the weight of 9 books

Integrated curriculum at its best:
Children using math and science...while weighing a hefty stack of literacy.

"How much do 9 books weigh...?" Great question!

This photo was taken during Choice Time in our 4s/5s class. We had been engaged in a long term project of the science of cooking. This table was filled with tools for weighing and sorting, cookbooks and items for writing your own recipe. These 2 students decided themselves to collect all the books nearby and give them a weigh, as well! (Check out the link to the wondrous Pretend Soup, a child-friendly cookbook by Mollie Katzen )

"Press them down more to make a bigger number..."
"I think they are number 10 near the bottom..."
"The red line went so far! These books must be so heavy!" 
"I wonder if we should get MORE books?
Let's make the red line go far far far!" 

It is fantastic when there is new language and new partnerships around an investigation. These 2 students did not usually play together yet were both interested in finding out what would happen with books on a scale. They collaborated for quite a while, tried more books, and tried other objects to get the "red line to go far far far!"

Skills used in this open-ended episode:
  • inquiry & hypothesizing
  • collaboration, teamwork & dialogue
  • using tools & materials in new ways to gain knowledge
  • number exploration of weight and quantity of books
  • self-direction and engagement in an experiment

The Incredible Science of Food Project.
This school year, we had been working on a long term project of Cooking and Family Recipes. Families would come in with a chosen 'family favorite' recipe - arms loaded with all the tools and ingredients required - and cooked and baked and blended it together with our class of 16 students! Incredible experience.
Family guardians were integral in creating a very special community while cooking and feasting with young children. We created our own cookbook, documented with photos and comments, and had the children invent their own recipes as well. It is one of my favorite long-term projects ever. Ever.

because it is your name

Came across an old photo and just stared at it.
I remembered this 4-year-old girl in this exact moment, so many years ago.
I remembered her NAME  - easily - as I stared at the photo of her water painting her own name with a stick, at our school, outside on the playground, on the side of the sand box.

Outside exploration with sticks and water and ... T-A-Y-L-O-R.
I thought about how special each of our names are to us.
How it begins so early to put our name on things we do, things we make, things we own. Putting our name on something is an action of sorts - it is an announcement that continues to announce every time someone reads our name:
This is ME, I am HERE. This is MY NAME.
Painting mostly abstractly on the easel...except for his name: can you see it TWO TIMES?
Think about your name.
Think about how people know YOU because of your name, how it sounds,
how it feels on your tongue,
how it rhymes or jolts or is lovely like a song.
one friend gives friend JACK a letter which he discovers in his mailbox: he knows it is his because it is HIS NAME.
There are so many names to know OTHER THAN our own: this girl is writing a note to someone from the class list!
Do you make sure to KNOW your students names on the first day (nearly!) of school? I have found that knowing a student's name (and their guardians, and siblings, and grandmothers...) literally changes your relationship in one instant:
"Wow? YOU know ME?" 
Has that ever happened to YOU? Didn't you feel immediately welcomed, included and "in" ?
Your name has power and grounding and vitality.
It is double-or-nothing for C-H-R-I-S-T-I-N-A as she signs her second piece of art work with HER NAME.

Personally, I remember wishing I had a different name because I wanted it to "sound" a different way - exotic perhaps, or like a famous person, or from another country. As I grew up, I realized my name was exactly what it should be and it fit me exactly right.
My name IS french and IS in songs by David Bowie and Elton John so surely I can be content with that.
My name IS part of I Dream of Jeannie and The Little Mermaid. It could be worse.
And, I am pleased with the general "magic" with which my name IS associated. 

Professionally, I have been called by my first name only, then "Miss Jeanne" for about thirteen years, then "Teacher Jeanne" (of which I am not a fan) and now, well, am back to my first name only in the college courses I teach.
My husband takes delight in hearing "Hello Miss Jeanne" on occasion as we walk through our downtown streets in the location where I taught for so many years. It does have a nice ring to it - my name ... granted, to be acknowledged usually does have a nice ring to it.

What about YOUR name? Does it fit you just right? Have you struggled with it?

