I’m Back In The Classroom! But Not How I Expected

If you remember back to my introduction post, you know that I haven’t been in my own classroom teaching my set of students for quite some time now. I’ve had plenty of substitute teaching jobs, which don’t get me wrong, has been amazing! But not the same as your own, personal classroom. 

Alas, I’m here to say- I’m finally stepping back in the classroom! Although, my “classroom” is in my basement and my students are my daughter and her little friend that lives down the road. The curriculum is learning letters and counting, something I was never given proper instruction on how to teach because my degree is in elementary education, not early childhood. While most would not think twice about the difference between the two, there is enough difference that I somewhat feel out of my realm here. My dream job would be to teach 3rd grade, not 3-year-olds! 

However, it’s still my dream job right now, even if it isn’t in a 3rd-grade classroom because it means I can teach and be with my kids at home every day. 

The curriculum I purchased for preschool came from Busy Toddler, a former early childhood teacher but now a mom running her own business by blogging about kid activities and writing preschool curriculum. So far, I have been very impressed with the book. It’s very play-based and includes math, writing, art, science, plenty of children’s books, and lots of sensory bins, my favorite! I plan to do a full, honest review once we have had a few more weeks under our belt and I can give a better idea of what it’s like. 

It has also been very helpful to have a little slice of normalcy in our lives right now during this crazy time with everything shut down due to COVID-19. It’s about 20-30 minutes of our day where we can just leave the world behind and have a little structure. 

My absolute favorite part about it is that I went deep in our storage to pull out a little plastic bin my grandma gave me years and years ago to use for my first year of teaching! While I imagined it very different, I was still just as excited to pull it out again and use it for this! 

So for now, you can catch me in my little classroom corner that I’ve created! 

Using The Montessori Method In Everyday Life

The Montessori method is a common practice in schools today, mainly the places that focus on early childhood education. There are also entire schools based around this method Maria Montessori created in 1897. Maria has revolutionized the way we foster learning in children with her research and educational practices. 

The basic idea of the Montessori method is children take charge of their learning. The adult provides the material, the child makes the decision on where and when to spend their time. Everything is eye level with the child, making it easy access. Wood is the preferred material for toys, not plastic, being aesthetically pleasing, as well as durable and practical. It’s a method that can be adopted in homes, daycares, preschools, elementary schools, even up to high schools. 

“Montessori is a method of education that is based on self-directed activity, hands-on learning and collaborative play. In Montessori classrooms children make creative choices in their learning, while the classroom and the highly trained teacher offer age-appropriate activities to guide the process. Children work in groups and individually to discover and explore knowledge of the world and to develop their maximum potential.”

Montessori Northwest

I had the intention to use the Montessori method in our home when my daughter was born, putting toys on a shelf at her eye level and practicing other Montessori ways. However, soon I began to feel inadequate about my implementing based on research I was doing and others I was comparing to, especially with my limited funds. Here’s how I brought the Montessori ways into my house without breaking the bank. 

We found a kid-sized card table we bought second hand. 
Toys were organized on a cube shelf, all at my daughter’s level. 
I was more mindful of the toys we bought for her, trying to stick with materials that promote imaginative play and learning, not limited, one-time-use toys.
We incorporated more play into our day. 
I let her prepare and be more involved in her meals. 
She took the reigns on her own learning, I stopped pushing her to learn letters and numbers and instead accepted that she would pick it up by herself eventually. She did. 

The Montessori method doesn’t have to be complicated or perfect. Certain aspects did not fit into our daily lives, but others worked great. Placing her dishes at her level to claim responsibility worked wonders, but setting up a functioning child-sized kitchen set for dishwashing and food prep wasn’t practical for us. I stopped comparing my small acts to those who had more resources. My main takeaway, in the end, was that just because I couldn’t orchestrate a perfect Montessori household for my two-year-old doesn’t mean that my efforts went to waste. This can be the case in any classroom. 

Move art supplies to kid-level. 

Give students access to imaginative play materials. 

Allow younger kids to use messy things such as markers and paints. They won’t understand the responsibility of playing with messy items until you give them the opportunity to. 

Place learning and classroom functions in the hands of the students. 

Be an advocate for responsible, independent kids, who will turn into responsible, independent adults. 

How do you implement Montessori ways into your classroom? How can this elicit deeper learning in other areas?    


 

10 Signs That Your Child Is More Ready for Kindergarten Than You Might Think

Ah, summer. A time for relaxation and rejuvenation. But for one group, those balmy days might be overshadowed with panic: first-time parents of kindergartners.

After all, parents today receive a steady stream of messaging that the quality of kindergarten experience can define a child’s success for the rest of forever (though I’ve argued before that this is likely more the correlative nature of having involved parents than the particulars of kindergarten).

