Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Logic of the Three-Year-Old

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Makes total sense.


Friday, September 10, 2010

Overheard in Preschool

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

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

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

Sasha: "I am totally getting married!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Cell Phones in the Preschool Classroom

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

In preschool?

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

Until this year.

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Bodily Fluids and the New School Year

I had a milestone this year. It was the first year in four that I didn't get peed on on the first day of school.

Getting peed on, or puked on, are normal occurances in the life of a preschool teacher. After a while, you get really good at figuring out how to avoid these things, but it usually takes a few weeks when the school year starts.

Three-year-olds all have their individual "I need to pee" signals. The signals can be subtle, like a slight rocking back and forth, or very apparant like the grabbing the crotch and crossing the legs while still trying to play with that truck. Some kids also have very specific times when they need to go. After a few weeks, I get quite good at reading each child's signal or knowing their schedule, and can calmly and firmly lead them to the restroom when it becomes apparent that the need is there.

Today I spot a little guy making the international signal for "I need to go now!" and tell him it is time for him to go to the potty. (I have a bathroom in my classroom, so the kids can just head in there when the need strikes).

Little Guy: "But I don't need to go"

Me: "It is time, come on, I will go with you."

The little guy puts his head down, slouches his shoulders and shuffles over to the bathroom, glaring at me from the corner of his eye all the way over (like 10 steps). He gets to the bathroom and just stands in there, head down, looking put out.

Me: "It is time for you to go potty....go ahead, I will be right outside the door."

Little Guy: "I don't want to go!"

Me: "Don't you need to go?"

Little Guy: "I need to go really bad."

Me: "Then why don't you just go??"

Little Guy: "Because I DON'T WANT TO!"

And he drops his head to his chest and heaves a dramatic sigh. By the way, this whole exchange is taking place while he is still performing his "I need to go" dance.

Me: "It is time for you to go."

Little Guy huffs over to the potty, starts to pull down his pants and I close the door to give him his privacy. A few minutes later he comes out, having flushed the toilet and washed his hands without being reminded. He looks at me, beaming, and says, "Thanks for reminding me to go potty, I feel SO much better!"

The first few weeks of school also brings the inevitable mystery pile of poop on the floor. This is always fun. First of all...gross! There is poop on the floor! Everyone please stay! Don't touch it!

But I, as the teacher, get to touch the poop. (Seriously, the absolute worst part of my job). How do I clean it up without actually touching it, all the while keeping an upbeat and cheery look on my face while at the same time trying to figure out whose poop it is?

This year, it was surprisingly easy. I was informed by a student to "check out what is over here on the floor!" I make my way to the offensive pile and start trying to identify possible suspects without actually having to use my nose.

Me: "Well, what happened here?"

Adorable new student, looking at me with the cutest eyes: "I pooped in my pants and it fell out onto the floor."

Well, that was easy.

Long story short, I cleaned up everything and everyone and I made a mental note to stock more baby wipes in my bathroom.

So, here's the thing. School is a big deal for these little people. It's new, different, exciting, and probably quite scary. Can you blame them for pushing the urge to go potty to the back of their minds? I mean, they are not me, where an unplanned sneeze is not a fun experience. They have so many other things to do and to see and to experience, going potty is just TOO boring. Plus, they might lose their turn with that awesome truck.

It is my job to learn their signals and routines, and help them understand that even if it boring, going potty is necessary.

One day last year, I went to the potty in the public restroom at the same time my students were in there (we go to the public restroom as a group after recess). This was apparently a big deal, because, I was informed quite seriously, that "teachers don't go potty!" The girls were so excited to tell the boys "Mrs. Velarde peed!". I was so famous for that incident that I vowed that future students would think I never went to the potty except to tell them to go.

So good.


Room Set- Up

Every year I am faced with the daunting challenge of setting up my room for the upcoming year. Why, I ask myself, is this so hard?

