Thursday, August 9, 2012


Hello Friends!

After nearly 2 full days of pulling my hair out, I have managed to successfully move this little blog over to my new online home:

Please come visit me over there, I miss all  your smiling faces and loving comments!

If you read this using a feed reader: I'm pretty sure I re-directed the RSS feed correctly, but you might want to double check your settings just in case.

Lots of love;
Miss Night

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

In paradise, there ain't no clocks*

Last night, I sat down to start a semi-big project that I have been semi-dreading: migrating my blog from blogspot to wordpress. The reasons are many, but the short and sweet answer is that wordpress has more capabilities to do more things, and as my little blog community grows, it seems to make sense to move over there. I knew there were a lot of steps involved, things I have never done before, and don't entirely understand.  I knew I was going to have to LEARN a bunch of new stuff, and make it make sense, and apply it. I knew there were certain risks involved.

What if I do this wrong? What if I screw it up? What if my blog disappears? Wait, I need to buy the domain name AND the hosting. Ok, so the domain is like the name of the restaurant. And the hosting is the physical space for the restaurant. And I need to pay for both. Ok, that makes sense. But how MUCH space do I need? I don't want to pay for more than I will use. But what if it's not enough? Can I make it bigger later if I want to?

Ok, deep breath. Why I am doing this again? Am I sure the easier way is not worth considering? No, the easier way really isn't what I want. If I'm going to do this, I'm doing it all the way. Even if it's hard.  

Learning is hard, folks. You try, and you play, and you ask for help, and you struggle to UNDERSTAND the help that you get. And then you apply it, and you realise you didn't even ask the right question, so of course you didn't get the answer you needed... So you ask again, and the first answer isn't quite enough, but it sends you to another answer that helps a lot. And just when you think you have it, your pencil breaks (or, in my case, Google wallet took an unannounced 10 minute vacation.)

To be clear: for the 2 hours I sat at my computer, trying to figure this all out, I was deeply engaged. It got dark outside, and the house got a bit of a chill, and even though I was sitting FACING OUT THE WINDOW, I was surprised to discover these facts when I finally looked up. I was engaged, the task was authentic. I was learning, asking, self-correcting, trying and error-ing, and trying again. Reading and squinting and doubting the double-taking and cursing the people who DON'T MAKE THIS CLEARER. But I was doing. Bit by bit, I was doing.

I think the lesson here is that: there is nothing that says learning shouldn't be hard. It is and can be hard. But maybe, as learners, we are far more likely to persevere through the task if it is also meaningful, and tied to an outcome that matters to us. I WANT to make more of my blog. I WANT to own this space more than I currently do. I am committed to figuring this out. But that doesn't make it easy. If I had been tackling this task for reasons I didn't choose, or for reasons someone else decided where important... I probably would have given up.

I persevered through a difficult task because I was personally invested in the outcome. There's a thought to chew on when we think about student motivation.

In 2 hours, I got exactly one step of this process completely figured out and squared away. I bought my domain: now belongs to me. (Go ahead, type it into your address bar - you'll find yourself right back here. Isn't that SO COOL?!). There is satisfaction in that, in having ONE STEP done. But there is also frustration that ONLY one step is done.

Later today, I will chip away at the next step: choosing and paying for a hosting service. Then installing Wordpress on that host. Then taking a really deep breath and moving the blog over.

It has been hard. It might get hard again. But I can do hard things when the process and the outcome really matter to me. I can do hard things.

My students, even in kindergarten, can do hard things. Our students can and will do hard things, and do them willingly, but only if the process and the outcome really matter to them.

As my grandma would say "put that in your pipe and smoke it!"

*A Lot to Learn About Livin', by my boyfriend Easton Corbin

Monday, August 6, 2012

Before you hit the highway, you better stop for gas*

How I make it feel more like vacation even when I can't leave town.

