Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Dreaming- A poem


Dream on, they say.
Your dreams deferred for another day.

Hold on to your dreams,

Dreams come true
Maybe for you, they do.

Bad dreams,
Sweet dreams,
Wake-up to reality.

I’m a dreamer.
I still dream.
I still dream.

-Rachel Knoll

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Planting Seeds of Justice

My class recently completed a biographical study on Rosa Parks.  Most of the third graders knew who Rosa Parks was and even knew that she refused to give up her seat when James Blake demanded her to do so.  They attended a musical at the Overture theater and learned more of her determination to make a change, and of her perseverance and persistence.   It is in third grade that children begin to dig deeper into the civil rights movement more than ever before. Students were introduced to terms like boycott, protest, and discrimination with examples that made them cry out at the injustice.  They made connections with the Black Lives Matter movement and (as they have every year) shockingly turned to their friends with black skin and said "We wouldn't have been able to be in school together or to be friends." Well, as Rosa Parks said, "Racism is still with us. But it is up to us to prepare our children for what they have to meet, and, hopefully, we shall overcome."  Each year, no, each day I try to strive to make a difference in the lives of children.  Third graders long for justice. They have a clear understanding of right and wrong. Just cut in front of a third grader in line and you will hear the cries of injustice. In all seriousness, third graders are passionate about injustices and are often befuddled at how there are adults that fail to recognize injustice or inequity and that adults carry out horrifying acts of hate.  I guess I am childlike, because it still astounds me.

This last Thursday was A Day Without Latinos, an organized march and protest in Madison, WI.  The protesters were opposed to the Senate Bill 533 which attempts to block counties from issuing identification cards to individuals who cannot get state issued IDs. They also marched to oppose Assembly Bill 450, legislation that would allow the police to investigate immigration status and possibly leading to deportation and detainment. My head had been in the classroom, planning,  and teaching cycle so much that I almost missed this news.  Oh how I longed to march and pull my own kids out of school and protest.  Yet I hadn't asked off in advance.  There were students from our school who went with their families, yet my day went on as usual; I only checked the news at lunch time. I missed an opportunity to protest for my Latino students, to advocate for them against a  system that threatens their family and well being.  My heart was there in spirit.  Is that enough?

The daily grind as usual is grinding me down this time of year.  So I ask myself, what can I do?  What can I do to fight for the rights of my African-American students, my Latino students, my Hmong students, my African students?  Am I fighting within the system or fighting the system? What am I doing to fight systemic racism and is it enough? I would like to believe that as an educator, I am planting seeds of justice in my students and my own children so they might become like the mighty oak and hold their ground as Rosa Parks did...but is planting seeds enough?

Saturday, December 19, 2015

'Tis the Season for a Breath and Maybe It's Time I Start Writing Again.

Breath Fifteen:

I think it's been three years since I have written.  Actually, I've written, just mostly for my third graders whom I've been teaching these past years.  I wondered if I should start a new blog.  I've changed, and my opinions have shifted and evolved.  I guess that happens over time, so I might as well acknowledge my past self.  Why start writing again you ask?  Well, I could tell you I was inspired by an amazing piece of literature, or touched by a life changing experience, but that would be a lie.  I was actually binge watching two shows- "Jane the Virgin" and "Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce."  Both happen to feature writers as the main characters.  I like what I like.  I am cheesy, enjoy drama and romance, and I get to practice my Spanish.  There is an art to making television, so I'll now tell people I was inspired by art.

I was also recently thinking how teaching and motherhood require that I spend all day giving and that  maybe I need a little time to breathe.  I feel rewarded by wins of the day and when my students or my own children succeed, but what about when their failures and troubles become more prevalent than their successes?  How do I stay positive and not downtrodden?  How do I support them and strive to see the positive and the good?  It's a struggle with the state of education (a topic which deserves its own blog post).  Apparently I needed a telenovela to show me I needed a moment for myself.  Here is my moment.
It's the time of year when I need to come up for air to breathe.  The holiday season is in full swing.  Family and friends are nailing down times to celebrate. Wrapping. baking, shopping, and traditions fill up every free moment.  I honestly got physically anxious when preparing for the black Friday sales with my sister.  Afterwards I was even jealous of my friend's great deals from Toys R US.  (We did not shop there.)   I hate to miss a bargain.  A little embarrassing, I know, but honest.  I always end up having fun, although I admit resorting to "self-talk" to calm down my level of intensity.

