Saturday, December 22, 2012

Becoming Best Friends

Did you ever have a teacher or someone else important in your life that you knew did not like you? Mine was my second grade teacher, Mrs. M. I never felt she cared for me. In my memories, I only remember her dealing with me with a bad attitude. Steve B. and I spent time taking turns having our desks separated from the rest. After I moved on to the upper grades, she spoke to me once- when she found out I was moving. Now, I don't know what her story was/is. I was 7 years old, and it was a long time ago, but I don't feel deprived because of this. I don't believe she was a bad teacher, I just don't think she liked me. And I use that memory when I think about my teaching. How do I want my students to view me? How do I want them to feel when they leave my classroom?

A few posts back I mentioned I was going to have a new best friend. Well, I do now. And he is great! He is funny, and knows so much. He really wants to do what he can to be a good helper too. I really like him. I am so glad I got to know him.

It is so funny how our attitude works, isn't it? If we allow ourselves to continue to think badly about someone, we will. We will never be able to see the good in them because we are so focussed on what we do not like. But when we make up our minds to see the good, we find the good outweighs the bad. We don't have to ignore those behaviours that might drive us crazy, but those habits seem to decrease as the positive ones increase. And we can do what we can to help change those negative behaviours.

As we enter a new year, and the second half of our school year, let this be your resolution: See the good, help change the "bad", and make new best friends!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Losing my Mojo...

I've lost my mojo and I don't know where to find it. My teaching "mojo" that is. Does anyone else ever feel it? Anyone else going through it right now?
I had to plan an integrated unit for a course I am taking. Only problem is, I feel like it has set my teaching back 20 years. I look at the activities planned and all I can think, "it's a theme. I hate themes." It isn't authentic. And I fear it won't be authentic for my students. Because if I don't like it, if I have no passion for it, how can I expect my class to?
I am missing something and I don't know what it is. The more I think about it, the more I struggle. It's like I have lost something and I can't figure out where it might be. And in the mean time, I am filling in blanks and putting out fires.
How do you re-ignite that teaching spark? How do you figure out what it is you need to do and fix it? I find I have so many questions and no real answers. I guess I will just have to keep trying and doing. Surely somewhere, sometime, or someone has the answer.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

I'm going to have a new best friend!

I am going to have a new best friend and I am "very excited" about this. You see, up until today we haven't really been friends at all. We have really been adversaries. My new best friend is in my new kindergarten class at school. We have very different personalities. Very different. But that doesn't matter, he and I will be best friends!
If my new best friend and I were both adults in an office, we probably would have a tense working relationship. I would stick to my space and he would stick to his. We would interact only when necessary. But, guess what? We are not both adults. I am the adult and he is not quite 5 yet. Because I am the teacher and he is the student I don't have the "luxury" of polite avoidance. I don't have the option to just walk away.
I really have two choices:
1. Trudge through this year with a chip on my shoulder and frustrated - or-
2. Change my attitude.
I choose to change my attitude.
So, starting Monday, I will have a new best friend! And, really, I am very excited!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Kinderchat Challenge # 6

Well, if you scroll down, you will notice that I skipped a week in the Kinderchat Kinderblog challenge. That is because I am on vacation and was unable to meet the challenge ;(.  We were to take pictures of items around our house that represent us. I tried going through the pictures on my computer to see if I could meet the challenge, but there really wasn't anything there that "spoke" to me. Oh well, I will pick it up with this weeks challenge:

What are my "tricks of the trade" to get through those days that are more stressful than others? I really only have one "trick". I refuse to fight the power. So, on those days when I am not at my best, or the children are off, we spend a lot of time in "child directed activities". And by that I mean PLAY! My classroom is set up in centres. You can see the various centres below. There is math, science, language arts, blocks (can't see them, but I promise they are there!), sand, art, library, and dramatic play.

I make sure there are a variety of activities available in each area, some old, some new. I want children to be challenged, but not overwhelmed. So, on those days when things are just not quite 'there' we spend a lot less time listening to Mrs. Marshall teach to the whole class. We spend more time in small groups, working and playing together. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Kinderblog challenge #4!

