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.

Heard in the Classroom, Fall 2013 ed.

kids talkingNow that we have had our first snowfall, I guess I can publish my Fall edition of  “Things we’ve heard in the classroom.”

With a new school year, comes a new group of children. We have many 4 year olds that were in our class last year. They are sure to continue to entertain us with their many stories (such as the one girl who told us often last year, and has already mentioned several times this year, that her dog poops all over her house). Here is a sampling of some of the other things we have heard in our classroom.

A four year old boy was balancing 3 cups/saucers while walking. One of the teachers asked if he was a professional waiter. He looked at her with a look of disbelief, and said, “I don’t work!!” It was very funny!

A three year old boy who almost never talks, said to me at snack (totally out of the blue), “My dad and uncle and me killed a bird.” I knew it was hunting season, so I asked if they were hunting. He shrugged and said, “I don’t know.” I asked if he was by a lake. When he said yes,  I asked if he was hunting for geese or ducks. He said he didn’t know. I asked if it was a turkey. He said no. I asked if it was big or little, he said big. Funny how sometimes kids want to share things, but don’t have all the details.

I was doing an assessment on some 3 year olds to see what they knew about shapes. I held up a square for one boy, who quickly told me it was a square. I said, “Yeah! How do you know it’s a square?” He matter-of-factly told me it was because it was yellow. I have been told several times, by several different children that the square is a square because it’s yellow. I wish I knew where that line of thought came from! Other answers to the question “How do you know?” about different shapes have included: “Because my brain told me.”; “Because I just know.”; and another favorite that accompanied a look that said I was an idiot, was, “Everyone knows that’s a circle!”

A four year old boy was playing in Dramatic Play. When it was time to go work with a teacher, he said “I’m putting the baby in a purse.” I guess whatever works, right? ;-)

A four year old boy was being picked up by his grandma the other day. I was looking at his information form to make sure I knew her name when I check her ID. I asked him, “Are you getting picked up by your Grandma Linda?” He got all excited, and said, “I have a Grandma Linda???” I then asked if he calls her Grandma _____________ (insert last name). He said, “Yeah, but some kids just call her ‘Chopped Liver’.” I couldn’t help but chuckle at that one! When I told her the story, she confirmed that yes, one of this boy’s 2 year old cousins, does in fact, call her “Chopped Liver”.

I was recently doing assessment testing with our 4-5 year olds. I sometimes enjoy doing this testing, because it really shows my a glimpse of what’s going on inside their brains. I also find it very interesting to hear how they count when you just ask them to count as high as they can. Some children don’t seem to realize they can just count without having to have something to count. Other children just keep counting, not realizing (or caring?) that they are repeating themselves over and over. On 5 year old boy was counting. He got into the 20’s, then it started to sound like this, “28, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 80, 81, 82, 83…. 30, 31….” A 4 year old girl thought she was counting really high when she kept repeating the entire sequence of the 20’s over and over and over!

A 3 year old boy who LOVES to check our visual schedule several times a day, asked if he could use the pointer. I told him, “Sure.” Then he asked me, “When I grow up, can I be a teacher here, at this school?” I told him I thought that was a good idea. He told me, “You know, then you have to listen to me!”

Our morning three year old class has become slightly obsessed with a very fun action song called the “Tooty Ta”. Every day, when group time starts, they ask me if we can do “that Tooty Talk” song. Luckily, I have two versions, the traditional version that most Early Childhood teachers are familiar with, by Dr. Jean, and another hip hop version (or the “Funky Tooty Ta” as I call it), by Jack Hartmann.

A 3 year old girl was digging around in the “teacher cart” next to our circle area. I told her she could use my pointer, but that the rest of the cart was only for teachers. She looked at me, and matter of factly said, “You know, sharing is caring!” I told her I do care, but the cart is still just for teachers!

