Friday, November 28, 2008


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.


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. 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!!


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???


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.

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.


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.


"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!)


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


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 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?