A Tongue Twister Year

Wow… I thought we had a lot of similar names last year… we have 4 classes, and between those classes, we have MANY similar names! I’m usually pretty quick to learn their names, but this year, I am messing them up left and right! Here’s a little picture of why:

This year, we have 3 Lilas (all spelled differently) and a Layla. We also have a Lily and a Lillian (who also goes by Lilly).

We have 2 Finns, 2 Isaiahs, and 2 Landons. The Isaiahs are in the same class, as are the Landons. We also have a Logan, and a Lucas who sometimes get called Landon, because there are so many of those L boy names!

We have an Alison and an Allie in the same class, and another Alyson in another class (who also goes by Aly). We also have a Callie, who we keep wanting to call Allie…

We have a Paxton, Peyton, and Paisley, two of which are in the same class.

We have a Keagan, and a Teagan – not in the same class, but we still mess them up some…

Can you imagine how crazy it sounds in our classrooms as we are trying to get all these names straight? YIKES!! I think we will be using name tags a bit longer than usual this year!

A Fitting Start to the New School Year

Every year, we have our annual “back to school” staff meeting about a week or two before our preschoolers come back. This year, our meeting was at Lord of Life, the church where my career in Early Childhood Education began. It seemed a bit appropriate that the year I have a whole new team, our meeting was at the place where it really all started for me!

My career in Early Childhood Education officially started in 1998. OK, it really probably started when I was 10, and my neighbor and I would tag-team babysit for several families. At age 11 or 12, I was co-nannying with her over the summer for a family that had 3 boys. I babysat until I had a “real job” at McDonald’s when I was 15. No job was quite as satisfying as working with young children (though, admittedly, working as a shift manager at Pizza Hut had some similarities).

In 1998, I was attending Bethel College, now Bethel University, for Early Childhood and Family Education. I had started attending Lord of Life as a church member, and saw they had a job opening for a part time position running the nursery. I was hired as the Associate Director of Nursery Services. My primary job responsibilities were to coordinate nursery volunteers, manage the on-call child care program our church had for parents attending small groups or other events at the church, and writing articles for the church newsletter. Later, I started up the 2 year old Sunday School program. It was a fun job that incorporated all the things I loved – working with children, volunteers (and volunteering), and writing. Even when I left the official position, I continued to volunteer in the nursery.

Since that time, the church has started up its own preschool (which started when I was still working the Nursery Services position, though I was not part of that). It also has allowed the Anoka-Hennepin District to house one of our Kindergarten Readiness classes there.

Today, we had a great class on the importance of music and movement with young children. Did you know that being able to follow simple rhythmic patterns at an early age can predict how well a child will be able to read later on? That was one of many things we learned or were reminded of today. After the class, we had our meeting which mostly consisted of meeting new staff, and being reminded of all the services we have available to us and to the families we serve. The entire day was a great reminder of just why I love working for the school district!!

We have been diligently working over the past couple of weeks to prepare for the children who will be walking through our doors next week. I have met the new Assistant Teacher and Special Education Teacher who I will be working with. We have talked about where we want to start the year, and know things will evolve as our team becomes more cohesive. I am excited about the new school year with a new Team, and new students (though, many are returning, or families we have previously had)…  it just seemed fitting that it officially started where my whole career started! :-)


Side note: I ran into two different women I recognized, who were working at the church today. Even though I haven’t even attended the church in over 9 years, they both remembered me. I recognized both of them, but could only recall the name of one. :-( Though it was strange that they both remembered me, it’s nice to be remembered! :-)

Playground Tricks

For the first time, I am co-teaching summer school. I am working with preschoolers in a classroom held in an elementary school. The children ride the bus to school, eat breakfast there, and ride the bus home at the end of our morning. They attend school 4 days a week.

A huge benefit to teaching in a school? We have a playground! We have been able to go outside all but two of the days. This has a noticeable impact on everyone’s moods and energy levels, including the teachers’.

Today, a 5 year old girl was hanging on the bars. She was able to get her feet up on the bar, and hang upside down. Most of the other children who were trying, were not able to hang in this same way. I asked her if she knew how to do pull her legs through and do a flip. She did not say anything (she tends to be very quiet most of the time). I told her I would show her how, and she nodded. I climbed to the higher bar (at my chest level), hung upside down by my knees, flipped my hands around, and pulled my legs through. She thought this was pretty cool, and proceeded to successfully try it. The look on her face was priceless! She got a huge smile, and continued to do it over and over. Each time, she gained more confidence, and soon was even able to pull her legs back through the other way (a trick I tried, but no longer have the core strength to do).