A 4 year old boy was using flannelboard pieces to retell the nursery rhyme Jack and Jill. He then told me his Leap Pad (I think) told him it goes like this: “Jack and Jill were playing inside the house. Grandma had enough, and told them to go play outside. They went out and went up the hill.” Then there was a part I couldn’t quite understand, something about Jill pushing Jack around…”Jack fell down, and broke his crown…. Jill went and called her mom, and she just laughed at her.”

Two boys were playing on the other side of the room. One is 4, and one is 5. I’m not sure which one said it, but as they were flying airplanes around, one of them said, “Maytag, Maytag… we’re losing attitude!” Not sure where they heard it, but pretty sure they were attempting to repeat, “May Day, May Day… we’re losing altitude!”

A three year old boy (who is obsessed with Angry Birds Star Wars 2), was excited to be playing with our new cash register. He scooped up all the toy coins, and said “Look at all these credits!”

I’m sure as the year goes on, I will have many more stories to share of funny things we’ve heard in either our 3-4 year old, or 4-5 year old classrooms!

The Difference One Teacher Can Make

Second grade was a hard year for my son. I blame a number of factors for this. He’s young in his grade (with a July birthday), has an unlimited supply of energy, he’s impulsive, he tries to make people laugh (often at the inappropriate times in school), and has some major anxiety at times… in short, he can be a handful. Some teachers are really good with children (especially boys) who are like my son. Many teachers are not a good match with this kind of child. His teacher last year, fit the latter of the two. Don’t get me wrong, as a person, I liked her just fine. As a teacher, I saw her be quite successful with many students. I also saw that my son was VERY unsuccessful in her room.

stoplightWhat makes for a hard year in school?

Three words, The Stoplight System. (dun, dun, dun…)

In a nutshell, in this system, each child starts every day at “green”, then moves to yellow with a warning, orange gets a consequence, and red is a consequence paired with a call home (and a visit to the principal). This is all behavior based. The idea, is that a child can “earn” their way back up to green if they make mistakes. Unfortunately, the reality, is that most children like my son, never really earn their way back up.

This sets some children up to fail. In the case of my son, he would do something like forget to bring his folder or papers in from his backpack, and have to move to yellow right at the start of the day. For an over-active, impulsive child, the day could only go downhill from there. By mid-year, he felt like a failure. Getting more than a couple days in a row on green felt like an impossibility. He worked REALLY hard, and had a whole week on green only a handful of times – the whole year! By Spring Break, he HATED school. He never wanted to go, he was anxious about how every day would go, and how he would get in trouble that day. He felt like his teacher hated him, and he didn’t care to try on his school work. As school became more difficult for him, his negative behavior also increased at home, and pretty much every where else.  It became a downhill spiral of frustration for him, and most of the adults that had any sort of regular interaction with him!

Other Factors

We started to pursue the possibility of ADHD. I have wondered since he was a preschooler if this wasn’t the case with him. His pediatrician had us, and his teachers, fill out some questionnaires. It came back that while he has many “ADHD-like behaviors and tendencies,” his anxiety seems to overshadow and overlap those tendencies. We started counseling with him. The counselor suggested PCIT (Parent-Child Interactive Therapy). I will write another post about this another time. Long-story short, close to a year later, we are just getting to Phase 2, which is extremely frustrating! Phase 1 did not seem to make any difference. His pediatrician is again wanting to pursue ADHD as a possible reason for his impulsiveness, high energy, and difficulty focusing.

What Next?

Right before school started, I met with the Principal, who didn’t realize how much my son had been struggling the year before. We talked about my concerns for him, and she assured me that the teacher he would be having this year would be a much better fit for my son. She told me she wished I had said something last year. We talked about this year, and ways it could be better for my son. She encouraged me to connect with his new teacher before the start of the school year, so we could set up a behavior plan.

After “Meet the Teacher Night,” I did email the teacher my concerns. I told her about his anxiety, his impulsiveness, everything I thought might give her a clear picture of what she might expect. I didn’t want her to go in to the year thinking, “Oh boy, this kid is going to be tough.” Rather, I wanted to let her know I was concerned about how things might go, and wanted to create a plan on how to help him be as successful as possible. She emailed me back saying she struggled with some of the same things as a kid. Her mom had been a teacher, and she knew some strategies that might help. We have been in communication as the year has gone on through email. What a great way to stay in touch with your children’s teachers!!

