Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

A year of blessings is winding down and hopefully the new year will bring much joy.

Now on to the celebrations...

Monday, December 21, 2009

What Teachers Make...

I saw this video of Taylor Mali tonight in class and was moved by the power of the message.

What do teachers make?

They make a difference!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

That's Me All Over

I am sure it is a bit narcissistic of me but I love it when I become a character in a child's writing.

When their creative juices are flowing children can be amazingly prolific. This means that often times bits of paper containing their latest efforts blanket just about every surface in our room. And they show all of it to me.

Over the years there have been many depictions of me drawn by children ranging in age from about three to nine years old.

There are the flattering pictures showing the cool, confident teacher, others of me being silly and then there are those where I barely resemble a person...

But in all of them I am there with a big smile on my face.

I may not have a nose or fingers or a neck but there is always the smile.

A friend of mine does art therapy with prison inmates and it is really interesting to hear her speak about how telling a simple drawing can be.

Size, proportion, location, detail and lack of detail all (evidently) carry such weight.

I have never been any good at reading into these things but I do find it fascinating.

If all the kids drew me scowling or frowning it would concern me so since I always seem to appear happy in their eyes why not celebrate that?


Keep it up dear children!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Self-Love and Acceptance

I am nearing the end of another semester at Fordham University in the Language, Literacy and Learning doctoral program. My class this term is Curriculum Theories and Practices which has us studying the works (and teachings) of John Dewey, Rousseau's Emile, Ivan Illich, The Bible and Michael W. Apple among others.

Education in America has had an interesting history that has vacillated between believing that children are born "bad" (the Bible), or born "good" (Rousseau) or simply born into preexisting circumstances that create and replicate more of the same.

All of the past discussions have led us to where we are today and the present conversation is all about education and power. It is about how those in power keep their power by maintaining the current structures which ensure their dominance. The term ideological hegemony has been thrown around quite a bit during class - and has become my new favorite expression. Why? Because it proves that those who are "educated" can toss about some five dollar words and seem "smart" when it is simply a fancy term for keeping people in their place.

The idea of critical theory and social justice is one that some educators are bringing into the classroom. There are five stages of social justice education.
1) Self-love and acceptance
2) Respect for Others
3) Exploring Issues of Social InJustice
4) Social Movements and Social Change
5) Taking Social Action
The first is one that is very appropriate for kindergarten students (as is the second). My social justice guru recommended the Dr. Seuss book My Book About Me for ushering young ones into an awareness of themselves & their families and to learn about different aspects of their identity.
So, I am working on figuring out a way to get a copy of this book for each child in my class. Perhaps if we cultivate a generation of students who truly love themselves we can begin to make strides towards shifting the sometimes impenetrable walls that keep the oppressed from the privileged. And maybe we will have a generation of shiny happy people like Justin (pictured above).

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Making Books

We started something new this year in Writing Workshop. Instead of providing our students with single pieces of paper on which to write (as we have done in the past) we began the year by giving them blank books.

For kindergarten this started with just two pieces of paper folded in half and stapled at the spine. The thought behind this decision was that a book would provide an organizational structure for the students to 'tell a story' rather than limiting them with just one single piece of paper. We all tend to work within boundaries anyway (I notice this myself when I write out a Christmas or birthday card, I write until I am out of space) so why not promote more writing, rather than less?

That being stated, the children are still working within developmentally recognized stages. Some tell their stories using pictures with random scribbles (writing) while others label using familiar letters.

This new venture has been successful in promoting story telling that has a beginning, middle and end. Below is one example from a boy whose story "Lights Out!" shows him in the dark on the cover. He becomes frightened as he sleeps in his room all alone (page 1) and calls for his parents (page 2) then is happy again with his mom beside him (page 3).

All alone in the dark, which he depicted quite well I think.

The 'S' you see is for the word 'sleep' and the colors on top of him represent all of the colors in his quilt.

Mom and Dad come into the room. Notice how he uses the initial letter for each word as well as 'B' for bed.

Smiles all around.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Birthday Parties!

Kindergarten is a happy place and just about nothing brings more smiles, excitement and giggles than a birthday celebration.

Two four-year-old boys welcomed the big 5 in November and brought along their families to help with the festivities. These were coordinated affairs with themes (one espousing Spider-Man, pictured above, and the other trumpeting SpongeBob).

The promise of cake, games, party hats and goody-bags brings on a heightened sense of elation that is palpable. Everyone vying to sit next to the birthday boy (or girl), to sing/sign along with the familiar "Happy Birthday" song, to help blow out the candles and get a piece of the scrumptious cake. It is oh, so very lively and oh, so very thrilling.

