Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Small thing, big insight

"The most unlovable child is the most in need of love." - Anonymous

I am late for the school day. I've parked my car about a block away from the school and am walking towards the building, for a mentor visit with a new teacher.

"Bye, Jack!" calls an adult voice as a car door closes and a young student moves from the car to the sidewalk. "Bye, Mom!" he answers. The car speeds away. The child is not even on school property yet.

A late-arriving student.
I've been visiting weekly all year, and I recognize this little guy.
A late-arriving student, from my teacher's preK class.

There's no adult walking this child to the door of the school?

Because the school day has started, there's no principal, no teacher, no administrative staff to meet this child at the school door.

Instinctively, I slow my walking, to accompany him inside, saying,

"Good morning, Jack. You are such a big boy, walking yourself into school."

"Well, my mom has to work."

He's figured out his significance in the world.

Jack's been a difficult learner for my teacher, not wanting to participate in activities, often slinking back with a frown on his face, muttering, "I don't wanna. I don't have to." He whines a lot. He has difficulty with his peers. The teacher has worked hard to help him feel more successful, to feel a sense of pride at his accomplishments, to be a friend.

Am I being melodramatic when I say: But he is invisible to his parents! How will education ever offset that?

Again, I am aware of the significance of small things. Walking your 4 year old child into school - a small must.

If kids come to us from strong, healthy functioning families, it makes our job easier. If they do not come to us from strong, healthy, functioning families, it makes our job more important.” —Barbara Coloroso

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Happening upon a love ritual

Giggles from one corner of the twos classroom...
A little voice, "Do it to me again!"
Another, "No, me, now!"

I see Ms. Karen, with one child at a time, saying softly,

Bar bumper (she touches the child's forehead, lightly)
Eye winker (she touches above the child's eye, lightly)
Nose smeller (she touches the tip of the child's nose, lightly)
Mouth eater (she touches the child's smiling lips, lightly)
Chin chopper (she touches the child's chin, lightly)
Giddy, giddy, giddy! (she moves her tickling fingers under child's chin and up to the ear)

Lots of giggles - from both child and friends.

These lucky children receive lots of love!
Lucky me, to work with Ms. Karen.

Did the day fly by?

Let's contrast my earlier blog entry - about the pressured environment of public school preschool classrooms - with one about my cooperative preschool. I am wrestling with how different these programs are. Why must they be so different?

Let me tell you about yesterday - we had such fun!

On Mondays this month, I am teaching a "2s theme class," focusing on art and nature...meaning, I spend the morning with a delightful group of 2 (and newly 3) year olds, exploring and playing together.

I only see these children once a week, but I know many things about them individually and developmentally:

- they like to move and act, especially like animals,
- they don't always come right to the art table but prefer other toys in the classroom,
- they think scissors are a very interesting tool and want to practice cutting everything and always,
- they don't land long at any one thing but will return again and again to favorite areas,
- they love music and dancing,
- they laugh and sing as they work, and
- they love it when I am silly with them.

Today, I set up materials to create bird nests, based on a fun learning experience I had seen at a workshop at the National Zoo, wherein you provide a variety of materials for children to create bird nests in their own way. My materials were red clay, ribbons, wire, pipecleaner, yarn, and tape, plus a couple natural items that I thought would last (sticks from by-gone day lilies, and narrow, slender branches from a cedar tree).

Knowing how much young children enjoy scavenger hunts - and knowing that birds are scavengers, too - I decided to "hide" each of the materials throughout my classroom in a variety of oh-so-obvious places for them to find. I took care to set each supply on identical cloth napkins, to help the children focus on the "new, found" item.

When the children arrived, they found a ball of soft red clay at their place at the art table and a pair of scissors. I invited them to be like birds and fly around the room to find treasures with which to create a bird nest, just as birds do. I had special classical music playing, to help us move like birds.

The children were delighted, instantly throwing their arms out to the side as wings, and saying "tweet, tweet," as they raced to find a treasure and bring it back to their clay base. I flew around the room with them. They cut the materials that they found and placed them as they thought best. They molded and mashed other materials into the clay base. We got out a little more clay, to roll and mash and mold like eggs. The children wandered off to play with their favorite toys and then returned to the table to add some more details to their nests. (When they wandered over to the easels, they found feathers had replaced the usual paintbrushes.) We overheard:

"I have a tree in my nest."

"My bird likes pink."

"I need eggs for my nest."

"They have blue eggs."

"Where did you get that?"
"I will show you!,"

and off two children flew together.

