Saturday, July 08, 2023

Yard and Thrift Sales: Wooden Puzzles

Shhh, be very, very quiet.

I'm posting here again though it has been y-e-a-r-s, and you really don't want to make any sudden movements or startle me in some other way.

You see, I was a kindergarten whisperer for twenty-five years, and I blogged here regularly for about a decade... or decade-ish. After finally discovering the perfect master's program for myself, I decided it was time to not just teach kindergarten but a-l-l of the kindergarteners (and first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth-graders) as my school's librarian.  My third year as a librarian (why-bearian, lye-bearian) begins in another month, and just as I enjoyed my summers "off" as a kindergarten teacher, I've found that June and July remain essential periods of rest for my well-being. 

Now surrounded by books and readers all day long, you might think that my quarter-decades-worth of summertime thrifting and yard saling for my classroom would be behind me, but oh no, no-no-no, that hasn't been the case.  I certainly buy books on a much larger scale than I did before, but I've also continued to grab vintage puzzles and manipulatives for library centers every time I come across cute designs or extras of items that have been popular with students of all ages.  Sturdy puzzles were very popular last year with kindergarten, first, and second graders when visiting the library, as more traditional stiff cardboard puzzles got mangled with force or picked apart by students of all ages as they tried to understand how pieces were made.

Wooden Playskool puzzles have been showing up in antique malls around here lately and so many have been in great shape without chips, flakes, or color fade, for roughly $4-$8 each. Since most feature nursery rhyme characters, toys, food, vehicles, buildings, and other people and animals, it's easy to align them with stories and non-fiction content. Since I never expected my Super Stars to sit for huge chunks of time with idle hands, I went ahead and brought all of my kindergarten puzzles and builders into the library when I made the move and quickly discovered that students of all ages appreciated being able to collaborate and create while building their appreciation of books and all of the worlds and information contained within them. 

The condition of these puzzles is important, as is the date of when they were manufactured since truly vintage painted toy items likely contain lead. Chipped and flaking paint on old toys makes them unsafe for play or regular handling. You can test the paint on these items using kits that many new homeowners and house-flippers find useful, such as this one:

Last year I encountered several students of varying ages who had no idea how to put puzzles together again after flipping the board over and emptying the pieces onto the floor which honestly alarmed me, as puzzles help children develop their memory skills while they test ideas, solve problems, develop their fine motor strength and agility, and persevere. Dimensional, solid puzzles are essential tools for young learners in my opinion, and wood holds up for much longer than cardboard or hollow plastic. 

Keep your eyes peeled this summer as you visit thrift stores and yard sales, and don't toss, donate or sell every "kindergarten" manipulative if you decide to change gears like I did.  

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Cute New Deer/Reindeer Reading T-Shirts Available

 As we head into winter and look forward to the holiday season, the need to layer clothes comes into play for many of us!  Students, teachers and librarians can wear cute t-shirts with a cardigan or zip-up hoodie, and there are so many fun designs offered on Etsy, including in MY shop!

You can tell I'm a crocheter, too, but take a closer look at the t-shirt designs I just added this weekend:

Perfect for teachers, parents, grandparents, and librarians, don't you think?  You can find this shirt in pink and other colors here.

Toddlers and kids will love wearing their own sweet deer/reindeer for the holidays and family get-togethers, too!  Find the kids' shirt here...

... and the toddlers' shirts here:

These shirts promoting reading were fun to design!  I hope you enjoy them.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

October Writing Prompts and Coloring Pages at TPT

My littles have asked for autumn/Halloween coloring pages as one of their library centers for next week, so here's what I came up with for them. Many of them enjoy "rainbow coloring," so I know the white ghosts aren't going to end up being a waste of paper, hee hee!

The images are large, cute, and easy-to-color pages for October! Some have writing prompts to help emergent writers as they sound out a response while others have text that supports the image. These are a fun way to develop fine motor coordination and get into the autumn spirit as we head toward Halloween!

Perfect for pre-k, kindergarten, first-grade and library centers!

