Monday, March 30, 2015

A Quick Funny

Earlier this school year, I was reviewing colors with my class of 3-5 year olds. For each color, I have taught the students a rhyme, the ASL sign and the word in Spanish. I hold up different colors, and the students take turns calling out the rhyme, showing me the ASL sign, or saying the color words in Spanish.

One particularly enthusiastic student shouted out the rhyme associated with the color red ("Red, red, go to bed") while at the same time signing the word for red. Hoping to keep the momentum going I asked the student to say the word "red" using Spanish.

His reply?

"That's red, amigo!"

Monday, April 1, 2013

Finding the Joy

Leaving the very small, loving community that was my last preschool was tough. And as I become more involved with the public schools, I realize how truly special it was.

Why do I teach preschool? It is not a well paying job. I have to spend my own money on occasion to perform my job. There is an enormous amount of work involved, and my job doesn't end when the school day ends. I get kicked, spit on, bitten, pinched and scratched; I have to change clothes covered in pee, vomit and worse. I come home from work sometimes so tired that I can barely be a loving parent.

Yeah, my job sucks. I need to quit.

But I LOVE my job. The absolute joy I feel when I connect with a young child is hard to describe. The giddy excitement I feel when a child makes a discovery makes every time I get a mouthful of an uncovered sneeze worth it. I am helping these little tiny people learn to navigate their world; teaching them how to be wonderful human beings and enthusiastic learners.

Working in this new environment has exposed me to people who don't find the same innate joy in their profession as I do. Which leads me to this question I constantly ask...

If you don't love teaching, then why do you do it? It is not a lucrative position....

I overheard a conversation between a couple of colleagues a few months ago. They were discussing a student who was challenging in the classroom. "I just hate him" one preschool teacher said to the other.

This conversation made my heart hurt. How in the world is it possible to hate a preschooler? Yes, they can make you crazy. Yes, certain behaviors can drive you nuts. And certainly the 1000th time you say "use your words" to the habitual biter makes you want to head straight to the nearest bar. But hate? In my world, never.

The behavior of a preschool aged child is learned. The behaviors they bring into the classroom are what they have used in their home to get the attention they crave. Good attention, bad attention, at age 3, 4, 5 (and older...) is all the same to a young child. To work under the assumption that a young child is just being a pill just to bug you, or to make your life difficult, or to ruin your well thought out lesson plan is ridiculous. They are three, and they are behaving the only way they know how. It is up to me, their preschool teacher, to figure out where the behavior is coming from, and then teach them how to behave appropriately.

But, there is that word, "appropriate". What is appropriate? I really shouldn't toss that term about, because it really should be directed at the adults in the preschool classroom.

A teacher of young children needs to adjust their expectations to abilities of the current group of children they are teaching. The group dynamic is different every year, and what works like a dream one year may be a miserable failure the next. Embrace the challenge.

So...that child that makes you crazy. That you may even "hate" (ugh, it hurts even to type that word); figure out why. Many times, the expectations that have been set out for him are unattainable, and he expresses his frustration the only way he knows how.

Maybe he lives in a busy household, and the only time his grown-ups acknowledge him is when he acts out. Acknowledge him for his good choices and ignore the wrong ones. Praise him for even the smallest victories (good job not hitting your friend in the last 2 minutes, woo-hoo!!)

Maybe there is turmoil in his home life, and the only way he can deal is acting out at school. Make school a respite for him. Create a safe and loving environment where he feels comfortable and happy. Let him know the minute he walks into the classroom he is cherished and loved, and his day will be one of discovery and fun. Sometimes, this child just needs to be held. Hold him.

Maybe he is bored. Figure out what interests this child. Challenge him. Boredom is huge. If your students are running around like crazy people and refuse to make good choices, the problem is your classroom, not the kiddos. Change it up.

Maybe there is something misfiring in the way his brain processes sensory input and information. Early intervention is key to helping children with these types of challenges. Although, I hesitate to throw out this as a reason for challenging behavior. It is important to understand that the inability to sit still for long periods of time is not necessarily a sign of ADHD or autism. It is usually a sign of being three.

Every year I have a child who comes to me with challenging behavior. My secret to effectively teaching and engaging with this child is to find the joy in that child.

Every child has joy in them. It may be the way the crinkle their eyes when they smile. Or the way they understand my dry sense of humor. Or how they approach every activity with their entire body. Or how their face lights up when they make a discovery. Or simply the way they grab my hand when walking to the playground.

I find the joy, concentrate on it, and soon I am able to find the joy in every part of that child, even the parts that drive me nuts. The child knows that I care for them, no matter what, and a relationship built on mutual trust is born. Even when a bad choice is made, they know (because I tell them and show them) that I will always care for them. We work together to learn from mistakes, and how to make good choices.

And truth be told, as much as I try to teach them, those kiddos with the challenging behavior teach me so much more. And my most challenging students are the ones who find the biggest place in my heart.