Soon, other children were trying the flip. One boy couldn’t get his legs up over the bar, but he was able to pull up so the bar was at his waist. I could see him trying to figure out how he could do a flip. I again took to the “high bar.” I pulled myself up so the bar was at my waist, and showed him how to lean forward, kick his feet, and flip over. He cautiously tried to flip over the bar, needing a little help. Other children lined up to try to0. Each of the 5 or 6 children needed to be spotted the first time or two, then were able to do it on their own! With each success, their smiles got bigger, their steps more sure…

Without a playground, and a gorgeous morning that had us decide to stay outside longer than usual, these children might not have learned a new way to move their bodies, or developed that little bit of extra confidence today.

Google Drive – A Real Time and Money Saver

At the end of every year of preschool, I put together a compilation of all the pictures I’ve taken throughout the year, and give it to parents. For the past several years, I have burned all these pictures to disc to give to them at Preschool Graduation. The sorting of 4 classes, and the burning of an average of 70 discs per year, takes a LONG time!

Last year, I must have bought a bad batch of discs, because about half of them didn’t even work. I had to reburn several discs of pictures. As a busy mom and teacher, who was already working my summer job by the end of the school year, I was very frustrated at the HOURS it took to do this, and by the extra money it took to purchase a new batch of discs to burn onto.

You may ask why I bother. The answer is two-fold. 1. When my son graduated from preschool several years ago, his teachers gave us a disc with a video they had put together at the end of that year. I so appreciated it, I vowed I would do the same thing every year. While I don’t create a video, I do put all the pictures together. 2. I do it because parents appreciate when I share pictures of their children from the times they cannot be with them.

This year, I thought of a new solution… what if I just sorted all the pictures by class, and put them on my google drive? I could then sort each class into a folder, and share a link to each folder with the parents of the children in those classes. It was as simple on my end (once the pictures were sorted), as clicking a button to get the link, copying it, and pasting it into an email to the entire class parent list (which I already had set up in Outlook). While you need to have a Google+ account to view them, it is free and simple to sign up for an account. I didn’t have any parents complain about me sharing the pictures this way, and had several emails thanking me.

By using Google Drive to share the photos with my preschoolers’ parents, I saved myself probably 20 +/- hours of work, and close to $50 in supplies. I’d say this was a great solution! I will definitely be using it again in the future!

The Last Day of School

The Last Day of School is always bittersweet, especially in the 4-5 year old classroom. Many of our 3 year olds come back the next year, but the 4-5 year olds are often going off to Kindergarten, or in some cases, they are going to move on to a half-day program as a “5 year old preschool” to further prepare them for all-day, every-day kindergarten.

Some of the children we said goodbye to today, we have known since they were infants or toddlers. Two girls, we had their sisters 4 years ago as both 3 and 4-year-olds, then we had them for two years. Other graduates were younger siblings of previous preschoolers we had for one or two years. About half of our graduating preschoolers today were children we had as 3 year olds, and they are now going to Kindergarten. As proud as their parents were of them today, so were we! It’s so fun to see kids grow up in the 2 years we have them (even in one)!

Miss Kim, me, and Miss Emily on the last day of preschool. I'm sure going to miss working with these two!

Miss Kim, me, and Miss Emily on the last day of preschool. I’m sure going to miss working with these two!

This year is especially bittersweet, because it’s the end of a great team! My assistant teacher, Miss Kim, has been with me for 4 years. We work together very well. She knows what I need before I even know it sometimes. For four years, I haven’t had to even think about whether certain things will be done, because she always just took care of it. Next year’s class days/times have changed, so Miss Kim will not be returning.

Also changing, is the Special Ed. program. This is the 2nd year our classroom has had Early Childhood Special Ed (ECSE) in our 4-5 year old classes. Next year, our 3-4 year old classes will also be Team Taught with a Special Ed teacher. Miss Emily, the ECSE teacher we had this year, was part time, and her role for next year is changing completely. I will miss her, because she made me laugh every day!

Our Speech Clinician that worked in our class one day a week this year is also being placed in another location. We’ve had her for two years. I felt like our team was really well meshed this year. I am sad that it will be changing to an all-new team. I know the Speech and ECSE teacher that will be with me next year, and I get along great with both of them. I don’t know who the new assistant will be…

I am both excited and nervous to see what next year will hold for our classroom, and our children!