  • I go stay in different house. Seriously. I enthusiastically volunteer to stay in the homes of friends and family when they go away. Right now, I am in a colleague's very large duplex in an old inner-city neighbourhood. I have stayed on acreages, in townhouses, apartments, log homes, cottages, modest family bungalows, 100 year old historic homes. A change of scenery, exploring a new neighbourhood, discovering a new coffee shop (or, in my present situation: re-visiting an old favourite coffee shop because this house is just blocks from my very first teeny-weeny apartment) these things have a vacation vibe even within the boundaries of my own city.
  • I have figured out the things that "feel like vacation" to me, so that i can do them at home (or in someone else's home, if I so choose.)
    • Letting soaking-wet hair dry in the sun.
    • Sunscreen that smells like coconut.
    • Reading for as long as I want, without checking the time.
    • Lemonade in mason jars.
    • Coming in after being in the sun, to a shower and lotion and soft dry cotton clothes.
    •  Sitting outside in my pyjamas to eat breakfast.
    • Bare feet in green grass.
    • Steak, hot off the grill, on a plate next to a big baked potato with butter and sour cream and salt & pepper.
I've done all of these things, in the last few days. I have felt time stretch out, the way it only does when I have gotten rid of any sense of obligation. It feels oh-so-good. I'm starting to be able to think about the beginning of a new school year without panicking. I'm sort of looking forward to setting my my new office (yup, the promotion comes with an office. It's a glorified closet, really, with no windows, but still: an office. All mine.), freshening up the classroom. I'm thinking, in an idle way, about things to cook and bake to stock my freezer and help me survive the first crazy 6 weeks of kindergarten. 

My "noise fast" is supposed to end tomorrow, but I'm not so sure about that.... But that would probably make a great post, for tomorrow.

*My friend Carrie Underwood. Shut up, she is totally my friend.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

These are the years that we have spent, and this is what they represent *

So it turns out that blogging, like many other important daily habits, is best done in the morning, because if you (*I*) wait until night time, you (*I*) probably don't have the energy and focus to really do it right or well. And you (*I*) end up just blurting something out so that you (*I*) can go to bed feeling like you (*I*) blogged today.

On a somewhat-related note, I have now exercised in a focused and deliberate way for 15 straight days, and hot damn do I ever feel good about that. I'm using the Jerry Seinfeld technique, where I put a big mark on the calendar for every day that I DO the thing I am supposed to be doing (in this case, exercising) and the motivation is supposed to come from fear of breaking the streak. It works like a son of a gun. I don't have any lofty weightloss goals or anything, but I know that I am spectacularly BAD at making exercise a priority, and that probably needs to change.

Other marbles rolling around in my head:
  • I'm currently house and dogsitting for a friend, a chore that I pretty much love doing for anyone, anywhere (seriously - if you are taking a trip and would like Skip and I to stay in your place, let me know. We are the dream team of house-carers.). Living in someone else's space always makes me thing about what I would do if I lived in the space. If I lived in this space, I would have less air-conditioning and more ceiling fans. I would also have more places where one can lounge and still have a secure surface on which to place a beverage. There is a distinct lack of coffee tables around here.
  • I have been thinking a lot lately about how much harder it is to accept generosity than it is to offer it, and why that is. There is a specific context for this in my own life right now, but I think this is a broader phenomenon, right?
  • Every time I think about the upcoming school year, I have a brief moment where I forget that my students from last year will not be back with me, and then I remember, and I get this little biting ache for a few minutes. I've never had this before, this extreme reluctance to let them go, this thrumming worry about how they will do in first grade. I'm not sure what it's about, or what to do with it.
  • Hanging out with someone else's dog makes me realize how much I love my own pup. This dog is rather barky - every time I open the back door, she springs out of it, yapping full volume to let the neighbours know she's there. My own sweet, quiet, Skip gives me a look of utter confusion every time this happens, then slowly wanders out to find a comfy place in the sun.He really is such a good boy, this funny little dog of mine.
Ok, there. I blogged. It is not a great post, maybe not even a good one. But it is a post. And that is something.

And now: to bed.

*Why, by Annie Lennox

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Heaven holds a sense of wonder*

Not many words tonight.

An alarm-wake up on a summer Saturday, made less painful by a day spent in the sun with my dear friend over at Music4Munchkins. Guiltily delicious summer holiday food, including a shared basket of salty French fries and thick milkshakes.

 A blessing: spontaneous invitation from a 3 year old to attend his birf-day party next weekend.

Home to the shower off the sweat and sunscreen. A small triangle of angry pink skin where, apparently, I missed a spot. Soap and citrus lotion. Clean pyjamas by 7:30 pm. A puppy warm in my lap. A plan to take a book to the deck for the last hour of daylight.

A few tears shed, for a Canadian Olympian who made our collective heart swell with pride as she finished the triathlon in last place. To repeat the part that matters: she finished the triathlon. The Olympic Triathlon.

Tomorrow: coffee and my favourite muffins, from my favourite coffee shop, eaten in the sunshine.

Yes, quiet is good.

*Silence, by my longtime favourite, Sarah McLachlan.

Friday, August 3, 2012

This business of caring: it makes me righteous, yes it makes me feel whole*

Yes, I am woefully behind on the summer #kinderblog2012 challenge, and am sort of strangely pleased that my behind-ness on one challenge will now likely help me fulfill another challenge...