If you had to quit teaching tomorrow, what would you do instead?"

If for some reason, I woke up and found out I could no longer teach, what would I do instead? Well, I would do something as far away from education as possible! Being an "all-or-nothing" type of person, if I couldn't teach, or be a part of the teaching community anymore, I would want to have nothing to do with education.  But, the question is what would I do...

Well, I know what I would not do! I would not be a housekeeper. Because I am really bad at that. 
I would not be a baker, because that would mean I would have to wake up too early. 
I could not be a chef because it would get too hot in the kitchen and I am not a nice person to be around when I am hot. 
I could not be an actor because I cannot keep a straight face.
Now a back-up singer...Hmmmm...that might be fun! Of course, someone has to think I sing well enough to back them up. And, I am no longer 20, so that limits my options there.
We have a lot of books around our house (a lot, I am not kidding!). Perhaps I could own a used book store? 
I have always fancied owning chickens and an organic apple orchard. Sounds intriguing, but, again, a lot of work.
As it turns out, I don't know what I would do if I had to quit teaching. I don't know if I will be a classroom teacher the rest of my career, I do love research and putting research into practice. But a teacher I am and a teacher I will always be. I can't help myself, it is my passion.

Just hanging around waiting for school to start back up!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Parallels in Learning: How Block Play and the Reading Process are Similar

I am a big fan of block building. I find I am always amazed at the intricacies in the building structures that the children create. We don't begin our block building with big ornate fortresses. We generally begin small, simple. As we gain confidence and experience we notice how our block building expands. It occurred to me one day, that the stages of block building seem similar to the stages of learning to read. Both are a process. Both have a basis laying a foundation before you move on to the next level.

In the first stage of block play, children carry blocks around. They become accustomed to the blocks and what they can do. In the second stage, children are building rows and towers. There is repetition in block building, just as there is repetition in the beginning of the reading process. Children are becoming familiar with books, with words, with letters. Just as children begin to understand what a block is used for in the first two stages of block play, in the first stage of reading, children understand what letters, words, pictures, and books are for.

In the third stage of block play, children begin to bridge. They will take two blocks and connect them with a third. The same is true with the second stage of reading. Children begin to "connect the blocks" by applying the strategies and skills they have learned in the first stage.

In the fourth stage of block play, children begin to make enclosures, they enclose space. In the third stage of the reading process children are responding to the texts. So, just as children begin to enclose the space when playing with blocks, when they are reading they are taking the information they have learned from the text and are creating ways to build on that.

In the fifth stage of block play, patterns and symmetry begin to appear. Children enjoy making elaborate buildings, they enjoy exploring with blocks and adding other accessories to their play. In the fourth stage of the reading process children are exploring with the words. They are learning new vocabulary, new skills, adding new "accessories" to their reading.

In the final stage of block play, children begin to name their structures. They begin to use them for dramatic play. They take what they have learned with the blocks and begin to apply that knowledge to their play. The same can be said for the final stage of the reading process. Children take the information they have learned from their reading and it begins to impact them in other ways. They may find information they have read about leads them to more research on the same topic, or they may enjoy one author so much they wish to read more of their work.

Sometimes when adults look at children when they are at play, we may think how "cute" they are. We may wish we could be young again so we could, "just play". But the reality of play is far more complex than the words, "cute" or "just".  "Play is a child's work," so Maria Montessori said. Play is learning. Learning is a process. We don't always see it happening in the moment. But one day we wake up and realize how much we have learned.

The stages of block building can be found in the book, "The Block Book", edited by Elisabeth S. Hirsch and is published by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, Washington, DC.

The stages of the reading process can be found in the book, "Literacy in the Early Grades, third edition" by Gail E. Tompkins, Pearson publishing, 2011.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Kinderchat Challenge #3: List your Pet Peeves

This is the third entry for the Kinderchat blog challenge.  Hope I don't ruffle too many feathers, but if you are a parent reading this, perhaps you will gain a bit of insight on the world of teachers.

1) When students come in 30 minutes late for class--repeatedly!
A lot goes on in that first 30 minutes of the day, and for many students, if they come in late, their       entire day is thrown off. Routine is important to children!

