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Nothing went right yesterday at school. I should check to see if there was a full moon. Grumpy was the mood of the day for children. At our Morning Meeting Allie, Gloria’s BFF, stood with her arms crossed. Stone faced. She wouldn’t sit down. Tessa turned away and refused to look at anyone. Lincoln drooped her head and cried because Will had poked her. Then Will had a meltdown. No words could console him at that moment.
I stopped everything and looked around at our fragile group of children. Nothing mattered at Morning Meeting. Learning went out the window, yet the best learning was about to come.
We discovered that one of the plastic forks used at snack had extra plastic on the edge. Interesting. Naomi, my assistant teacher, said to the children, “I wonder how plastic forks are made?” Lightbulb moment. She rushed to get the iPad and find a YouTube video on how plastic forks are made. Well, the only video she found was so-so.
I thought of Mister Rogers. I knew immediately that his TV show had incredible footage of how things were made. The video on making crayons was one of his best. So, we switched gears and plugged in Mister Rogers and How To Make Crayons.
Wow! It was fascinating.
Just watching Mister Rogers brings on a blanket of wonderfulness. Besides his innovation, he understood children and their place in the world. Mister Rogers listened, truly listened to everyone. He understood. He was the Santa Clause of matters of the heart. I dearly miss him and his TV show, Mister Rogers Neighborhood.
My dialogue with the children went something like this:
“Do you know what we are? We’re a family. We’re the Aqua Room family. Every family has sad times and bad times. Hey, I made rhyming words. Today many of you are not feeling happy. You’re grumpy. And that’s okay.
Did I ever tell you about the time I was mad at my sister? I did a terrible thing. I hit her with the phone. Phones back then were really heavy. I hurt her, and I felt terrible. But I was mad. Just like you.
We help each other and stick together. That’s what families do. Naomi and I are like your Mom and Dad. And you’re our children.”
“Will, do you need a hug?”
Yes, he did. And so did Tessa, and Lincoln, and Allie… and everyone else.
Thank goodness for Mister Rogers. Just watching him on the crayon video brought me the understanding I needed in order to help the children. It felt good. They sensed it, too. Don’t we all need someone to listen? Don’t we all need to be hugged? That’s what Mister Rogers did best.
Fortunately, I have a little piece of him, right here:
Today is a new day. In the words of Mister Rogers, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood 🎶…”
Everyone adores Gloria, and I do mean everyone. After all, she is the nice one, the good friend. She gives children unconditional love. Do you know that Gloria has a journal? It is well-worn from love. When children take Gloria home for the weekend, they write about their adventures in her journal, often including a photo. We read her stories aloud to everyone.
Gloria has more of a social life than I do. She attends graduations, high school basketball games, and Birthday parties. She spends holidays with families, including helping to decorate the Christmas tree. She goes sledding, climbs trees, and plays in the park.
Friendships develop at different levels. And, some children have a closer bond with Gloria. Allie does.
This is Allie and Gloria, and a recent entry in Gloria’s journal:
Allie was over the moon to have Gloria visit with us this weekend. Gloria enjoyed having breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the table. She and Allie and Richie enjoyed playing together and watching the Halloween decorations emerge from their attic boxes! What fun!
Gloria also got to meet Jordan as it was Family Weekend at the University of Rhode Island. Gloria and Allie loved walking around the pretty campus. Everyone got to see Jordan’s Sorority House and enjoy a great barbecue. We then went to see her dormitory. She calls it a dorm. It was fun to climb on her bed on risers and twinkling lights!
Many people were interested in Gloria and many thought she was something she was not. Allie firmly, but kindly told them about who she really was… an Aqua Roomer, good friend, and one of the best weekend visitors. 🙂 Thanks, Gloria!
My goodness! When I read aloud this journal entry to the class, I wasn’t prepared for the wave of emotion that made my words break and crackle. Always happens when you least expect it, especially with Gloria. Remember, she is very real to the children and a perfect ‘tool’ in order to teach diversity: looks can be deceiving, so children need to see what is on the inside and not on the outside.
Recently Gloria went trick-or-treating with Allie. Allie brought in a photo to put in Gloria’s journal and told me all about Halloween night. Together, we wrote:
On Halloween Night I went trick-or-treating with Gloria. She got nervous about all the costumes. She didn’t want to dress-up. Pop was wearing a super silly clown hat and mustache. Gloria thought that was silly. She was super brave in the dark. She loved me and my Robin costume.
Thank you, Gloria, for all you give to children. Because of you, their hearts are bigger and they are wise beyond their years. You are my hero.
Patriotism. I have always felt pride in America. It was just part of my growing up, and that’s a good thing. My fifth grade teacher, Miss Pinson, taught us to sing all the patriotic songs. She sang with gusto, and we did too. I remember it like it was yesterday.
Thanking a veteran was a different story. When I was a child, the veterans were home from WWII and Korea. Most chose to resume their former lives, and few talked about the war. I don’t recall seeing a veteran in uniform.
I never had a chance to thank a veteran when I was a child.
Fast forward to my early years teaching preschool. I took my class to the Shrine Circus. That’s when things changed. Drastically.
