Sunday, July 20, 2014

How do you say goodbye?

This summer is filled with packing and leaving.
The children, as is true every year, packed up and left the building, knowing 
(though not entirely understanding) that they would not be preschool Big Cats anymore.
We teachers, at the school year's end, spent a busy week packing up our classrooms for our move to our new school this August.
Now, here in July, I am at my parents' house in South Carolina, packing them up to move to a retirement community up north.

Packing and leaving.
A summer filled with boxes.
A summer filled with emotions.

How do you say goodbye?
I believe it is so important to 
and identify
and hone in
on all the little, ordinary actions that
comprise your life
and recognize these,
celebrate these,
embrace their significance.

That last day of school, we celebrated saying goodbye to the walking rope.
Honestly, I don't know who was more excited - 
the children, 
for whom "no more walking rope" is a matter of pride, knowing that they are now advancing to pre-K (and they will simply hold hands with a partner as they walk)?
Or me?  
I know I will no longer be using a walking rope every single day at the new building, because, 
yes, yes, yes, we will have green space right on our premises!

We lined the children up 
one last time
with the walking rope.
I emphatically asked 
each pair of children  -
Do you feel ready for Pre-K?
Do you agree that you no longer need this walking rope?
With each enthusiastic "YES!,"
I symbolically cut a ring off   
of this torn, old, worn out rope. 
"Go forth!" I encouraged.
The children walked two by two
towards the dumpster and
threw their ring away.

It was important to me that we "say goodbye to the walking rope" and
the children loved it.

Now, here at my parents' house,
I'm daring to take my Dad down memory lane, too.
I'm hoping that what works with preschoolers 
will soothe him 
and me
as well.

This isn't a family home that we are saying goodbye to.
Perhaps this makes it easier for me and my brothers?
My parents retired here and had some twenty good healthy years in this location.
But now, with my Mom having dementia and 
my Dad with Parkinson's and other physical ailments (perhaps due to all his caregiving),
they are leaving here for a retirement community
close to family.

Mom is already safely ensconced in her new home, 
surrounded by 24 hour care, and
the love and attention of my oldest brother and his family.

My other three brothers and I are here in South Carolina with Dad,
packing and

In the midst of all the boxes,
we are going down memory lane with him,
doing routine things together,

coffee at Sunrise Cafe, 
looking for dolphins at the ocean,
hush puppies and a cold beverage at South Beach,
attending church at Holy Family,
listening to Frank Sinatra, Willy Nelson, Jim Croce on the porch,
eating Philly cheesesteaks from Publix,
walking the neighborhood.

How do you say goodbye?
May it be as soothing for my 85 year old father 
as it was for my preschoolers.

My brothers (Sonny, David, Ralph), my father, and me, attempting a selfie as we begin packing.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Tuesday SOL Preschoolers don't need these books anymore

This is a Tuesday "Slice of Life" for Two Writing Teachers. Check out their website for lots more reflections on teaching.

One of my rituals at the end of a school year is to re-read the children's favorite books...
some of which they have chosen for me to read,
but, several are ones that I choose...books that I simply must re-read to them. I know the children used to be attached to these, and when I read them aloud again,
I see the school year flash before all of our eyes.
I see how much the children have grown, and
I see the children's recognition that they have grown.

Let me share just two of these special books.

On the last day of school, I re-read
The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn.
Imagine, at the outset of a school year, how medicinal this book is for a preschooler,
offering a prescription for how to get through the day without Mommy,
holding on to her precious kiss in your hand,
Mommy is with me, Mommy is always with me...Mommy comes back, Mommy always comes back...

In September, I read this one book over and over to particular children,
for whom the process of letting go,
saying goodbye
to Mommy, to Daddy, to Grammy, to whomever,
was so, so difficult.

Now, at the end of the year, how unnecessary this medicine! Look how big these preschoolers are! Ha! They don't cry when their family drops them off in the morning.