2) Lace up shoes when the child cannot tie them!
It isn't even so much that I honestly don't have the time (and really, I don't), but children need to be responsible for themselves and their belongings. If they are constantly having to go to the teacher for help with a simple task, the message they get is that they are not competent.  Give the child velcro shoes, or buy the elastic laces. Give the child independence in their daily routine and give them pride!

3) Lack of communication!
The responsibility for this lies first on the teacher, but then on the parents. It is up to the teacher to foster an environment that lets parents know they are a team for the student. But parents need to realize that all of those 'little' things that happen, can be perceived as big things through the eyes of the child.

4) Too much communication!
I love your child, I really do. But I cannot answer 50 e-mails a day about little Johnny. And, if you e-mail me with an issue like, "When will you put up the next blog post?" or, "My child didn't receive their chocolate milk today, what went wrong and how will you fix it so it doesn't happen again?" I will not answer you. Ever. Really, I mean it!

5) I am human and I have a life and a family too!
Yes, your child is my responsibility when they are in my care. But my child is my responsibility all of the time. So if I have to take time off because I want to see my child do something, or they need to go to the doctor, I will. Just like you take time off for your child. And if you see me out and about during the day, I will stumble over myself to explain why I am not at school. Because that is the cultural reality for teachers (at least around here). We aren't given "vacation days" or "personal days". We have sick days and family days (for when our family needs us). That is it. I am not complaining, because I do get to go to the beach in July. But also know that just because I "don't work" in the summer, I also don't get paid!

I love my profession, I love my school. I wouldn't do anything else. And, I suppose if I didn't have those 5 pet peeves, my job would be pretty boring indeed!

Block Play in Kindergarten

The importance of Block Play, and how it fits into our Kindergarten curriculum. (The quotes all come from the book The Block Book by Elisabeth Hirsch.  It is published by The NAEYC. The page numbers are in parenthesis after the quotes.)
Science: “Invention and discovery are part of scientific thinking.  A successful scientist has a creative mind, and creates new forms through finding relationships among established ideas. In block building, the material is fluid, providing for infinite possibilities for a child to develop ideas and improvise or create at will (p. 32)
Math: A child’s artistry in- and feeling for- block building is closely related to the true mathematician’s view of mathematics as a creative art.  The aesthetic pleasure which an adult mathematician experiences when he contemplates shape and form and their properties is similar to the pleasure and joy the child experiences when he builds (p. 33).
Social Studies: The relationships with other people, children and adults, is the basis of social studies. In social studies, we deal with people and their relationships to each other through time and space (p. 68)
Dramatic Play: One of the most profound means available to children for constructing and reconstructing, formulating knowledge is through play…Play is the visible language of childhood wherein we see and hear the total functioning, revealing his or her concerns, conflicts, information and misinformation, ambivalences, wishes, hopes, pleasures, and questions. (p. 69)

My personal observations about block play in our class this year:  Some of us enjoy the structure and some of us enjoy the accessories.  By this I mean some of us enjoy building many structures, while some of us prefer the “add ons” the little things that add to the animation of the structure.  We all enjoy the block area, but some of us enjoy it more.  Some enjoy the building and some enjoy telling others what to build.  Some enjoy the process and some enjoy the end product.  It is creative and functional.  It is trial and error.  It is balance and gravity.  It just is the block area.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Classroom Environment

This is the second week of a #kinderchat blogging challenge for the summer. Last week the challenge was to tell what you learned from your students, faculty, administration, etc., over the past year that you couldn't have learned from anyone else at any other time. That one was easy! This week's challenge, not so much.

Kinderblog challenge #2: Describe your favourite classroom space.

Seems simple enough. I guess. I was surprised at how I had to think about this one! Perhaps it is because my classroom space is so intertwined with everything else I do it was hard to separate it. But, before I go into my description, I feel I need to give a bit of a history lesson to explain why I am where I am at this particular time in my life.

