Thursday, October 23, 2008


In classrooms all across The United States school children and their teachers stand facing the American Flag every morning to recite The Pledge of Alligiance. In our school this is said in both American Sign Language and English. In other schools those young children with their right hands over their hearts may be speaking Spanish. Although the language differs, there is something we have in common. We are all Americans.

The words sometimes get jumbled. I have heard "one nature under God, invisible, with Liberty and Justice that's all" and many times the young ones like to throw in an "Amen" at the end. Yet, in spite of the less than perfect delivery the essence of the words somehow shines through. When Lauren and I take our students on class trips and they notice a flag waving outside a building they turn to us with excitement and exclaim "Look! America!" as they recite (over and over) the pledge.

They are proud of America. Proud to be Americans.

In our classroom we try to support this citizenship by teaching respect. Together we develop a set of classroom rules that serve as reminders in achieving this goal. Rules like...

And my personal favorite

It is sometimes a struggle to keep things operating smoothly but all in all I think we succeed. After all, these are five-and-six-year-olds.

It has struck me over the last month or so that given the performance of John McCain during the presidential debates, at rallies, on the news and in his campaign ads, I think he would have a difficult time managing in first grade, let alone the White House.
Do we honestly want someone who has yet to learn how to take turns or show respect for others running our country? Throw that in with taking away my medical benefits, cutting Medicare, stripping away the right of a woman to choose, the lying, the promoting of hate and horrendous judgement in picking the unethical and down right scary Sarah Palin as his running mate and you have one colossal disaster waiting to happen.
I would advise these two to step back to first grade before they venture out into the world where they will just get themselves, and us, into trouble.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Little to the Left

At the start of each new school year Lauren and I rethink the classroom environment, making changes from previous years, so the space feels new and invigorating. When we first started teaching together back in 2002 it was all about creating the most colorful atmosphere possible.

Our walls were covered with so much multicolored paper that visitors commented it looked like The Partridge Family tour bus. We spray painted old furniture in bright hues, hung Crayola colored alphabet letters from the ceiling lights and added vibrant borders to our bulletin boards. It was an overstimulating feast for the eyes and we loved it.

As time went on we started to realize that perhaps this approach was a tad overdone. We began to study the Reggio Emilia philosophy from Italy that suggested a more toned down, sedate learning space. Out went color and in came the plants, mirrors to reflect natural light, bulletin boards covered in plain brown paper without borders, table lamps and twinkle lights. It was a relaxing respite for the eyes and we loved it.

But, as with all things, the pendulum is beginning to swing once more. This year our classroom (see above) is colorful without being overwhelming, natural tones and primary colors are juxtaposed throughout and we continue to provide open but well defined work spaces.

Room arrangement is a truly collaborative effort between Lauren and I that usually takes place during the first days of the new school year. However there was one space that I had envisioned during the summer and couldn't wait to set up.

This is a reading 'nook' anchored by the Chicka Chicka Boom Boom coconut tree that I have on loan from my friend Dawn. This was the first area we established and then build the rest of the room off of that. So far it has proved a popular area for the students to go and read books of their choosing; from comic books (that basket is full of them) to chapter books.

We also decided to repaint our beat up blackboard with something called Blackboard Paint. This stuff can be used to cover a variety of surfaces to create an instant blackboard. The can invites you to cover kitchen cabinets, closets and any blank surface that a child might like to scribble on.

I used the left over paint from our blackboard to make a drawing area on the back of a metal fire door. We also plan to record student heights on this door. Just another fun, novel idea we stumbled upon quite by accident.

Now, once again, we consider our classroom to be a welcoming oasis where exploration and learning can proceed in a purposeful manner and we love it.

I wonder what ideas the next year will bring.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


Sometimes I get so excited by things that I feel compelled to share them on me wee blog. Usually what I choose to share is related to a new children's book discovery or some compelling happening or observation from my teaching life. But today I want to share a unique and interesting bit of jewelry.  

My friend Joy recently began creating necklaces using Scrabble tiles. In addition to seasonal items like ghosts and jack o' lanterns (which I purchased for my three nieces and all were lovingly shipped in individual little organza bags with a personalized, hand crafted note) she also custom makes tiles with the American Sign Language alphabet. 

The pendants are available with your choice of colored background as well as backing letter. Simply write a message 'the the seller' to dictate your preference.  I just love this idea because it is a) a novel way to promote conversation about ASL b) shows support for the language and c) makes a beautiful piece of stunning jewelry in its own right.  

Joy is slowly building her stock with more holiday pendants and scenic landscapes. You can check out her offerings at Joyously Alive Creations. I am encouraging Joy to make some Curious George pendants that can be coupled with some chains for the men folk - perhaps leather or the kind of chain you see with military dog tags.

Well, maybe the men folk would choose something other than my favorite little monkey but I am confident that Joy will branch off in interesting, creative ways. So, if you check out her Etsy offerings and can't find anything that speaks to you keep checking back - ya never know.

Thursday, October 2, 2008


Monsters lead such innnnnnnnnnteresting lives, so says Bugs. And they do too. Thanks to the vivid imaginations of young children everywhere.

I have an incredible little girl named Tully in my class who just turned six last Thursday. She has been charming me with her writing and drawings about monsters. Strange as it seems, given the fact that I routinely expose my first grade students to the monsters of Greek Mythology, I have not come across too many children who regularly write about things that go bump in the night. Those terrifying things that lurk in your closet or stow away under your bed waiting for you to let down your defenses before they grab you. When I was little this last bit became a reality thanks to the torturous sense of humor of my older brother Wally who unexpectedly grabbed my foot when I stepped towards my bed after getting up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. I wonder how long he was hiding under there to scar me for life.

Anyhoo, I have become totally enamored of Tully's artwork (see below).
Mommy and Daddy go out and then monster come. "No, No" "No, No"
Monster eats candy

The purpose for monsters became clear to me as I looked at Tully's drawings. How silly that I never realized it before, but monsters are there for us to conquer. To help assure ourselves that the things we fear are not all that bad. That monsters can come but the worst they will do is eat your candy. They remind us that we are in control. How did I miss that? Did I miss that or was it just so obvious that I did not think about it as deeply as I have this past week?

For her birthday I thought it would be great if I could read Tully a few books about children who battle monsters and come out on top. Mercer Mayer has some fantastic books depicting brave children (boys and girls) who confront their 'something' or 'nightmare' or 'monster' and discover that it is ultimately harmless.

Check out these three by Mercer Mayer:

There's Something in my Attic

There's a Nightmare in my Closet

There are Monsters Everywhere

Another title I just discovered is called Harry and the Terrible Whatzit by Dick Gackenbach. In this story a little boy discovers a 'whatzit' hiding behind the furnace which made me laugh because it reminds me of this story from Joy's childhood.

As an adult I find there are unfortunately still some monsters that I have had to face. Happily, like the boy with the cork gun in There's a Nightmare in my Closet, I have found that when I confront the things that scare me the most they turn out to be less fearsome than my imagination created. There is a power in facing down the monsters, in taking away the mystery of wandering fear and dealing with reality rather than fantasy.

Monsters may lead "innnnnnnnnteresting lives" but life is much more interesting when they are put in perspective and float quietly through the side door.


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