Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Look Back at 2015

Yesterday, I reflected on what I've learn this past year. Today I thought I'd look back at the blog.

Here are some of my favorite posts from this year, ones I liked and wanted to highlight again (in chronological order):

Most visited post from this year: Burner Cover Magnet Boards (We love those repurpose ideas!)

I did two book studies on my blog this year. 
(Tomorrow I'll post about my one word for 2016.)

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Year of Learning and Growing

It's the end of the year. A time for reflection and assessment. No, not at school but in life. How has this past year been for you? A year of triumph? Of struggle? Of change?

As this year ends, I think about what I expected. This year has been a year of unexpected things. I've had surprises and letdowns. I've had wonderful opportunities to grow. I've learned a lot. And it's hard to say a year is unsuccessful if you've learned and grown. I'm not where I thought I should be and yet I'm just where I need to be.

Here are a few things I've learned this year--

It's not too late to do it. The past few years have been teaching me this. I made a midlife change to teaching in an elementary classroom a few years ago. At that time, I had to go back to school and get a master's degree to get my full teaching license. This year I graduated with a Master of Arts in Teaching. I now have a full teaching license. I'm "older" but was still able to accomplish this. (And I had a 4.0 in my studies - I know it's bragging but I'm old and did it!) Is there something you want to do or try? It's not too late to at least investigate and begin it

It won't happen if you don't ask. I wanted to do some new things and begin to expand my writing and editing. But not many people are clogging my phone or email with work requests. So I've had to ask, pitch, offer. I've contacted a few people in areas I want to work. Some of those have said no. I'm waiting for others to answer. But I've learned a lot and uncovered more possibilities and ideas. I wouldn't have known about these if I didn't ask. They may say no, but I learn and grow just by asking. Do you want to try something new in the classroom or in your professional life? Ask. It may not happen. It might. But you won't know if you don't ask.

Plant seeds. You never know what will yield. Last year I contacted someone about a possible venture. There was interest but it didn't really pan out. But from that grew another opportunity. This new job I have is one that I enjoy immensely. Ask questions and follow leads. Something completely different may develop from your seeds.

There's more than one way to your dream. I'm not in the daily classroom right now. But I am still teaching. I teach in my church kindergarten class. I volunteer in two different classrooms once a week. I teach in a reading clinic. I writing curriculum and edit on a preschool web site. I write on teaching here. I'm still able to live out my dream of teaching young children, just in a way different from what I expected. If things change in your dream, look for other ways to fulfill it.

I was born to be a teacher. I love working with young kids. It's what I am meant to do. I'm learning how to do that in different ways. Are you doing what you were meant to do?

This has been a great year of learning and growing. And discovering and exploring.

How has your year been?

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Layer on Layer

group painting (Brick by Brick)

I found this picture in my photo roll. Our class made a group painting. The process is always interesting to watch. Kids begin by painting definite shapes, designs, or images. They work in different parts of the paper, keeping their painting distinct and separate.

But then at some point, it happens. A swipe goes across the page. Or someone just begins to paint all over the paper. But then paint begins to spread all over the paper. Swirls and lines and colors blend. The overall painting changes and morphs as layer on layer build.

I've been thinking about this year. I've had many different experiences this year. I've tried new things and renewed some old interests. At first the things seemed to be distinct and separate. But as I look back on them now, they swirls together and create layers of experience and growth. Some patterns and designs have emerged. Others are still indistinct. But my year of YES has yielded an interesting layered life at this point.

I think kids learn in the same way. Especially in the younger years, kids learn all kinds of things. We think of them as distinct (literacy, math, social skills, physical skills). But really they overlap and integrate. Since learning is integrated, my teaching should be, too. I cannot just teach words or numbers. I cannot focus on the body without thinking about the brain, too. Teaching and learning are building and creating, layer on layer.

Monday, December 28, 2015

True Possibilities

I learn more and more about what's possible by paying attention to my kids. They are truly creative and outside-the-box thinkers.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015


Merry Christmas! I hope you get to spend these holidays with people you love.

Christmas is the time we celebrate the hope that came with the birth of Jesus.

And Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family line of David, to be registered along with Mary, who was engaged to him and was pregnant.

While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. Then she gave birth to her firstborn Son, and she wrapped Him snugly in cloth and laid Him in a feeding trough--because there was no room for them at the inn.

In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Don't be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all people: today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped snugly in cloth and lying in a feeding trough."

Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people He favors!"

When the angels had left them and returned to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go straight to Bethlehem and see what has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." They hurried off and found both Mary and Joseph, and the baby who was lying in the feeding trough.

(from Luke 2:4-16)

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Figuring Them Out

I've been with my new group of kids in my church kindergarten class for several months now. When encountering a new group of kids, I try to watch and learn about them. I want to know what they enjoy doing, what they like and don't like, how they interact. This group has been harder to figure out.

