Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Parenting Side of First Day Jitters

My stomach is tight and I'm having trouble breathing whenever I think about the first day of school next week. I've never quite felt like this about the start of the school year. What if all the kids are horrid and the teachers are mean? What if there isn't time to go to the bathroom or the directions aren't clear?  What if there aren't any friends?

My daughter is getting ready for her first day of preschool. Until now she's been in a lovely in-home daycare with all of her best friends (whose mothers I am good friends with as well). She's been there since she was three months old and I always knew she was in phenomenal hands. My daycare provider spent so much time helping us transition her back when she was just a peanut that I barely had a worry when I dropped her off that first day.

She thinks she's ready for college
Now? Now there seems to be so much more to worry about. It's not just if she'll nap or eat on time, but now I'm worried that she won't make friends or she'll make too many friends and not listen to the teacher. I'm worried she won't get along with the teacher or the teacher won't like her. I'm worried she won't understand the directions and then be so sensitive about being redirected that she'll be scared to ask for help the next time. Or that she won't go to the bathroom, or she will, but not make it to the potty. I'm scared she'll cry the whole first day and they'll just leave her in the corner telling her that they will be there when she's ready to calm down.

In my mind all of the other preschoolers are straight from Mean Girls and the teachers are different versions of the Trunchbull. And I know this is ridiculous because I work with kids and I know they are all wonderful and I know how caring and sweet early childhood teachers are. Still.

For four years I've been able to say I was a parent, and even said things like, "As a parent I know how you feel" to the parents of students I teach. That was a lie I didn't even know I was telling. I thought I understood, but I had no idea.

Every year I've been a part of helping separate the kindergartners from their parents, take them down the hallway and find their classroom. I've been a part of trying to get the parents to leave the school quickly, telling the parent (without realizing how condescending it sounds) "It's harder for you than it is for her."  Maybe it is, but that comment doesn't make it any easier on the parent or the child.

What I didn't understand was that I was walking that parent's heart down the hallway, away from them and their strong instinct to protect their child from danger. I didn't understand that in the parents mind I was taking their baby and throwing her down the hall to the wolves.

I didn't know that the parent just wanted to know that their child was going to be ridiculously loved, challenged, encouraged, and kept safe. As I worry about whether or not my daughter is going to get all four of these elements from her teacher I've got a new appreciation for the parents who will be entering my own school next week with their precious cargo in tow. I hope I can convey the same amount of love and trust to their parents that I want for my child's own school experience.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Play. I miss it.

One of my former colleagues who now teaches kindergarten posted this question on her blog- should she have a play kitchen in her kindergarten classroom or a doll house? It's been interesting to read the comments both on her blog and on her Facebook page to see what people's perspectives are.
Interactive writing to create a menu for the kitchen area.

In answering the question I started to realize just how much I miss teaching through play and having the opportunity to interact with kindergartners during their free play times at my former school. My current school, while amazing in many ways, does not have any toys in the kindergarten classrooms. I understand that is the way many kindergarten classes are going these days as kindergarten becomes the new first grade.

As I've gone back and read all of my former posts on play and I'm slowly remembering how much I relied on it to get to know my students and to teach. I did so much during the kindergarten free choice time. I did interactive writing activities based off of the students' play schemes. I led guided play groups where in mid-play I could introduce a new scenario and help the kids determine how to solve a problem. I taught sorting, counting, reading, and writing skills. I encouraged kids to stop playing and write books about the stories they just acted out. In my class for students with intellectual disabilities I used it as a time to develop their working memory, enhance their literacy and numeracy skills, and develop social skills like making eye contact. I miss those opportunities.

Spontaneous interactive writing in the beginning of kindergarten in the kitchen area.
When did we decide play was out? When it made programs look like they were wasting valuable instructional time? When we couldn't measure the outcome in data easily? When we felt we had too much to do to get the students ready for first grade?

I've just finished up an on-line Greenspan DIR/Floortime course so perhaps I'm feeling more passionate about what can be done through play and following the child's lead than I normally am, but my heart is breaking for those moments of teaching through following a child's lead during play.

Acting out the restaurant 
Working on her oral language skills and English by chatting on the phone.

Friday, August 21, 2015

It’s Back to School Time, Give a TeacherMom a Hug!- Guest Post by KJ Cabacar

This is a guest post from my amazing friend and colleague who rocks at both being a mother and being a teacher.

Dear Workingmom, Stay At Home Mom, CoWorker, Principal, Everyone out there besides us TeacherMoms-

I have seen, heard, and read so many open letters to stay at home moms, working moms, moms in general I can’t keep count.  As I sit here surrounded by school supplies and back to school forms, I can’t help but think there has to be other moms out there like me.  Somewhere there have to be others facing what I am facing and making it through because otherwise what hope do I have? There has to be more of me and like me they have need a hug this time of year too, desperately.

We are the TeacherMoms of the world.  The moms that get up and send their kids to school so that they can stand at a classroom door and happily greet yours.  We are the moms that attend numerous back to school nights and then get up and lead one of our own.  We are the moms that pick up the items on the back to school list times three (one for our own kid, an extra set for the class, and one for our own classroom.)  Yes, we choose to do this to ourselves year in and year out, not because it’s a job but because it’s a passion.  And yet that doesn’t mean it is easy. It doesn’t mean we don’t need someone to look at us and say, "You are doing great! Keep loving those 30 plus kids you are in contact with day in and day out!"