Sunday, October 09, 2022

Autumn-Themed Sentence Starts and Label Pack at TPT!

 It's been quite some time since I've been inspired to create activities for emergent writers and readers to offer to educators over at Teachers Pay Teachers, but this weekend's cooler weather and changing leaves did the trick, providing me with inspiration while Mr. Coffee kept me fueled, warm and cozy with my autumn beverage of choice.

Students can write on pages featuring individual or combined images, and can utilize a word bank while labeling parts of the same clip art!

Head over to see the pack and make sure to check out my other autumn/October activities featured this month!

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Crossposted: Valuing Ourselves and Our Time, Influencers Should also Share the Basics

 There's a barrage of summer classroom setup posts, photos, and videos to sift and scroll through when I check in on my social media, which is very much aligned with my own work calendar as I officially return to my library this upcoming week.  I'm discovering new-to-me posts with educators and friends of education reminding colleagues and others that none of us should be giving our employers our work "for free" by returning to classrooms and libraries and labs and school buildings any earlier than our official report date.

Which I totally get.

At the beginning of my teaching career, I couldn't ever enter my classroom over the summers (unless I was teaching summer school within the same building). I was afforded some access during the weekends, and I could stay into the evenings during the weekdays if the night custodian was in the building.  After Uncle Sam started moving our family from post to post, I was allowed "new-teacher-time" so I could see my teaching space, put my hands on curriculum materials, and deliver my own gear to be sorted and stored. Since arriving in this district, I've had access to my classroom space each summer after our incredible custodial crew has shampooed carpets and rugs, dusted nooks and crannies, and cleaned windows inside and out. I shared many a post at Kindergarten's 3 Rs describing not only classroom organization, space arrangement and decor decisions that I made during these before-contract hours, but also quick-peek photos explaining other tasks that a veteran teacher simply didn't have time to work through during the actual school year, such as sorting through posters and bulletin board displays accrued over eighteen years of teaching.

Could I have taken care of this job during the one and a half work days scheduled?  Possibly, after scrambling through furniture arrangement, opening curriculum boxes, student materials prep, bulletin board displays, lesson planning, teacher mentoring, collegial hey-how-was-your-summer chit-chat, lunch, etc. but... likely not. 

"Your classroom doesn't have to be a Pinterest/TikTok/Whatever showcase, you can just do the minimum" is also advice currently being shared by well-meaning folks.  Creating an inviting space that didn't terrify kindergarteners was my goal before social media existed. That's right, stuffed animals, my own picture books placed within easy reach, puppets, building blocks, paint, brushes and smocks, Play Doh, computers, beanbags, word walls containing students' names, pencils, crayons, markers, construction paper and glue, and letter and alphabet posters and toys ("manipulatives") were always part of my classroom set up and after get-to-know-your-teacher-day greatly influenced whether or not a child sobbed and screamed for their parents on the first day of school or bravely entered the classroom solo, quickly making new friends.  Photos providing a classroom tour were also added to our web page so incoming students and families could have a sneak peek before arriving. Hallway displays welcoming students to our classroom made it easy for five-year-olds to find our shared space as they became familiar with the building. The week after school started, they and multiple surfaces within our classroom were covered with student work, crafts, and creative constructions.  Our space screamed to be shared, not only with those in our building daily but with our families who couldn't visit often, so I took photos and emailed them. To help other teachers and to document my own work for myself and my professional reflection, I shared pictures and ideas via the blog. I never became famous or trended, but college students and other new-to-service teachers reached out on occasion, asking to share my content as a resource.  After a while, colleagues would tell me that they saw my craft idea or table arrangement on Pinterest.  It was cool. But it wasn't my focus.

