The Story of Romana

Romana was  from Romania.  She was the kindest little girl.  She spoke very little English, yet she clearly enjoyed school.  She is the child on the far right with the biggest smile.

I remember the day I took this photo.  We were playing a game of Musical Chairs.  In my version, every time the music stops I take away a chair.  Children have to find a lap of another child to sit on.  When we get down to two or three chairs, it is a scramble.  The squeals and laughing say it all.

Romana loved this game.  She also loved art.  As a three-year-old she helped illustrate our classroom God Bless America book.

Romana was a born giver.  She noticed everything.  She loved Milly the Quilter.

The following year her younger sister, Stefana, was in my class.  She was a delight.  Then their little brother, Vlad, joined school.  I loved these children.

I learned much about family traditions and culture in Romania.  When Romana was five or six, she went to Romania – alone – to spend much of the summer with her grandparents.  They only spoke Romanian.

And then the unthinkable happened.  Their father became sick with cancer and died in a relatively short period of time.  His mother came to America from Romania to see her son before he died.  I went to their house to take care of the children so the adults could have some time together.  That was so sad!

I will never forget the funeral.  I’d never been to a Greek Orthodox funeral.  It was formal, with an open casket.  Children were in a playroom downstairs, yet Romana came into the sanctuary, saw me, and climbed up onto my lap for much of the funeral.  She was fine.  I held it together.

Over the next few years I visited, always bringing my autoharp and a stack of books.  We played, sang, danced, and read stories.  It was delightful.

Time moves on and so do children and their families.  Last week the family stopped by school to say hello and goodbye, as they are moving out of town.  I wasn’t there!  So, they wrote messages to me on the chalkboard, and climbed up on the loft in my classroom to make me a video.

I have watched the video at least seven million times.  I love you, Romana. I love your family.  Thank you!

Jennie

Posted in behavior, Death and dying, Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, Giving thanks, Inspiration, preschool, Student alumni | Tagged , , , | 62 Comments

Guest Post: Jennie Fitzkee

I had the pleasure of being a guest on Pete Johnson’s fabulous blog, beetleypete.com. This post is truly the heart and soul of who I am. Thank you, Pete.

beetleypete

Jennie is an American blogger. She is a truly inspirational teacher of young children, with a real love of reading, books, and education.
She is not only the teacher I wish I had had, but the one we should all have had.

https://jenniefitzkee.com

Here is her guest post.

How Reading-Aloud Made Me the Teacher and Person I Am Today.

My very first day of teaching preschool in Massachusetts, thirty-two years ago, was both career and life altering. Lindy, my co-teacher, asked me to read the picture books to children each day after our Morning Meeting. Sure (gulp)! I was new, scared, and unfamiliar with many children’s books. I had not been read to as a child, except for The Five Chinese Brothers from my grandmother. I still remember the page that opens sideways, with the brother who could stretch his legs. One book, and to this day I remember it…

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Poetry – The Small things – a poem about what really counts.

Lovely poem. It is the small things that matter most. In fact, the small things are truly the big things.

Opher's World

Poetry – The Small things – a poem about what really counts.

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If life has taught me any lessons it is that there are never any short-cuts that don’t end up costing you, no quick fixes that put things right and that anything worthwhile is always about the details. The small things are really the biggest. They are the things that make the difference. They show you really care.

 

It’s the little things.

 

It’s the little things.

It is always the little things;

The touch of a hand,

A kind word,

A voice that sings;

The smile of a child

The caress of a breeze,

The flash of the wings.

That’s what warms the heart,

Gives strength to the mind

And gifts power

To everything you find.

For the little things

Are bigger than you think.

They provide the link.

It’s always the little things

That mean the most.

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A New Year of Wonder

To teachers everywhere – here is what an excellent school looks like. This is how four-year-olds learn best. Hands on, opened ended activities, time to problem solve, independent thinking, emergent curriculum. I love this school!

Playful Directions

We are almost two weeks into our latest adventure at WT North Pre-K. This class of small scientists has been flowing right into the new routines. We’ve been slowly introducing materials and tools, allowing the children to become comfortable with the use and care of each before adding something new. As they play in this novel setting, we’ve had many opportunities to observe and wonder along with them.

