Warm Fuzzies

The week before Spring Break was an amazing week at preschool. Not because the children were doing anything extraordinary (although they were), or because lesson plans were beyond amazing, but because I felt our teaching team was really appreciated!

On three separate occasions, we had parents showing their appreciation for our teaching team. Now, I have gotten emails before that say “Thank you for all you do” in the past. I don’t know why it hit me differently this week. Maybe, because they were all in the same week. Maybe, because it was completely unsolicited… I don’t know why, but it really made me feel good! :-)

The first warm fuzzy came in the form of an email. One of our 3 year olds had a really tough day. His friends were pushing in front of him, not taking their turns, etc. He was feeling very sad. I talked to his mom about it after class. The next day, I got the following email. Yes, this is an amazing family that we are so blessed to work with. If only every parent had this attitude (focusing on things that make them happy):

“I just wanted to say thank you for sharing with me about some things that happened in class yesterday. We were able to speak to B about it to find out how he felt. He shared that it did make him sad. So I decided to ask him if there was something that happened in class that made him happy. His response was, ” yes! ” so I asked him what it was that made him happy. He said, “it made me happy to sit next to Ms. Sarah.” So I asked what makes him happy about sitting next to Ms. Sarah and he said, “because she is funny!” 

I just thought I should share with you because I feel it’s important to focus on the things that make us happy and for him it happened to be you yesterday.
Thank you for making him happy. It means a whole lot to us.

You and Ms. Kim are what make it fun for the kids and make it exciting for the kids to come to school. You do a great job and I am happy B gets to have you both again next year :) (hopefully!)”

The second warm fuzzy came in the form of a card from a family. The card was letting us know that their preschooler passed his pre-Kindergarten screening with excellent scores. The parent said “We just want to say thank you, because we know you both had a lot to do with that. This year at Preschool has been very good for him. Thank you for all you do.”

The third warm fuzzy came from a grandparent after class. I was letting her know that her preschool age grandson participated in our large group action songs for the first time all year. She thanked me for letting her know, and said, “thank you so much for everything you guys do for those preschoolers. You give them so many great opportunities…” She went on to let me know that her daughter had asked her if she wanted to sign her grandson up for next year’s preschool classes at a site closer to her (the grandma’s) home. The grandma told her daughter that no, she felt he should stay here, because he has come such a long way, she thinks we are great teachers, he gets great opportunities, and finally, because he will be with peers that may be at the same school for kindergarten the following year.  Program wide, he would have great opportunities at any of our sites. It felt really good to hear the grandma say that she was willing to drive further to keep him with us. :-)

I’m not writing this to toot my own horn (or Miss Kim’s). I just wanted to say how good it feels to receive compliments from time to time. Make sure if you appreciate someone, you let them know. You just might make their day (or week)!

Emailing Parents

This year, I have been sending out weekly emails to parents letting them know anything we did that was special, and what we will be doing the following week. Sometimes, I send out links or other resources too. This seems to have been greatly appreciated by parents, and has opened up communication in ways that we previously have not experienced.

More parents are emailing me to check in on their children, let me know they will be absent, etc. We also have a higher number of grandparents, aunts, or daycare providers dropping off and picking up children, so many parents are not there to hear/see what we did each day. Email has been a wonderful way to keep lines of communication open, and keep parents “in the loop.”

Email has also been a great way for me to touch base with parents when I have concerns that I want to talk about. People are so busy these days, that reaching them by phone can be difficult. To be honest, I am so busy, that calling parents during non-school hours can be difficult. While I know that email is much less personal than a phone call, it is sometimes the best way to reach out. There have been times when a parent and I use email to determine the best time for a phone call, or for them to come in to the classroom.

The downside

First and foremost, not everyone has email, or checks it regularly. Even with email reminders, newsletters, etc, information sometimes still gets missed. Attachments don’t always want to open, so we end up needing to give them a paper copy of our newsletter anyway.

Also, at least 2 times this year, one of my contact lists “broke.” I still don’t know quite what happened, but both times, it was in the class that has the most movement as far as kids coming and going. I think it has something to do with the removal of people from the list. Parents who have been relying on those emails to know what’s going on (or get their child excited for the week) get frustrated when they don’t receive them. Not only do they get frustrated, but they also miss out on information that may be important.