I was as excited as the children were to go to the circus. Parents were, too. Everyone got settled in their seats. The lights went out and a huge American flag dropped down. Then, “The Star-Spangled Banner” began to play. I stood up and started to sing, like I always do. I looked around at the children. They were playing. I looked around at the parents. They were chatting.
I was shocked. These were my children and my parents. What were they thinking? How did they not know? I went into frantic mode, rushing to every child to place their hand over their heart and to take off their hat. I tried to remain calm, yet I’m sure I looked like a lunatic. I wanted to yell. What’s the matter with you? The National Anthem is playing! This was a wake-up call.
I knew I had to teach children about patriotism.
I started teaching with the American flag, since a big flag had been lowered at the circus and was fresh in children’s minds. Rick Smith, a Navy veteran and a parent in my class, came to school. He unfurled his American flag. That flag in a small space- my classroom- was gigantic. Children were awestruck. He told us about the stars and stripes, and the colors.
I’ll never forget how he showed the children to stand. It was standing tall, but it was so much more. When you feel proud, it shows. That’s what he taught the children.
Next came singing. Like Miss Pinson in fifth grade, I taught children patriotic songs. Sometimes we sang as I played the autoharp, and sometimes we sang as we read the book. Singing + children = joy.
On Veteran’s Day each year I began inviting soldiers into our classroom to share that joy of singing patriotic songs. We make a red, white, and blue cake for snack. We draw pictures and write a big thank you note. It is our way of saying Thank You. At long last, I, too, have an opportunity to properly thank a veteran.
From the circus, to Rick Smith and the American flag, to singing patriotic songs, and beyond- patriotism and thanking veterans has been part of my classroom. Children understand. They love that feeling of pride.
“Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder.“ -E.B. White-
I do that every day at school.
Watching the sun make colors come alive.
Children discovering ladybugs everywhere. Each one is different.
Snuggling together and watching the big sky.
Finding colors, seeing shapes and animals in the clouds.
Telling stories of imagination.
The presence of wonder is there. We just have to look in order to see.
I love writing. This summer I read the best book on how to write, the advice of E.B. White, author of Charlotte’s Web and other classics. Oh, I have read a host of posts and articles on writing, many from fellow bloggers. They are all filled with terrific advice, but none compare to the simple, direct advice of E.B. White.
It all started with reading the new book, Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet. I wanted to learn more about White. After all, Charlotte’s Web is my first chapter reading book of the year in my classroom.
The book is far more than E.B. White’s story. I am going to call him Andy in this blog post, as that was the nickname given to him by his Cornell University classmates. His English professor at Cornell was William Strunk, who taught English from the book he wrote, The Elements of Style. Andy greatly respected his professor, and as what often happens with good books, this book came into play much later in Andy’s life.
Children’s books were not even on the radar for Andy. While he spent summers in Maine with a great love for the outdoors, his writing was not for children. Well, not yet. Andy’s first job after graduation was with the Seattle Times. His writing was excellent, yet wordy. Finally his boss said:
“Just say the words.” That stuck with Andy the rest of his life.
I have thought of those four words ever since I read the book. Yes, just say it!
Most of Andy’s career was spent writing for The New Yorker magazine. He became good friends with fellow writer James Thurber. Their desks were side by side. Finally a Cornell classmate asked him to help publish a revised edition of Professor Strunk’s book, Elements of Style. And, this is a large part of what he had to say:
“Omit needless words. Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences… This requires not that the writer make all sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”
Yes! Make every word tell. You are right Professor Strunk and Andy. More words do not make better writing. This is why the wit and wisdom in Andy’s writing was so successful at The New Yorker magazine. He followed this advice, and his success as well as his writing continued to grow.
Then, someone suggested he write a children’s book…
The year was 1945. A published children’s book was always read by the librarian at the New York Public Library. This was a big deal. I suspect that her (or his) opinion was gigantic. When Andy wrote his first children’s book, Stuart Little, Anne Carrol Moore of the New York Public Library wrote this:
“I was never so disappointed in a book in my life. Stuart Little, with it’s monstrous birth should not be published.” She said the story was unfit for children and out of hand, that the two worlds of fantasy and reality are all mixed up. “I fear Stuart Little will be very difficult to place in libraries and schools all over the country.”
Woah! And you thought rejection was tough?
Andy struggled with the first line of Charlotte’s Web. He put the book aside for a year. He tried, “Charlotte was a grey spider who lived in the doorway of a barn.” Then he tried, “I shall speak first of Wilbur.” Then he tried a long opening sentence. After a year he tried, “At midnight, John Arable pulled his boots on, lit a lantern, and walked out to the hog house.” Last, White cut to the action, and finally shortened it to, “Where’s Papa going with that ax?”
I just finished reading Charlotte’s Web to my preschool class for the umpteenth time over decades. Yes, that opening sentence works. Boy, does it work.
In the words of “Andy”, E.B. White:
“Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting time. You have to write up, not down. Children are demanding. They are the most attentive, curious, eager, observant, sensitive, quick, and generally congenial readers on earth. Children are game for anything. I throw them hard words and they backhand them over the net.”
I couldn’t agree more! And here’s a photo of Andy swinging on the real rope swing, in the real barn in Charlotte’s Web.
The frost on every windowpane this morning is a heart! I just know this means something. Oh, Happy Day. ❤️