This summer, I am teaching summer school at another location, with another teacher. I am excited to learn new things, and come back to my own class with fresh ideas next year!

Walk Your A.S. Off

It’s not often I duplicate my posts over my two blogs, but this one is important to me:

For four years, my daughter and I have danced at Lake Area Dance Center. Over the years, we have gotten to know its owner, and primary teacher, Miss Maria, pretty well. We’ve also gotten to know a bit about a disease she has, Ankylosing Spondylitis (A.S.), that makes it painful for her to not only dance, but often do every day activities. Some days are better, and some days are worse. By the end of many nights, it is painful for her to even sit, as her spine gets inflamed easily. She continues to teach dance 7 days a week. Although she tries to hide her pain, I sometimes see her wince during our adult tap class, and I can see the brave face she is putting on for the sake of her students.

As of right now, there is no cure for this disease. Miss Maria takes a plethora of medications and vitamins every day to try to manage the symptoms. She has tried diet changes, juicing, and living a “healthy lifestyle” as many people like to tell her she should do. Nothing helps completely…

She has joined a team (of mostly women) from all over the country to help raise awareness of the disease. I have decided to join her in this effort. The way we are doing this is by joining a movement called “Walk Your A.S. Off.” Teams from all over the world are doing this virtual walk by logging our steps each day. The goal for our team, “Spondy Ladies”, is to walk 1 Million Steps in the month of April.

While fundraising is not required, I am of the opinion that awareness itself isn’t enough. Raising money to help researchers find effective treatments, and even a cure, is going to go so much further than walking and spreading the word about the disease alone!

You can help by joining our team, or by donating. You can donate a flat amount by clicking the link, or by giving me a check made out to SAA or Spondylitis Association of America, which I will mail for you. You can also pledge a certain amount based on the number of steps I take over the month, or a certain amount for making my goal (240K steps is my personal goal for the month). Donations are tax-deductible. Some employers may even match your donation!

Thank you for your support!

*Note: There are several S.A. organizations out there you could choose to donate to. SAA is the one Miss Maria chose, and I did as well. If you prefer to donate to a different organization that researches treatments and potential cures for Ankylosing Spondylitis, your support is appreciated. :-)

Mat Man

An example of a typical first or second self-portait of the year.

An example of a typical first or second self-portait of the year.

I wrote a post about how much I appreciated the Handwriting Without Tears (HWOT) training I attended this past fall. One of the things we learned about was using “Mat Man” to learn how to draw a person. After watching the Mat Man Video, my initial thought was, “Of course they’re going to make it look that amazing, this is a training.”

We decided to try it in our classroom. First, we had children do a self-portrait. I demonstrated how to draw yourself. We talked about thinking about the different parts of their body, the clothes they were wearing, etc. We had a full length mirror available for children to look at themselves – maybe they didn’t know the color of their eyes, or what their hair looked like that day… they could look at their clothes, the shape of their body, etc. We told them to just “Do their best, and remember as many parts of their body as they can.” The model had all the major body parts, clothes, shoes, etc.

This was two days after the initial self-portrait, and immediately after a Mat Man lesson.

This was two days after the initial self-portrait, and immediately after a Mat Man lesson.

The next class time, the Special Ed Teacher I work with, did the Mat Man lesson with our 4-5 year olds in large group. She must have practiced it several times at home, because seriously, she NAILED it! She could have been the teacher in the above video. The preschoolers enjoyed building Mat Man, and learning the song (available on the HWOT CD).

After the lesson was over, we asked them to do their best to draw Mat Man. Many of our preschoolers were singing the song as they drew. It was very cute! In many cases, there were amazing differences in their pictures! We truly did have results like in the video. Not every child drew Mat Man exactly. Many of them still were missing ears, or a nose, but we saw definite improvements, pretty much across the board!

This picture of one of our preschoolers looks more like his Mat Man person than his self-portrait. I call that victory!

This picture of one of our preschoolers looks more like his Mat Man person than his self-portrait. I call that victory!

I was very curious to see if the lesson learned with the Mat Man activity would carry over in later activities. About a month later, we did a journal activity where we asked children to draw a picture of what they want to be when they grew up. Most preschoolers just drew a person, told us what it was, and we wrote it down. Many of them looked a lot like their Mat Man, though some reverted back to looking more like their self-portrait. Overall, I consider the Mat Man activity successful, and find myself once again thankful for the HWOT training.

*All three of these pictures were drawn by the same child on the dates indicated on the pictures. I guess he likes the color red – haha!