I have the same furniture, in the same room, as I have had for the last several years. So, why oh why is this such a hard task??

A couple of years ago, a colleague's daughter was in my room as I complained that I couldn't remember how the room was arranged the previous year. She came up with the genius idea to take pictures of the room so I could remember how it was set up. Have I ever followed this very clever bit of advice? No, not once.

Why do I have to set up my room every year? Because every summer each classroom is emptied of all the furniture so the floors can be stripped and waxed. So every fall, we have to set up the classrooms again.

Each year I have visions of how I want the room to look. I plan it out mentally in the shower for weeks. I get excited to finally be able to arrange the room to look like the vision that is in my head.

And, inevitably, a few things happen...

I forget to include a center (who needs an art center?)
I think the room is bigger than it is (why don't these two extra bookshelves fit?)
I forget where things are (I guess I shouldn't put the easel where it blocks the bathroom door)

So, I spend endless amounts of time moving around shelves and tables and rugs, and then getting on my knees to see what a three-year-old would see, then moving everything around again.

But, quite frankly, all of this is an exercise in futility. Because I don't know how this new group of kids is going to be. Will they spend lots of time enjoying my carefully designed library, or will it collect cobwebs from lack of use? Will they love all the room in the block center or will they take all the blocks to a quiet corner to build with? Will having a music center be just too loud to handle?

All questions which cannot be answered until my new students come into the classroom and begin to explore. I know it will take a few weeks for me to get a feel for this new group and to design my classroom in a way that will be best for them.

So, why do I spend all this time the week before school starts rearranging my room 600 times?

I need to take pictures this year...


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

And So It Begins Again...

The school year is about to start again, and I am...ambivalent. Or so I thought...

The school year, for me, is like a race that starts in August and ends, with me breathless, in May. I feel like I am running no holds barred for 10 months straight.

Just managing my own childrens' activities is a full-time job, most of which is spent in my Suburban, shuffling them from place to place. On top of that I am currently in school. (Really? What was I thinking??) And then we have preschool. Which, as I have been sitting down attending to the mile-long to-do list that accompanies starting a new school year, I have decided is just....wonderful.

As I wrote each of my incoming students a letter, welcoming them to my class, I wondered how they were feeling. Were they excited? Were they scared? Do they even know that school is starting? I found that I couldn't wait to get to know them, and fall in love with them.

As I guess maybe happens when you teach in the same place for awhile, I know the majority of my students already. And the ones that know me, know that they will be in my class. Over the summer months, that knowledge was dealt with by making plans with me ("I will always go potty on the toilet when I am in your class") or crying when they saw me, or simply pretending I wasn't there. A few were unsure ("You're not supposed to be my teacher, I only have Mrs. Drawert as a teacher"), and one future student simply denied it was happening ("I don't go to school").

I wonder how this incoming class will be...eager and ready to learn? Scared and weirded out? More than likely, a combination of both.

I can't wait!

(Note: All of the above conversations occurred during our Summer Camp Program.)


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Blowin' in the Wind

One of the topics I cover each year with my class is Wind and Air. This is fun, because this is a relatively abstract topic, especially to a 3 year old.

I start out the unit with the question, "What is wind?"

Some of the responses....

"It is outside"

"It makes it cold"

"You can break it" (this one made me chuckle....)

We then headed outside to see what clues we could seeto figure out whether or not there was wind. At first, there was no movement at all; typical on the day I want to observe wind there isn't a leaf stirring. I asked the class. "Can you see wind?" After the resounding "NO!" that was shouted, I asked, "Well, how will we know if it's windy if we can't see wind?"

This is when their minds started to to click. It is wonderful to watch them puzzle out the answers to things that we as adults take for granted. As a slight breeze started to move the leaves on the trees, the students began shouting their observations and ideas...

"Wind moves the leaves!"

"You can feel the wind on your face!"

"The wind moves my skirt!"

"The wind is moving my hair!"

