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.


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