Simple pleasures.

These happy times can also be a brief respite from the sometimes hectic, fast paced, go-go-go experience of life. It seems we are always pushing forward in one way or another. Worrying about the future, questioning past choices but rarely being present in the moment.

I think that is one reason why I enjoy teaching so much. The children remind me to be present. When I am with them there is no where else I need to be, nothing else that cannot be put on hold and for seven plus hours a day all is as it should be.

And sometimes that can make all the difference.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Thanksgiving festivities were quite enjoyable, both in and out of the classroom, despite the fact that little green sick bugs have penetrated the confines of our school. It seems constant hand washing, Purell, covering our sneezes and Lysol are no match for these tenacious creatures.

In the classroom, Kindergarten Cafe continues to be a big hit on Friday afternoons. So much so that the second grade teachers felt inspired to integrate their study of 'how-to' procedural books into K cafe.

Their second graders learned how to make Oreo Turkeys (pictured above) and once they were experts they came in to teach the kindergarten children how to make them.

Moms and Dads were kind enough to supply most of the ingredients:
2 Oreos
6 Candy Corn
1 Mini Peanut Butter Cup
1 Chocolate Covered Peanut
1 Toothpick

The children worked in small groups. The 2nd grade students used the 'how-to' books they created (see here) to make these yummy treats with the younger children.

Everyone worked well together and it was especially interesting to watch the teaching styles of the older children. Some were naturals while others were less patient and could use a bit of finessing.

Out of the classroom, my oldest nephew Jamie and his wife Randi met Joy and I to view the Macy*s Balloon Inflation spectacle. We braved the rain and the crowds for an opportunity to see our favorite characters lying face down in the streets on the upper west side of Manhattan.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Learning Centers: Writing

I was reading the teachers guide to our math curriculum (Everyday Math) and came across an idea for a math center to make writing numbers more fun for children.

The idea was simple. Simply scoop some finger paint into a Ziploc bag, zip it closed and bam!

Instant fun!

We gave it a go and it really is that simple. In addition to number writing we encouraged the little ones to write letters as well.

We took it one step further by putting the bags on the light table so it really pops.

Please note: pounding on the bags with your fist is perhaps not the best idea.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Happy, Happy, Happy

There is a song from the Broadway show Romance/Romance with a lyric that goes "I'm so happy, happy, happy, happy, happy, happy, happy and at ease.

It is sung in wild abandonment for the joy of being alive and in love even though things may not be perfect in every aspect "the main point is true, I have not felt this way for an incredibly long time".

Of course, I tend to think that my natural and right state is one of happiness but it is always nice to show appreciation for the joys in life (and for a certain Joy in mine).

Teaching kindergarten is a delight.

Halloween surrounded by the anticipatory excitement of little children cannot be matched.

Feeling a little tug on my shirt by a small girl with a shy smile who wants to give me a birthday card and gift is something I will always cherish.

Blessings are abundant! I am so grateful.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Wild Things and Pooh Bears

On Wednesday we stepped into that magical world where anything is possible and adventure awaited us - the children's room at the main branch of the New York Public Library.

After a short subway ride we were greeted by John who ushered us into the children's room with promises of fun stories, grand sights and lots & lots of books.

Our wide-eyed, excited kindergarten students quietly followed John past the displays promoting the new movie Where the Wild Things Are, past the original stuffed animals that inspired A.A. Milne's writing of the adventures of Winnie-the Pooh and past (as promised) lots & lots of books.

After some settling in John began reading us several stories. The first was Papa, Please Get The Moon For Me by Eric Carle. Eric Carle is an amazingly successful children's book author/illustrator but I was not familiar with this book. Shame on me because it is really, really engaging with its creative use of paper folds and space.

John also read us the classic children's book Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. Our students knew this one and gleefully joined in during the reading.

A real treat was that he gave all of us a crown so we could be like the title character, Max, in that story. Now we had lots of little 'kings' creating their own rumpus in the library as they ran from place to place exploring books and playing with the stuffed animals.

They were very happy.

We also took a tour of the rest of the library. It is rather grand, majestic, exquisite, impressive and all those words that make you imagine a bunch of kids with their mouths hanging open in disbelief - well, me anyway.

Our visit ended with a look at the original stuffed animals that once belonged to A.A. Milne's son, Christoper Robin. Here were Pooh, Eeyore, Piglet, Kanga and Tigger showing signs of being loved but still together after all these years. After 80 years a new Pooh adventure has been written. Return to the Hundred Acre Wood has been written by David Benedictus in the style of the original.

