Sunday, December 14, 2008

Santa's Reindeer

My class has been doing a lot of pretend play the past few weeks revolving around Christmas. I set up a wrapping center in my room, complete with gift wrap, ribbons, bows and lots and lots and lots of tape. This served as the jumping off point for a game that has continued all week - Santa delivering presents. There are elves that wrap the presents, children who sleep while waiting for Santa, the big guy himself, and of course, the reindeer that pull the sleigh.

"I'll be Rudolph!"

"I'll be Dancer!"

"I'll be Donner!"

"I'll be Prancer!"

and...

"I'll be Blister!"

You all remember Blister, Santa's reindeer whose shoes were too small?


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Saturday, December 6, 2008

Birthdays, Then and Now

I am celebrating a birthday in a couple of months. And the number is kind of a big one. I have found that if I practice saying it a couple of times a day in the months leading up to the fateful day, it is easier to accept it once I get there.

One of my students turned 4 yesterday. She walked onto the campus her head held high, a spring in her step, and a smile that lit up her face. As she walked up to me, I said, "Whose celebrating a birthday today?". The look she gave me was a mixture of disdain and pity.

"Mrs. V., of COURSE it is me. Can't you tell by looking at me that I turned 4 today?"

I love how little ones look so forward to getting older and getting bigger. I love how each birthday represents an achievement, and an automatic check in the "I am more grown-up" column. And how once they reach these landmark birthdays, they look back on their younger years with such nostalgia.

"I remember when I was three, I didn't know how to take turns" one little boy said to me earlier this week, shaking his head as he looked at his classmates squabbling over a block. "Now, that I am four, I know how to share." It should be noted that he has been 4 for about 10 days.

The age technique is one that I keep in my arsenal of Behavior Management Tools. Few words have the affect on a 4-year-old as "Wow, for a minute there, I thought you were three again". The usual reaction is one of horror, like being three was just this side of prison, and then the mistaken behavior usually ends immediately. "I didn't mean to take the firetruck from you and then hit you on the head with it."

I would like to pinpoint the exact age when getting older and getting bigger is no longer an achievement, but an embarrassment.

"Happy Birthday! I had no idea it was your birthday until I looked up your Facebook page. How old are you?"

And you either answer...

"...cough..forty cough..cough four" into your hand

or

"None of your business! I am changing my Facebook profile this intstant!!"

Why can't I answer, with my head held high, a confident spring in my step and a smile that lights up my face, "I am 44! And I remember when I was 43, I was embarrassed about my eye wrinkles. But now that I am 44, I know that eye wrinkles rock!!"


*marin thinks about changing her attitude about her birthday. those 3-year-olds have the right idea, I think...*



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Birthdays in Preschool

A couple of my students celebrated birthdays this week. We make a big deal out of birthdays in my class; we make cupcakes! The birthday child gets to choose what kind of cake and frosting he wants (I always have a couple of choices on hand), and then we make the cupcakes as a class.

This is a great exercise in beginning recipe reading. Cake mixes now have the pictures of the ingredients right on the box, and the kids take great joy in being able to tell me exactly what ingredients we need to get. By the end of the school year, and the celebration of many birthdays, the students can differentiate between different measuring utensils, and they understand the idea of following the steps in a recipe.

The hardest part of these birthday rituals is trying to convince the kids that they can't lick their fingers, and then stick them back into the bowl. Because, ewww. I have tried several methods to try to curb this temptation. I have gone into long detailed explanations about the transfer of germs via fingers and mouth, but found that by the time I had finished this diatribe that there were about 6 children up to their elbows in cake batter. I have also tried to detail the dangers of e-coli in raw eggs, but this lecture had the same result as the germ lecture. My current strategy is simply saying the rule is no licking fingers at school. This technique has had better results; only two children end up elbow deep in cake batter as opposed to six. I comfort myself that very few germs can survive 10-12 minutes in a 350 degree oven.

We make mini cupcakes, and after they are cooked each child gets a plate with a cupcake, a dollop of the chosen frosting and a small pile of sprinkles. Each child decorates their own cupcake, some with care and detail, some with reckless abandon. Some kids eat each part separately. Last year, I had one little boy who would stuff the whole cupcake in his mouth, and then tell me, mouth full of cupcake, that I forgot to give him his cupcake. He tried this on every single birthday celebration. I am happy to report I only fell for it twice.

The birthday child gets to take the leftover cupcakes, frosting and sprinkles home to decorate with their family.

By the end of the year, my students can whip out a batch of cupcakes in record time. And that is an important life skill.


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Friday, November 28, 2008

Clouds!

In Scottsdale, Arizona, it is sunny a lot. I mean A LOT. It never rains, and rarely are there clouds in the sky. Try doing a unit on It Looked Like Spilt Milk; the students all lay on their backs, look at the sky and say, "Clouds? What clouds?"

I gave up doing the weather as part of my circle time after two years of...

"What's the weather today?"

"Sunny and hot"

The student who got to say "Cloudy" or "Windy" or "Rainy" was a hero; on the few cloudy or windy or rainy days we got, there were tears - everyone was desperate for the opportunity to change the little sunshine picture to another picture. I decided that weather in Scottsdale was not only boring when you are three, but a little too intense as well. When it rains in this town, we celebrate, we don't cry because it is not our turn to do the weather.

So we sing songs now.

But doing the weather is a part of Kindergarten. And this week, the weather in our fair city turned. We had clouds, cool temperatures and a chance of rain. And if it was your day to do the weather in kindergarten, it was an excellent day.

I was outside on the playground with my class, when the kindergartner weather watcher of the day stuck his head out of the door. And it is hard to describe his delight. A big smile lit up his face, and he literally jumped for joy. "It's cloudy! It's cloudy! I get to take down the sun!" His announcement was met not with groans of disappointment and tears from his classmates; but the question, "Do you think it will rain?" I guess two more years of living in the desert has taught these now wise kindergartners that while it is a bummer not to get to replace the sun with clouds on your weather day, the chance of rain makes that slight disappointment worth it.

And, it rained buckets that night. So, so, so awesome.





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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What is Thanksgiving?

My first year of teaching, I posed this question to my three-year-olds, naively thinking that they would be well-versed in Pilgrims, Indians, the Mayflower and such. What I got in response to my question was a sea of blank stares, with one exception. Interestingly, I had one student that year who was able to explain to me exactly what Thanksgiving was; this student had just moved from Australia - where they don't celebrate Thanksgiving. Obviously, the preschool program in that country rocks, what with the focus on American traditions and all. (Trying to return the favor, later in the year we all tried Vegemite. Um....it was gross).

In general, my students have no clue what Thanksgiving is. And, seriously, how could they - I mean, they are three! They have celebrated maybe three Thanksgivings, and only one they may possibly remember. So, after that first year, I dropped the whole Pilgrim, Mayflower, Indian thing and concentrated on what I personally think Thanksgiving is about. Being thankful for what you have and your family.

Explaining "thankful" is tough. At three, you really have no need to be thankful. You are loved and well cared for and the world revolves around you (ideally; I like to think all three year olds are this blessed). So I explain "thankful" as the feeling that makes you feel happy and good inside. I read Thanks for Thanksgiving, which does a pretty good job of listing things that make you feel happy and relating it to the holiday. We spend about a week talking about what "thankful" is, and then I ask the class, "What are you thankful for?" Some answers this year were...

Candy corn

Everyone and everything

The "Tinkerbell" DVD

Dance class

Santa bringing me a puppy

My friends

Mrs. V (I swear, I didn't give hints!)

My mom and my dad

My new baby

All the colors

My family

I think they more or less got the concept. I know there are some days when I myself am thankful for candy corn and my friends. Of course, chocolate is always on my list, too.

I do still ask the question, "What is Thanksgiving?", always curious about what the kids will say. This year, I had the usual sea of blank stares, with one exception. One little boy raised his hand and said, "Thanksgiving is a day when you eat lots of turkey and food, and you spend all day with your family, and you tell them you love them."

Wow, this little guy pretty much nailed the holiday for me. I couldn't have said it better myself.

Happy Thanksgiving!!


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Tell me About Your Family

I love listening to three year olds describe what is important to them. As part of my Thanksgving theme, I asked my students to talk about their parents. I asked them to "tell me about your mom and dad". And here is what some of them said....