A wandering spider

Open exploration of loose parts

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A Baby Bird Who Thinks I’m Her Mother

There she was on the playground, a tiny baby bird who could not yet fly.  The children saw her first.  Above was an enormous tree.  The branches were far out of reach.  If there was a nest way up there, we had no way of returning the bird.

Ryan, get me the blue shovel with the long handle from the sandbox.  I can gently scoop her up and bring her to the other side of the fence.  Don’t worry, I won’t touch her feathers.

The baby bird chirped and chirped, never stopping for a moment.

Why is she chirping?  Maybe she misses her mama.  Where is her mama?

I don’t know.  We have to get this baby off of the playground so her mama can find her.

Children held their breath as I gently put the blue shovel under the bird to scoop her up. Instead of getting onto the shovel, the bird fluttered onto my hand!  Oh, no!  And she would not leave, no matter what I did or said.

She thinks you’re her mama.

Yes, she thought I was her mama.  And Mama Jennie had to rescue this baby.  I took her to the edge of the woods while children clung to the playground fence, watching.  I was finally able to coax baby bird off my hand with the help of a nearby stick.  Whew!

When we went back to the classroom we read the book, Are You My Mother?

It was the perfect book.  We scrapped the lesson plans and talked about birds, babies, and mothers.  Later that day we checked the spot where I released the baby bird.  She was gone!  Thank goodness.

Every wondrous moment in teaching has a lesson to be learned.

Jennie

Posted in Book Review, books, children's books, Early Education, Mother Nature, Nature, picture books, reading aloud, Teaching young children, wonder | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 66 Comments

Kindness, Peace, and Love Day

This is a re-post of  how young children honor the heroes of 9/11.

9/11 at school is Kindness, Peace, and Love Day.  How do we help young children honor the brave people on 9/11?  By remembering and celebrating how people were united in brotherhood and came together to help each other.  We talk about heroes – firefighters, police officers, nurses, doctors, teachers…

Yes, heroes.  They are the ones who face a tragedy and find goodness and strength.  We can, too.  Children can be heroes.  There is a hero in us all.

Today we held the American flag.  I talked to a whole school of children filled with big eyes and wearing red, white, and blue.  I showed them how to stand and put their hand on their heart.  We sang “God Bless America.”  Then I asked, “Who is a hero?”  The shout-outs were terrific:

Firefighters!  Police officers!  Teachers!  Moms!

“You can be a hero, too.  Yes, you can.  You can help a friend.  You can spread kindness.  And when you see a firefighter or a police officer, please say ‘thank you’.  So who’s going to celebrate Kindness, Peace and Love Day today?”  Every hand went up.

We then sang one of our favorite songs about America, “Red, White and Blue” by Debbie Clement.  While the song is a book, based on quilting America, it is the children’s favorite.

We will never forget 9/11, and we will always celebrate Kindness, Peace, and Love Day.  Today was a wonderful day.

Jennie

Posted in America, American flag, Early Education, Giving thanks, patriotism, Peace, Teaching young children | Tagged , , , , , , | 46 Comments

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble Turns 50 at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art


William Steig is one of my favorite author/illustrators.  I have most of his books.  I’ve been reading his books to children since I started teaching thirty-five years ago.  Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, one of his best, turned 50 years old this year.  It is as good today as it was 50 years ago.  The Eric Carle Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts is celebrating this Golden Anniversary with an outstanding exhibit.

I was there.

Do you know what if feels like to see, up close, the original artwork of beloved books?  I do.


The brush strokes of the sun are clear.


A true starry night with many different blues.


The book was actually banned for using pigs to represent police.


This is my collection of William Steig’s books.

It happened like this… Second grade.  I’ll never forget the parent teacher conference that year.  Our daughter loved the book Sylvester and the Magic Pebble.  Her teacher was concerned that the book and level of reading was too young.  “You should introduce her to books with more meaningful text.”

