Saturday, March 31, 2012

SOLSC #31 I did it!! We did it!!

This slice  - #31 -

(I did it!! We did it!! Every day in March!)

This slice  - #31 - isn't about preschoolers

(Though I am still laughing about the contrast of yesterday's goodbye at the end of the school day - my extreme happiness juxtaposed with many sad preschool faces -  a 10 day spring break beginning.  Preschoolers want to be at school, want to play with their teachers, don't see anything good about not returning together after the weekend...)

This slice  - #31 - is a reflection on this month of writing:

(I did it!! We did it!! Every day in March!)

I worried early on that I would have trouble finding a topic - and there were days when the ideas didn't flow.  I think even more difficult than the topic was finding the time...and letting myself be content with posting what often felt like a draft. (I am still wincing at grammar and spelling mistakes that I posted.)
     Here, at month's end, I see I do have a lot to share about preschoolers. I re-read my posts and I was excited by how much I expressed.  This intensive blitz of writing helped me learn something about myself and my writing and I discovered a new writing goal/focus: personally, I really enjoy my "observation" pieces, when I focus on one tiny moment with a child.  I feel drawn to these, they almost flow out of me.  I think there is so much to be valued in small moments.  (I love this quote by Mother Theresa: "We can do no great things, only small things with great love.")  I am going to try to develop more of these vignettes in the months ahead. (Perhaps I'll submit them as Tuesday slices.) 
(I did it!! We did it!! Every day in March!)

For me, early on, the commenting was the hardest – squeezing out the little morsel of extra time required to read and respond to another.  (I loved the Stephen King quote Two Writing Teachers shared, "If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that." 
     But then I was on the receiving end of not getting comments - ahh!  I found myself doubting the merits of my topic and my writing.  This was soon followed by a day when I wrote a very light piece and happened to be the first poster on the daily slice: the comments kept coming all day.  
     Light bulb moment:  blog writing is passion, blog reading is pastime – subject to what’s accessible and opportune, what title seems more or less inviting, what leisure time is available.

(I did it!! We did it!! Every day in March!)

I really enjoyed reading other blogs ... and commenting was invaluable.  Commenting means beginning a relationship.  It was particularly delightful to connect with other writers in the early childhood community. I have so many new blogs that I am following!  I feel as if I met kindred spirits.  
      I am in awe of the writers who really put themselves out there – I purposefully limited myself to writing about early childhood, knowing this blog of mine is truly a professional one, one that the families of the children I teach are reading.  But, wow, to share a personal journal with the world? Such trust, such risk-taking!  I am so impressed by this community of writers. 

(I did it!! We did it!! Every day in March!)

**It is remarkable what we can accomplish when we put just a little bit of time ... set a priority.** I hope to translate this into other parts of my life.  I wonder what life would look like if we set new challenges for ourselves at the start of every month?

I am planning to continue my relationship with this inspirational community through Tuesday slicing on Two Writing Teachers.   Thank you, so much, Ruth and Stacey for providing us this invaluable writing opportunity!

(I did it!! We did it!! Every day in March!)

March on!

Friday, March 30, 2012

SOLSC #30 Practice makes perfect

Little guy arrives at school with his Dad.
He sees the children's sign-in log.
He asks Dad to write his name in highlighter first.
I softly entreat,
"Oh, let's see how much you can do without the highlighter."
Little guy bursts into tears,
He hides his head in his father's lap,
"Oh my, what did I say that makes you cry?" I ask.
He looks at me, tears pouring down his cheeks, and stammers,
"I ...I ...I..I..can't...I..can't"
I say, as cheerfully as possible, "oh, hon, this is hard, this is what you are try, you struggle, you try again, it's how we learn."
But he is convulsed with sobs.
and I add,
"but, you don't have to try so hard, here is the highlighter."
He waves it away, and cries into his father's lap. He is mortified that he can't print his first name.
I see that his desolation is aggravated by my knowing.
I move away, beckoning my Resident to put in a sweet word with the little guy, to get his day's start back to a better place.

The crying stops; things smooth out; the day goes on.

