Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Tuesday SOL: Autumn fun

I am participating in the
Tuesday Slice of Life.
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day.
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.

Autumn is a fabulous time of year. My preschoolers have been loving the bright sunshine and cooler temperatures. We love collecting nature treasures outside. We have a growing science corner filled with these - pumpkins, pinecones, acorns, leaves, sticks, and more. One day this past week, I documented children's words as they played outside and gathered special finds; these words became a classroom poem that is shared below. When we returned to the classroom, we got out the paints and created works of art - one large classroom mural and individual pictures as well. There is so much to learn and discover in autumn.

Leaves, leaves, leaves.
Leaves fall down.
I see the leaves falling down.
Red leaf.
Brown leaf.
And purple.
Look at this leaf! It is orange.
A stick.
Sticks from the tree branches.
Trees are sticks.
I want sticks.
Do you want sticks, too?
We found berries on the bush.
Look what I found.
A rock!
We are collecting them.
It’s cold.
Really cold.
Wind in my hair.
Wind feels good.
Look at your hair! It’s windy!
Wind in my ponies.
Wind blows down the trees.
We are running and falling.
Let’s do again!



Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Tuesday SOL: How to say goodbye to our family?

I am participating in the
Tuesday Slice of Life.
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day.
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.

This year, our hello/goodbye window is a particularly magical and happy place in my classroom. Do you know the book, by Norman Juster? In the story, grandparents have a special window in their home where children can watch everyone come and go. It is a very special love ritual. 

How to explain this special place in our classroom? It is the perfect salve for the fragile preschooler who is sad to say goodbye to their family. They no longer have time to dwell on their misery, because one must get to the window and make merry!

One quirk about our window is that it isn't exactly on the way out the door for families...in fact, when they leave our classroom, they have to back up a few steps in the opposite direction to get to the window. It's proof that sometimes going backwards ends up being a step forward. When a preschooler's face begins to sadden at their family member leaving, a classmate or teacher nudges them - "quick! let's go see them at the window!" and off we race to the window. Oh, the scenes that transpire! We blow kisses, we make silly faces, we give hearty waves. The sad preschooler becomes an enthralled preschooler, because there is so much more to see than just their family. Yes, Mom or Dad may have just left, but look! Look at everyone else! It seems like the whole school parades by the window. Older students, who once depended on this window themselves, now stop and wave and make faces at the preschoolers. Teachers and administrators stop and wave, too. If you look very closely, across the way, you can see the preschoolers in the classroom next door. There's nothing more fun than waving to these friends, who we will see on the playground later in the day. Yes, our hello/goodbye window is a place of love and joy. The perfect way to begin a school day!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Tuesday SOL: What if we paint at the easel?

I am participating in the
Tuesday Slice of Life.
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day.
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.

Our painting easel is an oasis of quiet, focused creativity. There's only room for two children here, one on each side, and the painting is unhurried and free. The first day that the easels were opened this school year, I gave children "timed appointments" for painting, rushing them through, so that everyone in the classroom might get a turn during our centers time. Now, settled into our seventh week of school, the easel is organically paced...sometimes empty, sometimes full, often one artist lingering on their masterpiece. Teachers can guide from the side, helping children to label the page with their name, converse about the work, move the artwork to the drying line, or provide refills on paint. Let's look at some of the children's work...

Yellow, red, blue
Blue, red, yellow
Children are curious about the colors in the paint containers. We have begun the year with the three primary colors of yellow, red, and blue. As our school year continues, children will help me pick the colors for the easel, allowing for a more diverse palette. As the children learned in our guided discovery, our easels are set up with one brush for each color and children are encouraged to work with the same brush for the same color (in hopes of leaving a good solid color for the next painter). I love how frequently I find children's work that simply shouts "colors of the day." These two were painted many days apart, by two different artists. The paintings seem to ask, "What do we have today?" as the artists investigate what colors are available, developing one color at a time. 

More paper needed!
But, of course, separate, distinct colors are not the only way to paint. The very first week we painted, one introspective child discovered the thrill of covering every inch of the paper with paint. The preschooler worked quite a long time at this, mixing, swirling, stretching the paint. What was the original goal? To escape the tumult of the classroom and find a quiet spot to work alone? To discover what happens if you mix two colors? Was it simply to use up all the paint in the containers? Or maybe to create a puzzle for the teachers by covering one's name entirely? This early investigation has led to much imitation - daily, someone paints every bit of their paper at the easel. It is as if the preschoolers have an insatiable thirst for painting, it is never enough. Alas, the three colors are no longer distinct...however, the art is magical!

