Thursday, April 28, 2011

Something new everyday

In the midst of a whole group interactive writing lesson I looked out to see Pixie holding the top of her skirt out in front of her with one hand while she dropped a handfull of crayons into the opening. Since they didn't fall out I assume she had decided to hide them in her underwear.

In astonishment I asked her to remove them using the vaguest language I could. I didn't want the rest of the class to fall into giggles over the incident, or embarrass Pixie. It took about 3 minutes to communicate to her that I knew she'd put crayons down her pants and that she needed to remove them, all while trying to keep a straight face..3 more minutes for her to comply.

I have no idea what she was thinking. It couldn't have been comfortable to keep them there all day. Did she have a special reason to hide crayons? And why during whole group instruction? She could probably get away with sneaking crayons into her pants during independent worktime, but on the carpet? When she's sitting right up front?

I love my job. It's never, ever boring and you never know what to expect.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


This year we have to teach counting by 5s in kindergarten. This was something I was use to teaching in the beginning of first grade, but it is new to our K curriculum (along with fractions...). We taught it, practiced it, played games with it, and chanted it. But to be honest, we didn't spend the quality time on it we normally do on math lessons. It wasn't one of our best units and we knew the kids weren't quite getting it. Still, we needed to move on- (to teaching fractions) . One of those 'bad teacher' moments where we slap ourselves on the wrist, sigh at the situation, and proceed through the curriculum.

To assess their skills even after we'd moved on we put up a poster that said, "Hey Mrs. Lipstick, I can count by 5's!"  and told them that when they felt ready to by 5s independently they could write their name on the poster. Then when I got a chance I would call them over to listen to them count.

Simple stuff. Looking back at it now we were basically taking the ownership off of us from teaching the material and putting it on to them to learn it. We weren't really sure how it would go, but hey, it was worth a try seeing that we had to move on anyway.

Somehow the motivation of signing up on a poster has been everything. They've all taken it very seriously. They went home and practiced their counting, coming in the next day and heading straight for the board to sign up for a chance with me.  When I've called them over many of them have counted correctly and quickly, clearly showing off their practicing from home. Some just miss one number and some start with 25, but regardless those that miss are up for trying again the next day. No one has gotten upset or discouraged. There is something about it that has become a game. They go home and practice to try again. When they come in the next day they KNOW they'll get it that time. (Some do and some don't, but that hasn't seemed to change their motivation- the ones on their 3rd or 4th chance are still coming in to try it- and they're getting closer every time. They even practice with one another and although they only have to count by 5's to 30 many of them can now count to 100.

We were surprised at how much it motivated them. Funny how something as simple as signing up on a poster has made them go home and independently practice school work. We never assigned it as official homework, we never said they absolutely had to sign up. We just presented it as a possibility. What I like about it is that it doesn't discriminate against kids who are having difficulty. Anyone can sign the poster. It hasn't become a list of the smartest kids in the class, silently mocking those who are working hard but still having trouble. Instead it shows who is working hard. It's a cross section of the class that is motivated to test themselves and take a risk. Some of the ones working the hardest on learning to count by 5s are the ones who struggle the most. Yet their names are still on the poster and they still proudly come over to my table to show off their skill.

Hopefully it's teaching them some self-study skills and independence. Hopefully they are learning to set a goal and then to work toward that goal. And if not, well, at least we know they're still practicing counting by 5s when we shamelessly pushed on to the next sequence in the curriculum...

Monday, April 25, 2011

Ahhhh, spring!

I feel like I'm slowly coming back to life.  Grad classes ended last week and although I have one more paper to finish life is still feeling pretty good.  Between pregnancy, working and classes I've been exhausted this semester (in case you haven't noticed that I've been MIA from here- composing simple sentences has been way too much work for my tired brain).

This morning we returned from spring break. Being accustomed to the year-round schedule we were on previously it was hard to come back after only a week off, but we survived.  I woke up this morning in a cold sweat from a dream where I received a memo where I had a meeting at 8:30 PM...   Despite the dream I dragged myself into school, excited to see the kids but dreading the mounds of paperwork and meetings I have ahead of me this week.

The first child I saw waltzed into our room with a huge grin. "Hey, Mrs. Lipstick!" he smiled, "I had a dream last night that I got to come to school and see you and Mrs. Partner-in-crime! And now it's true!"  His smile and excitement said it all.  This is why I deal with the paperwork and meetings- it's nice to be back with the kids.

~~  ~~  ~~
On the bus on the way to the field trip one of my little ones asked me where I work. When I replied that I work at school he looked shocked, and then hurt. "You work here?" he asked, "This is your job?" as though all year he'd assumed I'd been hanging out at school for fun.
I tried to back track and explain that although school is my job I do love my  job. He nodded slowly, still not buying it. Luckily we drove past a construction scene and I could distract him for a moment.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

We're going to the zoo, zoo, zoo, How about you, you, you...