The next day,
little guy comes over to me, mid-morning;
sidles up to where I am sitting and sits on my lap.
Unexpectedly affectionate.
He whispers,
"I cried yesterday.  I couldn't write my name."
Gently, I said,
"Oh, yes, I remember.  You were sad."
He adds,
"I can't write my sister's name either.  I want to."
I say,
"I remember, a long time ago, I couldn't write my name.  I couldn't print the letters.  Oh, how I wanted to! I had to keep practicing, keep trying.  And now, I write everything.  I write all the time.  I love writing."
He responds,
"Yes, yes, I have to keep trying.  I'm going to keep trying."

How magical and precious was this moment!  How precious this child.

That sign-in book is meant to be a happy ritual, for children and their parents to do is not an edict...many three and four year olds aren't ready physically to hold a pencil, many aren't ready mentally - and these are the children who breeze into the classroom and begin other activities, ignoring the sign-in book.  For those who do stop to write their name, I am interested in well they are doing it, and, as with any learning, seek to stretch them a bit, to challenge them to new heights.  Thus, this week, I stopped printing their name in highlighter for them to trace, just to see what they would do.

This little guy, at not quite four years of age, has very high expectations for himself.  He challenges himself to do so many things and he expects to do them well.  He shows me how important it is to have opportunities for failure in the classroom, how important it is to converse about "struggle", "practice", "process", "trying", "trying again"...

How nice to receive in yesterday's mail my NAEYC Teaching Young Children  and see an article entitled "Encouraging Growth Mindsets in Preschoolers" (by Shelby Pawline and Christie Stanford).... I've got some reading to do!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

SOLSC #29 The circle

Twenty-nine days into this daily slicing about preschoolers and I am blank.  Up until today, I had an idea or two to write about a day or more ahead of time.  This morning, I sat in front of my keyboard, my open blog page, and I searched my mind.

I've posted each day, first thing.  Today, not so able!

I close my eyes and think,
What was good this week? 
What surprised you with these little ones?  
What haven't you shared?
Just write.

Ah, I know!

A simple sign of growth.

The circle.

My preschoolers arrived in August, wide-eyed, somewhat scared, many having their very first school experience, many barely three years old.

Simply unable to sit in a formal circle.

The concept of "gathering" every day as a whole group is so very foreign.

They were paired with a teacher who does not hold them to this expectation.
I have these fun little portable square mats/chair pads, we sing,
"find a square and sit right down, sit right down, sit right down, find a square and sit right down, we'll have gathering time."

And for months we've had a mass of bodies, a clump, children sitting where they are comfortable, as they like, as they are interested, at their own pace.

Every now and again, we had Gatherings where I placed the squares in a circle formation, and, invariably, things fell apart. Children leaping into the center of the circle or creating a second ring behind friends; children blocking one another's view, children wrestling; I heard my voice being more about how they were struggling in their seated positions rather than about the topic for which we were gathered. So, I knew, they weren't quite ready for the circle.  We returned to sitting where we liked (or standing, if need be!).

This week, after several weeks of not trying, I tried again - I sang the same song, placing the squares in a circle, and everyone sat down.


I said, "Wow, look at this.  We are in a circle.  Can you see my eyes? I love the circle because I see everyone's eyes.  We can see each other's eyes."
We tested whether or not this was true -
"Naia, can you see Sydney's eyes?" (across the circle)
"Ahmad, can you see Liam's?" (another direction in the circle)
"This is very special to me.  Is this special to you?  Think, we are all together, all seeing one another, so happy to be together, side by side, at Gathering."

We sang songs.
We had the class sharer of the day come to the center of the circle.
We got up on our feet and danced.
We sat back down and conversed.
We had an amazing time together at Gathering circle.

And it has been true on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, too.

Through this simple pleasure,
sitting together in a circle,
I see how much these children have grown.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

SOLSC #28 They are listening

It so easily could have been me.
Honestly, I'm sure it was me once.  
I remember the feeling of embarrassment.

Children are listening to everything you utter.

The spoken gaffe, 
with every preschooler's rapt attention,
the teacher emits an exuberant,
"Oh, my GOD!"
And there is an immediate chorus,
some preschoolers jumping to their feet,
"Oh, my God! Oh, my God! Oh, my God!"
The words are delivered with increasing enthusiasm, 
as everyone echoes the outburst.