The bare minimum for many teachers has meant classrooms with damaged vinyl floors, empty bookshelves, peeling paint, no air conditioner, and few if any materials for student use. Despite districts' responsibility to provide for their students, it can often appear (for whatever reason) that their practice is to supply as little as possible and/or to allow retiring teachers to leave behind file cabinets bursting with outdated worksheets and cabinets full of "someday I'll need this" items, hoarded (yet unused) for decades.  A single work day isn't going to cut it in these cases, and if you're a teacher with kids, coming in on the weekend during the school year isn't always feasible either.  As inappropriate as it may be and may feel, sometimes we do take what we can get, so many of us spend unpaid time over summer break which we use for the most part to acquaint ourselves with our learning space in order to make it efficient, effective, and welcoming for students. Some classroom spaces need more work than others, and some look like they need an exorcism. I appreciate colleagues that rise to the challenge, and I sympathize with teachers who find themselves drowning in overwhelming seas of isolation. 

I've spent three half-days in the library this summer, which is the least amount of time I've ever been in the building outside of the school year since joining my district sixteen (seventeen?  Goodness, I've lost count.) years ago. Last summer I spent fourteen ten-hour days straight in the space because of the complete overhaul it needed.  I'm certain that investment of energy and thought directly correlates to the small amount of time I've needed so far this year, though it was made necessary in the first place because the librarians before me didn't have the time to sort through all that they had inherited and should have purged before leaving. Would I have liked to have been paid for one hundred and forty hours of my time and effort or been recognized in some other way by administrators?  Absolutely.  Should I have been paid for the work?  I believe so, but the applause during our first staff meeting had to be enough before I'd reap the eventual rewards that were to come throughout the year.  While those rewards did not put food on my table, gas in my truck, or reimburse me for the thousands of dollars of my own money that I spent to get the space in order, the peace of mind I experienced in knowing that my students and I were as sure-footed as we could possibly be was worth it.  During this time of COVID, in my starting this new job, having a sense of control served as a significant part of my self-care, but not every educator can find a silver lining or balance without actual income. 

Before you think I'm representative of solely one side of a range of edu-issues, there is a facet of the current criticism of unpaid summer work that does resonate with me, and it has for at least a decade now: zhushing classrooms rather than setting them up for mutual use by teachers and students. Seeing so many classroom "transformations" that include wallpaper, paint, faux-foliage walls and boards filled with funky-font anchor charts and signage, and every surface covered with contact paper with no apparent areas left for student input, work, artwork, and creative contributions appalls me. Seriously: pre-printed everything has become the new sage on the stage.  When you leave no room (or only a single 3 X 5 board that you change quarterly) for student work/contributions, you imply that you do not value their work, and you make it near impossible for them to reflect upon it, take pride in it, learn from others, and solicit and provide feedback to one another.  As for the affirmation posters and anchor charts featuring cursive or other funky fonts that younger students C-A-N-N-O-T  R-E-A-D and certainly cannot write being plastered all over doors and walls and bulletin boards and easels in primary classrooms?

Teachers downloading and reprinting or recreating from scratch every single printed element in their classrooms each August because they "must" have a different theme?  No... no.  That's not working smarter. And as for those companies who promote cute over substance (you know who they are, they're the ones that have you convinced to go out and buy ten vintage-looking candy jars so that you can run them across the top of a bookshelf and fill them individually with single colors of crayons so your students can "go and get the color that they need" when they've lost, or eaten, or broken, or whittled theirs...) they're not helping you (or your students, who need many opportunities to sort, classify, search, track, compare, evaluate, develop fine motor skills, and select) work smarter, either. A classroom's purpose isn't for social media accounts or to provide affirmations that your employer and/or colleagues might not be offering you.  Your primary job as a teacher isn't to trend, it's to teach. Your space doesn't belong to only you, and your favorites don't appeal to everyone. Engage your students and provide them with a template or canvas, but put every tchotchke that speaks to YOU behind and on your desk, above your bookcase or file cabinet, and on the pinboard in your space where you can see it. Allowing students to have and contribute to their spaces, with their writing, coloring, and creativity frees up your time from decorating (and spending a lot of your money on) every available inch within your room.  Define your "influence" by your contributions to education and your support of students and colleagues. Maybe you'll choose to share via social media, or only via in-building or in-district mentorship, too.