I.  am.   exhausted.   I'm not sure I can type my way through a whole post with coherent sentences. Please forgive me if I leave out words, phrases, or just change topics half way through a sentence because I can't remember what I originally started writing about.

We spent today at the National Zoo, which is always an exciting adventure. After Pixie had announced a few weeks ago that she was planning on petting the lions I made myself her buddy. My only job was to stay with Pixie and prevent her ending up somewhere she didn't belong.

One adult. One kid. You'd think it would be simple.

I could barely keep my eyes open on the bus ride back, despite Pixie's singing of every animal song she knew.

The girl is fast. Wicked fast. One minute her little hand would be clasped in mine and the next she'd be gone, having darted through the tight spaces in the crowd only her tiny body could access. Thank goodness Partner-in-crime requires all the children to wear red for field trips. I could usually spot her red shirt amid other school groups wandering by. She had no problem talking to strangers, pushing three year olds out of the way, or climbing on the fences to get closer to the animals. At one point I caught her with a stranger's binoculars. When I reminded her we don't take other people's things she said, "I asked first." Which the stranger laughingly agreed that she had. She just hadn't waited for an answer before she took them. When redirected and reminded of good zoo behavior she was remorseful, but she'd quickly become so overcome with excitement that she'd be off across the path in no time.

She did, however, remember the rule about not petting the animals. Which didn't mean she didn't really, really want to, or that she ever stopped hoping that I would changed my mind and let her go catch an animal just one time
"Can I play with them?" she asked at the prairie dog exhibit- whose low fence would have allowed her easy access to the dogs if she'd chosen to dive in without asking.
"Thank you for asking first, but no, you may not go in there."
I heard a mother behind me laugh. "Thank you for asking" she repeated.  Look- I needed to reinforce the positive behavior. At least she asked. If she'd repeated her behavior from the farm the zoo would have some very traumatized prairie dogs and I'd probably be on the local news right now...

"Can I climb in there?" she asked, pointing to the area housing the lion and his cubs.
"No. But thank you for asking."
"Why? Will he eat me? I'm a nice little girl. I'll just pet him a little bit."

"Can I go there?" she'd ask five minutes later at the Tiger's grassy area.
"Not even just on these bushes right here?  I'll just climb on them for a little bit."
Nice try.

Nothing stopped her from climbing onto anything in front of her to get a better view. I spent more time pulling her off walls, fences, and barriers than I spent looking at the animals.  We need to get her into gymnastics. She has no fear, loves to climb, and is certainly built for it.

At the moment, however, since pregnancy has left me sans wine, I am recovering with a large bowl of ice cream and planning on going to bed early. One more day until spring break.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Something to write about

On Friday my school held Dance Night, a yearly event where the grade levels perform the dances they've been practicing in PE and Music. They come with their families, all dressed up, to show off their moves.

On Saturday 7 school buses of families met at our school and traveled into DC to go to a museum. We're so close to downtown DC, yet for busy families with no personal transportation it's hard to make it downtown. Sadly I was chained to my desk writing papers or I would have gone with them.

On Monday our students were non-stop chatterboxes. They wanted to share about dance night, the museum, anecdotal stories about their families, the dinosaurs they say, the view from the bus- anything that struck their five year old eyes as important. I wasn't in the room for writing workshop, but Mrs. Partner-in-crime was ecstatic about their great stories. Children who'd never really written a meaningful story with a beginning, middle, and end suddenly did. Pixie, who never really likes writing workshop, wrote PAGES. (For Pixie by write we mean draw, but the ability for her to tell a story in sequential order is huge).

At first we patted ourselves on the back for our great sequencing and retelling unit in reading workshop. And then we realized that wasn't it. The little ones finally had something to write about. Something besides going to kmart, playing wii, or eating dinner. It's amazing how writing flows when they are inspired and excited.  I just wish we could give them more opportunities with their families. There are so many things our children need, and so much that can be bought and donated to them- winter coats, hats, tooth brushes, etc, but what they'll appreciate and remember more than anything else are the opportunities to be with their families and experience the world outside their apartment complexes.

Monday, April 11, 2011

at a loss

On Friday I worked with Magical after school. At the end of our session his mom mentioned that they had something they wanted to talk to me about. Magical's been angry, she explained, and when he gets angry he is very mean to his family. She wanted us all to talk about it so that we could help Magical work on using nice words and controlling his anger. She mentioned that the doctors call it "chemo brain" when he and other patients like him become unreasonably or illogically angry.  I've seen his outbursts myself and can only imagine what it would be like to watch a child struggle with chemo day in and day out while overflowing with anger. Anyone would be angry. Some days I look at Magical and get angry too- not at him but at the situation and the world. How it it fair?