My mom looks the same as me in a different way

My dad is tall and he has a neck. He works sometimes.

My mom has red hair and clothes and ears

My mom has brown hair and lots of shoes

My dad drinks beer and red bull and gives me vitamins

My mom is short and has yellow hair. She cooks apples and then she eats them.

My mom has blond hair. I just love everything about her

My dad has black hair and he tells me stories at night

My mom takes care of my little brother. She doesn't take care of me, I'm too big. My mom looks like a mom. But my daddy looks like my brother and he takes care of me.

My mom is pretty and she wears ponytails. I love her because she takes care of me

My mom looks like my mom because she is my mom. I just love her.

My dad is tall and he loves me so much.

Her looks pretty. She is a girl. She has a girl face. My dad is my dad. He has a boy face.

My dad has short hair and he is big and nice.


Each of the kids made paper dolls to represent their parents, I wrote down what they said next to the corresponding doll.

When my kids were in preschool, I treasured these little bits of insight their teachers captured for me. Interestingly, a common theme from all of my children were, 1. I was always cleaning (weird because I have never met a dust bunny I didn't like) and 2. I was drinking beer. Hmmmm....what kind of home life did my kids' teachers think they had???




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Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Air Popper

As part of my unit on cows, I talk about corn. Because cows eat corn, you see. So, we talk about corn, and all the different things we eat that come from corn, usually steering clear of high fructose corn syrup. But it's fun to help the kids discover that corn on the cob, popcorn, tortilla chips, corn flakes and corn bread are all made from corn. It blows their minds, and I usually have a couple kids doubt me.

Last year I had a student proclaim, "There is no way that cornflakes come from corn on the cob - they are not even the same color." This little guy marched away from me in a bit of a huff, certain that I was telling tall tales.

It wasn't until after he had peeled kernels off a piece of Indian corn, and ground them with a mortar and pestle and compared his result with cornmeal that I had bought from a store that he maybe thought I was onto something. He was dubious about the cornflakes ("they are brown, not yellow!"), but he could wrap his mind around the fact that corn was in lots of things he ate.

Every year, as part of this unit, I drag out an old air popper to pop popcorn with. I set it up on my carpet, on top of a clean piece of butcher paper, and I let the popcorn just come out of the popper and onto the paper, and the kids eat it right up. This is always a good time.

In years past, I always had a couple of students know what the air popper was. But it was still fun to eat the popcorn off the floor. This year is the first year none of my students had a clue as to what I was about to do.
I showed them the air popper, "What's this?" I asked. A sea of blank faces stared back at me.
I showed them the bag of popcorn kernels, "What's this?"
"Popcorn kernels!" they all scream back. No surprise here; we have had popcorn in the sensory table all week, even if they hadn't seen popcorn kernels in the clear plastic bag before, they had certainly heard me say, "Keep the popcorn kernels in the table" a thousand times.

"How do you make popcorn at your house?" I asked the class.

A confident little girl raised her hand, "At my house, the popcorn comes in white squares. We put them in the microwave this side up, press the popcorn button, it has a picture of popcorn on it, and then the square gets popcorn in it!" she stated triumphantly. The rest of the class assured me this was the same procedure that was followed in all of their homes, although one little boy noted he had to use numbers on his microwave as opposed to the button with the picture of popcorn on it.

"Well," I said to the class, "I am going to make popcorn by pouring this," as I held up the bag of popcorn kernels, "into this" and I pointed at the air popper. As I was greeted with the chorus of, "No Way's", I dumped the kernels into the popper.

As the kernels spun around, I told the kids to use their noses to see of they smelled anything. And then to keep their listening ears wide open to see if they heard anything. Before long, the scent of popcorn filled the room, and all the kids sniffed excitedly, "I smell popcorn!" I had to get the kids calmed down so they could hear the first "pop, pop, pop". The excitement that filled the room when they heard the popcorn start to pop was amazing. And then, the looks on their faces when the popcorn starting spilling onto the butcher paper? They were beyond thrilled.

"Do it again!!" they all yelled. And this was before they had even tried the popcorn. I encouraged them to take a taste. Wow! It tasted just like "real popcorn"!

So I did it again. And again, and again. Their excitement never waned. For such a simple thing, the kids had such a great time. I loved hearing what they said to their parents at pick up time, "She put popcorn seeds in that thing and then popcorn came out all over the floor and I smelled it and heared (not a misspelling, just an exact quote) it!"

It makes me think I might need to invest in one of these old fashioned contraptions for my own home. The popcorn is healthy, and maybe my own kids would get even a quarter as excited as my students did. And that would be worth the cost.
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Overheard at Preschool

In preparation for the big all school field trip to the dairy farm, all of the teachers did units on cows.

Mrs. M.: "Does anyone know how you get milk from a cow?"

A small hand shoots up, "You grab onto the cow's penis and pull real hard!"

Mrs. M.: "Ummm....noooo....anyone else?"

I am happy to report this student now has the correct understanding of how the whole milking the cow thing works.

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The Dairy Farm

For years, my little preschool made an annual trip to a local dairy farm. The school would close for the day, and the entire campus (students and their families) would make a pilgrimage to what seemed like the middle of nowhere (it was actually about 20 minutes away, but it felt like a whole other place). Once there, we would spend the day learning about cows; what cows eat, how much milk cows gave, how they were rotated on the farm, and, my favorite part of the lecture, about cow magnets. This farm also had lots of other farm animals the children could pet and feed, a pumpkin patch where the kids could choose their own pumpkin, and a hay maze. It was always a fun day.

The first time I went was about eleven years ago, and the dairy sat amongst several other dairies. It was challenging to figure out which one was the the one we wanted. And then, as each year past, I watched as civilization got closer and closer to the dairy. Soon, it didn't seem like the dairy was isolated. The subdivisions crept closer and closer, and the dairy farms became fewer and fewer. One year, there were huge spray painted signs underneath the giant billboards advertising "Houses from the low $200,000" that said "Dairy farms surround this neighborhood! Dairy farms come with strong odors and noisy animals. Please consider this when making your home purchase." 

The following year, the freeway took us right to the dairy. A CVS Pharmacy was right across the street, and our dairy was the only dairy left in the area. It was surrounded on all sides by cookie cutter houses. It made me sad; although I am all for progress, this dairy had been in the same place, run by the same family, for close to 30 years. I was sad that it looked like that wonderful family owned business, that had meant so much to my own children as well as my students, would have to make room for yet another cookie cutter subdivision. And, just my humble opinion, Phoenix has plenty of those.

About 6 months after that visit, Dugan's Dairy Farm closed. I was sad for the family. The newspaper accounts of their future after the sale of their farm didn't sound happy.

A couple of years past, and quite by chance, I stumbled upon another local dairy farm. It had just opened up for tours, and was touted by a newspaper columnist as a must visit place for young children. Excited, my colleagues and I loaded up our own kids, and took them on a recon mission to check out this farm. Would it be as special as Dugan's? Would it be kid friendly? Would they present the information in age appropriate fashion? Could they accommodate school groups? It was with high expectations we visited Superstition Farm for the first time.

And we were not disappointed! Our children loved the experience, and I booked a field trip for my class for the following school year. It was awesome! The owners were hospitable and open and treated our students with kindness, letting them hold rabbits, chickens and baby chicks. They got to feed goats and horses. There was a hay maze and as fun bonus - a milk bar! How the kids loved finding out that there was more to milk than chocolate!

This year, Superstition Farm was kind enough to host our entire school as we attempted to resurrect the annual visit to a dairy farm tradition. The kids all learned and experienced so much. It has been over a week, and they are all still talking about it.

 Highlights....

"I got to climb on the tractor!"

"I got to drive a tractor" (in his imagination...)

"I have never seen so many cows in my entire life!!"

"Cows eat clothes seeds!" (cotton seeds)

"Lime is my favorite kind of milk!"

"I held a chicken and it was heavy!"

"I didn't know cows and bunnies were friends!"

How lucky that these kids got to experience just the smallest bit of life on a farm. I am fairly sure that this experience will be one of the few things they remember about preschool. My fourteen year old still remembers her first trip to the dairy farm, when she was three.

(Special thanks to the family at Superstition Farms for a wonderful time!)