Whatever algorithm I toggled after searching for and viewing classroom and library decor on social media, it's been difficult to adjust in order to find more middle of the road, veteran educators such as myself. The "influencers" that my searches have shown to me aren't sharing some truly helpful, non-stylized teacher tips when considering your students' learning environment, such as:

  • If you're able to plan for another year or three to five in advance, create organizational and instructional goals that you can work on over time.
  • Ask a veteran teacher about the meat and potatoes, the substance of teaching and learning, and don't be surprised when they don't mention desert, jungle, rainbow, or beach color schemes.  
  • Your goals should be longer than your list of decor trending items that you're replacing every year.  
  • Take a week this summer to envision and build the foundation of the environment you will share throughout the year with other contributors (the students). You're going to need the time to arrange and rearrange. 
  • Sort, purge if necessary, and determine actual essentials, identifying the difference between needful things and wantful things. 
  • Give yourself an hour (or three) to make your own space comfortable and appealing to you. Your own space is your desk area, a bookcase, file cabinet, cabinetry, or shelving behind your reading table or in my case, the book repair room behind the circulation desk.
  • If your job or placement might change after a year, invest in a neutral or simple theme, no unicorns, cacti, ninja, or rainbow characters overload.  
  • Next summer, take a day or a day and a half to do these same jobs, without having to recreate the wheel. Acquire over time, and keep and replace when necessary tried-and-trues.
Like most things in education, one size really doesn't fit all when it comes to how we value our time and one another. Should teachers ever have to work for free?  No, yet we've had to for generations.  Is it appropriate to advocate for ourselves?  Yes, because the majority of us understand that being at our best benefits students. Finding what works for you without it depleting your life savings or negating any contribution by students is a reasonable back-to-school goal, which from my quick peeks at social media isn't necessarily what influencers seem to be advocating, nor a truth that all teachers naturally intuit.  


Sunday, June 13, 2021

I Did a Thing: I'm a Newly-Minted Librarian

You can now find me blogging at "From LMNOP to LMS," a site I began as a requirement for a graduate course.  I've shaken off the dust and added two posts so far that chronicle the beginning of my new adventure as a school librarian!

I've not yet decided whether or not to shutter Kindergarten's 3 R's, as I'll likely be inspired to cross-post whenever I encounter books and activities that kindergarteners will enjoy, so feel free to stick around.

Or follow me over to the newish blog.

Or hang out with me at both places.


Saturday, May 29, 2021

That's a Wrap


... and that's a wrap.  My 2020-2021 school year is over.  My annual tradition of decompressing at the end of the year as summer begins by reflecting upon and blogging the lessons I've learned is still exerting some pull over me because, well, habits are habits, but goodness... this year has been a doozie. 

I started with twelve "all mine" remote-learning kindergarteners at the beginning of the year, and by the end, finished with seven original Dream Teamers and two mid-year transfers.  In total, I taught forty-eight students, several of them repeat visitors due to multiple exposures to COVID-19.  Because my exposure when Dear Husband tested positive occurred over winter break, my absences from work were limited. The subs I had on those days were brave, turning themselves into instructional hosts akin to Mr. Rogers on the television screen, though I suspect they were glad that I didn't ask them to put on puppet shows.  

I watched colleagues who taught students on-site at the ends of two long hallways empty their classrooms of furniture and engineer six feet of distance between their students while trying to remember to create and maintain distance between themselves and their learners, the absolute opposite of what any of us were trained or wanted to do.  I witnessed grade-level planning happening with team members standing in their classroom doorways, shouting through masks to one another as they collaborated. I saw the encouragement of confidentiality when colleagues tested positive and/or became ill and for the first time in my career, read not only care and concern in the eyes of teachers and staff when they discovered a colleague would be out of the building for two weeks, but fear. Was I exposed to COVID?  How close were we when we walked to the gym/staff lounge to put our lunches in the refrigerator?  I unsuccessfully tried to calm my anxiety every time a staff member forgot to wear a mask, or chose to mis-wear one because their personal discomfort (or belief that COVID19 was a global hoax) was an inconvenience against which they decided to semi-passively rail.  My need for self-care grew exponentially each time my self-preservation button was casually brushed up against. 

