Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Tuesday SOL We have mixed emotions

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


I am exploring emotions with the children, developing our "emotions continuum." For this, I highlight the different expressions from characters in our read-alouds and have the children consider what that character is feeling. I photocopy each of these pages and add the named emotion as a label. Each of these pages is posted in our comfort corner (so that emotions are in full view, as children work through their various tough moments). I am trying to cultivate their emotional intelligence, to help children "read" their classmates' faces, to see that we often feel differently about things. Slowly but surely, we are learning how to deal with our many emotions - what is appropriate in the classroom, what might not be.  Truly, it feels right now that there is no end to this curriculum topic…that I could spend the year on it! Here are some of the emotions we have identified to date:
from the book What A Wonderful World by George David Weiss and Bob Thiele,
illustrated by Ashley Bryan


from the book Owl Babies by Martin Waddell

from the book Dogger by Shirley Hughes

I know the children are working hard to understand these emotions (and feel quite proud to be naming them), because they are talking about emotions pretty much all the time. Our morning hello has become significantly longer, as each shares aloud what they are feeling! It feels to me that they are "ripe" for this learning, that it engages them and supports them, allowing them to see things in a new way.

The children loved the book Those Darn Squirrels by Adam Rubin, and I decided that the main character Mr. Fookwire should be part of our emotions continuum. I showed them the picture:

and we debated what he was feeling. One student said "angry," and I said that we already had the word "ANGRY," from the book Anh's Anger - a picture of Anh's face when his block tower crumbles. (This particular book is a lesson in how to work with one's anger, and we have been practicing breathing deeply to this strong emotion.)

However, I continued with the children,
our picture of Mr. Fookwire was something more than anger, 
perhaps "annoyed" or "furious."
The children seemed unfamiliar with the word "furious," though they made me chuckle with their understanding of "annoyed" - "My dad gets annoyed when he is driving," said one boy. So, we teachers acted out the two words, trying to dramatize the distinction and then the children had quite a debate - was Mr. Fookwire furious or annoyed? We decided to 'vote with our bodies' - have children move to one corner with Mr. Rude (our paraprofessional), if they thought the photo showed "Annoyed," and towards Ms. Kim (our Teaching Resident), in another corner, if they thought it was a better image of "Furious." In the end, we had 14 votes for "Furious" and a mere 8 for "Annoyed," so "Furious" became the picture's label.

The next day, in our physical education special - led by other teachers - the children were in whole group doing some floor exercises, when one little girl hit the little boy next to her - and, by luck, I happened to see it.

He cried out, more in indignation than pain, and I swooped over to see what was going on.

(I frequently wonder how much I miss. Certainly, I can't be expected to see or know what is going on during specials. This makes me wonder, how are other teachers responding to these challenging behaviors? Are we approaching these the same way? Does it matter?)

To her, I said - "Wow, I just saw you hit [Jack]; what is the matter? What happened that made you hit him?" [I tried to speak calmly, objectively, respectfully.]
She replied, "I am feeling furious!"
Uh, oh. There's our new vocabulary out for a drive.
I continued, as gently as I could muster, while embracing the little boy and rubbing his shoulder, and saying to the girl who hit, "Oh my! You look furious. Did [Jack] make you feel furious in some way?"
"Oh, no. I just feel it."
"Oh, well, hmmm, when we feel furious, we need to work out this strong feeling without hurting classmates. We are all safe, in the Big Cats. This is a good time to go to the comfort corner, and breathe - like Anh did, with his anger. You might have to breathe a lot, since you are furious, and not just angry."
"Oh, okay. I'm not furious anymore."
"Oh, that's good. Would you check on [Jack's] body, please? Ask him if he is okay?"

Then, to Jack, I encouraged, "Tell [Annie] that your body is 'not for hurting.' Tell her in your strong voice."

Yes, they keep me on my toes, keep me guessing, keep me wondering.