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Friday, November 7, 2008

Election Day at Preschool

First of all, the following idea was not mine at all. All credit goes to the wonderful Mrs. M., who is a fabulous kindergarten teacher.

Not too long ago, we added a really cool, humongous, concrete turtle to our playground. This cute guy was in desperate need of a name, so we asked all the parents to come up with some possibilities. From that, we teachers chose the three we liked best, and decided the kids could vote on what name they wanted on Election Day. That way, they could participate in their own very election.


The names that were up for election: Pago, Flash, and Desi.










Election week arrived, and the kindergartners started campaigning heavily for the names they wanted.Our little campus was covered with the campaign signs they created. What was really cool is that all the little ones knew what these signs were - after all, campaign signs had been all over their neighborhoods for months. I had to read each one of them to my class. Several times.










Election Day arrived, and the kindergartners made a ballot box, complete with sign to let us know where to vote.

Each student filled out a ballot, and solemnly placed their vote in the ballot box. It was interesting that almost everyone of them got what voting was. Of course, we had been talking about it in class, but I think because of how huge the presidential election was, most kids were learning about the voting process at home as well.







Of course, after they voted they got the "I voted today" sticker, except theirs had a tortoise on it as opposed to the red, white, and blue.



The kindergarten painstakingly calculated the results, and the name "Flash" won by an overwhelming majority. There was celebrating on the playground as the kids joyfully ran up to the tortoise and called him by his new name.










All in all, a very successful lesson.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Oooohh...Spiders!

I don't really do much of a Halloween Theme during Halloween time, but I do use this time of year to talk about two facets of Halloween celebrations - spiders and pumpkins. My Spider Theme this year went quite well. I think most of my students learned a thing or two, which, of course, is always a goal when teaching.

I use what my mom calls the "Velcro Method" of teaching. I throw out a whole bunch of information, and if some of it sticks, it's all good. When teaching about spiders, I want them to know that spiders have eight legs, and use their webs to catch pesky flies and mosquitoes. I throw out other terms like arachnid, cephalothorax, spinnerets, and the like, and if some of the kids pick up on these I high five myself (and them!)

I use Eric Carle's The Very Busy Spider as my book for this theme.

The morning of our first day of studying spiders, a colleague who loves to do face painting with the kids asked what I was studying this week. When I answered, "Spiders," she asked if she could paint spiders on the kids' hands. As she painted each child"s hand, she had them count the body parts (2), and the legs (8) as she painted them. This turned out to be a stroke of genius, because this simple act really helped cement those two concepts in the kids' minds. (Thanks, Katie!)

I made a huge Very Busy Spider and hung it on my ceiling. It was a simple construction paper job, nothing fancy, but the kids figured out right away who it was supposed to be. I told them the spider would be busily spinning a web on our ceiling all night.

For the next day of class, I made a huge spider web constructed from scotch tape on my ceiling, with the sticky side facing down. The kids were absolutely delighted that the Very Busy Spider had really been busy! I gave each student a handful of cotton balls, and told them that the cotton balls were pesky flies and mosquitoes, and that the Very Busy Spider needed them on her web. The challenge was for the kids to figure out how to get the cotton balls on the web. The kids are very small, the web was way up there on the ceiling....hmmm...how to get those cotton balls up there? The one rule I laid down - no grown-ups could help. The kids had to figure this one out all on their own. And they did. Their solutions were ingenious, ranging from using a chair to throwing up a clump of cotton balls together. I loved how not one of them gave up; they all wanted to make sure the Very Busy Spider got her food.

The next day, the students became Very Busy Spiders. I gave each one of them a skein of yarn, and had them weave their own webs all over the classroom. (I got this idea from Family Fun Magazine). As the room got more and more tangled with multi-colored webs, I told the kids that they couldn't go through the webs, they needed to go over and under them - now we had an exercise in gross motor skills! Although, honestly, it was way easier for the kids to navigate through the webs than it was the adults. Once the room was completely webbed up, I gave each child a pair of scissors to cut the webs down. Now we have fine motor skills practice! What was cool about this was that it didn't take long for the kids to figure out if they held the scissors correctly, the yarn was easier to cut.

I did this activity two days in a row.

During this week we also made Very Busy Spiders. We made webs using marble painting with gold paint on white paper, then constructing spiders to go on the webs. For the spiders I gave each child some red bodies, some green heads, and a whole bunch of red pipe cleaner legs, and let them make the spider however they wanted. Most kids constructed the spider with the correct parts, which I attribute to not only the reading of the story, but the hand painting that took place on the very first day.

I always know that what I am doing has been a success when the kids go home and tell their parents what we have been doing. When a parent asked me, "Why is there a giant spider web on your ceiling full of pesky flies and mosquitoes?" I knew that they had gotten it. Or at least some of it.



The scotch tape web (a mural the class painted is hanging on the ceiling behind the web)



Spinning the yarn webs

More spinning webs; and see all the cotton on the floor?
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Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Rules of the Playground

As the school year starts, my little students are inundated with new information and new experiences. Because they are so overwhelmed, I try not to say "No" to them too often, instead using their actions as an opportunity to teach them about how things work in preschool.

"At school, if you want a toy your friend is playing with, we don't take it from them and then hit them with it."

"At school, tables are for coloring and gluing on, not jumping off of."

"At school, we use crayons for coloring on paper, not coloring on the walls."

But I do have some hard and fast rules on the playground, rules that need to be adhered to. There are only three, and after the first couple weeks of school, my students can recite them to me.

1. No standing on the tire swing; it only took one child going to the emergency room to have me be very stringent about this rule.

2. No throwing sand; if you have ever gotten sand in your eyes, you know that this is a biggie. And while it is hard to get sand out of my own eyes, it is truly nightmarish to have to hold down a three year old to rinse out his eyes.

3. No putting sand in the water fountain. Kids love playing with sand and water, and it is a natural inclination to use the water fountain to get water for that type of play. The only hitch is that when sand gets into the water fountain, it ceases to function. And a water fountain is a big necessity on a playground when the temperatures go up to 112 degrees. So, we tell the kids, if you need water, ask one of us and we will turn on the hose.

We are well into our third month of school, and my students shout these rules to me every day as we are about to go onto the playground. Occasionally, I will ask them why these rules are in place. Last week, I got the standard answers....

"Why don't we stand on the tire swing?"

"It's not safe!"

"Why don't we throw sand?"

"It hurts when it gets in your eyes!"

"Why don't we put sand in the water fountain?"

Now, the reasoning for this one is admittedly a little beyond my students' grasp. In general, I get some blank stares, and I remind them that if they need water, to come get me or another teacher to turn on the hose. But this time, when I posed the question, a particularly astute student shouted out...

"Because it is a drinking fountain!"

A sea of light bulbs went on over my students' heads. They all got why that rule was so important now. Of course you don't put sand in a drinking fountain - that is silly!

A little boy then asked, "Why do you call the drinking fountain the water fountain?" I don't know, I told him, but from now on that is what I am going to call it.

And funny, this year, the drinking fountain has had less sand issues so far than in years past. Funny, how one word can make such a difference. And amazing how a three year old thought of it.



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Monday, October 27, 2008

Where is the Teacher?

This past weekend I went out of town. Because of this I missed a day of work, something that rarely happens. My director was my substitute, and she came in the day before, and let the class know she would be taking my place for the day. Wow! Was my class ever excited. They immediately wanted to count how many sleeps it would be until Mrs. S was their teacher. They began to wonder aloud..."I wonder what Mrs. S. will do in our class?" As their grown-ups arrived, each child excitedly exclaimed that they were having a substitute teacher on Friday.

Can I just say I was a little put out? Not one child said they would miss me. No one asked why I wouldn't be there. No one was unsure about having a different teacher. Everyone was gung-ho to have someone different in the classroom. So, while I should have been relieved to leave my class in such good hands, I was harboring some bitterness towards the director, who I know is an amazing teacher. I was going to have to win them back, but Mrs. S. is so good, that was going to be a hard battle.

So, off I went to Mexico.

I came back, unsure of what my reception would be. Would they be sad I was back? Would they ask when the next time would be that Mrs. S. would be their teacher? Would they think I was boring now? Less funny? Less awesome? (Mrs. S. seriously rocks).