Helping children manage their anger is something I do (or at least try to do) frequently. But I've never been in a situation quite like this before. I've worked with children who had very, very good reasons to be angry, but somehow even those situations seem different. Those children still had moments of childhood during their day. They had friends and could run on the playground, and their bodies were not being pumped full of chemicals. 

I'm also use to giving discipline advice to parents. Yet that's usually for strong willed active children or impulsive little ones. One, Two, Three Magic isn't quite what this situation calls for. I can think of ideas and suggestions, but are they even appropriate?  I have no idea what Magical and his family are going through. Part of me is scared to make assumptions. Tell them to give him choices? He gets a lot of choices during the day. Insist on him using  a gentle voice? I've seen him become some unreasonably angry I'm not sure how he'll respond to redirection when he's upset. He stops seeing logic at a certain point. Ignore it and not react? Can you ignore a cancer patient screaming for food? When I'm there he responds to my redirection or my reminders telling him to use a gentle voice. But I'm there for two hours a week. I'm a change in his day, a friend stopping by. I don't think it has to do with me, but simply that I am a break from the mundane. 

I've been thinking about the family all weekend, wracking my brain for resources and recommendations to bring over. Do any of you have any advice? Any experience working with children cancer patients and how they emotionally react to chemo? 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

when grown ups can't work it out they quit?

The buzz all over DC is about the potential government shut down.

The buzz all over kindergarten  is about our zoo field trip.

Unfortunately, the two cannot exist at the same time.

Just how am I going to explain this to overly Pixie and friends?
That we cannot go to the zoo because the government couldn't decide how to spend its money so it stopped working?  That's a great example for our kids- when grown ups can't solve a problem they quit.
Or that people couldn't get along so they closed the zoo?
The people in charge decided that if nobody could make a decision then nobody would get any money?
Our government stopped working and made the zoo stop working too?
 For the life of me I cannot think of a good way to have this make any sense to a five year old.  Besides the fact that most of them will then worry about who is feeding the animals.  (And who will be? Do zoo keepers get to be considered 'essential personal'? )

On the flip side, DC traffic police wont be writing parking tickets if the government shuts down...

Monday, April 4, 2011

petting farms vs the zoo

We're going to the zoo in a week. It's all anyone in the kindergarten hallway can talk about. You can only imagine the excitement. On Friday Pixie informed me with great authority that she couldn't wait to go to the zoo because she was going to pet the lions and the tigers.
When I informed her that this wouldn't happen she quickly replied that oh no, remember our field trip to the farm? Well, at the farm she got to pet the goats.
 This is true. And she didn't just pet the goat, she "hugged" it in a choke hold and kissed it after it licked her face.
For a moment a vivid scene ran through  my head of her trying to recreate this event with the lion.
I explained the difference between the zoo and the farm.

"Ok" she nodded, "Next week I'm going to the zoo and all I'm going to pet is the seal." 

Pixie and I are going to be attached at the hip for the zoo, like white on rice. Fingers crossed that I don't end up on the news as the teacher who couldn't keep the five year old from leaping into the lion's den.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

now that we're collaborating together as teachers, how can we collaborate with drs?

Research has shown that children who receive early special education services are more likely to exit out of the special education program during their school career and are less likely to repeat a grade. For every dollar we spend on early intervention we will see a $5-7 savings over the child's life. Yet most children with disabilities and delays are under identified and not found eligible for special education until they are school age, when they are already significantly behind their peers. Children who qualify for special education can begin receiving services at age two, giving them three years of intervention before they reach kindergarten. Children with disabilities or delays who are not identified lose out on three years of intervention that could literally change their lives, giving them an opportunity to catch up to their peers, increase their language development, monitor their progress, and provide a strong foundation they will build on throughout their school career.

Every year we run into kindergarteners who were not identified, but should have been.  Many of their parents come to us and openly state that they have concerns. Some are worried that their five year old never began to talk, some are worried about how their five year old handles new situations, or how their five year old has developed self-help skills. These parents questioned their doctors about their child's development only to be told that everything was fine. Their five year old without language was "developing normally". In fact, the doctor even signed the school physical form saying that the child without language was developing as expected.

As far as I know, doctors do not have to do anything extra if they are concerned about a child's development other than referring them to Child Find, a service that screens young children for disabilities. What is suppose to happen is that doctors refer children to Child Find, who then runs a series of evaluations on a child to determine whether or not that child is eligible for services. If the child is eligible they can receive instruction in their home, or in one of the preschool programs, all for free through IDEA. The doctors here are the first line of defense and most of the identification falls into their hands since many of our students cannot afford daycare  or preschool.