"The wind makes the trees wave!"

From that moment on, my class became very aware of wind. Extremely windy days were awesome; we experimented with what things could stay put in wind, and what things could not (rocks never move, no matter how windy; feathers, however, move EVERYWHERE, which, by the way, is how birds fly). We talked about how wind could be cold and hot, how wind could make you cold if you were hot, or make you hot if you were cold (we do live in the desert...). We made kites from plastic shopping bags (re-use! A favorite term from my recycle unite) and wondered at how they filled with the wind and flew in the air.

One particularly windy day, we were walking back to the classroom from the restroom as a group, talking about how the wind was moving the dead leaves on the ground and blowing our hair into our eyes. Suddenly, Paul, with a brand new summer crew cut, pipes up...

"Mrs. Velarde, my hair must be super strong. Look! The wind isn't moving it at all!"

Paul was quite the toast of his friends that day, with his super strong hair.


Monday, May 31, 2010

When Did I Get Wise?

The school year has ended. And it was a wonderful year. Every couple of years I have a class that is simply perfect. This was one of those years.

Why was it perfect? Maybe it was because I went back to school this year, and it was fun and exciting to test out my new theories and practices. Maybe it was because I knew the majority of my students since they were in utero, and therefore felt really connected to them. Maybe it was because we tried a new class format and it was an unqualified success. Who knows, but it was a great year.

This year, more so than in years past, the parents of my students looked to me more as a mentor as opposed to a peer. I am confused...when did that happen? I look at myself in the mirror, trying to figure out which wrinkle put me into the "Older and Wiser" and right out of the "Right There With You". I think it was this one on my forehead.

Parents start telling me about issues they are having with their kids at home, and expect me, the old and wise teacher, to have magical advice to make it all better. Yikes! That's a lot of pressure!

I look back to when my own children were in preschool. Their teachers were older than me, had older kids and had been teaching for years. I respected what they had to say and often sought
their advice. There advice and counseling was always along the lines of...enjoy your children...go with your know your child the best, do what you think is right...and, my favorite...they are three (or four, or five...).

I found these talks to be comforting and empowering. And I always took what these wise women said to heart, and found myself to be a better parent for having heeded what they said.

It is unnerving to find myself in that position of the older and wiser teacher; especially when I valued the input of the older and wiser teachers when my children were young. It is also unnerving to realize that my kids' preschool teachers were my age, in the same position I am now, and were simply offering advice they had learned from being parents themselves.

When my parents come to me, I offer the same nuggets that meant so much to me. And not because I don't have anything of my own to add, but because this advice is so true and right on target.

Enjoy your kids. Revel in this moment, right now. Because good or bad, your child will NEVER be this age again. Soak it all in, as much as you can, because even if they are driving you crazy, this issue too will be something you look back on fondly.

Always find the humor. Kids are funny and wonderful. Laugh at everything, because it is all great. And take lots of pictures. Because even though you are furious that your daughter colored with Sharpie all over the wall, and then all over herself, you will want to remember how darn cute she looked posing with her masterpiece.

This too shall pass. I remember when my son would not give up his diapers for anything. He was perfectly happy to sit in a disgusting diaper all day. I was about ready to start buying Depends, because he was getting too big for regular diapers. I was complaining about this to my daughter's preschool teacher, and she said, "Don't worry about it. He will get potty trained when he is ready. I have yet to meet a high schooler who wasn't potty trained." What great advice! The minute I quit stressing about it, my son started wearing underwear. And I was free to stress about the next issue - how to soothe my son's hurt feelings when he is told "You are not my friend."

Go with your gut. This is the best advice ever. You know your child better than anyone else. You know what is best, and you should always listen to what your gut is telling you - over what anyone else is saying.

Role of mentor? Still not comfortable with it. But when asked, I will give out advice designed to help you realize how totally awesome your little one is.

...going to apply my wrinkle cream....