I know this is inappropriate.
The new teacher, face stricken, feels it, too.

Children are cued in to the "rare," the "unusual" -
they won't miss these unexpected words.

I am immediately thrown back in time -
to my childhood...
if I had come home and repeated those words to my devoutly religious Mom, 
she might have slapped me for using the Lord's name in vain.

We can't let these little ones go home with that phrase, I think to myself,
We need to get back to the subject at hand...

The class was totally off point,
this was not what the new teacher intended,
an awkward, unexpected slip of the tongue.

I interject, 
"Let's all give a big 'Oh my! Oh my!,' "
and I raise my hands high in the air, to increase the excitement of my words,
to encourage their chorus,
and my little imitators chorus "Oh my! Oh my!"
and the moment passes,
the awkward pause ends.

I wonder why are we surprised when a child says something profane or "naughty"?
I wonder why are we surprised when a child hurts someone else or does something egregious?

I wonder, too, if dramatic play isn't the single best tool for teaching preschoolers? 

They are such sponges...and extraordinary actors, 
able to deliver words and actions in just the same way they heard them, 
that one time.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

#27 Time for Gak

I made gak with the children.
Imagine, late in March, and I am just now introducing my preschoolers to the sheer joy and purposelessness of creating this "silly putty-like" stuff!
Where has the school year gone?

I had a willing group of about eight "mixers," my sensory-seekers,
those who like to touch, stretch, mush, wallow in anything I put out.
We "cooked" up the batch, me wondering aloud if this was edible cooking,
since I was using glue and Borax,
and them exclaiming, as I had hoped,
"Ms. Ingram! NO! NO! NO! You don't eat glue!"
 Just wanted to be sure, since it seemed like we were cooking,
with a mixing bowl, a wooden spoon, measuring cups...
wanted to be sure we were on the same page.

Ahhh, the delight when you mix the dissolved Borax in with the glue...
the substance changes, as you turn the wooden spoon,
into gloop, into stretchiness, into surprise!
And I was no longer working with a group of eight but the full class of twenty-two,
needing to see, needing to touch, needing to play.

Here's what I heard:

It’s gloppy!”  

“Vervining” (said one precocious four year old), “which means it’s getting stretchy and puffy and now it’s expanding.”

It’s sticky!” 

That’s gooey, it feels gooey.”
It feels squishy.” 

A few first-graders came into read to us and that just wasn't going to happen, and, so,
for five minutes or so, the first-graders joined in on the fun...
I promised to share the recipe with their teacher (for a lighter time in their schedule).

Another batch or two keep up with the demand...



1st Bowl:
2 cups glue
1 ½ cups tap water
Food coloring

2nd Bowl:
Dissolve 2 teaspoons Borax
Into 1 cup hot water

Mix two bowls together (pour 2nd bowl into 1st bowl). 
Drain off excess water. 
Let stand for a few minutes after mixing.

Knead gak until its pliable.
Bounce it! Stretch it! Roll it!
To save it, put it in a Ziploc bag in the refrigerator, so it won’t dry out.

Monday, March 26, 2012

SOLSC #26 Look at the blocks

Preschool Big Cats playing in the Block Center in October 2011.

I was looking through recent photographs of the children at work during centers, and 
I noticed something very surprising:

There is a whole lot of block building going on,
and very little of it is occurring in the block center.  

The block center is not where anyone plays with blocks anymore.

I have a room full of builders,
and they take bins out of the center and head for other special places.

They are building in the large space of the gathering carpet,
in the small confines of the whiteboard ledge,

underneath and behind cabinets and chairs,
on top of tables,

on open floor space.

Everywhere but the center itself.

These two builders refused to be a part of this photo!
(Check out their glorious home for the Horse of Seven Colors.)

(I also noticed they were building lots of homes - for people, for animals, for cars.) 

How many big cats can we fit in here?

The only time we have a block center is during cleanup and nap - when the blocks are not in use.  
The block center is for blocks at rest!

Why are they not building in the block center?

I suspect our block center is simply too small. 