While email and technology can be really great for teacher or classroom communication, it is not perfect. This year, it has proven to be more effective than not, despite the “downsides” I mentioned above. Overall, I think parents feel better connected to the classroom, and I feel better connected to them.

My weekly emails are something I started doing this year, that I will definitely continue in years to come!

A New Book: No More Perfect Kids

NMPK Cover with Chapman nameI have had the great honor to be part of a launch team for a new book called No More Perfect Kids, by Jill Savage and Kathy Koch, PhD. I was given an advance copy of the book, so I could share my thoughts with you.

This book is a great reminder that we need to love our kids for who they are, not what we want them to be. We need to stop expecting perfection from ourselves as parents, or from our children. By doing so, we are not allowing anyone to live up to their full potential. God has a plan for all of us. Sometimes, we get in the way of His plans by trying to be something other than who/what he intended for us. The same is true for our children.

We all have dreams for our children, we sometimes put pressure on them to live up to those dreams without taking into consideration (or appreciation of) who they really are. This can cause children to question many aspects of their lives and who they are. Some questions we or they may ask, make up several titles of the chapters in this book:

  • Do You Like Me?
  • Am I Important to You?
  • Is It Okay I’m Unique?
  • Who Am I?
  • Am I a Failure?
  • What’s My Purpose?
  • Will You Help Me Change?

Each of these questions (and many others) is discussed, and an “antidote” to the problem in question is suggested. It helps the reader understand him/herself better as a parent, and to understand their children in a new way.

The end of the book has many great resources for parents, including:

  • Age appropriate activities and chores for children
  • How to pray for your children using Bible verses
  • Character qualities to develop in your children
  • Recommended reading for perfectly imperfect kids
  • Leader’s guide (for leading study groups)

If you purchase the book from any store or online retailer between March 13-23, Hearts at Home and Moody Publishers are offering over $100 of additional free resources for you.  What a deal!! Hurry though, the offer is only “good” during the introductory launch period!

I would recommend this book to anyone who has children, or plans to some day have children. It may even help you understand yourself a little!

Moments in the Classroom – Winter 2014

The children in our preschool classes make me smile! From time to time, I like to share a glimpse into cute or funny moments. Sometimes, I like to share things just to give you an idea of how a preschooler’s brain works. Enjoy!

The other day, I was chatting with one of our 4 year old boys. I asked him if he had any pets. He said he had a cat. I asked what the cat’s name was, and he replied, “Well… Stinky’s kind of dead right now…” YIKES!

When I was doing our winter assessments, I was testing a child on his letters. In the Fall, he was only able to identify one letter, the first letter in his name. This time, he identified 18 letters. He was so excited, he actually cheered when I told him how many he knew! If only every child got that excited about learning!

I was assessing a 4 year old boy on his letters. Every time we’d get to a letter that was in his name (both lower case and upper case versions), he would say, “Give me a minute.” Then, he turned his back to me, and looked down at his name tag (we happened to have the children wearing them, due to adult volunteers in the class). He’d go through the letters on his name tag, and say the letters to himself, until he hit the one I was asking him about. Then he’d turn around and say the letter. I couldn’t help but crack up. I had to give him props for using a strategy to help himself remember the letters.

I was chatting with a 5 year old boy. Out of the blue, he asked me, “Do you think there’s evil teachers?” I asked him what would make a teacher evil. He said, “They’d make you do hard things. Things like… a course, with alligators, and rocks, and things that go swoosh… you know, a shredder…. and a volcano, and sharks, and a rocket.” I love the imaginations of kids! :-)

I was trying to get a shy 5 year old girl to chat with me. I asked if she liked being in our class again this year, she said, “Yes.” I asked her if she liked playing with her friend, A. She said, “Yes”. I asked if she liked having almost all boys in our class (we have 15 boys, and 3 girls), she smiled, and sheepishly said “NO!”