A-M-A-N-D-A's name is ready to take flight with her twirly flyer any second!
special delivery of a card with 2 NAMES on it and looking for ONE NAME on the exact right mailbox.

Think about all the places we NAME IT in our classrooms: 
name tags, cubbies, clothing, shoes, blankets, backpacks, lunchboxes, mailboxes, coat hooks, charts, portfolios, writing area lists, birthday boards, sing up lists...
so many opportunities for our NAMES to be boldly present. 

a friendly monster story AND a painted I-S-A-B-E-L-L-A ... what could be better?

from a boy named W-A-L-T: "C-O-L-E you are inv - " ited to my birthday party. friendship rocks.

Think about the names that will be in your upcoming class.

KNOW that each name is important - the way it is pronounced and the respect it deserves. 
The name IS the child that you are inviting, welcoming, and including into the family that is your classroom. 
Uplift the names, uplift each child.

this says it all: L-A-U-R-E-N and then she had me write at the bottom "I put a frame around my name!" well done.

We should ALL feel this proud of our NAME [like Lauren's painting above] where we frame our name in big bold fabulous paint.

S-I-G-N  your  N-A-M-E.

the window owns the view

Perspective taking.
Looking closer.
Looking lower, higher, across, under, over.

the window does own the view...with 5 different pair of eyes seeing what they choose to see.

"What you see depends on
where you are standing
when you look." (anon)

For our students, it can mean offering ways to LITERALLY look around using tools that CHANGE THEIR VIEW:

CAMERA to zoom in on friends and classroom.
tube BINOCULARS to see the world differently.

friends change colors with COLOR PADDLES!
MAGNIFIER on a light table w/ shells & jewels.

HOW you see something changes WHAT you see.
Do you offer your students different ways to view the world? Make it smaller or bigger, higher or lower, sideways and upside-down?

the parent/art expert introduces the idea of a mini-frame lens.
2 children test out the mini-frame to find THEIR own interesting spot in the art.


children used mini-frames to look closer at their own abstract art ... and then they described what they saw! For a full read on this Abstract Art project, click here.

this boy discovers a section on the abstract art that he especially likes.

Teacher Reflection... 3 ideas that helped ME see differently:

1. Ironically, I realized in my classroom that while I did/do offer students ways to experience the school day from different perspectives I REMAINED IN A ROUTINE WHERE MY OWN PERSPECTIVE WAS THE SAME!
I always sat in the same "teacher spot" for meetings/circle - sure I might sit on the floor OR a chair, yet I kept my same spot because I wanted to be near the books/games/music for easy access. I realized that this also only let me experience meeting time with one lens. When I - finally - sat in a different place around the circle, I literally felt different and viewed the experience differently. After that day, I was more deliberate to switch up where I joined the meeting. Have you had this experience, as well?

2. Something I DID do that helped perspective taking as a model for students was NOT be the leader on a walk or if we needed to be in a line of some sort (going up/down stairs, etc.). I would elect to be in the middle or end or partner with a student somewhere IN the line or group. (Of course, for safety, there would be another teacher at the lead if required). The non-leader role helped me be a member of the group experience, instead of needing to lead or protect the experience.

3. A tip as we head into A NEW SCHOOL YEAR and PREPPING OUR CLASSROOMS: as you prepare your environment, squat low and/or sit on the floor to see how children will be seeing the room. What barriers present themselves at their level? What materials and experiences are available at their eye level? What is above their eye level that might be too overwhelming, high or distracting? Examine your color choices on the walls and the quantity of materials: Neutrals, natural materials, clean and defined choices in baskets or trays, a flow and non-clutter - the layout should inspire YOU to want to touch, discover, play.

2 MAGNIFIERS to examine the Dinosaur That Might Be Dead.

Taking new perspectives is exciting.
It allows for new ideas, opinions, and understandings of our world.
It allows for the joy of teaching to present itself daily.

following emily

We all know Emily.

We all know her or have known someone just like her - boy or girl, young or old, quiet or not-so-quiet, long or short hair, large or small family. No formula.
Emily is my blog story today because she was a follower.
And I learned to be a better teacher by following her.

these 2 are actually playing TOGETHER, neither following the other.