The Winnie-the-Pooh stories have the best twists on language. Very simple statements that are also rather deep. This line cracked me up because it is my mind completely "Owl had flown to Rabbit's house, and Rabbit had spoken to his Friends and Relations, who had spoken to Smallest-of-All, who thought he had seen Christopher Robin but couldn't be absolutely certain because sometimes he remembered things which turned out not to have happened yet, or ever, or at all".

Thanks to our school librarian, Sara, for setting up our visit.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Kindergarten Cafe!

A new feature we introduced into our curriculum this year is called 'Kindergarten Cafe'. It is also affectionately known as 'fun with food'. And who doesn't love food?

The idea behind this is to incorporate elements of core knowledge and standards (measurement, following multi-step directions, how-to procedures, mathematical concepts, yadda, yadda, yadda) with the built in motivation that comes from getting to eat the product of our labors.

We have had K-Cafe four times. The first Friday we made instant pudding (vanilla, chocolate and cookies & cream). We have one student who is allergic to dairy so we tried to make hers with water instead of milk.

Note to self: Yuck! That does not work.

Our second Friday brought a mishmash of various ingredients together (graham crackers, honey, peanut butter, raisins and mini-marshmallows) for a surprisingly delicious, tasty treat. Who knew?

For our third K-Cafe we made Ants on a Log (thank you Nappi for the suggestion). The ants are raisins, the log is a celery stalk filled with peanut butter.

Note to self: Celery is not a popular food item with four-and-five-year-old children but they are mad for the peanut butter.

Yesterday we made Winnie-the-Pooh sundaes with soy ice cream (to avoid dairy), M&M's, Oreo cookies and shaved almonds.

Note to self: Delicious!

This tied in nicely with our shared reading of the Winnie-the-Pooh Song and our upcoming visit to the children's room of the New York City Public Library at Bryant Park (the one with the big lions outside). Did you know that there is a new Winnie-the-Pooh mural there and that an official sequel to the original books is coming out?

We have invited parents to participate in K-Cafe by contributing ideas or supplies as this is costing Lauren and I money. One inquiring parent was confused about the cafe idea because we cannot make anything that requires an oven or a refrigerator. She aptly identified the essence of this experience when she said "Oh, so it is putting things together". I loved that!

We would appreciate it if any of you out there in the blogosphere with simple recipes for 'putting things together' would share them.

Remember to avoid celery :).

Saturday, October 3, 2009


The issue of homework for kindergarten students has become quite the hot topic lately.

More specifically, 'should they' or 'shouldn't they' be assigned homework?

Lauren and I subscribe to the latter viewpoint. The only thing we ask these four-and-five-year-old children (and their parents) to do each evening is to enjoy books. To achieve that end we send home a Ziploc baggie containing either,
  • An emergent reader text that the student can read to their parents or family members. These are books with usually one sentence to a page, strong picture support and repeated phrases like "I can see the ______". The only thing that changes is the _____ which can be figured out by looking at the picture.
  • A children's trade book by such authors as Todd Parr, H.A. Rey or Jack Gantos. These are usually books that we have read aloud in class. Parents can read these books to and with their children. This practice helps establish a love of books for the child, you know, good memories surrounding reading rather than the dread of the published word that many folks seem to share.
  • A mixture of both.
However, it seems that given the current climate of testing, testing, testing (Thank you, W.) some concerned parents are worried that their children will be ill-prepared for first grade and life (!?) without completing worksheets and various nonsensical assignments.

In New York City it is recommended that first grade students receive about 10-15 minutes of homework each evening. There is no stipulation, as far as I know, as to the nature of this homework. There is no requirement for kindergarten.

In Boston I am told (by my scholarly friend Laurie) that homework in kindergarten consists of reading and sharing books.

In Australia (according to my brilliant friend Lisa) homework is not recommended until third grade.

And according to this article in The New York Times, the push to create children who are academically competent by assigning homework in kindergarten and before fourth grade can be actually emotionally harmful, especially for at-risk children and it does not improve their chances of getting a better job or making them smarter.

Play is of vital importance to these young folks. That is well documented.

How about let's allow children to be children without standing in their way? Just a thought.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Kids tell the worst Knock-Knock jokes.

Knock Knock!
Who's there?
Wrestler who?
Wrestler is going to jump on you.

But no matter how random or unplanned these 'jokes' are they always explode with laughter when they hit the punchline.

Knock Knock!
Who's there?
(Child looks around the room for ideas - long pause - big smile...)
Blocks who?