I was speechless.  The story encompassed everything – life and death, family, worry and joy – in language-rich prose.  There was more to this book than many other chapter books.  I wonder if the teacher had read the book.  If so, she might have had a different opinion.  Perhaps an epiphany.

There is much I have said about my visits to this remarkable museum. Please read below to get the big picture, the ‘meat and potatoes’, and some of what has happened on my visits.

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I wrote this post about The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art a few years ago.  Every visit is a joy.  There is always something new.  If you are an art lover and children’s book lover, this is the museum for you!  

People think of an art museum as… art, single standing pieces on their own right. Imagine masterful, award winning art combined with the best literature, in one museum. Exciting? You bet!  A hidden gem in Amherst, Massachusetts.

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What is your favorite childhood book?  Madeline?  Perhaps it is  Make Way For Ducklings.  There are so many.  The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art is dedicated to the art of children’s book illustrators.  I thought this was interesting, then I visited the museum.  Oh, my!

The exhibit way back then featured Ezra Jack Keats, author of The Snowy Day.   I am a preschool teacher and have read this wonderful book to my class hundreds of times.  Yet, I never expected to come face-to-face with his art.  I did.  To my great surprise it was made from cut-out linoleum.  I couldn’t walk away or let that go.  I was witnessing the real art of his award winning book.

Much like seeing the ocean for the first time, I was stunned.

I love and appreciate art, and I’m passionate about reading children’s books. There I was, staring at both.  Every visit to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art has been equally powerful.  Yesterday was no exception.  But first, let me back up and tell you about Eric Carle.

One of the staples in children’s books is Brown Bear, Brown Bear.  No, Eric Carle did not write this book; it was the first book he illustrated, his big break into the world of children’s book illustration.  At the time Eric Carle was the art director for an advertising agency in New York.  His life, before then, is the most powerful story of an artist.  Ever!

He was born in New York in 1929 and moved with his family to Stuttgart, Germany in 1936 to be with relatives.  1936 in Germany?  Not good.  His father was drafted into the German army, and Eric and his family fled to Stollen in the Black Forest.

His schooling is fragmented, but he continues to draw and paint and looks forward to an occasional class with his high school art teacher Fridolin Krauss.

Aware of Carle’s promise as a young artist, Herr Krauss invites him to his home one day.  He shows Carle a box of “forbidden art” by so-called degenerate artists like Picasso, Klee, Matisse, and Kandinsky. “Their strange beauty almost blinded me,” recalls Carle.  His teacher warns him not to tell anyone what he has seen.  “But, for his act of defiance,” says Carle, “Herr Krauss…opened my eyes to the beauty of German Expressionism and abstract art.”

Eric Carle saw modern art, “forbidden art” of the great masters, for the first time in his life.  His teacher risked his own life to show Carle the art.  The seed was planted.  Every time I look at a Kandinsky or a Picasso, I think of that moment.  Art can change the world.  It did for Eric Carle.

That first book, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, is fifty years old.  It is a beloved classic throughout the world, having been translated into 31 different languages with 16 million copies sold.  Happy anniversary!  Here are world-wide covers of the book:

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My preschoolers made a Brown Bear that we gave to the museum (which they displayed).

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Fast forward to the museum.  They have displayed the original art of Robert McCloskey and Make Way For Ducklings, and the original art of Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline.  Up close, very close.  Every pencil line and brush stroke were visible.  I was inches away from the pictures I had only seen in picture books.  For a book lover, this is as good as it gets.

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I recently saw the art of Hilary Knight’s Eloise, a beloved book from my childhood written by Kay Thompson.  As a child, every Sunday afternoon I would act out Eloise.  She was my first introduction to New York, and to bravery.  Eloise was brave.  She was a bit of a hero.

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When real, award winning art is combined with the best literature, it is win-win, a grand slam.  Reading the picture books, time and time again, and seeing the pictures ‘live’ is grand, indeed.

There is more!  The best bookstore by far (coming from me- someone who knows good children’s literature) is right there in the museum.  A piece of heaven.

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts is a treasure.

Jennie

Posted in art, Book Review, books, children's books, Early Education, Eric Carle, Inspiration, museums, picture books, reading aloud, The Arts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 77 Comments