But first, the question, for the 3rd week of #kinderblog2012:

Tell us about your pet peeves. Do it however you want: write a list of 50 things that drive you crazy, or an essay about just one thing, or story combining several things, or write a song, or some limericks, or an epic poem. A photo essay! A slideshow! Video journalism! Stand up comedy! The sky is the limit, just tell us what grinds your teeth as a teacher (or an administrator, or a program director, or in whatever capacity you are joining this challenge.) (Yeah, parentheses again. I think I need an intervention.) Be careful: your blog is public, and you never know who is reading. Be positive and professional, but tell the truth. You can do it.

If you go through the comments on the original posting of the question, you'll see people did some pretty awesome things - making comic strips, writing songs. But me, I blog because I like to write. Words have long been my dear friends and most favourite tool. So here you go. One of my single biggest pet peeves and professional aggravations: 

It's like fingernails on a chalkboard for me when I hear the words "I am not a babysitter" or "This is not a daycare" when uttered by a kindergarten teacher. Says who? If you are responsible for the safety and supervision of your students (which, um, YOU ARE), and your students are not old enough to be left alone without adult supervision (which, um, THEY'RE NOT), guess what: you are a childcare provider.

This expression tends to come up when teachers are irritated with parents, often over the most trivial of things: having to peel a child's orange, helping with a change of clothing after a toileting accident, being asked to store a car seat because the child is going home in a different vehicle. The underlying belief seems to be that we "shouldn't have to" do these things. Parents should pack snacks that kids can open independently. Kindergartners should be long past toileting accidents.  Parents should have... two car seats?... really?

I'm not sure where it comes from, this need to separate teachers from babysitters/daycare providers/caregivers/nannies. Yes, I lumped all of those things together because, whatever your preferred vocabulary, anyone who makes a living in a context that makes them responsible for other people's children is ALL of those things. We are IN THE BUSINESS OF CARING FOR CHILDREN, folks. To say that we are not caregivers suggests that caring is not part of our job. There is no way around it. I'm honestly not sure where the line is between "caring for" and "teaching," but for the love of all that is good in the world, I certainly hope that we are doing both.

And honestly, if I had to choose? Between being acknowledged for the "teaching" or being acknowledged for the "caring?" Between kids remembering the things I taught them or the way I cared for them?

The caring wins every time.

Photo by AJC1

*Van Morrison, as sung by my boyfriend, Michael Buble

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The way you keep the world at bay for me*

Sitting in my silent house. No TV. No music. No podcasts. No Olympics.  Just me. The rain outside. The hum of the appliances. The dog wrestling with an empty milk jug. (Don't ask, I don't even know. The jug is bigger than him. For real.)

Yesterday: coffee on the deck with the sunshine and the flowers and the butterflies. A kitchen scrubbed clean while singing show tunes. A plan, cooked up with a favourite friend, for a shared blog post about How and Why You Should Send Your Child To Sleepaway Camp Even Though It's Really Hard and You Will Miss Her/Him. Coffee-and-a-walk date with a guy who... I could actually really like. Maybe. Groceries and the snug feeling of having a full fridge and stocked pantry. A surprise and precious gift of loving comments from others on this NaBloPoMo journey.

This morning: a workout - a sissified version of the ballet barre I used to do every single day of my adolescence, but I am working up to more. A new smoothie recipe (spinach, blueberries, green tea, greek yogurt, honey, coconut oil. Surprisingly delish.) Time with my favourite blogs. Coffee with my best school friend, who has always taught 1st-grade-next-door, and is moving to 3rd-grade-upstairs and perhaps only teachers know how very far away 2 grade levels and a flight of stairs can really feel. A short walk in the rain.
Photo by quinn.anya
 Up next: A few more pages of my book. Another coffee, with a friend I met in kindergarten, lost track of after junior high, re-discovered thanks to the social media I am currently avoiding. An errand or two. Some laundry.

A realisation: this is not a social media fast, nor a tech fast. This is a noise fast. A break from noise in all in its forms. In this quiet, time feels expansive, fluid. Simple and clean.

I know this is not what you usually come here to read. Thank you for humouring me. I hope I don't disappoint.

*The Dixie Chicks, who say so much, so much better than me.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

August NaBloPoMo: The trek begins

Welcome! Please visit the updated version of this post at

Ok, so... I signed up for Blogher's August NaBloPoMo. (To save you some googlage: NaBloPoMo is short for NAtional BLOg POsting MOnth. You're welcome.) Basically, the deal is that you commit to blogging every day for an entire month, and you put the pretty badge (over there to your left) up so everyone knows you are doing it and can support you. The theme of the suggested prompts for August is "Sweet" but you don't have to use the prompts if you don't want to. Can you tell I'm sort of trying to convince you all to do this with me? Because I am. I like to write. I want to write more. I want to write better. The way to write better is to write more. SOOOOO, here I am.