The Kissing Hand, so unnecessary now, yet, dear and familiar to these children.
They bask in its retelling, studying each page intently... their eyes saying, "I remember."

The children and I had a similar experience with my re-reading of
The Hello/Goodbye Window by Norton Juster (illustrated by Chris Raschka).

I have such a window in my classroom,
where the families can give one final wave or blow a kiss to their child at morning departure.
Every year, at some unscheduled point,
maybe late fall, perhaps mid-winter,
the ritual goes stale, unneeded, no longer relevant.
The once forlorn child now readily immerses herself in her friends and the morning activities,  paying no mind to the window.

(It is a bittersweet moment for me when I see a Dad standing outside the window, mentally begging his child to look up, as if thinking - "Look, see, it's Daddy - one more wave, Daddy's leaving!" Ahhh, but she is playing happily in the room, her goodbye is done. Dad leaves without her noticing.)

This is the growth of a preschooler - not on a specific timeline, but absolute.

Happy summer!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Reflections on a school year

It's been awhile since I've blogged.
I've had a glorious ten days of summer break so far, which began with my niece's wedding and lots of time with extended family I hadn't seen in far too long. Yes, summer!

I have been dreaming - or 'nightmaring' - about school each night. What is that about? 
Here are snippets -

I can't find my way to my classroom, I'm trapped in the hallway several rooms away...I know the children are inside the classroom waiting for me, I can hear their voices, playing loudly, and plaintive cries of "Where's Ms. Ingram? Where's Ms. Ingram?," yet I am trapped in the hallway by one thing after another ... a parent with an urgent need, an administrator with an urgent demand, a child from another class who urgently requires....

It's the new year and school has begun and my children are arriving but none of my boxes have made it to the classroom, none of my tables or chairs or anything whatsover ... all is lost...the children are streaming in the door and my new Teaching Resident is looking at me - what are we to do?

Still another,
I am on vacation and I am at a restaurant and I see that I am surrounded by the families of this year's students and next year's students and they are eating breakfast, before school, because it is the first day of school and I am confused - but I didn't have a summer break? What do you mean it is the first day of school? I am on vacation. I can't get there in time!

What are these tense night-time dramas about? 
Why am I so preoccupied with preschool during summer? 

I'm a little surprised that I am having these anxious thoughts some ten days into summer, though they are a testament that I have finished a long, challenging school year and have not yet decompressed.

We worked a long, full week after the children's school year ended, packing our rooms for the big move this summer, labeling all our furniture and equipment for the new space. Everything is so organized! I really enjoyed the process - it was cleansing and comforting to have everything stored "just so" in boxes, to throw out the useless and unnecessary, to begin to imagine the new building and my new classroom.

I had many reflections as I packed.

I had a very nice last week of school with the preschoolers...still a few tantrums, of course - preschoolers with raw feelings on display - but, overall, a profound sense of community, children lingering at whole group gatherings, wanting to share and participate, not wanting to leave one another...I count this as success!

I smile when I think about them on "splash day," one of the last days of school, when everyone was just delighted to be playing in the water in our [miserable!] side alley location.

Pay no mind to the dumpsters at one end of the alley and the corresponding stench,
pay no mind to the throngs of preschoolers [four early childhood classes of children were crammed onto the alley at the same time],
pay no mind to our most basic, limited accoutrements - one single hose providing water, no sprinklers, a hard, rough, asphalt surface,
when there is water, children are happy!

They were thrilled to have teachers spray the hose on and around them,
happily labored over our school's large blue blocks,
soaping, lathering, scrubbing these
(helping us get the blue blocks ready for the move),
they delighted in lounging on beach towels at the far end of the alley, dry in the sun.

Some, over and over, squeezing soap from sponges,
another stepping into the bucket each time I refilled - loving the sensation of the soapy water,
several, dumping buckets out and following the stream, where will it go?
many, tossing soapy sponges back and forth,
still others, scrubbing not just the blocks,
but the walls of the building, the alley floor, and, of course, themselves,
happy, happy, happy.