Up until about 2 years ago, Kindergarten in Prince Edward Island, Canada was "community based". That means that while Kindergarten was fully funded and overseen by the Department of Education and Early Childhood, and we had a standard curriculum, we were not in the schools. We were 1/2 day programs that met in a variety of places. Most were located in child care settings, but many were stand-alone kindergartens and some were located in schools (though not a part of the school).   Then 2 years ago the government moved Kindergarten into the schools and under the School Act and we became a full day kindergarten program in the school system.  

So, up until 2 years ago I taught Kindergarten in a child care centre. We had kindergarten in the morning and multi-age groups in the afternoon.  I team-taught with 3-4 other fabulous teachers in one space. When I moved into the school setting, I moved into my own classroom. It was the first time I had the responsibility to set up a learning environment on my own. At first it was a little overwhelming, and I wasn't sure if I would get it done in time, but it all came together.  What I learned from that first year is that nothing is static. If it doesn't work, move it, change it, make it work. 

What I love best about my space is its openness. I have plenty of room to move things around if they don't quite work the way we intended.  For instance, for part of the year the blocks were at one end and the classroom library was at the other. That wasn't working for us, so we moved them around. I think that is what is most important when we are building our environment, remembering that it can't be the "third teacher" if it isn't working well. 

As I begin to think about the new class to come in in September I wonder. What if I only have the bare bones of the class set up? What if we let our classroom community dictate how we will use our space? How would it look? That excites me too. Knowing that my students can have some say in our space. Here are some pictures from my room this past year.  

We use the pails to put our daily work in, as well as any belongings we might need.

This is the view of the room from a doorway. Lots of great space that can be manipulated and moved when we might need to!

This is my room by the doorway. I love to use the stairs as a group meeting place. Then we can all see and there is room for everyone.

If you're interested, you can go over to my learning portfolio and see more about my classroom environment:

And here is a view of my science centre from last year:

Sunday, July 1, 2012

What I Learned This Year- Inclusion

         As I sit here on Canada Day, feeling like the year is officially over, I am able to sit and ponder. Like most teachers in North America, my year begins in Aug/Sept and ends in June (July is New Years Eve and August is New Years Day).  This year has contained stress for me on a multitude of levels. At home, I learned to deal with my first born's independence. He took a step out of his comfort zone and moved back to Illinois to live with his grandparents and go to college/university there (he made the dean's list both semesters, FYI).  Our church life had its own stressors (which I will not go into). And then there was my class.
       This particular group of students was what I like to call the "perfect storm". It was a lively combination of autism, developmental delay (which I strongly suspect is actually Fetal Alcohol Syndrome), children on the younger end (half didn't turn 5 until Oct-Dec), and a few that if they were diagnosed with ADHD or learning disabilities later on wouldn't surprise me. I went home many Fridays conflicted. On the one hand I was glad it was Friday, but on the other hand, I was wishing I had one more day, one more chance to get it right.  It was a rocking good year, I tell you!
          But what did I learn from this group that I couldn't have learned from anyone else? 
I learned:
-Slow down, take your time
-Look closely at everything
-Don't judge
-In every situation, there is an explanation (and sometimes a really funny story!)
-Kindergarten children will tell you ANYTHING (I already knew that one, but I certainly wasn't prepared when one child told me his uncle was sent to jail).
-Play is not a 4 letter word! And I refuse to say "inquiry based learning" again. It is play and play is how we learn. Because that is how our brains work!

I learned about Inclusion in a way I have never understood before. I have taught preschool and kindergarten at an inclusive day care. I have worked with children with autism, Downs Syndrome and developmental delay.  I thought I understood what inclusion was. But this year taught me that inclusion is more than just having children with special needs in the classroom. Inclusion is a not singling out, not propping up, not paying lip service to special needs. It is community. It is being together through thick or thin. It is learning to communicate my needs in such a way that everyone understands. It is teaching children that fair isn't always equal. Some children need a little more than others. Sometimes we all need a little more than others. It is helping others and allowing others to help us. It is caring enough about someone that you are willing to deal with a melt-down because you know, in the end, they will be better off without getting their way.  