The day would begin the same each day:
Four-year-old Emily would come to school, happily say hello to me and happily say goodbye to her mother.
And then the Search began...

sometimes a child becomes a shadow of another...what to do?

Emily began her hunt
to find her friend Lara -
"Is she here yet?"
"Where is Lara?"
"I want to play with Lara."

Emily followed,
followed, followed Lara.

Emily became
like a shadow of Lara. 

Our classroom of 4s/5s was an inquiry based classroom where the children would explore, make their own choices, invent, try new materials, work independently or with a partner or in a group.

Surely one of my goals as an educator in this environment was to uplift the image of each child.
I was challenged because my image of Emily was overshadowed by that of Lara. [Or so I thought].

what happens when a child Admires another? what happens when a child sees past their self & Seeks out another?
It was something that happened over a short period of time, very soon after the school year started.
Emily started making choices that were based ONLY on Lara's choices.
If Lara planned to paint in the art area, so would Emily.
As soon as Lara decided to make a new plan in the classroom, Emily would - literally - drop her paintbrush and follow Lara.
Playing in the sandbox - Lara leaves, Emily bolts out. 
Building in the block area - Lara goes to to use the bathroom, Emily waits for her at the doorway.

There was desperation to Emily's actions. A frantic nature by Emily to keep next to Lara at all times. 

I must say, I had never seen the behavior to that extent before - and really have never seen it again to that level. There are always children - people - who prefer to be cautious, to see what others do and then join in. There are always those of us who don't mind NOT being the leaders, NOT being the most inventive or creative, NOT being the center of attention.  Personality, social comfort and competence in an activity surely affects all of us daily, yet doesn't mean we are dependent upon ONE other person.

how can you tell if one child is following or if 2 children are playing together?
Hmm. What to do.
I looked closer at Lara:
Lara does have a way about her that also is quite unusual for a 4-year-old.
I can understand how Lara IS seen as quite fantastic. 
Lara DOES have charisma [to this day she does!] which is rather unheard of in the very young.
Lara and I had a couple chats about being a leader and how to help friends have a chance at an idea. She was part of the unusual situation that had presented itself this school year. Emily followed Lara because Lara could lead her, could always have new ideas, could always know what to do at school.

what if there was a child at school with actual Charisma? could you identify it? could you see it how other children see it?

when I started looking closer at Emily, I realized I needed to actually follow her . Then, I realized something quite spectacular:

I realized that it is quite amazing for a 4-year-old to Admire Someone Else, to Value Someone Else, to Appreciate Qualities of Another Human Being.

Surely Emily would not have had been able to do this when she was 3 or 2 years old. Emily's development of understanding, compassion and friendship was on a different level than I had witnessed by one child toward another.

I realized that Emily  - while, yes, a follower - was coming from another perspective that I had not used as much as I should in my own life. Emily was able to move outside herself and seek out the skill, actions and choices of another as a source of inspiration for her own day.
I realized that this was a whole different kind of social constructivism (nod to Vygotsky). Emily was constructing her understanding of school life, social interactions, routine and choice making via another child that was more capable (scaffolding at its best, another nod to Vygotsky).

How could this NOT be applauded?
How could this not be applauded.

Being a teacher is such a journey.
Emily taught me about valuing children AT the place they are, BY the people they seek, FOR the reason that only they can know they need. 
My image of Emily changed when I changed the lens through which I was seeing her.

Emily learned about how to be at school by following Lara.
I learned to be a better teacher by following Emily.

How could that not be applauded.

[yes, for everyone who is wondering, Emily learned over time to make her own choices and to bring her own spirit into the classroom. She and Lara remained close friends for many years.]

once upon a photo

perhaps my favorite photo of all time.

They have so many stories to tell.
Not just one.
Not just the story of the frozen moment the photo was taken.

Photos are a memory.

Photos become the narrative of our memory.

Photos become an integral part of the history of who we are and who we explain we "used to be" to others.

Doesn't this sound like all of us when looking at a personal photo:
"Hey, I remember this photo ... I was [insert age], at [insert place], and [insert reference to something that was happening before and/or after the frozen moment in the photo]"

* This posted photo was taken way back before digital cameras were readily available, so actually the shot is even more fabulous because it was my one and only chance to capture this exact stance.