I continue to learn a number of calming techniques from staff at my school. Yesterday in fact, I learned a new drawing and breathing strategy from the Occupational Therapist that visits my classroom.  It involved an infinity symbol. Inhale for one half of the infinity symbol and exhale as you draw the second half.  Breathing techniques are often utilized in my classroom and at home.  We
often breath as a whole class.  In through the nose, out through the mouth.  A cleansing breath, a calming breath.  Frederick practices blowing out candles (his fingers) for calming techniques at home.  It seems to really slow things down for us all.

School and my life has been at full throttle lately, and I hardly had a moment to catch my breath, so here is my moment.  Now that I'm on winter vacation, I can breathe for a full two weeks. I'm going to write and breathe. I will need to remember to breathe as Christmas approaches.  I still need to buy a few more gifts, wrap, go caroling, visit the capital tree, tour area light displays, watch all the holiday and Star Wars movies with my kids and bake, bake, bake. Inhale...Exhale...Inhale...Exhale...
Happy Holidays my friends!  

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Breath Fourteen:

I am a gardener by default.  My parents are gardening enthusiasts and as a result my sister and I have inherited the bug.  Mine remains in check as I balance children.  Yet, since they were babies, Lee, Frederick, and Jane have helped me dig in the dirt, pull weeds (occasionally flowers), water plants and one another.  Who doesn't love to spray their kids with the hose for a little pay back?  However, watch your back because the children relish in finding a free hose.  While we are full swing in the gardening season, the kids are completing another season of growing at school.   

Similar to slow and steady growth that occurs in the garden, my own children have continued to mature, grow, and flourish.  It is bittersweet. My pride blooms as they have become confident readers (Jane), curious historians (Lee), and language explorers (Frederick).  My babies are finishing third grade, first grade, and preschool.  It is inevitable, I will cry.  In fact, I already have three times since I started this paragraph.  (Hopefully most of the tears will be shed privately at home and not publicly the last days of school.)  You know, growing children is exhausting and hard, yet infinitely rewarding.  Sometimes I have to weed out bad behaviors and divide siblings up.  But I also get to shower them with exciting experiences.  I get to transplant them and travel to exciting places.  And, I get to cover them with literature and love. 

This was a long winter of dormancy for my yard.  But my Lee, Jane, and Frederick grew steadily and are thriving. So, I will continue to sow seeds, experiment with plants, and care for my garden. 

Tell me, how does your garden grow? 

Mine grows ever so beautifully, even if I do say so myself.  

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Forgetting Winter’s Frost

Breath Thirteen:

Lately, I’ve been off the blogging circuit.  No reason, just not motivated.  Like many of my friends I have been hibernating from Wisconsin winter just a bit too long.  A sense of dread has grown within me as I continued to watch each downy flake float from the March sky.  I have to say, I think we are all in absolute agreement, we are ready for spring.  I actually enjoy having all of the seasons.   I still get a thrill when sledding top speed down a hill (well…maybe I’m a tiny bit nervous that I will crash into a small child), feel accomplished when I successfully ice skate without a spill, and am awed by the snow forts, sculptures, and snow people that are constructed.  However, we have had ample opportunity to engage in these winter activities and now it is time for the spell of the white witch to be lifted and to free Narnia from winter. 

Well, we aren’t in Narnia, and spring will eventually come.  Besides, this is a self-designated whine free zone.  I don’t let my children whine, so I shouldn't either.   I would rather share how I have survived the winter time blues.  I recently attended a meeting where the ice breaker question posed was, “What have you been doing to relax and de-stress this winter?”  Well, at the beginning of winter there was the excitement of the holidays, then there was the snow play and ice skating.  Now months later the motivation gone, I have gone into hibernation mode and have been watching waaay too much television and obsessing over Facebook and Pinterest.  This seems to me a very unhealthy state to remain in, and very embarrassing to admit. (It was especially embarrassing to admit to a group of educators! Although I do read for relaxation too, just thought I’d throw that in for good measure.)  Here I limit my children’s screen time, yet I indulge way too much after they are in bed. 

