Monday, 13 August 2012

Rethinking Calendar Routines. Is it Time? Yep.

The Great Calendar Debate  

Ok.  I have a few Calendar Routine issues.  I can get a little cranky when the conversation rolls around to this topic.  For years I have railed against the calendar in ANY classroom being only filled up until today’s date. A calendar is a tool. Used to help you organize what is coming up more than it is as a record of what is past.  You can argue against any of the points I may raise later, but in this case, if you do nothing else this year, fill in the rest of your calendar. Please. 

That being said, an amazing conversation sprung up on #Kinderchat over a year ago, debating the usefulness of a traditional calendar routine, and instead trying to think of the calendar as a tool, not a routine.  Of course, kindred spirits were discovered in Kassia and Amy,  links to NAEYC articles Days to My Birthday and Good Intentions Gone Awry  to mull over, excerpts from Jessica Shumway’s book Number Sense Routines and Kassia’s Math Exchanges to read, and best of all, last summer,  building a year long calendar to try out for real.  One huge long, linear, write-on-it continuous one-day-leads-into-the-next calendar.  

The boring part of this post - the building of it, is not important. I taped them all together, cutting and  pasting so that there were never any empty days at the end of one month. I fussed about linear over vertical, permanently on the wall as Amy did, or mounted on a Science Backboard to fold away as Kassia contemplated,  or just leaving it as a calendar to flip though as Patty did.  How you do it is not as important as just doing it.  I ended up choosing what was just right for me.  

So, September last year.  Just to make sure I was really ready, we started the year with the usual month calendar.  And used the yearly calendar whenever we could. How Big is a Kindergarten Year? was our question.  We built a song around it, focused on birthdays. Because every conversation about time came down to a conversation about birthdays. Kids wrote on the calendar, putting in important dates.  We held up the big calendar and counted the months.  Over, and over and over.  Never assuming that there are 12 of them.  

September was a flurry of recording big events (ok, just birthdays. I told you.  Mom’s birthdays, pet’s birthdays, do bug's have birthdays? You name it. ) A clear understanding of what is important to a five year old emerges.  One K mentions Halloween.  No one cares about the calendar. They don’t care WHEN Halloween is, they just know it is amazing - what will you wear, what candy is best - it takes time for the conversation to float to the when of it.  But then, ready for them is a visual idea of just how soon it is!!  It is right near the beginning of our Kindergarten year!!!  

Boom.  The conversation explodes into Traditional Holidays, something I do very little of : )  So Christmas is here? Because of the picture? Hey look at the pictures at the top!!  Easter is kinda a long way off . . . My birthday is before that.  Hey, what about Valentines?  Oh, I said.  It is close to 100 Day (Psssst. Nobody cared about 100 Day. Till Later. Till it was relevant). My birthday is in the winter.  How many months until???? becomes the most important question we have. 

And on other days? Nothing.  Everyday is not a treasure chest of rich discussion.  But a year long calendar invites it. Is waiting for that moment.  

We dump the monthly calendar and we build a this week pocket collection of stuff, because it seemed like some things repeated on a certain day in school. School lends itself to a rhythm of routine that is cosy, comforting, and predictable.   The morning announcements has lots of information to be recorded. Let’s compare to what we did last week, will it happen next week? Is it a once a year thing? What season did it happen in? When was that again? Hey wait, I know it was a Wednesday, will it be on Wednesday again? Can we leave this up for next week?

Did we sing Days of the Week songs? Sometimes. It worked for some that were wondering. Plus some taught the others the song from PreSchool. But better was asking the kids who already knew the days of the week.  How do you know it is a Monday? “Because of the M.  But Tuesday is tough - I mix it up with the other one.”  Did we sing Months of the Year? Nope.  We talked more about the seasons - we live in Canada after all, weather matters here : ) 

The Year Long Calendar becomes a living document.  It is unfolded, folded like an accordion,  stapled to the wall, pulled down, flopped over the big table to check for stuff. Color coded stickers are used to record Days in School, but not until some k’s big sister mentioned 100 day.  We go back and figure it out.  We cut it into seasons and tape it back together. It lays forgotten, then is reborn when a K remembers, oh the Calendar is a great tool for figuring THAT out.  

It is a tool. It is not a routine, or a chant. It is not a set amount of time spent everyday settling the class into the routine of the day.  It matters. Because it is relevant to the kids when they need it.  

So. I am hooked. While I believe in the pedagogy, the research, and my own belief in the developmentally appropriate power of this, it is not for those reasons that I am currently building my new Year Long Calendar for my new crew. Or that the extensions for it are huge in my head right now, like the concept of visual timeline that we build through the year - maybe wrapping around the room.

