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!

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! :-)