The timing of this whole thing is interesting, because I also just started a one-week (maybe more?) break from social media. I'm not sure if blogging counts as social media, but here is my rationale: blogging is something I do FOR ME. It is, by definition, about what is going on inside of my head and my heart. And, while other social media (most notably Facebook and Twitter) are FOR ME to some extent, they also provide a steady stream of the contents of other people's heads and hearts, and conversations about those contents, and lately I have felt like those conversations are emptying me out instead of filling me up. Ugh, I feel like this sounds so self-absorbed and selfish. IT SHOULD BE ABOUT ME! I DON'T WANT TO KNOW ABOUT YOU! STOP MAKING ME HAVE CONVERSATIONS! YOU'RE SUCKING ME DRY! Seriously. Why do you people like me?

Let's try again:  There is a little over 2 weeks left before I will start gearing up for next school year. To start a year well, I need to be full-up: on energy, on sleep, on focus, on patience, on good humour, on perspective. Right now, for reasons both clear and unclear, I am not full up on those. I know myself, and I know that to fill up, I need quiet. Not just actual quiet as in "absence of noise," (although that is a part of it, and in addition to my social media fast, I am trying to reduce the actual noise level in my world. (In brief: I'm not playing  music or podcasts or TV just for background noise. If those things are on, I'm going to actually LISTEN to them.)) but also as in having a quieter mind (less multi-tasking, more reflection, more focus on the moment), and a quieter body (more exercise, done with more intention. More healthy food. More time outside.). I need to hang out face to face with people who fill me up. I need to sit on the deck with my coffee and look at my "garden" and hear no voice but my own.

If you know me, you know I LOVE me some social media. The power of it, to both strengthen existing relationships in spite of time and distance, and to create new relationships, leaves me weak with gratitude on a regular basis. But when you're in conversation ALL. THE. TIME. it's easy to lose the sound of your own voice singing solo. I love dialogue, but for this introvert, my internal monologue is the compass that guides me. I'm glad to know you all are out there, reading my monologues. I welcome your comments. I hope you understand.

Love and lots of it;
Miss Night

P.S. The official NaBloPoMo prompt for today is: "Name something sweet you ate today." For breakfast, I had peanut butter and raspberry jam on a whole-wheat English muffin. It was sweet, and delicious. I ate it while sitting on my deck with my coffee, looking at my garden. Things are off to a good start.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

With angels as visitors dropping by...

Welcome! Please visit the updated version of this post at

#Kinderblog2012 Summer Blogging Challenge, Question Numero Deux:

Tell us about one (or two, or a few) of the classrooms you have had over the years. Not the kids, the ROOMS. What have you  loved? What have you hated? How did you FEEL in the space? What did you DO with the space that, looking back, seems ridiculous? Or brilliant? We all spend so much time in our classrooms, we really do develop a relationship with the physical space. Tell us about that (those) relationship(s).

I know, I'm a little behind on this. What can I say - it's summer and it's hard to keep up with RUNNING the challenge AND participating in the challenge AND holding down the lounge chair on my patio with an iced coffee in my hand. Hopefully my story here is worth the wait.

When I finished grad school, my first teaching job was at a teeny weeny private school (known here as That School, not to be confused with This School, where I currently work), in a little town just south of The City. The town was small (24,000 people), the school was small (180 kids, in grades K-12), and the classes were small (maximum 12 kids per class, often fewer). The assignment was to teach a grade one/two split class, and while I know there is all kinds of debate on the merits and pitfalls of split classes, I will just say this: when you only have 10 kids in your class, you can manage damn near anything.

It was the first time that I set up MY OWN classroom - previously, "my" rooms had been already set up, by the program or facility where I was working. They were lovely, friendly, well-equipped and welcoming rooms, but I never felt ownership. About a week before school started, I arrived to check out my space, not even really sure what was involved in "setting up a classroom."