Throw in a child who seems uninterested in identifying letters yet (much less reading), and you might get some parents on the verge of a nervous break-down.

Having waded through this quagmire with our oldest, now about to start 4th grade (and who thriving as a reader, despite initial reluctance), I’m writing today to help reassure as many stressed kinder parents as possible: you are probably doing better than you think. Here are signs that, even if your child is not yet writing their memoirs or reading Tolstoy, they are probably more prepared for kindergarten than you think:

#1: Their brains are being regularly strengthened by unstructured play. This is even more valuable when the group of children is mixed-age, which gives older children opportunities to teach younger, and younger children the chance to explore new possibilities. As cited by researchers, “It is those changes in the prefrontal cortex during childhood that help wire up the brain’s executive control center, which has a critical role in regulating emotions, making plans and solving problems, Pellis says. So play, he adds, is what prepares a young brain for life, love and even schoolwork.”

#2: They enjoy stories (even if they aren’t sitting perfectly still for every story-time yet). This enjoyment also leads them to possess print awareness — a general feel for books turning from left to right, how to hold a book in their laps, and the presence of words on the page. Children at this age tend to make leaps forward in their development, so even if they don’t have all 52 upper- and lower-case letters down yet, if the basic pre-literacy support is there, they will get there!

#3: They are able to relate socially and emotionally to other people. When they have hurt someone, they are willing to listen and learn to consider that person’s feelings. They don’t immediately resort to biting or hitting for every offense, though this will definitely be a work in progress more for some kids more than others!

#4: They make up songs and stories with you or in make-believe play. Not only does this strengthen a child’s narrative skills (important for early literacy), but it helps them build skills for healthy social interaction.

#5: They are given as much book access as possible. Even if you do not own a lot of books, regular trips to the library can foster a love of reading that is worth its weight in gold. As the reading skills grow, it’s important for kids to have choices to find the books that will delight them.

#6: They are showing signs of building problem-solving skills. They may pull out a stool to reach something for themselves, or they may help soothe a sibling. Whatever it may be, these small signs of problem-solving are indicative of the kinds of independence that will serve them well throughout school and life!

#7: They are given opportunities to explore motor skills and balance. Tree-climbing, playdoh-smashing, curb-walking — the basics will be sufficient. Giving kids plenty of time to explore their motor skills and balance will lay a foundation for holding a pencil, for sitting up in a chair, and generally feeling comfortable in their own skins. 

#8: They are potty trained! Yes, this counts and should be celebrated as a kindergarten readiness milestone. There may still be the occasional accident, but general independence in using the toilet, as well as in dressing and eating, are good signs for readiness at school.

#9: They help out around the house. Maybe they have their small chore, or they are in charge of making their bed. Helping them gain a sense of responsibility and contribution to the group will be so valuable when they gain a new community at school!

#10: You help them see what they are capable of, and they believe it! This kind of mindset is easy to take for granted if it’s present in your home, but it’s essential for kids about to embark on school. They will be discovering all sorts of tasks and ideas, and it will serve them well if they believe they can handle new things with confidence.

The nervousness in sending your oldest child to school may not go away. But I hope parents can feel a little more at ease at the prospect of kindergarten readiness and enjoy the summer together!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

On Allowing Children to NEED the Learning

This quote resonated hard with me today:


If we step back from the pressures and expectations and chaos for a moment, I think we can all agree: reading truly is a gift. Indeed, all of learning is a gift.

But do our fears for readiness and standards swallow up this truth? Particularly where our youngest learners are concerned?

I have been loving Kelsey Corter’s pieces lately on Two Writing Teachers where she emphasizes children learning to read and write because the children themselves realize they need it. In “Finding Purpose: The Key to Making High Frequency Words Stick,” she writes:

“Kaylee learned two words very quickly in the first weeks of kindergarten — two words which she wrote again and again: love and Kaylee.

…Kaylee learned these words before learning all of the names of the letters they are comprised of. She learned these words because they were important to her. She needed them. She needed to know these words to spread her message.”

~Kelsey Corter

Isn’t that just beautiful? What if, instead of being daunted by the lists and the letters and knowledge, we spend time finding out what our children need right now? What if we trust that they will, in fact, come to realize for themselves that they need those letters as a next step in making meaning for themselves? This is another example of choosing trust over fear.

In another post, Kelsey elaborates on all the many ways children will find they need writing through play. To inform, to convince, to observe, to create, to connect, to remember.

When we invite children to read or write, we offer them a magnificent gift to do all of these things, and when we make these invitations in the most natural of settings as play, it becomes even more accessible.