I signed many more sympathy cards than in years past as colleagues lost their parents and grandparents.

I eventually conceded to the utilization of a predictable daily routine, complete with scripted Google Slides that were created a week in advance.  Spontaneity just didn't work for families who needed and wanted to rely upon a school schedule that could mesh with their home routine. My remote-learning colleague was wonderful in helping to plan our students' lessons, activities and special crafts a month in advance, and we kept our communication with our families as consistent as possible. We did what we felt was best for both our students and our guest kindergarteners, and I believe our families could feel the care that we put into teaching.  Administrators didn't police us much, but I can't say whether that was by design or simply because we weren't starting any fires.  Having the autonomy to create our own learning program is an experience I doubt we'll ever forget. 

Tech being glitchy doesn't instill panic in me any longer.  Sometimes it's the platform or website that is having an issue.  Sometimes you just have to close out all the apps, shut down the iPad, and let it rest for a few minutes before powering it up again.  After the ninth new update to the operating system installs itself, the day continues, and so does the learning... in most cases.  I'm glad I was able to create digital resources not only for my students but for colleagues in the district who were able to use them in their on-site classrooms, and I will be forever grateful for all of the sharing teacher communities on social media who donated their own creations in kind.  My device and equipment list for the year included: 
  • Laptop; laptop stand (purchased by me)
  • iPads: teacher (it was my second screen for Zoom, displaying my students' faces, and often their parents' faces and backsides, with regular appearances from siblings, pets and stuffed animals) and student (so I could model all apps and step in as an initial help desk of sorts)
  • iPencil: I fiddled with it once but never used it again, preferring to model writing and drawing using our regular writing tools 
  • Logitech camera, gifted by admin at the Board Office: the extra camera made it possible for me to share other spaces in our classroom daily without giving everyone motion-sickness by carrying my laptop to a new location.  It could pan out to include a view of an entire wall of anchor charts, and zoom in close easily with its handy dandy little remote.  My students were able to see and experience storytime with big books and art lessons modeled by me using a regular kindergarten painting easel. I went from a laptop on a milk crate to a command station pretty quickly:

  • Document camera: for displaying books, worksheets, etc. onto the....
  • SMARTBoard: My daily instructional slides appeared as large as a bulletin board.  Students viewed the board through my laptop and Logitech cameras.  Video content was screen-shared from my laptop via Zoom.

  • Microphone: speakers located in multiple ceiling tiles kept me from having to use my "teacher voice" in locations that weren't within the immediate vicinity of my laptop. 
  • Additional camera (purchased by me) for a desktop computer that I used from my teacher's desk when my laptop was being repaired. 
I know that other remote teachers used fewer devices and equipment than I did, but I just couldn't bring myself to teach in a sitting position all day.  Having my laptop and Logitech camera on an old media cart in front of the SMARTBoard made it possible for me to stand, change locations in the classroom, and share more of our learning environment with my students.

This year became a standalone teaching experience for me, stretching from last March when the stay-at-home order was first issued through yesterday when I signed off of Zoom for the last time with my Super Stars and their families.  Despite some semblance of normalcy provided by curriculum, routine and even decor, I'll admit to having to look through photographs to remember a lot of the finer details of what happened this year.  So much has to be brain-dumped when you're literally trying to stay alive while having to appear professional as you're doing it.  My Super Star Families were gracious, supportive, and (almost all) on board with what Zoom Kindergarten had to be, and my decision to be a remote teacher for my twenty-fifth year in education and their decision to have their children be remote learners for their first year of school were the right ones for us.  I will always appreciate my district providing the remote-learning option that helped to support the health and safety of me, my family, and my Super Stars and their families. 

Even during a pandemic, it takes a village.