Success

First quarter just ended. My son LOVES school this year. He loves his teacher, he LOVES 3rd grade!!! Even with the more rigorous demands of 3rd grade, he is working hard, trying to be the best he can be. He’s studying his math facts at home (the one area he struggles with). He comes home wanting to show me his work!

He’s still impulsive. I helped out on some pumpkin math in his class last week. When all the children were supposed to be standing next to their pumpkins waiting for instructions, my son and his 5th grade partners were the only ones digging in to their pumpkins. I haven’t had any negative messages come home. When we had his Fall conferences, it was actually about his academics, not his behavior!! :-) When I asked about his behavior, she simply said, “He sometimes has a hard time sitting still, and controlling himself, but it’s not getting in the way.”

I don’t know what kind of magic this teacher is doing on him, but I love it! I know she spent the first few weeks of school focusing on building him up, and encouraging him. I’m thrilled that she has turned my little boy who loves to read, but hated school, into someone who STILL loves to read, and now LOVES school and wants to get better and better at everything he does!

Women in Technology Panel #sqlsat191 #sqlsatkc

Bill Graziano (current PASS president) and I worked the PASS table most of the day.

Bill Graziano (current PASS president) and I worked the PASS table most of the day.

Last weekend, we went to Kansas City for another glorious SQL Saturday! It was held at an old casino that has been converted into a training center. It was a VERY cool location!  Jason (@StrateSQL) and I sat at the PASS table much of the day, along with Bill Graziano (@BillGraziano) (“El Jefe”, as I like to call him).

I did happen to sneak away for about 2 hours to watch the Women In Technology (WIT) Panel and Jason’s 2nd presentation of the day. I took some notes during the panel discussion. Unfortunately, it was very hard to hear most of what Kathi and a couple of the panelists were saying, and they could have used a little more time. Because of this, my notes were a bit disjointed, but here’s what I’ve got for you.

The moderator of the panel was Kathi Kellenberger (@auntkathi). Panel members included: Leslie Weed (@weederbug), Meagan Longoria (@mmarie), Jennifer Wadella (@likeOMGitsFEDAY),  Janis Griffin (@DoBoutAnything).

Kathi wanted to play the video She ++, but was unable to get it to work on the network. I watched it when I got home. It was a good video that not only talked about how important it is to get girls into technology, but people in general.

024Kathi talked about the importance of exposing children to technology, and encouraging their interests. She’s concerned that kids she knows may be missing out on cool technology.  She said kids these days might not see code, or see how to build a web page, and that’s unfortunate. She was first interested in technology with the TRS-80 code that she first saw in her 5th year of a 5 year degree.

Meagan started with a technology class in high school. She currently works in BI. She says she’s “not a normal Developer.” She loves the ability to use technology to make things better. Meagan has high school aged cousins, helps with family business, and helps with WIT in KC. Technology plays an important role with all those.

Leslie was originally going to be a mechanical engineer. She coached HS volleyball, and thought she might want to be a math teacher, but decided she liked to be on computers instead. She started learning DB applications, thought it was cool, and then started working with SQL. She also talked about her 12 year old twins (a boy and a girl). She said a STEM school opened in the area. She enrolled her son first, then added her daughter later. There is a low number of girls in STEM, parents don’t necessarily think of putting girls in STEM, because it’s not as “natural.”

When it was Janis’s turn to talk, a train came by, and I couldn’t hear much of what she said. :-( In college, she took microbiology… mostly had typewriter-based opportunities… stayed home, found out she could program from home, and still be home with daughters. It was a win-win. She started out as a part-time software librarian, but took on DBA role right away with Oracle. One of the first places to help get user groups going (Confio? – I apparently had incomplete notes on this.) Janis told us about her niece, a high-schooler, whose school counselors are still trying to sway her towards “girl” careers. Janis also talked about how kids naturally like doing things like Power Point, games, etc. Why not give them skills to take it to the next level?