They didn't even finish that one and the whole table full of five-year-olds is hysterical.

Knock Knock!
Who's there?
Orange who?
Orange you going to come under the door?

Milk is coming out of their little noses, their hands are banging on the table, eyes wild with glee. I don't get it. Oh, orange is like aren't so at least this one is getting closer to making sense. Although why would I come under the door?

The jokes may be lacking but the intention is clear. These children want to have a good time and they know how to make it happen.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sebastien's Star Machine

Just before I journeyed off on my Italian adventure this summer I received a cylindrical package in the mail from that talented and good looking artist Sebastien.

Enclosed was a drawing, pictured above, entitled "The Star Machine" (I regret that I am unable to present it here in its glory but I cannot seem to figure out a way to photograph it without casting shadows - click here for a better view of the original Star Machine.)

It is a challenge to try to find the words to describe his work but I will give it a go. His approach is a mix of the wit and innocence of A.A. Milne (author of Winnie-the-Pooh) and the macabre charm of Edward Gorey.

It is children's art that is not entirely for children. Funky parents with a sense of humor and magical, believing souls like The Little Prince can appreciate the simple and off-center masterpieces Sebastien creates.

I have been gushing about his stuff for a while now and I think my friend Joy put it well when she said she can easily envision The Star Machine or some of his other works like this or this or this hanging on a child's bedroom wall.

They are pictures that are at once familiar and friendly but also new and exciting.

Sebastien is an artist and author waiting to explode on the big scene. And if all is as it should be in the world he will one day be a multi-millionaire with book deals (check out his ABC series), merchandising contracts (who wouldn't want one of those cute stuffed bears with detachable arms) and speaking engagements across the country.

But until that time I am going to have The Star Machine framed so I can proudly hang it in my classroom to remind my students that anything is possible.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


The first day of school is a busy, exciting and emotional day.

Especially for the children arriving in kindergarten who have had no prior experience with school.

"Where are you leaving me?!" they seem to scream accusingly at their bewildered parents who are themselves overcome with trepidation about leaving their precious little dear ones with strangers - even if those strangers are their new teachers who are committed to ensuring a joyous learning/growing experience.

Parents, let me assure you that your children are precious to us too!

Each child arrived with a family member (sometimes a few family members) and were welcomed into our fantastic, newly rearranged classroom. The larger tables and chairs from last year were exchanged for smaller versions, more rugs were added and areas were set-up for that all important activity - play.

We now have an expanded block area in a low traffic zone to allow student creations (cities, zoos, homes, buildings, etc.) to remain standing from day to day.

We have a dramatic play and stage space, complete with curtain, to encourage imagination (and to allow me a place to take a bow every so often).

A place for art, many comfortable spots for reading (on beanbags, on pillows, on rugs, at tables) but one new addition (and my masterpiece of which I am most proud) is a little fort-like peaceful dwelling created by mosquito netting and twinkle lights. It gives the illusion that you are in a private space but of course we can clearly see inside of it.

This area was a big hit today and it was a success even without me pointing it out and saying "look at this cool place!" Well, okay I did do some of that but it really is cool.

Things in our room are still a bit disorganized and will require some sorting and throwing out on our part but Lauren and I are on our way with another treasured cargo.

Lucky us!

Monday, September 7, 2009


Several weeks ago I began to have the 'teacher's nightmare' as I comfortably slumbered all snug in my bed.

This is when I began to realize that my glorious summer was coming to an end.

The teacher's nightmare is similar to the actor's nightmare wherein everything that could go wrong, does. In my case anxiety manifested in a couple of repeated dreamland scenarios.

Such is the first day of school and I can't find my classroom. I am wandering the halls and either can't remember what class I am supposed be in or can't locate it through the maze of hallways. Or I show up unprepared or think I am teaching kindergarten but find out I am scheduled to teach fourth grade instead (this really did happen to a friend of mine).

I am sure that I will find sleep difficult tonight as a mix of excitement and worry keep the sandman from sprinkling his magical dust in my ever blinking eyes.

There will probably be some New York City public school children out there experiencing the same feeling tomorrow night. I had it as a child anticipating the first day of school but who knew my teachers were going through the same thing?

Wish me luck...

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Glorious Summer

It is always good to acknowledge a gift and give thanks and this summer has been a season to do just that.

Again and again the word glorious comes to mind as I think back on the past two months. It has been a phase to slow down, travel, spend time with the diverse group of friends I adore and cherish, read fantastic novels, nap, visit with my amazing family and focus on helping my 45-year-old body get back into manly, muscular shape.

