Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Words I Never Thought I Would Say Together

"Please don't lick the toilet"


While I have certainly used all 5 of those words separately, I never had the opportunity to use them in quite that way. Especially "lick" and "toilet" in the same sentence. But as the little boy was exploring the toilet orally, I found the need to say that phrase. And funny, I had to say it more than once, with growing exasperation, because he wouldn't stop. licking. the. toilet.

Another one? "Please don't touch your friend's tongue with your tongue". Who would have thought we would be into heavy petting in preschool? Actually it was two girls simply seeing what it felt like, and even as the words rolled off my tongue, I realized how just wrong it sounded.

"Only one girl on the toilet at a time." Four were trying to share.

"Take your feet out of her mouth." Somehow the feet were in the mouth without the owner of the mouth's permission.

Then, yesterday, I had a couple within a few minutes. I walked into the boys restroom to make sure everyone was doing their business and washing their hands, and saw that the boys were...comparing....well, to put it in preschool speak, their privates. I interrupted a lively discussion about color and size. Now, my coworkers tell me I missed an excellent teaching opportunity. That I should have immediately set up a graph and took out rulers and graphed sizes, colors and shapes, and made this into a teachable moment. But no, I missed that teaching opportunity to utter the words," Underwear stays at your waist until you are in front of the toilet."

Eloquence, at its best, right there.

Frankly, teaching the etiquette of the boys' restroom is a little beyond me. My husband and his buddies talk about eyes staring straight ahead while standing at the urinal. Try telling this to a three year old. My husband and his cronies also talk about how crossed streams will somehow cause the end of the world a la "Ghostbusters". My coworkers and I, not really believing these tales the men tell, but at the same time not wanting to tempt fate, came up with the "Privacy Line". A line of tape on the floor that you need to stand behind until your friend is done with his business. A lot of conversations about privacy and respect go on when talking about the Privacy Line. In my class, the space behind the Privacy Line has become the "Let's compare underwear area". This is a highlight in these boys' days. And once, two boys were wearing the same underwear - you can imagine the excitement. This happened in October, and they all still reminisce about that like it was Woodstock or something. "Remember when we wore the same underwear? That was AWESOME!"

So, I guess the natural progression after comparing underwear would be to compare what the underwear was covering, don't know why it caught me off guard. But I try to be very matter of fact about privates and such; I answer all questions and try to handle all situations that come my way calmly and honestly, like I would if they were asking me what color the sky is.

Like the time a little boy raised his hand during a story and said, "My wiener just got really big". I just replied, "Thank you, Michael" and continued with the story.

But all of my matter of fact reasoning went out the window yesterday, when after I threw out the "underwear at the waist" gem, a little boy placed his face against the back of the urinal as he flushed it, so the water ran down his face.

What did I say? Did I take advantage of this teachable moment? Did I seize upon the chance to talk about germs? No....



"Please don't put your face in the urinal while you flush it. Or ever"

Once again...face and urinal, two words that really shouldn't be in a sentence together.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

They've All Gone Crazy!

As I have mentioned before, it is currently spring in Arizona, my favorite time of year. (I do really love summer as well, I am one of about 12 people who live in this state that actually enjoys the triple digit temperatures). With spring comes absolutely glorious weather, beautiful desert blossoms, itchy eyes and runny noses, and a classroom full of three year olds that have gone absolutely bonkers.

And for whatever reason, every year I am completely unprepared, even though once it happens, I say, “Well, it’s spring.“

My job as a teacher of three year olds is to get them ready for the big school. And by get them ready, I mean get them ready socially and emotionally. As my director says, “Once they are able to navigate successfully among their peers, they become sponges for learning.”

We spend a lot of time at the beginning of the school year learning how to be a good friend. We learn that just because you want something doesn’t mean you can grab it from your friend’s hand. Then bonk her over the head with it for good measure. We learn that sharing doesn’t mean you get the toy NOW. Sharing is waiting until the friend is done with his turn. We learn that hitting is not an effective way to communicate your frustration. Nor is spitting, biting or pinching. We learn that when you get that funny feeling, you go to the potty - not simply drop your pants wherever you happen to be standing (boys - it is not how we water the garden!)