It is because my old one ended up tattered, worn and loved.  At the end of the year, kids could pick a something from the room to keep.  The Calendar was the first thing to get picked.  Over the glitter markers I never used. Over the giant cardboard truck, over the big books we had made. And there was a sigh from many that they could not have it.  

It is because the little weed who got it looked at me and whispered, “It is like I get to keep Kindergarten!” 

A calendar routine that can do that? Yep. 

Friday, 10 August 2012


Picture Book 10 for 10 challenge

“This post is for #PB10for10 which was started by @mandyrobek and @CathyMere three years ago to share picture book resources.”

I thought that this year I would give this a go. Thanks to Patty, who set up a blog for this sole purpose : )  Easier said than done.  I have 10 for when my growns were littles.  I have 10 that touch me as a grown up, and 10 that send 5 year olds into conniptions. I have 10 for older kids, and ten for my grandkids, when they come.  

I have over 2000 children’s books in my library.  And I know that there are books in that collection that will move me, delight me, teach me, and calm me when I am 90 years old.  As they have always done. 

So for this moment in time? #Pb10for10

1. Frog belly Rat Bone, by  Timothy Basil Ering

A one of a kind story about the earth, bad guys who see the light, the power of teamwork, and the wonder of treasure in a bleak world.

2. The Bike Lesson, by Stan Berenstain

This is for nostalgia, but kids still love it. I remember reading it as a child - I still have the very much worse-for-wear copy.  Papa Bear just keeps on showing Brother Bear how it is done - such a great lesson in the Art of Butting Out and Letting Kids Shine : ) 

3. Toad, by Ruth Brown 

Gritty, mucky, sloppy, gloomy with prose to die for and a sunshine moment like no other.  Read it.  

4. Jamberry, By  Bruce Degen

“One Berry, Two Berry, Pick me a Blueberry
Hat berry, Shoe Berry in my Canoe Berry”  
My family can recite this book years later. We all have our own copy. 

5a. Granny is a Darling   and   5.b The PIcnic,  by   Kady MacDonald Denton

Ok, Of course I am cheating by putting in two.  But seriously.  The Picnic follows two children who want to picnic with their respective parents but they are too busy. As children cannot cross the street on their own, they devise a way to do just that : )  This is now out of print, but Granny is another gem by an author who I was lucky enough to meet when she flew into our remote school 25 years ago for her first Author’s Visit to a school.  As she is also the illustrator, we saw the paint process from idea to published format.  

6. King Bidgood's in the Bathtub, by  Audrey Wood.

Stunningly detailed illustrations with a very playful text absolutely entice kids to look at this book over and over and over.  And the king’s face is priceless. 

7. Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed, by  Mo Willems

Ok. We all love Mo Willems, but this book is fantastic on so many levels.  Besides, it has the word ‘naked’ right in it : )  Plus, the message is powerful.  And simple. 

8. Big Pumpkin, by Erica Silverman

I hate to but in a theme one - this is Halloween, but my kids loved it, my students love it, and I love it.  We actually had this on tape years ago, and chunks of the book are sung, so now it is my go-to, sing it, do the voices, love it story.  Plus we make a wicked story bag to take home instead of junky candy, so it is all good,  baby.  

With that quote I should mention the Pete the Cat books.  But I won’t : ) (pssssssst! they are STUPID awesome! You should get all of them right now.) 

9. Balloon Farm, by Jerdine Nolen

I read this many times to my own children, but rarely to my own students. I need to fix that.  I once found myself in a library with very young ‘uns draped on me when one brought this book over.  I knew it well, and was surprised it got picked. We had very little time, so I just flipped pages and we talked through it.  The librarian later said that book got signed out to tatters : )** Bah. I just see now that it has been made into a movie.  Full disclosure - haven’t seen it, might be good, but I tend to get a little cranky when books are movietized. 

This one just bumped a bunch of contenders as the last pick in as it popped into my head.  An other oldie. Another no-longer-in-print paperback that I originally found in a gonna toss it bin.   Beautiful rhyme, a lesson in persistence, imagination, and wonder.  I love it for lots of reasons, but I love it best as it brings me to the memory of a moment curled up on a sofa whispering it to a boy feeling left out in a world of cousins, family, and crazy.   In a top ten of Picture books, this time, the words were enough. 

So. I could have picked 10 others.  Another day I might have. But as I look this over, I am happy.  It helps me to see that it is not the book but the relationship we have with it.  And for some books, it is Love at First Sight.  Others grow on you.  And others sneak up and poke at you till you notice them.  

I might still be reading this week’s top novel when I am 90.  I might still be reading magazines, tweets, or articles.  I might still be reading non-fiction.  I might be teleporting in a hovercar to the latest author’s opening.  I might be doing that.  But what I know for sure is that I will be looking at my Picture Books.  I will not be dusting them off.  They will have worn pages and loved bindings.  Because powerful writing, deep themes, and complex ideas are found in a great Picture Book.  