The surprise of working together
This next picture is one I call "The surprise of working together" - here, one child was drawing with pastels and wandered away from the easel. Pretty soon thereafter, another preschooler came over and began painting on the same paper. In these early days, children are developing their agency - just beginning to realize how to ask a teacher for a new piece of paper, how to move one child's artwork off the easel, how to ask a friend if they can work with them on art. I loved the combined effort! However, both children seemed surprised at the idea that their art was shared. As the year continues, children will begin to purposefully create art together, but this magical piece was happenstance.

The art of avoidance
This beautiful artwork celebrating the color red was created during our classroom clean up. Yes, this clever preschooler slipped to the easel corner of the classroom while our clean up song played and classmates were busy tidying up the room. The preschooler successfully evaded teachers' eyes, as we focused on putting away blocks, dolls, and other toys. I call it "The Art of Avoidance" and it makes me smile - it does show good focus and persistence.
Saying goodbye to Dad 
I happened upon this masterpiece early one morning, as children were just arriving for school. It had clear lines and a distinct silhouette - not at all typical for my preschoolers. I asked the artist, "What are you painting?" and he answered emphatically "An elephant!" Well, yes, it was! I hurried over to my Teaching Resident and whispered, "Did you see the painting at the easel?," realizing we were working with a budding Picasso...and she said, "Oh yes! His father painted the contour of an elephant for him when he dropped him off." I had a good laugh! A fabulous artwork of family love and connection.

Preschoolers love to paint! Each day, our art corner is simply bursting with their creativity and imagination.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Tuesday SOL: What is death?

I am participating in the
Tuesday Slice of Life.
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day.
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.

"One can tell the morals of a culture by the way they treat their dead." Benjamin Franklin

We buried Flash the betta fish this week. I noticed he was slowing down one day. The next day when I came in, I didn't even see him in the tank. I looked more closely at the tank and there he was, in long, narrow leaves of the fake seagrass. Imagine, this tiny little life still having the desire and power to die in solitude...living life in a glass bowl, everyone looking at you, and then when it is time to die, finding the one available place of solitude to die.

I shared the news of Flash's death with the preschoolers. I let them see him in the reeds. They asked,
"Is he stuck?"
"Is he tired?"
"Why is he hiding?"
"Why did he die?"
"Is he sick?"

I removed him from the tank and into a paper cup with water, so that we could transport him to the garden for burial. I let the children look into the cup one by one, so that they could each be assured he was no longer alive. They asked,
"Why is he not swimming?"
"Is he sleeping?"
 "Can we make him move?"
"Is the cup too small?" asked one.
When the cup jostled, one declared,
"Flash is moving!"
I asked the children to put a hand over their heart. "Do you feel it beating? You are alive! Flash is no longer alive. He lived a good, long life."

We had a solemn procession down the hall and out the door to bury Flash in the garden. We dug a deep hole, placed Flash within, and then covered him over with dirt. I explained, "Flash the fish will help enrich our garden soil. We will be able to visit him in the garden, should the need arise." The children shared a few words,
"I like Flash."
"I miss Flash."
"Flash is in the dirt."

My colleague took several photos and I was truly surprised and moved by this one; I had not even realized this was happening, in the moment:

Do you see how one preschooler is supporting me, as I prepare to place Flash in the burial spot? It is so beautiful, the empathy and concern of preschoolers. It makes me so hopeful for our world!


Alongside everyone in our nation, I woke up to the news about the carnage in Las Vegas yesterday morning. Another horrific mass shooting.

Our nation will throw heart-wrenching memorials, so many flowers and candles, surrounded by breath-taking photographs of our deceased loved ones. We will weep, sob, cry out in grief. We will head right back out to the gun shop when we are done. What is life? What is the value of life? 

We are teaching our children to take it all in stride.  
Our Mommies, Daddies, sisters, brothers, grandparents, neighbors, colleagues, friends, lovers, fish,
all come and go.

We go through the pantomime of caring. Against all odds.

"One can tell the morals of a culture by the way they treat their dead." Benjamin Franklin

What can we tell about a culture by the way it treats life?

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Tuesday SOL: Just how?

I am participating in the
Tuesday Slice of Life.
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day.
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.

I am a teacher of teachers and it is tongue-twisting,
metacognitive work.

This is a poetic attempt to describe this work at the beginning of the school year.

Just How

just how

do I know what to say in the moment?

just how

do I hold a mirror to the effect of her actions?

just how

do I help him to see from the student's perspective?

just how

do I discern what is the most essential thing to notice, to give feedback on?

just how

do I encourage her to see the power of her innate tools of voice, emotion, timing, and even physical presence?

just how

do I decide if this is important enough to mention?

just how

do I see the right and the possible in the midst of missteps?

just how

do I move him from simply being alongside a child to fostering the child's ability to play with peers, learn new routines, explore new things?

just how

do I help her see that she can be with more than one child?

just how

do I help him to react with a developmental lens rather than moral authority?

just how

do I give feedback in the moment, while keeping the classroom moving right along?

just how

do I encourage them not to give up, but to see the process and growth of their own learning?

just how

do I say just the right thing?