I walked in to find written on my white board: "Where is Mrs. V?" with these answers written underneath...

She went to see Santa.

She might go to Dinosaur Land.

She went to Las Vegas.

She went to see "Princesses on Ice".

She went to the zoo.

She is on an island.

She went to see the Itsy Bitsy Spider.

She's at Disneyland.

She went to the stars.

Of course Mrs. S. would make her time in my classroom all about me. She knew my kids would be tentative, and she helped them deal with it.

As the kids arrived with their parents, here are some of the questions their parents asked...

"How was Disneyland?"

"What island did you visit?"

"Did you go to a planetarium?"

"Where is Dinosaur Land?"

"Um, you took the day off to see Santa??"

How funny that once the kids thought about where I might be, it became a reality to them. This point was illustrated when a student asked me about a new necklace that I was wearing, one that I had gotten while I was in Mexico. When I started to tell the story about this piece of jewelry, she immediately tuned me out and said, "Did you get it at "Princesses on Ice?" Yep, sure.

Mrs. S. also had the kids make me a "Spooky Chair". They decorated a chair with all kinds of scary spider webs, spiders, bats (all Halloween type stuff), bugs, etc. When it was all decorated, they hid it. The big plan was that I would sit on this spooky chair at snack time and get the tuna salad scared out of me.

They were so excited to scare me, they pointed out the chair right away. I was appropriately scared, and they all laughed and laughed, after they assured me that it was all pretend scary stuff. I sat on the spooky chair at snack - and assured them that sitting on a humongous plastic spider was indeed quite comfortable.

(Thanks, Kate! You rock!)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Teaching...Scottsdale in the Fall

As I rambled about in my last post, teaching about Fall in the Arizona desert is a challenge, to say the least. And even though I have abandoned it, my colleagues (who teach older children) have forged onward, hoping to someday come up with the perfect way to talk about Fall to children who live in a climate where that season simply doesn't exist.

Last week, one of these dedicated women walked into my classroom, hands on hips, wearing the fall uniform of tank top, shorts and flip flops, with sweat running down her cheeks because even though it was only 7:30 in the morning, it was already 95 degrees outside, and she says, "How the heck do we teach Fall when it is still Summer???" She didn't say "Heck", though.

I did my obligatory self righteous "I don't teach Fall, so there" shrug, when I suddenly had an epiphany. Why don't we come up with what Fall means to us? Here in the Arizona desert? And maybe put it into a book that could be used year after year? We would be famous!

So, my colleagues and I set about trying to come up with what Fall means in Scottsdale....

Everyone is sick of the heat.

The kids need school clothes but the stores only have winter clothes in stock (one of the greater mysteries of living in the desert).

The pool is too cold for Mom to go in, but everyone else thinks it is great.

The stores all have the Christmas stuff on display.

Halloween.

And...that was all we got. So, I went to our best resource - the kids. "What does this time of year mean to you?" I asked anyone who would stand still long enough for me to get the question out.


Some answers....


I started school.

The pool is too cold for Mom to go in, but I still love to swim.

We open the windows at night.

We planted a garden.

Oohhh...these were good. I could see a book coming together.

Yesterday afternoon, I was sitting on the playground with a couple of kindergartners; former students of mine.

Ann: "Mrs. V, have you ever made a huge pile of leaves and jumped into it?"

Me: "Why, yes I have. Have you?"

Ann (wistfully staring into space): "No, but I read about it in a book once..."

Me (inside my head): Wow, are we depriving these desert children a right of passage by not having them be able to jump into a pile of leaves??

John (excitedly):"There is a huge pile of leaves over by the fence! Why don't we gather them together and jump in them?"

The two of them then ran over to the "huge" pile of leaves - probably 12 leaves all together - and they gathered them into a "pile" about 4 inches in diameter. Then they took turns jumping up and down on that little tiny pile of leaves. They took the resulting leaf dust and made pies and cakes out of it, and served it to their friends.

So, they didn't jump into a pile of leaves. But as I recall, that was never as much fun as you thought it was going to be. Raking leaves for me was a chore - man, I hated Fall. And if I ever did decide to jump into the pile of leaves I painstakingly raked together, inevitably I either landed on a very sharp stick or dog poop. I am thinking that Ann and John's version was way more fun. Fallen leaves are a novelty, and not something you see very often. Therefore they are truly appreciated here in the desert. And maybe that should be part of this book that I think we should write.

This morning, one of my students arrived, and spun around in pure delight. (Only a very young child can spin around in pure delight. Older people just get dizzy). "Oh, Mrs. V," she said. "Isn't it just beautiful outside today?". And it was. Temps are finally a little cooler at night, and it was a wonderful morning.

"I just love the Fall" she continued.

"The Fall?" I asked, excited. Finally, I was going to find out what Fall meant to a three year old. "What does Fall mean?" I got down on my knees to hear her answer.

She stopped spinning, and looked at me with that look of pity. That look that says, "Does this woman know nothing?" (I get that one a lot.)

She bent down, picked up a leaf, and said, "Mrs. V., Fall is when leaves fall from the trees. That is Fall."

Hmmm....perhaps I have been trying too hard. Fall is when leaves fall from (some) trees. Does it really need to be more than that when you are three?

Scottsdale in the Fall

When I first started teaching (not really all that long ago), I felt it was important to teach my students all about the seasons. Spring, Summer, Winter and Fall. I mean, these were basic facts, and everyone needs to know them, right?

Summer was easy. It is a kazillion degrees in Scottsdale, Arizona in the summer, it is easy to teach that. Summer = Hot. You swim in the Summer. You pile on the sunscreen in the Summer. Easy. All the kids got Summer.

Winter was also easy - but try talking about snow to a three year old who has never seen it. The first year I taught, I read one of my favorite stories, The Snowy Day. As I am using all my best vocal inflections to convey the wonder of freshly fallen snow, a student blurts out, "Why is everything all white in the story?" It occurred to me that my favorite part of the story, when the little boy drags a stick in the snow, would make absolutely no sense to someone who had never seen how snow covers the ground. "Well, this was not a good story choice!" I berated myself. I filed that Oops under "Live and Learn."

Spring was easy as well. Because even in Scottsdale, we get excited about Spring. After surviving harsh temperatures in the low fifties for weeks on end, we wait breathlessly for that first 80 degree day. That day when we know that the thermal underwear will soon be put away, and that we can leave our warm homes to play without the risk of becoming slightly chilled, (you think I am joking...we who live in the desert are a fragile bunch). Seriously, though, Spring in this neck of the woods is breathtaking. All the desert flowers bloom, and the one tree in the neighborhood that lost its leaves is getting them back again. Spring is an easy concept to pass on.

But Fall....how do you teach Fall? In Scottsdale, Fall is not all that different than Summer. Temperatures above 100 degrees? Check. Swimming everyday? As much as we can. Lots of sunscreen? You bet. Shorts, tank tops and flip flops? That is formal wear in September.

So, how do you teach it? There are no visual clues (there is only that one neighborhood tree with the changing leaves), and all the other sensory aspects of a seasonal change are absent.

My first year, I talked a lot about leaves changing colors and falling from trees. I even went up north (Fall is on full display a mere 90 minutes from home, but I think that Field Trip is a bit ambitious for three year olds) and brought down a whole bunch of fall leaves. I put them in a pool in my classroom and let the kids play and frolic in them. But the whole concept of Fall Leaves that Fell From Trees Because the Season is Changing was completely lost on them.

As I popped a Benedryl to calm my runny nose and scratchy eyes from breathing in Leaf Dust that covered my classroom due to the frolicking that took place, I decided that I wasn't going to teach seasons to my three year olds. We would learn about stuff that happened in the seasons instead, like how pumpkins grew, what things were made from corn and all about apples.

And, it has been a pretty fun time for all!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Germ Experiment

Every year I try to find a way to explain the concept of germs to my students. I feel that a basic understanding of what germs are, and how they spread, would make it easier to encourage the covering of coughs and washing of hands, as well as discourage the licking of toys and each other.

For awhile, I read "Those Mean Nasty Dirty Downright Disgusting but...Invisible Germs"; this book does a pretty good job of talking about germs - how you can't see them, but how they are there. It also emphasizes the importance of washing and drying your hands. This worked all well and good until I had a little girl completely freak out because all these germs were crawling all over her. "I can't see them but I know they are there!" she shrieked, as she washed her hands over and over again, tears streaming down her face.