It has been a great while since I have felt the freedom of childhood summers. The long ago days when as a teenager I would spend the night lounging on the hood of my older brother's 1968 Pontiac Firebird writing terrible poetry under the streetlamp or wandering the streets of my neighborhood barefoot singing Linda Ronstadt's I Ain't Always Been Faithful, repeating the lyrics "did you ever walk the empty street until the break of dawn, just to hear some lonesome sparrow sing a lonesome song".


This summer was like those. Work, school, exhaustion and drama took a back seat and were replaced by sunflowers in Italy, reading in the pool, Mickey Mouse, singing in the garden, riding in my convertible, walking my doggie and pizza night at La Tavola Marche!

These last few days will be spent riding my bike on the towpath up to Lambertville, New Jersey and New Hope, Pennsylvania and organizing myself for the first days of school.

Lauren and I will be teaching kindergarten this year (YIPPEE!!) and if I have to spend my days focused on work, I couldn't think of a more glorious prospect than being surrounded by eager, happy, little children.

Monday, August 3, 2009

What Is Your Dream?

I have heard "If you can dream it, you can achieve it" so many times throughout my life that I have come to truly believe it. However, pursuing a dream is not magic. It takes determination, support, planning and hard work.

I think my own path stands as testimony to the fact that when you have the passion to 'follow your bliss' the universe conspires to make your dreams a reality. Opportunities become available, doors open, the right people are put in your path and off you go. This does not mean that the journey is easy, but it is most certainly worthwhile and fulfilling.

In speaking with others on this topic I find that the most difficult aspect of making dreams a reality is finding your dream. Discovering the one thing that ignites the fire, feels right and makes you realize that life is sweet.

My friend Mike found his with photography. He currently has a photograph (see below) entered in the Mad Men television show casting call contest. Here is where the aforementioned support comes in to play. The contest is based on voting. In order for the actor in the photo, Paul Howard, to get a walk-on role and for Mike to get some attention as a photographer they need votes.

If you feel this is a strong photograph please click here and give the photograph 5 stars. It's as simple as that. You can vote once a day until August 11th.

Let's help one another realize a dream.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Thoughts about my Italian vacation have already found their way into my travel journal and I have not yet decided which stories to share here, if any.

However, I would like to share a select spattering of pictures that, taken as a whole, reflect the essence of my 17 day holiday in Italy.

Once I settle in I will write a good and proper post.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Andato a Italia

I hope that means 'Gone to Italy' because I have departed for a much needed and much deserved Italian vacation.  I will be visiting my friends Ashley and Jason who followed their bliss to open up La Tavola Marche an agriturismo and cooking school in Tuscany.

I will share more about the trip upon my return.

For now, Ciao!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Tips From My Mom #10

I envy my older brother because he is fortunate to live within a five minute drive from my parents home. They share the day to day happenings without stopping to think when they'll see one another again or counting the days until they must say good-bye.

I live 891 miles from my mom & dad. The time I have with them is limited and special.

It never fails that at some point during every visit my mom and I find ourselves deeply engaged in conversation. At times these talks center around helping one another understand and accept those things about us that are foreign to the other. Experiences, desires, addictions, struggles, conflict, love, religion, memories, attraction, hopes, regret, shame, strength, passion and the essence of who we are is brought to light. She helps me understand myself because I am certainly my mother's son.

Last week the family got together to celebrate my niece Heather's HS graduation. In the midst of all the hubbub I found time to talk with Ma about her innate (or learned) need to try to please everyone. Her tendency to not rock the boat, to be the one who takes the world upon her shoulders, to make life easier for everyone around her, to be accepting and quiet, to give and give even when she has nothing left and how as the years have passed she has found the strength of spirit to stand up for herself.

It is ironic that I have been a force in helping her find her voice. Just as she has at times been shown the joy that comes from being true to yourself through my example, I have been plagued with the same dilemma of wanting to please everyone, to make those I love happy, to be liked and to keep the peace.

But, mom has shown me that it is impossible to be all things to all people without paying a price. Eventually the stress of striving for perfection takes it toll and comes back to bite you in the ass.

In the book Eat, Love, Pray (I only read the Eat section) author Elizabeth Gilbert writes about wanting to get out of her marriage even though it was not particularly unhappy, it was simply not the life she wanted. And how continuing to proceed along the path of marriage, children, play dates, etc would eventually result in cancer or other malady. Our bodies, our minds, know when we are living an unauthentic existence and resist. The rebellion causes disease.