Is it expecting too much, for preschoolers to explore these emotional words?
Should they be a little older, a little more experienced?
Or is the future brighter, since they are striving to understand these words now?

How much we have to learn!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

What about friendship?

The other day, I stepped out of a store only to find several friends of mine having breakfast together at a restaurant's sidewalk table. For one split second, I was immobile - realizing I wasn't included, feeling left out, unsure what to say. Their eyes met mine and we all broke into big smiles, and we shared what we had been up to; they insisted I sit down and join them, and I explained where I needed to be next, said goodbye, and headed on my way.

I look forward to getting together with them soon.

Here I am, beyond mid-life, still sensitive about friendship. Have I been a good friend? Reached out regularly? Been attentive? Been a good listener? Have I been available? 

My preschoolers feel this "tension" about friendship on a daily, constant basis.
These three year olds - some newly three, some closer to four years of age - don't have years of experience to fall back on, as they play with one another.
In fact, for three year olds, this is often their very first experience of playing 'together' - truly, playing together - not simply alongside, as one did as a two year old.
They have a lot of learning to do about friendship.
What does it mean, 
you are building a block road when I want to use the same blocks to build a house? 
What does it mean, 
we are having a tea party and you leave me to play superhero with someone else?
What does it mean, 
when you need more clay and I am using it?
What does it mean, 
when I want to create the puzzle by myself but you keep placing pieces in it?
What does it mean, 
when I bring a special toy from home and you try to take it and play with it?

The children and I,
we are doing lots of talking together.

I am using our whole group discussions to consider -

what can we do when we are frustrated?
how can we be angry and safe at the same time?
how might we share toys?
how might we include another friend in the play?
what can we do to make a sad friend feel better?
what do we say if we want to play? 
how do we join in?
what might you say if… ?

I use read-alouds to share about emotions, friendships, social skills…hoping to build the children's  understanding of what it is to be in community with others.  I use puppets and role-play, too, to reinforce the "how" of getting along with others.

I am the 'guide on the side' during their play,
ever alert to the most difficult moments,
nudging children towards each other, towards various play possibilities,
helping them find words with one another,
challenging them to think about their interactions, especially the effect on others.

Even when I am vigilant,
we've had
hurtful, challenging behaviors.

Yes, we are in the thick of this learning right now, and it will go on all year - some moments quite happy, others quite sad.

I am answering families' questions,
quelling their fears,
trying my best to communicate that
these challenging behaviors are a sign that
the children are discovering the most important work of the preschool classroom.

This is our laboratory.

A friendship laboratory.

It is filled with promise.

It is so important to build relationships with others and to keep working at these, regularly. A friendship isn't a static thing - once achieved, you aren't 'done'…in fact, your efforts are just beginning. It is a dynamic process, with a great deal of give and take.

You reach out, a friend reaches out to you,
you make mistakes, you make amends,
you crave to be together, you spend time with others or alone,
you laugh, you listen, you care.

It is the work of threes.
It is the work of adults.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Tuesday SOL What else can I possibly write about?

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


Last Thursday, September 11th, Kaboom and many amazing volunteers worked very hard, creating a gorgeous new playground for our school. (The side alley play of the last two years is already a distant memory!) I tried to have as normal a day as possible with the children, wanting to maintain the children's routine. We saw a lot of the work being done through our classroom windows, and also when we went outside for some run-around time. But, more or less, we had a normal day.

Except for me.
I was preoccupied all day long.
Ridiculously excited.
I could not stop thinking about what awaited that afternoon, after the school day ended.

President and Mrs. Obama would be visiting our school, as part of the National Day of Service and Remembrance.  

I would be part of a small group of people who would meet them.

Yes, it is true!!

I had the extraordinary opportunity of working alongside the President and First Lady for about fifteen minutes, stuffing backpacks with play items for homeless children. 

I still can hardly believe I had this experience!