I wonder what is going on in the block center?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

SOLSC #25 She is an artist

What a sweet little preschooler she is, 
her long dark curls flowing down her back, 
a summer dress on - it has been so hot recently.
I am noticing the details.
She is standing at the art table, with one knee on a chair; 
she is hunched over, fervently working her hands, using scissors, markers, the colored pencils.
I can't see everything she is doing, but it is obvious she is so totally engaged by her work.

I walk closer to the table and she turns to me and she pulls from her pocket 
the most intricate, detailed pink art piece...
there is a heart-shaped flower in the center;
she has cut this herself, it must have taken her forever! 
I am noticing the details.
Did she do this at home?  
How, how, how did she cut this, so that I see both flower and heart? 
Flowing from each side are large leaves, leaves that are also pink and look much like wings.
"It's a 'fairy flower' " she says, and I see, yes, she is right, it is a beautiful fairy flower.  
I am noticing the details.  
She has spent considerable time on this.   
I must remember these for GOLD, to enter this data in GOLD.  
How did she make this masterpiece?  Is it simply pink marker? crayon? 
Our tempera paint wouldn't make that gorgeous creamy shade of pink...
besides, it would have cracked, and, come to think of it, 
she pulled it from her tiny pocket and it doesn't have a wrinkle or a tear!  
I look at her, surprised.

She smiles at me shyly and before I can even say anything, she says, oh so sweetly,
"I think you should blog about this."

I shake my head in puzzlement - how does this little one know I blog? Whaaaat?

I look to the clock on the side and see - 3:41 a.m.
It is Sunday, this is a dream,
and she is right,

if I am noticing fictitious details 
by completely fabricated preschoolers,
in the middle of a dream, in the middle of the night,
this will be today's slice!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

SOLSC #24 Pit Stop is When?

[Saturday slice means that I can revise and edit...I posted this at 9am, then went for a brief and much-needed run, where so many additional road metaphors jumped into my head...I knew I had to revamp this a bit....]

Well, yesterday didn't go at all as I expected.
We had a day of Professional Development.  
For some foolish reason, I anticipated restoration, relaxation, reflection - and perhaps early dismissal?
3 pm departure on a Friday maybe?
There was so much.  So much.  So much.
Oh my.

We are a new school, in its founding year, a new public charter school, and it is as if we are careening down a bumpy road with the most unexpected surprises after every turn...
we all know how to drive very well, we all take heed not to wreck, but the road is really wearing us out.

This is the way it has been this whole school year...
you see the road ahead is bumpy, you figure out how best to approach it, 
you believe the road is smoothing out and you are soon to be on the straight and narrow,
when, no, that's not the end, but an unexpected sharp turn, 
with a new obstacle  -
some deep, muddy, sloggy section that you must traverse, or
a huge boulder that you must move out of the way in order to continue, or
a surprise downhill that has intersected with a freeway and lots of other vehicles with which to negotiate as you drive headlong into the road ahead.

the day after our exhilarating but exhausting family event,
we found ourselves on another downhill freeway,
an extremely full, necessarily complicated day.

Nonstop, racing,
keep control, keep steady,
lock your hands on the steering wheel, eyes focused on the road.

Such unfortunate planning, but no one could see any other way out.
The road is downhill and very, very curvy this next week.
The Charter School Review Board is visiting our school for the very first time. 
Gear up! Prepare! Get your game face on!
Reach into your reserves for the miles ahead.
Yes, yes, yes, you can, race car driver!

Remember, repeat, reflect:
we all know how to drive very well, we all take heed not to wreck.

Saturday, March 31st: first day of spring break.  
This, this, this is where we all make a pit stop for more gas.

Friday, March 23, 2012

SOLSC #23 Family event last night

Our big family event - the Learning Showcase - was last night!