Last, but not least, was Jennifer. She founded Kansas City Women in Technology (KC WIT), and CoderDojoKC, a site geared towards teaching coding to kids. She went to school for graphic design (building websites), and now writes applications in JavaScript. At her job, only 2 of the 60 people are women. Jennifer started talking about how STEM jobs have highest drop out rate, then the darn train came by again. :-(  Jennifer told us about how the KC WIT group supports women in many different ways. They help women figure out rates they should charge for the work they do, give interview tips, and teach high school girls to find out how cool computers are. She said we need to reach children of all ages K-12. Jennifer referred us to a couple cool websites including: coderdojoKC.com, and codeacademy.com. Both of which appear to be really cool sites! CoderDojo even has a parent resource page, which I love!  The sites are geared towards helping kids learn to build apps, learn to code, and learn that Programming/IT jobs are fun. Kids aren’t getting a lot of encouragement, which is really unfortunate (and surprising to me, considering how digital the world is becoming). Jennifer’s projects help put on the Digigirlz camps.

Women want to make a difference… “Computer Science” is about learning algorhythms, etc. It doesn’t show them how they can make a difference. We want and need to encourage not just girls, but boys and girls. It’s best to catch them young. One way to make this happen, is to have an event/activity exposing kids to programming, or showing cool things technology can do. CoderDojo is putting together a code camp for kids for next summer. Watch their site for future details.

There was discussion around Goldie Blox. These are a toy that encourages kids, (especially girls) to build and be interested in STEM. The premise of Goldie Blox is that children read the book that comes with it, about a girl named Goldie, who is an inventor. They use the “tool box” to build the machines in the book, to get the characters through the stories.

Generally, girls don’t always see the end results in what programming does, or see how the IT behind it brings it to that point. Think of all the cool games and apps kids love to play on their computers, or devices, they might not realize there is coding behind that game, and that they can create things like that.

Other conversations went to Grace From Outer Space, there are also database books (Japanese anime), etc., that can encourage excitement on STEM topics. Karen Lopez (@datachick) said that we need to let kids know that math and science classes are important. Kids are taking less, because they don’t see the importance of it.

An audience member stated that even in Girl Scouts, her daughter has a leader that is a data analyst, but never talked to kids about it. Another group took girls to robotics and robotics competitions. If you are in that kind of position, make sure you are talking to girls about what you do. Another audience member (or was it a panelist?) talked about the “girls’ legos.” She said they helped her daughter find an interest in legos. Now that some legos and other construction type building toys are being geared to girls (colors, girl’s way of thinking), more girls are becoming interested. I have heard many debates on this subject, but I have also heard parents say that their daughters are becoming more interested in these types of toys.

Leslie brought up that some companies are offering more internships to give hands-on opportunities for younger kids too, even high school kids. What a great opportunity!

031At this point, Jason was setting up his laptop, as there was 3 minutes left until his session was supposed to start. I watched his entire session (something I don’t do very often). He did a great job talking about different kinds of Wait Stats. Every time I hear him talk about performance tuning topics, I think it would be fun to do that. Digging around in databases, trying to figure out what’s causing problems… sounds like something I would enjoy doing (though, still not as much as I enjoy teaching preschoolers).

The rest of the day finished up with some time hanging out with the McCowns (@MidnightDBA). We got to meet their 3 children (who I’ve only seen on their web show). We talked books with Jen, Bill Graziano and Mike Fal (@Mike_Fal). Jason showed Jen and her boys some fun games for the tablet/phone/computer.

048Then, a group of us headed to Paul and Jack’s Tavern for dinner. A great live band started about an hour after we got there. Sadly, we had to leave only an hour into the band playing to head to River Aces (around the corner) for karaoke. Karaoke was only going to be for 2 hours, and we didn’t want to miss it! I will write a post on our fun karaoke night on sqlkaraoke.com soon!

Calendar Time?