Monday, 30 July 2012

Photo Blog Challenge

#Kinderblog2012: Question numero cinq!

Choose 5 objects from around your home (NOT your classroom!) that tell us something about you: as a teacher or as a person. Take pictures of the objects and post them with captions. The real challenge here: the captions should be no longer than a regular tweet-- that is, 140 characters.

Ok. This I can do.  I have missed most of the challenge questions. 
But this I can do. Except the 140 character thing. 
Seriously Amy. You have met me.  

My Great Great Grandparents chose to leave the security of their 
home in the late 1800's to strike out for a new life with their clan. 
He was 95. She was 101. 
All that I am comes from pioneers like these. 
Hunter, Graham, Walker, Wise.  My family.  

Looks like history matters to me. Almost as much as reading.  
My old books are all from my family.  Open an old book? 
The smell, the texture, the beautiful text and covers. 
Two of these were presented to my 
Great Aunt Annie in 1897 for "verses memorized". 

Ah. Collections of random stuff.  But significant to me. 
These were collected over the year after my Dad passed.  
I have this kind of thing everywhere.
 Little collections of specific times in my life. 

My back yard and garden is a haven and a spot to help me recreate (in a tiny way) for my kinders what I had as a kid - a huge farm, a constant invitation to play.  
Makeshift, found stuff, forts and figure it out.  
The bracelet came from a kinder last summer, and it symbolizes why 
working with young children is the only way I plan to spend my life : ) 
 A bit of a cheat here - this photo comes from 

Finally. The photo that says it all.  
A glittery Ukulele ready to play on a piano 
that has been in my family since 1916. 
This represents all the crazy assed, half baked ideas 
that constantly bubble out of my brain that 
NEVER come to fruition : ) 
I do not play it. It is unlikely that I ever will. 
But, I might : ) 

So. Here is to all the things in your world 
that have been, are, and may still be. 

Friday, 13 July 2012

The Rock Stars of Play

So. Edcampkinder reflections.  Meeting some of the #kinderchat dream team face to face in Vegas of all places.   I told an absent Patty:  Don’t worry - it will feel like you are there!  I lied.  Wireless headaches aside, it can’t feel like you are there. She was right to start a counter #edcampkinder movement called #grouchycamp.  It affects you deeply.  
I told Patty that it was weird.  I stand by that.  It is not the right word to describe it, but it is weird.  Like Alice through the Looking Glass weird. And unsettling. And butterflies in the tummy.  Because it is a huge deal.  These are minds you have lurked, retweeted, engaged with, DMed, snarked with, collaborated with, shared Twitter and Skype and Facebook and Google hangouts with.  
But let’s face it.  Seriously. Face to Face it.  There they are in real life, sitting across from you.  Each bringing a uniquely rich and diverse personality to the table.  Joking, sharing, connecting, gesturing wildly, intense, passionate, reflective,  #CanyouSingitSister/BrotherAMEN!
And you lean back and think - these people are Rock Stars to me. And I get to PD in the pool with them.  I get to dump an expensive conference session because I don’t want to miss a thing. I get to lament the fact that I did not spend nearly enough time with each and every one of them. I get to wish more could have come.  I get to feel like I am namedropping when I mention them to others. I get to smile when amazing Principal @ChrisWejr want to be our #kinderchat principal.  I get to meet THE  Lisa Murphy AKA  @OoeyGooeyLady because I think she sees this  #Kinderchat PLN as Rock Stars too. 
And yet, we are not.  We are Educators.  From small towns, cities, quiet schools, massive districts. Engaged in the task of advocating for Play. Many operating covertly like 007.   Over and over, at the conference, in side conversation, I heard the educator’s lament  “I feel so alone where I am. No-one knows that I think this way. Thank heavens there are others who think this way.” 
So, my take-away? Another Just for Me Epiphany?   Time to get fierce people. Time to stop saying “I’m alone” and start shouting “Here I AM! We Play in MY room!”  
And so, if you are lurking - step out, step in, get fierce.  You are definitely not alone.  

So to all of the  #kinderchat PLN, thanks is too small a word.  

To #edcampkinder Protector of Play Rock Stars @hechternacht @LirenmanLearns @MauiMickey @Garrioch @Matt_Gomez @happycampergirl @tashacowdy @Havalah @Mr_Fines 

To our Virtual #edcampKinder crew - it was messy and hectic and amazing to bring you in via Skype and Facetime : )  @mrsmelva @pattymcn @erocklewitz @tori1074 @jasongraham99 @soltauheller  Sorry that we missed connecting with everyone who wanted to. 

PS  Can I  trademark the word fierce? 

Saturday, 30 June 2012

The Learning Curve. Letting the World In.

#Kinderblog2012: Question numero un!  Details here

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?