We have a 3 year old girl in our class that LOVES Spiderman! On Halloween, she wore a Spiderman costume. Not a girly version, but an actual Spiderman costume. On Pajama Day, she wore brand new Spiderman PJs. When she was Star of the Week, she brought in her stuffed pink dinosaur wearing a Spiderman outfit. I love that while she’s very “girly” in so many ways (like how she dresses on a daily basis), her Mom lets her be who she is. I love that she doesn’t try to girl up the love of Spiderman. Go Mom, go girl!! :-)

I asked a 3 year old girl to count for me. I had 25 green pom poms on a strip, and told her to touch each one, and do her best to count them. She got up to 12, then said “16, E, O, D, B, N…” Those are the moments that show me how things get mixed up in their heads while they are learning so many new things.

One of our 3 year old boys has twin babies at home. I asked him how it was going with the babies. He said to me, “I love my baby K!” I asked what it was he loved about her. He got a really big smile on his face, and said, “I love her laugh!” So sweet! :-)

Kindergarten Through the Eyes of a Preschool Teacher

Recently, I had the opportunity to observe both the reading and math times in a Kindergarten class. I was amazed at what I saw! I can’t believe how far these kindergartners come in the short time from the end of preschool (when we are hoping they can recognize up to 40 letters) to December, when all are working on sight words, and some are reading.

When I first got there, the kindergartners were just coming in to start their day. There was a sight word on a white board that they all had to write. There were activities set up for them to do on their tables while classmates were coming in, and the teacher was getting ready to start the day. The activity that was laid out for them to do was a combination literacy and math activity. The page was set up similar to a Bingo page. Children had to roll a die, whatever number came up, there was a sight word that corresponded to that number. Kindergartners had to write the sight word that correlated to the number that they rolled. What a great idea!

What really impressed me about this beginning of the day ritual, was how independent the kindergartners were. It also made me a little worried. When I think of some of my preschoolers, I wonder, are they going to be ready for that level of independence and responsibility in just a few months?

Notes about the class

The teacher I observed, Mrs. M, was fantastic with her group! I was lucky enough to be able to spend some time chatting with her. She told me that she has a Special Ed Cluster, and the lowest class over all, from a reading/math score standpoint. She really seemed to know her kids. She had all sorts of tips and tricks that seemed to be what worked best for them.

Modifications

Mrs. M told me some things that other kindergarten classes are doing, and about the modifications she has made to ensure the success of all the students in her classroom. One example would be, instead of completely open free choice time, she gives them choices within their center areas. She said doing it this way with her class maintains a bit of structure that her children need, but also allows them to choose for themselves what they are going to do during that time. While I was there, almost all children remained on task within their different areas. 

Mrs. M also continues to have a 15 minute rest/reading time after lunch. She commented that math time, which is towards the end of the day, falls apart if they don’t take that mental break. She still has some children who fall asleep during that time. While I have a feeling that it’s not the norm, I hope all Kindergarten teachers realize that a little down time can make a big difference in how children will function at the end of the day.

In this kindergarten class, as in any class, there are a few children who rarely ever talk. Mrs. M told me she will always call on these children in group time. She said she doesn’t expect they will actually answer, but she wants to make sure they always have the opportunity to do so. I thought that was pretty brave, as our tendency as teachers might be to not call on them, because we don’t want them to feel uncomfortable. This tactic must be working, because one of the children who she had previously pointed out to me, actually answered when she called on her!

Transitions

One thing I saw the teacher do a few times that really impressed me was whenever she gave a direction that meant a major transition between activities, she counted to 10. When she got to 10, she said, “All of Kindergarten should be at their working spots.” Children hustled to get to the next activity, and got right to work. It was a great reminder of what a little bit of “training” can accomplish. I’m sure it did not go so smoothly at the beginning of the year!

Is Preschool Helpful?

The class I observed is at an elementary school that has many children from a lower income population. Many of these children qualified for our district’s Kindergarten Readiness (KR) program. This is a 4 day/week program which buses children to school, and includes a meal. It is more intensive than the 2 day/week program I teach in, but our goals are basically the same. Last year, one of the KR classes was in this same school. Mrs. M told me she could tell which children had had preschool before. Some skills she specifically stated they knew how to do at the beginning of the year that other children didn’t, included:

  • walking in the hall
  • sitting at the carpet for group time
  • they knew many letters and how to write their names
  • they were familiar with numbers, and could make them on their fingers. 