Everyone was happy.
Everyone was allowed to do their own thing.

(I smile at the image of one student who did not want to get wet at all; he stayed to the side, dressed in his regular clothes, a companion to his teacher, completely calm and happy, helping her fill soapy buckets of water with the hose - and being careful to stay dry.)

A full morning of revelry with water and I don't remember a single altercation, a single frown, a single tear.
Everyone was happy.

Ideally, preschool is filled with these type experiences for children...sensory satisfying, and open-ended yet purposeful, allowing everyone the flexibility to do their own thing comfortably together.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Tuesday SOL Rush to the end of the year

This is a Tuesday "Slice of Life" for Two Writing Teachers. Check out their website for lots more reflections on teaching.


I am beginning to wonder if I will ever catch my breath enough to blog again! Non-stop, race to the finish. Three more days of school.

Here's what the crescendo of these last few days and weeks has included:

  • Creating/finalizing portfolios for each child

  • Finding time for each child to draw end of year self-portraits (and delighting in the obvious growth from the beginning of the year!)

  • Completing the end of the year data
  • Entering GOLD data...oh, how tedious it is to finalize data!

  • Dance party with the children, a gift from our families at our school's silent auction
    What fun we had dancing at our DJ Party!
  • Our final Learning Showcase of the year, a big exciting evening event with families,
  • Documentation of our water investigations, for our Learning Showcase
  • Writing and editing report cards (haven't yet stuffed the envelopes - may it go better than last trimester!)
  • Family conferences, reflecting on each child's school year
  • Supporting my Resident as she searched for a teaching position next year - YES, Melissa will be teaching kindergarten! In Spanish! Go, Melissa! Well done!
  • Hard hat tour with my colleagues of our new school (opening this fall!)

  • Touring our new school!
  • Packing instructions - boxes, boxes, boxes

  •  Teaching my Resident how to close out a school year

    • Going down "memory lane" with the children - re-reading our favorite books, re-visiting our favorite activities, playing lots of games
    • Washing toys with the children
    • Splash party in the side alley - and washing those large foam blue blocks
    • Field day in the side alley, hosted by our YMCA - so much fun!
      Field Day - we sure made good use of our side alley!

    • In, between, around, and in spite of these many demands and milestones, trying to savor special moments with the children.

    Tuesday, June 3, 2014

    Tuesday SOL Water exploration - let's build bridges!

    This is a Tuesday "Slice of Life" for Two Writing Teachers. Check out their website for lots more reflections on teaching.

    We have been doing lots of science and engineering about water...this past week, we engineered bridges using our recyclables and tape.

    This engineering problem is based on the book Twenty-One Elephants and Still Standing by April Jones Prince, which shares the true story of how Phineas Barnum marched his circus elephants over the Brooklyn Bridge to test its soundness. The children test their bridges by seeing how many toy elephants their bridge supports (our goal was five toy elephants). It's been a couple years since I've done this particular engineering problem with children (see my  blogpost from that time)...and it was no less thrilling for these preschoolers than for previous students.

    I, however, noticed one big difference between this week's bridge-building and previous attempts -

    I led this engineering effort in a fish bowl,

    with two large groups of adults visiting my classroom during the course of the morning. We are a demonstration school, and, at least once a week, there is a tour of classrooms. On bridge-building day, we were having the last tours of the school year, and, I'm not exaggerating, some 20-30 adults visited my room.

    When the adults entered my classroom, I did my very best just to tune them out, to focus on my preschoolers.

    After three years at my school, knowing this is a part of what we do - opening doors and letting people observe us in action - I am practiced at teaching "in the fish bowl."

    But, wow, what a weird sensation!
    I found myself both
    "on autopilot" and,
    yet, sweating up a storm,
    relaxed about the children's exploration and,
    yet, terrified that they would say or do something outrageous.
    All the while, I felt as if time was standing still and,
    yet, the morning flew by.

