Friday, November 20, 2015

Children Can Emulate Native Americans Without Adults Screaming "RACISM." Here's Why:

After reading through a debate regarding a parent's complaint about pre-k students making construction paper feather headbands in November, I came across this post at Education World, "Are You Teaching the 'Real' Story of the 'First Thanksgiving?'"  The article and debate made me realize how lucky I am to have been brought up the way I was as the child of  both native and non-native parents.
Born in Kentucky and raised for the first ten years of my life in Texas, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to be exposed to (and for five years, immersed in) Inupiat culture, and live for over two decades in a state where Native peoples' culture, mythology, values, history, and art aren't merely on display for one month out of the year: Alaska.  I learned about the good, the bad, the historical cruelties suffered by, and remarkable achievements of Indigenous Peoples. I have been a witness to the prejudices that remain and feel pride in the accomplishments and contributions of my Native family and friends today. Endurance, strength, resilience, community, love for family, pride, skill and artistry are all traits worthy of being shared, respected, and celebrated, no matter a person's ethnic or cultural background. 
To develop empathy, children must be encouraged to walk a mile in another's shoes, to imagine how they might feel when meeting strangers for the first time, when deciding who and HOW to trust. Young children try on the clothing and garb of others every day, from their mom's high heels to their dad's Army cap, to sister's riding boots and brother's varsity jacket, developing their personal identity by trying on the markers of others.  They also emulate family members, friends, sports heroes, celebrated musicians, actors, historical figures, community helpers and those blessed with a special talent or gift.
Can children create feathered headbands without the kitsch or racist connotations that instantly pop into their parents' minds upon viewing? Absolutely, but it's up to the teacher to share culturally relevant and accurate information about the earning of feathers (or wearing of a blanket, mask, or story belt) with students AND families.  It's also a family's responsibility to try to understand the intentions behind a lesson or activity before rushing to judgment and labeling a teacher as racist or insensitive.  Do I find it offensive if children emulate respected chiefs, warriors, healers, or shamans, just as they do ballerinas, astronauts, painters, singers, veterinarians, or teachers?  No.  Just as teachers, family and society expose children to other professions and roles worthy of respect through literature, history lessons, field trips, guest speakers, arts and crafts, so too can we teach children about Native Americans and Indigenous Peoples.  Native AND non-Native teachers need quality non-fiction materials and resources, or know how and where to find them. It's also up to teachers and parents to be aware of what's not only culturally sensitive, but developmentally appropriate for young children. 
Three, four, five and six year olds do not need to be exposed to and master the vocabulary of genocide because of the gut reaction of the adults around them. Rather, children should be gently guided as they broaden the scope of their universe from their immediate selves and family to their neighborhood, community, state, nation, and world.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Quick Tabletop Easel

For Open House, my Stars made traditional handprint turkeys for their families.  Since our walls are decorated with Veterans Day art, patterned maize, and harvest pumpkins for November, we had no space left to display the great gobblers.  Simple desktop easels to the rescue!

I cut four inch wide, twenty-four inch long strips of tagboard, and then folded each strip as shown, with three sections seven inches long, and a tab three inches long to fold over the edge:

After folding, I applied tape so the tagboard would keep its shape.  Our handprint turkeys, not being very heavy, easily leaned against the tagboard, but I stuck some tape behind them to keep them from sliding off or wibble-wobbling.

Our turkey art measured nine inches by nine inches, and these easels worked great!

My Stars also left their math and ELA journals at their desks for families to look through before they toured the rest of the room. 


My Super Stars love crowns and hats!  Click here for last year's post about our turkey headgear!

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Is it Possible to Provide Academic Rigor ~Without~ Dramatic Play?

Being extremely busy at work while also spending the past two months battling allergies/sinus issues/bronchitis/the common cold/pneumonia has kept me away from blogging for quite some time.  My Super Stars will tell you that I'm on the mend though, because last Wednesday and Thursday, I actually sang a song, all the way through, and didn't forget any words OR COUGH mid-verse.

Look!  It's a light at the end of the Respiratory Tunnel!

Being unable to speak (or sing) did make for increased opportunities to participate in online chats via Twitter and Facebook groups during the lead up to Halloween, and the predictable debate between fellow teachers regarding whether or not dressing up at school was educationally relevant.  A lament across multiple chat threads occurred when fellow early childhood teachers expressed frustration that they weren't allowed to have dramatic play or "pretend" centers in their classrooms. Many veteran teachers shared stories of how they had been asked/told to remove their dress up and puppet centers to make room for more "rigorous" activities, such as worksheets or increased time in front of a computer.  These demands were all made by tech-integration advocates, administrators and school boards, none of whom specialize in child development (it's a real thing).