I asked her what skills she wished her children had had more practice/exposure to before coming to Kindergarten. She said, “cutting”. I was a bit surprised, as I feel we do quite a bit of cutting, at least in my class, and the one I had subbed in a few years ago. She also said, “directed drawing.” She said that right at the beginning of the year, they are doing activities where the teacher will ask the children to draw something, and then cut it out. She said most children weren’t familiar with the concept of drawing something specific that someone asked them to. Interestingly, this is something that I used to do in my classes, but quit doing, because I questioned the value of the activity with preschoolers. Now I know I need to add that back into small group activities. 

Final Thoughts

Next year, every school in MN is making the transition to all day, every day kindergarten. This class already follows that model  (our district currently has the options of every day K or every other day K). I know some children will do fine with this major change. What worries me, is not just that it’s going to be all day, every day, but also that it’s so academic. The children in this class seemed to handle it ok, at least at this point in the year. I have to point out again, that they are also getting a 15 minute rest period. I know this is not the case in all classes. 

The visit also reminds me of our responsibility of helping those children in our classes be as ready for what is to come as is possible in 5 hours/week. I got some ideas of things to spend more time doing in our classroom (like continuing to work on writing letters, recognizing numbers, etc). It was also reassuring that even the simple things, like sitting in group time, are helpful in preparing them for Kindergarten. Much of the redirection, and wording we use while talking with children in preschool matched what they were doing in Kindergarten too. I resolve to continue to keep the fun in preschool, while preparing children for the academic rigor that will become their life in the next year. 

It was a great experience to observe a kindergarten class at this point in the year. Next year, I am hoping to observe a kindergarten class by the end of September. I would encourage all preschool teachers to spend a day, or even a portion of the day in a K class! A lot can be learned by seeing first hand what is in our children’s not-so-distant futures.

XBox One

067This year, Santa brought an XBox One for our entire family to enjoy. Luckily, parents always have a direct line to Santa, so we knew this information. We got each of the boys one game to play on it.

In the past, I did a comparison review of the XBox 360 vs the Wii. I’m not going to do a full comparison of the XBox 360 vs the XBoxOne, but I am going to talk about how I feel about our newest system. My opinions are mixed for many reasons.

To preface my review, we now have the Wii, XBox 360, and the Xbox One. With our kids being ages 8-15, the Wii gets the least amount of use of the three. They pretty much take out the Wii for Mario Kart, My Sims, and Band Hero (because my daughter likes to play as her favorite singer, Taylor Swift). That’s about it. The system that has the most options for games for all of our kids is still the XBox360.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

First and foremost, I can’t believe it didn’t come with a single game! You would think for the price those systems go for, that one game would be included. Nope! Each game available right now is between $50-60. Some cost even more. In looking at the Microsoft Game page, it looks like some games coming out in the future will cost a bit less, but we haven’t seen any for less than about $50 yet. This system also only comes with one controller. Santa brought us a second controller, which was good (it’s somewhere in the area of $75 for a controller with rechargeable battery).

The top controller is for the XBox 360, the bottom is for the XBox One.

The top controller is for the XBox 360, the bottom is for the XBox One.

As a side note about the controllers, the new ones no longer displays which player you are. If you look at the picture to the right, the top controller (for the XBox 360) has a green circle that is divided into 4 parts. Whichever player that controller is connected to, the coordinating numbered section lights up. This made it really easy to tell which controller belonged to which player, which was also helpful during game play. The XBox One controller just has the X lit up, with no indication as to which player is connected to that remote. Because of this, it’s difficult for players to tell what player they are during game play. This can make it very confusing at the start of a multiplayer game.

Setup seemed to be a real pain for my husband, Jason (@StrateSQL). Luckily, I wasn’t here for that part. I was driving my kids to their dad’s house for Christmas while the hubby was working on getting it going. After being gone for almost 2 hours, they were JUST starting to be able to play a game on it when I got home! Apparently, there were updates galore that had to be downloaded for both the unit itself, and the games the boys wanted to try.

There is a very limited selection so far of games available for the XBox One. That is pretty typical any time a new game system comes out. Most of the games that are available, are really more for teenagers to adults. We got a Lego Marvel game for my 8 year old. He really likes that. Then again, we almost all like the Lego line of games in this house! There are other games, such as Skylander Swap Force, that are age appropriate too, but not many yet. We also got Call of Duty: Ghost, DeadRising 3, and Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag. A list of games available and coming can be found on the XBox Games page. My husband decided he wanted the Madden Football game, so he just downloaded it right to the One. Not having to go to the store to get any game available is a pretty cool benefit to this system.

