could I not laugh? Too cute!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Monday mailbox

There is no such thing as a "case of the Mondays" at my job. I found this in my mailbox on my desk this morning. I can't decide what I love more about this letter... the fact that she wrote me such a sweet message, or the fact that my students are becoming writers. Joy is contagious, and everyone should have these little pieces of joy waiting for them on Monday mornings.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The power of reading aloud

My school had a family night tonight to celebrate the season. I signed up to read a few Winter books during the “storytime” portion of the night. I signed up for one main reason — I love reading aloud. It just so happens to be one thing I can do very well. For some very strange reason, public speaking has never bothered me. However, I’m not sure you can call reading to a group of kindergartners public speaking. :)
Anyone who knows me professionally knows that I am passionate about children’s literature. A great picture book can captivate a child’s imagination, engage readers in rich language, and most importantly, foster an early love of reading. Every week, I thrive on picking the perfect books for my lesson plans. The possibilities for connecting literature to lessons are endless. For example, this week, our “Book of the Week” told the story of a chameleon who was not very good at blending in with his surroundings. So, we read stories about other mixed-up animals, enjoyed informational books about chameleons, explored animals with camouflage (and the reasons they use it), as well as read a few more books by the same author. It all comes together beautifully.
If anything truly surprised me during my first year of teaching, it was the power of reading aloud. Reading a great book can render the wildest classroom into a wide-eyed, engaged group of little learners. I have always loved children’s books, but I had no idea of their hidden power. With the right amount of enthusiasm, voice, and volume, a read-aloud can become electric and magnetic. It has become my new “secret weapon.”
But, back to tonight… I read Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Buehner (an imaginative story with beautiful illustrations) and The Gingerbread Girl by Lisa Campbell Ernst (a playful sequel with equally playful language). Great books are the first step to great read-alouds. Although, I have made due with some pretty weak stories in the past — but, I am not proud of the amount of acting I had to do to entertain them! Seated in a rocking chair, with about 50 children at my feet, I was surrounded by plush snowmen and twinkling Christmas lights. The school did a magical job at turning our library into a Winter Wonderland. The crowd was wiggly and loud, with sticky fingers from the pancake dinner. But, not even the wiggliest boy could resist being entranced by the environment and the stories. Ahhh… the power of the read-aloud.
I was struck by the amount of parents who stopped me afterwards. They told me how much they enjoyed the stories and what a nice job I did… but mainly, how theycouldn’t believe how their child was so “into” the stories! I mean, “How do you DO that?!” I realized that these parents do not know the power of reading aloud. I know that kids behave differently for their parents than they do for their teachers, and much differently at home than at school. But, I think many adults are wary about reading aloud. We want our children to become confident readers, but many parents often shy away from reading to their children. Most read with their children before bed, but this sadly seems to cease around the age of seven, when they can read to themselves. As much as they might not want to admit it, older children absolutely love picture books, especially when they are read-aloud. Regardless of whether you can read it yourself or not, there is something magical about being read to. It feels like a really great hug.  
I think parents need to feel empowered with the magic of read-alouds. It’s not just for teachers. It’s not just for little kids. One of my education professors started every class by reading us a picture book, and we ate up every word. What an awesome way to warm up a crowd. 
So, READ IT FORWARD! Read a great book to someone you love, young or old. Don’t be shy. Make up silly voices. You’ll be surprised who might listen. And just how great you will both feel.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

New kid on the block

I have a new student coming next week, and I am actually very excited about it. This is the first time I have had a student move into my classroom after the school year has started. A new adventure for not only my new student, but myself, too. However, I am not nearly as excited as the rest of my class.
This morning at calendar, I placed the incredibly famous ”Special Day” picture over next Tuesday’s square. One thing I love — leaving my students in suspense. With wide eyes, the class was buzzing with excitement and guesses. A substitute teacher? A snow day? A special guest? Not one student imagined that we were adding a new friend to our class. And when I dropped the news… the room simply erupted with shrieks and smiles. 
Immediately following “the big announcement,” we discussed what Tuesday might be like… for him. What might he be feeling? What might make him nervous? How can we make him feel comfortable? The kinders were adorably concerned for their new mystery friend. Where would he sit? Where will he eat lunch? Where is he coming from? What does he look like?
So, we decided to make him a “Welcome Book.” Each student drew a picture of something they are excited to share with him at school. At the top of each page, it read, “Welcome to our class!” The kinders painstakingly recreated details of our classroom; drawing our alphabet carpet including every letter, copying signs word-for-word from the walls, and (so sweet!) guessing what he might look like so they could draw him playing with them. Their natural ability to open their hearts was awesome, and inspiring.
I will admit that when I heard I had a new student coming, my perfectionist mind immediately ran through all the things I needed to do in the classroom to prepare. Don’t get me wrong, I was very excited to meet my new little learner. But, I wanted him to feel “at home” in our classroom - with his name at his table, a cubby of his own, and shiny, new crayons. And, not to mention, I am quite particular about the way things look in my classroom. :) However, the true joy and enthusiasm overflowing from my class made my heart melt, and immediately calmed my mind. I couldn’t help but feel excited and curious right along with the kinders! 
This boy is one lucky little guy. He has no idea that he is a near celebrity in his new classroom - that he has 21 fans waiting for him in anticipation. 
I find a new thing to love about my job and my students everyday. This was today’s.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Complex Relationships

Relationships seemed to be the topic of discussion in my classroom today. Not the happily-ever-after relationships. But, the real-life complexities of relationships. How is it that these little minds, who have yet to experience any relationship of their own, are already well aware of and coming to terms with the complicated nature of adult relationships? 
The first conversation I overheard today…
Student 1: “Can you help me spell are? It sounds like the letter, but I don’t know how to spell it.” — [another complex observation today!]
Student 2: “I think it’s o-r. What are you writing?”
Student 1: “My parents are…”
Student 2: “Together?”
Student 1: “Yeah!”
The finished writing ended up saying (in kinder spelling): “My parents are together because they love each other.” What a sweet sentence. But, what really struck me was the conversation that continued about parents being together or not. I’m pretty sure that was not a concept I had grasped at their age. However, with how prevalent varying family situations are nowadays, understanding these types of relationships has become normal for my students. 
The second conversation I overheard today…
Student 3: “My dad moved back into our house.”
Student 4: “I thought they broke up!?”
Student 3: “They did, but they are always breaking up… getting back together… breaking up… getting back together.”
Student 4: “My aunt and uncle are like that. But they have a baby.”
When it comes to the complexities of adult relationships, these two girls understand more than their parents probably realize. Their everyday life is a string of listening to their family members talk — and more importantly — explain to them where their loved ones are and why they are not living together anymore. The reality of their lives is that the relationships around them are constantly changing. It truly amazes me how much my students not only absorb, but accept and understand. 
Take this as my PSA for the day… you may think that little ears are not listening - or that they’re simply too young to understand. But, believe me, they are listening, and they are learning. 
And, to lighten the mood, my favorite relationship conversation from one of my students (not from today, but too cute not to share…)
Me: “So, we’ll make two of these - one for your mom and stepdad’s house and one for your dad’s house. Does your daddy live alone?”
Student: “Yep.”
Me: “So, you don’t have a stepmom?”
Student: “Nope, but he’s looking for one!”