It. Was. Little. LORD, was that classroom little. I am very bad at square footage, but: I currently live in a  700 square foot condo, with a big kitchen and one generously sized bedroom; that classroom was about the size of my current living room. Imagine the smallest space necessary to accommodate 12 children and one teacher. Now cut off about 10 square feet. It was THAT little. It was in a funny place: right at the top of a stairway, with the door in a weird little nook that housed the doorway to the staff bathroom as well as the (only available) storage for my teaching materials. It was a funny shape: sort of a rectangle, with a bite out of it where the door was. There were 4 low, rectangle tables, and a teacher desk and chair.   There were no hooks for the children's coats and bags, only a handmade bank of 12x12 cubbies (1 per child), where they had to store backpacks, lunches, gym shoes, and outdoor clothing. There was no counter, no sink, no cabinets or cupboards or even shelving. I later wrangled 2 more trapezoid tables out of other classrooms, and dug 2 small bookcases out of my personal storage container (which was, conveniently enough, right next door to school). But adding more furniture meant subtracting square footage, and, well.... even 6 year-olds need room to WALK between the tables.

Congratulations, you have now seen THE ENTIRE classroom.*

Setting up the room was like a a 3-D jigsaw puzzle. How to make enough room for me, the kids, their belongings, their learning?  Everything had to be placed with exactly enough space to function, and not an inch more. I figured out precisely how much clearance I needed to be able to sit in my desk chair, and set my desk EXACTLY that far from the wall. The cubbies started EXACTLY where the edge of the door ended. The children HAD to sit or stand with their chairs pushed in because otherwise there was nowhere to walk. The calendar corner was the story corner was the play area was the group work area. We finished all of our art projects on the same day we started because there was NOWHERE TO PUT THEM other than on the wall. Everything we did had to be cleaned up completely before starting the next thing. I was offered a desktop computer for the room, and I declined - space was more precious than technology.

The space affected my pedagogy, to an extent I only realize in retrospect. I couldn't greet the children at the classroom door in the morning because THERE WAS NO ROOM AT THE DOOR IN THE MORNING. I greeted them each, by name, from my desk. The children HAD to do most of their work at their tables, because there just wasn't room anywhere else for them to go. I taught from my desk -- instead of walking around -- a lot, because (say it with me, now) there wasn't really room to walk around. 

And yet... I loved that little room. The only window faced straight east, across rolling green foothills, and I watched the sunrise nearly every day -- on my own in the fall and spring, and with the children in the dark days of winter. We called the table in front of that window "The Imagination Station," and the kids could sit there to draw or read or write or dream when they were done their work. I hung ribbons around the window, and clothes-pinned their artwork to the ribbon. Our story rug was actually an lap-blanket that my grandma had crocheted, just big enough for 10 little bottoms. I kept an electric kettle on my desk, and as the kids wrote in their journals first thing every day, the kettle would whistle softly, while my iPod played Beethoven and the sun rose outside. It sounds idyllic. It was.

The next year, I moved to a (relatively) bigger classroom at That School, and after that, to an (objectively) big room at This School. My room now has a wall of windows, miles of counter space, acres of cabinets, a separate coatroom, a sink and fridge and microwave, room for kids to move and play and have 25 projects on the go at once.  Make no mistake: I do love it, and I appreciate every last square inch of it.

But there was something about that little room (which I later learned was originally intended to be a large office for the Head of School) that keeps hold of my heart. We were cozy in there. We were together. We were safe. We were learning and laughing and holding hands. We were (perhaps more than in any other classroom I have had) a "WE."

*Oh, and the slates? Dollar store treasures! It was a tradition at that school to give the kids a small first-day-of-school gift from their teacher. I used the slates to identify their spots, and the kids took them home at the end of the first week -- because, of course, there was really no place to store them.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

#edcampkinder reflections: But I couldn't stay away, I couldn't fight it.

(Introductory note: #edcampkinder was a live meetup, in Las Vegas, earlier this week, attended by 10 teachers who are frequent fliers on the #kinderchat hashtag. Basically: we chose a destination, a hotel, and we hung out for 3 days. It was an ongoing conversation about What We Do, interspersed with pool-lounging and show-watching and buffet-eating, spread over the hottest 3 days in recent memory. A few of us had met in person before. Most of us hadn't. It was amazing and weird and terrifying and awesome.)

I was telling a friend -- a good friend, who knows me well and shares some of my homebody-introvert tendencies -- about #edcampkinder, and she commented: "I'm impressed you went, especially all by yourself. I don't know if I would be able to do that." Fact: it never occurred to me NOT to go. The timing worked, the cost worked, the destination worked. I went. Not only did I go, I helped plan the thing. I chose the hotel (FYI: there was shade at the pool!).  I encouraged others to go.