Yikes! Since one of my main goals is to make preschool a fun and inviting place, this turn of events was a tad disturbing. I often wonder if that little girl ended up in therapy....(sorry, sweetie).

My next go at explaining germs was attempting a discussion. Who has ever been sick? What kind of sick was it? What made you sick? Eventually I would talk about how germs make you sick, and at the end of couple weeks of discussion (keeping in mind a group discussion with a group of three-year-olds lasts about 3 minutes a session) we would make germs. I had the kids squirt some paint into the middle of a piece of construction paper, fold it in half, then open it again. On the resulting interestingly shaped blob, they could draw a face, and then tell me what kind of germ it was. A headache germ? A throw-up germ? A cough germ?

This was moderately successful; I felt a couple of the kids understood, but then I had a little boy freak out that the germ he created was actually living in his body. "Make it get out! I don't want that germ in me!" he yelled as he sobbed in my arms.

Yikes, again. It was at that point I decided to abandon the germ unit all together. I decided just to teach proper hand washing, and how to properly cover a cough (use your "elbow pit!"), and leave germs to their future teachers (good luck with that!).

Then I learned about a great germ experiment at the science camp I keep talking about. You spread a lotion on your hands, and when you shine a black light on your hands the "germs", actually a glow in the dark powder, glow. You then wash your hands, put them under the black light again, and see how thorough a hand-washing you did. You could even wait to wash hands, and handle objects all over the classroom. Then, shine a black light in the classroom, and see where all the germs are. I thought this experiment had potential with the three-year-olds, so I thought I would give it a try.

I introduced the lotion as a special lotion that shows the germs on our hands. I squirted lotion on each child's hand and had them rub it in. Then I turned out the lights, put on the black light, and they all admired their glowing hands. There were oohs and ahhs galore.

Then I said, "Everyone go wash their hands, and we will see if there are any germs left!" Off they went and came back out eager to see their hands under the black light again. Imagine the disappointment when their hands didn't glow nearly as bright. We had tears, "I want the germs back on my hands!", "Please give me more germs!" And we had anger - "Why did you make me wash my germs off??"

So, I happily reapplied the germs, and let them admire their glowing hands to their hearts content. I will start the "How to Cover Your Cough With Your Elbow Pit" unit next week. And chalk this one up to another in my list of Germ Unit Failures.

On an up note, the four-year-old and five-year-old classes did the same experiment, and it was a raving success. So my students will have another chance to grasp the concept next year.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Science!

As I have alluded to in several posts, I had the amazing opportunity this summer to attend Steve Spangler's Science in the Rockies, a three day conference that focused on how to get kids excited about science. It was an amazing experience, and I came home armed with the knowledge and supplies to start teaching science to my preschoolers.

So, I had the knowledge, I had the supplies, but how to actually go about doing it? I was stumped. I tried having a formal science time. That was a miserable failure. (Ok, kids everyone join me over here for an experiment. Yeah right - like they were going to leave the playdough table for an exper-what is that is she said?). My colleague hit upon the perfect formula. Just set up a center. Do a couple of demonstrations, and then let the kids learn how how to do it. Explain what is happening, and even if it goes over their head, you have planted the seed. My current strategy is to pose a have the kids give me answers, and then we see what happens.

Living in Arizona, this time of year is incredibly hot and the sun is amazingly strong. What better time to do experiments that involve the sun? We talked a lot about how the UV beads (see my post about my first week) change color in the sun. Then we used sunprint paper to make prints.

Question: What will happen if we set objects on this paper and then put the paper in the sun?

Answers:

  • It will change colors (good thinking - that is what happened with the beads)
  • Nothing - it's paper
  • The wind will blow it away


Result - Really cool sun prints, and the kids loved making them on their own...











Next we melted crayons...

Question: What will happen when we put these crayons in the sun?

Answers:

  • They will disappear
  • They will change colors
  • They will go to my house

Result - they did change colors and disappear! They did not, however, go to that little girl's house. The kids loved this, too. We melted lots of crayons in star shaped tins, now we have lots of star shaped multi-colored crayons. The best part of this experiment - the pure joy of peeling the paper from the crayons and then breaking them. Fun!

Then there were three days in a row where it was cloudy (clouds and rain always catch us by surprise in AZ) - I had to break away from sun and try something else... I opted for Clear Spheres. These are little tiny beads that when you place them in water overnight they become marble sized gooey feeling balls. The sensory feeling is really cool. I set out the beads and asked the kids....

Question: Hmmm....what do you think would happen if I put these beads in water?

Answers:

  • They will change color (still in UV bead mode)
  • They will melt
  • They will disappear
  • They will be bigger (awesome guess!)
  • They will turn into ice
  • Nothing
  • How should I know?


Results: The kids LOVED the big spheres. They tossed them around, they squeezed them until they burst, used them in play (these are dinosaur eggs!). Two children asked what made get so big, and I talked about how the spheres were made from the same stuff that is in diapers - and just like a diaper, get bigger when they get wet. The kids were suitably grossed out and amazed. I will bring these out again when we do colors.

Next up? Using packing peanuts to build with.

Question: Sooooo...what do you think will happen if we dip these packing peanuts in water?

Answers:

  • They will get bigger (remember the Clear Spheres?)
  • They will disappear
  • Nothing
  • They will change color

Results: They made awesome sculptures. They loved how they could stick these starch based peanuts on top of each other. They also loved how they turned into goop when completely soaked. Some kids even had the great idea to paint them.












So, so far science has been awesome! Stay tuned, I will continue to document how this whole science thing goes...

Friday, September 5, 2008

Baring It All In Preschool

Preschool doesn't really feel like preschool until a naked child wanders out of the bathroom. Well, today it happened, and now I feel like my year is finally under way.

Going to the potty is a big deal when you are three. Going to the potty at school when you are three is huge! There are some cool things about the potty at school - the toilet is really small, the sink is the perfect height, and you can use a zillion paper towels to dry your hands if the teacher doesn't see.

There are also some not so cool things. The fans in our bathrooms come on automatically, and they sound similar to a jet taking off. Not exactly quiet. Not especially appealing to little ones who don't like loud noises. There is also the issue of having to stop what you are doing to go potty. When it is time to potty at home you can leave the toy you are playing with, and more than likely, it will be there when you get back. Not so much at preschool. Imagine the frustration of finally getting a turn with that fire truck you have been waiting for, and suddenly you have to go potty. Some kids will simply go in their pants, and either deal with the consequences when they come; or claim ignorance.

I watched a little boy go potty, and then subtly just step out of the puddle he created. When I pointed the puddle out to him, and made the suggestion that we go change his clothes - he acted surprised..."Where did that come from?"

I assure all of my students that I will watch the toy they are playing with, save their place in line, do whatever it takes so they feel comfortable enough to leave and go potty.

Once the kids get to the potty there is an entire dialogue that takes place.

Child: "I'm done!"
Me: "Did you flush?"
Child: "Oops!"
Child reappears: "I flushed!"
Me: "Did you wash your hands?"
Child: "Oops!"
Child reappears: "I washed my hands!"
Me (about 50% of the time): "Did you dry your hands?"
Child: "Oops!"

About 10% of the time, the above dialogue starts with: "Did you remember to pull up your pants?" because the child will come out, pants down around the ankles, so intent on getting back to what he was doing that he couldn't even take the time to get the pants back up. And they are always surprised.

Me: "Did you pull up your pants?"
Child, looking perplexed as he looks down, then shocked as he exclaims: "Oops!"

Every year we have one Naked Pooper. A Naked Pooper is a child who needs to get completely undressed to do his business. And then, usually, needs help getting redressed. So, he (or she) will come out of the bathroom into the classroom, looking for assistance. Last year, my Naked Pooper would simply forget that he needed to get redressed. I would look across the room, and there he would be, standing at the easel, buck naked. Weird thing, only me and the parents working in the classroom thought it was weird - his classmates didn't give him a second glance.

Today's naked moment occurred when a student forgot to pull up her pants. As she walked out of the bathroom, she was ready for my barrage of questions. "I already flushed the toilet and washed my hands!" she announced victoriously. "Sweetie, you need to pull up your pants before you come out of the potty, but I am proud you remembered to flush." To which she responded, "Why do I need to pull up my pants?"

