Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Land Ho!

Ahoy me maties!

Shiver me timbers, after nearly two years without a playground Lauren and I can finally play pirate!

It required a sizable chunk of buried treasure (almost $250,000) to bring this dream to fruition but through unmitigated perseverance our new playground avoided the fate of Davy Jones' locker.

Structural setbacks caused unexpected delays and had the contractors walking the plank time and time again. But on Monday, October 25, we cut the proverbial ribbon and invited our enthusiastic students to explore.

The new playground is not just for pyrates, oh no, it also brings smiles to landlubbers as well. There is a wee "tree house" for the littlest revelers (too small a space for me, although I did try to enter) and lots of slides, ramps, ropes and poles.  It even has a climbing wall! And monkeys!


We'll be enjoying this for many years to come.

At least that's the plan.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Share Curiosity

The Library of Congress (bless them!) has chosen to encourage parents to read with their children in a new series of public service announcements featuring Curious George!

How I missed this fact until today is beyond me.  Thankfully my friend Cindy was kind enough to bring it to my attention. The ads are wonderful (both print and video) and bring me endless joy but the information on their website is golden.

Many middle class families assume that sharing a bedtime story with a child is a given but the fact is that there are many, many families out there who do not engage in these literacy practices.

The reasons can range from lack of interest, lack of resources or from a feeling that they are not doing it right. Shirley Brice Heath's seminal study provides a stunning example of the nuisances at play here.

The point is to read!  The Matthew effect kicks in because the more you read the better you become as a reader and the better reader you are the more you want to read.

I applaud the Library of Congress for their clear message and for choosing Curious George and The Man with the Yellow Hat to help spread the word.

Share Curiosity.  Read Together.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Parallel Play

Parallel play is a developmental stage in social activity wherein a child plays beside rather than with another child.

Both children may engage with the same toys (blocks, dolls, trucks, etc.) but they never quite acknowledge one another or join together in cooperative experiences.

It is what cognitive psychologists like Jean Piaget might define as an early stage of egocentrism, or a preoccupation with one's own views.

Teachers are often guilty of this.  We sequester ourselves inside our classrooms, behind closed doors, neglecting to share our ideas or successes.

Educational blogs are one way to combat this phenomenon.  They provide an outlet for us to open our doors and invite others into our "play".  Visiting one another's classrooms is another way.

At the end of the last school year Lauren and I ventured out to Long Island to do just that.  My friend Denise arranged for us to visit her kindergarten classroom (and we, in turn, reciprocated).  This year we have incorporated some of her ideas into our practice.

Most notably the way she conducted her morning meeting.  Morning meeting is a time where the "administrative business" of the day usually occurs.  Attendance is taken, we count off the number of days we have been in school, chart the weather, write a message together and develop calendar skills.  In the past we conducted this on the rug with all of the children seated.

Denise however did this while incorporating movement and exercise.  Her motto is "everything must have a dual purpose" and it is inspiring to see how effective this is.

Now, we begin each day on the rug for our greetings.  This is a time for American Sign Language (ASL) development without voice.  This is followed by hopping to one corner of the room to track the school days on our number line while counting forward and backwards.  Next we jump over to another area to chart attendance (again incorporating math skills and one to one matching).  Once this is completed the group hops over to the calendar and weather chart to focus on language associated with these concepts.

We conclude with some more exercise as Denise does in her classroom (counting jumping jacks, clapping hands with a partner, etc.) and by the time we begin our group word study lesson the children are ready to focus because they have "shaked the sillies out".

We gathered a plethora of ideas on our visit and I encourage other educators to open your doors and make your teaching visible.  As John Dewey wrote in The School and Society in 1899, "Helping others, instead of being a form of charity which impoverishes the recipient, is simply an aid in setting free the powers and furthering the impulse of the one helped. A spirit of free communication, of interchange of ideas, suggestions, results, both successes and failures of previous experiences, becomes the dominating note of the recitation".

Thursday, October 7, 2010

What Do You Know? - Podcast

My best friend Joy has introduced me to many things over the years; the writings of Mr. Follow Your Bliss himself - Joseph Campbell, the musical styling of feisty songbird Keely Smith and the wonderful world of blogging.  So, when she suggested we make a podcast I was on board.

I saw it as a way for us to document our friendship, if only for ourselves.  The easy give and take, the deep knowledge of one another that comes from 29 years of laughs, tears and drama encapsulated in digestible snippets of banter. For me it is a win-win situation. I show up at her apartment with a 4-pack of Guinness, get to chat with someone I adore and go to sleep.