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Tuesday SOL: What did you just call me?

I am participating in the
Tuesday Slice of Life.
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day.
A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.

In these first few weeks of the school year, one of my ESL students has added so many new English words to his repertoire. He sits very quietly, observing and listening, not visibly participating in our songs, fingerplays, and stories. Later, as he falls asleep at nap, I hear him whisper and repeat, quietly to himself, playing with the English words, the unfamiliar tongue. He is very dear. I'm amazed at how quickly language can be acquired when you are three years old. 

I knew I would hook him with Audrey Woods' The Napping House. I've shared this book with children for so many years that it is a well-worn act for me...a book I can recite from memory. He stared intently at every page, as I recounted the granny, the child, the dog, the cat, the mouse, the flea. Repetition, repetition, repetition. Such a funny tale, really! I watched him watch me with the book, and I wondered - is he following this story? His classmates would spontaneously call out, as if on cue, "where everyone was sleeping!," at the end of every page, but he stayed mute, staring. He stayed quiet as the rest of us laughed together at the conclusion - the broken bed, and everyone playing outside in the sunshine. Then I closed the book and dismissed the children to their lunches.

He sidled over to me and said, "Ok, Granny!"


He thinks the word for an old, gray-haired lady is granny! He learned this from The Napping House.  

This makes me smile. 

You tell me, are we really the same?

Monday, September 11, 2017

What opportunities for language are we missing?

Preschooler A pushes Preschooler B off of the playground balance beam and jumps on it in his place. Preschooler B is on the ground crying and I rush over to help these two problem-solve. Thankfully, I observed the incident, because neither child can explain. Preschooler B gesticulates at Preschooler A, with one word "push!" and Preschooler A just frowns at me with furrowed brow, crossing his arms defiantly, when I insist he talk with us.

I persevere - "Let's check in with Preschooler B. Are you okay? Where do you hurt?"

Preschooler B is standing sullenly at my side, holding his elbow.

Me, to Preschooler A, "You want to use the balance beam, but Preschooler B is on it. Let's do this again, this time, you say 'May I use it now?' and Preschooler B will say, "I am on it. You can be next."

Preschooler A, assessing that this isn't going precisely his way, says, "NO!" and throws himself down on the ground, and begins muttering. He is clearly very frustrated. I do not understand what he is saying.

Turn-taking is the cornerstone of all preschool learning. It feels as if I spend my entire year on this concept, helping children to understand that
you are not always first,
others get to play with something and you will be next,
you ask for what you want and listen to (and heed) what your classmates say;
you work things out together.

It is hard to do this when language skills are delayed.

It seems to me that I am increasingly seeing (hearing!) language delays in preschoolers.

Snapshots -

Dad's important job requires him to have his phone on 24 hours a day, and thus he takes a work call while having breakfast with his baby and preschooler, basically doing a charade about what and how to eat while fielding questions from a client - he shakes his head "no" when the preschooler tries to put more cereal in her bowl, he opens a yogurt container, he shakes the baby's bottle, he takes off their bibs, wipes their faces, gets the baby out of the high chair, helps the preschooler down from her chair, all the while saying "Yes, I can check that out. That's on the agenda for ..."

A city sidewalk. Mom is in the lead, with a preschooler and an elementary child walking behind her. The children have on backpacks and are walking slowly, without purpose, trudging really. Mom is talking with someone near and dear, she is very worked up, "Oh, yeah! That's what she said, but that's not what she does!" Her pace is hurried, and she turns to look at the children behind her and glares, while beckoning them to pick up their pace. They are clearly late for wherever they are headed.

Mom walks in to the classroom with her preschooler right behind her, and goes through the morning drop off ritual mechanically, automatically - Mom puts the child's lunch box in the lunch bin, hangs her back pack on the hook, puts the child's water bottle at the water bottle station. All the while, the child is transfixed by a game on Mom's phone. Mom bends down and gives her a kiss on the cheek and, saying, "time for me to have my phone back!" and the child bursts into tears. Mom takes the phone and hands the crying child to the teacher, with a cheery "Have a great day!," and Mom is out the door.

Playground, after school, adults on their phones, many children running around and playing, some adults chatting with one another, and a few solitary preschoolers sitting on benches with parents' phones in hands.

Riding on metro trains, grocery shopping, sitting at restaurants, everywhere I go, when I see adults and children together, one of the two is focused on the phone, not their companion.

I am now watching vigilantly for interactions that contradict this.

I don't know if I am on a rant or a mission, but I am truly sadden by the missed opportunities for language. I see - hear - the effects in the classroom - children who do not meet your eyes, give monosyllabic answers or even grunts, who do not have any idea how to converse with others.

Let's talk, talk, talk with children!