The bright example of my mom in my life is to be true to yourself. To find a happiness that is balanced between giving and holding onto what you most treasure at your core. It is a struggle to remember. It is a struggle to forgive yourself when you hurt others unintentionally. She has found this balance, this healing, this strength, this truth.

I'm working on it.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Children's Museum of the Arts

At the beginning of the 2008-2009 school year we began a partnership with the Children's Museum of the Arts which brought a talented, dedicated artist, Agatha Gliksman (Agee), into our classrooms. Never before have our students been so energized, motivated and inspired by an art curriculum. Agee was simply amazing. She never stressed about the mess, the energy or the chaos that accompanies the creative process in young children. The kids adored her!

Agee guided our students through an exploration of color, line and perspective. She introduced them to the works of Alexander Calder and Gustav Klimt. We blended in Greek Mythology by creating Cyclops and Medusa masks as well as working in plaster to build our own Trojan horse representations (see Children's Artwork on the sidebar for pictures).  

We attended a Calder exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art which inspired the students to create their own pieces in the 'style of' this unique artist (see right). 

They learned how to work with wire and tell a story with their designs. This blended seamlessly with our literature investigations of story elements as each students told of character, setting and plot through their creations. For example the piece pictured is a beach scene. Others depicted a forest, an ice rink, a wrestling match, etc.  

Sadly, the program ended due to budgetary issues. It was with much complaint that we bid Agee farewell - a group of unhappy children is hard to ignore. However, the good news is that the Children's Museum of the Arts (182 Lafayette Street, NYC) is currently housing a public display of selected works.

A blurb from their press release reads "CMA celebrates its partnerships with New York City public schools in an exhibition of works created throughout the 2008-2009 school year. CMA School Partnerships reach over 1,000 children annually and provide an enriching creative approach to classroom learning. This exhibition includes multi-media works from PS347 American Sign Language School, PS124, PS130, The Renaissance Charter School and Williamsburg Collegiate Charter School."

It runs from June 11 - September 6, 2009.

Top artwork is a Van Gogh study of Starry Night by our Pre-K students.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Congratulations Graduates!

My family celebrated my niece Heather's high school graduation this weekend.

Heather graduated from the same high school I graduated from 28 years ago.

28 years ago!!

I adored high school. It was a fantastic time for me and set the stage for a rich academic/social experience which I am still enjoying today as the perennial student.  

It was strange and wonderful to go back. As I perused the names of the faculty I was surprised to find that none of the teachers I had were listed.  That is when it hit me that it was indeed quite a long time since I ran that track, performed on that stage or bopped down those halls with my twin brother ( I bopped, he sauntered - he was always 'cooler' than I was).

The graduation was a grand excuse to gather everyone together. My Mom and Dad drove up from Florida (see mom at right posing at the graduation as per my request) and childhood friends stopped by the house. 

We played volleyball, had sword fights and cooked. 

I made sure that the heavy metal music was interrupted by some Different Drum era Linda Ronstadt.  And I bopped along to that.

Heather's little sister, my magical niece Samantha, also brought to my attention that she graduated from kindergarten just a few days before. So, I made sure to make the appropriate fuss about that and give her the fair share of attention. We relaxed on the grass while she told me more about angels and healing.

The parties have ended and things are getting back to normal. Except for the fact that for Heather, her boyfriend Vinny and many other graduates their lives will never quite be the same again. Good luck on your journey!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Signs of Summer

Summer will officially begin for me late tomorrow afternoon when the last day of the school year is complete.  

Teaching is an amazing way to spend your days but part of being a teacher is taking time during the summer months to refresh.

I plan to do just that.  

This will be my first summer in 13 years of teaching that I will not be teaching either summer school (elementary) or teaching college students.

To kick off the summer season Lauren and I created another short American Sign Language video to highlight some of the words that you will probably be using as the temperature rises.  

In this video we focus on the words - sun, hot, beach, vacation, summer & fun.

We also provide three sentences in ASL using these simple words.

So, put on your sunglasses, blow up the beach ball and enjoy the ride.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Cops Are On Their Way!

During a visit to Central Park this week with my class I became suddenly jolted out of my playtime reverie by the loud shouting of a teacher from another school marching towards two elementary school children angrily informing them that "the cops are on their way!"

"Good Lord", thought I, "I wonder what happened?".  

Turns out it was a scare tactic, used for dramatic effect I am certain, to stress the utter disregard of these two boys in staying within the specified boundaries of the playground. They had wandered off onto the rocks which were clearly off limits!

I didn't follow up to see how long these boys waited before they realized this was an empty threat or if they even believed it in the first place.  But, this encounter did make me wonder about all the hyped up stories adults tell to little ones.

