Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Everything I know I didn't learn in kindergarten

Tuesday Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers

When I traveled a few weeks ago to support my Mom during her stroke recovery, one interesting coincidence for me was that she was being treated in Charleston, SC, which was where my family lived when I was a little girl. My Dad was in the Navy and we lived on the Charleston Naval Base. I lived there from age 1 through age 5. I remember walking with my older brothers, past the Marine guards on base, to kindergarten at the parochial school across the street from the naval base.

I'm not sure why I remember this so vividly, because I only went to kindergarten for about 3 weeks. Yes, truth be told,  I was a kindergarten dropout.

Here's a picture of me visiting my old kindergarten, a few weeks ago!

Many years ago, my Mom explained that she just couldn't deal with my daily tantrums - every morning when she brushed my hair to get ready for school, I would begin crying, begging not to go.  My own memory is that my baby brother Ralph was a newborn, and I wanted desperately to stay home with him. Besides, my 3 year old brother Sonny was at home, why did he get to stay home but I didn't?

Back then (1964), you were not required to go to kindergarten. Mom stopped sending me and I went right into first grade, when we moved to Connecticut the next year.

I think a lot about how different my childhood was from that of the children I teach.
Staying home, alongside my mother.
Tinkering, exploring, messing about,
doing whatever I wanted to do.
Playing with my dolls, as long as I darn pleased.
Probably not following much of a schedule at all.
I bet I lingered in my pajamas each day.

Isn't this strange to think about?
How different childhood is now?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Tuesday SOL What about lunch?

Tuesday Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers

We have changed the way we are approaching lunch these days and I thought I would share the delightful new routine...

Our routine before -
While the preschoolers sat down to lunch, we three teachers raced around the classroom to
help children at each table to open their foods, clean up their spills, close their lunchboxes,
close the blinds and draw the curtains, and
lay cots down throughout the room, adjusting their sheets, pillows, "lovies" as we moved.
We kept our eye on the clock, knowing that 12:30 pm was our absolute deadline for getting children to the bathroom and then lying down on their cots.

Well, about a week ago I read an opinion piece in the Washington Post entitled
"School Lunch Can Be A Teachable Moment" (by Wendy Costa).
The article resonated with me, especially her reflection about her own elementary school -

"I still remember conversations from those lunches 50 years ago. Lunch was part of the instruction and treated as part of the school’s mission, which is to 'enable all children in our care to discover and to develop what is finest in themselves — to achieve the highest standards in their studies, in their play, and in their character.' "

I thought to myself,

Why, in the preschool classroom, is lunchtime so sterile?  
So regulated? 
Why are we running around doing tasks rather than focusing on the children, chatting and being present?
What does this model to the children? Eat quickly? Hurry, hurry, hurry?

I decided we had to do things differently in the Big Cats.

Now, each of us teachers sits down at one of the Big Cats' lunch tables.
We bring our own lunches to the table,
and slowly, slowly, slowly,
we eat lunch with the children.

I am amazed at the positive changes in the classroom:

The children stay in their seats better.
There is rich conversation amongst everyone at the table.
The children are eating more of their own lunches.
I am more patient - and less hungry!

After lunch,
when we get back from the bathroom,
the children help to lay down their cots...which just makes so much sense, doesn't it?

Oh, and guess what time the children are laying down for their naps?
12:30 pm - same as always!!

Goodness, I can't believe I am figuring this out mid-April, rather than September! Ah well, here's to a new routine henceforth in my teaching.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Tuesday SOL Sickness, death, and wisdom of children

I "just knew" yesterday was going to be tough for me. It was my first day back after my mother's strokes. I had missed a week of teaching and then we had spring break - so, two weeks out of the classroom. I "just knew" there were going to be many kind words and hugs from my colleagues, and I still feel quite vulnerable, with my mother now in a nursing home with dismal chances for full recovery and, instead, a slow withering of her very self; my father, living alone, far from my siblings and I (though he at least lives very near to Mom). Yes, even as I type, I can make myself feel quite sad and vulnerable - so, yes, I "just knew" that yesterday would be a little rough, emotionally. I thought, please let me get through the day without tears!