I am thankful for 18 students. All unique, all individual's, all teachers to me.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Why Going to Church Should Be More Like Going to a Baseball Game

I love baseball.  I love to watch it on tv, I love to go to a game.  This summer, when we go back to Illinois to visit my oldest son and my parents I hope to go to a Cubs game as well as a Rockford Riverhawks game.  About 2 years ago, my husband, daughter, youngest son, and a good friend all went to a Cubs game, and something about the atmosphere there struck me.  There was a feeling of ultimate camaraderie.  Although I only knew the other 4 people I was with, I felt like everyone there was on my side.  This got me to thinking, isn't this what Church should be like?  So I sat down and composed a list of reasons why going to Church should be like going to a baseball game.  It is not exhaustive, and I am sure if I had given myself more time I might be able to think up more.

Here are my reasons (in no particular order) why going to Church should be more like going to a baseball game:

1.  High fives when exciting things happen.  High fives for everyone, not just those you came with (this was an exciting part for my daughter.  Something exciting happened- the Cubs actually looked like they might do something ha,ha- and I looked over at my daughter who was high 5ing everyone around her).

2.  Everyone is excited to be there.  No one is there out of duty or obligation.

3.  Everyone sings loudly, regardless of ability.

4.  Food.  And cup holders in the seats.

5.  All ages are there together.  There is no "jr. baseball game" or "teen baseball game" going on at the same time.  Young and old are there cheering the team on together.

6.  No one cares if your child has to use the bathroom 5 times.  (This really happened to me.  Our son had to get up at least 5 times throughout the game.  I kept apologizing to the people down the row and they all said, "No problem! It's part of the game!")

7.  Love of the game is passed down from generation to generation.  This ties in to number 5.  How can you pass down something you love if you are not allowing your child or grandchild to see how much you love it and experience it with you?

8.  People cheer loudly when good things happen, and they suffer together when things don't go our way.

This is my list.  Can you think of any others?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Loving the Church

Loving the Church
So, I know the Bible says we are supposed to love the Church as Christ did. But man, She sure doesn’t make it easy! At least the Bride from my neck of the woods (North America), that is. Because lately, I see the Church as more like Hosea’s wife Gomer than I do the beautiful bride of Christ.  I see a people more interested in spreading gossip than they are the Gospel.  I see a people more concerned with their own welfare than that of the poor. I see a people who are more than willing to compromise the biblical truths about unity, love, gossip, lying, etc. as long as they don’t drink, smoke, or swear.  We are more concerned with how we look than how others feel.
But, even as I write these words, I know the truth.  The truth is I am just as guilty, and yet, I still want God to love me and see me as sanctified and pure.  So, in this season (frankly, a season that has lasted about 10 years) of my life, I am once again reminded that I don’t forgive others for their sake, but for mine.  I know my heart and it is black as coal. And when I judge and condemn others, I do it from a hard and rotten heart.
So I ask God for forgiveness of my sin and to teach me to forgive others their sins against me.  Because when it is all said and done, I want to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  When it is all over, I don’t want to have to worry about my own personal vindication. I want to have confidence in my fruit.  

Thursday, March 22, 2012


  1. Have you ever watched a movie that so impacted you that you were compelled to watch it? One that the more you watched it, the more excited you became so that by the end of it you knew you must watch it again, you must own it? Maybe you even began to note certain lines because it was so important to you? The film,Mr. Magorian’s Wonder Emporium was just that film for me. From the very first line I was hooked.

    At the very beginning of the film, the character Eric is narrating and he says something that is so profound that it made me not only sit up and listen, but I made my children back up the DVD so I could write it down: “I don’t know why grown-ups don’t believe what they did when they were kids. Aren’t they supposed to be smarter?”

    That one line set the tone for the rest of the movie and kept me literally so enthralled I could not take my eyes and ears off the screen. That one line personifies what it means to have child-like faith. To believe because that is just what you do, because there is no other option.

    For one year I was a youth group sponsor. That year taught me many things, but most importantly it taught me that I am not a good youth group sponsor. My problem is that I think teenagers should be more responsible than 5 year olds, because they are older and supposedly more mature.

