Winter Sunset

At last, there was a winter sunset on the drive home from work at my favorite Sunset Farm intersection.  That means the days are getting longer.  At school we can now watch sunsets on the playground at the end of the day.  Sunsets are beautiful; their colors are magical, and just what we need to see at the end of a long day.  Looking at the sky with children is opening a window, because their wonder reminds us to stop and look.  The world is beautiful.

Jennie

Posted in Expressing words and feelings, Inspiration, Nature, wonder | Tagged , , | 14 Comments

We’re Still Pen-Pals

Last summer a child who had moved on from my class was missing me.  His mom emailed:

He said, “Mumma, I miss Jennie.”  I said, “I’m sure you do.  What is it you miss about her? ” He said, “I love to play with her.  I miss that.”

That was a lightbulb moment for me to write a letter and become pen-pals.  We have written back and forth a few times.  It is always a thrill.  Always.

Over Christmas break he went to the Science Museum in Boston and…. there was Spot, the Boston Dynamics robot.  He was so excited!  What a surprise.

Last year we learned about their robots, thanks to their YouTube video.

We even Zoomed with their engineers, and Spot became everyone’s best buddy.

It was now my turn to write a pen-pal letter.  It’s the dark ages in New England, and cold, and hard to find things to talk about.  Still, I needed to write to my pen-pal.  We both needed sunshine and smiles.


My card to my pen pal.

Hi Pen Pal!

I saw this card and it reminded me of your big, happy smile.  Do you know that a smile can change the world?  It always makes others feel better.  I know that when you smile at me, I feel warm and happy inside.

Happy fifth birthday (a little late.)  Doesn’t it feel great to be five years old?  Was the trip to the Science Museum a treat for your birthday?

I can’t believe you saw Spot the robot dog- how exciting!  Did you jump up and down?  I bet you gave the biggest smile, ever!

Your friend and pen-pal,

Jennie

It’s the little things that are really the big things.  A smile certainly is.  So is a letter to a pen-pal.  You never know the difference it might make for someone else.  That smile across the classroom to a child at rest time years ago changed my teaching; pay attention to children first.  They matter more than the curriculum.  What follows is the best learning, and a close bond with children.

I’m so glad to be a teacher.

Jennie

Posted in Expressing words and feelings, Inspiration, Teaching young children, wonder | Tagged , , | 77 Comments

E.B. White

E.B. White’s thoughts always go through me like a Fourth of July sparkler.  He has a way with words, and he ‘knows’.  His wisdom is as remarkable as his writing.  He was the observer, the one who paid attention and noticed everything.  He never wanted to be in the limelight.  When I heard his voice recording of Charlotte’s Web, I was shocked.  I said to his grandniece, “I don’t read the book that way at all.”  She smiled and understood, then she told me a story:

“Uncle Andy (that was E.B.’s nickname) adored his wife.  She was a strong woman,” said Lindsay.  “She was older than he was, eleven years older.  He adored her.  His mother was a strong woman, too.  She was much older when Andy was born.”

“Do you know it took him seventeen takes to read the final chapter, The Last Day?  Seventeen.  He couldn’t stop crying.  You see, in Charlotte’s Web, Wilbur was actually Andy, and Charlotte was his wife Katherine.  He was devoted to her and adored her.  She was his best friend, as Charlotte was to Wilbur.  Reading that chapter aloud brought back all the memories of his wife.”

I will never forget that.  She lifted him up, because she knew he was a good person and a writer.  She adored him, as Charlotte adored Wilbur.

Andy must have been thinking of Katherine when he wrote this:

One of the best books I have read is Melissa Sweet’s story of E.B. White, Some Writer.  Highly recommended!

If you want to know everything about E.B. White, it is the book.  Far from a typical biography, it tells the reader as much about the books he wrote as it does about his life.  It is terrific.  Charlotte the spider would applaud that word.

Jennie

Posted in Book Review, books, chapter reading, children's books, E.B. White, Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, Inspiration, literacy, reading aloud, reading aloud, Teaching young children | Tagged , , , | 70 Comments

The Morning After

The morning after the snowstorm, winter wonderland

Posted in Uncategorized | 56 Comments

Twilight After the Snowstorm

Twilight after the snowstorm.
All is quiet.
Distant lights bring a warmth,
inside me.
It only takes a minute to stop and look,
thank goodness I did.