School day ended and we teachers rallied:

quickly, quickly,
set up displays,
run get that from that teacher,
bring that to another,
quickly, quickly,
in and out of the room, dashing about,
type up signs,
back and forth to the photocopier,
tidy up the classroom, 
quickly, quickly,
hide the clutter, 
drape cloths to cover those eyesores,
wipe down surfaces,
yikes, just throw that out!
quickly, quickly,
should that be on the wall?
could that be hidden in a cabinet?
do a mental walk through - what does this look like to a visitor?
quickly, quickly,
put on background music, on endless loop,
run to the bathroom to freshen up, 
change into nicer clothes,
brush your hair,
quickly, quickly
head to the multipurpose room,
"all hands on deck,"
open windows,
find permanent markers,
bring another table out,
hand out name tags,
greet and smile,
smile and greet,
try to slow down,
try to be present,
wave as you are introduced,
head back down to your room,
quickly, quickly,
back in the classroom,
families flood in,
children pulling parents by the hand, 
showing off their work,
hugging me,
surrounding me,
squealing with delight,
so fun to be at school at night,
their work,
their classroom,
the meaning of the evening.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

SOLSC #22 Capitals, lowercase, numbers, shapes

This writing topic actually bores me.  
I am frustrated to be writing about it.  
My school is abuzz with collecting data on students for a summary due at the end of March...and, thus, I have data on my mind.

I'm frustrated by the data I must submit.

Data I need to share for each child: 
their recognition of capital letters, lowercase letters, numerals, and shapes.

This really bothers me.
Why are we looking only at this?

Literacy and mathematics seem so much bigger than these.

Are they engaged by books?
Are they able to recall what happened in a book?
Do they predict what might happen?
Do they share their own stories?
Do they share things in proper sequence?
Do they pick up books when they are idle, and peruse the pages?
Do you hear them creating words to go along with the story?
Do they read things that you've posted on the wall?
Do they converse with you, back and forth, several times?

Do they count aloud? 
Do they count along with you?
Do you ever see or hear them counting? 
Is there any sense of one-to-one correspondence?
Can they keep rhythm, drum beat to songs?
Do they make patterns?
Do they make comparisons?
Do they make sets? Do you see them grouping similar things?
Do they enjoy building?  Do they make detailed structures?

What is the value of this data?  What does it show?

Things I've noticed - 

My students who speak more than one language have very weak scores in 
recognition of capital letters, lowercase letters, numerals, and shapes.  
(I'm not surprised - I think of it this way - these children have to learn at least twice as many as everyone else!)

My "different learners" haven't made very high scores on this 
recognition of capital letters, lowercase letters, numerals, and shapes.

Those who make high scores on 
recognition of capital letters, lowercase letters, numerals, and shapes
are not necessarily 

good conversationalists, 
thoughtful questioners,   
critical thinkers.

I see no correlation.  

Frightening thought:

Will low scores result in the expectation that I explicitly teach these things? 


I'm not upset that I have to collect data on 
recognition of capital letters, lowercase letters, numerals, and shapes.

I'm upset that this is the only data that I'm required to submit.

I simply do not understand why something so limited would be very informative.

I need to challenge this.
I need to question this.
I need to understand this.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

SOLSC #21 Let's do that again!

Purple coneflower stalks, I hope they are strong enough.
Butterfly bush branches, I believe they are strong enough.
I cut them both.  
Wasn't this a fall task? 
So fortuitous that I never got around to it, until the first day of spring!

I need them now.
The Big Cats are making magic wands.
We'll add in some ribbon, pipe cleaners, beads, and paper stars.

Today, I hope, they will let them stay at school.  
This is 'magic wands, revisited.' I smile to think of this repeat.
We need these for the Learning Showcase tomorrow night, 
when we spotlight all the folktales we've been reading.

Our favorite folktale of all time is Pete Seeger's Abiyoyo.  

We've read the book so many times,
danced to the CD so many times,
acted out the story, again and again.
We made Abiyoyo masks. 
A month ago, I realized we needed our own magic wands, 
so that we might feel the power of the father in the story, 
and, importantly,
we would display these at the Learning Showcase.

But, the Big Cats would have nothing to do with storing the wands at school for some future display.

As Gideon pleaded,
"Ms. Ingram, how am I supposed to make magic?  I need to take my wand home now!"

I believe it was the first time I have had an entire class "mutiny" on me...
no one thought my plan to keep the wands at school for a month was a very good idea at all.  

Clearly, adult project planning is very different than that of preschoolers.

I contented myself with taking individual photos of each wand,
and I made everyone's day by assuring them that they could take the wands home.

But, now, tomorrow is the Learning Showcase.  
I have nothing to display, 
except for some rather pathetic black and white photos of these wands.
(Our school does not have a color printer.)