Considering that children, young adults, and grown ups regularly:

1) go trick-or-treating wearing masks and costumes, using props that they don't usually need in their day to day lives
2) experiment with new hairstyles, clothing, and cosmetics
3) wear the jerseys and sports colors of their favorite athletes without necessarily being athletes themselves
4) don gowns and tuxedos or suits for dances, weddings, anniversaries, proms, birthdays, and religious events
5) participate in cosplay events, portraying their favorite superheroes, book, television, and movie characters
6) wear their "Sunday best" for church
7) participate in clothing themed days for Red Ribbon Week (Wacky Tacky or Pajama Day anyone?)
8) dress up OTHER items, such as their pets, or turn soda bottles or pumpkins into book characters for school projects
9) and perform in dramatic, romantic, or comedic theater

...advocates of developmentally appropriate practice are right to be bothered by the double standard regarding imaginary play.

As illustrated in the list above, it's obvious that adults support dress up and pretend play when it comes to emulation, entertainment AND education, but for some reason, when they walk into a kindergarten classroom and find a child-sized kitchen, box of dress up clothes, or creative construction zone where students fashion artwork and props for their own dramatic play, many voice concerns and criticisms regarding rigor, academic readiness, and "real learning."  Parents are worried their children won't really learn what it means to be at school if they're playing with dolls, filling purses, or pretending to cook a Thanksgiving feast with plastic food.  Teachers worry that the time children spend trying on the roles of others and practicing social skills will reduce the amount of time available to cover academic concepts required for kindergarten mastery.  Administrators can't figure out where dramatic play falls on the evaluation rubric they must use as they determine the efficacy or needs of their teachers, because "developmentally appropriate practice" isn't included on many observation tools or checklists.

My kindergartners like to pretend to be superheroes, villains, weather elements, soldiers, or fantastical creatures when they're outside playing during recess.  They also run, kick, bounce, throw, and catch balls, swing, climb, slide, and work their way across monkey bars.  They roll in the grass, race with their friends to the fence and back, and try to build nests from fallen leaves and twigs.  In our classroom they pretend to be mothers, fathers, older siblings, chefs, veterinarians, office workers, authors, illustrators, and even teachers, their dramatic play role models being more closely associated with real life.  These girls were pretending to be mommies out shopping.  They packed their purses, prepared their babies, and took along their "cell phones" so that they could call one another in the mall to find out where to meet for lunch when their shopping was done.  During dramatic play they regularly "ran into" one another at the mall, discussed purchases they had made, determined which stores they still needed to go to, helped one another with her "baby," and negotiated which restaurant to meet at and what type of food to eat for lunch. One of the girls even created an ATM card out of a post it note to use when paying for her meal, adding her name to the note and the numbers 123456789.

During pretend play, my students' language use and development far surpasses mere vocabulary exposure.  Increased use of adjectives, tenses, and the corrections by peers of misused words can all be heard as classmates try on the personalities of individuals or animals other than themselves.  Empathy, sympathy, humor, and the growing awareness of multiple perspectives helps to widen the scope of each child's world, a development also facilitated by pretend play during our center time.  Opportunities to expand upon concepts introduced somewhere ~other~ than a desk and chair help my students to express their creativity.  Why merely cut and paste pictures of animals on a worksheet that a veterinarian might help, when I can invite students to bring stuffed animals from home to create an animal hospital, complete with stethoscopes, play medical kits, bandaids, scrubs, surgical masks, and cardboard boxes?  Adding paper and pencils to the dramatic play corner enables "animal doctors" to write down prescriptions and medical directions for pet owners, and signs for designated treatment areas too.  Is there another activity where reading, writing, math, sequencing, cause and effect, fine motor, communication, negotiation, turn taking, language and social skills development, problem solving, transitioning, sorting, and cleaning up after oneself are all completely integrated?  And guess which activity is always marked by 100% student engagement and time on task?  That's right: dramatic play.

Casual observers and critics demand to know how we can provide academic rigor through pretend play, to which I must reply:

How can we provide academic rigor and opportunities for growth and development without it?

Monday, September 21, 2015

Today's Kindergarten Ha-Ha

Even after twenty years of teaching, I learn something new every day!

"Tapling" a paper isn't the same as "stapling."


