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!

 

Handwriting Without Tears

This past fall, I finally got to go to Handwriting Without Tears (HWOT) training. I LOVED it! I learned a lot about teaching children how to write. It’s a very methodical process; we don’t do all the steps (as we only have two days per week with our preschoolers).

The premise of their system, is that you break down the creation of letters into “lines” and “curves”. There’s a music CD with songs that teach different concepts of letter-making such as, “Where do you start the letters? At the top…” There is also a great workbook that builds the fine motor skills from coloring, to creating lines, to making letters (very preschool appropriate, though there are others available for different age/development levels). We got one copy of the workbook as part of our training, but we are not allowed to copy pages for the kids in our class. At $16+/child, it’s a bit spendy to get them for all of our students. If we were to get them for each of our preschoolers in the 4-5 year old classes, it would be over $500. I have found other printable worksheets, coloring pages, and dry erase books that work on the same skills, but would still prefer to have the HWOT books.

The only downside to HWOT, is that it is not compatible with D’Nealian. Our district still teaches D’Nealian writing. It also really only works with capital letters (at least what we learned about). Since D’Nealian doesn’t really change much for most capitals, we are still able to use their system. It also gives us an opportunity to show preschoolers different ways some letters might look, which will help them as they prepare to read next year.

One thing we learned in the training, that I did not implement, is they suggested children learn to write their names in all capital letters first. This is probably why their system mainly uses capital letters. We have been asked by the Kindergarten teachers to teach children to write their names the proper way – capital letter first, followed by lower case letters.

While we do not used every piece of  their system, we do practice building the letters with wood pieces and a blue mat before we try writing them in our journals. When children build the letters first, they seem to understand it better, and are more successful in trying to recreate it. The blue mat helps children see where their letters start. Another option would be to take a piece of blue construction paper, cut it to slightly larger than the “big wood piece”, put a smiley face or star sticker in the upper left corner, and laminate it. The wood pieces are great! Another product I got with my Scholastic Reading Club bonus points this year, was a plastic letter-building activity. It was free (I love using bonus points), and very compatible with the way we are learning to make our letters.

We also have begun to follow the advice to use crayons first, as opposed to markers or dry erase markers (did you know they make dry erase crayons now?). The friction created by crayons over markers, is good for their fine-motor development. We’ve also learned that children who struggle to have a proper grip, or continue to palm-grip their writing tools, are more successful when they use smaller crayons, pencils (think golf pencils), or markers.

Putting this system into use this year has been more successful than I expected. I’m enjoying teaching it, the children seem to be more successful at writing this year! I am so glad I finally got to take the Handwriting Without Tears training!

She Can See!

One of our preschoolers came to school with a new pair of glasses. She was very excited to tell me that her new glasses were like mine (same shape, similar color)! My favorite quote from her that day was, “Miss Sarah, did you know, there are trees across the street!”

Poor girl! We had no idea she was having a hard time seeing. I can’t imagine not even know there were trees across the street!

I remember when I first got my glasses. The thing that stood out to me, was that the trees had tops on them. Obviously, I KNEW that the trees had tops on them… until you can actually SEE the line between the tops of the trees, and the sky, you don’t realize that you aren’t seeing it…

Because we have two children with new glasses, and because our unit is dinosaurs, I decided to read Bumposaurus. It’s a book about a baby dinosaur who can’t see. He ends up going on quite the adventure, and finds himself snuggling up to a T. Rex (that he thinks is his mother). After his family rescues him, he meets his grandma, who has on glasses. When he tries them on, he can finally see! It was very appropriate for this week! Gotta love it when things line up just perfectly!

If you have glasses, do you remember what stood out to you when you first got them? What about the children in your life? What have they commented on as being new to them once they could see?

Welcome Back!

Recently, I was on vacation for a week. After I got back, we had a day off for a Staff Inservice Day. That meant it was a full two weeks that I didn’t get to see our 3-4 year olds (They come 2 days/week).

At the beginning of the PM class on my first day back, one girl peeked her head in the class, and yelled, “Miss Sarah!!!!” She ran up to me and jumped up for the biggest Hang-from-the-neck hug in history (ok, maybe not history, but you get the idea). It was such a great way to start the afternoon!

That same day, my dog was sick – very sick! I had to call for a sub, because he had to be let out every 1/2 hour-45 minutes. In between, I was cleaning up after him. It was horrible! I was only able to find a sub for the morning class. Luckily, my husband got home from out of town on time for me to make it in for the PM class.

Because of the rough start to my day, that big hug from that little girl was EXTRA special! I needed that hug as much as she did!

When I sent the email to the families in the morning class letting them know I would be out, one of the moms responded, telling me that her daughter had prayed for me the night before, and told Jesus that she missed me…

Today was my first day back with the T/Th AM class. So many of the children had big smiles for me, and told me how much they had missed me. It really is a great feeling to be so loved by so many preschoolers! Reason #142 why I love my job! :-)

Something Unique Happened… Twice!

Our preschool classroom is located in a strip mall. We have no playground to play on, and only a small grass area between the parking lot and the road to play in. Needless to say, we only go outside a couple times per year (usually for fire drills, or to do sidewalk chalk outside the door). We also don’t have a gym.

How do we help children get their energy out? We do action songs, stretching, and/or breathing exercises at every group time. The area we use for Circle Time is also our Large Motor area during free choice time. Every couple weeks, we rotate what children can do in that area. Sometimes, it’s a trampoline or balance beam, other times, we might have something like bowling or basketball.

Children usually play appropriately, but it sometimes gets a little out of control with balls flying or rolling all over. This one time, we let the boys be a little rambunctious, and we were amazed with what happened next.

In a class of 4-5 year olds, a group of three boys started playing what appeared to be a real game of basketball (but with 2 balls). The boys were attempting to block each other, were trying to get the ball from each other, and make baskets. They were cheering for each other when they made it (even if they were on the opposite “team”).

One of the boys was acting as both player and ref. He would stop the game with a “Time Out”, tell them to come back in the lines, then would pretend to blow a whistle, and throw the ball in the air, as if for tip off. What shocked all three teachers in the room, was not only the level they were taking this game to, but that they were following each other’s directions, and no one was getting hurt feelings when the ball got taken away from them.

Other children came in and out of their game.  They played for a good 10-15 minutes (if not longer). All the children involved had red cheeks, and were sweating by the time it was time to clean up.

In all the years we’ve been teaching together, we always dread basketball week, because it usually turns into children throwing balls all over the room, getting out of control, and we have to put the balls away for the day because all other attempts at redirection fail. Not this year!

This amazing “game” of basketball in our classroom was a wonderful glimpse of what CAN happen when you let children get a little more “wild” with their play. It has never turned to this before.

What’s even more amazing, is that it happened again the next day with our 3-4 year olds! We couldn’t believe it!!

2014 in review – Moments of Brilliance

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 12,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.