We keep discovering more and more we can do with our One. It is, apparently, also a Blu-Ray player. We haven’t played any Blu-Rays on it, but it says we can. We have watched regular DVDs on the One. We can stream our Netflix, and Vudu movies through it (though, we could do this with the XBox 360 too).

You can see the black bars on either side of the screen... Yes, I DVR "Days of Our Lives", don't judge!

You can see the black bars on either side of the screen… Yes, I DVR “Days of Our Lives”, don’t judge!

We have our cable box connected through the XBox One. On the home page of the One, there is a TV button. We click on that, and proceed to use our cable remote as normal. We’ve noticed that while we are watching TV through the One, there are black bars on either side of the screen. It’s like watching a “widescreen” edition of a DVD, but the bars go the opposite direction.

The Kinect sensor on the XBox One is pretty incredible. When anyone comes into the room, it knows who they are, and signs them in, while displaying their name on the screen. It’s kind of cool, but also annoying when the whole family is in the room, and the Kinect wants to sign them all in.

The graphics on the games are amazing! When my husband and son are playing the Madden football game, it doesn’t quite look like you are watching actual NFL football, but dang close! If your back is turned, you would swear it was an actual playoff game you are listening to. I do wonder about the sensitivity of the microphone on the Kinect, as I often hear them yelling “no huddle” or other commands that it doesn’t always seem to pick up. That can be frustrating to the game players. Jason also said the game (Madden 25) tends to crash between menus at times.

I don’t think as kids, as we sat playing our Nintendos and Super Nintendos, we ever imagined there really would be video games you would command with your body and/or voice. It’s pretty awesome (and scary) to think of just how much further game systems will evolve in our life time! Implications reach so much further than just video games!

A scene from Assassin's Creed.

A scene from Assassin’s Creed.

Watching players play games such as Assassin’s Creed, or watching the trailers for some of the games coming out in the near future, it really looks like the players are participating in a movie, TV show, or cartoon. The graphics really are THAT good.

Another feature that my husband and step-sons really appreciate, is the ability for some games to connect with XBox’s Smartglass. We experimented a bit with this with our XBox 360 this past fall with their karaoke channel. While one person was singing, other people could add songs to the playlist using the tablet. With some of the games on the XBox One, the connectivity offers other benefits, such as keeping a map of the “world” you are playing up on the smartglass. During game play, you can see where you are at in real time on a tablet or laptop, rather than switching screens on the TV during play. For experienced gamers, it can be a huge benefit to play and strategy to have this information up at all times.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I like the XBox One. I still prefer the XBox 360. I’m sure as I learn even more as to what I can do on it, and more games become available, I will like it even more. There are things I don’t love (such as the minor change to the controller), and things I do (such as the Fitness Channel and amazing graphics on games). I look forward to seeing what the future of gaming holds!

#Kinderblog – What’s in Your Wallet?

OK, that’s not quite the topic for today, but close enough! One of the two topics posted for today is: 5 things in your backpack/purse/briefcase/tote bag.

Well… I could tell you 5 things in my purse, but that would be boring, and totally unrelated to anything on this blog. I think the point is, what are 5 things a teacher can’t live without having at all times. Here’s my list:

1. My Surface RT - you can click on that to find out why I always have it with me when I go to work.

2. My school calendar. Every summer, we get a calendar pre-printed with our training dates, PLC meetings, payroll due dates, and dates that school is closed, we have conferences, etc. I refer to this calendar often! I also have the entire school year’s plans for centers, the homework assignments and dates, and the list of objectives we assess tucked inside the calendar. Lots of important info for me there.

3. Hand lotion. As many times as we wash our hands a day, my hands get really dry. Lotion is a must!

4. Advil. I love my job. I love preschoolers. That doesn’t stop me from getting headaches almost daily. I usually end up taking 2 ibuprofin around lunch time.

5. My laptop. Until I get my laptop and Surface synced, I usually have my laptop with me to work on before school or during lunch. I never know when I might need access to my files.

Bonus item 6. Chocolate. You never know when you just might need a little chocolate to help you through the day! ;-)