I had a group that loved blocks. We did all kinds of things in the blocks center. This group likes blocks but will ignore them, too, on occasion.

Car boat (Brick by Brick)
Car boat

I had a group that loved dramatic play. They wanted to do all kinds of things and would use their imaginations in lots of ways. This group likes dramatic play. But sometimes that center will remain empty.

Feeding the baby (Brick by Brick)
Feeding the baby

I've had kids that love art. They want to create elaborate things from different materials. This group enjoys painting and drawing and creating. But at times they don't want to do it.

Glue and sticker collage (Brick by Brick)

So what have I discovered about this group? They always surprise me.

building on window sill (Brick by Brick)
Floor to window building

decorating the Christmas tree (Brick by Brick)
Chenille stem Christmas Tree

They enjoy trying new things, but usually aren't interested in doing it another week.

Writing on dry erase board (Brick by Brick)
Independent writing

Card tower (Brick by Brick)
Building with matching cards

They like interacting with the adults. They will talk to me for a long time. They will come and join an activity if I'm sitting there for a while.

Water play (Brick by Brick)
Rain water play

caring for doll (Brick by Brick)
Take a picture of my baby!

They are interested in their own ideas. They will explore and try out what they want to do (and not really care what I planned for them to do). By the way, I love this about them!

fork painting (Brick by Brick)
Fork painting - a beach

cloth in blocks center (Brick by Brick)
fabric in the blocks center

Across the room board game (Brick by Brick)
Can we build the game on the floor?

painting with oil (Brick by Brick)
Painting with oil - three at one time

They are curious and funny and energetic and loud and active.

blocks and rocks (Brick by Brick)
It's Angry Birds!

Writing in dramatic play (Brick by Brick)
Restaurant Words - taking an order

Chenille stems and beads (Brick by Brick)
Making an ornament with beads and chenille stems

They are 5 years old. They like to play and learn.

And I'm learning, too.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Students Are Not Data Points

Ken Robinson quote (Brick by Brick)
from Creative Schools

Students are more than data. What we are teaching is more than content. Education is more than assessment.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Writing with Bamboo Pens

Our kids are just learning to write. Sometimes we challenge them with different ways to write.

Recently we used bamboo pens, black paint, and paper to write like people did in Bible times.

It takes much longer to write this way. You must dip the pen repeatedly in the paint. You have to think about how to form the letters carefully.

Sometimes you write and decide to create interesting marks.

Try out these bamboo pens. (We got ours at the craft store, in the calligraphy section.) Using these pens makes writing a slightly different experience.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Competence and Confidence

Using a play-based type of learning environment encourages kids to explore ideas in different ways. Allowing open-ended exploration--exploration with no directed result or end--creates moments of discovery and accomplishment.

Here's what happened in my class last week. A boy was trying to build a tower with blocks stacked end to end. The tower fell after a few blocks. Then he moved it next to the wall. It still was wobbly and fell often. He placed a block flat as a foundation and built on top of that. Soon he built all the way to the window sill.

What an accomplishment! He was so proud and excited about what he had done. Then he decided to add to the tower, on top of the window sill.

He added more and more to the structure. He tried different arrangements as he played.

The ending structure was quite impressive.

This entire process took a long time. He was engaged the entire time. Even when blocks fell or would not do what he wanted, he adjusted and kept working.

I love watching kids when they get so involved in something. They are building their confidence in themselves, as thinkers and workers. They know they are accomplishing something. They learn more and more as they go. They begin to realize they are competent.

I've seen kids in activities that make them feel less competent and they lose confidence. Usually those are activities that allow little exploration or trial and error. I've seen it in testing and in pushing kids to learn what they are just not ready to learn.

We need more activities and more class experiences that build kids up instead of deflating them.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Teaching with Intention: Final Thoughts

This fall I'm reading and reflecting on the book Teaching with Intention by Debbie Miller.

Final Thoughts

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Debbie Miller challenged me to think about what I had done in the classroom, what I believe about teaching and learning, and how to make those two things match. I will be evaluating everything I think should be done in the classroom and match the thing to what I believe. 

She has challenged me to think about the environment, both physical and emotional. The way the classroom is arranged, the way students access materials, the way teachers and students interact, and the way thinking is made visible all contribute to the overall learning. And all those things should be connected back to what I believe.

I want to be more purposeful in what I do and how I do it. I want to drill down to discover where kids are in their understanding, building on what they know, and determine where to go next.