Ways I am now going to de- stress:

1)  Wii Zumba (I know, I know, it’s screen time),

2) Add a weekly outing to our regular routine, like simply going to the library and getting out of the house. 

3) Taking a bath in the evenings, even if my tub is tiny and my knees jut out.

4) Plan my gardening adventures

5) Light a candle in the evening

6) Surround myself with lovely green house plants

7) Sit on my kitchen floor in the sun

8) Write on my blog

9) Plan a trip, dream vacation or an actual vacation

10) Transport myself to a different climate with a good book

What are you doing to survive winter and de-stress?

Now time for my nightly relaxation!  I am dreaming of summer. I think I might add a raised garden bed on the side of the house.  Upcycle the pickets from my sister, I wonder what should I plant there…

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Movers and Shakers

Breath Twelve:

We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams…
Of the world for ever, it seems.
Yet we are the movers and shakers

- Arthur O'Shaughnessy

 Last week I had an impromptu meeting with Lee’s teacher. 

Topic: How to promote focus, independent working skills, and time management for my own mover and shaker.

 I appreciate the collaborative attitude and methods Lee’s teacher utilizes to meet his needs. Working together and involving me in the process has made me feel confident in her passion for teaching and determination to meet Lee’s needs.  I am aware of my son’s wonderful attributes and just as aware of the challenges he faces.  Lately, Lee has been bringing home independent work to complete. (As you know, I hate homework!) While he throws himself with fervent energy into history, science, and the soccer field, he lacks the zeal for math and reading assigned novels. He has been selecting alternative readings rather than the assignment and engages in networking with peers (aka socializing during independent work time.) While Lee has a boundless energy and contagious joy for life, he is resistant to required tasks he deems uninteresting.  He can struggle with focus and task competition, a regrettable inheritance from his mother.  Hey, everybody is working on something!  However, he can also do a complete 180 and exhibit tremendous concentration on another topic.
Okay, let’s bring it back into focus.  I understand that focus, concentration, and completion of tasks are necessary skills to be successful in our schools and in learning; therefore, as soon as Lee’s teacher broached the subject, I immediately jumped into brainstorming mode.  Does that surprise anyone?  Me have an opinion?  Well, she did ask for suggestions.  So, off the top of my head, I suggested a classroom “study area” designated as a quiet zone.  Students could sign up or be assigned times for use.  Students could use head phones that block out sound and a timer that sets goals, all to encourage focus. I committed to mimicking the routine at home and devoted further thought to the issue.

 Here are suggestions to promote focus and concentration for children; some of these can be addressed at home, while others could be implemented in the classroom.

1. Enough sleep- Getting enough sleep is vital to a child’s focus and concentration.
Pre-school-K    need 11-13 hours of sleep

1-5 graders     need  10-11 hours of sleep

6-12 graders   need 9-10 hours of sleep

(Remember how intense I am about sleep and routine for my kids.)

2. Eat healthy - Omega 3 fatty acids in fish, nuts, and olive oil are said to help with sleep and behavior issues.  Blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries are also said to be beneficial to brain function.  Blueberries in fact are supposed to be beneficial for memory and concentration. Cauliflower, broccoli, and cabbage also are said to improve memory. In other words, eat your fruits and veggies kids! I am sure there are other healthy foods to suggest were I to do further research.  But I guess to me it boils down to providing my children with a balanced and healthy food…and make them actually eat it.

3. Drink enough water- Dehydration is a common problem with concentration and memory issues.  It impacts focus.  Send a water bottle to school with your child.

4. Get the television out of the bedroom and set screen time limits- Children with televisions and electronics in their bedrooms sleep less.  Children should have limits of screen time.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting the screen time one to two hours a day.  So choose your screen time strategically.  I let my kids watch morning cartoons so I can shower and get ready, and play a few games after school.  We have to make adjustments when we want a movie night. 