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The First Week

Well, school has started. And can I just say? It's awesome! I was so nervous (see previous post), but after only a few hours with this new group of kids, I know that it will be another fun year. Each and every one of them is wonderful, and I look forward to getting to know them, and their families, this year.

The first week of school has a lot of the same things that happen year after year. There are always accidents, there are always tears (from both the 3 year olds, as well as the grown-ups), there are always spills, there is always a naked child running around, and there are always special "aha" moments. And each year, stuff happens that has never happened before. That's how this job never becomes boring or run of the mill. There is always something different for me to experience.

Every year I get peed on, this year was no exception. The little girl was sitting on my lap, telling me about her play dough creation, when suddenly I felt that familiar warm, damp feeling spreading over my leg.

Me: Honey, you just had an accident, let's go change your clothes.
Her: No, I didn't. (looking slightly offended that I would suggest such a thing)
Me: Yes, you did - look, my leg is wet.
Her: I think you had an accident, and you should go change your clothes.
Me: (thinking to myself - I really need to bring a change of clothes to school)
Her: It's OK, Mrs. V., everyone has accidents
Me: I know, so let's go change you out of your wet clothes
Her: You know, there is a potty right there so you don't have accidents
Me: (choosing my battle) You are right.

Last year, I was puked on. Not just a little bit, but literally from head to toe; I think that little girl puked up an entire week of meals down the front of me - I was covered. My colleague had to hose me down. A little pee on my leg was gravy compared to that.

This year I have a couple of puzzle experts. I hate puzzles, always have. As a preschool teacher, it is the bane of my existence to have to put together puzzles at the end of the day that the kids have left scattered all over the floor. Ack! It takes me forever. And it gives me a headache. And these are just 6 and 8 piece puzzles. It really gets hard when one of those 25 piece puzzles is spread from one end of my classroom to the other. Usually I just throw all the pieces back in the box, and hope all the pieces are there.

I own the fact that I am not a fan of puzzles, and I always share this information with my students. They usually feel sorry for me ("It must make you sad that you can't do puzzles") or slightly embarrassed for me ("All grown-ups can do puzzles, why can't you?"). When a couple of my students dragged out my neat and tidy stack of already put together puzzles, and promptly dumped them all over the place, I said, after mentally sighing that there goes my afternoon, "I am terrible at puzzles, I hope you guys can put these back together", one of the little girls looks up at me and says, "Don't you worry, Mrs. V., I know puzzles." And she did. I am replacing the 8 piece puzzles with the more challenging 25 piece puzzles this week - she informed me that the current puzzles were "incredibly easy" and "not all that fun". She also gave me a reassuring pat on the shoulder as she said, "But these puzzles are sometimes a little hard."

Of course, there were spills, although, not as many as in the past. I am big on self reliance, and a skill you learn in my class is how to pour your own juice and water. It is fun to watch the kids navigate the large pitcher (it's actually quite small, but it looks gigantic in the hands of a three year old); they hold it shakily over their cup, and watch in amazement as the liquid goes where it is supposed to (in the cup). And they are so awestruck by their accomplishment, that they just keep pouring and pouring until the cup over flows. And sometimes the phenomenon of juice creating an ever growing puddle in front of them is so cool that they continue to pour. That is why there are always lots of paper towels around. Because everyone spills, it is no big deal, but it has to be cleaned up. This week, when I recited that particular mantra, the reply I got from the puddle (lake) creator was, "Oh, I don't clean up spills; that's my mom's job." To which I replied, "At school, it is your job." She definitely did not like that aspect of the preschool experience.

This year, I found myself in a conversation that I had never experienced before. A little guy walks up to me and asks when I'm going to get out my guitar and play for them. Hmmmm....I don't play guitar (I would like to - I have a guitar - but I never seem to have enough time for lessons. OK - we all know that is a cop out. Anyways...). I tell this inquisitive little guy that I don't play guitar, so I won't be getting it out today. He walks off, seemingly satisfied with my answer. Until five minutes later when he walks up to me again and asks "When are you going to play your really loud guitar and sing for us?" Well, no pressure there. Not only do I need to play guitar, but it needs to be an electric guitar and I have to sing as well. I am currently trying to find myself lessons - I can't let this little guy down. (Hope he will be okay with an acoustic guitar...)

Another first for me this year was the pet unicorn one of my students brought to school. This unicorn, Uni, is rainbow colored, with red legs and pink eyes, and enjoys eating grass on the playground. She also likes the special unicorn apples I keep in my pocket. Uni and I hit it off right away - and her owner was pleased that I understood how special Uni is, and how imporant it is that she has her own place on the carpet. So I could better know what Uni looked like, I asked her owner to paint me a picture of her....


So far, there has been no nakedness...but the year is young.

I started incorporating all the science I learned over the summer into my day this week. Although transitions are a little shaky (how do I get three year olds to move away from the instuments and join me for a science experiment? Still searching for a quick and engaging song....suggestions?) We made necklaces from the UV Beads; and the kids were amazed at their changing color abilities. Two kids figured out right away that the sun was what causing the change. Most of them thought it was magic - which is fine. Because now I am the cool teacher who gives out magic beads. We are continuing our discussion next week. Eventually they will all know that the sun is the real magic and I am not all that magical.

We also did the Bouncing Bubble Experiment, and it was the coolest thing to watch the kids figure out how to blow the bubble, then get it off of the wand and then bounce it. A lot of steps for little ones, and the look of pure amazement on their faces when they figured it out was worth the soapy lake that my classroom became.

This year is going to be great.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

And So We Start Again

This summer I had the amazing opportunity to attend Steve Spangler's Science in the Rockies, an amazing three day conference that taught me how to make science an exciting experience for kids. Check out Steve's website here: http://www.stevespanglerscience.com/. Also, to see photos and video of what I, my colleagues and 175 other teachers did, visit here: http://web.mac.com/stevespanglerscience/SITR2008/Friday.html.

Steve Spangler is quite a guy. He has that passion for teaching that those of us who love what we do can relate to. Every aspect of his presentation was how to get the kids involved, and how to make it all about the kids.

Along with obtaining an enormous amount of information about science, Steve said something that really resonated with me. He said that if a teacher isn't nervous about the new school year starting, then it is time for that teacher to retire.

Well, my new school year starts in 10 more sleeps, and I am nervous as all get out. Guess that means I have at least another year in me.

This will be my sixth year doing this, a relatively short time on the one hand, but long enough to have gained some confidence on the other. And I am confident that I have some wonderful things planned (we're talking lots of science, people! Science in preschool - how cool will that be?). I am confident that I am able to talk the language of the three year old, and I am confident that most of the stuff that has been awesome in the past will most likely be awesome this year.

Why am I nervous? What if the class doesn't "gel"? What if my ability to communicate with a three year old suddenly fails with this new group of kids? What if they suddenly realize I am not all that cool? What if they don't think I'm funny? What if they aren't potty trained? What if I suddenly become incontinent? What if more than a couple of them are biters, or spitters, or temper tantrum throwers (I can handle two or three, more than that, I need reinforcements).

I work in a cooperative preschool. This means that the parents are part of the teaching team, they are part of their children's education. At least one parent is in the classroom with me every day. Pretty awesome, but a lot of my nerves come from wondering what the parents are thinking about me.

The first few weeks in my class are chaos. A wonderful, loud, unorganized, chaos. I give the kids time and freedom to explore their classroom. Little by little we get down to business, eventually a routine is achieved, but I leave a lot of that up to the kids. For example, I might have written on my daily schedule 15 minutes for music. But if the kids have found a musical groove, I am not going to cut things short just because time's up.

I am nervous that parents aren't going to get that. That the chaos will drive them nuts. And they won't understand how important it is. I try to give everyone a head's up before school starts, and I hope that each and every parent that walks into my classroom will experience the absolute joy of watching their child learn how to navigate in this new environment.

You know what? I am nervous. But I am also really excited. I absolutely love what I do, and I simply can't wait to get to know my new students, and their families, and have yet another incredible year together. All that other stuff? I can handle it - except maybe the incontinence, but hopefully I have a year or to left before that becomes an issue for me. Maybe when that happens, the nervousness will have worn off and it will be time for me to find a new career. Spokesperson for Depends, perhaps?