All in all, I think I will be a better teacher – at least a more intentional and purposeful teacher. I will no longer bounce among ideas and concepts at the wind of a curriculum. I want to take steps that connect my students with knowledge and the real world.

group time (Brick by Brick)

Some favorite quotes from the book---
  • “Real life isn’t scripted. Neither is real teaching.”
  • “Classroom environments are organic—they grow as we do. The best of them reflect the hearts and souls of those who inhabit them. They’re never really finished. They’re never really ‘done.’ How could they be, when every day students and teachers learn something new?”
  • “We want every one of [the students] to believe that what we are asking them to do is within their reach.”
  • “When getting it done takes precedence over doing, when finishing becomes more important than figuring out, we’ve lost sight of why we became teachers in the first place.”
  • “Do we race through the day in a frantic sort of way, or do we slow down, determine what’s essential, and teach those things deeply and well?”
  • “The expectation is that we will learn something today—let’s get together to talk about and celebrate it!”
I hope I can harness learning from this book and bring it to the kids I teach!

Check out the whole book study with these links.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Each Moment Is Important

Treasure each moment with your kids. Make the moments count. Provide activities that allow each moment to be important...just because.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Out of Habit

How many things do we do out of habit or custom? I've alluded to this when writing about the power of yes. But I was struck by it again the other day when tutoring in reading clinic.

My reading buddy and I were preparing to play the tic-tac-toe word game. (See below if you want to know more about this game.) I reminded him how to play the game and asked if he wanted to be X or O. "Can we be other letters?" he asked.

"No," I said. "Let's just play in the ....." My mind interrupted my words. Why couldn't we play with other letters? Did it really matter? Would he be more engaged if we used other letters? Why not?

I stopped talking and took a breath. "Sure," I said. "We can play with other letters. Which letters did you want to use?"

He chose Y and Z; he was Y and I was Z. He read the first word. As he erased the word to write his letter, he said, "You have to make the letter like the word you read." He had read collar so he drew a Y with a collar around it. We went back and forth, reading words and drawing interesting letters. Do you know what I noticed? Not only was he very engaged in the game, he had to think about the word and how to represent it. (We were building vocabulary knowledge, too!)

I almost insisted we use X and O - just because that is the custom that we use in playing tic-tac-toe. (And why is that? I don't know.) But moving out of that "habit" allowed the game to be more interesting and more instructive.

I'm going to look for other things that I do in a habitual way. What can happen with a little adjustment? I can't wait to find out.

tic tac toe word game (Brick by Brick)

Tic-Tac-Toe Game
We use a dry erase board, markers, and eraser.

Draw a standard tic-tac-toe grid. Print words in each space. Players must read the word to get a space. Read the word, erase the word, draw in the X or O (or whatever you are using!). Three in a row wins!

Use sight words, vocabulary words, letters, numbers, colors, or other concepts in the spaces. You could even have simple addition and subtraction facts in the spaces. Instead of printing on the board, print words or facts on cards and lay the cards in the spaces. Pick up the cards after reading or solving and place the X or O. Make a stack of cards to replenish the grid and play several games.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

5 Ways to Use Salt

This post begins a periodic series on Brick by Brick - 5 Ways to Use. These posts will examine 5 different ways to use an item. Sometimes I will have links from Brick by Brick; other times I'll point you to other great early childhood resources.

This time we will examine 5 ways to use salt in the classroom (and get inspiration from around the blogosphere!).

  • In the Playroom creates Colored Salt Christmas Trees. I like this way to create trees. It isn't permanent and the colored salt can be reused over and over (or used for something else).
  • Artsy Mama uses salt to create salt paintings. Create designs with glue, sprinkle salt over the design, and drip watercolors or colored water on the salt to color it. We are going to do this soon!
  • Preschool Spot offers a "sweet" spin on the salt tray with their Candy Cane Salt Writing activity. Red scented salt combined with white salt or snow confetti makes a great medium for writing numbers, letters, or designs.
  • Tinkerlab has a recipe for salt dough and how to create ornaments with the dough. You can find lots of variations on salt dough ornaments out there in the blogosphere. But I like the simple shapes of these. And part 2 includes decorating the ornaments.
  • Happy Hooligans froze hand shapes and then used salt to melt the ice. This is a fun and simple science experiment for preschoolers.
What fun ways have you used salt in your classroom activities? Include ideas or links below.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Always a Surprise

Each year I am surprised by the kids I teach. I'm with 5-year-olds in my church class each year. But that doesn't mean that things are always the same. Each group of kids is different.

This week I was reminded of this again - in two different ways.

One of the favorite activities in our blocks center is using the toy cars. I put my collection of cars out and the kids (usually boys) pull out the cars, create roads, and begin to drive. (Sometimes we add tape, but that's a different post!)

This week I put out the cars and some paper roads. A couple of boys began to play. They built roads and structures for the cars. They drove a little but not much...not as much as I usually see.