One of the most rewarding things about teaching this age is watching them internalize all the tools we give them, and start to put them to use. I have a little girl this year who would spit or hit when she got mad at her friends. Not long ago, she came to me and said, “Jane took the doll out of my hand. I almost spit on her but then I decided that I should tell her that I wanted the doll back.” It is moments like this that show me that they are putting what I am trying to teach them to good use.

By March, I feel like I am on cruise control. The kids know how to handle themselves with their friends, and we are able to delve more seriously into academics. I was just about to start my unit on quantum physics, when the week started - the week where everything we had learned was forgotten, the week that caused me to sprout 100 new gray hairs (hello? Salon? Get the hair dye ready!), the week when they all went crazy. Behaviors that I hadn’t seen in 5 or 6 months reappeared, and caught me completely off guard…

“That's my toy!"

“He took my toy"

"She looked like she was about to take my toy so I slapped her ear!"

"I peed my pants"

“The garden needed water”

As I pulled a child down from the rafters from which she was swinging, I looked at the parent that was working in my classroom and together we said, “It’s spring!” I herded the wild animals that were formerly my class out the door and let them run free. Exactly what they needed.

I have started doing an informal research study. Is it just my class that goes crazy at this time of the year? Is there a fundamental flaw in my teaching style? Preliminary findings indicate no. On the day I took my class outside early, the rest of the school was on the playground as well, the teachers draped over various playground structures looking a little dazed. My son’s first grade teacher says his class is also reverting back to beginning of the year behavior. (Actually, he said “your son” as opposed to “his class”, but if I use the entire class in my data pool, the results end up that much more in my favor.). A friend of mine teaches junior high. Her students go a little wild this time of year also - except their behavior is more along the lines of belly shirts and barely there shorts with thongs showing over the top. Yikes. I’ll take peeing in the garden over that anytime.

The week from hell has passed, and the kids are back on track. I did scrap the quantum physics unit in favor of insects, and fun is being had by all.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

I Am A Mobile Sensory Experience!

As springtime rolls into summer here in Arizona, I start the slow transition from long pants to shorts. I have to make this transition slowly, so as not to blind my students and coworkers. Legs that are as white as mine need to be revealed slowly, over an extended period of time - not just so they get used to being out in the open again, but so that traffic accidents caused by the glare from my legs are kept to a minimum. So, I am currently sporting Capri’s when I go to work. And because I am lazy and have been blessed with blonde leg hair, shaving is not a priority.

Since it is so wonderfully beautiful outside right now, I have been reading my class their daily story outside under a tree. The children gather around me and listen attentively as I read to them.

Sounds idyllic, no?

And it is. Until last week. As I am getting to the crucial part of “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!” (the pigeon is asking if their mom would let him drive the bus - the tension can be cut with a knife!), one of my students rubs my legs and says, “Wow, your legs sure are pokey.”

Hmmm….so many emotions. Embarrassment (did the dad working in the classroom today hear that comment?), aggravation (it’s the best part of the story!), depression (jeez! now I need to shave my legs), anger (why is that child touching my legs?) to, finally, excitement (teaching opportunity! this is a sensory experience waiting to happen!).

“Wow, your legs sure are pokey.”

“Yes, they are. Are yours?”

“No. Why are your legs pokey and mine aren’t”

“I don’t know. Why do you think that is?”

And, a conversation was born. Before I knew it, the whole class was comparing my pokey legs to their non-pokey legs, and trying to come up with solutions as to why that was. They compared each others’ legs; some legs were hairier than others, but for sure mine were the pokiest (I am having an engraved plaque made to display in my classroom).

Some theories to why my legs were pokey…

“All moms have pokey legs”
“You got stabbed by a cactus”
“You have a beard like a dad on your legs”
“Your leg hair is very straight” (a particularly astute observation, I thought)

And, you always have the one student who hits the nail on the head…

“You didn’t shave your legs!”