    The children were mesmerized by the task at hand and
    oblivious to the visitors.
    I may have been exhausted by our engineering fun
    (well, the pressure of these visitors), but
    the children were energized.

    Let me share just a few photos of our fun together....

    Let's get building!

    To build is to focus.

    Testing the bridge for its soundness.

    One bridge gets tested, while others investigate the water.

    These two worked together to create one enormous, awesome bridge.

    I promise - more details about our other water investigations work very soon!!

    Tuesday, May 27, 2014

    Tuesday SOL The paper chain

     This is a Tuesday "Slice of Life" for Two Writing Teachers. Check out their website for lots more reflections on teaching.

    Today, I worked with a reticent few preschoolers
    to create a paper chain
    each link denotes a different day,
    each link is inscribed with the day of the week and its date,
    and the total chain shows
    how many more days we have left in the Big Cats.
    This morning, the total was 25,
    including weekends.

    To a preschooler,
    25 is huge,
    and therefore this is delightful news -
    25 more days!

    Preschoolers don't want school to end.
    This year, in particular,
    next year - Pre-k - is the big unknown.

    We are not going to be at the same school?!

    Our school is moving to a new location.

    This delights me and terrifies the preschoolers.

    We are not going to be at the same school?!
    Things are going to change?

    In recent days,
    I have fielded so many questions -

    Will you be going to the new school, Ms. Ingram?
    Will Ms. Duskin (our principal) be at the new school?
    Will there be Zebras and Elephants [our Pre-k classes] at the new school?
    Ms. Ingram, did you hear there is going to be a new school?
    Ms. Ingram, why do there have to be new schools? 

    Thus, the paper chain.
    A visual.
    We will watch it decrease in size.
    We will breathe in, breathe out.
    We will visit the current classrooms of Pre-k Zebras and Elephants.
    We will trust that all will be well.

    Change is a comin'!

    At closing, the Gathering Helper [Alyja] broke the first link,
    Tuesday, May 27th.
    24 days left.

    Tuesday, May 20, 2014

    Tuesday SOL What can you learn from a sharing ritual?

     This is a Tuesday "Slice of Life" for Two Writing Teachers. Check out their website for lots more reflections on teaching.


    One of our favorite pastimes in the Big Cats is the afternoon "sharing" at our closing ritual. I have a special container that rotates alphabetically through the class; each child uses it to hide a  prized possession and the rest of the class asks questions to discover what is inside. Preschoolers love sharing their treasures with one another! Once we make rotate the container through the alphabet, I begin at the top again with another container. Our first share was in an old heart-shaped candy box - "sharing from the heart" and now we have moved onto a special bag. There's also a shoebox, a coffee tin...the containers go on and on!

    This simple ritual has long been a fun way to

    • encourage children to speak up in front of an audience, 
    • foster their question-asking skills,
    • build their math skills as they measure items for a particular size container (it must fit inside!) 
    • help them with their concentration and focus as they select one dear item to go inside, and,
    • cultivate their understanding of one another - what do their classmates like?
    Recently, I discovered that this sharing ritual also teaches the alphabet - who knew?!

    When Charlie discovered that the box rotated from child to child alphabetically by first name, he had a vested interest in knowing the alphabet. He loves that I add a new container when one has completed its rotation through the class; he knows that his letter "C" will come up again and again...and he has figured out our class pattern.

    "There are FIVE A's in our class, Ms. Ingram - Ada, Akhil, Alyja, Amelie, and Ashley. 
    There is one B - Bernie.
    Next, it's me, C - but first Caroline and then me, Charlie."

    Me - "Wow, Charlie - that is great! Who comes next, after you?"

    Charlie - "Well, there are no D's."

    Me - "How many E's?"

    Charlie - "Three - Ellie, Eloise, and Evan."

    On and on, he worked his way through our class alphabet...amazing me all the way through to Z, Zuren.

    Very sweet.