Friday, August 1, 2008

Mommy, Don't Leave!

Separation anxiety.

I always tell people that my oldest daughter had terrible separation anxiety. That it was hard for her to be away from me. When she started preschool, it was terrible - she would cry and beg me to stay, and I would, sometimes for the whole day.

Looking back, I now think it was me with the separation anxiety. I hated leaving my daughter with anyone that wasn't me - only I knew what was best for my child. No one could possibly understand her as well as I could, and take care of her needs the same way that I could. That list of no one included her father, her grandparents, and pretty much anyone who wasn't me. Obviously, I thought quite highly of myself.

When it was time to start preschool, I had done my homework. I researched (at the library, no less, this was back when AOL was new-fangled) and studied about all the different types of preschools there were - and there were, and are still, many different schools of thought in the preschool world. Montessori, cooperative, Reggio Emilio, Waldorf - yikes! But I studied each one and visited countless preschools. The school I finally chose - where I teach now - offered a warm, loving environment, had a cooperative philosophy, and was highly recommended by not only parenting publications in my area, but other parents. I visited this school a number of times, with my daughter, and felt really good about my decision.

Then why couldn't I leave her? Why did I have to stay with her and hold her hand? Because she was crying, and what kind of mom would I be if I left her when she was crying?

As the time for beginning preschool approached, I had numerous conversations with my daughter about preschool. I talked a lot about how big she was, how she would make lots of friends, how much I would miss her and how I would count the minutes until I came to pick her up. Looking back - I gave a lot a baggage to a three year old; did she really need to feel responsible for me missing her? Or that I would be so lonely I would count minutes until she was back with me again? No wonder she cried, and didn't want me to leave.

And during these crying sessions at drop off, I would hold her and cry too, more often than not. I would tell her that school is really short, and that I would be back real soon. I even promised her I would wait in the car, and wouldn't leave in case she needed me. And believe it or not, I did just that.

So, what did I teach my daughter in those early years? That it was her job to make me happy. That I was not OK when she was at school. That it wasn't OK for her to be away from me, because I was sad. That she should be with me and not at school. That she was responsible for my happiness.

OK, guilt maybe forcing me to lay it on a bit thick, but when I look back to my daughter's first year of preschool, I cringe. Here I was, trying to be perfect Mom, and really, I was not making an important transition in my daughter's life very easy. Hindsight being what it is, I know now that the transition was mine too. I needed to accept that in order for my daughter to be self-confident and self reliant, that I had to allow her to be around another people. I had to trust my decisions, and allow her to venture off on her own. And I had to accept the fact that my way was NOT the only way. As a matter of fact, the more people she was exposed to, the more well-rounded and self-confident she would become.

I am lucky that my daughter's first teacher was a patient and kind woman who had experienced exactly what I was going through. She held my hand, after weeks of my angst, and assured me that if my daughter didn't stop crying in 20 minutes, that she would call me. But she was certain that if I simply said, "Good-bye, I will see you when school is over", and left - the campus - that my daughter would be fine. And eventually the tears would stop, and before I knew it she would run into the classroom without a backwards glance.

And you know what? She was right.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Once Bitten Twice Shy

I had a parent ask me for advice this week on how to make her child stop biting her friends. Ahh, biting, an issue that is always fun, and not at all embarrassing for the parents, to deal with.

I remember the first time my oldest daughter was bitten in preschool. Being my first child, and not being a biter herself, I was absolutely horrified that this happened. What horrible child did this to my precious baby? What kind of parents bring up a child who bites? I could barely look those poor parents in the eye, I was so self righteous in my anger.

Because, karma has a way of getting you back, my son (and third child) was a biter. And boy, was it ever fun to face the parent's of my son's victims - some as self righteous and indignant as I was.

"Yes, my son was raised by wolves"

"Yes, my son does live in a pen in the backyard"

"Yes, my son does have all of his shots"

It was easier to face the parents who also had a child who was a biter. We could share solutions (muzzles, wiring the jaw shut) and techniques for curbing the biting.

What this experience taught me was that biting is a fairly common thing in the preschool world, and gave me some insight on how to deal with biters when I became a teacher. Every year, I have a biter or two. In general, the biting phase is a short one, and once the reason for the biting becomes clear, it can be stopped.

A lot of times, biting is simply an act of frustration. The child gets so angry that the only way to get his point across is to use his teeth. With this biter, I talk about using words, walking away, and other techniques to get the point across. Another good solution is to make the biter care for his victim. Have the biter help the bitee wash the wound, get the bitee ice, and then sit with the bitee until the bitee feels better. Sometimes, after seeing all the pain their bite casued, the biter will think twice about biting again.

One year I had a biter who bit for the sake of biting. This was harder. One day, I stopped him as his victim's arm was in his mouth.

"Stop! Why are you trying to bite your friend?"

"Because it looked like his arm would fit in my mouth"

I....had nothing. Especially when the victim also thought it was interesting that his arm fit in the biter's mouth. The genius words I came up with for this situation?

"We only use our mouths and teeth for eating"

I said this to this little guy several times during the year - I am happy to report that he currently uses his mouth for its intended use - most of the time.

As for my son? He is no longer a biter. What stopped him was a combination of a huge consequence ("no sleepover with your aunt next time you bite, young man!"), as well as getting bitten himself. ("Gosh, mom, it really hurts when a friend bites you")

The parents of my son's biter were absolutely mortified that their son bit mine. Poor things couldn't look me in the eye for weeks. It wasn't until I thanked them for curing my son of his biting that they actually made eye contact with me again. And they realized that although biting is never a good thing, for some kids, it is a normal thing. And, like most phases, it usually passes.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Mobile Sensory Experience...in the Summer

This week I took my my kids to the community pool which is conveniently located across the street from my house. We like this pool, it has an awesome play structure, big water slides and a high dive, features which the pool in our backyard doesn't offer. And, since we live in a small(ish) town, inevitably we see friends when we go there. Another feature our backyard pool doesn't offer unless I decide to put forth a little effort.

As luck would have it, on this visit, a former student was their with his family. Students, both current and former are always excited to see me at the pool - and I like seeing them. Mostly, because I know they are not looking at my thighs and thinking, "Get some sun and visit a gym, girlfriend!" They just want to show me how they can hold their breath, or blow bubbles, or see how I shriek when they splash me with water.

So, I am sitting in the shallow end of the pool, keeping an eye on my kids and conversing with this former student. He is sitting in front of me, talking a mile a minute about how he can't wait until he is tall enough to go on the water slides (an important right of passage in our neck of the woods). Suddenly, he decides he is leaving me for someone more interesting, and he grabs onto my leg to pull himself up out of the water. And since my freshly shaven leg provided no traction, he slid right back down again. At which point he said, "Why isn't your leg pokey like in school, I need it to help me get up!" I suggested he wait a few days, and then meet me at the pool again, I would have all the pokies he would need at that time.

And there I have my excuse for not shaving this summer - what if a former student needs to use my leg as a prop to get out of the pool?

Yeah, not sure that will fly, especially as the hair gets long enough to braid. (heading to the shower to remove pool traction)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

In Their Own Words

At the end of the year, a perk of being a teacher is you get some pretty cool gifts. My favorite gifts are the ones that somehow commemorate my students. Being able to look back and remember those little faces from years past is so cool.

This year my class made me a scrapbook. It is absolutely awesome. It has an amazing photo of each child, a picture they drew, and questions that they answered about preschool and me in their own words. I want to share some of their answers, because, seriously, three-year-olds have some amazing insight!

Question: What do you love best about your preschool?

Answers:
  • Cleaning, because we get to go outside
  • When I get to hold the flag
  • Playing, because I love to play. Playing gives me the energy to get all that food out of my tummy.
  • The playground

Question: What does Mrs. V. smell like?

Answers:

  • soap
  • honey-apple
  • apricots
  • flowers
  • like "pretty"
  • blue ballerina
  • peppermint patties and polka dots

Question: What does Mrs. V. wear to school?

Answers:

  • her bunny hat
  • her Def Leppard shirt
  • her shirt, her panties, and coat
  • crocs
  • pants and crocs and pink shirts

Question: What was your favorite thing you did in preschool this year?