As we worked on our nests, we discussed what birds like to eat, where they live, what real nests look like (we saw two in Ms. Jennifer's PreK classroom!), what cats do to birds, what would a mother bird feed her baby bird, what do birds use to build their nests, and many other bird topics. Later, we read many special bird books, including Feathers for Lunch by Lois Ehlert and Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman.

Pardon me - but the morning just flew by. :-)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Are you too worn down?

I am working with new early childhood teachers in DC public schools.
They have so much to do.
So much to learn.
So many bosses.
So much pressure.

I want them to think of the individual children in their room and
to plan their curriculum with these children at the heart of it,
but they are too burdened to see the children at times.

Formal observation by principal tomorrow.
Where is your attendance record?
Unscheduled staff meeting today, mandatory.
All the PreK teachers are expected to teach the following skills...
Assessments due at the beginning of the month - 80% success is anticipated.
There is no art class today; students will remain in your classroom for more learning.
Need more data about this special ed student.
Need your lesson plan by this time each week.
Need more details - you must delineate the learning objectives.
No assistant today - your assistant must sub in another classroom. You are solo with 18 students.
This parent needs to meet with you today about their child.
This looks like play. What evidence is there of learning?
Our consultant requests more data on...
Be sure that your students tuck their shirts in.
Where is your current student data? This needs to be posted at all times.
Parent-teacher conferences are tomorrow.
Where is the evidence that you have taught this?
Are you following procedure for the field trip? Where is your bus form?
Individual running records for your 18 students are due by day's end.
Answer the phone in your classroom immediately, regardless of being mid-lesson - the office calls with important questions.
All students must be sitting cross-legged at whole group time, mouths closed.
Are your students tracking you when you speak?
Pull outs for the assessment will begin tomorrow.
Let me check the security videotape of your classroom, to see if that really happened.
We've decided to switch to this assessment tool.
Indoor recess will be in your classroom.
Teachers must accompany their class during lunch.
All classes must walk down the hall quietly, in single line. No disruptions.
Our instructional coaches will make surprise visits, to ensure you are on pace.

Be sure! Be sure! Be sure!
You must! You must! You must!

These external pressures -
requiring teachers to do certain things at precise times,
insisting that young children do certain things in precise ways -
make for anxious, worried teachers.

These teachers work with the understanding that their jobs are on the line.

I sound like I'm speaking a foreign language when I say
I want them to think of the individual children in their room and
to plan their curriculum with these children at the heart of it.

These teachers are too burdened to see the children at times.

It should come as no surprise that it is often difficult to hear joy in some of these classrooms.

What are you like "under pressure"?

Monday, May 9, 2011

What about smash bugs?

Another easy-going, happy day with the Twos. We made zillions of smash bugs - and the children really loved it.

For prep, I cut regular photocopy paper into small squares (3"x3"?) and gave each child three colors of paint plus some q-tips for making dots. They dot the paper three times (I usually intervene and say, "time to smash!" before they make that fourth dot) and we fold the paper and press down; open up - voila! bug!

It's also fun to say - "One - head; Two -thorax; Three - abdomen"...and teach them about those bug body parts as they work.

There is something about working so small that is addictive...one student made more than thirty bugs.

With one child, I "let the mountain come to Mohammed," as they say. He insisted he wasn't interested, so I sat down on the rug with him, by his trains, and said, "hey, watch this - head, thorax, abdomen" and I made three dots, and invited him to help me squeeze the paper. He was thrilled and had to try it himself. He, too, made many "scary" bugs.

Simple, but delightful.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Are there trains on your mind?

There's a little guy at one of the schools I visit who loves trains more than anything in the world.
We've all met three year olds like this.
Trains, trains, trains.

This week -
He was supposed to use the dot markers to make AB AB patterns.
He was supposed to use the unix cubes for the same purpose.

My little friend made trains.

It was awesome!!

And here's what I overheard:

That's Percy.
Percy, follow me.
Thomas is number one!
You are a useful engine, you know.
Round and round.
Toot! Toot!
And those steam engines!
Those steam engines!
Those steam engines!
Then, you know, you bump into them.
They'll fall apart.
Let them go.
They are freight cars.
Look at the trains!
They are together.
This is the steam engine, the little one.
I'm going to look for Diesel.
Oh, Mr. Conductor!
Bam! I got mine!
I'll take yours.
May I take yours?
Sure you can, Thomas.
Good job, Percy, good job!
Oh, I like your freight cars.

I think he'd make a great teacher - able to work within the constraints put on him and transform it creatively into the world he seeks.