Really, I don’t want your sympathy, because I love what I do, and that’s why I do it.  I love that I get to create leaders, encourage champions, and share moments with the next generation.  I love that my days are filled with fifth grader goofiness, recess, and yes even math with its fractions and long division! And I love that my nights are filled with bedtime stories, two year old grins and five year old secrets. I love my life and my world, but I could still use a hug.

See, when you are a Teachermom, teachers look at you and your child differently.  Since teaching is our profession our child is naturally meant to be a perfect student.  After all, we know what that should look like, so that’s what we should produce.  Our children should automatically be reading before kindergarten, writing short stories before first grade, and solving for X by third grade.  Right?!  One of my coworkers recently did a DRA with my son because she needed to complete one for a summer class.  She explained to her instructor that it was a student going into K and would it be okay.  The instructor replied that most children going into K don’t know enough letters or sounds to get a secure DRA score.  When my friend told her it was a teacher’s child, the response became, "Oh then they’ll be fine and it should work out great!"


What makes my child so very different? I work very hard not to be a teacher in my son’s eyes.  I want to be his mommy, not the site word flashcard crazy lady!   The pressure can be so high, I actually have a friend that will not, will not allow her children to tell their teacher that their mom is also a teacher.

As September rolls into October and the Facebook feeds get filled with the precious porch pictures with the blackboard signs announcing grade levels, remember to love on a TeacherMom.  We can’t get that photo of our kids because we are busy getting our rooms ready to receive your kids.  When you steal an hour from work to drop in for an author’s party, remember to love on a TeacherMom.  We can’t steal those hours because we are hosting
those parties.  And when you sign on to chaperon a field trip, remember to love on a TeacherMom. We can’t attend those field trips because we are arranging trips for your kids.

 It’s Back to School Time, It’s Hug A TeacherMom Time!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Sensory Story Times at the Local Library

Last spring I was talking to a few parents of children with special needs and started to get a sense for how trapped some of them feel in their own houses. Even though  their children are officially welcome at any of the activities for typically developing students, they often worry about going to these programs for fear their child will have a meltdown or that they will be judged by other parents who don't understand their child's disability. Sometimes getting out of the house just isn't worth it. We do a lot to promote inclusion in the school setting, but I have no idea what goes on outside of the school system. After talking with these parents I reached out to the local libraries to see if they were interested in creating sensory-friendly story times. I had two main goals for these story times- 1)to create happy literacy opportunities for children with disabilities so that they would enjoy the library and books and 2) created an environment where their parents can relax, feel welcomed in the library, and meet other parents. I worked with four different library programs this summer to get these programs running.

Each program started with a visual schedule, which the participants took turns removing and putting in the "All Done" envelope to signify it was time to move on to the next activity. We sang songs and read 1-2 books depending on the group's level of engagement.

I chose books that had a good rhythm and repetition to engage the listeners. Books like Farmyard Beat offered an opportunity for the kids to "read" along with the repetitive text, while also to use egg shakers to the rhythm of the book. This helped engage the non-verbal kids in the text as well. (When egg shakers weren't available I made my own from oatmeal containers and elbow macaroni...  )

Pom-poms, pin wheels, and play scarves helped engage listeners. At one story time I had a little one laying on his back away from the group. Giving him the pom-pom to hold got him to shake along with the songs and story. He could participate but in his own way.

I used a lot of visual pictures as well. I'd put pictures of the characters from the story up on the board and as we read along the children could come get the character off the board and put it onto the book. Taping clip art pictures onto sticky notes worked perfectly for this. Sticky notes will stay on both the board and the book without hurting the book's pages like tape would. This helped engage students in the stories by giving them something to do while also drawing their attention to the important parts of the stories (the characters, setting, main points of the story that may otherwise be vague). When we read Click, Clack, Moo I had a Boardmaker picture of angry to help them understand that the farmer was angry.

I had animals that fit with the theme of the story for the children to hold throughout the story time. This came to be helpful for some of the more fidgety children who would otherwise want to get up and touch the book or my materials. They could fidget with the animal while still being engaged. I was able to say, "Whisper to your animal what you think would happen next," "Put your animal on your head if you want to read another book," or announce, "Where are the cows? Are you ready to write a letter to Farmer Brown?" 

One tip I learned halfway through the summer is to start the story times by telling parents not to worry if their child gets up and walks around. Once I started letting parents know up front that we understand their child may need to move, touch the book, or talk I could hear parents sighs of relief. I started to understand that even if they are bringing their child to a sensory-friendly story time the parents still felt nervous about how their child would participate.

We ended the sessions by blowing bubbles to signify it was over, and to just add to the sensory experience of it all.

One of the fun aspects of this summer was that I felt my role was to provide a fun literacy opportunity for kids. It wasn't to teach reading or teach how to sit on the rug. It was to give kids a literacy opportunity they could have fun with. If they wanted to lay on their back to read the book, or stand in the back of the room and pace I could let them. It was an opportunity for playing with literacy.

If you live in the Northern Virginia area and are interested in attending a story time I will be continuing these throughout the school year on Saturday mornings- let me know and I can get you the information!