    I also learned that it is almost too late to build a spiritual foundation if we wait until our children are teenagers (and I say almost only because someone out there will tell me of their own conversion in teenage years, even though I would probably guess they had some spiritual foundation as a young child). By the time we are teenagers, we have been too jaded by the world. By the time we are teenagers and if we haven’t had a spiritual upbringing, we have had all of our spiritual knowledge taken away by our culture, education, the media, and whatever else may be out there.

    One night we had a discussion on whether or not we are born with a negative outlook on life (these particular teens loved to have these deep discussions). This one young man was convinced that we are all born with this negative outlook. I felt so sorry for him. In all my work with young children in many different situations and communities, I have never come across a young child who was unhappy all the time. Many young children are forced to deal with very negative situations in their own life, and many do deal with them in ways adults might term negative, but each child has as an underlying grounding of a positive nature. They laugh at silly knock-knock jokes that don’t make sense. They smile when they run, just because they can run. The world is beautiful and full of wonder. And this, in its essence, is child-like faith. It is the knowledge that everything is good just because God said it was.

    What does it mean to have child-like faith? What does Jesus mean when he says we must have the faith of a little child in order to get into heaven? Doesn’t Paul then contradict this in I Corinthians when he speaks of “putting away childish things”? Paul doesn’t contradict, because being child-like and childish are two different things. One is enviable, and one is immature. Many would define child-like faith as a kind of benign, blind faith, a fatalistic one even. One that says, “Well, I guess this is just what Jesus wants or would do.” But that isn’t child-like at all. In fact, that is childish faith, faith that doesn’t last when the going gets tough.

    Child-like faith is something totally different. It is seeing beyond the ordinary into the extraordinary, a wonder in the common things, finding the supernatural in the natural. It is playing with the box more than with the toy that was once contained in it. It is a trust that is so natural that to not trust is incomprehensible. It is a faith that believes because that is the only natural course of action. It is a faith that says, like Peter, “Lord, where else could I go?”

    One year at the child care centre I worked at (a secular centre), there was a big discussion on how people got here. Some said people were always here, some genuinely didn’t have a clue. Because I like to see where children’s thoughts are headed, I stayed out of the conversation and just listened. One wise young man spoke up with very good authority.

    “Listen,” he said. “I know how people got here.” All of the other children were silent. “God made a man and a woman. They had babies, and then those babies grew up and had babies, and so on. That is how we got here.” The rest of the children were very satisfied with that answer and that pretty much ended the discussion. The voice of authority had spoken and all were satisfied. I, myself, was very impressed. So I mentioned it to his mother. Her response is one that I will always remember, because it solidified what I have always believed about the spiritual growth of young children. She said, “Not too bad for a kid who’s never been to church in his life.”

    Notice there was no talk of Darwin or evolution in any of this conversation. No one brought it up. Why? Because evolution presupposes that we are born a blank slate, knowing nothing. We are all a product of random chance. But because we do know things from birth, because God has given us a seed of knowledge of him, this young five year old child could tell the truth with confidence. God made us. It’s a fact. There was no room for discussion of this, and no one contradicted him because they, too, knew he was right.

    My little dollar store purchase of a Webster’s English Dictionary Concise Edition for school, home and office (1999- reprinted in 2002- Geddes and Gosset, New Lanark ML11 9DJ Scotland) defines “wonder” as, “a feeling of surprise or astonishment; something that excites with such a feeling; to feel wonder; to be curious; to speculate, to marvel.”

    And that is what we have allowed ourselves to loose as adults. We loose that sense of wonder because we have too many more important things to do. We don’t look at the rainbows anymore, or smell the roses. When we sing in the worship service that is all we do, sing, we don’t feel it. We wish we could, we say each year that this is the year we will slow down, but really, we continue in that rushed way we have.

    My family often makes fun of me because I insist on singing loudly, if sometimes off key. I even mess up the words sometimes. And I respond, “Maybe if everyone were as excited about Jesus’ conquering death, you wouldn’t hear me sing at all because they would singing louder.” Not that I am more holy or religious than anyone else, but I have chosen to take the time to wonder that God, who made the universe just by saying it was so, cares about me and you and everyone else in this world. I have chosen to try to regain that child-like faith. Sunday is now my favourite day of the week.