With all of this being said, there is no denying: #edcampkinder was, for the most part, a big fat blind date. And, if you know me like my friend does, you know this: I hate dating. HATE. IT. I hate small talk and chit chat and all the things that you do to make it feel okay that you are sharing a meal with a stranger. I hate strangers. In university, I had a roommate who talked all the time about how she LOVED meeting new people. Me? Not so much. I like MY People, but I do not find myself on a constant quest to have more People. It makes sense that my friend was surprised at my trip.

World's biggest blind date? Surprisingly non-awkward!
I do want to be clear, especially to my dear  #edcampkinder and #kinderchat friends who are reading this: I did not, for one moment in all of this, consider you true "strangers." We know each other. We talk nearly every day.  We tweet and e-mail and Facebook and google doc. We collaborate and cooperate and dream and scheme and plan together.  In 140 characters, you can know a surprising lot about a person.

But also: in 140 characters, you know everything and nothing about a person. Ditto for e-mail, Facebook comments, and online chats. Far too many years of online dating and internet-based camp staff hiring have taught me that. Lots of people give good e-mail/Facebook/Twitter. But until you see them, face to face across a hamburger or a latte or a cold Corona, the possibility remains that it is all just smoke and mirrors.

You see, I believe in chemistry, and not just in a romantic setting. I believe that there is something that happens when you are smiling and making faces and raising your eyebrows and pointing your fingers and waving your hands around when you talk to someone LIVE AND IN PERSON. At least, if you are me, you do all of those things when you talk. It's who I am and it's how I am and it surprises some folks when they meet me in person, but there it is: I'm a hand-talker. If that doesn't work for you, we probably can't be friends. Or something.

For all that I hate "getting to know" people, I love KNOWING people, and I love when people KNOW me. I love that spark of "oh, wow, dude, you totally GET me." I love discovering My People. And the very possibility - the still, small, hope of REALLY SEEING and being REALLY SEEN by another person... that's what got me, with all of my weirdoms (or what my #kindertwin, @matt_gomez, generously refers to as my "quirks") on a plane to meet 9 other teachers -- 6 of whom I had never met -- at a mid-range hotel on The Strip, in Vegas, for 3 days. The desert, in July. Dessert (preferably of the frozen variety) in the desert. With strangers.

And what did I find there? People I knew. People who knew me. Spine-tingling moments of "oh, wow, dude, you totally GET me." I REALLY SAW, and was REALLY SEEN. Hand-talkers. Finger wavers. Eyebrow-raisers. Sh*t disturbers. Smartasses. Kind hearts. Generous souls. Shared laughter. Some of it inappropriate. Oh yes, these are My People.

I have a list, on Twitter. A pretty darn short list, called "People I Actually Know." That list is a little longer than it was a week ago.  If you know me, if you REALLY KNOW me, you know: that, all by itself, is a pretty damn big deal.

Thank you, My People.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

But things come slow or not at all

So, yeah, I am running the #kinderchat summer blogging challenge again this year, and, as usual, I am among the last to post my own response. In the name of full disclosure, I started this draft weeks ago, and have been tug-of-warring with it ever since. But first, the question:

What did you learn this past (or, for our southern hemisphere friends, what ARE you learning this current) school year that you couldn't have learned any other year, from any other students or colleagues or administrators or parents? What lessons did this particular year, this particular setting, these particular children bring into your life?

Oh, Lord. THESE children...??? It has been a while since I had a group like this: a group who exhausted me, pushed me, needed me, questioned me, stretched me so much and so frequently. A group with whom I fell so utterly, completely, and hopelessly in love... In fact, I'm pretty sure the last group like this was not a class at all, but a group of teenagers on the side of a mountain high up in northeastern California. But that is another story, and will be told another time.

This group of kids questioned everything. EVERY. DAMN. THING. Why do we have to do this? Why do it this way? Why do we print letters starting at the top? Do I have to draw a bowl for my goldfish? Can I have a book at rest time? Can sit under the table to do my reading? Can I cut it out and THEN colour, or do I have to colour first? Why do I need to colour first? Why do we stand in a line? Why can't I sit on my knees if I can't see? Can I sit on a chair at circle? Why can't *I* choose my spot for lunch? And they didn't accept a simple "yes" or "no" or "because I said so." Why, Mme? Why not, Mme? I can do it that way at home, Mme, why not here? I was tired. Lord, was I tired. I am still tired. I may always be tired. But from that dark, bone-deep-tiredness has come some lightbulbs: moments of clarity that have changed me, my classroom, my teaching. 

So here: this is my list, far from exhaustive, of the things I learned this year, that only these children, these smart, funny, LOUD, quirky, demanding, stubborn, inquisitive, impatient, messy, sticky, and determined (did I mention LOUD?) children could have taught me.