So. Back at the blog challenge.  I love how this pushes me to think. Thanks Amy. 

A funny thing happened to my t’other on a dog walk. He ran into a friend walking his puppy.  They chatted about the trials and tribulations of puppies, and as they parted, the man reflected that his puppy was on a learning curb.   Mine smiled, and walking away, shook his head. Learning Curb.  Ha.  
I love the new saying.  We use it often now in our household.  But as I reflect on this blog question, it occurs to me that as shiny brilliant a teacher as I might have imagined I was,  I have been on a learning curb for a few years now.  Sitting there, happily plunked down, still playing in the dirt, but not looking around me. Just sitting still. 
This particular year has been like no other. This year took me off the curb and  onto the curve. A troubled, complicated, figure it out, fly by the seat of your pants, fail, rethink, honest learning curve.  Like the one our kids are on. Everyday. 
I let the world in this year. Into my classroom, into my friendships, into my thinking. 
And it shifted things for me. 
It gave me perspective as I railed against the idiocy of my current government, then calmed me as I chatted with somebody a world away, passionate and committed to providing for children what we have at our fingertips. 

It showed me  that my passion for play had been diluted by other’s indifference, a passion now re-ignited into a fierceness. 
It allowed me to revisit that clueless, do-whatever younger me, as a still no wiser, older me. 
As always, writing clarifies things for me. I have been struggling to loop my thinking back to my kindergarten students. How all this is reflected back to them. As it always has. My students have been the driving force, barometer, guiding light every year of my 25 years as an educator.  
But this year was for me.  That is my lesson, my take-away. My little just-for-me epiphany. I stepped up off the curb, stretched, shook some sillies out, and got on my learning curve.  Not for my students, but for me. And it changed their worlds because it changed mine. 
Thank you for being there, dusting me off, and pushing me on my way. 

Saturday, 25 February 2012

The World of Play. Literally.

As a kindergarten teacher, I am on a constant quest to find authentic, engaging avenues for Play to bring to my current group of kinders.   I am a little crazy about it, truth be told. I have exhausted the patience of the colleagues I work with, facing glassy eyed “She is talking Play again” looks. So imagine my excitement when I discovered the world of Twitter,  and a Personal Learning Network (PLN) that is as intensely taken with the importance of Play as I am?  

Enter #Kinderchat, my 27/7 PLN.   
There are endless ways to Play,  and that is at the heart of the  #Kinderchat PlayProjects.  Connecting young children to a world of play has never been easier.  Twitter, Family Facebook, GoogleEarth, Voicethread, GoogleDoc Storytelling, SkypePlay - the world is at your fingertips, inviting you to connect in a way that is just right for the children in your care.
I currently find myself the curator of a Play Project that is just right for me -  SkypePlay.
If you are new to Skype, it is an online, visual telephone call. Teachers use it to connect their children to experts, authors, and to other classes.  In Kindergarten, I found that the large group gathering was nice every now and then,  but that children just wanted to come on up and have a face to face chat, connecting through conversation, and exploring a curiosity about who that other kid is,  and what are they doing where they are.  
In a nutshell, Skypeplay gives children a peer to peer audience for their play that provides immediate interaction, collaboration, and conversation.  
And so, a network of Kindergarten classes are connecting, building relationships, exploring geography, and discovering that while everyone might have their own place in the world,  we all love to play. 
Why on earth (no pun intended) would you need to play with children via a screen when you have kids right there in your room to play with?  
Well, why not?  That is my short answer.  But I get it. We need to ensure that the world of Social Media is not just a gimmicky thing we throw at kids because we think it is cool.  
So.  Here is a story from my room.  Three boys started building a 3D structure.  As it grew, and design ideas were tried, discarded and refined, their excitement grew.  Other kids in the class came over, said “cool” but got back to their own play as fast as they could.  Then our Skype Phone rang,  and a brand-new-to-us class wanted to play.  When our new friends came online, they were overwhelmed with excitement - “WOOOOOOAH!!    What is THAT!!!”  My boys beamed, and strutted with pride, and then spent their time explaining the structure, the components, the time frame (“We have been building for two days, but expect it to take 90” ) while the other kids questioned, listened, and planned for themselves.  How many curriculum outcomes do you see there? 
Teachers in the project have facilitated discussions about tornados, snow and no snow, gardens, worms, mountains, oceans, islands. We have giggled over “Giant Face Boy!!”  and wondered if we are in the future because it is after lunch here, and before lunch there. I have seen a boy make eye contact with a child a world away when he has struggled to do that with the child beside him.  We have talked Skype manners and internet safety. We have classes plotted on a flat map, on a globe, and we have soared over towns and cities via Google Earth.  We have been  Alice in Wonderland, stepping through the Looking Glass.  
And it has opened up a world of play.  Literally.