First thing, a colleague came by and spoke kind words and my jaw began a slight quiver; I think she noticed it, too, and we both, respectfully, changed the subject quickly to matters of the day - "Do we have a staff meeting after school?"

But then the children arrived. Bouncing in! I hadn't anticipated their embraces. One little girl went racing by everyone to find me, and gave me the biggest, longest hug. Another boy jumped me from behind, laughing, "I got you, Ms. Ingram!" Still another just grabbed my hand and held it, smiling. What a gift children are! Wow! My morning trembles were long forgotten as I slipped into being present with them.

I had to check out the new haircut, the new "shoes for running." I had to hear about the trip to the zoo, the family trip to the beach, the hockey game, the movie on tv. I had to find gak ingredients, because "we need to make new gak, Ms. Ingram - purple gak."

A short while later, we were gathered in whole group, and I wanted to hear their recall of their fun with Ms. McCarthy, what did they remember from the week? Well, truly, too much time had past for this kind of thinking - they had an entire week with their families since then! Also, my provocation was a little dull, I think I said "so, tell me what you did at school when I wasn't here..." Instantaneously, everyone started speaking - not about their doings, but about the reason for my absence -

"Your Mom was sick. Did she die?" [I looked at them with surprise and said, 'Yes, she was very sick, but she did not die.']
"You took care of her when she was sick, right?" ["Yes, yes, that's where I was, taking care of her."]
"You were pretty sad she was in the hospital, right?" [I broke into a small smile at this bluntness, "Oh, yes, I was."]
"Usually when you get very, very old you might get sick and then you die, right?" [There was no time to think through my responses; these questions were coming one right after the other! "That is true, and she is very, very old, but she did not die."]
"She will get older and she will die." [I found myself smiling. "Yes, you are right."]
"My Mom's Mom died and my Mom was sad." ["Oh, that is very sad."]
"My Mom got sick and my Dad came and got me and my Mom did not die." [I was wide-eyed at this bluntness. "No, that is true, your Mom is very young."]
"My grandpa died. He was old." ["I'm sorry to hear this; I'm sorry your grandpa died."]
"I got sick and my grandmother took care of me and my grandmother got sick and I took care of her." ["That is very loving."]

I wish you could have seen these precious preschoolers, all talking at once, jumping up from their seats, standing in front of me to make their emphatic comments. How refreshing - to just bluntly talk about sickness and death, to just put it out there! Preschoolers are concrete thinkers, very present, wanting to know the succinct truth.

I, myself, felt almost giddy by the end of this chat - lifted up by their calm, clear questions and statements. They were present with me in my pain, yet, taking it all in stride. Keep on keeping on! I was smiling, truly smiling, shaking my head in incredulity. It's as if the preschoolers "just knew" what I needed.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Tuesday SOL - Heroes on Parade

Tuesday Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers

I missed an entire week of teaching last week, due to my family emergency. 

The week was a blur of hospital extremes - long days of hurry up and wait, fervent discussions with doctors, nurses, family; responding to alarms, beeps, tests, results; exhausting. My Mom is now in a nursing home near my parents' home in South Carolina, where she will get intensive rehab to regain, hopefully, her ability to walk and to feed herself.

What did I dream about? The preschoolers, of course. Happy dreams in the midst of sad reality. It was a very strange feeling to be away from the classroom and the children.

Laura (Teaching Resident) finally got the chance to run the class on her own - and this she did beautifully, I have no doubt. I know that our main focus of the week was to create hero capes - the final endeavor of this creative exploration.  She delighted me with photos of the children on parade, on the last day of school before our spring break (this week!).

Thought these happy photos made for the perfect slice this first Tuesday in April. 
Happy April! 
Happy Spring Break!

Practicing flying before heading out for the walk.