"If you cross your eyes they will get stuck that way."

"If you eat the watermelon seeds one will grow in your stomach."

"If you get out of bed the boogie man will snatch you away."

I'm sure we all have heard some variation of these.  At what point do we realize it is all formulated BS to keep us in line? How do these 'frights' stay with us as adults? What keeps us in line nowadays?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Top Ten 2008-2009

At the end of each school year our children's librarian, Sara, asks each elementary class to create a list of their favorite books. In the past our top ten choices have been fairly predictable - and by fairly predictable I mean that they reflect my influence.

This year the final cut is reminiscent of the Tony Award nominees - notable as much for the omissions as for what was included. To my horror Curious George was nudged out, as was my man Todd Parr. No Gingerbread Man, Lorax or English Roses!

Lauren's all time favorite children's book The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein wasn't even in the top 20! Nor was anything in the Lisa & Gaspard series by Anne Gutman and Georg Hallensleben. However, Rotten Ralph did make the short list so one of her favorites was represented.

The number one pick this year was The Incredible Book Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers. This book was a new discovery for Lauren and I as well. It tells the tale of a young boy who literally eats books - he simply can't get enough of those delicious words. When he eats he 'digests' the words on the page to acquire the knowledge contained therein.

However, this habit gets out of hand when all of the ideas and words overwhelm him. He gets mixed up and confused. Finally he realizes that it is better to gain knowledge the old fashioned way through reading (not eating) books.

There is a bite taken out of the back cover which proved amusing to our students. It is a good book but I was a bit surprised by the #1 status.

Mercer Mayer was well represented in our top ten with three books coming in at numbers 2, 4 and 5. Number 2 is There's a Nightmare in my Closet, # 4 is There's An Alligator Under My Bed and # 5 is There's Something In My Attic.

All three revolve around similar themes of combating your fears and finding out they are not as scary as you first believed them to be. The only difference I find between them is that the main character in two of the stories is a boy and in the Attic book it is a girl.

Our students loved to be scared this year. A book entitled Tell Me a Scary Story...But Not Too Scary by Carl Reiner was just edged out of the final ten. I would have included it, but who am I? These are the kids picks (and I must add that they have fantastic taste).

Once Upon a Potty (boy) by Alona Frankel was a hit at # 3. Just as they loved to be scared they loved to be grossed out. This book is about one boy learning how to use the potty. Sample lines include descriptions about body parts like a 'wee-wee for making pee-pee' (or is it the the other way around) and a hole for making poop (or something like that). His poorly aimed attempts to make it to the potty are illustrated with a mound of poop sitting right next to the potty.

This was one of two books this year (the other was In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak) that depicted drawings of a little boy naked. I'm not sure if I should be appalled at the giggles and pointing to the private parts or if I should just ignore it.

It did provide us with an opportunity to connect to our trips to the Metropolitan Museum of Art where we were surrounded by naked statues. We treated it as rather matter-of-fact and kept it simple. We figured if we didn't make a big deal out of "oh, look they are naked" then the children wouldn't either. I think they know what's what.

Our first true book series came in at #6 with George and Martha by the super-duper James Marshall. This is my 13th year of teaching elementary school (PreK - 1) but my first introducing this book series to my students. How was this gem hidden from me for so long?

Each book contains 5 short stories about the friendship between these two hippototami who find that honesty is the best policy. The books contain rich vocabulary that can be used to promote discussion as well as important lessons regarding trust and sensitivity. Plus who doesn't enjoy seeing a hippo all dolled up in a dress or sporting a gold tooth?

One of Lauren's favorites came in at #7 and is the second book series in the top ten. Rotten Ralph by Jack Gantos and Nicole Rubel made a lasting impression on our 5-and-6-year-olds.

Ralph is indeed a rotten cat who does spiteful, mean and hateful things all in the name of fun (and sometimes just to be rotten). Thank goodness his owner, a little girl named Sarah, is quick to forgive his antics. It took me a while to warm up to this naughty kitty - I am more of a dog person - but I think I finally have accepted him for who he is. There is something lovable underneath all that menace.

Number 8 brings us to the Fly Guy series of books by Tedd Arnold. This is a case of he's so ugly he's cute. This series was another new discovery this year that happened quite by chance. Our school librarian sent up a bunch of these books for us to keep in our classroom library and the children were instantly smitten.

These are chapter books with large print, known vocabulary and basic sight words. They are perfect for the emergent reader who wants to read 'chapter books' but lacks the stamina needed to sustain reading of books with many, many words.