Early childhood educators who see a child with behavior issues as a problem instead of a wonderful opportunity of mutual growth are missing out on one of the very best things about teaching young children.

Love my job.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Why Won't They Quit Running?

My new class of two year olds had boundless energy. Run, run, run. All they did was run.  And then run some more. My mantras of "We use our walking feet when we are inside" and "Walking feet, please" fell on deaf, running ears. Why would they want to walk when running is so much more fun? And for some of the students, a new found skill. Yet, they needed to learn that running in the classroom is not safe. Plus, the older they get, the more running inside is frowned upon.

I needed to figure out a way to not have to say "Walk, please" over and over again. Because even I was starting to ignore the sound of my voice.

I planted myself in the middle of the chaos which was my classroom, and watched. I noted where the main running areas were. And looking at these areas with a small, two-year-old, perspective, it became quite clear why the running was happening. These spaces in my classroom looked like a what wide open, grassy field looks like to me - a place where you have no choice but to run.

My plan? Eliminate the inviting, wide open places. I needed more furniture.

I was introduced to the campus warehouse, from which I took several tables, a couple of shelves, and a whole kitchen set for the dramatic play area (Score!).

I then placed these new item of furniture right smack in the middle of the wide open spaces. On the furniture I placed an assortment of activities; crayons, puzzles, paper tearing, books.

The new classroom design was not aesthetically pleasing. It really made no sense to my "I need Centers and stuff" classroom mentality. However, the students no longer ran. They slowed down, and showed interest in the various activities I had out. They slowed down long enough for us to discuss the merits of walking in the classroom as opposed to running. And most important, I was no longer asking them to stop doing something; instead, they were able to start doing things. Lots of fun, interesting things. Yay!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A New Adventure

Once I completed my Master's degree program in Early Childhood education, I tucked my new degree into my belt, and since I needed to pay for this piece of paper, I decided to leave the magical, special preschool where I had taught for the the last 10 years, and find a teaching position that offered more money, benefits, and the opportunity for advancement.

I was fortunate to be offered a position in the local school district. Teaching two year olds. After I enthusiastically accepted the position, I hung up the phone, and repeated, "Teaching two year olds? What does one teach a two year old?"

I was at a loss. All of my expertise was working with three year olds. I was good with three year olds. How in the world was I going to create a warm and engaging classroom for two year olds? Plus, I would be changing diapers. That whole celebration I had when my youngest was FINALLY out of diapers was apparently in vain. Panic started to set in. The bit of information that caused full blown panic? "Your class has 25 students."

25 two-year-olds? In diapers? Holy cow, how on earth was I going to manage this?

I walk in on the first day to a bunch of very small children running around. A LOT of very small children running around. A lot of small children running around...wearing diapers. The changing table is in the front of the room, gleaming and mocking me.

I am trying to wrap my head around how I am going to change 25 diapers. How can I possible keep 25 bottoms fresh and clean and teach them things? Can I teach children this young things?

My first day was...let's say...not perfect. I felt like all I did was change diapers, catch toys that were being tossed around the room, and during nap time I spent 1 hour and 38 minutes trying to calm a screaming child. Who tried to bite me. Twice.

So glad I got that degree.

By the end of the first week, I had established my countdown to the end of the year, and ran myself ragged trying to just make sure I had as many kids at the end of the day that I started out with.

That first weekend I analyzed why I was running so ragged. What is the key to a calm and easy to manage classroom? The students need to be engaged. They need to know what is expected of them. They need to have structure.

And thus began my adventure in the world of the two-year-olds.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Logic of the Three-Year-Old

We do a lot of cooking and food preparation in my class. Cooking provides endless opportunites for math and science exploration; kids are also more apt to try new foods if they have a hand in preparing them.

Cooking with three-year-olds can be daunting, what with the finger licking, the coughing into the food, the 12 kids all wanting a turn at once, the one child that always wants to throw the food across the is chaos. And if there is actual heat, like an oven or a griddle, involved? Now there is the chance of injury. The entire prospect has sent some teachers screaming from the room.

I feel the positives far outweigh the chaos factor, so I muscle through. At the beginning of the school year, I set up basic ground rules, designed to eliminate the chaos before it starts. The class and I talk extensively about waiting for a turn (everyone will get a chance!), safety rules regarding oven, burners and the like, and handwashing.

Handwashing is huge in my classroom. The students know they need to wash their hands when they arrive at school, when they pick their nose or stick their thumb in their mouth, and before we cook. They know that washing hands helps germs not to spread, so no one will get sick.

And speaking of germs, the most difficult thing to teach my students when it comes to cooking is that they can't lick their fingers (or the mixing bowl, or the spoon, or the beaters) when we cook. I establish immediately that while licking is awesome and fun and wonderful, it is only done at home. At school there are too many germs, and so to keep everyone healthy, we can't lick. My mantra is "You can't lick or you might get sick." This little rule is incredibly difficult to follow when baking birthday cupcakes - I mean, how can you NOT lick your finger when you get a little batter on it?