This photo has a story that has been alive for fifteen years.

Cover: Two girls. Age 5. At our school library looking for books.

Page 1: When I got the developed 4x6 photo back from the camera store, I immediately knew it was a favorite. I was captivated by the rich personality and vitality of the shot: the two very different stances of these girls, the chair and the stool, the tall and less tall, the red shoes, the untied shoe, the long braid, the heads tilting "reading" for which book to pull off the shelf and the book shelves filled with books as the background. 

Page 2: I gave this photo, enlarged and framed, to our school librarian who in turn added it to the rotation of framed book posters that she displayed on a wall in the school library.

Page 3: Years later, the framed photo was gifted to the parents of one of the students in the photo. 

Page 4: Years later, at present time, part of the photo was posted on Facebook by "long braid, red shoes" as she had just discovered the framed work being stored at their home. She had a sweet caption that she had added for her friends to read "just looking for my favorite book." I happen to be 'friends' with K on Facebook (she is 20ish now!) and saw her posted photo. 

Page 5: I made a comment to K about the photo and told her I'd love to write about it on my blog. The travels of this particular photo has reconnected me with K in a fun way, has offered her a reflection on when she was 5 to share with her friends, and has circled back to me to now post on an early education blog that absolutely didn't exist fifteen years ago. 

Personally, as the photographer of the photo yet also the teacher of these two girls long ago...I could also say this photo makes me think of K and her amazing positive spirit. I think of K's family with whom I have remained close all these years (her father married my husband and me, K's younger sister was our flower girl). I think about the other girl in the photo, H, whom I have already written about on this blog as she was the writer of Lilly's Umbrella Hat click here to read her story
Professionally, this photo says "CHILDREN LOVE BOOKS. Give children time to LOVE BOOKS." And, for teachers, be deliberate about the photos you share: sure, take a zillion on your digital camera, yet really LOOK at the photos, be SELECTIVE and CHOOSE the story you want to tell.

Photo stories are powerful.
That is the story of this photo as of today. 

And now all of you are part of this photo story...and can retell it, share it, blog about it, tweet about it, and become extended storytellers of this one captured moment from 15 years ago.

book review: a fine, fine school

I realized that I have my lovely, lengthy Favorite Read-Aloud Books  page yet I have not offered any book reviews of any of them. I will remedy that ever so slowly, one by one...

So, here starts my first Book Review and I thought I may as well begin at the top of the list:
A Fine, Fine School by Sharon Creech. Recommended for ages 4ish-8ish.

This book seemed just right to begin with because many of us right now are on some sort of holiday where we don't attend and/or teach school for weeks/months.

The funny (deep breath!) idea from Sharon Creech is that Principle Mr. Keene is so proud of his students and teachers, that he starts to add more days to come to school!
"This is such a fine, fine school! I love this school! Let's have more school!"
What if YOUR school was open on weekends, in the summer and every holiday, too! Oh, my, what if we really did that?
Fortunately, this story also has a girl named Tillie who does love school, yet also loves her little brother - who doesn't go to school yet - and her dog, Beans.

Tillie loves being at home on the weekend to climb her favorite tree, and to take Beans on his walks, and to push her brother on the swing and to try to teach him how to skip.

As school becomes MORE and MORE, Tillie gets to do LESS and LESS with her family and her dog. By the end of the story, Tillie has a heart to heart with Mr. Keene and things - just maybe - turn out as they should. 

Things I love about reading this book with children:
  • Illustrations by Harry Bliss are humorous and colorful and detailed - children find so many quirky bits on every page.
  • Repetition of language ... "let's have more school!" ... offers call & response with students
  • Opens discussion about school AND family time
  • Open discussion about when something is "good" should we just have More and More of it?

**Play for children - and adults and pets - is a huge, invaluable part of a healthy life. The content of so many blogs for early education SHOWS us that this IS absolutely true.
For play and exploration and active ideas, please check out these inspirational bloggers

Cheers to good books that remind us that school is important yet FAMILY and PLAY and NATURE are vital in our daily lives.