Fly Guy is funny, endearing and helpful. I like him.

Another book series, Nate the Great by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat comes in at #9. These are fantastic books with instantly likable characters. There is dark, brooding, (goth?) Rosamond with her four cats - Super Hex, Big Hex, Little Hex and Hex who is always staring out from under her bangs and uttering strange statements.

There is optimistic and sunny Annie with the dangerous dog Fang that she only sees as a cutie pie. There is Nate's own dog Sludge who provides Nate with the key to solving his mysteries by just being Sludge.

And, of course, there is Nate himself. Pancake loving, serious talking, overly dramatic Nate. In each book (and we have read quite a few this year) Nate solves a new mystery - nothing is refused, nothing is too small.

We went to see a production of Nate the Great: The Musical at Town Hall in Manhattan this year. What a hoot!

The Wanda Witch book series by Katherine McEwen rounds out the top ten. I like these books. Lauren is not a fan. Obviously our students like them because they beat out some other deserving titles for the coveted spot in the top ten.

Wanda is a witch in training who can't seem to get her spells right (think Bewitched's Aunt Clara). Wanda is brought back on track by Cat-a-bogus, her guardian of sorts who makes all things right again.

I guess these are silly, strange books but they strike a chord with their magic, charms and spells.

So there you have it. The top ten books for the 2008-2009 school year for first grade class 201. I wonder which ones will make the cut next year.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Free To Be...You and Me

There's a land that I see
Where the children are free.
And I say it ain't far
To this land, from where we are.

Take my hand. Come with me,
Where the children are free.
Come with me, take my hand, 
And we'll live...

In a land
Where the river runs free -
(In a land)
Through the green country -
(In a land)
To a shining sea.

And you and me
Are free to be
You and me.

Free To Be...You and Me was the stupendous brainchild of That Girl! Marlo Thomas.  It only seems fitting that given my recent obsession with the television series our school play this year be (coincidentally) conceived by Miss Ann Marie herself. 

When I was in sixth grade our elementary school performed this show and I have vivid memories of the repeated refrain "a doll, a doll, William wants a doll.  A doll, a doll, William wants a doll".  The role was played by a really cool boy that was very popular so he could pull off playing a boy who longed for a doll 'to wash and clean and dress and feed; a doll to give a bottle to - and put to bed when day is through".  Even as a young boy I thought what a progressive show. Free to Be indeed!

Marlo corralled her talented friends (Judy Blume, Carl Reiner, Mary Rogers, Judith Viorst, Charlotte Zolotow, Arnold Lobel and others) and each one contributed a song, story or poem. The book became an album and then a show.

In the hands of our talented school directors, Dawn and Vanessa, the show shined in an edited version of the original. Rehearsals were held during lunch periods and from my point of reference it seems as though it was put together in a very short span of time. Quite impressive!

The finished product was presented last Tuesday in the midst of the ASL Festival with two performances.  For the closing number all of the students were ushered onto the stage to sing and sign the title song. And there I go again with the water works.  

But according to the show It's All Right to Cry!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Closing Ceremony

Hurray for the "47" Alumni Association for ensuring the closing ceremony of the ASL Festival was an enjoyable event for all of us. Thank you!

The Alumni Association was integral in ensuring the presence of guest performer Robert DeMayo (pictured left) who told stories relating to his experience growing up as a Deaf child & brought our students onto the stage to perform in a series of entertaining skits.  

I don't want to give away his act but there was a bit about riding a roller coaster that had my class in stitches.  To see them cracking up like that was so precious to me and I knew when I saw their faces that the program was a success.

Throughout the week each class also participated in an Open House. During scheduled times we would visit one another's classrooms to see student work. For some this meant sharing ASL videos which were projected in movie theater fashion and for others it meant sharing their writing, drawings, artwork, class projects or photography.  

There were some surprises. One student shared a book she wrote and illustrated. Her drawings were so amazing that (I hate to admit) I didn't believe she created them. So, I asked her to draw something for me on the spot (see picture on the right). As she drew she gave me a detailed step by step description of the process. She is so talented! 

I am going to invite her to my class this week to teach my students how to draw.  I envision it will be like those late night art lessons I used to watch on television when I was a child.  

I am sure that the coming week will feel a tad depressing because the excitement is over. However, I like to think that it is really just a beginning. I hope that the celebration and focus on American Sign Language and Deaf culture will continue.  Perhaps in our monthly Spirit Days and hopefully in another ASL Festival next year.  

Thanks again to everyone who worked so hard to make this a success!  xoxo


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