5. Mazes – They require thought and time to complete.  Here is a website that creates mazes.

We also have an interesting maze book that my kids like to look at and complete the mazes with their fingers.
Museum Trip by Barbara Lehman

6. Play Focus Games-
  • Use a good old Paddle ball to increase concentration.
  • Two games by Hasbro are recommended to increase focus- Bop It and Cosmic Catch
 Lee received Bop It as a Christmas present.  I will now encourage him to play with this toy more, and sneak it into one of our evening routines.  Additionally, I might have discussions on how focused he is when playing the game, thereby bringing attention to the fact he is practicing the skill of focusing.   
  • Tennis ball games or bouncy ball games
This might be done in a classroom setting.  Students watch and repeat how a ball is thrown or bounced from a friend.  The ball is thrown or bounced to a friend, but no names are called, so everyone must remain focused.  Again, point out to children that to play the game, they need to remain focused.   

7. Sitting ball/exercise ball- Instead of using a regular chair at school or at your child’s desk, provide them with an exercise ball to sit on as they work. 

8. Include classical music in the classroom- Baroque music is recommended.  Try out Handel, Bach, or Telemann.  When listening to music set at 50-80 beats per minute, an atmosphere of focus is created.  During the sleepy part of the day, Mozart would reenergize the classroom.

9.  Use Fidgets- What are fidgets?  They are a self-regulated toy that allows children to focus, remain calm, and use active listening skills and move.  A fidget could be a Koosh ball, a squishy stress ball, beaded toys, looped toys and more.

10. Use a Timer- sand timers, ooze timers, digital timers.  These could be used in the classroom or at home.  Set the time as a challenge to complete work, or to notify the child when they can stop working on an activity.  Be careful not to let it create a sense of rushing. When the time is up, they can move onto another task regardless of how much they completed. 

11. Chew Gum-Surprise, surprise, you know how I feel about gum.

12. Spin- Spinning in the direction of the dominant hand improves memory. After practicing spelling words or word wall words a quick spin and then sit down when they get wobbly. I could see this being done at home for practice and in controlled reading group settings; however, it would be helpful to have a parent around. 

13. Listen to a metronome- The addition of a steady beat, at a low volume is soothing and helps with concentration.  Lee must innately know this, because he often chooses the heart beat sound for his sound machine in his room. 

14. Wiggle seats- These are seats that you put on a chair. There two sides to a wiggle seat and each side has a different texture so a student can choose the most comfortable side.  The wiggle seat is disk shaped and filled with air.  Think air mattress or waterbed feel as you sit and wiggle.  They are made by a company called Isokinetics. 

15. In the classroom, location matters- Suggest your child be moved away from doors and windows, possible distracters. Request that they sit next to a calm classmate. 

I am a mother of a mover and shaker.  So, I will move with him and shake it up when I need to.  

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Daily School Report: How was your day? Fine...

Parent: How was your day?  Child: Fine.  Parent: (sigh of frustration)

Breath Eleven:

My children attend a quaint neighborhood school.  I feel comfortable inside and outside this school.  I have made my face known. I frequent the school through my visits with Frederick and James in tow, volunteering, or simply dropping off items for Lee and Jane.  Perhaps part of my confidence and comfort level parading our stroller brigade through the school is that I was formerly a teacher; or perhaps because a few of my former co-workers, and a personal friend (aka James’ mom) work at our school.  Regardless, I have made it a mission to know the school, learn the names and the roles of adults who work in our school. I gain this information from my children, other parents, and teachers.  I also, learn the names of the students in my children’s classrooms, greeting them on the playground as they run to the tire swing.  I offer a good morning as they line-up for the school day, or as I pop-in the classroom to drop off forgotten and required tennis shoes for gym class.  Why am I being obsessive, intense, fanatical or just plain psycho-mom? Well, it is simple- I want to know what my children are doing at school.
 I want to know who they are playing with, what they are learning, and how they are doing.  I would venture to say that all parents have this desire.  In fact, playground chats with parents have indeed told me that they rarely get information out of their children about their school day.  To be honest, my children are big on sharing and jabbering about their day.  I just don’t know where they get the gift of gab from (wink, wink.)  However, even I need to probe deeper to get the information I desire.