    • Criss-cross-applesauce is overrated.
    • Walking in a perfectly straight line is rarely necessary.
    • Sitting in a chair to work is not a requirement. Kids can work standing up, or laying down, or crouched over, or squatting.
    • The traditional "Today is; Yesterday was; Tomorrow will be..." calendar routine is a waste of 30 minutes. Kindergartners don't conceptualize time that way.
    • I am not willing to expend energy to convince a child to complete anything in a workbook.
    • In most cases, following the steps of an activity in the exact order I demonstrate is unnecessary.
    • In many cases, my demonstration is unnecessary and may be detrimental.
    • Most activities that involve use of a photocopier have no place in my classroom.
    • If a lesson or activity is going to result in 18 perfectly identical completed projects, I probably have no interest in doing it. 
    • Many crafts, no matter how cute, are glorified worksheets.
    • Sitting perfectly still is not a reasonable expectation for anyone, never mind an active five-year-old.
    • Being perfectly silent is not a reasonable expectation for anyone, never mind an active five-year-old.
    • If the children are bored, I am boring.
    • If I am boring, I need to change something.
    • Bored, disengaged children are MY problem to fix.
    • The cure for boredom is engagement, not entertainment.
    • If I am going to ask children to do something, I better be able to explain why it matters.
    • If I am going to ask children to do something, I better BELIEVE why it matters.
    • There is no glory in winning a battle of wills with a five year old.
    • There may, however, be danger in LOSING a battle of wills with a five year old.
    • If I'm going to have a battle of wills with a five year old,  I better choose it carefully, and be prepared to win.
    • Even if it means spending my own lunch break supervising a child who is refusing to put away the train he hurled across the room.
    • No matter how many great transition songs I know, sometimes the best way to handle a difficult transition time is to eliminate it. (Ask me about the beauty of the snack centre.)
    • Respond as if you are assuming the best, even if you have solid grounds to assume the worst. Assuming, and responding as if,  a child has picked up a stray toy with the intention of putting it away creates an entirely different interaction than assuming she has picked it up to sneak it into her backpack.
    • There is always a back-story. The story rarely begins at "He hit me." The question "what happened before that?" is important. The story deserves to be heard.
    • If I want them to be calm, I need to be calm.
    • There is no shame in announcing to a room of kindergartners that "Mme needs a time-out."
    • I teach CHILDREN first. Before the program or the curriculum or the philosophy, my job is to TEACH. CHILDREN.
Important work happens, without a workbook, a photocopier, a chair or even a teacher demonstration.
It surprises me now, reading this list. These are all things that I thought I knew, or that it seems I should have known, long before these kids came along.  Many are things I thought I understood.

So maybe, what these kids taught this teacher is that we all, always, need teachers. It was an honour, a blessing, and a privilege, to be their student.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Peace like sleeping in a new bunk bed

I knew there was no way I would get away with mentioning a "Peace Potion" on the Twitterz, without doing a follow-up blog post. Plus, I want to record every bit of this little project, because it blew away my wildest expectations.

So, first, you need to know about this group of children. They are so many things: bright, articulate, impatient, talkative, curious, enthusiastic. They are FUNNY. They are quirky. They are LOUD. They are generous. They are chaotic. They are reflective. They are emotional. They are so many wonderful things.

They are rarely peaceful.

Because of these children, our classroom is many things. It is friendly, it is busy, it is active, it is colourful. It is LOUD. It is full of laughter and songs, questions, investigations and tangents. It is messy. It is FUN. Did I mention it is LOUD?

It is rarely peaceful.

And, while I am certainly NOT of the belief that silence is required for learning, I do think we all need a little more peace in our lives. And I definitely have some kiddos this year who need support to find peace within themselves. Whether it is anxiety, anger, impulsiveness, or agitation, many of them have times when they struggle to have peaceful bodies and minds. We do a lot of "balloon breathing." We do a lot of yoga. We listen to a lot of ocean waves and dolphin calls.

So then, on Pinterest, I came across the idea of a "Calm-Down Jar": basically, a jar of glitter and coloured water, which a child shakes, then watches (and relaxes) until all the glitter settles.

So simple. So brilliant. So perfect.

Ok, we need one in my class. But the kids need to help make it. And we need to call it something else (because a "calm down jar" sounds little too much like a "time out jar," which these kids will interpret as an "in trouble" jar.) A Peace Potion? Perfect. And the alliteration works in French AND English!

While the kids were at the gym, I set the stage. On a towel in the middle of our circle, I put out a wide-mouth plastic jar (not brave enough to encourage kids to shake a glass jar over a tile floor), a jug of water, a dish of blue food colouring with an eye dropper, blue and silver glitter glue, and big shakers of blue, silver, and purple glitter.