Jennie

Posted in Expressing words and feelings, Inspiration, Nature, wonder | Tagged , , | 43 Comments

Gloria – How She Came to Be

So, how did Gloria the puppet become Gloria the person?

I know puppets help teach preschoolers.  Any good teacher knows that.  When I first realized that a puppet in the classroom would be a great teaching tool, I had no idea that it could be, or would be, so powerful in teaching both the children and me.  That was more than twenty-five years ago.

When I discovered Gloria among a collection of Folkmanis puppets, I knew she would ‘work’.  I have watched other teachers use multicultural puppets, but years ago we were not a very diverse community.  A three-year-old back then was not as likely to meet children or people from other countries or races.  BUT, they would meet old people, shy people, people with disabilities, or those who were not beautiful.  If my puppet represented the differences that preschoolers encountered, she would be far more effective than a multicultural puppet.  Accepting differences that are familiar to children is the first step to accepting global differences.  Learning is all about building blocks, and I had to start with something that was ‘different’.

When the children first met Gloria at Morning Meeting, she had her face smushed against the crook of my neck, and refused to say ‘hello’.  I talked with her, but I had no success.  So, I sighed and had a talk with the children:

“Gloria is very shy.  She’s really kind, but at the other school where she lived, they called her a witch.  At this point, Gloria whips her head out and says, “Yes they did!  Just because I like black and look old they called me a witch.  I have sticky-uppy-outy hair and wrinkly skin.  Oh, do you like my black hat?  And look at my striped socks.  Do you like them?”

Gloria stopped and looked at the children.  They were transfixed.  I asked children if they would like to greet Gloria, inviting each one up to shake her hand.  My assistant teacher interrupted with a big “Gloria!” and a long hug.  And so it began.  Children went from handshaking to hugs to talking directly to Gloria, eye-to-eye.  And now, every September Gloria greets children in the same way.

Gloria quickly developed a personality.  She was very shy, and often had to be coaxed.  She was silly, a good friend, and someone who always seemed to understand the Aqua Room children.  She had a way about her- children related to Gloria, and loved her.

For a number of years Gloria (named by the children, of course) lived in a picnic basket on top of my cabinets in the classroom.  She came out as part of our curriculum every month or so.  She was always a big hit, and very successful at introducing everything from emotions, to how to count, or sing the ABC’s.  Once a month, everyone loved Gloria.

One day, I forgot to put her back into the picnic basket.  She was on the little couch in the classroom.  I was busy in the classroom, not paying attention to Gloria or what was happening.  Children walked over to talk with her.  They brought her toys and held her.

“Jennie, I gave Gloria a bear.”

“Jennie, Gloria won’t talk to me.”

“Jennie, can I hold Gloria?”

This was a big wake-up call for me.  Why had I kept her in the picnic basket, when every ‘visit’ in the classroom was so successful and important?  I was not seeing Gloria as a person, and the children were.  Gloria continued to ‘live’ on the couch.

It gets better…

One day I took Colin to the bathroom at rest time, and he looked very pensive.

“Jennie, can Gloria come to my house for a sleepover?”

I wasn’t sure what to say, as this was a first.

“Colin, Gloria has never been on a sleepover.  I don’t know.”

“I have a night light.  She won’t be scared.”

“Colin, I don’t know.”

“Don’t worry.  I’ll have a talk with her.”

He did!  And Gloria was fine.


Three-year-old Colin

When Colin’s mother sent me this photo of Colin and Gloria, I asked her, “Beth, do you remember when Colin was the the first child to take Gloria home for a sleepover?

She answered, “Yes I do remember that, Jennie. He was so enamored by her. Took her home every weekend for a while until the other kids started getting wind of it and wanted to start taking her home too.”

Therefore, I started a Gloria journal.

Now, she was living on the couch, and was spending some weekends with children.  The journal was instrumental in recording Gloria’s adventures and making a bigger connection with both children and families.  If there was a fire in the school and I could only grab one artifact, it would be Gloria and her journal.

That year Erin took Gloria Trick-or-Treating.  Really.  Gloria was Minnie Mouse.  Her parents were a little annoyed that other neighborhood families Trick-or-Treating did not ‘get it’.


This is Gloria’s first journal, one of three
packed with stories and photos.

“Why is the witch dressed as Minnie Mouse?”, people asked them.  The family told me (with much frustration.)

“I kept telling them that she’s not a witch.  She’s dressed up for Trick-or-Treat as Minnie Mouse.  Why didn’t they understand?”