Generally the information I seek is based on the following ideas:

 1. What is my child learning?  topic, skill, subject

2. How are they learning it, practicing it, being presented it?

3. How is the learning environment?

4. What were the social interactions among peers during the day?  (During learning/work time in the classroom, in specials, and on the playground or free choice)  Who are their friends?

Similar to a detective, I actively seek out information about each of my children’s surroundings, and I fish for information in a strategic twenty questions way.  I ask peers, teachers, and parents to help me develop a deeper insight.  I am persistent.  I am an unrelenting mother, protector of my children.  It may seem strange, but there is actual strategy and thought into how I delve into the detective work.

Here are my strategies and questions that I pose to my children:

1. I visit the classroom.  I look at each area in the classroom. 

There might be a word work area, a classroom library with bookshelves, baskets, book boxes and pillows.  There could be math boxes containing number charts, counters, ten frames, math books, playing cards or flash cards for fluency practice.  Perhaps there will be a carpeted area where morning meetings are held, community circles, read-alouds, mini-lessons, modeled writing, and shared writing take place.  There could be tables/desks placed in pods where children have their own space to work.  A behavior system chart might be present, though hopefully not (that is a post for another day).   There may be round or kidney-shaped tables, where teachers, assess skills individually, meet with small groups for math, reading, writing, and oral language groups.  And finally, you might see a class schedule posted in the room.  Look for your child’s name and where they sit.  Where does your child sit on the carpet?   Where is their work displayed- in the classroom, outside the classroom?  Is his/her name on the behavior chart (if there is one)?  Look at his/her math and reading boxes. These are all things that will help you in gaining understanding of the coveted, questions “How was your day? What did you learn today?”

2. I check-in with the teacher.

 I attend parent –teacher conferences and open house.  I go to PTO meetings, family fun-nights, and drop-in after school occasionally.  If I have time, then I volunteer my time.  While I do not email or call daily or even stop the teacher in the hall each morning, I always say good morning, and if there is time, make small talk and generally make myself easily available if there is an issue or I have a question.  A friendly face and a quick chat is all that is necessary.  I try to be respectful of the teacher’s time, since it is a precious commodity for them.  Being friendly and inviting leaves the lines of communication open.   

3. I ask my children specific questions.

Based on what the teacher has said and what you know about the classroom and your child’s schedule you are ready to begin your fishing expedition.  It is important to give some thought to when you ask your children these questions.  Twenty questions directly after school does not work for my children. Directly after school, I do ask the uber general question, “How was your day?” and then let them play. Usually, I receive a “fine,” and a backpack swung in my direction.  Occasionally, I get tears and we quickly proceed home.  It is on the walk or drive home that I begin my questions.  Then the questions commence later at dinner, sometimes during bath time, finishing up around bedtime. Staggering the questioning allows for space, thought, and continued conversation between you and your child throughout the evening.   

Here are some specific questions that I use on my own children.

  • Tell me about something you did today in school.
  • What book did your teacher read aloud today?
  • Who is in your reading group? Math group? Oral Language group?
  • What is in your math box?
  • When do you use your math box?
  • What book did you read out of your book box?
  • Where did you read your book box books today? Did you read with a buddy or independently?
  • Who did you play with at morning recess? Lunch recess?
  • What did you play?
  • What did you talk about in community circle?  In morning meeting?
  • What did you share today?
  • What specials did you have today?
  • Who was your partner today?
  • Sometimes, I list each child in the classroom and ask how their day was.  This prompts stories, gives me insight into what my child thinks about each student in their class.  It opens discussions on how to work with diverse learners and how to choose partners and friends.
  • What did you write about today?
  • Who did you sit by at lunch? On the carpet? At your table?
  • Who was absent today?
  • What was your favorite thing about today? What was the worst thing about today?
  • Where do you work best in the classroom?  Who do you feel you work best by? 

I might follow- up with a, “Tell me more about that,” or “Give me more details about that.”  These investigations may seem tedious, but they are fruitful in the information you gain about your child’s day. They also prove to your children that you are interested, involved, and listening. 

Here’s to revealing the details of the day detectives!