Answers:

  • Rodeo Day
  • learning about beautiful
  • going on field trips
  • making ice cream
  • making lots of friends

It would be very interesting to have these students come back to me in five or six years, and read some of their answers to the questions they were asked. I wonder if the impression they will have of their preschool experience at that time will be at all similar to the wonderful moment in their lives that I have captured forever in an amazing book made for me by amazing parents.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Mobile Sensory Experience...Continued

During the last week of school, we always have a Pajama Day. And this day is exactly what it sounds like - we all wear our pajamas to school. And everyone must wear their jammies, including me as well as the parents that are working in the classroom that day.

Pajama Day always stresses me out. Even though I know it is coming, I am always caught off guard, and find myself running to Wal-mart the night before to purchase myself appropriate jammies. Because, seriously, who wants to see me wearing a ratty t-shirt over my husband's boxers?

This year I purchased a night shirt and some "sleep pants". Which I guess is the new term for "soft comfortable jammie bottoms that you wear to bed". I felt I was dressed ok for preschool - nothing showing that shouldn't, and all embarrassing lumps properly camouflaged. Yep, I was feeling pretty good.

Until I got to school. I was laying on one of the tables in my room (see, here's the thing about wearing pajamas to work - you feel sleepy all day. I had set my room up, and then was compelled to lay on the table because I was just....so....tired....). I was laying there, on my side, talking to one of my coworkers (school had not yet started), when her son, a former student, walked up and started punching my behind. At my repeated requests to PLEASE STOP, he then started pinching my bottom. "It is so soft and fluffy!" was his justification for his actions. Eventually, I did get up, but for the rest of the day, every time this little guy saw me, he poked me in the bottom.

Later on, during school, we were watching The Wiggles (of course) - we always watch a movie on Pajama Day - and I was laying on my side on the floor with my students. One little girl was leaning on my stomach ("I love how it feels like a pillow") and several kids were sitting behind me. When, suddenly, the kids behind me started poking my behind. Then they were pinching it. And finally, I sit up and ask, "Why are you guys doing that?" Their answer? "Because it looks so soft and squishy."

Ahh yes, what every woman wants to hear about her bottom. Apparently, that Buns of Steel workout that I did that one time in 2004 didn't do its job. And sleep pants, apparently emphasize the soft and squishy qualities of my Buns of Fluff.

I pondered making this my last Pajama Day, but decided against it after I heard from parents how the kids had picked out their pajamas for the day weeks in advance (a big deal at three and four). The kids arrived at school, wearing their special jammies, excited to show me and their friends their awesome pj's. Most of the jammies had a special significance..."my aunt bought them for me," "I pretend I am Spiderman when I wear these," "I am a princess in this night gown," "my sister let me wear her favorite nightshirt."

So, because the kids love it, I will continue Pajama Day, but maybe next year try something other than sleep pants? A thong? Hmmm....where did I put that Buns of Steel dvd??

Saturday, May 24, 2008

And Off They Go...

My school year has ended.

This is a bittersweet time of year for me. I am filled with pride as I watch each of my little ones use the tools I have given them. I watch them play together, compromising and negotiating the use of popular toys, comforting each other when knees or feelings get hurt, remembering to wash hands not only before eating, but after peeing as well. These kids can sit at Circle Time, and have a relevant discussion about the story we have read, as well as help plan activities for our day.

I am also filled with a little bit of sadness - most of these kids will not remember me in a couple of years. Most of my students will remain at our little school for Pre-Kindergarten, a smaller amount will stay on for Kinder, and then I will see a handful of them at the elementary school where my own children attend. The ones who move onto a different school, I will more than likely not see again. And while I will always cherish the time I spent with them, these kids, if we ever encounter each other again, will wonder who that crazy lady is who is so excited to see them at Wal-mart.

I recently saw a former student, now in second grade. She, of course, had no recollection of me, but her mother kept trying to convince her of how much fun she had in my class, and how much she used to adore me. She simply smiled, and gave me a small hug that was designed to make her mom hush. A few days later, she saw me again, and this time, ran into my arms with a real hug. 'You're the teacher my mom says had a significant impact on who I am today!" Quite a large statement from a second grader - awesome vocabulary! - and while I don't really buy the significant impact part, I am always happy to get a hug from a former student.

This has been a wonderful year for me. I can't honestly say that about every year that I have taught - but this year had a great mix of children and parents; and I feel we all learned so much.

So, as I send my babies on to the next step in their education, I start to ponder many things. How young they are....most have turned four when they leave me, but a few won't hit that milestone until this summer. Yet we expect so much out of them. It boggles my mind that a mere four years ago these children were held in the crook of their parents' arms, all toothless and wobbly headed (Heck, I held many of my current students when they were infants), and now they are expected to control their temper, share, be a kind and understanding friend, see a task through to completion, not miss the toilet, put on their own shoes, clean up their own messes. Wow. That is a lot for such little people. Yet they all rise to the challenge - amazing.

And I worry about them as they move on to a different teacher, and in some cases, a different school. I feel I know all of them so well, will their new teachers see the beauty in each and every one of them, even if it is not readily apparent?

Will they see Garret's* amazing sense of humor as a distraction or for the gift that it is?

Will they understand that Douglas's family is going through a divorce, and his negative behavior is a direct result of that?

Will they figure out that Jake is having trouble adjusting to a new baby?

Will they appreciate Ann's precociousness, and not think she is simply sassy?

Will they work with John's obsessive tendencies, and not just ignore them?

Will they see that the hyper little girl that is bouncing off the walls with her friends used to be so painfully shy that she couldn't even look you in the eye, so this behavior is amazing?

Will they understand that when Steve says unkind words, this is a huge improvement from the talking he used to do with his fists, so he should be congratulated at the same time he is coached on the proper behavior.

My list goes on and on. I have given the teachers at my school the evaluations I wrote on each of my students, but I still worry. I want them to experience the same joy and amazement I did with these kids. And sometimes, to find that joy, you have to be willing to look for it buried way down deep. All kids have it, we as teachers just have to be willing to do the work to locate it, and then nurture it and help it grow.

So, I have a couple of months to regroup and get ready to start all over. My coworkers and I call the beginning of the school year "The Kitten Stage". The first six weeks of teaching three-year-olds is like herding kittens. Imagine trying to get 12 kittens to sit still and listen to a story, and there you have the perfect description of how I will be spending my time come August.

*all names have been changed

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Overheard in Preschool

Brody: I am going to the Diamondbacks game tonight, and I am going to eat dinner there!

Mrs. A: (joking) Wow, Brody - are you going to have a hot dog and beer?

Brody: I don't like beer.

Henry: I like bee-yah! (raising hand excitedly)

Brody: Henry, you need to give that up, it's bad for you.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Art Night

We recently had my favorite of all events at our little preschool: Art Night. Art Night is a celebration of the childrens' art. We hang it, museum style, in the church hall for all the families to enjoy.

There is something so amazing about children's art. I have a hard time trying to pinpoint why I love it so much. Is it because their art is so pure? Three-year-olds don't say to themselves, "I can't draw" or "I am not an artist". They simply create. Because it feels good. And they put their whole self into the work, figuratively as well as literally. In my class, if you want to paint with your hands, go for it. You want to paint with your feet? Have at it. If your friend doesn't care if you paint her then by all means do so. If you want to mix paint and glue and buttons together to see what happens, then I will provide the paper on which to try it out.

After the kids create their art, I ask them to tell me about it. Sometimes, there is nothing to tell, "it was just fun". Or I get the details of how the art was created, "I mixed blue paint and yellow paint and made a little green and then I glued some beads here and then I punched a hole in the paper here and then I taped it." And sometimes they have simple explanations, "It's a shoe." and some have elaborate and intricate plots, involving all the intrigue and suspense of the best romance novels.

Let me share some of my favorites from this year...

"My Mom"

"A Big Storm"

"This is my mom and she is grumpy and she has beautiful eyebrows"

"My Mouses"


Maybe it is just me, but I think these are simply amazing works of art. And I bet if the art dealers that run all those fancy galleries downtown thought these painting were done by a trained artist, as opposed to a carefree and passsionate three-year-old, some parents could make some cool cash.