I've written about this before because nothing makes me more upset than knowing a child could have been receiving services for three years and yet did not because a doctor never took the time to truly examine the child, listen to the parents' concerns, or just recommend that the parent contact Child Find if they are truly concerned. I do not understand what is so hard about referring children to Child Find. And why we end up with so many children who go unidentified for so long simply because the pediatrician just signed off on the "well-child" visits without actually examining the child's development.

Our families are limited in the doctors they can see because they must find someone who takes Medicaid. A good friend who works in a doctors practice told me what little reimbursement doctors get for taking Medicaid. Any procedure, she said, is really only reimbursed about $25. Medicaid patients are being served, but in an already strapped practice doctors are most likely busy and not likely to spend extra time with patients whose treatments will never fully be paid for. Let alone, for many of our families, there is a language barrier. What could be a 15 minute doctors appointment could turn into a 30 or 40 minute appointment with a parent who is trying to communicate through limited English. I imagine this situation is frustrating for doctors and patients and ends with parents leaving with their forms filled out but without the answers they need.

Last Wednesday night in one of my grad classes the director from DCPS' Early Stages program came to speak to us on the work Early Stages does in the District to increase early identification and early intervention. I was floored with how much the organization does and does successfully within the limitations of DCPS. For the first time I found myself very jealous of something within DCPS and wish we could recreate that program in my nearby county.

The executive director of Early Stages happens to be a pediatrician himself. This has allowed him to make connections with the primary Medicaid caregivers in DC to help inform them on important indicators to look for when identifying a child for Child Find, helping to train them in the most beneficial diagnostic tools, making sure they know the procedure for how to recommend a child to Child Find, and even helping them with the Medicaid billing codes so that they can be reimbursed for diagnostic screenings.

This is exactly what needs to happen in my community. At some point we need to connect with these doctors and make sure they know the procedures for recommending children to Child Find, help them to understand why it is important, and what indicators Child Find is looking for. Increasing early intervention could lead to giving so many more children language development and intervention, allowing them to catch up with their peers.

I wish I had the time to investigate the doctors in my community to gain a better understanding of the problem so we can begin to identify a solution. Early Stages seems to be on to something, which is going to make huge strides for the development of the children of DC.  Now, if we can just copy it...

*I hope to write more about Early Stages later, when I'm not suppose to be working on a paper. I was amazed and in awe of the program and how much they do "right".

Friday, April 1, 2011

April Fools!

April Fools day in kindergarten can go two ways.  For the first, you spend the day pretending to be shocked that there is an elephant behind you while your children giggle hysterically and shout "April Fools".
 (*note, this is an example of why teaching probability in kindergarten is an uphill battle. If a five year old thinks they can actually trick an adult into thinking there is truly an elephant in the classroom, then their understanding of what is probable just isn't quite there yet. Why would they be able to use logic to determine how many green blocks I'll pull out of a bag if they think it is entirely possible for there to be an elephant in the classroom?*)

But back to April Fools.

The other option is for the kinders to not even notice that it is April 1st, or not have any concept of what April Fools day is. If your class is leaning in this direction, typically no one is going to sway them in the other direction. I mean, if it can be a normal day, then so be it. Hang on to that dream. Yet all it takes is one kid- just one- who comes into the classroom in the morning announcing the special nature of the day and you have to prepare yourself for a day of illogical tricks.

Every year I hope for option two. Two years ago, however, I had the best April Fools experience ever.  I'm still proud of it, so I recommend clicking over to see what we did...

Today I went to go pick up some of my friends with language delays for our morning group only to find one of them swatting his head and looking concerned. A bright girl in the class had told him he had a spider on his head, but had forgotten to add "April Fools" to her trick. My poor, slightly socially behind friend truly believed he was fighting off a spider.  As I stood there the trickster turned to another one of my language group kiddos. "Oh no!" she giggled, "You have a SNAKE on your head!"  My friend, who is working very, very hard on reading other people's social cues, looked utterly panicked and confused, and when he discovered that there was not, in fact, a snake on his head he looked pissed.

I pulled the friends into language group quickly so I could begin to explain what on earth was going on today. Then we practiced accepting jokes and telling people "You're so silly!" instead of getting mad when someone plays an April Fools trick on us.  By the end of our session I think they got it. They even had hand motions to use when dismissing the silly joke.

April Fools and having a learning disability that impacts your social perception of the world is probably not the best combination. Poor kiddos. Hopefully they did not spend the rest of the day worried they had spiders crawling on their heads...