Treasure reading and writing as a gift. Especially when you are worried about your children showing zero interest in those flash cards or letter sounds. If you hold to it as the gift it really is, your children will build a stronger, more beautiful foundation of reading and writing as their own readiness unfolds.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

My Favorite “Learning” Toys in our House #TeacherMom

What do you think of when someone says, “educational toy?”

Google certainly advertises what many of us imagine: 

But the toys that bring the richest learning to my children look nothing like this. The toys that make them think, that invite them to talk out their thinking, that spark make-believe play — they look much less, well, educational. 

Especially since reading this article on the site Zero to Three about characteristics of toys for toddlers that are rich in learning (featuring qualities like open-ended-ness and problem-solving), I’ve been thinking about what exactly these toys look like for kids, (not to mention with this holiday season upon us). 

So today’s post is a reflection on which toys promote the richest play for my kids (aged 8, 4, & 2), and why. Different toys will appeal to different children for a variety of reasons, but there are certainly some universal lessons on play to be found in the why. So let’s dive in!

#1: Loose Parts box

How it’s packed with learning: In addition to being a great tactile experience — the kids love the rough and smooth wood grains, the woven coasters, and the silky scarf — these objects provide endless possibility for play. One day, it’s a kitchen set, and the next, it’s a zoo. 

#2: Animals set

How it’s packed with learning: These animals feature in much of my kids’ make-believe play. Special favorites are the ones that include a baby and parent. This is definitely a toy that grows with kids, delighting a broad range of ages. 

#3: Lock box

How it’s packed with learning: Problem-solving skills abound with this toy. Particularly since there are 3 compartments inside in which to stash all sorts of treasures.

#4: Magnetic tiles set

How it’s packed with learning: I am amazed at the creativity these tiles elicit. Rockets, houses, buses, even “gift boxes” are constructed and reconstructed each day. I like the way it requires geometric problem-solving as well. 

#5: Go Fish card game

How it’s packed with learning: This is a beloved game for all of our kids. Even though the youngest doesn’t quite understand it, he loves to instruct adults to “go fish” and watch them comply. I also like that there’s opportunity for literacy building with the labeled pictures. 

#6: Play-Doh

How it’s packed with learning: The sensory experiences, creativity, and fine motor skills development are endless. Especially when we add a few tools, like these play scissors and a rolling pin. 

#7: Play Tunnel

How it’s packed with learning: In addition to the physical activity this tunnel provides, it also lends itself to a great deal of large-scale make-believe play in fort-building and playing house. 

This last bonus photo was at the 4 year-old’s request when he saw me taking pictures of all his favorite toys. It just goes to show how you never know what kids will treasure!


Engaging play facilitates powerful learning. What toys spark this for your kids? 

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

What the computer assessment doesn’t know about what my preschooler knows #TeacherMom

Turns out my son loves the online preschool we signed up for this year. And I’m glad. Not out of relief that I don’t have to coax him (I was definitely prepared to drop it in a heartbeat before I ever used one of those motivational badges they mail out). But because it’s simply a pleasure to watch him enjoy learning.

He loves the the dancing letters, the rhymes, the songs.

But there is one thing that he does not enjoy: the tests. In fact, I recently watched him go through a brief alphabet assessment, clicking the bottom right choice for every single letter.

The program seems unable to detect the growth I perceive. After all, its assessment does not know…

…that he loves to practice making letters with his body.

…that he walks around sounding out the phonemes for various objects around the house.

…that he often turns his toys into letters or numbers and eagerly shows them to me.

…that he is actually starting to read (he seems to know the sounds letters make better than the names of the letters themselves).

So no matter how slowly the charts might curve upward on his data reports, I know the truth that more is happening than is being measured.

The fact remains that tests simply can’t pick up on growth indicators that trained humans can. We must be careful not to place too much weight (and certainly not too much anxiety regarding our kids’ growth) in what those computers “know.” Focus instead on emphasizing the learning you observe!

Is There Anything More Powerful than a Child Choosing a Book? #TeacherMom

My one word goal for 2018 has been power. It’s been an inquiry into questions such as…

…what is the connection between power & influence?

…how does comprehending our sphere of influence impact our lives? Our communities? 

…what is my sphere of influence?

…how can I be more intentional about directing and growing my influence to areas that matter most for me? 

Because I’m in the midst of this inquiry, I often find myself thinking about how & why certain sights, actions, and words carry power.

So when I come across my 2 year-old snuggling in with a book of his choosing, I’m fascinated by the implications for power.

Is there anything more powerful than a child choosing a book?

How does book-choosing, especially starting at a young age, give a child power?

How do books boost a child’s ownership over their learning? 

How does ownership over learning relate to an individual’s power?

Truly, helping children onto a path of choosing to read is a powerful endeavor, and we can all contribute:

Cultivating a child’s desire to choose and celebrate books is one of the most powerful things we can do.

featured image: Oliver Henze