Thus, the visit to my long-neglected garden last night.  
Clipping stalks, firm enough for magic wands.  
Here goes, part two - Abiyoyo wands.

Will they let me keep these just for overnight?
Whose in charge here?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

SOLSC #20 Look at their hands

Look at their hands. 

Everything you need to know,
is in their hands.

You see 
determination and delight.
Look at their hands.

You see 
purpose and patience.
Look at their hands.

You see 
wondering and whimsy.
Look at their hands.

You see 
confidence and calm.
Look at their hands. 

You see
busy and beautiful.
Look at their hands. 

Everything you need to know,
is in their hands.

Monday, March 19, 2012

SOLSC #19 Expect them messy

Woke up this morning remembering an ugly scene last week.  It was the late in the day, I sitting in the main reception area, working on my computer, aftercare program in session across the hall.  (I don't get to get to work in my classroom at the end of the day, because aftercare uses my room.)  There is a steady stream of families picking up their children at the end of a long day.

A father picks up his son and growls, "Look at you!  You are a mess.  What is this on your shirt?  Your hands? I don't know what is wrong with this school."  
The boy doesn't respond.  
Dad never even said "hello."
He barks, "Answer me! I want to know why you look like this.  This is ridiculous."
The boy stammers, "Well, we were on the playground."

I had to assert myself.  Let the father know that others were listening.  I had to support the child.  I call out to the boy,  "[Jack], let me see you!  You are in first grade, right?  Wow, tell Dad the marvelous things you did today.  You were so busy - remember the special watercolor paint math project you did this morning? Then, this afternoon, didn't you cook French crepes outside?  And didn't all of us play with new chalk on the playground?  I think that is flour on you!  As we say in preschool, you look like a student who has been doing some serious creating!"

The father went quiet.  They left the school.

But his angry tone sticks with me. 

I wonder if this is the Dad voice the child knows best?  Or was this just a bad day?
I wonder if Dad realized he never even greeted his son?
I wonder why the emphasis on neat clothes?
I wonder how we might teach families that messy clothes mean exploration and creativity - "when you see messy clothes, there's a story there." (I flash on Bev Bos' quip, "I want to see dirt under the fingernails!")
I wonder how we can ever get "in front" of all the messaging we need to do for families? Where does our teaching end?

I keep flashing on this interaction.  I continue to feel sad for this little guy.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

SOLSC #18 Burdened on a Sunday

Spring weather is here, my son is home for spring break, but the only "springing" I'll be doing today is from task to task on my school to do list...

I don't think there are enough hours today.

Report cards are due at end of March and I am so behind at entering data into Teaching Strategies Gold. No foolin', Maureen - you will make a big dent in this today!

[grumble, grumble, there is a lot of work that we have to do that takes us away from the children.]

A facelift is needed on all my current wall displays of children's work, in time for Thursday night's open house/Learning Showcase; I need to type up some of the verbiage here in the serenity of my home.  I should definitely make a list of all the little things I need to complete in time for Thursday - this is going to be one of those weeks when every day is jam-packed.

[grumble, grumble, there is a lot of work that we have to do that takes us away from the children.]

My Executive Director needs the current data on my children's skills in literacy and math. I need to figure out how to print these from Gold...hope it is obvious!

[grumble, grumble, there is a lot of work that we have to do that takes us away from the children.]

Write and send families my weekly summary. I need to share photos of our Phillips' panels!  Yes!

[grumble, grumble, there is a lot of work that we have to do that takes us away from the children.]

Need to update photos on our classroom "Shutterfly" account. This is long overdue...I don't think I've added any photos in six weeks or more... how did I get so behind?

[grumble, grumble, there is a lot of work that we have to do that takes us away from the children.]

Need to review my Resident's plans for math measurement lessons this week and give feedback.

[grumble, grumble, there is a lot of work that we have to do that takes us away from the children.]

Need to review our class plans through the end of the month (up until Spring break!) and update these as needed. I'm due to be observed again (this week? next?) - let's make doubly certain I have all my materials prepared and ready.  

[grumble, grumble, there is a lot of work that we have to do that takes us away from the children.]

Need to make sure I carve out time for my family, for me.  So that I am renewed and energized for this week ahead.

[grumble, grumble, how will I do that?]