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!”

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Christmas in Kindergarten

I have found that one of the greatest blessings of my job is enjoying the Christmas season with my students. I absolutely love everything about Christmas — the lights, decorating the house, cookies, the music, presents… everything! But, being a young adult without children can sometimes leave you wanting when it comes to celebrating the holidays. I, however, am able to watch 21 little faces light up every day in December with anticipation for Santa and a true love of the season.
In my mind, there is truly no sweeter sound than the voices of singing children. And absolutely no child can resist joining in on “Rudolph” or “Jingle Bells.” Throughout December, we started each day at calendar with a holiday song and opening a door on our classroom Advent calendar. It just so happened that we were in school for 21 days in December, so there were 21 little pieces of chocolate waiting for 21 little fingers. What a joy to see their determination while searching for the correct number and their excitement when they enjoyed their sugary promise. A new tradition has been born in my classroom and I already cannot wait until next December!
Christmas through the eyes of a child is brimming with innocence, joy, and true holiday cheer. When we studied the story The Polar Express, I discovered how the sound of a single bell can light up a room of 60 kindergarten faces. The message of the book is that if you truly believe in Santa, you will always hear the ring of his sleigh bells. I promised my students that I will always hear the bells, and I want them to, as well. Each child brought home a jingle bell on a red ribbon, and they cradled those bells in their hands so tenderly, my heart truly smiled.
Teaching kindergarten brings so much joy into my life, and in the month of December, it reminds me of the true meaning of the holidays — joy.