Then another boy went over to the center. He began to build. He gathered cars together.

building car boat (Brick by Brick)

He told Mrs. Cindy, "Look at my car boat."

"Those boats are called ferries," Mrs. Cindy told him.

car boat out of blocks (Brick by Brick)

A little later I walked by. "Look at my car boat," my friend said. "I call it a car boat."

This group of kids did not build and drive as the other groups have done. They built car boats and other structures, incorporating the cars as needed. They did not follow my expectations (what usually happens). But they did create and experiment and learn.

In another part of the room, we had our annual activity for the first of December - decorating a tree for our home center. In the past this has been a popular activity. Kids like to staple and twist and create with the paper strips.

But the group this year were not as interested. They bent the chenille stems and used them on the tree but didn't touch the paper strips at first.

preschool decorated Christmas tree (Brick by Brick)

They were engaged in other parts of the room during most of the morning. Later Mrs. Cindy went over to the table and talked to girls bending chenille stems. She mentioned the paper strips. The girls made a few paper circles but that's it. Just a little experimenting before time to clean up.

This group did not become as engaged in this activity as other groups have done. They did not follow my expectations. They followed their interests (the chenille stems and other centers in the room). They were engaged as they chose. That's a win.

I think we adults get caught up in what should happen. Kindergartners in the past did this so the group now should do it. They should behave in this way or learn that way.

But THEY DON'T. Each child and each group is different. They are individuals. And we must be ready to teach as they are. We must adapt and follow as they lead.

That's how we make a difference in education today.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Experiment. Fail. Try Again.

This quote should be what happens in our classrooms every day. What good ideas are kids holding in their heads that they want to try out?

Friday, December 4, 2015

Take the Time

This fall I'm reading and reflecting on the book Teaching with Intention by Debbie Miller.

Chapter 8: The Thoughtful Use of Time

Every time I read through a chapter of this book, I just want to shout YES or print it multiple times in the margin. This chapter made me think about my frustrations in my second grade classroom. Debbie Miller starts the chapter mentioning that teachers nowadays have pressure from others to meet all kinds of standards and directives. Teachers feel like they must push and push to get everything in. That's exactly how I felt my last experience in the classroom.

But Debbie writes: "When getting it done takes precedence over doing, when finishing becomes more important than figuring it out, we've lost sight of why we became teachers in the first place." We know that children learn by doing...and learning by doing takes time. We must slow down, allowing kids to learn and understand. We cannot just teach fast and expect to be truly successful in teaching and learning.

Debbie Miller stresses using a workshop model and using conferencing with children. She stresses focusing on spending quality one-on-one time with students, just one or two or three each day. Teachers must have authentic conversations with kids, helping them focus and apply lessons and strategies. Teachers must make notes about these conferences, keeping track of what was taught and what was said (by teacher and student). Teachers must also lead students to teach one another about what they are learning...using debrief time after independent reading and conferencing.

The goal of these conversations, this conferencing - to evaluate where students have been, where they are now, and where the class needs to go next. The teacher can use what he learns in these conferences to inform instruction: whole group, small group, and individual. Conferencing feeds into planning which leads to next round of conferencing.

I've mentioned before - I think this book is showing exactly where the gaps were in my classroom experiences, both teaching and planning. I really didn't see the overall big picture when planning. A huge oversight. But I think I depended more on the pacing guides and standards plans of the district and less on information gleaned from my students. And when I did slow down or circle back based upon feedback from students, I felt a sense of failure because I wasn't "moving on."

Everything in this book makes so much sense to me. And hits me right in the "teaching muscle." I really wish I read it two or three years ago. It has added so much to my overall knowledge and teaching philosophy. It has fleshed out so many thoughts I had mixing in my head. A great read.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

That Just Right Look

I love Pinterest. More than I should admit. So many ideas for all kinds of things. A great resource. But deceptive, too.

Many of the things I see on Pinterest look great. Perfect even. I see the same on activities I see on some blogs. Nice, neat, put together. And really not the work of preschoolers.

My favorite things are those things that look like a 5-year-old did them. (Substitute whatever age you teach here.) Maybe not perfectly aligned or balanced or exactly right. But definitely the work of the child.

I love the wonky frames we make each year. The unevenness and the abundance of stickers make them real and lovely. And they do not all look the same. These things look like my kids, all different and just right as they are.

I love when snowflakes are oddly shaped or split into two pieces. I enjoy seeing so many stamped shapes or paint strokes that the page is practically bursting. Those things show me that kids are exploring their own ideas, trying out things, wondering and experimenting and learning.

This time of year often seems to require that perfect look, that things look just right. But individual, off-kilter, wonky preschool creations are just right. Just right for each child.

Relax and bask in the imperfect just-rightness of teaching young kids.