Joy is the one who does all the work editing and posting.  God bless her! She is getting to be quite the technical whiz.

We decide on a topic (volunteering, how we met, religion, etc.) and off we go.  I hadn't planned to blog about our little recordings until we decided to talk about suicide.

The impetus of Joy's blog was to share with others her battle with suicide. She describes her blog by writing;

"This is pretty much just me rambling about how happy I am not to be suicidal any more. Which is pretty big doings for me. It's also an attempt to share my experiences in hopes that it might somehow help someone else who is where I was... and is having trouble believing that you can change your world. Some posts are just silly, some are more deep, but hopefully they all prove the point that life can be, and is, a wonderful thing and no matter how hard things are at the moment: they will get better. You just need to hang on."

Sadly, after we recorded our podcast teenage suicide began making headlines.  And as fitting the theme of my blog, which is education, I felt it worthwhile to add our message of support to what others have been providing.  Sometimes you don't know what will speak to a person in need.

You can find our podcast here.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

ABC Books

The beginning of kindergarten is a swell time to dive into the alphabet. And what better way than ABC books?

Learning the alphabet can be tricky for young children because language is a system of arbitrary symbols.  As Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet "that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet".

We assign meaning to letters which are simply random squiggles to young children. Understanding these squiggles is part of our developmental process in both reading and writing.

ABC books approach the task of ameliorating children's mastery in different ways. Some, like the fabulous Museum ABC from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, serve as list books.

In this book A is for Apple, B is for Boat, C is for Cat and so on. The exquisite selling point here though is that each letter is accompanied by a detail (small portion) from a selection of art work by Cezanne, Degas, Monet, Stuart, Lichtenstein, etc. It is beautifully done and helps children begin to connect letters and sounds.

Other ABC books take a more interactive approach. They challenge the reader look closely at the illustrations to find the letters hidden there.

Pigs From A-Z by Arthur Geisert is one of my favorite examples of this (How could it miss? There are adorable pigs everywhere!). This is akin to the I Spy books that keep children and adults searching.  This book reinforces letter knowledge and helps solidify letter identification.

A step further along the ABC continuum are the storybooks.  It is in this realm that many authors/illustrators have found a wide audience. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault with illustrations by Lois Ehlert is catchy and popular.  I like it because it connects upper and lowercase letters with a simple rhythmic beat.
Another winner is Alphabet Adventure by Audrey Wood.  The lowercase letters are having a fun filled jaunt on their way to school when the dot from the letter i decides to play an annoying little game of hide-and-seek.  The other letters conspire to find other symbols to replace her (like a star, a heart) but the mischievous dot reappears to claim her rightful place.  The letters arrive in alphabetical order in time for school.  Also of interest are Alphabet Rescue and Alphabet Mystery.

Finally, given that I have a soft spot in me wee little heart for a certain monkey I must mention Curious George Learns the Alphabet by H.A. Rey. This book is unique in that it helps children learn letters by focusing on the shapes themselves.  The letter F becomes a fireman, L becomes a Lion and K a kangaroo.  Research seems to support the merits of such an approach.

The text is designed to promote phonological awareness and sensitivity to initial letter sounds through alliteration.

Sample text; The small h is a horse. He is happy because he has heaps of hay. George had his own horse - a hobby horse. 

The first "h" in words like happy and heaps are highlighted in color to reinforce the commonality of sound.  Letters and text are provided for both upper and lowercase letters.

So there you have the ABC's of ABC books!

For a cyber spin on ABC click here.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

s'all good

That's me!

I am either very small or that is one giant flower.

I love the beginning of kindergarten.  It is a time when children are bursting with creativity in their drawings, art and writing.  They unabashedly express themselves as they make sense of the world around them.

In the morning a smiling child extends an arm saying"Here I made this for you".  In her hand are torn bits of paper containing images of you.  Or her family.  Or some design that caught her fancy.

During the day we are handed more slips of paper.

"That's you!"

I look for my expression and think "Good, I'm smiling".

And I am.

So is Lauren.  Here we are holding hands surrounded by butterflies and flowers.

We are 16 days into the school year and I couldn't be happier.  The children are brilliant.  Sensitive, caring, energetic, smiling, sometimes cranky, tenacious, giving, kind and eager to learn.  Their parents are likewise brilliant.

We had an open school night on September 22 where we (parents and teachers) all met one another.  We shared our hopes and dreams for the children and mapped out our plan to support one another in this journey.

S'all good indeed!


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