Over the summer, I joined up with a bunch of amazing Kindergarten and Early Childhood teachers from all over the world on twitter via the hashtag #kinderchat.

One topic on that is sure to get teachers fired up is that of Calendar Time. I remember first hearing the debate a year ago at my Creative Curriculum training. In fact, we were given this article on Calender Time by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (or NAEYC). At the time, I tucked it away, thinking, “I like Calendar Time, I think it’s useful, I’m not changing.” In a recent conversation with other educators on #Kinderchat, someone again forwarded the same article to me. This time, I read it. There are many things I agree with them about. I’ve worked with preschoolers long enough to know that even the smartest kids have a hard time understanding the difference between yesterday, last week, last year, and tomorrow. We often don’t know when an event they are telling us about really happened, because they don’t yet have a true understanding of time. The 5 year olds sometimes have a better understanding, but it’s still a difficult concept for many.

I think the true issue that NAEYC and the other teachers have with calendar time has more to do with the expectations of the teacher during that time, than the actual act of talking about the calendar. If I’m wrong about that, feel free to leave a respectful opinion in the comments section! I don’t like to start or instigate debates, but I do enjoy reading differing opinions. :-)

In my preschool classroom, the expectation is not that children learn today, yesterday, tomorrow. I don’t spend 15 minutes on the calendar. We talk about the month, which often sparks the interest of those children who have a birthday coming up, or, if there’s an important (to them) holiday coming up. I don’t have the expectation that children are going to remember all the months, but some do. We do it because children love it. They see calendars at home and in other places. They enjoy talking about the days, the numbers, the patterns… mostly, I think they enjoy sitting in the “teacher chair” and playing calendar with their friends. My reasoning for continuing to do the calender is about exposure to the many, many concepts the calendar can introduce, without expectations of mastery.

Our calendar/schedule wall.

Our calendar/schedule wall.

We start out the year with this song (tune of “Oh my darlin'”):

There are 7 days, there are 7 days, there are 7 days in a week,

There are 7 days, there are 7 days, there are 7 days in a week,

Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday,

Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday.

I have a white card that “hides” the number of the date, and after children “guess” which number it’s going to be, we count up to it, and reveal the number. The children usually pick up on the fact that there is a pattern in the numbers, though I often will wait for them to point it out.

Some changes I DID make after the first year that “No more calendar time” was suggested, I no longer added days as the month went on. I put up all the numbers at once, and talk about the days as we get to them. I also stopped having them repeat the entire date after me. They don’t usually know (or care) what it means to say, “Today is, Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013.” Instead, we just talk about the day of the week, number and month as separate parts.  The whole thing is 5 minutes, tops.

Visual Schedule

In addition to the calendar, we have a visual schedule of our day. Our Special Ed teacher, Miss Sandy, is going to make us some new ones, so they are more clear as to what they actually are representing. In the past, I have had the visual schedule in a straight line. Last year, because of space constraints, I had it displayed very similar to the way it is here on the wall. I was leery about it at first, but as Miss Sandy pointed out, it is kind of nice that it goes left to right, but also shows that sometimes, you go back to the beginning of the next line to keep reading it; a literacy skill that is also practiced through the use of the “regular” calendar.

At the beginning of the year, as children are learning the routines of our day, we go over the visual schedule at the beginning of each class. This is especially helpful for those children who need to know there is going to be a structure to the day, and exactly what that structure is. By Thanksgiving (or before), we no longer read the schedule every day. If there is going to be a change, we WILL go over it, but by that time, things are pretty routine. Every year, we have children who go up to it every day to look at, or to see “where we’re at, and what’s next.” For this reason, I keep it up on the wall year round.

Wrap Up

In closing, I’d just like to point out that I understand why some teachers have gone away from the calendar as a daily activity. I understand the child development piece on why it might not make sense, as so many children are not developmentally ready to differentiate between the different concepts of time.

That said, I also know that it is an enjoyable part of our preschool day. Children tend to pick up many useful things from the calendar, especially if they are having fun while talking about it. My expectation is not that they all become 4 and 5 year old experts on the space-time continuum. I just want to expose them to a great tool, that also happens to practice counting, and teach them a thing or two about numbers, patterns, and days of the week.