When they returned from gym, I stopped them in the hallway, explained that we were going to make a potion, and for it to work, we had to be very very quiet and peaceful before we even went into the classroom. We did deep breaths and shook off our sillies, and moved quietly into the dim classroom (peace, of course,  is much easier to achieve with the lights off.). The children sat in our circle, around the "ingredients." and we talked about peace: what it feels like in your body and your brain,  times and places we feel peaceful, why it is good to have peace in your mind, heart, and body, why sometimes we don't feel peaceful.  (They are very comfortable with this kind of conversation, as we have been talking a lot about how feelings FEEL in our bodies, minds, and hearts, and when/where/why we feel different things.)  Their answers left me misty: "Our classroom is peaceful at rest time when everyone has a book they love." "Peace feels calm like water, or sleeping in a new bunk bed."  "I feel peaceful when my whole family puts on our snowsuits and we go outside and lay on the ground and look at the clouds." "Peace feels like love. Like when you see your mom after school and you love her."

Lots of their answers included mentions of the sky and/or water, which made a nice lead-up to how blue is a very peaceful, calm, colour, and therefore the best colour for our Peace Potion. I then asked them to close their eyes and think peaceful thoughts, and said that, when they could feel peace in their bodies, minds, and hearts, to raise their hand and I would invite them to come add the ingredient of their choice to the jar. (The choices: a drop of food colour, a spoonful of glitter glue, or several hard shakes of loose glitter.) Each child took a turn, carefully adding the ingredient that most appealed to them. It is worth mentioning that this whole series of events took more than 20 minutes, and they were COMPLETELY engaged and quiet THE WHOLE TIME (this never happens. N.E.V.E.R.)

Once everyone had added their ingredient, I had them close their eyes again and think their most peaceful thoughts, while I filled the jar with water. Some of them were so completely caught up in the "magic" of the moment that, when they opened their eyes, they thought the jar had magically filled up, all by itself. I put the lid on the jar, and we passed it around the circle, each child shaking it 3 times until all the ingredients were mixed up. I then said that the potion needed to rest until after lunch recess. (This was because I wanted to hot glue the lid on before putting it in the kids' hands.)

The children talked about peace, and The Potion, all the way through lunch and recess. They urgently reminded each other to stay peaceful "so the potion will work!" One of my most scientific, analytical, little dudes came over and said: "Mme, the glitter in the jar is OUR THOUGHTS! Our peaceful thoughts are IN THE JAR!" After recess, I heard many reports that students in other classes had been "not very peaceful outside."

And, while all of this was very wonderful, the real magic was only beginning...

More tomorrow, when I am recovering from Daylight Saving.

Peace on Earth.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The exception that proves the rule

If you know me at all, you know my stance on homework. It has no business in kindergarten. Ever. Homework in kindergarten (and, dare I say, in all the primary grades) is a make-work project for teachers, students, and parents. It robs families of precious time together, and turns school into a chore. There is no homework in my classroom.

Until now.

Earlier this week, during the morning arrival bell craziness, one of my tiniest little munchkins turned to her dad, and reminded him sternly: "TELL HER!" The dad approached me, sheepishly: "I know your stance on homework in kindergarten, but as you know, we are going to be in Hawaii all of next week, and Emma (Leah's older sister) has to bring homework with her. Leah is DESPERATE to have homework, too... Any chance you could put something together?"

For my little Leah, who has a smile as big as the sun, and dimples you could fall into, this is what I put together:

Dear Leah;

Here is your homework for while you are in Hawaii. There are a lot of things I need you to do, so I hope it doesn’t ruin your vacation.

While you are in Hawaii, please:

1.    Learn how to Hula dance.

2.    Have a picnic lunch on the beach with your family.

3.    Make angels in the sand with your brother and sisters.

4.    Give your mom and dad at least 5 hugs every day.

5.    Let your big sister read you a story.

6.    See who in your family can dig the deepest hole in the sand.

7.    Choose a book you know and read it to your little sister. If you do not know all the words, you can tell the story in your own words, like we practice in class.

8.    Draw a picture of what the sunset looks like in Hawaii.

9.    Send our class a postcard.

10. Collect a seashell every day.

11. Find a pretty rock and bring it back for your best friend Rosie, because she will miss you very much.

12. Make a sand castle with a moat.  Let your whole family help if they want.

 Remember to take lots of pictures, so I know you did EVERYTHING!

Lots of love;

Miss Night

This is kindergarten homework I can live with.