My TPT Store: Interactive Apple Poem

My students love to work with poems! The rhythm, the rhyme, and the mystery of identifying missing words keeps them engaged and enthusiastic as they develop their reading skills.  It's apple picking season, so I've created a new pack for my TPT store.

This simple poem about apples doesn't overwhelm, and is a great introduction to interactive text.  It's easy to print out and add to a class binder of poems, or display on an interactive white board. There are multiple pages where I've omitted a word from the poem.  Can your students identify the missing words?

To include a counting component for math, I've added pages where you can dictate how many apples should be added to the apple tree. Students can draw/color, or use a small apple die cut, or even paint apples on to the tree!

The reassembled poem page can easily be added to any autumn apple artwork that your students create.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

New in My TPT Store: Color Sight Word Recognition Pack

Here's a fun pack to help your homeschool, kindergarten, first grade, and second grade (intervention) students develop their sight word recognition skills!

Short, sweet, and to the point, 1/4 pages are perfect for interactive journals, fine motor warm up activities, sight word reinforcement, and review or intervention tasks. I print out and cut each page into quarters, giving students the name of the crayon that we're using for the day, which provides them with print recognition, recall, and fine motor practice as we explore primary and secondary colors through literacy themes and art.

Red, yellow, blue, green, purple, orange, black, white, gray, brown and pink are included.

Students read the color word, color the crayon the correct shade, and then find three color word matches to cut out and glue below the crayon. Each quarter page can be glued into a journal, with the "wrong" color word on each page glued in separately (or thrown away).

Thanks for checking out this fun pack! Make sure to browse through my store for other pre-k, homeschool, kindergarten, and primary appropriate items.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Colors All Around

My Stars loved the purple crayon craft I shared in my last post, so much so in fact, that they thought our Pete the Cat plushie would like to be surrounded by crayons, as we continue to learn our color words.

Pete was a bonus point gift from Scholastic a few years ago, and the sweet wreath was made and given by a former Super Star student and her family.  My kindergartners love to greet Pete each morning!

Our second literacy theme is "Colors All Around:"

I've added the Trace and Cut Color Labels (red, blue, yellow, green, orange, purple, black, pink, gray, and brown) to my TPT store.  Go check them out!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Purple Crayon Craft and Freebie

We wrapped up our first week of kindergarten (half-day transition schedule) yesterday with one of my favorite storybook characters, Harold:

For the first week of school, I assign a color to each day, encouraging my students to wear and/or bring an object from home that matches.  Friday was PURPLE Day.  

On Tuesday, RED Day, I observed how my Stars held their crayons and pencils, and noted if they were righties, lefties, or were still in the process of developing hand dominance.  I took notes on who applied appropriate pressure when coloring, and who knew how to write their names.

On BLUE Day I introduced scissor skills and glue stick usage, and observed who was familiar with cutting and gluing.  Several students exclaimed that they loved school because "Mom never lets me have scissors at home!"  I also made a mental note: next Thursday is School Picture Day. NO CUTTING ACTIVITY ON WEDNESDAY.  Veteran teachers will know why.

YELLOW Day saw a repeat of our scissor and glue stick skills lesson.  Each student made sure his or her thumb was in the smaller hole of the scissor handles, and that the small hole was held above the larger.  Three rectangles were cut out and then glued to a page. The rectangles were smallish.

For PURPLE Day, I thought we'd use larger pieces of paper to help students determine how much glue would be needed, and to help them slide their glue stick around the edges of each component.  It was also time to introduce a slight curve for cutting:

I created a large oval with the word "purple" in dashed font for tracing.  It's a freebie for you over in my TPT store. 

I used a 6 X 18 piece of dark purple paper, a 6 X 14 piece of light purple paper, and a 4 1/2 inch wide piece of dark purple paper cut to resemble a crayon tip.  My Super Stars traced each letter on the printable, and then cut out the oval and added it to the assembled crayon.

Once dry, the Stars enjoyed walking through the classroom, pretending to draw pictures like Harold:

Aligned with curriculum?  Check.  Developmentally appropriate?  Check.  Skill building?  Check.  Fun?  CHECK!


What are your favorite first-week-of-kindergarten activities? We'll continue with scissor and gluing practice next week when we begin our literacy unit, Colors All Around (Houghton Mifflin Reading), focusing on letters Ss, Mm, and Rr.  You can find initial sound, trace, cut and glue pages in the HM reading series order in my TPT store here.  They're perfect for beginning cutters, students who need OT intervention, initial sound phonics practice, and ELA journal activities.