Ahh… Gloria is very real, indeed.

Did you know she and Milly the Quilter were best friends?  Gloria’s necklace came from Milly.  Spontaneously.  It was a ‘moment’.

Gloria has been to graduations, birthday parties, a concert in Boston, the Boston Red Sox parade, mountain climbing, Cape Cod… and her journals are living memories that children enjoy visiting.

Colin is now a senior in high school, and Gloria continues to give children love, hope, understanding, and great memories.

Jennie

Posted in Diversity, Expressing words and feelings, Giving, Gloria, Inspiration, Kindness, Love, Teaching young children | Tagged , , , , | 60 Comments

Gloria – a New Visit and an Old Visit

Gloria spent the weekend with Lukas.  Lukas adores Gloria.  The two have been bonded at the hip.  When Gloria spends a weekend with an Aqua Roomer, she carries along her journal, and it is always filled with adventures and photos.


Gloria and Lukas.  Yes, it was a good thing Gloria had her hat.

Gloria likes dogs!  I’m glad she snuggled with Ernie.

That same day, a former Aqua Roomer and her sister (who was in another class) stopped by for a visit.  I saw them in the lobby and made a big fuss.  Then I said to Vivian, “Would you like to say hi to Gloria?”  Her eyes lit up, because Gloria meant everything to her.  When things were tough or she was sad, Gloria was the only one who could mend those tears and fill the heart.


Just look at that happy face.

The first entry in Gloria’s current journal (she has many) was Vivian!  Lukas is the newest entry .

Mom sent me her favorite photo from the journal.  A picture is worth a thousand words:

Thank goodness for Gloria!  Over the years and the decades she has been ‘the one’.  In a quiet way she had given children love, hope, strength, and a sense of goodness.  Everyone loves Gloria.

Jennie

Posted in behavior, Diversity, Dogs, Expressing words and feelings, Family, Gloria, Inspiration, Love, Teaching young children | Tagged , , , | 52 Comments

Elvis, and Martin Luther King

When Martin Luther King died, Elvis Presley was devastated- along with everyone else.  He was scheduled to perform a few days later, and he was troubled.  He stayed up all night and wrote a song, and sang it instead of his scheduled performance.  Wow.

I saw the new Elvis movie, I was incredibly moved at this part of the movie.  I have always loved this song, now I know the story behind it.

If you have not seen the movie, it is very good.  I’m so glad that Priscilla Presley and their daughter Lisa Marie (before she died) went to the Golden Globes and also watched the movie.

Thank you to Elvis Presley for such a wonderful song.  You carry Martin Luther King’s passion and message, and the rest of us who hear you sing are moved, and inspired.

Music makes the world go round.  I will always bring music to children in my classroom.

Jennie

Posted in Expressing words and feelings, Giving thanks, Inspiration, music, Peace, Singing | Tagged , , , | 49 Comments

A Story of Bravery – The Piano, and the Pianist, and Me

The scene:
It’s the holiday party for teachers and staff.  We’re at the lovely home of a fellow teacher, who is an accomplished pianist.  Actually, that’s an understatement.

Everyone is in the kitchen, eating and laughing.  The big family room is right off of the kitchen, up three stairs.  Huge decorated Christmas tree, fireplace, and… a 6 foot, 1 inch Yamaha grand piano.  Yes, grand.

Big.

Black.

The do-not-touch kind of piano.

What I did:
I kept staring.  I whispered to a few fellow teachers about going up the stairs and maybe playing a few notes on the piano.

If looks could kill.  They were shocked.

I had to be brave.  Alone brave.  I went to the piano and played the one and only song I could do- Heart and Soul.  I played the bottom half of the song, with all the chords.  Everyone was staring at me, like I have ripped the real Starry Night off the wall and was dancing around.

I kept playing and yelled, “Hey everyone!  Who can play the top part?  I need someone to come up and play the top part!”

Guess who came up… the pianist.

We had so much fun!  Everyone cheered.  I felt brave.

Then I asked the pianist if she would like to play ‘a little something’.  Oh, my!

It was ‘a little bit’ of Chopin’s “Minute” waltz in D flat.

Gulp!

At the end, we smiled, laughed, hugged, and somehow understood.

Bravery often triggers kindness.  When a person is brave, others jump in to help, to be a part of the scene.  That certainly happened with me.  I’m usually the one to jump in and help.  This time I was the brave one.

It’s what I teach children.  Be brave and help out.