There are many great blog posts written by other teachers on why they are no longer using a monthly calendar in their classroom, or how they might be using the calendar differently. Here are some posts on the subject. If you have one and want to link to it here, you are welcome to, no matter what side of the debate you are on.

Rethinking Calendar Routines. Is It Time? Yep.  by Mardelle Sauerborn

A New Year… No More Calendar Time  by Tiffany Van Meer

#kinderblog13 – Fear

We are at Week 5 of the #kinderblog13 blogging challenge. Once again, I am late (by about 2 weeks) with my post… This week’s topic: What are my fears when it comes to teaching?? Oh, I have lots of them!

I will list a few (in no particular order), hopefully it won’t sound like I’m rambling too much.

#1. I worry that when it comes to the children in our classroom, that I somehow missed something. This may be a skill that someone needed to be more ready for kindergarten, or something more. Sometimes, difficult children have things going on at home that we don’t know about. By knowing what’s happening outside of school, it’s sometimes easier to handle or deal with the behaviors we see at school.

Sometimes, a child may have a medical concern that needs to be addressed. I have had children in my classroom that seemed like they were struggling to learn letters or numbers, or continued to struggle with things like cutting. After a conversation with their parents, they brought them in, and discovered they needed glasses. One girl, it took a year and a half of her being in my class before I made the connection that it might be her eyes that were making learning more difficult for her. We’ve also had children who ended up with a special needs diagnosis. Sometimes it’s hard to know whether or not behaviors are due to undiagnosed issues or other reasons, either way, I don’t want to miss it! I’m not saying I’m a doctor, obviously, I’m not. I just want to make sure I’m noticing things that might make me change strategies, or get them any needed intervention.

#2. Was there more I could have taught them? My primary job as a preschool teacher is to help children prepare for Kindergarten.  This includes social skills; math skills such as sorting, comparing, etc.; literacy and pre-reading skills such as letter identification, etc.; fine motor skills such as cutting, and so much more! I also want to encourage their natural sense of wonder, creativity, and desire to explore. If I never wondered (or feared) that I taught them, and let them explore everything possible, then what kind of teacher would I be?

#3. Did I really do my best? Also, was my heart really into it? At the beginning of the school year, I am always very excited to meet our new students, and to plan as many fun things for them to play with (aka learn through) as I can. I love to watch them grow, and get excited to watch the progress happen. As the year goes on, sometimes, I feel like I’m stuck in a rut. Around February, I think we all tend to feel a bit blah. The end of our Minnesota winter is still a ways away, and we all feel a bit cooped up. It’s easy to lose energy quickly (except for the children, whose energy NEEDS to be released, but isn’t). I hate that feeling. I don’t want to ever be only half-heartedly “present” in preschool. I want to always do and be my best. My fear (and the reality that I’m human) is that sometimes, I’m not.

#4. Did I handle a situation the best way I could have? As a teacher, we sometimes have situations that happen either in our classrooms, or with parents, that are less than awesome. I always try to reflect afterwards with other teachers or my supervisor, on whether or not it was handled in a way that was best for everyone, or whether there were other ways to deal with it.

#5. Do the children in my class feel special and safe? This is the number 1 (and I guess, 2) thing I want children in our classroom to feel. The world can be a scary place for children. Sometimes, terrible things are happening at home, in their neighborhoods, or even just on TV. Adults talk about things that are scary to children sometimes without even realizing that the children are listening. At school, we try to make sure all children feel safe! We also want them all to know that everyone has something special to add to the class. They are all special! :-)

OK, I could go on and on with fears, or rather, things I like to reflect on about my classroom, and the children in it. I could also go on and on about all my hopes for the children who are about to start their first or second year in preschool. I will wrap it up with this: if there are things we fear in our classrooms, we need to reflect – often. Reflecting on how we’re doing on a regular basis will help alleviate some of those “fears”, and make us better teachers.