But, by October, everyone knows and accepts the rules, and cooking becomes a fun, and educational activity.

Last week, we were making birthday cupckes. To celebrate birthdays, we make mini-cupcakes as a class, and eat them at the end of the day. The birthday child gets to take the leftovers home to decorate with his family. The birthday child gets to pour all the ingredients in, and have the first turn with the electric mixer, and then each student also gets a turn to mix the batter.

As she is patiently waiting for her turn with the mixer, Elise suddenly sticks her finger in the batter and scoops some up to put it in her mouth. I catch her with her finger in her mouth, and I remind her, "You can't lick or you might get sick." I send her to the sink to wash her hands.

It is important to note here that Elise had been nursing a pretty bad cold for several days. While she had been cleared by her doctor to come back to school, she still had a nasty sounding cough and a runny nose. All the more reason I really didn't want her fingers in our cupcake batter.

It took me a few minutes, but I realize that Elise had been standing at the sink, with the water running, for longer than was needed for a quick hand wash. I left my post at the electric mixer (a parent took my spot), to find out what was going on.

Elise was standing at the sink, with huge, crocodile tears streaming down her face. I thought this was a bit dramatic for having been simply remided of our no licking rule, but she was sobbing as if I had shattered her heart into a million pieces.

I helped her finish with her hands, and then I held her, and told her to calm down so we could discuss why it was so important to not lick when we were cooking. She looks at me with her tear stained face, and says, "I KNOW why we have that rule. We can't lick so we don't get sick." Me, still not getting it, says, "Then why did you stick you finger in the batter?" Elise: "Because I am ALREADY sick!"


Makes total sense.


Friday, September 10, 2010

Overheard in Preschool

I walked in on this conversation in the restroom the other day...

Sasha: "So, you guys, I have GOT to tell you something"

Her girlfriends: "Ooohh, what? Tell us!"

Sasha: "I am totally getting married!"

Jill (excitedly): "To who??!!"

Sasha: "I am going to get married to Paul." (Paul is a classmate)

Sara (dubiously): "I don't think you're allowed to get married when you're little. I think you have to be big to get married."

Sasha: "But I love Paul so we are getting married."

Jill (with authority): "I know that you are allowed to get married when you are little, but you can only marry your brother."

Sasha (sees me): "Oh hi, Mrs. Velarde! Um, we were just talking (giggles) about boys and things."

Yep, they are three. Wish I could be a fly on the wall when they are 15.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Cell Phones in the Preschool Classroom

As cell phones have now become a necessary item for most families, it becomes the teacher's responsibility to teach her students proper cell phone protocol, and establish firm rules about student cell phone use in the classroom.

In preschool?

That above paragraph is a standard blurb that comes home from my daughters' junior high and high schools. I read it every year, warn my daughters that if they use their cell phones inappropriately at school I will toss them in the pool, and mentally thank goodness I teach three-year-olds and don't have to worry about such things.

Until this year.

I always have broken and cast off cell phones in my classroom. They make terrific additions to the dramatic play center; the kids love to call each other and text. It is always fun to see them talk on the cell phone, cook dinner and hold a baby all at the same time. They are practicing multitasking!

But this year I have found them to be a distraction...

Me: "Come on everyone, time for our story!"

Jill, age 3, with a broken cell phone pressed to her ear, gives me the international signal for "Hold on, I am on the phone" - index finger raised in my direction. She then turns her back to me and says into the phone, "Sorry, I gotta go, my teacher is calling us for a story". Obviously, the pretend friend on the other end gave her a hard time, because it took her a bit to get to the carpet. And then she was mad that I started without her.


Another day, Sasha is in the library, laying on the couch, talking animatedly on a broken cell phone. A friend asks her to move over so he can sit on the couch and read a book. "NO!" she tells him emphatically, "I am ON THE PHONE!"

This escalated, and by the time I made my way over to the library to diffuse the situation, we had full blown tears. From Sasha, who thought that everyone needed to give her privacy in the library when she was on the phone.


The final straw happened this week when while I am trying to read a story. Two friends had the cell phones and they were "texting" each other. One would pull the cell phone out of her pocket, tap on the keyboard, and then put the cell phone back in her pocket. A few seconds later her friend would squeal, pull the cell phone from HER pocket, laugh uproariously, tap on the keyboard, and then put the phone back in her pocket. And then friend A would squeal, take out her get the pattern.

I didn't let this go on for very long - I firmly established the rule: No cell phones during Story Time. I was asked the question, "Can we have them if they are on Silent?"


This week, my students will discover that the classroom is blissfully cell phone free. They will have to their communication with the rotary dial phone in the dramatic play center.