Another sensory experience I offer to my students is my soft and cuddly body. Before your mind heads straight to the gutter, my stomach has often been compared to a pillow, “It’s so comfortable when I lay my head on it!” Many a student has fallen asleep on my soft and mushy tummy (I can’t do sit-ups - where would my students nap?) My lack of a six pack has also led to many interesting conversations. Everything from “When is your baby coming out?” to “Why is your tummy so soft and mine isn’t?” I always let them come up with the answers.

I have also had the privilege of having the hairs on my chin closely examined. One of the truly magical things about getting older is my sudden ability to sprout black chin hairs overnight. God forbid if I skip my morning ritual with the magnified mirror, because the opportunity for another sensory discussion would be lost. I am not proud of these ugly hairs, but I am amazed by what the kids say about them.

“It looks like that hair should be on your head”
“Why is it black and your hair is red?”
“It feels different than my dad’s beard”
“Only boys get beards, you’re not a boy are you?”

And, of course, the one student….

“You didn’t shave your face!”

I love my job!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Wiggles ROCK!!

I got to see The Wiggles this week. Please, don’t roll your eyes, and look at me sympathetically. I wasn’t dragged there by an obsessed three year old. My kids were actually dragged there by me, an obsessed 40 something year old.

I love The Wiggles. Not the “gosh they are a great children’s group” type of love, which they are, but the obsessive must have all of their merchandise and cds and DVDs and front row seats and screaming because they are AWESOME kind of love. Seriously.

My passion started 7 years ago when my then 11 month old son would stop whatever he was doing to watch The Wiggles dance on the Disney Channel. At that time they popped up between regular Disney programming for one song. And for the two minutes these guys were on screen, my son would sit, entranced. Eventually he started dancing with them. I started buying the videos (black plastic cases containing film which could be viewed through a VCR - the term is on wikipedia, look it up) and my son would sing and dance his little heart out. And so did my girls (then aged 3 and 6). And as I played these videos over and over, it dawned on me the music wasn’t cloying, and I didn’t feel the need to drive a hot poker through my eye every time they were on my TV. (If you have ever suffered through a child’s Barney obsession, you might be familiar with that feeling).

Who were these guys? Four regular guys from Australia with a background in music and early childhood education that had stumbled upon a perfect formula. Great music, bright colors, topics of interest to children. I sing and dance and entertain kids everyday, but I don’t have millions in the bank to show for it - and I am jealous of that.

But what really makes me love The Wiggles so much is their obvious passion for what they do. They love the kids, and it is all about the kids. Go to any of their shows and that passion is obvious. They will run to the back of an arena to read a poster made by a child.

And, let’s get to the heart of the matter - Anthony is a hottie. Yes, the truth is out…I can watch hours of Wiggles videos (now DVDs) because watching Anthony makes me smile, and feel all giggly inside. I am twelve, apparently.

Come to my house, and my kids will tell you all The Wiggles stuff scattered around the house is mine. Yes, that’s true. The Big Red Car ride-on toy - mine. The Wiggles Beach Ball - mine, it hangs in my bathroom. The Wiggles towels - mine, don’t use them. The Wiggles flushable wipes container - for show only.

And the concert this week? Amazing. They put on a wonderful show. My kids went with me (don’t tell their friends) and they agreed, The Wiggles ROCK! Murray read the poster we made and everything. This was our seventh show, and I plan to continue seeing them for as long as they tour. My kids? Think I’m nuts, but will probably still accompany me because they don’t want me to be the scary old lady sitting by herself in the front row of the Wiggles concert.

So, keep Wiggling!

Zoom Zoom! Transportation Theme!

Every year I do a Transportation theme, which as happens with things you do year after year was starting to get boring. For me not for the kids. And I worry that if I am bored then my enthusiasm will not be where it needs to be. Three year olds are perceptive - if my eyes are glazing over and rolling to the back of my head, you can be sure theirs will too. Or that they will just start running around the classroom screaming and going nuts.

