Friday, June 24, 2011

Fostering a Love of Writing

Teaching writing to three year olds is about nurturing “pre-writing” – providing children the foundation for writing skills that will serve them well in elementary school and beyond.

I am guest blogging today on Two Writing Teachers...please check out my post!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Snapshots from the End of the School Year

My year of mentoring and teaching has drawn to a close. I will have a busy and delightful summer of professional development, as I prepare for my new position as Early Childhood Lead and Master Teacher at the new Inspired Teaching School in Washington, D.C. Before I get too involved in this new and exciting adventure, I thought it would be fun to share some vignettes from the end of the school year....

Recognizing the Learning in Play

Two 4 year old boys playing together in the block corner:

Vincent: “This block is a TV.”

Kevin “Where do these blocks go?

Vincent, taking them from his hand, “I know, I know,” and he puts them alongside the other blocks. “And somebody be sleeping here,” he continues, and takes out the bin of people, to get a doll figure for his house.

Kevin: “I want the lion,” and he reaches for the animal bin. “But, the lion must stay out of the house.” Kevin builds a separate block structure for the toy lion.

Vincent: “I need to build a bedroom for the Mom. The Mom sleeps right there, with the daughter.”

Kevin: “We need these big strong blocks for the roof.”

These two boys built together for the entire center period, creating first a simple block structure and continuing on and on until they had incorporated almost every block and bin from the block area.

The social-emotional learning was significant - these children are demonstrating self-direction and independence; they are learning to work cooperatively with others, to respect one another. Cognitively, they are showing curiosity, flexibility, and persistence in their work - all great learning skills. I hope that our early childhood programs will always embrace the great learning that comes through play.

Learning to Vary Your Approach

Another classroom, another new teacher - I was touched at her sensitivity to the children in her room, her awareness of their different temperaments. As she set up a special hand-painting sensory experience, she had her antennae out for this one 3 year old, who was very eager to get his hands into the paint –

Jack’s going to show us how to do it…look how gentle, he puts his hand into the paint, and then he picks his hand up, and lets it dry a moment, so that it's not dripping, and then he presses it onto the paper…

Thus, she turned his impatience and impulsiveness into a positive, by letting him model for others, all the while giving positive guidance to him and the other children. I am aware of teacher growth...I am aware of the special skills and instincts that early childhood teachers need....

Making Lemonade Out of Lemons

One school requires its 3s and 4s classes to begin each day with a classroom meeting about calendar, attendance, and weather. I have never been fond of this dull routine for young children. However, I watched this structured morning meeting evolve throughout the year and, in reflection, I was impressed with how much thought was given to keeping kids engaged through different instructional formats:

- jumping to feet to be counted,
- writing numbers in the air,
- singing chants and cheers,
- giving students different leadership roles,
- allowing for some group work, interaction, and discussion,
- bending pipe-cleaners to make data markers,
- keeping the pace moving – not doing any one thing too long.

I am heartened by the creativity of teachers to work within specific confines and provide lessons that are vibrant and developmentally appropriate.

The Shapes Field Trip

I accompanied one teacher on a "shapes" field trip to the Smithsonian Sculpture Garden . I was impressed with her organization and management skills, all the while keeping things light and fun. How did she do this? Let me share 3 small but important examples:

1. She gave the children a clear overview of her expectations and the plan for the day:

"We're going to go first to the sculpture garden, where we will find our 3D shapes outside. We will have our paper with our list of shapes [she holds up the list that each student will carry] and we are going to see what we see...maybe we'll find a shape like this [she holds up a toy example from the classroom]...what is this? Yes, it's a sphere...and we will color in the square for sphere, right here..."

As students walked, they searched throughout the garden to find all the shapes on the list. Great learning!

2. She embedded friendship opportunities, by having the children walk and work in pairs (and she cleverly assigned partners that were good together). She skillfully reminded them to stick with their partners, without being reprimanding:

"Do you want to see where we are going to? Ok, where's your partner? Bring her with you as we look at the map."

Working with a partner, children were free to talk, explore, and learn together.

3. She playfully kept the children safe and focused as they traveled by bus and foot to the museum. As the class waited for the city bus to take them to the Smithsonian, she reminded them of the book they had read much earlier in the year - The Bus for Us, and playfully questioned them about different vehicles going by, asking:

"Is this the bus for us, Gus?" and the children would chorus - "No, that is a __"

Waiting is such a difficult concept for preschoolers - how wonderful that she was able to playfully get them through these transition times, making the trip a happy adventure.

Thanks to her skillful organization, the students felt safe, knew what they needed to do, and had a lot of fun.


It has been a great school year. It has been fun to visit different classrooms, to get to know so many children. I have really enjoyed working closely with four new teachers. I have tried to "hold a mirror" when I visited them - and I have been impressed by their ability to question themselves, to scrutinize their teaching, to reflect on what has worked and what should be changed, and to be energized and delighted by children. Thank you, Carmon, Krystal, Monique, and Shay!


One Last Chuckle

We were reading the book Yucky Worms and on one page there is a picture of a badger...

Me - "I have never seen a real badger."
Quinn - "I don't like badgers, badgers are scary."
Me - "Oh, I don't know anything about badgers. Tell me, why are badgers scary?"
Quinn - "They eat you!"
Me - "Oh my! Henry, do you know about badgers?"
Henry - "I know if there was a badger, I would turn me into a lion and I would eat him up!"

For children, everything is possible!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

How is the brain working?

She follows me around, my little shadow, trying to do the right thing, although she is unclear what to do.
She is my little friend, just wanting to be with me.
She is at my elbow in the kitchen, hovering, as I make dinner for us.

I say, affectionately, "Would you like to set the table?"
"Oh, yes! What does it need?"
"Well, let's look. What do you see? What is missing? What goes on each placemat?"
She looks at me, unsure.
"How about plates?," I suggest.
"Oh, yes!" and then she opens the wrong cabinet. Not the plates.
"Try the next one," I nudge.
She sees the plates and pronounces the stack "Too heavy!"
I suggest she take them down one at a time.
She likes this idea and cautiously takes them down one at a time, placing them on the counter top.

I find it interesting that she doesn't move them directly from the cabinet to the table, but has introduced this intermediate step.
I find it interesting how her brain works.

She puts one plate on each of the four placemats. She stops there, not remembering anything else to do.
I gently remind her about napkins.
She quickly goes to the napkin holder, where there are only three left.
"How many more do we need?" I ask.
"I don't know," she says.
"Well, there are four of us, and three napkins...we need how many more?," I nudge.

She waits for me to tell her the answer.
Instead, I say, "Let's figure this out. Why not put one napkin at each plate?" I suggest.

She walks around the table, happily placing one napkin at each dinner plate and sees the answer - "One!" she exclaims, "We need one more napkin!" She is very happy that she has figured this out. I hand her another napkin from the extra stack. "Nicely done!," I say with a smile.

A small child.

Ah, but she is 82. She is my Mom. She has dementia.

My school year ended and I was unexpectedly called to help in South Carolina...I've spent the last 10 days taking care of my Mom while my dad made an emergency trip. (His 99 year old mother - my grandmother - was dying.)

There are such similarities between small children and senile adults. I am so thankful for my early childhood training and its gift of perspective - being able to see how hard my Mom was working to accomplish each and every task.

I am so thankful for this gift of time with my Mom, painfully aware that her memory is fleeting - she will never know me as well again.

Deep cleansing breath...