Jennie

Posted in behavior, Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, Inspiration, self esteem, Teaching young children | Tagged , , , , , , | 69 Comments

Remembering My Mentor and Hero, Jim Trelease


Jim Trelease visiting my classroom.

Jim Trelease, the man who put reading-aloud on the map as #1 for children, has died. I had his million copy bestseller book since my kids were little. When I heard him speak at a teacher conference, I wanted to stand on a table and yell at all the teachers in attendance to listen to this man, because I knew he was spot on. I wrote to him, and a year later he wrote back. The rest is history…

It happened like this…

Back in the 80’s I found The Read-Aloud Handbook.  It was my ‘bible’ when our kids were little.  At the same time my reading aloud in the classroom became the best part of the day, because it made the biggest difference.  My head was always spinning and my heart was always overflowing.  The children couldn’t get enough.  I started reading chapter books when the lights went out and it was rest time.  I told children that the words go into their ears, then into their brain so they can make the pictures in their head.

The first chapter book I read to children was Charlotte’s Web.

I attended a teacher conference, and Jim Trelease was the keynote speaker.  He was powerful, dynamic, and as good of a speaker as he was a writer.  I was mesmerized.  This was heaven.  I looked around at the teachers in attendance, and many were chatting away with each other.  I wanted to scream.

What?!  This man is telling you everything that’s important.  This is the Holy Grail in teaching.  Pay attention!

Instead, I wrote a letter to Jim Trelease telling him that there are teachers who do what he writes about.  I included a copy of a newsletter I sent to parents about reading aloud and chapter reading.

That was that…until a year later.  Jim Trelease contacted me.  ME, as in OMG!  He was doing the 7th edition of his million-copy bestseller.  He asked if he could visit my classroom.  Well, yes!  He spent the whole morning with me and the children.  He took notes and watched us do an impromptu play performance of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  I remember him being behind the sofa as I read aloud The Magic Porridge Pot.  He watched me tracing the words with my fingers.

Jim spent lunch with fellow teachers at school, asking many questions, and with past parents.  I was not there.  He returned to my classroom for chapter reading- that’s what he was most interested in seeing.  When I turned out the lights he was surprised, and I told him that helps children hear the words and make the pictures in their head.  I also told him that the head of the English Department at the prep school in town does exactly the same thing when she reads to her seniors- heads down, lights out.

Jim returned to take photos and ask more questions.  I am included in the 7th edition.

I highly recommend this book, because it includes remarkable stories of reading aloud.  My favorites are the junior high school teacher in Boston, the kid from Russell, Kentucky, and Cuban cigars.  Here is the story of how reading aloud made Cuban cigars great:

https://jenniefitzkee.com/2017/11/30/why-reading-alou…ban-cigars-great/

Oh, there’s more…

I was born and raised in West Virginia.  When my childhood friend died, my sister who still lives in West Virginia sent me her obituary.  At the end it said “in lieu of flowers please send donations to Read Aloud West Virginia.”  Wait, I’m the queen of reading aloud, and I’m from West Virginia, and I’ve never heard of this organization?   I immediately typed ‘read aloud Massachusetts’, ‘read aloud New Hampshire’ and quickly realized there was only one- in West Virginia.

I emailed the director to tell her about my friend who had died, and to tell her that I read aloud in my classroom.  We had a long conversation, and I asked her if she knew Jim Trelease.

Well, Jim Trelease helped to found Read Aloud West Virginia.  Who knew?  What a connection!  Since then, I have been a strong supporter of Read Aloud West Virginia.

Oh yes, it gets even better…

Jim came to my school to do a conference for families.  He was terrific!

Recently I was invited to be a guest on the Kelly Clarkson Show.  I talked about reading aloud, and more.  It was terrific!  At the end of the show, one of my former students spoke (that was a moment), and Dollar General donated $50,000.00 to Read Aloud West Virginia.  Yes, I jumped up, screamed, and cried on the show.

Jim Trelease, you have come full circle.  Because of you, I read aloud and make a difference.  Because of you, I connected with Read Aloud West Virginia, and because of you, they are the recipients of much needed money.  Most importantly, you were my friend.  Thank you!

This is my favorite of your many quotes:

God Bless you, Jim. You have inspired and changed lives across the world.

Jennie

Posted in Book Review, chapter reading, Early Education, Giving thanks, Inspiration, Jim Trelease, literacy, Quotes, reading aloud | Tagged , , , | 109 Comments