But, thanks to the White House press corps and a very dear sixth grader at my school, we made headlines

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Tuesday SOL Thoughts from our first week together

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

Day One, Nicky sat down in his cubby and cried for his family.
He had watched his older sibling come to school here for the past couple of years,
but be here by himself? Without his family? Who thought this up?
James was in tears, too, and clutching his lovey.
It is so hard to say goodbye to family and then stay with these people you don't even know at all, for a whole morning. 
I encouraged James to help me build a road out of blocks,
a road that led to Nicky,
straight to his cubby.
James and I started building and, right away,
James was too busy to cry.
Right away, many others were there to help out - Paxton, Mateo, Henry, Dmitry, Avery.
Nicky watched our every move,
and listened to me, giving the 'play-by-play',
"I wonder if we have enough blocks to reach Nicky? 
To make a road to Nicky?"
Everyone was building, and
soon the road reached Nicky,
who decided to leave his cubby
and join us in our building.

I've had so many sweet, tender moments, this first week of our new school year!

I am touched by their trust and acceptance and overall good humor.
it is all new to them.
Their first time with so many peers.
It might even be their very first experience away from family.

There we are,
three loving adults,
using calm and happy voices,
entreating children to try, play, follow.
And there they are,
all about us,
surrounding us,
following our every move, with
both their eyes and their bodies.

If I grab a book to read,
instantaneously, children reach for book favorites
from the open shelves,
wanting to join in on the process.

If I pick up a broom by the sensory table,
instantaneously, children look for ways to clean the floor,
scurrying to get the sand up,
working diligently,
loving my small, child-size whisk brooms.

If I wash an art container out in the sink,
instantaneously, children mill around me at the sink,
pushing step stools up close,
balancing with classmates on a single stool,
reaching for sponges, getting to the faucet, searching for soap,
seeking ways to wash, as well.

If I set out a toy or project or snack,
instantaneously, children draw up chairs,
begging for a place at the table;
although I may not have explained what will happen,
there they are,
wanting to participate.

They want to do, do, do.

Yes, we have had a few tears,
separating from family,
but mostly, all has been going so well.

I know to keep their hands busy,
giving them plenty to tinker with…
I know to keep the routine clear and moving forward.

Two new friends checking out the family photos.
When the tears flow,
we head out on a walk,
often just me with a little one,
hand in hand,
heading on a simultaneously unnecessary and yet essential task,
"I need your help; would you help me get some paper from the supply room?"

They need to feel needed.
They need a moment, out of the classroom.
They need to be reassured, all will be well.

We are off to a very sweet year.

Monday, September 1, 2014

New year, new school, new everything

Something happened to my blogging during August. 
It disappeared!

Here's the main reason - we moved to a new school, with construction crews still making final touches as we teachers were setting up classrooms. Here's what my room looked like when I first entered...the with both the ceiling and flooring still needing finishing touches by the construction crew:

This room has gone through quite a transformation. It is absolutely, hands-down, the best early childhood classroom I have ever had.

We will not be squished at gathering.
I am delighted with its spaciousness.
You can't see it, but there's a sink in the art area!
I am delighted with its natural light.
Plenty of room for blocks and building.

Science and discovery in natural light!
I am delighted with my views - green, truly green, space...a field, a couple trees, a playground across the field.

Behind that door is our classroom bathroom - yes!
I am delighted with its bathroom and sink...and, excitingly, a sink in the main part of the room, too.

I am delighted with its charm...not just a typical rectangle classroom, but one with special nooks and angles and other features, allowing me to set up centers and spaces in fun, new ways.

There is so much fun reading ahead!
Yes, I am delighted!

The children came through for "Meet Your Teacher" day this past week, while we were still in the midst of setting up the room. When I got home, I said to my husband - "Oh, you should have seen these kids! They are the most adorable children!" He said I say this every year.

My dining room table today - creating photo cards of all the children,
so that they will feel at home in their new space.

Tomorrow is the first day of school! 

Here goes!