This year, I had the grand idea I would introduce large construction trucks into my transportation theme. I ambitiously planned 2 weeks, and set about researching the topic. Unfortunately, I discovered that I would need to reinvent the wheel if I wanted to talk about large construction trucks - no one had done it already. I had the fantastic idea of taking pictures of large dump trucks, excavators, bulldozers, etc. from around my seemingly always under construction neighborhood and I would present the pictures to the class. I then imagined us having animated and informative discussions about the name and function of each piece of equipment.

Then, I remembered my students were three. And that animated discussions, while always starting out on the right track, quickly degenerated into princesses or how a dog threw up. Discussions are always fun, and a lesson in raising hands, and listening while your friends speak, but would do nothing in advancing knowledge of construction trucks.

So, I stuck to what I normally do, with a few new ideas. And a fun time was had by all…

Arts and Crafts
I did the old stand-by of using cars to paint with. Roll the cars through the paint and then run the car around on paper. I made sure I had lots of different treads on the cars we used, and we discussed the differences as they painted.

I then expanded on this idea the following day by laying out large sheets of bulletin board paper over the majority of the floor in my classroom, had large trays full of paint, and then had them roll the large, sand toy-type trucks across the paper. Fun, messy, and an exercise in cooperation. I specified that they needed to keep the trucks on the paper. No rolling the paint covered trucks onto the floor or carpet. Hmmmm…how to do that? Well, buddy up with a friend and roll it to each other from across either side of the paper. What happens if you put both yellow and blue paint on the wheels and then roll it? Eventually the tracks become green - cool! The pairing up, and the color experiments were all a product of the process; they came up with these things on their own with no help from me.

After all the painting was done - we headed out to the playground with (kid safe) dish soap and sponges, and made a carwash to clean up our painty mess. Fun for the kids - less work for me!

Two ambitious projects I attempted were for the kids to create their own flying machines and boats. For the flying machines, I provided a variety of materials for them to use; toilet paper rolls, crafts sticks, buttons, ribbon, glue and multi colored masking tape. The results were fabulous. Of course, there were some kids who looked at the stuff on the table and said “Later, I am heading to the blocks”; but the rest of the kids let their imaginations run wild, and their creations were very cool. Some needed adult aid “Please make a slit in this tube so I can put in a stick”, and others just muddled through on their own.

For the boats, I provided butter tubs, straws, craft sticks, construction paper and scissors, with the instructions “Make a boat that will float” I set up a small swimming pool with water in it (outside, since I am using any excuse I can to get the kids outside) to test out the boats’ seaworthiness. It was amazing how the kids would go “back to the drawing board” time and time again until they had a boat that floated. They tested all sorts of techniques to create a floating craft with a sail. They used combinations of a variety of materials - play dough, sand, wood chips, tape, glue - to hold up the sail in the butter tub. A successful model used a combination of sand and play dough to hold up the sail which was taped to a straw.

We used large cardboard tubes (like you might find throw rugs wrapped around) as tunnels for the cars. We held them at different heights to see if the height of the tunnel affected the speed of the car that was going through it. Of course, this scientific data could only gathered after numerous discussions about how the tubes were not swords, clubs, extensions of our arms, antennae, flamethrowers or a device with which to hit your friends over the head.

“Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus” I love this book! And the kids love it too; some taking very seriously their job of not letting the pigeon get behind that wheel. Of course, there is always the one or two children who think the pigeon should get his way, but once I remind them what the bus driver said (I flip back to the first page of the book and reread it) they usually get on board. (Check out http://www.pigeonpresents.com/ for more pigeon fun.)

Silly Fun
We played “Red Light Green Light” on the way to and from the bathroom. Great fun - the kids especially liked when they didn’t stop for the red light I wrote them a “ticket”. They also liked going really slooow for the yellow lights.

So, if anyone has any wonderful ideas involving big construction trucks send them my way!